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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

NOT JUST USUAL THEMES, BLARING SLOGANS

Issuikai boss seeks worldwide new right


Staff writer

OSAKA -- He criticizes the "hegemony" of the United States, seeks to build an international alliance of rightwing leaders and says he wants to see the Imperial family return to Kyoto.

News photo
Issuikai leader Mitsuhiro Kimura at a recent lecture meeting in Osaka.

Mitsuhiro Kimura is perhaps one of the most public members of Japan's rightwing movement.

The 47-year-old Kimura is leader of Tokyo-based Issuikai, one of the "new right" groups formed about three decades ago by admirers of novelist Yukio Mishima, who committed ritual suicide in 1970 after he tried in vain to persuade Self-Defense Forces officers to stage a coup.

Unlike those who belong to Japan's traditional rightwing groups, Kimura, who joined the group in 1981 and became its leader in 2000, considers himself something of an internationalist.

A graduate of the prestigious Keio University and fluent in English, Kimura seeks to forge links with international rightwing groups and others, and counts among his friends French rightwing leader Jean Le Pen and Uday Hussein, a son of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He says he has visited Iraq 12 times.

Proudly displaying a watch he claimed was "a present" from Saddam Hussein and showing off a photo of him and Uday, Kimura says he has no regrets about publishing in early March a book exhorting Saddam Hussein to resist the U.S.-led invasion.

"America says it went to war with Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction. But no such weapons have been found. The war with Iraq was, under international law, an illegal invasion," Kimura said on a recent trip to Osaka.

In late March, he traveled to France to meet Le Pen, whom his group supports.

"Le Pen told me that he greatly admired Japan's tough immigration laws and that France needed something similar to control the flow of illegal workers," Kimura said.

Although it only has 30 full-time members, Issuikai's small size belies its influence, at least in the media.

Kimura pens opinion columns for major newspapers, including the Asahi Shimbun, and monthly magazines, and he is a frequent guest on the popular late-night live television round-table discussion, "Asa Made Nama Terebi," discussing not only rightwing causes but also international issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to reform of the United Nations.

Like many other rightist groups, Kimura says he and his Issuikai colleagues occasionally take to the streets in their loudspeaker vans blaring rightist slogans. But he is also busy editing the group's newsletter and updating its Web site.

Kimura stresses that his group also regularly engages in debate sessions with leftwing activists, and claims to have friends even among Socialist lawmakers.

Issuikai, established in 1972, is considered the leading new-right group. The National Police Agency estimates there are about two dozen such groups operating throughout Japan, as opposed to the hundreds of traditional rightwing groups. Kimura said that total membership of the new-right groups is only about 200.

What distinguishes the new rightwingers from traditional ones is their focus on issues like American hegemony and the Japan-U.S. security treaty.

"Traditional rightwing groups accepted the Cold War structure and were pro-American and anti-Soviet Union. But the new rightwing groups did not accept the Cold War structure and opposed American hegemony and the Japan-U.S. security treaty," said Yukio Hori, a recently retired professor of politics at Tohoku Bunka Gakuin University and author of several books on Japan's new right movement.

Kimura says his efforts to forge links with rightwing groups internationally are aimed at resolving various historical issues that have long been favorite rightwing causes in Japan.

"We have to regain the territories we lost during World War II, like the Northern Territories," he said, referring to the islands off Hokkaido seized by the Soviet Union at the end of the war and still held by Russia.

One way to settle the territorial dispute, he said, is for rightwingers in both countries to engage in dialogue.

Like many other rightwing leaders in this country, he questions much of accepted history about Japan's wartime atrocities. He doubts the Japanese army killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians in the Nanjing Massacre in 1937, and claims there is no clear evidence showing that all of the "comfort women" had really been forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during the war.

But while Kimura sounds like other rightwing groups on those issues, he clearly supports compensation for Koreans and Taiwanese who fought as members of the Imperial Japanese military during the war.

"Many Koreans and Taiwanese fought for the Japanese army during the war as colonists of Japan. But their efforts aren't recognized by the Japanese government. They need to be recognized and compensated," he said.

And while Issuikai opposes the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Kimura said that he believes Japan should continue to have good relations with the United States.

"U.S. troops should leave Japan and the security treaty should be scrapped. I'm in favor of friendly relations with the U.S., but not U.S. bases," Kimura said.

Although many rightwing groups want to see the Emperor returned to his prewar role as a government leader, Kimura's view is the opposite.

"I believe the Emperor should return to Kyoto and become the cultural symbol in Japan," he said. "In Tokyo, he is too much of a political symbol. In Kyoto, he could take a more active role in promoting traditional Japanese culture to the world."

Funding for Issuikai's activities comes from a variety of sources, including donations and subscriptions to the organization's newsletter, according to Kimura. He claims that almost no money comes from members of the yakuza, although he acknowledged that some individual mobsters and Issuikai "share similar views."

Observers say Issuikai stands out from other rightwing groups in that it is well-organized.

"There are many new and traditional rightwing groups in Japan that are not well-organized and poorly managed," Hori said. "Many groups consist of little more than one or two people and are insular. But Issuikai is very professionally run and open to ideological debate with leftwing groups and others."

Although it is often said that the Japanese public may have grown more nationalistic in recent years, Kimura noted that current membership in Issuikai is far from its peak of several hundred in the 1970s.

He said most of the other members of Issuikai belong to his generation, and that not many people in the younger age brackets dare seek to enter a hardcore rightwing group like his.



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