I’ve just been in Japan, as this photo conclusively proves:
Ok, perhaps not. Is this any better?
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!