In light of the recently convened G7 Hiroshima Summit
Arinobu Hori, M.D., Ph.D.
Hori Mental Clinic, Minami-soma, Fukushima, Japan
In May, 2023, the G7 Hiroshima Summit has been convened successfully. I posit that this event, despite diverse opinions, can be identified as a significant achievement both for Japan and the international community. The poignant image of all G7 leaders laying wreaths at the Memorial Monument for Atomic Bomb Victims resonated profoundly.
Under Japan's stewardship as the summit chair, we welcomed heads of state from invitee countries including Ukraine's President Zelensky, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Australia, Cook Islands, and Comoros. This collective demonstrated a strong condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, upholding the principle of nuclear abolition. This act, notably coordinated by Japan, carries substantial importance, and I commend the considerable contributions made by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other involved parties.
However, it is also crucial to recognize that this accomplishment was a product of Japan's deft handling of an intricate and delicate situation, seizing a rather fleeting opportunity. The question of 'what should be the next move?' remains shrouded in uncertainty. I intend to analyze the psychology associated with this particular point.
For this purpose, I find the following excerpt from a legendary literary critic Norihiro Kato's "Introduction to the Post-War Era" particularly insightful. He describes the political system that was laid down by the post-WWII prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, and subsequently nurtured through the tenure of prime ministers in the Japan’s high-growth era Hayato Ikeda and Eisaku Sato. This system was characterized by harmoniously operating the following two frameworks:
Exotericism: A system of interpretation which views Japan and the United States as good partners; perceives Japan to stand on a different set of values than before its unconditional surrender; and emphasizes the country's pacifist stance under Article 9 of its constitution.
Esotericism: A system of interpretation which views Japan as subservient to the United States; connects pre- and post-war Japan; and acknowledges the existence of Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military bases under Article 9 of the constitution.
It can be asserted that Prime Minister Kishida's navigation of this summit has revitalized the traditional system of the Liberal Democratic Party, adeptly alternating between these two frameworks. This approach can be viewed more favorably compared to the strategies employed during the former Abe administration. During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's era, contrary to the current summit, there appeared to be a propensity towards attacking the spirit of exotericism, while simultaneously reinforcing the spirit of esotericism.
Kato's delineation of 'exotericism' and 'esotericism' has a precedent. The 20th century philosopher giants Shunsuke Tsurumi and Osamu Kuno described the pre-war Japanese political system in the following terms:
Exotericism: A system of interpretation viewing the Emperor as an absolute monarch, vested with unlimited authority and power.
Esotericism: A system of interpretation considering the Emperor as a constitutional monarch, with his authority and power curtailed by the constitution and other legal provisions.
The Meiji government advanced by skillfully manipulating these two systems. However, with changing times, a situation that could be called an "exoteric crusade against esotericism" emerged, including the rejection of the "Emperor-as-Organ Theory." As a result, Japan hurtled towards the Pacific War. When the system prioritizing rule by law was neglected, Japanese politics lost a long-term compass, becoming susceptible to immediate circumstances.
In this historical context, it is reassuring to see Japan's current leader, Prime Minister Kishida, deliberately and proactively operating both systems of interpretation, rather than favoring one over the other.
On the other hand, limitations do exist in the political tactic of 'switching between the two interpretive systems,' which can also be understood as 'alternating between front and back.' While this method indeed allowed success in the complex situation of the recent G7 Summit, where Japan seemed cornered, its reproducibility and sustainability are scant.
A political stance that espouses a 'principle without duality' might give a monotonous impression, but it does provide consistent guidelines for action. Despite any short-term disadvantages, this approach is essential for achieving a long-term vision. Unfortunately, such a stance is yet to be seen in current Japanese politics.
Inevitably, Japan's decision not to participate in the 'Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons' — even while emphasizing 'Hiroshima' and 'nuclear-bombed cities' in events like the recent G7 Summit — will likely invite criticism for lacking consistency.
Maintaining a political stance that deftly switches between the two systems depending on the situation implies an inherent risk of veering towards the post-war esoteric direction (being a vassal state of America) at the wrong opportunity. Prime Minister Kishida sent a spell-binding rice scoop to President Zelensky, wishing him victory in the war during his visit to Ukraine before the G7 summit. Japan should not become fully immersed in such a combative relationship and must avoid becoming overly complacent with its esotericist position.
Given the West's pragmatic sensibility, if tensions with China escalate, there may be attempts to impose Ukraine's current situation on Japan. From the perspective of Japan's national interests, this must be absolutely avoided. If Japan were seriously committed to values like "nuclear abolition," rather than focusing on seizing opportune moments, it could provide a basis for Western societies to respect Japan.
The ideological challenge in Japanese politics is to integrate the systems of exotericism and esotericism under conscious decisions and establish a coherent independent subjectivity. This is a difficult task that few have tackled earnestly.
While I believe attention should be given to the trend within the Liberal Democratic Party to prioritize post-war esotericism over exotericism embodied by Article 9 of the Constitution, incessant criticism of esotericism from an exoteric standpoint is also not desirable. Becoming overly dogmatic could lead to rigidity.
Morally, we are burdened with the debt of enjoying peace and economic prosperity under the protection of America's nuclear umbrella. Although the general public was not informed about the "secret nuclear pact" between Japan and the United States, it has now been revealed, and anyone can easily access this information if they wish.
As stakeholders living in this situation, we need to take responsible actions on how to realize ideals like nuclear abolition. Without this resolve, an ideological stance that merely criticizes the current situation from a moral high ground would struggle to gain substantial support in present and future Japan.
*This article was originally published on May 24, 2023, in Kodansha Gendai Business, a Japanese-language web media outlet, and has been translated and reprinted in English.