Tamogami & Palin
Illustration: Phil Couzens

Tamogami, Palin, and populist conservatisms

It has been just over a year since General Toshio Tamogami (ASDF-ret.), then the chief of staff of Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces, was drummed out of the service after he was awarded the top prize in an essay contest sponsored by the APA Group for his essay "Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?"

In the year since he became a household name, Tamogami has become a leading figure of the Japanese right, as I expected following his appearance before the House of Councillors foreign and defense affairs committee. According to his website, by year's end he will have given more than seventy lectures across Japan. He has made at least seven TV appearances, and has his name on twelve books (aside from a number of them being transcripts of conversations with other right-wing figures, it is unlikely that Tamogami has written much of what his name is attached to). And he has been the subject of a fawning special issue of WiLL, which features his writings, including autobiographical writings, conversations between Tamogami and Shintaro Ishihara and Yoshinori Kobayashi, and contributions from right-wingers like Yoshiko Sakurai (whose "work" Tamogami cited in his essay), Shoichi Watanabe (the Sophia University emeritus professor who chaired the selection committee for the APA contest), Shingo Nishimura, an outspoken Diet member, and Kyoto University's Terumasa Nakanichi, among other regular contributors to WiLL and similar publications.

Toshio Tamogami: Japan's Sarah Palin.

The comparison is not without merit. Like Palin, Tamogami claims to be speaking the truth to power, in both cases left-wing elites who they claim have stifled the expression of the country's true identity. (The WiLL issue is full of complaints about double standards aimed at the Asahi Shimbun especially, complaints about free speech only for those who speak ill of Japan.) While Tamogami and other revisionist conservatives claim to care only about revealing the noble truth of Japan's wartime past and its beautiful history and seek to promote policies that will enable the Japanese people to be proud of their country again, the revisionist right's program is less a program than an aesthetic appeal, a collection of slogans about pride and greatness, about reclaiming Japan's past from the anti-Japan Japanese left and escaping the postwar regime.

And so with Mrs. Palin. As far as I can tell from the reviews, her book is long on right-wing platitudes, extremely short on policy substance. And like her Japanese counterpart, Mrs. Palin sees the "lamestream" media as the enemy within. Like Tamogami, Palin is the voice of a defensive, populist conservatism mobilized to defend traditions seen as under siege by left-wing elites who want to weaken the resolve of their respective countries in the face of threats at home and abroad.

Both have found considerable success as private citizens, finding it easier to speak truth to power when not in a position of authority. Not surprisingly Tamogami has, according to Asahi, rejected LDP overtures to run as a candidate on the LDP's proportional representation list in next summer's House of Councillors election. Why would Tamogami want to trade the lecture circuit for a seat in the upper house, in which he would have to wait his turn to speak, obey certain rules of decorum, and be only one of 242? He has far more freedom to attack the DPJ government now than he would as a representative from a marginalized LDP.

Meanwhile, the similarities between Japan's revisionist right and America's populist right will be in full view next year when Tamogami visits New York City to give a speech and appear at a dinner cruise. Sharing the stage with him will be Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who posed a surprisingly formidable challenger for John McCain in the race for the 2008 Republican Party presidential nomination. While Huckabee has crafted a kinder, gentler image than the moose-hunting, media-scorning Palin (he has been a regular on Comedy Central, after all), he occupies a similar space in the post-2008 conservative movement, a populist evangelical Christian who has railed against the powers that be not just on cultural grounds but on economic grounds (alienating some Republicans in the process). Some polls show him as a front runner for the Republican nomination in 2012.

I hope someone will ask Huckabee why he has agreed to share the stage with Tamogami, who you may recall believes that the US went to war against Japan because Franklin Roosevelt was manipulated by Stalin (through the influence of Harry Dexter White). Perhaps some journalist will ask Huckabee what he thinks about Tamogami's thoughts on the humanitarianism of the Japanese empire or Japan's war of self-defense against China or his opposition to the corrupting influence of America upon Japanese culture or his calls for a Japanese nuclear arsenal.

I have a hard time seeing how someone viewed as a serious contender for the nomination of a major party could associate himself with Tamogami and still be taken seriously.

Other posts by Tobias Harris:


My grandfather, Isaac Hakuole (Harbottle) was sent to Japan in 1880 by King Kalakaua the Hawaiian king who implemented the foreign-exchange student program in Hawaii. Only first-born sons of Hawaiian royalty were sent around the world to be educated in foreign capital's military schools. Papa's classmate was soon-to-become Emperor Hirohito. As a student he acquired all of Japanese culture, religion, including practices of the royal elite. He spoke 'court-dialect' Japanese but could also speak commoner's dialect. Returning to Hawaii he became translator for Hawaii's territorial courts. My training in Japanese culture and samurai knowledge began at the age of five; every eldest boy in our family was schooled in Japanese language and culture including shinto, martial arts, etc.
America's decision to enter the war was because Japan crippled her Navy at Pearl Harbor.... sitting on Papa's shoulder's that day, I witnessed a Zero dropping a bomb in the water off Waikiki beach and remembered my grandfather's words: Japan will NEVER invade Hawaii. And yes the invasion came in the late sixties when they bought up property in Hawaii (I worked for Hideo Hamaichi..my mentor..who was the broker).
Having a life-long appreciation of the Japanese people and their amazing history and being directly influenced by my grandfather...a true Samurai.. I can only hope that Japan like the USA will rid itself of Left-wing Liberal garbage that has brought both countries to economic disaster and promote conservative values as General Tamogami and Sarah Palin are.
Henry Kaahea

"Japan's war of self-defense against China"
Are you serious? First, they claim they only "entered" China. Now it's SELF-DEFENSE? My God... Denial has it's limits.

Left-wing policies don't kill the economy. They revive a economy to a certain extent which allows capitalism to run smoother again. People who do not abide to the responsibilities of capitalism end up weakening the economy.

Do not forget that countless times, the Democrats, have saved and improved the living conditions of the USA. They are leftists. How can you expect conservatives to run a dying country? Conservatives focus way too much on foreign issues and put too much trust on time to sort things out. People need action. People need someone who would focus on domestic issues and those people are the Democrats. The Leftists. If it wasn't for left-wing ideals, we would not have any revolutionary progress. Take science for an example. Because people who look at something new, think the opposite can make progress. Even retrogressive change is better than the almost stalemate Conservatives bring. It Liberals were non-existent, we'd still be living under feudal conditions. If it wasn't for them promoting individuality and their humanitarianism, many would still be oppressed by the "elite" and living conditions would be poor. That applies to the whole world.

Liberal garbage... Think again. I don't want to live in something like the Christian Dark Ages. Conservatism at it's finest.