About "Happy Japan!"
I (a 42-year old unmarried man) get up at 8:30 a.m. and leave home (60,000 Yen/month: 6m x 8m, telephone bill: 5,000 Yen/month, heat, light and water expenses: 10,000 Yen/month, note: 1 USD = 120 Yen, 100 Yen = 0.83 USD ) at 8:50 a.m.. After a 10-minute ride, I park my bicycle at a parking place (2,500 Yen/month) in front of the station. Buying a ticket (400 Yen), I take the Chuo rapid train to Nakano, Tokyo. Even during off-peak times, the train is so crowded that one is unable to hold open a newspaper. After a 20-minute ride, I reach Nakano and switch to the Tozai subway line. As it starts at Nakano, I can get a seat. And another 20 minutes, I arrive at my workplace for the day, a publishing company. At work I read the proofs of computer magazine (20,000 Yen/day). At lunchtime, I eat a plate of sliced raw fish (800 Yen), buy a pack of cigarette (250 Yen) and a can of tea (120 Yen). I get off work at 6 p.m., call the head office of the employment firm by mobile phone (5,000 Yen/month) and learn that I have no job the next day. I step into a book store and buy the book, "Conceptual Art" (4,400 Yen), which I have been wanting to get though somewhat expensive for me. I go to Budo-ya, which is my favorite bar, and order a bottle of wine (2,400 Yen). Complaining to my barmates about my job, other's art performances and so on, I am getting dead drunk. At 0:30am, I pay the tab (5,000 Yen) and take the last train home (450 Yen) which takes an hour. The last train is crowded with many other drunken people like me, and as a matter of course, I cannot get a seat.
Though I declare that I am an artist, basically I set off for work on a crowded train to earn money, like the average salaried worker. The only difference between them and me is that the total number of days I work varies between 5 and 20 days a month, which I have no control over.
The uniform I wear in my performance, "Happy Japan!", is the uniform of Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers . This body, sponsored by the Japanese government, dispatches Japanese men and women under the age of 40 to developing countries for 2 years to teach the local people various things, such as the Japanese language, how to repair cars, agriculture techniques, computer systems, and so on. For example, many young people have been dispatched to various region of China as teachers of Japanese or agriculture. From 1992 to 1994, I taught art, mainly printing art, at a newly established art school in Tanzania, East Africa. To get into the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers, I had to take an examination and participate in a training camp for about 3 months. I told my office, parents and friends that I would go to Tanzania for 2 years, decided to have a friend live in my leased house during my absence and got the householder's approval. That is to say, I participated in the camp with the understanding that I would leave Japan. There was also another reason that I had only 10 days by the departure after finishing the camp. On the last day of the training, we had "an audience" with the Emperor, who is the president of Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers. Despite my convictions (I oppose the Emperor system), I decided to attend the audience along with many others. I reasoned that if I were to refuse and this disqualified me from participating in the Tanzania volunteer work, I could take a legal action against the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers. But I did not refuse it because I had been frightened by our instructors in the training camp who said that if I did such a thing, I would be prevented from getting into Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers on false ground, such as health problems or a bad attitude during training. Thus I gave preference to avoiding the problems which might occur if I were expelled, such as possibly being unable to get my old job back, causing my friends trouble or my parents ashamed, litigation and so on.
The "Senso-ron ("War Theory")", which I crowd into my mouth in my performance "Happy Japan!", is a controversial cartoon by KOBAYASHI Yoshinori --one of the main members of the "Body to Write and Publish a New History Textbook in Japan"-- and has already seen sales of around 1 million copies mainly among young people in the 2 years since it was first published. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army compelled many women in North and South Korea and Southeast Asia to come to the military camp to provide sexual services (they were called "comfort women" by the military). Though they were sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, KOBAYASHI has insisted in his cartoon that they were just prostitutes because they were paid for their deeds. This insistence that the Japanese troops did not do wrong to them, in my mind, shows Kobayashi's lack of sympathy and selfishness. On the other hand, I did not I want to be part of the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers --a so-called "peaceful army"-- that imposes Japanese culture upon other developing countries in the name of the Emperor, its titular head, and was repulsed by an image of myself as a latter day imperialist taking advantage of the strength of the Yen and holding the hands of so many desperate girls in Tanzanian bars.
I think it is all the more dangerous that nowadays many young people with only a dim awareness of history are able to absorb themselves in the truth-twisting work of KOBAYASHI Yoshinori. But I had the same experience 25 years ago. It was a time when I had had been having my doubts about the Japanese history taught in the high school and was bothered by the contradiction I found in society. I knew of HANI Goro, who was a historian specializing in Marxism, and was affected by his work. It was 1975, a time when Japanese left-wing student activism was at its peak, and HANI had inspired many us with his Marxism historical view. In those days, he had written more essays of social criticisms expanding on his historical view than books, and energetically delivered lectures at universities, etc.. He had repeatedly asserted "All of the various problems in Japan result from the capitalism system. To get rid of them, Japan should change to a socialist or communist system." or "It is said that many innocent people had been purged by Stalin, but even so, Russia is a more livable land than the current Japan." He also said that "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was an experiment about the direct participation in politics by the common people. How wonderful event it is. In every respect, socialism is superior to the capitalism." That was my first contact with socialism, and I was overwhelmed by its power. Compared with the reality of Japan at that time, I thought the socialist countries he told of were like a dream.
For that reason I thought for a long time that the reporting about socialist countries, e.g. China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Former Soviet Union, the Eastern Europe countries, North Korea, etc., or about international affairs involving such countries were fabricated by press agencies in the capitalist countries (Western powers). For example, I had a vague sense that the holocaust by the Por Pot faction of Cambodia was exaggerated by the Western powers. (That is to say, I thought that in a socialist country such a dreadful thing could not be done and that such information would be fabricated by the Western powers to make us believe the socialist countries were wrong and bad. In fact, there were false reporting about the Vietnam War or Cuba.) And I did not so much as think about the things being done in the socialist countries from various angles, nor did I conceive what the ordinary people living there were feeling. In the end of 1980s, only after the revolution began in the East European countries, I gave up my fixed ideas of socialism vs. capitalism (or left vs. right, East vs. West) and could see things from ordinary people's perspective, in other words, from their viewpoint, as if I were there among them.
I know well no matter how I try to tell young people who support KOBAYASHI Yoshinori, "You are being taken in by the conservatives, such ideas are dangerous as they persuade people to try to eliminate aliens in Japan, push the ideas of Japan on other nations and prevents people from thinking of their common concerns", my advice would not be easily received. I had also clang to the hardened idea that even newspapers reports were fabricated by the rightists. Well, how can I come face to face with such young people? How can I open my mouth to them? Is it a good to debate them in web forums? Should I send my opinion to newspapers or magazines? Or should I participate in citizen's movements against their actions?
That was in the morning on December 20, 2000. "In conclusion, it was decided not to issue visas for the two Chinese men this time. We cannot give you the reason as it was an official decision. The principals will be notified later.", an officer of the Foreign Ministry in Japan said. I was struck dumb with shock as I heard his words through the telephone receiver. The eve of the next day was the deadline for them to be able to get visas to come to Japan, and now we were issued the ultimatum. We had already got the air tickets for them and were waiting for the visas to be issued. But as the visas were still not issued after so long, I had called the Foreign Ministry almost every day for the past week. However, all I got was the fuzzy answers.
SHU Yang and CHEN Jin, who organize Open Art performance festival , were applying for visas to participate in the event on December 23 and 24, 2000, "Perspective Emotion 3" (the 1st and 2nd events of the series had already been held in 1998 and 1999 under the directorship of MUKAI Chie), for which I worked as one of executive members. To get a visa for the artists, it was necessary to have the Japanese government recognize that the "Perspective Emotion" was a sound event, but we couldn't seem to do it for lack of time. So this time, we applied for their visas differently: invited them as a private citizen to visit from China. As the guarantor, I prepared the following documents:
1. Papers describing the purpose of their coming to Japan, the detailed schedule and the consent form to be their guarantor during their stay in Japan
2. The prehistory of how we came to know each other 3. Something to testify to our friendship, e.g. picture, letter, etc. 4. If I had been to China, the copy of my passport from that time 5. My tax certificate
6. My resident card
I had to submit these documents to the Japanese Embassy in China through SHU Yang and CHEN Jin. Of course they made and submit their own required documents by themselves. Concerning 5, my income was 1.4 million Yen in the tax certificate. As my friend who had invited her Chinese friend from China to Japan before said to me that the required income to invite people from China was around 5 million Yen, I made certain of it with the Foreign Ministry and got a reply that the amount was not so impossible. Therefore I asked my salaried-worker friend to be another guarantor for them and added his tax certificate because among the members of "Perspective Emotion" I was already one of the highest earners and none of them would have been able to help out much.
Why wasn't the visa issued even after preparing such adequate documents? I only discovered the answer after a week-long dialogue by telephone with government officials that the Foreign Ministry did not want to issue the visa to Chinese people. It holds not only for China but also all other countries which require a guarantor on the Japanese side before they can apply for a visa. On the other hand, when Western people come to Japan on a tourist visa, a guarantor is not necessary. The officer in the Foreign Ministry explained in a business-like tone, "This time, it looks like it is going to be difficult to issue their visa.". Still I was insistent, until he said, "Imagine if Chinese people could easily come to Japan. You would feel uneasy, wouldn't you? That is why we have to carry out such strict examinations.". Is it possible for them to come to Japan "easily" under such strict conditions? Or, can't a poor Japanese person invite a friend to visit from China? Do they think that poor Japanese plan to help Chinese people enter and stay in Japan illegally?
Three months later (February,2001), I met with CHEN Jin at the "EXIT" Performance art festival (under the directorship of Roi Vaara) in Helsinki, Finland. I asking him if it was difficult to get a visa for Finland, He said with a smile, "No Problem!".
After that, in the spring in 2001, the issue of embezzlement of secret funds began to surface. Taking advantage of the fact that the secret funds do not have to be reviewed by the Audit Board, an official of the Foreign Ministry had been skimming off no less than several hundred million Yen for years. However, though this issue was dealt with as his personal crime, it is said that it might actually be a conspiracy by Foreign Ministry officials along with politicians. Assuming that people in poorer countries than Japan might come here and commit a crime, the Foreign Ministry does not give such people visas, does not give any clear reason for denying them, and -when confronted-- finally says it is for the national interest. However, even if the visa is granted to persons who somehow prepare perfect documents and excellent guarantors, they will not commit a crime graver than what those officials of the Foreign Ministry did, something which did indeed the national interest. By contrast, the non-issuance of visa will damage and confuse personal relationships and increase the level of anti-Japanese feeling (most of such people are in neighbor countries). I think this actually hurts the national interest more.
After all, I go on my performing. Always there is just a small audience. Here in Japan, which is said to be rich, to be mature democracy, to have freedom of expression, all I can do is just cry
"Happy Japan! Happy Japan!"
*edited by Shu Yang in NEXT WAVE (art critic/performance artist) translated in English by HOSHINO Roka
*This text was written for Chinese monthly art magazine "NEXT WAVE" (December 2001 the last issue) which was banned.