Gareth Jones

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Will Japan adopt Fascism?

Interview with Mr Yosuke Matsuoka, Japan’s last representative at the League of Nations. 
By Gareth Jones.
Tokyo, March, 1935 

Will Japan go Fascist?  Many observers believe that she already has many of the ingredients of Fascism.  They point out that the Army and the Navy are in command, that militarism is lauded to the skies, that ‘dangerous thought’ is suppressed, that there is persecution of Socialists and Communists and that the political parties have little power.  They refer to the assassination of Cabinet Ministers by groups of ‘Young Officers’ in whom they see the nucleus of a coming Fascist regime. 

What does one of Japan’s outstanding figures think of this so-called Japanese Fascist future?  To find out I visited Mr. Matsuoka, the man who faced the world for his country at Geneva and who is now leading a campaign to smash the political parties and party system of Japan.  

When this stockily built man with broad rough features and Hitler-like moustache received me in his black silk kimono, I asked him what his political aims were.  

“I am agitating to abolish political parties, he replied.  “The West is already doing it.  Even in England the party system is undergoing a big change.  According to your constitutional usage, I believe, Mr. MacDonald has no right to form a government.  Your constitutionality should demand Mr. Baldwin as Prime Minister, because he is leader of the majority party.  Luckily you have that envious ability to accommodate yourselves to circumstances in a common sense way.  

“Even in the United States politics are not carried out now according to party lines.  A great many so-called Republicans support the President, while in California, Mr. Sinclair, a Socialist, was supported by Democrats.  Thus in American party lines have been erased.  

“The disappearance of parties in Italy, Russia and Germany is obvious to mention”.  

“Do you then, Mr. Masuoka, wish to introduce Fascism?” I asked.  

“No. In Japan, due to racial traits and our history, we cannot carry out anything similar to what Mussolini and what Hitler have been doing.  It is not in our temperament to allow any dictator to boss the whole country and such a thing has never happened in Japan”.  

“Has there been a movement towards Fascism here?” I asked.  

“Some people who saw the rise of Mussolini were aroused, for it appealed to their imagination.  But since I came back from Geneva I have told the people that Mussolini can have no place in Japan.  He has done a lot of good but the establishment of power by violence and autocratic rule cannot be carried out in Japan.  If we could only adopt the policy of Mussolini, it might be the shortest way out of present situation, but it just cannot be done”.  

“Why cannot Japan adopt Fascism,” I asked.  

Mr. Masuoka replied: “Examine our national and racial history.  Take Hideyoshi, the greatest warrior statesman of our country who lived in the sixteenth century.  Even he could not do what Mussolini has done.  He had to consult with the daimyos, the lords.  Hideyoshi did not unite Japan by force; he had to use diplomacy and negotiate internal treaties by compromise.  Take Ilyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled for over two and a half centuries until the Meiji Restoration of 1867.  Ilyasu did not have the power of a Hitler or a Mussolini.  Even the Emperor has not ruled the country autocratically”. 

“Is a Fascist coup d’état possible?” I asked.   

“It is possible.  No man in Japan can carry out a coup d’etat because without the army it cannot be done.  You cannot form like the Blackshirts or the stormtroopers.  The standing army and the police maintain the status quo.  Not even the most popular general or admiral could entice the army”.  

“Might not the ‘Young Officers’ attempt a coup d’état?” I asked.  

“Now and then the Young Officers have tried to carry out a revolution. They are nationalist fiery and they are deeply dissatisfied.  They worry as to the future of the country.  It is not that they forget their duty, for they think that they are saving the country.  But no attempt has succeeded, because no man can move the major part of the army or even one division.  In England a Cromwell arose, but in Japan no Cromwell can arise”.  

“The Japanese have a temperament which compels them to fight against power.  When we are commanded we fight.  When we are persuaded we are softer in yielding than Europeans.  Foreigners believe that we are a disciplined race.  That is wrong.  We are rebellious and lack discipline.  No people are as independent as the Japanese.  They answer to emotion rather than to reason”.  

“Why do you wish to abolish political parties, I asked.  

“We must get away from Western democracy which breeds corruption and return to the true Japanese democracy which is the rule of the Emperor.  The mainspring of our country is the Emperor.  He is responsible for all that happens in Japan.  The Emperor Meiji wrote in a letter: “If there is a man who is not contented, them I am responsible”.  The Emperor rules according to the will of Heaven.  We have a saying that the will of the people is the will of Heaven.  That is our Japanese democracy”.  

“How does the party system clash with that democracy?” I asked.  

“The State Ministers are solely responsible to the Emperor, and through the Emperor the Ministers are responsible to the people.  For 3,000 years we have had that notion.  That Ministers are responsible to Parliament can have no place in our history, for you cannot make a Briton out of a Japanese in one day.  However, the idea has got into our politics that Ministers should be responsible to Parliament and it causes confusion and corruption.  I am trying to convince the people that is not our way.  We must get back to real Japonism, which means not Fascism but that Japanese democracy which is the rule of the Emperor.”

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