This is an interview series with folks living in every country around the world. This first comrade is from Japan.
Jae: What are the major organizations doing positive liberation work in your area?
Warren: There’s several organizations and movements over here doing positive work. Labor unions such as Tozen, the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) and especially the NAMBU branch of the NUGW, which is probably the closest equivalent of like the IWW in the US. Other prominent groups would be the Zengakuren who have been around since forever, the Tokyo Spring anarchist collective who do a LOT of good things, Food Not Bombs, of which there are three known chapters (plus a related but separate ‘Food Not Nukes’) in Yokosuka, Tokyo and Hokkaido. There’s also a lot of anarchists involved with various movements in the anti-US military base movement (ESPECIALLY in Okinawa), the anti-nuclear movement, and various antifascist movements, especially with the rise of far-right groups like Japan First.
J: Who are the writers and activist with their finger on the political pulse in Japan?
W: I would argue that one of the most prominent and internationally well-known writer/activist for social issues facing Japan is author, investigative journalist and human rights activist Jake Adelstein. Although not an anarchist per se, he’s nevertheless undoubtedly done more for raising international awareness and helping to combat social issues in Japan than virtually any other person out there. He’s covered political corruption, racism, freedom of press issues, organized crime, human trafficking and a litany of other issues.
J: What can international solidarity look like for comrades in Japan?
W: If we’re talking about Japanese comrades looking in solidarity with the international community? I’ll defer to what my good friend and fellow anarchist Daizo said… According to him, while the Japanese focus a lot on international solidarity with like, say, the yellow vests in France or the EZLN in Chiapas, we often neglect our neighbors in Asia. While issues in countries such as South Korea and Taiwan are fairly well-known, countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand get less attention. So we should work on that. However, if we’re discussing international folks trying to join in solidarity with Japan about issues Japan faces, I would say try and get informed from people living over here about what actually is going on. Too often nobody knows about social issues Japan faces, and Western media simply seems to focus more on the pop-culture of Japan, so that when people come to Japan they have this media-fed idea about the country that completely neglects the social issues of Japan. I would say they should take the time to learn about the hyper-capitalist society of Japan. Labor issues, political corruption and the yakuza, the rise of right-wing WWII historical revisionism and the governments attempts to normalize historical revisionism. Freedom of press issues like the ‘press club’ system, the 2020 Olympics in Japan (there’s a LOT of issues involving that), xenophobia and racism (against all foreigners/mixed race folks, but ESPECIALLY against the Chinese and Zainichi Koreans) and a big one that I feel needs to be discussed is the social and racial construct of ‘Japanese’ as the dominant social power structure, and how it adversely affects everyone in Japan.
J: What is the political climate in Japan? Who holds the major politics and economic power?
W: Japan as a whole tends to be conservative politically, with the current dominant party being the Liberal Democratic Party, of which our prime minister Shinzo Abe is a member. They’re pushing for a lot of historical revisionism involving ‘comfort women’, the Rape of Nanking, and a litany of other revisionist ideas. That’s because of a powerful historical revisionist group called the Nippon Kaigi (of which Abe is a member) has a lot of influence politically. I also have to mention the ridiculous political influence of the various Yakuza groups such as the Yamagumi-guchi or the Sumiyoshi-kai, for example. They have a lot of influence over politicians due to combination of bribes and or blackmail, and most of them have ties to the far-right in Japan.
J: Can you talk a bit about the daily life of the average proletariat in japan?
W: The proletariat can be divided largely into 2 categories: wage-based (mostly ‘blue collar’/service workers) and salary-based (typically ‘white collar’). While your typical wage-based employee varies very little from your average American wage worker (minus the tipping system), Japan’s ‘salary-man’ or ‘OL’ (a Japanese ‘wasai eigo’ term meaning ‘office lady’) is in a special category of its own that needs to be addressed. Japan as a whole really, REALLY puts a lot of emphasis on getting into a good paying company, as most companies offer a ‘lifetime employment’ model. On paper, the idea is you join a company on the assumption you’ll work hard for the company, and they’ll give you insurance, a retirement package and the whole nine yards. In practice, you often end up working untold amounts of overtime, are expected to dedicate most of (if not all) of your free time showing up to corporate parties, and as a result a lot of salary-men and OL’s are constantly stressed out, have marriages that are in shambles due to not seeing each other, and in certain extreme cases people have outright died of stress or committed suicide as early as their 20’s, so much so that the Japanese named a term for the phenomenon karoshi. Also, a disproportionate amount of homeless in Japan are elderly ex-salary-men that got screwed over by the ‘lifetime employment’ model once the business laid off employees. Companies want to hire younger folks, so due to that ageism as well as other factors it makes it difficult for many older salary-men to get back on their feet once they’ve been laid off.
J: Can you contrast Japan with other places you’ve lived in terms of economy and political life?
W: I would argue that compared to my home country of the US, Japan exemplifies hyper-capitalism, even much more so than the US. Japan also has much more of an emphasis on social conformity to the point of being extremely detrimental to your average Japanese person. There’s an expression in Japan that states ‘ the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’, which is a depressingly accurate summary of the sort of crushing social reality that Japanese society demands.
J: Who are some artists who’ve touched on the political climate and economic situation in japan that resonates with you?
W: I would say the A3BC woodblock printing collective that meets at Irregular Rhythm Asylum, an anarchist info-shop in Shinjuku, does absolutely amazing work. They generally focus heavily on anti-war and anti-nuclear themes, which are two big topics that are popular among the Japanese anarchist scene, and few artists capture those concepts as well or as beautifully as A3BC. I would also say the owner of Irregular Rhythm Asylum (and A3BC member) Keisuke Narita does amazing work. his stuff was featured on Just seeds, where he made posters that talked about amazing historical Japanese anarchist groups like the Seki Ran Kai.
J: What has been the biggest activist actions of the last ten years in Japan?
W: Arguably right now there are two: the anti-nuclear movement, (ESPECIALLY in the wake of Fukushima) and the anti-racist movement, especially in the defense of the Zainichi Koreans. For example, as mentioned earlier there’s a particularly nasty group out there called Japan First, and while they hate all foreigners, they REALLY hate Koreans, especially North Koreans. They’ve in the past harassed kindergartens for North Korean Zanichi kids, and the anti-racists over here were counter-protesting these racists.
J: Any self care advice you’d give comrades who are getting burnt out?
W: Since I founded a Food Not Bombs chapter, I can understand it can be taxing mentally at times to be that active. I would just ask yourself, what is it that’s burning you out? If it’s because you seem to be getting nowhere, perhaps change strategies or find another thing to get behind, but don’t give up. If it’s working but you’re just getting tired, bear in mind what you’re doing matters and positively affects people. However, don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself, and if you need to step away from politics, even if just for a little bit to focus on yourself. Remember; you can’t really help other people if you haven’t taken care of yourself first.
J: Can you give a brief overview of the history of anarchism in japan?
W: While Japan has a long and prolific history, the short version of it would be that it started in the late 19th-early 20th century, and had three distinct movements: pre-war, wartime and post-war. The first one to introduce anarchism was a man named Shusei Kotoku, who introduced Japan to anarchism via the works of folks like Peter Kropotkin. Although he was executed by the government for treason with his writings, anarchism spread and ended up influencing prolific individuals such as Sakai Osugi, prominent anarchist and feminist (and Sakai Osugi’s lover) Noe Ito, among others. However, many anarchists, socialists and communists were executed by the government in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which they used as an excuse to crack down on leftist activists. During WWII, the government cracked down hard on anarchists, however after the war ended there has been a small but notable resurgence in anarchism, who to today still continue to fight for a better society.