Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Debunking Japan’s Conspiracies

What exactly is going down in Tokyo? Japan is in the grips of facing down accusations that a religious cult called Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) is hell bent on demolishing the post-World War II consensus by hijacking the country’s political institutions, while also defending its organization of the 2020 Olympics. Conspiracy theories, in the fringe style of Infowars maintain that the Shinto religious group has been running Japan from behind the scenes, thanks to its loyal following numbering in the tens of thousands that have infiltrated all levels of government.

Fueled by radical alarmist media stories, the Nippon Kaigi conspiracy argues that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet is slowly moving towards eliminating democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and restoring Japan’s militarism. In their defense, self-proclaimed pundits see Abe’s bid to amend Japan’s 1947 constitution – especially the pesky Article 9 “the peace clause,” preventing the country from waging war abroad – as the first step towards achieving that objective.

However, this interpretation of events is far removed from reality. It depicts Nippon Kaigi as a much more sinister entity than it really is (it is actually more akin to a Political Action Committee in the US), and ignores the change in circumstances between 1945 Japan and today.

While Abe has been outspoken about the need to reform the sclerotic institutions dragging down Japan and has talked at length about redrafting the constitution, nothing indicates that Tokyo would honestly want to go to war against a neighboring country – as those believing in the Nippon Kaigi controversy claim.

What is Article 9?

Japan’s present day Constitution was drafted in 1947 when Tokyo was still under Allied control in the wake of its defeat in World War II. Much like the way Germany’s own military was neutered after 1945, the goal of Article 9 was to help strengthen global peace and prosperity. As a result of this, Japan is now firmly aligned with the West, and thanks to its regular access to the latest U.S weapons, it possesses one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world – albeit one that is forbidden from acting other than in self-defense. This embrace of pacifism helped Japan reintegrate into the world economy and patch up the wounds left by the devastating Second World War.

Then why alter Article 9? Communist China of course. Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in the South China Sea as well as the controversy surrounding the ultimate ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has pushed Tokyo into a corner. Such expansive policies have threatened to worsen the two countries already tense diplomatic relationship, and Beijing has posed an increasingly greater physical threat to Japan since the late 2000s. Counterbalancing China in the region can only be achieved by a strong Japanese military, which is why Tokyo has stepped up its military spending.

And it’s not just China that poses an existential threat to Japan. The rising threat of international terrorism has not left East Asia untouched and has made Article 9 more of a burden than a virtue. In January, ISIS was behind a deadly attack on the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Late last month, attackers linked to ISIS launched a grenade attack on a nightclub in Malaysia. In April, ISIS claimed responsibility for the killing of 23 soldiers in the Philippines. Japan, and all East Asian nations have good reason to reinforce their internal security and have the capacity to intervene abroad when the situation calls for this.

Conspiratorial suspicions have also surrounded Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics. Allegations of payments made to secret bank accounts operated by shady individuals are credited with landing Tokyo the Olympics – and the French have opened a probe. Seen from Paris’ conspiratorial viewpoint, Tokyo conspired with a transnational network of lobbyists to secure the Games. However, Japanese officials assert that the two payments, totaling at least $2 million and labeled “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Bid,” were legitimate payments for consulting services.

The head of Japan’s Olympic Organization said the payments were disclosed to the International Olympic Committee, were audited by an external organization and are standard practice. Indeed, winning the rights to host such massive sporting events is usually associated with aggressive media campaigns – leading some to point out that the French probe is motivated not by an overarching sense of justice, but by Paris’ self-interest in hosting the 2024 Games. Marketing oneself as the “anti-corruption” choice is sure to go a long way with corruption-weary sports officials, reeling from the string of scandals that has plagued international competitions.

Suspicion of behind-the-scenes manipulation can often be tempered by a rational analysis of the facts. PM Abe’s interest in reviving the Japanese military has never been a secret, and support for his party has been based on their perceived ability to improve the quality of life in Japan. A thorough look at Japan’s recent history, increasing tensions with China, and the threat of international terrorism all support the notion that Japan should be able to defend itself properly. Similarly, vilifying cabals of consultants in order to score political points does not hold water.

Japan is one of the most eminently qualified nations to ever host the Olympics and it’s truly sad that other nations are trying to undermine one of America’s strongest allies in Asia.

Even if the world is less and less receptive to facts or experts and many conspiracy theories have become mainstream, that does not preclude fact checkers from doing their jobs – and understanding that Japan is one of the U.S’ key allies.