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Obituary

OBITUARY | Hideaki Kase: The Broad and Open-Minded Reach of an Unabashed Nationalist

While there was romanticism and selective memory in the Hideaki Kase view of 1930s-1940s history, there were also solid chunks of reality not told by the war victors.

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Hideaki Kase
Hideaki Kase, a diplomatic commentator, planting a Taiwanese cherry tree related to Emperor Showa and putting a hoe in it is seen at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in March, 2022. (© Sankei by Shin Okabe)

On November 25, my Google News alert included an item about Hideaki Kase. It was entitled "Hideaki Kase, the Ultranationalist Figure Who Wanted to Make Japan Great Again," and published in Haaretz, a well-known newspaper in Israel.

I was familiar with the name Hideaki Kase because he appears in the Miki Dezaki film Shusenjo as a leading "comfort women denialist." He was one of the plaintiffs in an ultimately futile court action over whether they had been properly informed that they would be appearing in a commercial film rather than an MA student project.


Otherwise, I knew little about Kase and was curious as to why an Israeli paper would pick up on Kase as a subject. Because Haaretz has a reputation as left-wing or at least left-leaning, I expected the treatment to follow that of FEND (Japan-US Feminist Network for Decolonization), where Kase is a member of their rogues gallery.

Reading the article by Rotem Kowner, an Israeli historian noted for his work on the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, I found a long and somewhat sympathetic obituary of a nationalist Japanese with a strong connection to Israel and Judaism.

Hideaki Kase
Mr Hideaki Kase. (© Sankei)

Hideaki Kase's Influence

Kowner credits Kase with being "one of the leading shapers of public opinion in Japan." While Kase apparently advised at least three Japanese prime ministers — Takeo Fukuda, Yasuhiro Nakasone, and Shinzo Abe — and was a prolific author, his passing produced far less coverage than that of former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, another staunch nationalist of the same age cohort. Even conservative and nationalistic newspapers, such as the The Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun, carried only skeletal obituaries.

Kase was a member of a number of nationalistic organizations, including the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference). Nippon Kaigi has sometimes been portrayed as the eminence grise behind politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Among Kase's many positions was that of advisor to the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (新しい歴史教科書をつくらい会). The entity produced the "revisionist" history and civics textbooks for use in Japan schools. However, the textbooks' adoption was extremely limited.

Why Japan Went to War

Kowner posits three main lines of explanation for Japan going to war with the US and European countries. The first is historical aberrations set in motion by rapid modernization. Next is being forced by foreign powers that controlled access to resources. And the third is liberating Asia.

Kase combined the second and third explanations.

That Japan was forced into war is not a claim limited to Japanese so-called revisionists. The assertion that Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted war with Japan. That way the US could aid Britain unhampered by the Neutrality Act of 1939 and Johnson Act of 1934. This claim is easily found on US history sites that are not trying to vindicate Japan. The usual intent is to discredit FDR and, by extension, his domestic policies.

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Kowner interviewed Kase in July 2022 and asked him about Japan in what is now Indonesia. The area was known as the Dutch East Indies when Japan took control in 1942. For Kase, Indonesia was part of "liberating Asia from the yoke of the Christians." As Kowner points out, Japan did not actually grant the country independence. And after surrender IJA (Imperial Japan Army) soldiers fought a holding action until the Dutch could return.

Nonetheless, there were Indonesians who welcomed the Japanese. I attended lectures by one such Indonesian who had been a child when Japan invaded. He repeatedly talked about seeing "little brown people like us" giving orders to the tall, white Dutch. Those he usually referred to as "those Dutch bastards." He was very friendly to the Japanese community in Madison, Wisconsin. He and I were both academics/pursuing our PhDs. And after a few beers we would start singing Japanese songs he had learned as a child during the Japanese occupation.

Hideaki Kase on the Liberation of India

In the interview with Kowner, Kase was equally upbeat about what he saw as Japan's role in the liberation of India from British colonial rule. For example, he claimed the March-July 1944 Imphal campaign, when Japan invaded India to attack Allied forces, "sparked Indian independence."

The Imphal campaign was an unmitigated disaster for Japan. And the Indian independence movement predated actions by Japan. Indians, such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, did, however, look to Japan for support. 

There was also the British-trained Bengali jurist Radhabinod Pal. He wrote a 1,000-plus page dissenting opinion to the guilty verdicts for the "Class A war criminals" in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). While highly critical of Japan, Pal did not think the white Christian imperialists were the ones to be rendering judgment on the Japanese.

The dissenting opinion by Pal was the primary source for Richard Minear when he wrote Victors' Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial. (Princeton University Press, 1971). In his view the IMTFE was a political show trial permeated by violations of due process and rules of evidence.

The Minear book is the revisionism of a left-leaning scholar. Minear championed the work of Saburo Ienaga. The latter fought a long-running series of court cases challenging the rejection and censorship of his own left-wing revisionist text by the Ministry of Education.

Hideaki Kase
Hideaki Kase (far right), Yoshiko Sakurai (center) and others discuss the "Tokyo Trial" symposium at Kokushikan University in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo on November 2, 2017 (© Sankei by Hideo Iida)

Irony of the US-Japan Alliance

There is for Japanese nationalists and conservatives, as Kowner notes for Kase, more than a little irony in the United States being the main military ally of Japan. It is at the same time the former conquering enemy that gave Japan its 1947 Constitution. That never-amended Constitution, with its Article 9, states the following. "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation," and to ensure this, "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be sustained."

Getting this article revised or completely eliminated has been a formally stated goal of numerous Japanese politicians. Notably among them is former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even as prime minister, however, none has ever made any real progress in this direction. Abe, however, succeeded in expanding the formally legitimized role for Japanese cooperation with US forces. He also raised the possibility of Japan accepting the placement of US nuclear weapons in the country.

Changing Opinions on Defense Spending

For decades Japan maintained an informal policy of keeping military expenditures at 1% of GDP. Even a slight excess was controversial. Contrast this with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's announcement of a phased increase to 2%. Reaction this time centered on how this increase was to be financed and whether 2% was really needed.

Thanks in no small part to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, surveys show the Japanese public at large becoming increasingly receptive to the need for an increased military capability. In June, a Jiji Press survey reported by Bloomberg found public support for an increase at the 50% level. Similarly, an earlier survey by NHK reported in a Bloomberg article published in the Washington Post found 35% in favor of revising Article 9, 19% against, and 42% undecided.

In effect, Vladimir Putin has done more to get the Japanese public open to the idea of a more muscular military establishment than decades of exhortation by Kase, former PM Shinzo Abe, and a myriad of other like-minded pundits and politicians. This point was made in the headline of the previously cited Washington Post article, "How Putin's Spooking Japan Further Away From Pacifism."

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Hideaki Kase, the Man

As in the case of Shintaro Ishihara, Hideaki Kase was far from being a knuckle dragging reactionary with little or no knowledge of the world outside of Japan.

His father had been a diplomat who attended the surrender of Japan on the battleship Missouri. Kase graduated in economics from Keio University. Keio is one of the two private universities that stand at the top of the higher education hierarchy in Japan. He then did further study at Yale and Columbia in the United States.

For years he headed the Britannica International operation in Japan and was apparently quite fluent in English. Numerous translations from English form a significant part of his substantial list of publications. 

He was, moreover, a prominent member of the FCCJ (Foreign Correspondents Club Japan). His presence was apparently discomforting for the heavily left-wing foreign membership. Yet its house organ, the Number 1 Shimbun, devoted more attention to him in its December 2022 issue than he has received even in Japanese so-called right-wing venues.

Kase and John Lennon of the Beatles are reported as having been close friends as a result of the Beatles member's marriage to Kase's cousin Yoko Ono.

Hideaki Kase, Jews, and Israel

The most striking aspect of Kase as an individual is, however, his relation to Jews and Israel. This is something that Kowner takes up in some detail.

As Kowner notes, despite there being relatively few Jews in Japan, there is widespread interest in them. "Indeed, over the years there have been extreme manifestations of blatant philosemitism, alongside nonviolent antisemitism."

Philosemitism is essentially inverted antisemitism. It takes the stereotypes of antisemitism as something for admiration and emulation, not denigration and loathing.

An extreme manifestation of this was Nihonjin to Yudayajin (The Japanese and the Jews, Kadokawa Publishing, 1971). The book was immensely popular among college-educated Japanese when I was first in Japan in 1971-1974. So many academics urged me to read it that it became the first book I read in Japanese.

Kase was very much in the philosemitic camp. According to Kowner, Kase was co-author and translator of books by Marvin Tokayer. The latter was rabbi to the Jewish community in Tokyo for eight years. Tokayer was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays in 2016.

Kase also claimed credit for instigating an abridged translation of the Talmud. The volume was done by Tokayer and published in 1971. According to Kowner, this translation was popular not just in Japan but other Asian countries.

Kase published numerous popular market books with Jewish themes, including collections of Jewish humor and jokes. This sets him apart from other philosemitic Japanese who were primarily interested in the alleged money making skills of Jews.

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Hideaki Kase on Saving the Jews

Kowner does not seem to regard Kase's philosemitism as a problem. But he does take him to task for claims that General Kiichiro Higuchi saved 20,000 Jewish refugees in Harbin. There is no evidence in any event, other than Higuchi's claim.

That Kase would be proud of the Higuchi story, even if it is fabricated, points to an important difference between Japan and its nominal ally Germany. The Japanese never bought into German antisemitism. That is something that continually frustrated the Germans in Japan.

Jews fared well in the explicitly muti-ethnic state the Japanese Kwantung established in North East China (Manchuria). A plan to resettle refugee Jews in Manchuria was considered at the highest level of the Imperial Japan Army. Dubbed the Fugu Plan by Marvin Thayor and Mary Swartz in a 1979 book on the subject, it came to nothing. It was based more on a desire for Jewish money and skills than humanitarian grounds. But it is in striking contrast to the German desire for a "final solution."

In a later article published in the Number 1 Shimbun, Kowner and coauthor Joshua Fogel write:

"Apart from a few episodes of conscious humanitarian support…wartime Japan did not extend help to the Jews trying to survive or find shelter in areas under its control. Rather, the opposite was the case. Although Japan did not exterminate these Jews, it impeded the passage of some, deported others. And eventually, during the last two years of the war, it detained the majority of them simply for being Jews.

The Shinzo Abe Years

The tone here is strikingly different from what Kowner said in Haaretz. It leaves the impression that he and Fogel are playing to the left-wing FCCJ membership, both foreign and domestic. This, too, explains their assertion that "The rise of ultra-nationalism and its moving into the mainstream during Shinzo Abe's eight-year tenure may explain part of the success of this story."

There was nothing that Abe did or said during his eight-year tenure that would be considered "ultra-nationalism." Not in terms of the contemporary politics of any G7 country, to say nothing of Israel. This is the same overblown rhetoric as found in the left-leaning NPR (National Public Radio) description of Shinzo Abe as "divisive arch conservative." Divisive, yes. Arch conservative, no.

Calling for business to have more women in managerial positions, even if the call is ineffectual, is not something an "arch conservative" would do.

As for Japan not being more proactive in aiding Jews, Kowner and Fogel need to be reminded that the Imperial Japanese Army was not a benevolent humanitarian organization. It rode roughshod over the domestic Japanese population, to say nothing of those in foreign areas under its control.

The United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt is a much more appropriate target for "could have done more" criticism. Numerous articles critical of FDR and his lack of response to the plight of European Jews may be found on the History News Network website.

Hideaki Kase © Sankei)

Conclusion

Dismissing Hideaki Kase and Shinzo Abe as "ultra nationalists" or "arch conservatives" tells more about the politics of those using this terminology than it does the individuals so described. As someone who grew up in a solidly Republican milieu in the United States in the 1950s-1960s, there's nothing ultra about the nationalism of either one.

While there was more than a little romanticism and selective memory in Kase's view of 1930s-1940s history, there were also solid chunks of reality. Particularly with respect to what he called white Chrisitan imperialism. It was a perspective that did not figure prominently in the histories of this period written by those from the victorious countries.

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That the Kowner Haaretz article and the Kowner/Fogel article are so different in tone suggests that perhaps the Haaretz readership would find Kase and Abe less "ultra" than the FCCJ membership.

Perhaps most important and most regrettably, Kase's fears of Russia and China are being given support on a regular basis by the current leadership of those countries.

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Author: Earl H Kinmonth

Find other stories about Tokyo and nearby areas by Dr Kinmonth at this link.

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