Japanese spring 2009 is full of the usual signs: young salarymen with pollen-proof white face- masks spreading blue plastic tarps under sakura trees to mark corporate sake parties, earthbound rainbows criss-crossing country fields and city parks, hand-hoed bouquets decorating miniature family gardens and young girls shedding polyester-fur trimmed parkas, revealing their aesthetically enhanced curves.
A far less familiar and less innocent sign of spring fever this year is the enthusiastic call for military action against North Korea’s aerospace aspirations.
I have never heard such bellicose rumbling from the Japanese public – not even during the Russian territorial dispute or the Korean hostage crisis. Could it be a side-effect of the economic depression (what else can you call such a drop after a ten year recession).
Ever since the rubble of the B-29 devastation was cleared off the streets, the Japanese have been preoccupied with building, and then reviving their economy. Any international event not connected to trade was little more than a distraction, a topic to liven up the evening news, never urgent enough to challenge the smug conservatism of a trading nation committed to a pacifist constitution. Even the noise racking Patriot Party seemed content to drive around in their para-military parades, playing the role of village idiots promoting neo-nazi nostalgia.
I recall a pretty piece by a naive New York Times correspondent who, after interviewing a handful of Tokyo college kids and getting a negative response to such mystifying questions as, “Would you be willing to give your life for your country?” surmised that the young generation was totally cured of its militaristic past and had not one iota of belligerent patriotic blood. That was in 1974, as Japan was basking in its new role as economic super-power. I wondered if she had bothered to glance at any of the violent SM manga these boys read on the trains, or the regimental structure of every gathering from elementary school picnics to factory worker exercise drills.
My thoughts then were that the revival of the Japanese martial spirit would inevitably follow the demise of the Japanese economic miracle. The sub-prime crisis could well be the beginning of the end of that Japanese pacifism.
As an American, I can hardly decry national chauvinism or public saber rattling (staples of every US political campaign) or military solutions to international disputes (executive policy from FDR to Obama). In fact, my national heritage should condition me to accept these things as a natural expression of national pride. But I am one of those Americans who has come to hear the dissonance in every Sousa march.
Japan is sometimes noted for its inane materialism; the silly, self-indulgent culture of manga, J-Pop and Cosplay. But, immaturity can be best if becoming a mature nation means giving up child-play for war-play.