When the new Japanese Emperor Naruhito makes his first public appearance, greeting well-wishers at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo today, there is a fear that the official images of the cheering crowds will need to be carefully framed, if not cropped. For among the multitudes of proud, happy Japanese welcoming the new Emperor and the new era with openness and positivity, a darker presence – the notorious ultra right-wing nationalists known as the Uyoku Dantai – are expected to be out in force.
The Uyoku are a familiar site on the streets of Japan’s capital and are easy to spot. Dressed in WWII-era military uniforms and carrying the older, more militaristic of Japan’s national flags, they look like extras from the BBC series Tenko. Their preferred mode of transport is the customised ‘sound truck’, which they ride around Tokyo in Mad Max-style convoys screeching out imperial music – and occasionally racist propaganda – from loud speakers. Like a nightmare Keystone cops-version of right wing extremists, they are at the same time ludicrous and frightening.
There are believed to be 1,000 such groups in Japan with a total membership of 100,000. The succession of a new Emperor is of particular concern to these people, as the restoration of imperial power is one of their core beliefs – the others being a revocation of the pacifist constitution, the reconstitution of an independent military, and the restoration of Japanese sovereignty to disputed islands. A supplementary aspiration is a revision of school history textbooks to portray Japan’s record in WWII in a more ‘positive’ light, playing down episodes such as the comfort women controversy or the Nanking massacre.
While derided – or more often, just ignored – by the majority of Japanese, these groups do have importance.