Hello, Kitty! Meet Japan’s right-wing nationalists

I’ve just been in Japan, as this photo conclusively proves:

Hello Kitty dolls in Kiddy Land, Tokyo

Ok, perhaps not. Is this any better?

Right-wingers at Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo, being completely ignored by everyone else who just wants to see the cherry blossom

The reason I went was to research Japan’s national anthem, Kimigayo – a song people have been arguing about for almost 70 years. Some say it should be scrapped as a relic of Japan’s militarist past; others that it should be worshipped.

I’d like to write here everything I did during the trip, from trying to convince far-right groups to drive me around Tokyo blasting the anthem from their sound trucks, to investigating a suicide that is a key part of the anthem’s history.

But I think I’m contractually obliged to save all that for my book. So instead, I’ll write about the one person I unfortunately didn’t get to meet.

His name’s Shintaro Ishihara. He’s in his eighties. And he’s an intellectual figurehead in Japan, the author of numerous bestselling books and a former governor of Tokyo.

He also happens to be a bit of a nationalist. In 2012, for instance, he announced he was going to buy the Senkaku islands, which Japan and China both claim – a move that achieved nothing apart from monumentally annoying Beijing.

The fact his Wikipedia page contains a section entitled “other controversial statements” says a lot.

I wanted to talk to him about why, when he was governor of Tokyo, he passed laws forcing teachers to stand for Kimigayo and suspending any who refused. And I especially wanted to talk to him about that because he doesn’t like the song himself. Just as I arrived in Japan, he gave an interview to a literary magazine where they asked him about Japan’s royal family. This was his response:

Actually, I’m not interested in them very much. I do not sing the national anthem and when I do, I change the words and use my own. I sing about ‘my Japan’ not the emperor’s. When I sing it like that, everybody looks at me.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about Japanese politics from that statement. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him – and get the full explanation – soon!

4 thoughts on “Hello, Kitty! Meet Japan’s right-wing nationalists

    • Hi Denny,

      Personally I don’t disagree with any of them! It wouldn’t be hard for a Japanese pop group like AKB48 to change the words a bit and turn it into a love song.
      But some people in Japan do disagree with the song because it’s about the emperor and was sung a lot before and during WW2. They think Japan should move on from that past and keeping the anthem’s a sign the country hasn’t.
      Other people point out the war was 70 years ago, so who cares?
      I can’t tell if you’re Japanese or just a Japanese culture obsessive. But I expect you have your own view!


      • Obsessive is my wife’s term for it. I fell in love with the music of Hanako Oku about two years ago. A dam burst, and I have been studying all aspects of Japanese culture (mostly pop culture) since then. I looked up the English translation on Wikipedia just now. I did not see how they were about war. Consider the American national anthem. It is about war … with Great Britain, our closest friend ..

      • Yes, the words aren’t about war themselves, it’s just that the song is associated with Japanese life during WW2 (it was one of the tools used to increase emperor worship during that time).
        This means it’s still very controversial in the country, as is the flag.
        When you compare it to the words of the Star-Spangled Banner or the Marseillaise, both of which are filled with history and violence, the arguments seem ridiculous, but so do many things in Japanese culture!

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