The 2010 boat collision incident

On the morning ofSeptember 7,2010, a Chinese trawler collided with JCG patrol boats near the Senkakus. The captain of the trawler was detained and charged two days later with the crime of interfering with public servants in the execution of their duties. The Chinese government responded with demands for the release of the captain. Japan’s DPJ government under Prime Minister Kan Naoto refused, stating that it would leave the decision in the hands of local prosecutors in Okinawa. China’s response was harsh. Violent anti-Japanese street demonstrations occurred in Chinese cities, the Chinese government canceled ministerial-level meetings, exports to Japan of rare earth metals encountered sudden delays, and four Japanese employees of Fujita Corporation were arrested in China for allegedly filming a military installation. The pressure seemed to work, and on September 24, the prosecutors in Okinawa announced the release of the captain, citing diplomatic concerns.66 The Kan administration was seen as caving in to Chinese demands while pushing responsibility for the decision onto a local official.67

The Kan administration had taken actions that broke with the status quo in the Senkaku field of contestation.68 Whether or not one believes that there were secret promises between the LDP and the Chinese government, up until 2010 Japan had deported intruders instead of charging them with crimes.69 Alternatively, it could be argued that China sensed its growing power relative to Japan and deliberately sought an escalation of the dispute, regardless of whether the trawler captain had been immediately deported without charges. Either way, it was a bad outcome for Kan and the DPJ. The Japanese government’s handling of the dispute was widely criticized as weak, and public support for the Kan administration declined.70

Channel Sakura took advantage of the crisis, launching a grassroots campaign centered on the condemnation of what it saw as the Japanese government’s weak-kneed response to China’s aggression. A September 9 Channel Sakura news report described the collision as a deliberate political act by the Chinese government. They praised the JCG for detaining the captain, who was, according to Mizushima, likely an undercover Chinese naval officer. Mizushima explained the need to protest in front of the Chinese embassy to show that the Japanese people believed the territory belonged to their country’.71 Then, on September

  • 10, Mizushima declared that Channel Sakura’s activist co-organization, Ganbare Nippon, would be launching demonstrations to denounce Chinese “aggression” in the Senkakus. Denouncing the Japanese government’s “cowardly” response and their unwillingness to take stronger actions displaying sovereignty over the islands, he reminded viewers of an article he had written for a Yasukuni Shrine newsletter in August. The article called readers to action under the headline “if the government can’t fulfill its duty’ defend the country', then the people will.”72 This drew upon Channel Sakura’s grant narrative of grassroots heroes rising up to save the country' (detailed in Chapter 4). Ganbare Nippon held protests in Toky'o’s Shibuya neighborhood and in front of the Chinese embassy on September 10 and
  • 11, as well as in front of the DPJ party' headquarters on September 13.73

Channel Sakura later uploaded video highlights from the September 10 and September 11 demonstrations. These included footage of Mizushima, Nagayama Hideki (Taiwan Research Forum), Kobayashi Tadashi (former chairman of Tsukurukai), and Umehara Katsuhiko (former mayor of Sendai). They' also showed grassroots Ganbare Nippon volunteers as they' diligently handed out fliers to passing pedestrians. The camera operator took special note of people who stopped to take photos of the demonstration, including several foreigners. At the end of the report, Channel Sakura news anchors discussed the importance of the demonstration, claiming that although most passing pedestrians would have less than 30 seconds to hear the speeches, just hearing the word “Senkaku” would make them aware of the issue.74 Throughout September Channel Sakura regularly' devoted its programs to the Senkaku issue and organized protests every weekend in Shibuya. Viewers were continually reminded of how the protests represented grassroots justice-seeking.

The release of the Chinese captain provided an opportunity' to make a viral YouTube video. On September 25 Channel Sakura hit the streets of Toky'o’s Kichijoji neighborhood to ask two hundred random people their views on the release of the captain. While a few people said they supported the government’s decision and some did not have any' opinion on the matter, the overwhelming majority' of people shown in the video disagreed with the government’s handling of the crisis. The video contained a short and simple introduction followed by 12 minutes of the pedestrians’ responses. The final few minutes of the clip contained commentary’ from Ganbare Nippon executive secretary’ Miwa Kazuo, who compared the Japanese government’s decision to someone caving in to extortion from a gangster. It was a simple video without a particularly' extreme message, meaning that it could be easily shared online. Packaged in the form of comments from everyday people, its message could appeal to viewers outside of Channel Sakura’s typical conservative audience. It proved one of Channel Sakura’s most popular uploads of the year, receiving over 100,000 views in its first month online.75

The next phase of the activist campaign involved a major demonstration scheduled for October 2. Although their main march would take place in Tokyo, Ganbare Nippon chapters across Japan were called upon to organize regional demonstrations. Activists answered this call, and while others marched in Tokyo, they passed out fliers and delivered speeches in front of train stations in Akita, Utsunomiya, Yokohama, Kamakura, Nagoya, Fukushima, Matsuyama, Okayama, and Kumamoto cities. Mizushima called on anyone, even lone activists, to take to the streets and let people know that China was threatening the peace of Asia.76 The Tokyo demonstration succeeded in attracting about 2,670 people, making it the largest demonstration organized by Ganbare Nippon to that date.77 Ganbare Nippon organizers in Nagoya also succeeded in attracting about 400 people to their demonstration.78 Retired Air Self-Defense Force general Tamogami Toshio, the nominal leader of Ganbare Nippon, stood at the front of the Tokyo march, alongside its primary organizer, Mizushima Satoru. The Tokyo demonstration attracted the attention of international media, such as the Wall Street Journal™ Reuters, and the Globe and Mail?0 Channel Sakura noted that there was considerable attention from international outlets, but aside from the Tukan Fuji newspaper, it was almost completely ignored by Japanese news media.81

Ganbare Nippon organized an even larger demonstration on October 16 in Tokyo, drawing between 2,800 and 3,200 participants.82 Demonstrators carried some 600 Japanese flags as they marched, a visually impressive scene that was later shared with non-participants via Channel Sakura’s recap videos.83 Mizushima declared that so many “normal” people carrying the flag proved that Japan’s national flag was no longer something reserved for fringe uyoku.84 Comments were once again made about a lack of domestic media coverage, even though Mizushima claimed to have faxed announcements of the demonstration to every major Japanese newspaper and TV channel.85 As in the case of the previous demonstration, international media was on hand to cover the event.86

More regional protests followed. Several days later, a demonstration organized by the Ganbare Nippon branch office in Kagawa drew about 300 people.87 Then, on October 31, the Nagoya branch held a demonstration with about 640 participants.88

Meanwhile, anti-Japanese protests were held in China. The Chinese media covered Ganbare Nippon demonstrations, and images of the anti-Chinese protest signs were used to incite anger among Chinese nationalists.89 The Chinese Foreign Ministr}’ responded to the protests with a statement at an October 17 press briefing, expressing “grave concern” about what it considered a threat to the safety of its diplomatic missions and personnel.90

There were also examples of fake news spreading on the Chinese websites depicting the Ganbare Nippon demonstration as a gathering of militant uyoku extremists. Some Chinese internet users spread years-old photos of uyoku sound trucks and uyoku in military-style uniforms, claiming that they were images of the September and October 2010 protests held in Tokyo.91

Channel Sakura and Nihon Seinensha - working with uyoku?

Nihon Seinensha, a leading non-state actor in the Senkaku field of contestation from the 1970s until the early 2000s, did not play a major role in the 2010 protests. However, Seinensha did take notice of Channel Sakura’s activism and sent them a gift: video footage taken during Seinensha’s past landings on the Senkakus. Channel Sakura’s treatment of the footage displayed apprehension about traditional uyoku groups.

On an October 14 special program about the footage, Mizushima seemed uncomfortable in mentioning the name of “Seinensha” - pronouncing it faster than any of the other words in his sentences. Nonetheless, he thanked them for providing the video. He reiterated the fact that Channel Sakura and Ganbare Nippon were a “citizen activist” group that was working for the sake of the Japanese people. He emphasized that “we” each have our “own way of thinking” and Channel Sakura’s way of thinking was different from uyoku activism. By showing the world the video of Seinensha activists landing on the islands, Channel Sakura claimed to be displaying evidence that “we,” the Japanese people, were practicing sovereignty of the islands. Mizushima reminded viewers that “we” needed to keep fighting to maintain that claim.92

Aside from about 20 seconds of one man in camouflage fatigues putting up a Japanese flag, almost nothing about the video clip from Seinensha looked like it came from a far-right uyoku group with underworld ties. In most of the footage shown by Channel Sakura, there were men wearing more normal blue-and-white work clothing. In the background, Japan Coast Guard ships were shown at anchor, taking no action against the activists.

However, searches on YouTube revealed that other, longer copies of Seinensha’s video were available (showing landings made in 2001, 2002, and 2003).93 The longer footage included groups of men wearing military-style uniforms and white headbands. Rather than being passive, the Japan Coast Guard was blaring out warnings over loudspeakers, informing the Seinensha activists that they were violating the law by landing on the island. Footage from 2004 showed Seinensha members verbally berating a silent line of shield-carrying coast guard officers who blocked access to their fishing boat and prevented them from carrying out a planned landing. The differences between the footage shown on Channel Sakura and the longer footage available elsewhere on YouTube suggest that Channel Sakura selectively aired footage that better fit the image of their preferred form of non-extremist activism. It would have been detrimental to their grassroots non-extremist identity to deliver too much praise to the alienating activism of the uyoku.

Sengoku38 and the leaking of the 2010 boat collision footage

Frustration with the Kan administration was further ignited by the news that the Japanese government had video footage of the boat collision but was withholding it from lawmakers and the public. A select group of lawmakers was allowed to see an edited portion of the video in the last week ofSeptember 2010, yet the government decided that the footage should not be released to the public. The situation took a dramatic turn on November 4 when the footage appeared on YouTube. Someone operating under the freshly created YouTube account “Sengoku38” had leaked the video without permission. A DPJ politician recognized the damage the leak would do to his party, stating that it was “totally different from presenting it to the public in an official manner, and it leads the people’s further erosion of faith in Japan’s government.”94 To make matters worse, Japanese media and viewers widely interpreted the footage as showing that the Chinese trawler intentionally rammed the JCG ships. To critics of the Japan’s decision to bow to Chinese pressure and release the trawler captain, it proved that the government had shamefully failed to uphold the law.

Sengoku38’s upload was traced to an internet cafe in Kobe, and the press reported that authorities had detained and were questioning an employee of the Japan Coast Guard. In a Channel Sakura report about the situation, Mizushima Satoru described the Kan administration’s failure to release the video and the detention of Sengoku38 to be a “crime against the Japanese people.” Mizushima’s co-anchor added that the footage shared by Sengoku38 was clear enough for a child to see the Chinese captain was at fault. Not yet knowing the details of Sengoku38’s situation, Mizushima nonetheless offered the full support of Ganbare Nippon, suggesting that its legal team in the anti-NHK lawsuit (discussed in Chapter 5) could also be used to defend Sengoku38.95

It soon came to light that Sengoku38 was Chief Mate Isshiki Masaharu, a 43-year-old JCG officer stationed in Kobe. Although authorities ultimately decided not to prosecute him, the JCG did punish Isshiki with a one-year suspension.96 Isshiki applied and was granted an early discharge from JCG service, a decision that freed him to secure a book deal with Asahi Shimbun Publications. In “Why I Did It - the Confession of Sengoku38,” released in February 2011, Isshiki justified his actions with harsh criticism of the Kan administration’s lack of transparency:

If this video qualifies as a national secret, then it will be possible to classify any unfavorable information as national secrets. If this was so, wouldn’t it be like certain other countries in which rulers can get away with doing anything?97

Although the sentence didn’t name the “certain other countries” (doko ka no kuni) he was referring to, it is rather clear that he was comparing that the Kan administration to communist China. Isshiki devoted much of the book to counter what he considered the Chinese government’s dishonest propaganda. Given these kinds of opinions, it is not surprising that Isshiki later appeared as a guest on Channel Sakura programs. His first appearance on their channel was on September 7, 2011, the one-year anniversary of the boat collision incident.98 He was invited back as a guest on several subsequent Channel Sakura programs, providing expertise on the JCG’s role in protecting the Senkakus."

Sengoku38’s video leak was well-timed to perk interest in a November 6, 2010, protest rally that Channel Sakura had been promoting for weeks. Unlike the previous marches carried out under the banner of Ganbare Nippon, this event, held in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park, was co-organized with several pro-Taiwan independence groups, as well as organizations that advocated independence for ethnic minority groups within China. It was given a grand title: The Meeting to Establish Solidarity for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia (also translated in some sources as “the Freedom and Peace for Asia Rally and Demonstration”). A Japanese language advertisement for the rally contained a message calling for action against “Chinese Imperialism”:

The people of Asia who are threatened by Chinese Imperialism will join together to protect freedom and peace by holding the Meeting to Establish Solidarity for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia on November 6. We call on those with courage to join us!100

Channel Sakura took the rare step of producing an English-language advertisement video, which contained the following description (the typos and misspellings were present in the original):

Condemn China’s Invasion to Senkaku Islands!

Condemn China’s Militaristic Hegemony over Asia!

Recapture Abduction Victims!

Free Dr. Liu Xiaobo, The Novel Peace Winner!

Solidarity of Asian Nations for Freedom and Human Rights!

Rally Date: November 6th, 2010 from 1:00pm to 3:30pm

Place: Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall (Tokyo)

Demonstration Parade: start at 3:45pm

Street Speech: 5:30pm to 7:00pm at Yurakucho Station Open Space

Guest Speakers for Rally

Toshio Tamogami (former Chief of Staff, Japanese Air Force), Yuriko Koike (Chairperson of Executive Committee LDP), Hiroshi Yamada (former Suginami Mayor), Shingo Nishimura (former National Diet number), Masaaki Akaike (former National Diet number) Hideaki Kase, Kouichi Sugiyama, Shigeo lizuka (Family member of Abduction victim), Huan Wenxiong (Taiwan), Ilham Mahamti (Uygur), Perna Gyalpo (Tibet), and other speakers from Mongolia, Manchuria, Indonesia, North Korea, Bangladesh, and etc.

Hosted by:

  • Ganbare Nippon! National Action Commitee
  • Somo Zenkoku Chihogiinnokai (National Grass-Root Local Assembly Nembers) [sic]
  • Friends of Lee Tong-Hui Association in Japan
  • Taiwan Research Forum

Participants gathered in front of a stage featuring banners in Japanese and English, declaring their support for peace, freedom, and human rights (see Figure 7.1). An impressive array of speakers took part in the event. Perhaps most noteworthy was Koike Yuriko, a mainstream politician who would be elected Governor of Tokyo in 2016. All of the individuals on the list had appeared on Channel Sakura in the past.

It was a remarkable success. Over 4,000 people attended, making it the largest right-wing street demonstration in postwar Japanese history.101 To emphasize the international aspect of the demonstration, English-language announcements about their views were played over a loudspeaker as participants marched through the streets.102 A recap video of the protest uploaded by Channel Sakura showed long lines of young people, including young mothers pushing baby carriages and people walking Hinomaru-wearing dogs, marching along the street. Onlookers were shown applauding them as they passed. Afterwards, Mizushima happily shared that Iran’s PressTV, which had referred to Ganbare Nippon as a “rightwing” group when reporting on an earlier event, had instead used the word “conservative” to report about on this rally. Even NHK filed a report, referring to them as a “citizen’s group” (shimin dantai). To Mizushima, the demonstrators were the “voice of the people” which had proven loud enough to attract media recognizing their movement.103

A photo of the November 6, 2010, rally in Hibiya Park. Flags of nations wronged by China, including those of Tibet and East Turkestan, are on display. (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Figure 7.1 A photo of the November 6, 2010, rally in Hibiya Park. Flags of nations wronged by China, including those of Tibet and East Turkestan, are on display. (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

A follow-up demonstration was planned to coincide with a November 2010 APEC meeting in Yokohama. Approximately 3,500 people joined the event, which was organized under the banner of Ganbare Nippon. Footage uploaded by Channel Sakura showed that of the same baby carriage mothers and dog walkers who had participated in the Tokyo demonstration participated in the Yokohama demonstration.104 A week later, a demonstration held by Ganbare Nippon’s Osaka chapter drew about 3,300 people.105 These were followed by three more demonstrations in December. A Tokyo demonstration on the December 1 had a total of about 1,700 participants; a demonstration in Kobe on December 5 drew about one thousand people; and a December 18 demonstration in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, shown in Figure 7.2 drew almost 4,000 people.106

Other groups organized their own anti-China protests during this period. Compared to Channel Sakura and Ganbare Nippon’s events, they were quite small. For example, on October 16, a group associated with Nippon Kaigi held an event in Okinawa, drawing about 700 people.107 The nativist hate group Zaitokukai organized protests on October 17 and November 13, drawing about 200 and 100 people, respectively. Another group, calling itself the Kansai Action Committee to Protect the Senkaku Islands, organized a demonstration of about 1,000 people in Osaka on October 22.108

Thousands of Ganbare Nippon protesters march through Shibuya on December 18, 2010. (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Figure 7.2 Thousands of Ganbare Nippon protesters march through Shibuya on December 18, 2010. (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

The September 2010 crisis was a chance for action. The perception among some people that the Japanese government had weakly mishandled the crisis created an opportunity for non-state actors to exploit. Channel Sakura and Mizushima Satoru were readily poised to take the maximum advantage of the situation, having established Ganbare Nippon as a protest organization and recruited Tamogami Toshio as its leader earlier that year. They made use of Ganbare Nippon chapters across the country' to organize sizable protests in Tokyo and several other regions of Japan. In cooperation with its ideological allies, Ganbare Nippon was able to organize the largest conservative demonstrations in the postwar era, gaining media attention inside and outside of Japan.

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