Japan has always been something of an enigma to Western eyes. Certainly, during the times of high imperialism leading-up to World War Two, (and during WWII), Japan (and Japanese people) were treated with a certain racist disdain by the West (and this included diasporic Japanese people). It is ironic then, that from 1868 onwards, the Japanese nation decided to ‘modernise’ along Western lines, and mimic the very fascistic attitudes Japan had been subjected to. Of course, it can also be argued that Japan remains one of the few examples whereby an indigenous people succeeded in expelling all Western influence, and remain independent for hundreds of years from the excesses of Eurocentric colonialism until Japan’s defeat in 1945. I recognise that Japan (and Japanese people) have been the victims of Western imperialism, but I also recognise that in attempting to be accepted as an ‘equal’ in the international community, Japan throughout the late 19th and early to mid 20th century, copied Western militarism, Italian fascism, and German Nazism. In so doing, an attitude developed that not only saw the Japanese people as ‘racially’ superior to any and all non-White people (as they considered themselves on an equal ‘racial’ footing with Europeans), but that they were also ‘spiritually’ superior to every other race – and that included Westerners. What might be described as a ‘sense of destiny’ within European fascism, became an underlying ‘spiritual’ purity for the Japanese race. This attitude was further compounded by the idea that this dual superiority could only be real if it was ‘seen’ to be real, and that required endless military conquests.
Japanese military aggression began in Northeast China as early as 1931, erupting into all-out war in 1937. When fighting unarmed, or poorly equipped Chinese peasants or local defense forces, the Imperial Japanese Army often appeared unstoppable, but as events would show in 1938 and 1939 – when Japan suffered crushing defeats at the hands of the Soviets on the Mongolian-Manchurian Border region – Japan’s invincibility was more apparent than factual. This did not deter the warmongers in Tokyo agitating for war with the United States. his conflict led to Japanese militarism being extended throughout Asia, with the subsequent deaths of millions either in combat, or during the many atrocities carried-out by the Japanese Imperial Army. Although the victims of Japanese militarism would remain primarily Asian, these pogroms would be extended to include Western POWs (and other captured Western colonials). Western women were raped and Western men starved, worked and beaten to death alongside the far more numerous Asian hostages. Mass raping of women and girls was common place throughout Japanese occupied China and other parts of Asia (often resulting in their murder). Male prisoners were used for bayonet practice, karate-punching practice, or beheading competitions that were reported in the newspapers back home in Japan. Japanese martial arts were considered the vehicle through which Japanese physical and spiritual superiority was to be manifested in the world. Every time a non-Japanese person was hurt or killed, the lie of Japanese invincibility and superiority was reinforced. The fact that Soviet fire-power and close quarter combat had defeated these Japanese assumptions in the late 1930’s fell upon deaf ears, as did the fact that US bullets were destroying the best military formations Japan had to offer.
In late 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan and the Soviet Red Army had swept through Northeast China – destroying the remaining Japanese forces there – Japan surrendered to United States forces. In the meantime, the Nationalist ally of the US in China – Chiang Kai Chek – was losing his war with Mao Zedong’s Communist Forces. As a result, the US decided to mould post-WWII Japan into a particular image. Predatory capitalism would be introduced alongside liberal democracy, with much of Japan’s fascistic nationalism left in place as long as it was a) anti-China and b) anti-Communist in nature. This meant that ‘new’ Japan would be allowed to continue with its anti-Chinese racist attitudes, and that its immediate history would be removed from the education system. The US Occupation Authorities in Japan soon ‘unbanned’ the practice of Japanese martial arts, and presented a reborn fascistic (but democratic) Japan as a natural ally of the US in its developing Cold War policy against the USSR and Communist China (since 1949). Modern Japanese history omitted all of Japan’s fascistic imperialist development from 1868 – 1945, and was replaced with the bizarre idea that ‘new’ Japan began with the dropping of the atomic bomb. As a consequence, subsequent Japanese generations after 1945 have been brought up with no educational imput regarding the behaviour of Japanese Imperial Forces outside of Japan during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Whilst the US encouraged the practice of Japanese martial (that had been used to kill millions) across the Western world after WWII, an intense anti-China campaign was also initiated. This allowed the Japanese ideologues to ‘ignore’ or ‘deny’ any Chinese allegations of ‘atrocities’ during WWII. With US assistance, this policy created the false impression that the Japanese were level-headed and calm, whilst the Chinese were illogical and prone to fantasy.
Modern Japanese people today are not responsible for the actions of their fore-fathers, but they do possess a collective responsibility to understand their past history, and in so doing comprehend a) the highly destructive behaviour of a generation of Japanese people (fuelled by the ideology of fascism), and b) how modern Japan has been manipulated and shaped by US neo-imperialist foreign policy. Modern Japanese people live in a ‘present’ that is devoid of a past. It is an existential ‘moment’ that only recognises Japanese history from around 300 years ago or more (a post-WWII habit encouraged by black and white Japanese cinema). The events of the 1930’s and 1940’s do not exist as forming a modern-day narrative within Japanese identity – giving the false impression that Japan’s invasion and subsequent rampage throughout Asia never happened. This attitude allows for Japanese martial arts to be practised within a modern context divorced from Japanese martial historicity. Whereas millions of Japanese men, women and children swing wooden or metal swords throughout the thousands of ‘dojo’ in Japan, none are apparently aware of the hundreds of thousands of lives taken with these weapons, used in this manner, around 80 years ago by their grandparents or grea grandparents. In other words, yesterday’s martial vehicles of Japanese fascism are today’s vehicles for modern Japan’s anti-China attitudes (albeit influenced by the US).
Modern Japanese martial artists are generally self-absorbed with no sense of history or responsibility. Whilst very much part of a modern, capitalist Japan, their sense of history has become replaced with ‘myth’ and ‘mystery’, and a history of legends rather than a history of fact. Entirely because of US neo-imperialism post-WWII, the modern Japanese people live in a capitalist bubble that exists due to a fabricated rupture within Japanese history. As a consequence, Japanese school children are more likely to understand history from feudal Japan (with its routine violence, murder and brutality), than they are to know anything about the violence, murder and brutality that the Japanese nation inflicted upon the world from at least 1931 onwards (although there are substantiated reports of Japanese military brutality before this time, such as the massacre at Port Arthur in 1894). US neo-imperialism has deprived the Japanese people of their own history, and the requirement to take responsibility for their own actions. My view is that for many in Japan, the worship of the sword is a maniacal cult, the practitioners of which possess little skill and are motivated only by the destructive power of the blade, rather than by any profound development of character and ability. A few people in Japan have perfected their characters through martial endeavour, and have developed a profound skill premised upon inner peace and outer calmness (i.e. an economy of motion). Most, however, simply waste far too much energy ‘hacking’ away at one another, or folded straw mats that supposedly offer the same resistance as that of a living, human body. By encouraging the spread of Japanese martial arts throughout the West (as a means to obscure and hide Chinese martial culture during the 1960’s and 1970’s), the US succeeded in spreading the very essence of Japanese martial fascism. This even extended to British ‘dojos’ being taught by Japanese teachers paid for by the host country, teaching Westerners using Japanese militaristic language! Those training in the West in the 1960’s and 1970’s were often those whose fathers and grandfathers suffered at the hands of the very same Japanese martial arts during WWII.
The Australian Leonard Siffleet was part of an Australian special forces unit tasked with infiltrating Japanese occupied New Guinea – but he (and his colleagues) were betrayed by the locals and handed over to the Japanese. Moments after this picture was taken, Siffleet was beheaded. After the war, Yasuno Chikao was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. However, this sentence was committed to tens years imprisonment, after which Yasuno Chikao returned to post-war Japan something of a national hero. The fact that the US Occupying Forces could redeem a murdering thug like Yasuno Chikao, sent the message to rightwing and nationalistic Japanese that their views would be a) allowed and b) tolerated just as long as they were aimed at Communist China (and not the West). The tragedy here, is that China was already a victim of Japanese fascism both before and during WWII, and continues to be the victim of Japanese fascism (supported by the US) long into the 21st century. Japan does not have to recognise its crimes in China, or apologise for these crimes because the history that records these crimes has been ‘banned’ from being taught within Japanese academia. Today, ordinary Japanese men, women and children turn-up for nightly training at the local dojo, following exactly the same cultural habits and tendencies that directly led to Japanese militarism manifested over the last one hundred years or more. Until Japan faces up to its violent and brutal history, the present will always be marked by a sense of dishonesty and over-exaggerated martial endeavour that goes nowhere. Japanese people bow out of respect for one another, but have no respect for their own history, or other people. As they lack a distinct aspect of their own martial history, the technique practised becomes shallow and inconclusive. On a practical front, in nearly all encounters with regular military formations, hand to hand Japanese fighting methods usually failed in their effectiveness, and only prevailed when Japan already held the upper hand (usually against poorly armed opponents). Even Japanese military technology during WWII was considered poorly designed and cheaply constructed. The point is that unless occupying the position of dominant bully, Japanese martial arts did not work, were not technically proficient, and certainly not practised by morally (or spiritually) advanced beings. This is the reality lacking within most Mainland Japanese dojos (from which I exclude Okinawan training halls).