Thursday, August 8, 2019

Kinpu Jinja

Kinpu Jinja     (Kimpu, Kinbu, Jinja)                                                     UC
Kinpu Jinja, photo courtesy Kansai Explorer

Date founded: Date is unclear but mentioned in the Eiga Monogatari written between 1028 and 1107.
Address: 1651 Yoshino-yama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara 639-3115
Tel/Information: 0746-32-8167(3032) (Yoshino Tourism Office) Admission of 300 yen for the tower where Yoshitsune Moritomo hid from the Taira.
How to get there: Take the Kintetsu Yoshino Line to Yoshino Station. Then take the Yoshinoyama rope way to Yoshinoyama Station. From there take the Yoshino Omine Cable-car minibus headed to Okusenbon Kuchi and get off at the last stop. Then walk about 15 minutes.
Enshrined kami: Kanayamahiko no mikoto.
Prayers offered: Good fortune and protection against danger.
Best time to go: Late March to early May for the cherry blossoms.

While you're here, any readers who are interested in having a kamidana of their own, or would like to send one to a friend or family member, please check out this post:

Important physical features:  Physically, Kinpu Jinja is a very modest construction of heavily weathered wood, belying the image of its name – Gold Ridge. (It is not to be confused with Kinpusen-ji, a very large Buddhist temple, also in the Yoshino area – though somewhat distant from Kinpu Jinja – and also considered a center of Shugendo.) Passing through the first torii, you travel along an ascending paved road to the second torii at the very front of the jinja. The shrine itself is a square structure, three bays wide and deep, with a chidorihafu roof and no walls. From the rear of the shrine a stone stair leads further up the mountain: a clear indication that this is the home of a mountain kami. The present form of the shrine is probably from around 1613 when it was rebuilt after a fire. A pine tree on the grounds is thought to be more than 1,000 years old.
    Another important structure is found following the narrow path past the shrine. The so called Yoshitsune kakure-to is a one story pagoda. No more than a simple one room "box" with a cypress-bark roof, as architecture it's neither particularly interesting nor even typical of one-story pagodas. The interest here is related to the historical myth. An 18th century print by, Utagawa Toyohara, depicts an elaborate three-story building which was likely pure imagination on the part of the artist. The title of the print comes from a tale about Yoshitsune no Minamoto, one of many tales related to the Minamoto clan and locations from Kinki to Kanto. Yoshitsune spent years on the run from his jealous and rivalrous brother, the first shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo, who had previously spent years in hiding from his enemy, the Taira clan.  One such tale has it that Yoshitsune hid out in this pagoda and, when discovered and surrounded, escaped by kicking out the roof and running away. Therefore, the title of the print and an alternate name for the pagoda, Kenuke-no-to (literally ‘kicking and escaping pagoda’).

Kenuke-no-to, print in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

     However, as with so many shrines and temples in Japan, the real physical attraction is in the surroundings. The Yoshino and Omine mountain ranges in southern Nara prefecture present a breathtaking and generally unspoiled environment. Kinpu Jinja is near the famous Okusenbon area of some 1300 cherry trees (the entire Yoshino area is said to contain some 30,000 trees), which bloom between April and May. The area is best seen by hiking its many rugged trails – between 100 and 600 meters above sea level – stopping to refresh at one of the many onsen, or by joining an ascetic practice group and staying in a shukubo accommodation.

Important spiritual features: The true significance of this shrine is in the history of combinatory gods and religious practices that was once the hallmark of Japanese religion. When the feudal system of government and social organization finally toppled in the late 19th century, it was replaced by a combination of enlightened, Western ideologies – public education, Western medicine, a semi-representative form of government, modern transportation and industrial systems – and a rigid ideology based on the image of a modern European-style monarchy, with a strong military and a God-like Emperor at its head. That ideology demanded that Buddhism and Shinto be completely separated and that Shinto become "what it had always been" – a philosophy of state control and protection. In such an environment, the combination of Buddhas and Kami that had been practiced since the 7th century, was abruptly destroyed. Places such as Kinpu were forbidden from continuing their former practices and Shugendo – an ideology developed from a combination of ancient native gods and sacred sites, overlaid with Buddhist iconography and esoteric spiritualism – was outlawed.
    Still today, religion in Japan is basically the Meiji construct that it became at the beginning of the 20th century. But believers are now free to practice as they wish and Shugendo continues to exist at the margins. 

Description: Now part of the United Nations designated World Heritage site formally called "Sacred Sited and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, Kinpu Jinja is an important stop on the Omine Pilgrimage route (Omine Okugakemichi). The World Heritage groups together the Koyasan route, the Kumano Kodo routes, and the Yoshino and Omine routes. I have detailed the history of the pilgrimage routes in other posts such as Tenkawa Jinja and Yoshino Mikumari Jinja. The essential thing to note is the influence of Shingon Buddhism, also known as Mikkyo. This esoteric Buddhism was brought to Japan by the priest Kukai, or as he was known later in life, Kobo Daishi. As a scion of the Saeki family of Shikoku, he traveled to Nara for study and eventually was selected to travel on a government sponsored pilgrimage to China in the year 804. In 805 he was introduced to Master Huiguo who initiated him in the esoteric teachings of Indian Mahayana Buddhism at the Qinglong Monastery. Huiguo died shortly after and Kukai returned to Japan in 806 to establish Shingon Buddhism.
     Quoting from Oliver Statler's Japanese Pilgrimage, in 816 Kukai petitioned Emperor Saga (786-842) to be given Mount Koya saying, "It is regrettable that only a few priests practice meditation in high mountains, in deep forests, in wide canyons, and in secluded caves. This is because the teaching of meditation has not been transmitted, nor has a suitable place been allocated for the practice of meditation." This is probably the beginning of the pilgrimage routes that started in the capital of Kyoto and ended at the tip of the Kii Peninsula in modern day Wakayama Prefecture. Early pilgrimage was often an elaborate months-long affair, including Emperors and a retinue of hundreds. As a result, an entire pilgrimage enterprise developed with small temples, shrines, and lodgings popping up along the route. The practice of mountain asceticism became key to both Shingon and Tendai Buddhism from this time. Pilgrimage is still very much alive in these mountains with thousands walking the various routes each year.

Festival: Hanakueshiki Festival, April 10 to 12. Take the Kintetsu Line from Osaka to Yoshino Station. Then take the ropeway to Yoshinoyama Station. Actually a festival closely associated with Kinpusen-ji Temple, flowers are offered to the statue of En no Gyoja, the father of Shugendo, in front of the temple. On the 11th a grand parade departs from Chikurn-in Temple and makes its way to the Zao-do of Kinpusen-ji, amid the sound of the conch and an array of brightly costumed shugenja. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

This article is reproduced from the Japan Mission Journal, September 2019. The Journal is published by Oriens Institute for Religious Research. Some of the references can be better understood by reading the September issue.
Thomas Pains courtesy of JSTOR Daily

The Local and the Universal: What Thomas Paine has to say to the Daijosai by Joseph Cali

At the time of the Daijōsai and the Enthronement, attention is again focused on the minutiae of ceremony, of Shintō, and on the supposed origins of Emperorship in Japan. In this essay I will bypass what I consider to be a misplaced focus on mythology as history and return to the fundamentals of Localism vs. Universalism via the essays of the Englishman cum American, writer and philosopher, Thomas Paine (1737-1809).
The fascination of ceremony and ritualespecially when they are unfamiliar and shrouded in mysteryis as captivating and entertaining in the age of YouTube as it was in ages past. It is also just as irrelevant as ever to the fundamentals of human existence. This fact was eloquently addressed by one of the most farsighted and critical thinkers of the late 18th century, Thomas Paine. Sometimes called the Father of the American Revolution, the moniker was earned through his attacks on the British Monarchy, most famously in his pre-war pamphlets Common Sense, and The American Crisis of 1776. Paines writings focused on the abuse of power, whether by one man over another or by one man over another using God as a justification. Therefore, his writings attacked the evils of monarchy and religion. An heir of John Lockes doctrine of consent of the governed, Paine was a great defender of what we call democracy. He was also a deist who abhorred the tyranny of religion, believing that God is omnipresent in all nature, including man.

The Daijōsai in the Tradition of Sacral Kingship

First, to matters at hand, the Daijōsai has been described as a harvest festival, a variation of the Imperial Niiname Festival wherein the Emperor relays the blessings of heaven to the people for the coming year. This also confirms the position of Emperor as chief celebrant of the Shintō faith. Leaving aside the fact that there was no Emperor, no Enthronement ceremony, and no Shintō faith at the supposed time of the first Emperor, Jinmu (mythic date 660 BCE), or for many centuries thereafter, the mythology continues in periodically modified forms. For instance, at one of those many points in Japanese history when rival factions fought for selfish gain, a court noble named Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293-1354) wrote an oft-quoted tract, Jinnō shōtōki (Chronicle of Legitimate Succession of the Divine Emperors). This tract was thought a necessary justification for the continuation of the Imperial line, at one of those not infrequent times when it was splintered by infighting. The tract was later taken as another piece of evidence that the Imperial line has never been broken. The need for such justification in this case was the namboku senso that deposed the Imperial line for about fifty years. Without delving too deeply, Kitabatakes spurious history is forever used to deny that the line of kings was, in fact, broken, and had been several times in its history. A quote from Mark Riddles Tennō sums it up:

Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293–1354), a court noble whose political-historical work Jinnou Shoutouki (神皇正統記, Chronicle of the Legitimate Succession of the Divine Emperors) was the classic expression of the imperial ideology that provided an official state dogma for Japan from the Meiji Restoration (1868) until well into the twentieth century, wrote:

Japan is the land of the gods. The divine ancestor Kuni-no-tokotachi-no-mikoto laid its initial foundation, and the sun goddess Amaterasu-oo-mi-kami bestowed eternal sovereignty. This is unique to Japan; there is nothing like it in other countries. Thus Japan is the land of the gods.

Actually, divine kingship was ubiquitous in the ancient world. Riddle seeks for the roots of the solar kingship model that Japan adopted as late as the 9th century CE, and recounts the Indo-Asian roots of the Kings relation to the Goddess from whom he derives his right to rule. This long essay is well worth rereading on the occasion of the current Daijōsai. It clearly relates the continuity of culture from West to East from which most of Japans religious and cultural practices derive:

Divine authority was a sine qua non of kingship in antiquity—the king derived his status from special powers bestowed upon him by the gods, or, more specifically, by a goddess. As Henri Frankfort expressed it, ‘only those kings were deified who had been commanded by a goddess to share her couch’ (297). According to Frankfort, divine kingship began when the king began to play the role of the bridegroom in the annual rites of spring, the divine union—the marriage of a god and goddess, which brought about the renewal of nature, ritually enacted in the city temples of Mesopotamia. In several Sumerian texts the king is described as ‘the beloved of Inanna.Sargon of Akkad wrote of his love for Ishtar and of the powers she furnished him. The divine right of kingship through a special relationship with the goddess of the land was ritualized in a hieros gamos, a sacred marriage between the king and a priestess who represented the goddess. The Hittite sun goddess Arinna was described as ‘she who controls kingship in heaven and on earth.’ Of the Egyptian pharaoh, Henri Frankfort wrote (200), ‘A succession of individuals embodies the same divine being,and in that same way, each Japanese emperor embodies, in succession, the divine spirit of his ancestors. It is in the series of rites called the Daijōsai (大嘗祭) that the emperor is infused with the spirit of the sun goddess and becomes a divine king. (Riddle, 2-4) 

     It is worth noting that in the currently approved Japanese version of the Daijōsai, any inference of a sexual or physical union between the Emperor and Amaterasu, or that the ritual enacts the birth of the Emperor from Amaterasus womb, or even that the Emperor once may have lain on the shinza couchone placed in the sukiden and one in the yukidenis vehemently denied.
The current view rejects the previously influential theory of scholar Orikuchi Shinobu who wrote an essay in 1928 called Daijōsai no hongi (see Blacker, 85-97).  There he expresses the view that it is not so much hereditary blood succession that creates the new emperor, but the correct transference of the imperial mitama or soul from the old emperor to the new. He conjectured that this must happen in complete darkness and that the Emperor, lying on the shinza couch, is likely wrapped in the coverlet called ofusuma, which allows his mitama to gestate. Such a ritual would also mimic the way the first ancestor, Amaterasus grandson Ninigi no mikoto, descended to earth wrapped in the madoko-ofusuma. Orikuchi argued that an immortal, unchangeable imperial soul (tennō rei), which had left the body of the deceased emperor, is reinvigorated and directed by ritual means into the body of the new tennō lying on the shinza, wrapped like Ninigi no Mikoto in the coverlet, madoko ofusuma, where it is duly incorporated. In other words, while the mortal frame changes, the imperial tama remains forever the samea special type of reincarnation (Liscutin, 38-9).  That this imperial tama was believed to be solar is shown by the Chinkonsai ritual performed by the emperor annually on the eve of the Niinamesai, the late fall harvest festival. Like the sun, the emperors soul was believed to weaken as winter approached, and it was feared that his soul was about to leave his body. This soul appeasement (chinkon, , means soul-calming) is performed to maintain political order and prevent the world from falling into chaos (Riddle, 5-6).
Riddle adds information on the views of the Japanese-Canadian scholar Waida Manabu, who held that the meaning of the mythico-ritual complex of the Chinkon-sai lies in the emperors repetition or reenactment of the rebirth of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu at the critical time of the winter solstice. The sovereign is homologized with Amaterasu. Drawing on Georges Dumézils analysis of Indo-European kingship, Waida picked out three ceremonies in which the emperor reenacts what was done in the two cosmic zones of heaven and earth in the beginning of mythical time by mythical figures: Amaterasu, Ninigi, and the first emperor Jinmu, representing the magico-religious, economic, and military functions of kingship respectively.
Of course, there are other views and no one knows for sure what the significance is. However, there is a larger picture we should not lose sight of: why are we still even bothering with defunct notions of Gods, Goddesses and Emperorship (Kingship), when the world continues to face potential destruction caused in part by these very notions? Returning to Paine, I would like to quote from Common Sense in the section headed Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession:

But there is another and greater distinction for which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and that is, the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind….

To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever….

Perhaps the disorders which threatened, or seemed to threaten on the decease of a leader and the choice of a new one (for elections among ruffians could not be very orderly) induced many at first to favor hereditary pretensions; by which means it happened, as it hath happened since, that what at first was submitted to as a convenience, was afterwards claimed as a right. (Paine 1776:25-37)

At this time of renewed kingship, I think it is equally important to renew the power of the sober reflections of Thomas Paine.

Localism vs. Universalism

A subject that seems to be an undercurrent in discussions about Shintō and its rituals, is the question of whether the religion has elements of the Universal and whether foreigners can understand or connect with it. First, let me put forth some of my own definitions.
I consider God (with a capital G) to be a universal concept. It is expansive, all-encompassing, and unrestricted. Religion, however, is a local concept. It is definitive, exclusive, and restrictive. By the same token, the family of man is inclusive, egalitarian, and somewhat abstract. My family is exclusive, hierarchal, and very close to the bone. By these brief definitions I think it is obvious where the problems of man arise, and why we can never be at peace until the day we can be free of religion, family, and county as they are still defined.
Not to say that such experiments are not always underway. The United States is one such experiment. So are the EU and the UN. There are experiments in extended family structure and in the adoption of rules to make religions and membership in various organizations less restrictive and more inclusive. But there are as many failures as successes.
Let me stop there and look at how these definitions apply to Shintō and the Emperor of Japan. Shintō has an element of universalism in that it finds god or kami in everything. This is what I take the yaoyorozu to signify. So, to the degree that Shintō is worship of the divinity in nature, it is universal, and speaks to us all. But where it is tied to specific place, or where it deifies humans as gods, or attempts to define a host of gods, it is a religion with all that the word implies: it is strictly local. Where Shintō seeks inclusiveness and is open to change and interpretation, and can accept that much of its symbolism is not unlike that of other belief systems in other parts of the world, it has a universal element. Where it defines itself by its Japaneseness and exclusive traditions that cannot possibly be understood by outsiders, it is local. The Emperor and the rituals surrounding the throne are part of this Japanesenesswhether or not most Japanese are even aware of them.
I believe that confusion comes when modern-day people, with knowledge of the wider world, feel irrelevant and isolated, and scramble to prove that their beliefs are as valid as any. I sense this strongly from Rev. Katō Taishis essay in this journal. Why else try to convince us of the universality of something that is so clearly local? A quick glance at Japanese media reveals the abject need of the Japanese people to be praised by people from other countries in order to feel validated. My point is that Shintō is neither superior nor inferior to any other belief. Universalism is not superior to localism nor the other way around: they are co-equal aspects of our humanity.
Here are some of Thomas Paines definitions and beliefs, again edited for brevity:

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
All national institutions of churcheswhether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish [Islamic]appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind and monopolize power for profit.
Every national church or religion established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals.
Each of these churches show certain books which they call revelation, or the word of God… Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all. (Paine 1994:53-9)

Shintō’s books of revelation, if we wish to call them that, are the Kojiki, the Nihon shoki, and the Engishiki. Shintō, as a belief system, falls very specifically into the category of a local religion. One that is forever at the beck and call of a government that cant seem to decide if it wants to be spiritual or secular but lives in constant fear of losing its grip on poweras John Breens essay eloquently points out. Long before the current constitution enshrined the principle, religious and secular authority have been quite separate in Japan. Yet, when it comes to the institution of the Emperor and of the Shrines that empower him, the state is still quite willing to envelop itself with a mystical aura of divine authority. Thus, we arrive at the very definition of the modern-day Daijōsai: a ritual designed to give a man the aura of a god, and help perpetuate the authority of the state as the secular expression of that divinity. 


Blacker, Carmen (2000). Collected Writings. Edition Synapse.
Frankfort, Henri (1948). Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Religion as the Integration of Society & Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Liscutin, Nicola (1990). Daijōsai: The Great Festival of Tasting the New Fruits. Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 5:2552.
Paine, Thomas (1776). Common Sense. Philadelphia: W. & T. Bradford.
——— (1894). The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure Daniel Conway, IV. New York: G. P. Putnams Sons.
Riddle, Mark A. (2011). Tennō (天皇): The Central Asian Origin of Japans Solar Kingship. Sino-Platonic Papers (Philadelphia), no. 214, September.
Waida Manabu (1976). Sacred Kingship in Early Japan: A Historical Introduction. History of Religions 15:319-42.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Japan Has a New Emperor and a New Era, but a Dark Future
Japanese boss of bosses, Abe Shinzo (Illustration by Joseph Cali)
Continuing the effort to inform readers of the real political and social state of affairs, in the country that has been my home for more than half my lifetime, I reproduce here an important article by TokyoVice author Jake Adelstein. Jake is a frequent contributor to the Daily Beast, one of my favorite websites, where this article first appeared. Those of us who live in Japan and watch as the government has gone from a one party state, to a country run by a criminal organization with Abe Shinzo as the oyabun, Aso Taro as kobun, and Suga Yoshihide as yakuza moll. This well researched article offers a glimpse behind the mini-skirted manga characters that help loll the world into thinking of Japan as a happy-go-lucky paradise.

TOKYO—The name of Japan’s new imperial era, Reiwa, was announced on April Fools’ Day with great fanfare and a great big linguistic lie. The official government party line is that it translates as “Beautiful Harmony,” but what it means literally is more Orwellian: “Commanded Peace.” Of course, a certain portion of the Japanese population realizes that the explanation given for the new imperial name is not the truth, but they probably were not surprised.
“Akihito posed a problem for Abe because while considered a divine being his actual words disagreed with Abe's political agenda.”

Japan has grown numb to the deceptions and lies of its elected rulers. As of January this year, for instance, 79 percent of the Japanese public no longer believed the Japanese government’s statistics, and you probably shouldn’t either. Everybody lies, they say, but there’s a problem with lying to yourself and to the public, because reality doesn’t listen.

No Longer ‘Cool Japan’ but ‘Cruel Japan’

While the Japanese government relentlessly promotes the image of “Cool Japan” and mega-tourism, the current reality is a country run by sociopathic Hitler-loving plutocrats, with plummeting press freedom, endemic poverty, rising censorship, deliberate destruction of public records, continual death by overwork, a corrupt bureaucracy, and a medieval justice system. Despite the triple meltdown of Fukushima, the government is rushing to start nuclear power plants again with reckless abandon.

The population is aging and shrinking. One out of five citizens is now over 70; in 2017, nearly 400,000 more people died in Japan than were born. Abysmal working conditions, low wages, lack of maternity leave (not to mention paternity leave) a chronic shortage of affordable daycare, and excessively long hours virtually ensure Japanese women and men don’t have time to date, mate, or procreate.

Raising a kid alone? Very difficult. If a woman chooses to be a single mother there is a 50 percent chance she will live in poverty. The failure of anything approaching a baby boom over the decades is already invisible. The shortage of workers is forcing many businesses to close. Women might take up the slack of a worker shortage, but sexism is rampant and gender inequality is institutionalized: Japan ranks 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality rankings for 2018. Japan is working on haphazard plans to introduce foreign labor that are exploitive and doomed to fail in an environment where xenophobia is encouraged as is homophobia.

The highlight of the Reiwa era will be the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes will add luster to his legacy. The 2020 Olympics were secured with bribes, corrupted by yakuza, and will be billions of dollars more expensive than the original forecasts. They are foolishly scheduled around August, assuring that there will be deaths from heat-stroke and crises at hospitals unable to handle the triage that will be necessary.

Japan’s trickle-down economic plan, Abenomics, is faltering. According to Japan’s Tokyo Shoko Research, bankruptcies of smaller companies are rising, and it may be that its much touted success turns out to be based on falsified data. Meanwhile, as a result of the government of Japan trying to prop up the Japanese stock market using public funds, Japan’s aging population faces the danger of having no pension money left for themselves. The Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) announced this February a record quarterly loss of over $135 billion, half of it in investments in domestic shares. If the losses continue, it will eventually impact pension payments to the elderly. The future is bleak.

What’s in a Name?

The new imperial era began with the current emperor retiring while still alive on April 30, something that the Abe administration fought but couldn’t prevent. The announcement of the retirement derailed Abe's push to change the constitution of Japan. The emperor is a divisive but important symbol in Japan’s political landscape and daily lives: there are five national holidays related to emperors past. And the name of the imperial era becomes something of great importance.
Prime Minister Abe and his political base are members of a Shinto cult and political lobby, Nippon Kaigi, which believes that Japan must shed the shackles of a “U.S. imposed” democratic constitution, popular sovereignty, basic human rights, pacifism, and gender equality. Abe and most of his cabinet members believe that the Japanese people are divine descendants of the gods, World War II was justified, and that emperor worship should be restored.

The just-resigned Emperor Akihito posed a problem for them because while they considered him a divine being, his actual words disagree with their political agenda. Emperor Akihito publicly expressed gratitude to the U.S. for stripping away the fascist regime that brought Japan into the war, and sees the nation as “based on peace and democracy as important values to be upheld.” He is also a defender of Japan’s current pacifist constitution, which Abe wants to dismantle. The new emperor, Akihito's son, Naruhito, who ascends to the throne on May 1, carries the same progressive views. The contrast between what the emperor and the crown prince believe and the beliefs of those that claim to worship them as gods is striking.
If you want to see what the current rulers of Japan really want in the Reiwa Era, watch this  English subtitled and chilling video taken at a May 10, 2012 meeting of Liberal Democratic Party members during a forum on reinventing Japan. At the meeting, Abe and his former minister of justice declare that for Japan to progress it must have a standing army and rid itself of “popular sovereignty, basic human rights, pacifism…” Those remarks are greeted with wild applause.

Japan uses two calendars—the Western Calendar and the Imperial Calendar [as detailed on this blog]. This can be confusing. I was born in the Showa era, created when Emperor Hirohito took the throne; he was one of the architects of Japan’s colonialism and disastrous war. We are now in the Heisei era, which began when Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne, after Emperor Hirohito passed away on January 7, 1989. According to the Mainichi newspaper, only 34 percent of the population uses the imperial name to describe the year. All government documents have to use the imperial calendar. The conversion from one calendar to the other is a colossal pain and most reporters in Japan usually carry a company memo book that has a handy conversion chart. If you ever need to do it, to convert Showa years into Western years, you add 25 years; for era Heisei, add 1,988 years. This usually works but not always. 
“The contrast between what the emperor and the crown prince believe and the beliefs of those that claim to worship them as gods is striking.”

Officially, Reiwa began at zero hour (12 a.m.) May 1, the day when Emperor Naruhito is magically made the new emperor during a mystical Shinto ceremony, one that his wife will not be allowed to watch. The date seems to have been picked so that it will overlap with labor day, taking the wind out of a holiday that the anti-labor, pro-business Japanese government despises. Banri Kaieda, a scholar and parliamentarian, explains in the recently published From Heisei To Reiwa, the Gengo (imperial calendar system) dates back to China. The system indicates that “the Emperor rules over the passage of time itself.” Japan introduced the system in 654, and because it still has an emperor, the system survives. While the system has continued for over 1,000 years, the only child of the crown prince is a daughter and for it to continue, there is a need to consider having female as emperor—something that is anathema to the chauvinists in the Liberal Democratic Party.
The new name REIWA (令和) is composed first of the character REI meaning "Order, Command" as in MeiREI (direct order, command). You can also find it in words like arrest warrant or kankoREI,  “a gag order.” You can see why the authoritarian administration loves this kanji. The second character: WA means "peace" but is also a reference to the Japanese race. So you could easily interpret it to read, "If the Japanese people obey there will be order.” It is not clear how the name REIWA was derived. The Japanese press has reported that the name was chosen by Abe with little consultation. Former LDP kingpin Ichiro Ozawa recently admitted in a weekly magazine that the previous era name HEISEI, was actually decided by the then prime minister at the time—and then rubber stamped by compliant experts. The full details of the discussions to come up with the current name are classified, and since the Abe administration now routinely destroys all records of meetings, we may never know the truth.

So again, let’s ask: what’s in a name? A lot. Because under the Abe regime, in a nod to George Orwell, the names of proposed laws often hide the fact that they mean exactly the opposite of what they are. Doublespeak Japan style. For example, the deceptively dubbed “Anti-Terrorism Laws” were originally submitted as the “Criminal Conspiracy” bills, but since they aroused too many protests, they just changed the name of the bill, and finally passed it into law. It stipulates 277 crimes that police can arrest people for planning, or simply discussing. Technically, because social media is covered in the legislation, even liking a related tweet or retweeting it could now be grounds for arrest on conspiracy charges.
But the doublespeak has gotten smoother and better in recent years, much like Japanese whisky.  The deceptively name “Work−Style Reform Laws,” actually eliminated overtime pay for thousands of people and capped overtime hours at 100 per month, 20 hours more than what the Ministry of Labor deems a risk for death by overwork. The ballsiest bits of doublespeak legislation were “The Peace Preservation Laws” which allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to engage in offensive warfare. (You wil recall the motto in 1984: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” At this point in time when the Abe government names anything, you might as well assume it means the exact opposite. If the current government says REIWA means “beautify harmony,” you should suspect what it really means is “stark tyranny.” 

The Real Architects of the New Name

Despite a council which nominally participated in deriving the name of the new era, the real architects are the two people running the Abe administration: Prime Minister Shinzo “Bon Bon” Abe and Cabinet Spokesman Yoshide “Bar-code” Suga. Abe is the ne'er do well, wealthy, and not very bright grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was also a war criminal. The man behind the scenes is Abe’s political mentor, right-hand man, and back-door power broker, the savvy and cruel Yoshihide Suga. In American terms, Abe is George W. Bush and Suga is Dick Cheney aka VICE. However, in Japan, Suga unlike Cheney may become the next national leader instead of a reviled architect of disaster.

Abe is a short-tempered, vain, habitual liar with political savvy who is extremely ruthless. Early in his career he allegedly hired a local yakuza in his district to destroy a political rival. When he didn’t pay the yakuza what he had promised, a group of yakuza firebombed his office in retaliation. All of this was documented in a book written by Yu Terasawa and Shunsuke Yamaoka, published last year. It’s not hard to see how he turned out the way he did. His father was a busy absentee dad and career politician, so Abe was raised by his overbearing mother and grandfather, both of whom harbored deep resentment of Japan’s loss in the war and fantasized of a day when Japan would become an imperial power again. If you read the letters of his mother, you quickly understand that she is the brains behind the boy.  

Abe screwed the pooch during his first stint as prime minister in 2006-2007, due to a never ending series of political scandals and his inability to stomach the job. A right-wing Shinto cult, Nippon Kaigi, helped foist him back on the country and Abe has been in their debt ever since. Most of his cabinet members belong to the organization. Abe’s signature campaign slogan was “Take Japan Back” (Nihon O Torimodose) although it’s never clear who “stole” Japan in the first place. Suga has distinguished himself by working behind the scenes to do Abe’s dirty work, allegedly playing an active part in the squashing of a rape investigation involving Prime MInister Abe’s biographer. Recently, he has been gaining a bad reputation even in Japan’s timid press corps for his relentless harassment of a female journalist, Isoko Mochizuki, of the newspaper Tokyo. She has the temerity to ask hardball questions and such insolence offends Suga, who seems to believe women (and reporters) should listen but not speak.

The Mendacity of the Bureacracy

Seventy-nine percent of the Japanese no longer trust statistics released by Abe’s government, according to a poll released by the Nikkei newspaper in January. You should probably join them in your disbelief. The Mainichi newspaper reports nearly the same results. The Japanese government has spent months embroiled in an under-reported (in the West) scandal over falsified data that calls into question everything we’ve been told about Japan’s GDP, labor policy, recent scandals and Abenomics.
Here’s a brief history of false data put forward in the last two years alone, in cases where the government was actually caught red-handed.

“Honest bureaucrats end up dead or demoted.”
In February of 2018, Abe tried to push forward labor law reforms under the “Work Style Reform” name. The legislation stressed the benefits of “discretionary work” in which employees have a predetermined number of hours no matter how many they actually work. Abe claimed in the parliament that under this system corporate employees worked fewer hours, giving them more leisure time. That sounds great. The problem? The data was false–under discretionary labor practices employees worked longer hours. The prime minister had to apologize and retract his statement on Feb. 14, 2018. Key data used to justify the labor law changes were found to have 233 errors, but the bills were rammed into law on June 29 anyway.

Last November, as the parliament deliberated on new visa systems for foreign workers, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) lied about Japan’s foreign technical intern trainee program, which has been compared to human trafficking by the U.S. State Department. The ministry said they conducted interviews with 2,870 trainees and claimed 86.9 percent left their jobs in search of higher wages. In reality, that question was never asked. Instead, the trainees were asked if they quit because of low wages; 67.2 percent said yes. The MOJ said only one in 20 fled their jobs because of harsh conditions. The actual number, more than 1 in 10 (12.6 percent).  Shiori Yamao of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said, it “was an unforgivable fabrication of data.”

Abenomics, the economic policy of the government, is often faulted for increasing inflation but without increasing wages. Recent Ministry of Labor data seemed to indicate Abenomics was working—that indeed wages were rising—until the truth came out. It turns out that in January 2018, the ministry secretly changed the way they collected their workplace data so that it appeared salaries had been going up. The ministry also was forced to admit this year that faulty survey data deprived 19 million people of 53 billion yen ($490 million) in unpaid welfare benefits. A series of emails unveiled in the parliament showed the Abe government directly pressured the Labor Ministry to alter data in a way that would make wages appear to have risen. The government is refusing to create an independent third-party commission to investigate properly.

Why are government officials lying and falsifying data so proactively? Professor Jeff Kingston of Temple University and Professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University both agree that it can be traced back to 2014, when the Abe administration introduced the Cabinet Personnel Bureau. This new office gave them control over the promotions and demotions of hundreds of government officials, and they gained a stranglehold on the bureaucracy. Not only did Abe put political appointees in almost every ministry, he muzzled Japan’s formerly respected public broadcaster, NHK (the PBS of Japan), by stacking the board with ideological flunkies.

There’s another reason the bureaucrats running the government are making up statistics and lying: because they are rewarded for doing so and are not punished when they do get caught.  In February 2017, Asahi broke the news of the Moritomo Gakuen land scandal, a $7 million discount given on government land sold to a right-wing school owner. The school owner was a close friend of Prime Minister Abe and Abe’s wife. The majority of the Ministry of Finance bureaucrats that helped cover up the shady deal were promoted. They reportedly altered documents linking Prime Minister Abe’s wife to the scandal as well as mentions of Nippon Kaigi. The bureaucrat who allegedly orchestrated the cover up, Nobuhisa Sagawa, was made head of Japan’s National Tax Agency—where he distinguished himself by never having a press conference. There was however one Ministry of Finance bureaucrat, Toshio Akagi, who had a crisis of conscience and killed himself. He shouldn’t have worried.

Machiko Yamamoto, in charge of Osaka’s Special Prosecutor Office, announced on May 31 that none of the 38 suspects accused of falsifying government documents would be indicted (including Sagawa). She refused to explain why. A few months later she was promoted. It would seem no cover-up or data window-dressing for Abe goes unrewarded; the honest bureaucrats end up dead or demoted. Thus, there’s no need any more to ask the bureaucrats to alter data so it’s favorable to the government—they do it on their own.

William Pesek, author of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan's Lost Decades, notes, “Whether the wage data was ordered to be falsified, no one knows yet. However, the Ministry only began tampering with the data after heavy criticism of Abe regarding stagnated salaries. In reality, real wages didn't rise in 2018 and if you adjust for inflation, they actually went down. Trickle-down economics never works. Tampering with statistics… that works until you get caught.” However, the Abe administration has taken extraordinary measures to make sure this problem is corrected—by instituting rules that almost guarantee any embarrassing document is destroyed. In April, a request by the newspaper Mainichi under Japan’s Freedom of Information Act revealed that all records of Abe's meetings with top ministry and agency officials between December 2017 and January of this year were destroyed, and now routinely briefing materials for such meetings are shredded within a year.
It’s a mind-boggling step back in time. Imagine in the U.S. if every record of a meeting with the president or his cabinet members and members of the government were destroyed within days, or within a year after they happened.

Mainichi was lucky to get as much as it did. The Abe administration has made the Freedom of Information Act almost useless. All you can find out is the documents you want have probably already been shredded–or at least that is what you are told.

Is there any hope at all for a brighter future for Japan? Well, more than anything, what Japan needs in the new era is truth. To have that truth, Japan needs freedom of the press and elimination of the Cabinet Personal Bureau, so that bureaucrats can do their job without fear or favor—and promulgate statistics that aren’t lies. Japan’s Potemkin economy and social problems can’t be fixed by just hiding them. If Japan can’t face the truth about its own past, its present, and the future, this will be the era in which the land of the rising sun becomes the land of the setting sun, and Japan could sink into a darkness that will last longer than the Reiwa era itself.