Saturday, April 19, 2014

Japan expands army footprint for first time in 40 years, risks angering China



YONAGUNI, Japan (Reuters) - Japan began its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan.

The move risks angering China, locked in a dispute with Japan over nearby islands which they both claim.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan's main islands.

"This is the first deployment since the U.S. returned Okinawa (1972) and calls for us to be more on guard are growing," Onodera told reporters. "I want to build an operation able to properly defend islands that are part of Japan's territory."

The military radar station on Yonaguni, part of a longstanding plan to improve defense and surveillance, gives Japan a lookout just 150 km (93 miles) from the Japanese-held islands claimed by China.

Building the base could extend Japanese monitoring to the Chinese mainland and track Chinese ships and aircraft circling the disputed crags, called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.

The 30 sq km (11 sq mile) Yonanguni is home to 1,500 people and known for strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to put troops there shows Japan's concerns about the vulnerability of its thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.

The new base "should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland," said Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the Defense Ministry's National Institute for Defense Studies.

"It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements."

Japan does not specify an exact enemy when discussing its defense strategy but it makes no secret it perceives China generally as a threat as it becomes an Asian power that could one day rival Japan's ally in the region, the United States.

Japan, in its National Defense Programme Guidelines issued in December, expressed "great concern" over China's military buildup and "attempts to change the status quo by coercion" in the sea and air.
China's decision last year to establish an air-defence identification zone in the East China Sea, including the skies above the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets, further rattled Tokyo.

Japanese and Chinese navy and coastguard ships have played cat-and-mouse around the uninhabited islands since Japan nationalized the territory in 2012. Japanese warplanes scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, the Defence Ministry said last week.

Tapping concern about China, Abe raised military spending last fiscal year for the first time in 11 years to help bolster Japan's capability to fight for islands with a new marine unit, more longer-range aircraft, amphibious assault vehicles and helicopter carriers. Japan's thousands of islands give it nearly 30,000 km (18,600 miles) of coastline to defend.

Onodera's groundbreaking ceremony on Yonaguni took place s four days before President Barack Obama lands in Tokyo for a summit with Abe, the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years.
The United States, which under its security pact with Tokyo has pledged to defend Japanese territory, has warned China about taking any action over the disputed islets, but has not formally recognized Japan's claim of sovereignty over the territory.

Many of the islanders on nearby Yonaguni are looking forward to hosting the radar base and the 100 troops who will man it because of the economic boost it will bring.

Others on the island, however, fear becoming a target should Japan end up in a fight.

"Opinion is split down the middle," Tetsuo Funamichi, the head of the Japan Agricultural Association's local branch, told Reuters. "It's good for the economy if they come, but some people worry that we could be attacked in an emergency."

Onodera was also greeted on Saturday by about 50 protesters who tried to block him from entering the construction site.

"Becoming a target is frightening, they won't talk to us about it, we haven't discussed it," a protestor, who declined to be identified said.

Takenori Komine, who works in an island government office, said it was a risk worth taking if it meant reviving an outpost of Japan that has been in decline since a brief postwar boom.

At that time, U.S.-occupied Yonaguni's proximity to Taiwan made it an entry point into Japan for smuggled food and clothing from Hong Kong. Since the end of World War Two, the island's population has withered by some 90 percent. Average income of about $22,500 a year is a fifth below the national average.

"We are hopeful that the arrival of the young troops will bolster local consumption," Komine said.
(Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Protest over handling of Fukushima

This came out yesterday

Link to the original article:

Or read on below. . .


Hundreds protest dropped charges over Fukushima crisis

Tokyo (AFP) - Hundreds rallied in Tokyo Saturday to protest Japanese prosecutors' decision to drop charges over the Fukushima nuclear crisis, with no one yet punished nearly three years after the "man-made" disaster.

No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of radiation released when a tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake crashed into the Fukushima nuclear plant in March 2011, swamping cooling systems and sparking reactor meltdowns.

However, some Fukushima residents committed suicide owing to fears over radiation, while others died during evacuation. Official data released last week showed that 1,656 people have died in the prefecture from stress and other illnesses related to the disaster three years ago.

"There are many victims of the accident, but there is no (charged) assailant," chief rally organiser Ruiko Muto, 61, told the protesters, displaying a photograph of Kawauchi village which was hit by the nuclear accident.

"We are determined to keep telling our experiences as victims to pursue the truth of the accident, and we want to avoid a repeat of the accident in the future," she said.
Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes around the plant, with scientists warning some areas may have to be abandoned.

"I used to grow organic rice... But I can't do it anymore because of consumers' worries over radioactive contamination," Kazuo Nakamura, 45, a farmer from Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture, told the rally.

"I want (Fukushima operator) TEPCO officials and bureaucrats of the central government to eat the Fukushima-made rice," he shouted to applause.

A parliamentary report has said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan's culture of "reflexive obedience" and not just by the tsunami that crippled the plant.
Some 15,000 people whose homes or farms were hit by radiation from the stricken plant filed a criminal complaint in 2012 against the Japanese government and officials of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).

However, prosecutors in September decided not to charge any of them with negligence over the nuclear disaster.

- Criminal complaint -
Campaigners immediately appealed against the decision by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, which has the power to order the defendants to be tried.

The committee members comprise 11 citizens who are chosen at random by lot.

But the appeal was made in Tokyo instead of Fukushima, a move campaigners say is "aimed at preventing us from filing a complaint against their decision in Fukushima, where many residents share our anger and grief".

"We want to share with many people in Tokyo our anger and sadness over the fact that no one has taken responsibility three years after the accident," one of the organisers, 43-year-old Miwa Chiwaki, told AFP.

"We pin our hopes on sound judgement by people in Tokyo," Chiwaki said.

Campaigners allege that government officials and TEPCO executives failed to take necessary measures to shield the plant against the March 2011 tsunami.

They also hold them responsible for a delay in announcing data predicting how radiation would spread from the facility in the aftermath of the accident.

But prosecutors decided to exempt all of them, saying that TEPCO and government officials could not predict an earthquake and tsunami of that size, and there was nothing wrong with their post-quake response under unexpected emergency situations.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the campaigners, said "there were lots of measures that officials could have taken to prevent the disaster."

"We won't give up indictment of the officials," he said.

Campaigners last year filed a separate complaint to prosecutors over TEPCO's handling of increasing waters contaminated with radiation after used for cooling the stricken reactors, accusing them of committing pollution-related crimes.

Separately, TEPCO officials and senior government officials face several civil lawsuits that were filed by thousands of plaintiffs seeking compensation for mental and financial damage, demanding full restoration of the pre-accident environment in their hometowns.
The waves created by the tsunami swept more than 18,000 people to their deaths across the country and destroyed entire communities.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

address system in Japan

My friend had an exhibition for his new company today.  It was at a place called Gallery Common in Omotesando, an upscale district in Tokyo.  It was easy to find the basic vicinity, but once I did, I was reminded at how much of a pain the address system here is.

Addresses have three numbers, e.g. 1-2-31 or 7-23-4.  The numbers are preceded by the area in which the building or house is located, e.g. Higashi Shinjuku.  So a hypothetical address (I'm making this up) could be something like Higashi Shinjuku 1-20-12.

The first number, 1, would mean 1-chome.  The chome indicates the district.

The 20 would mean that it's the 20th block in  the district.  

The 12 would mean that it's the 12th house/building on the block.

Before Google maps and smart phones, I could spend literally an hour looking for a place in Tokyo.  And Google maps doesn't solve all the problems because most Tokyo streets don't have names, which is a real real pain sometimes.  (The story I've heard is that they designed Tokyo to be seemingly haphazardly laid out, rather than according to the parallel/perpendicular street system utilized in many countries, and even in other prefectures in Japan, like Hokkaido.  The reason for the haphazardness was to confuse the enemy in the event of an invasion by a foreign country.)  Generally businesses, I find, don't have their addresses posted outside their doors.  I guess they figure their big signs ought to do the trick.  One who is looking for an official address would have a better chance at seeing it at the front of a private residence, esp. near a mailbox.

So this is what it looked like.  Clothes shops, a crepe shop, a Starbucks, on within striking distance of Gallery Common.  But like two of the buildings on the block had addresses displayed out front, so I was walking around and around.

poles and building corners will have the district and block displayed, in some areas

this crepe place had no address on display
Finally, I found a building with an address posted outside!

This isn't exactly an interesting topic, but it's one that people usually have to deal with when they live in Japan.  The lack of easily accessible addresses and street names.  The bright side is that it is kind of a mysterious world to live in. . .Not knowing where things are or what's in those buildings.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kagaya, theme restaurant

Over the weekend, I had the Kagaya experience.  It's a little izakaya located in the basement of a building near Shimbashi station.  It sort of falls within the theme bar/restaurant experience, but not for the usual reasons.  Other examples of theme places are:  the Christon Cafe, which is decorated as a neon-lit, semi-Gothic church; Arabian Nights looks like a Sinbad movie; The Lock Up is one of several prison-themed bars; Ninja Akasaka is the only ninja restaurant I've ever seen.

Kagaya is different from the previously mentioned because it doesn't depend on decor, but rather on the man who runs it, along with his many persona.  He goes by the name of Mark, but he also gave us the option of calling him Master.

I got there a few minutes late because, even though it's only a minute from Shimbashi station, I had a hard time finding it.  All of us did.  The map on the restaurant website threw us off for some reason.  Anyway, I did eventually find it with a station map, and the help of a kind policeman.  This is a picture of that map; I've marked the approximate spot with an X and a note that it would be best to use the New Shimbashi Bldg as a landmark.  Once you exit the Karasumori exit of the station, simply go straight toward the New Shimbashi Bldg and keep going straight when you hit the first intersection.  Kagaya will soon be on your right side.

This was the sign that led me there.  Some of the people in my group were worried when they saw the frog theme, thinking that it was tonight's menu.  (They'd never tried frog before.)

When I stepped inside, he was explaining the menu to my friends.  They all looked up at me, a little disheveled, and said that I'd just missed something.  The menu, written in crayon in a notebook typically owned by elementary schoolchildren, had a flower on its cover.  At the time I arrived, Mark had just finished. . .caressing the flower, over and over.  Three of those in our party were mothers, and they said they'd never again look at their children's notebooks the same way.

As I sat, Mark had my oshibori (moist washcloth to wipe my hands) brought out on the head of an Anpanman robot.  He then asked us to choose a country--USA, Japan, France, Brazil, China. . . ?  We had no idea why at first, but we soon found out.  Apparently, the country you choose has nothing to do with the food or drink you receive, but it decides the way in which the goods are delivered.  

The guys at the next table chose Japan first.  (Every time something is served to you, you can choose a different theme.)  This was the result:


And soon after came the Anpan robot.

He also did his French routine, a Frenchman in a beret who drew a quick (and pretty decent) likeness of one of our group's ladies.  

You have a few choices in terms of set menus and price.  We chose the biggest and most expensive, which at ¥4200 was pretty reasonable for the food we got and the all-you-can-drink deal.  Sorry, I don't have pictures of the food.  I remember there was spinach cooked in sesame, a chicken wing for each of us, boiled pumpkin, tofu curd (which was really good!  And I usually don't have any feelings about tofu curd), a salad consisting of cabbage and a bunch of other vegetables, saba (mackerel). . .A couple of other things.  The lady in the kitchen made it all herself, it seemed.  We weren't really full by the end but we were satisfied.

This was kind of the finale.  The last set of drinks he brought to us was preceded by:


The Japanese group in this picture took everything perfectly in stride.  Just laughing and enjoying the performance.  I don't know if Kagaya is everyone's cup of tea, but it wasn't boring.  I found some other videos on You Tube:


As I was looking around for other reactions to Mark and his craziness, I came across some blogs that thought it was simply weird, others that said you can't leave Japan without having gone there at least once.  I'd say it's a pretty good time; the food and drink alone would probably be worth it, if you drink alcohol.  The performance is a plus if you're in the mood and don't mind some over-the-topness.  Be warned, he does do some stroking (e.g. as he handed me the menu, he started to focus on my hand and caress it as he spoke) and some poking (with puppets, mostly).  He also used the puppets on the crotch of one of the guys in our group.  But I think Mark is careful not to cross the line with women; I'm not sure about that, but it was just my feeling when I was there.

I also came across this CNN article.  It gives a fuller description than mine.

And this is the Kagaya website

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The past two weekends have been the snowiest weekends I've seen since moving here...On Saturday, Feb 8,  Tokyo saw its heaviest day of snow in forty-five years.  Of course, it's little compared to what the east coast in the U.S. went through this weekend, but it had its impact.  I didn't know it at the time but at least eleven people in Japan perished from the cold, according to Yahoo! News:
Below is a reprinting of that article:
Tokyo (AFP) - The heaviest snow in decades in Tokyo and other areas of Japan has left at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country, reports said Sunday.

As much as 27 centimetres (10.6 inches) of snow was recorded in Tokyo by late Saturday, the heaviest fall in the capital for 45 years, according to meteorologists.
The storm hit Tokyo on the eve of its gubernatorial election.

Observers say the weather may affect voter turnout in the city of 13 million people. As of 6:00 pm (0900 GMT) turnout was down more than 10 percentage points from a previous poll during the last mayoral election.

As a depression moved along the Pacific coast Saturday, the northeastern city of Sendai saw 35 centimetres (13.8 inches) of snow, the heaviest in 78 years.
Local media said at least 11 people have been killed with one person also in critical condition in snow-linked accidents -- mostly crashes after their cars skidded on icy roads.
In central Aichi prefecture, a 50-year-old man died after his car slipped on the icy road and rammed into an advertisement steel pole, a local rescuer said.
Public broadcaster NHK reported at least 1,253 people were injured across the nation, many of whom had slipped on the ground or fallen while shovelling the snow off their roofs.
More than 20,000 households were without electricity early Sunday while airlines cancelled more than 400 domestic flights a day after over 740 flights were grounded.
Nearly 5,000 people were stranded at Narita airport Saturday as traffic linking the airport to the capital was disrupted, NHK said.
Further snowfall is expected Sunday in the northern part of the country, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
Nearly a week later, on Valentine's Day, came another record day of snowfall.  According to CNN, at least nineteen people died in snow-related incidents that day:

Feb 14 was chaotic in Tokyo, mainly  because the trains were all behind schedule.  It seems the train conductors here are unused to driving in this kind of precipitation and were consequently cautious and slow-moving.  The stations were immensely crowded all day.  Here are some pics:


Hachiko in the snow

Hachiko in the snow

 Yesterday, I went to the supermarket and was in for a surprise.  A great deal of the shelves were almost empty.  I asked one of the stock clerks, a guy who looked to be in his late teens, if the reason for the empty shelf space was the snow.  He responded "Sou desu ne!  Snow desu.  Yuki no sei."  (Basically, "Yes, it's the snow!  It's the snow's fault."  He went on to apologize for the lack of meat available. He was incredibly emotional in his sympathy.  Seemed like a nice guy.
the cupboards were bare

the cupboards were bare

the cupboards were bare

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

another governor

This week Tokyo's new governor was elected.  (The previous governor resigned over a bribery scandal.)  Elections were on a Sunday, during a weekend that saw more snow than any weekend in decades.  It isn't clear yet how that may have affected the results; the TV broadcaster NHK said that it was the third lowest turnout for such an election.  What is clear is that the winner, Yoichi Masuzoe, was the pro-nuclear energy candidate; his opponents, former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa (who was endorsed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi) and human-rights lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, were both against nuclear power.

Aside from that, a couple of other things have been surfacing in the media's coverage:  his personal life has had its ups and downs, as he's been married three times and has had children with several women, etc., which I think is his own business, unless his family values are at issue in how he governs.

The other thing that has grabbed hold of the media cycle is something he said in 1989, on record, that women couldn't make critical decisions because they have menstrual cycles that make them irrational.  The link for this article is

To be fair to him, it was over two decades ago, and I believe that people can reconsider their prejudices in the course of time.  But it astounds me how politicians can make such statements over here and still survive.  A previous, long-standing Tokyo governor named Shintaro Ishihara is quoted to have said that "old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin."  See his Wikipedia article, specifically the section entitled "Other controversial statements":

I remember last year President Obama, at a fundraising lunch, referring to the California AG as "by far, the best-looking Attorney General. . ."  and all the grief he took for that.  The stark contrast between this and that, I suppose, speaks to the differences in how politics is run here and there.

Anyway, below is a reprinting of the article about the newly-elected governor:
Women threaten 'sex strike' against men who voted for new Tokyo governor after he claimed females were unfit for government because 'periods make them irrational'
  • Yoichi Masuzoe said women are 'not normal' when menstruating
  • 'The association of women who will not have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe' has gained 3,000 followers since it launched last week
  • Former health minister won Tokyo's gubernatorial election today
By Daily Mail Reporter

A group of women have launched a sex boycott against men who voted for the newly elected governor of Tokyo, after he claimed females were unfit for government because of their menstruation cycles. 

Yoichi Masuzoe claimed in an interview with a men's magazine that women were not able to make critical decisions when they having a period because they are 'not normal'.

A Twitter campaign called 'the association of women who will not have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe' has gained 3,000 followers since it launched last week.

Yoichi Masuzoe claimed in an interview with a men's magazine that women were not able to make critical decisions when they having a period because they are 'not normal'
Yoichi Masuzoe claimed in an interview with a men's magazine that women were not able to make critical decisions when they having a period because they are 'not normal.'
However, despite their best efforts, the former health minister backed by Japan's ruling party, won Tokyo's gubernatorial election on Sunday, defeating two candidates who had promised to end nuclear power.

The anonymous group founders say in their profile: 'We have stood up to prevent Mr Masuzoe, who makes such insulting remarks against women [from being elected] … We won't have sex with men who will vote for Mr Masuzoe.'

In the 1989 interview he said women were irrational because of their menstrual cycle.
He said: 'Women are not normal when they are having a period … You can't possibly let them make critical decisions about the country [during their period] such as whether or not to go to war.'

However, despite their best efforts, the former health minister backed by Japan's ruling party, won Tokyo's gubernatorial election on Sunday, defeating two candidates who had promised to end nuclear power
However, despite their best efforts, the former health minister backed by Japan's ruling party, won Tokyo's gubernatorial election on Sunday, defeating two candidates who had promised to end nuclear power.
The anonymous group founders say in their profile: 'We have stood up to prevent Mr Masuzoe, who makes such insulting remarks against women [from being elected] ... We won't have sex with men who will vote for Mr Masuzoe'
The anonymous group founders say in their profile: 'We have stood up to prevent Mr Masuzoe, who makes such insulting remarks against women [from being elected] ... We won't have sex with men who will vote for Mr Masuzoe'
A second petition website was also launched on Wednesday, by a group of women trying to stop him from becoming governor of Tokyo, attracting 75,000 hits a day, the Guardian reports.

Masuzoe's victory was declared in exit polls on public broadcaster NHK within minutes after voting closed.
Masuzoe, 65, appeared smiling before cameras, with his supporters shouting 'Banzai,' and promised to make Tokyo 'the No. 1 city in the world.'

Japan's former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa speaks following his defeat in the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo. Hosokawa was backed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who pushed for zero nuclear power
Japan's former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa speaks following his defeat in the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo. Hosokawa was backed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who pushed for zero nuclear power
Masuzoe's victory was declared in exit polls on public broadcaster NHK within minutes after voting closed
Masuzoe's victory was declared in exit polls on public broadcaster NHK within minutes after voting closed
The ballot was widely seen as a test for Japan's public opinion on atomic power in a nation shaken by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But the anti-nuclear camp was divided between two candidates — former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and human-rights lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya.

Masuzoe garnered about 30 percent of the vote, according to NHK exit polls. 

Hosokawa and Utsunomiya got about 20 percent each, indicating that if the anti-nuclear vote had been united, a win by either might have been possible.

Official vote tallies were not expected until Monday.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

article: "Conservatives push agenda at Japan's public TV"

Just came across this AP article on Yahoo! News,

When I came to Japan, it wasn't very hard to talk to my students about WWII.  Everyone generally seemed to think that bad things happened.  There was also a prevalent feeling that it was in the past, and that people who were either little children then or who'd not even been born were pretty much guiltless.

During that first year, though, Prime Minister Koizumi started visiting Yasukuni Shrine, an act criticized (by Korea and China, who suffered under Japan's military during that war) because the shrine honors a handful of convicted war criminals, in addition to the fallen soldiers who were acting under orders as soldiers everywhere do.  It also honors civilians killed in the war.

Once PM Koizumi started visiting the shrine, protests on mainland Asia arose.  Angry crowds were shown prominently on the news here.  With them came a change in attitude among my students (who were all adults at the time, I think it worth mentioning).  They mostly resented these protests and felt that the PM and any other Japanese citizens were free to visit or avoid Yasukuni as the liked.  I understood this point of view; after all, don't most of us feel it within our rights to criticize our own country?  and yet, if people from outside the country do it, isn't it natural to feel a bit defensive?

A few years ago there was a bit of excitement (i.e. protests) over how the government was changing history textbooks here.  Ardent critics maintained that it was a whitewashing of brutalities committed by Japan's military during WWII.  I haven't read those books (because I can't read kanji well enough) but most of my (adult) students at the time felt that yes, the politicians making the changes in the telling of history were doing it so that their ancestors, who were participants in the war, would have more "beautiful histories."  I appreciated that those students were able to speak so honestly and objectively about their own government and country.

The high school where I  teach takes its juniors on a school trip to Korea every year, and they're taught about WWII.  I've heard that this isn't typical of high schools in Japan.  But just the same, it continues.

Here's the article:  


Conservatives push agenda at Japan's public TV

Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Minutes of a recent governing board meeting of Japan's public broadcaster NHK seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan's news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK's website but not widely reported, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan. 14 meeting.
One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan's territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

"I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with," said Naoki Hyakuta, the author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another new board member, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressed the need to promote "correct education" for the public.

It's unclear whether their statements are affecting coverage, and NHK denied any political influence over its editorial decisions. The board members' comments reflected their personal views, NHK said in a statement, responding to inquiries by The Associated Press.
Hyakuta, according to the minutes, then made sure if it was OK for board members to comment on programming. He was told they can't make comments that influence specific programs, but they can express their preferences as "personal impressions." Experts say anything board members say could easily cause compromise and self-restraint in coverage.
"Apparently NHK is leaning toward the government, and increasingly neglecting its responsibility to check authority," said Yasuhiko Tajima, a media law professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "I even feel democracy is at risk."

NHK, the country's most respected radio and television network, has been buffeted by a series of developments in the past two weeks that have thrust concern over Abe's influence on the appointments into the headlines.

First, the new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii infuriated South Korea and China by saying Japan was unfairly criticized for the use of Asian women as military prostitutes, which he argued was common in countries at war.

The board picked Momii to head NHK late last year after his predecessor abruptly announced he would resign, following Abe's ruling party criticism of NHK's news coverage as too liberal.

At his inaugural news conference that, Momii also said, "We cannot say left when the government says right," suggesting NHK would be loyal to the government's policies, including the territorial disputes.

His comments triggered criticism that he contradicted NHK's mission to serve the public's interest without bias. Of 12,700 responses from viewers, about 70 percent was critical of NHK, the broadcaster said last week.

Days later, a professor quit an NHK radio program on which he had been a regular guest for 20 years after being told not to discuss nuclear energy before Sunday's Tokyo governor elections.

The developments are "part of Abe's plan to achieve his nationalistic agenda," said Takaaki Hattori, a media and communications professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. "As he pushes for stronger military and patriotic education, his nationalism angers South Korea and China, fanning animosity here and helping to drum up support for his agenda. NHK is part of the process."

The NHK controversy was further fueled last week by public comments attributed to the same two board members who spoke out on programming at the board meeting.
In a speech supporting a conservative Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, Hyakuta said the 1937 Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers by Japanese troops was a fabrication. He also accused the U.S. forces that occupied Japan after the war of brainwashing the population with a self-denigrating view of Japan's wartime history.

Two days later, the Japanese newspaper Mainichi revealed that board member Hasegawa, a professor of Japanese culture, had written an essay last fall praising a right-wing extremist who committed suicide in 1993 to protest a liberal magazine article.
Abe acknowledged that the four new board members are his trusted people, but denied any intention to exercise influence over NHK. The four joined the board as part of its partial membership renewal.

The 12-member governing board, which approves NHK's budget, is made up of outside experts, including academics and business leaders, and their ties with ruling lawmakers often raise eyebrows. Board members must be approved by parliament and the prime minister.

Experts say political influence is a longstanding problem at NHK. The broadcaster was criticized for altering a 2001 program on wartime Japanese sex slavery, allegedly after Abe and another ruling party lawmaker complained, although both sides denied political pressure caused the change.