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Monday, Nov. 26, 2012

THE VIEW FROM NEW YORK

Punchy party names hark back to ignominy


NEW YORK — So, Shintaro Ishihara, who had abruptly quit the Tokyo governorship in October, set up a political party named Taiyo no To, then merged it with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's political party that doesn't sound like one, Nippon Ishin no Kai. Another political party that doesn't sound like one, Tachiagare Nippon, joined them.

All this looks like kids' rigmarole. It may become a portent political force, though. The tea party in the U.S., which started out looking like a fringe movement, has.

The "official" English names of the first two parties — The Sunrise Party and The Japan Restoration Party — may not immediately make it clear, but their Japanese names come with some baggage, as it were.

The first one, Taiyo no To, recalls Ishihara's debut novella back in 1955 that won the Akutagawa Prize the next year: Taiyo no Kisetsu, "The Season of the Sun."

A decade after an "unconditional surrender," as Japan began to recover from the devastations of the World War II, the angst over its militaristic past, what it had brought, and the intellectual about-face that followed began to fade. In its place, something else came to the fore: the aimlessness of youth. Ishihara's story caught this shift. In the U.S., the film "Rebel without a Cause" did something similar.

The story described the world of casual sex and violence among upper-class youth. The protagonist Tatsuya, suspiciously his creator's double, has a house in Zushi and a sailboat, while his lover Eiko has a summerhouse in Hayama. Zushi and Hayama were summer resorts for the rich. Sailboats and summer houses were beyond the reach of the great majority in Japan back then (even now, I dare say).

In one of the more famous scenes in "The Season of the Sun," Tatsuya sticks his erect penis into a shoji (paper sliding door), and Eiko, who is reading a book on the other side, throws her book at it and hits it. They make love afterward.

Ishihara, born in 1932, wrote the story when he was 23. Now he is 80. In naming his new party "Party of the Sun," was he fondly recalling his youthful rampage on sun-struck beaches?

The word Hashimoto chose for his party, "ishin," may remind most of Meiji Ishin, "the Meiji Restoration." But it took on a sinister meaning during the Showa Era (1926-1989).

Meiji Ishin is what those who vanquished the Tokugawa shogunate and brought back Heaven's Son as emperor in the late 1860s used, taking the word meiji ("rule with enlightenment") from the "I Ching" and ishin from a line of the Confucian "Odes" that reads, in James Legge's 1876 translation, "Heaven's decree at last was shown." The "ode" was in praise of King Wen of the 11th century B.C.

But, as the recession that ensnared Japan following the "Great War" did not abate, three murderous groups emerged. They all believed political parties and money-handlers were to blame for Japan's malaise.

The first was the Blood Oath League. Each of its members pledged to kill one notable politician or financier. In February 1932, a member shot dead former Finance Minister Junnosuke Inoue. The following month another shot dead Takuma Dan, the head of the Mitsui Financial Group. The leader of the league was the fanatic follower of the Nichiren faith Nissho.

Later, on May 15, a second group claimed its victim: Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, "deity of Constitutional governance." This group was led by young naval officers who had some influential thinkers behind them.

On Feb. 26, 1937, a third group, much larger in size and scheme, struck and almost brought down the government. A dozen army officers, leading 1,500 troops, assaulted the lord keeper of the privy seal, finance minister, inspector-general of military education, prime minister, former lord privy seal, and the grand chamberlain. They killed the first four and wounded two of the remaining three.

These three groups all called for a "Showa Ishin." Their core belief was simple: if the Emperor's "evil councilors" were removed and he was allowed to rule unfettered, all social ills would disappear.

Did Toru Hashimoto give a moment's thought to this part of the history of the word ishin in naming his party?

A straight translation of the third entity I mentioned at the outset would be "Rise to Your Feet, Japan," an exhortation. Its official English name, "The Sunrise Party of Japan," while it lasted, was redundant. Nippon (Nihon) means "under the sun," to wit, where the sun rises — from China's perspective.

More important, Takeo Hiranuma, the leader of that entity, is related through adoption to Kiichiro Hiranuma, the prewar leader of influential rightwing organizations who served as prime minister in 1939. No wonder Hiranuma is described as an advocate of "ultra rightwing" policies.

All this inevitably brought to mind the tea party — the loose, ragtag assemblage of zealots with beliefs embodying what the historian Richard Hofstadter once condemned as "paranoia style in American politics." How paranoiac are these people?

Among them are "goldbugs," the advocates of returning to the Gold Standard; Atlas Shruggers who believe in the capitalism that Ayn Rand idealized, one that operates free of any government regulation; and militiamen who insist on arming themselves to the teeth in case the government interferes with their life.

Tea partiers also include strict Constitutionalists or constructionists who argue that the Constitution must be interpreted as the Founding Fathers intended: "the sacred text."

This would include "nullification," the state's right to disregard federal law. By extension, some of the amendments, such as the 13th (1865), which abolished slavery, and the 19th (1920), which gave suffrage to women, would have to be junked.

And, yes, "birthers," too — those who insist that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and, therefore, has no right to be president.

But what Hashimoto's Restoration Party, in particular, led me to think of the tea party is this: The "restoration" predecessors held a notion as politically naive as that of the tea partiers. Also, the Boston Tea Party, the tea party's namesake, was an ignoble affair.

Those Colonials who, in 1773, invaded British ships and dumped "tea chests" into the harbor did so by decking out as Indians, with small hatchets they wanted to look like tomahawks. In the darkness of night.

The tea partiers who love to present themselves in colorful Colonial coats and tricorn hats in rallies do not even pretend to remember this.

Hiroaki Sato is a translator and essayist. His biography of Yukio Mishima with Naoki Inose, "Persona," will appear this month.


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