190. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State0

4393. CINCPAC for POLAD. Embtel 4392.1 It would be premature at this juncture to try give considered estimate of long term effects on our interests of recent events in Japan, including cancellation of President’s visit and Kishi’s announcement of intent to resign. Obviously recent events here may hold serious implications both for US-Japan relations and for US position in Western Pacific but their true import will only be able to be judged in light of how present crisis in conservative [Page 378] leadership is solved and whether from conservative ranks new and courageous leadership will emerge or whether there will be continuation of suicidal factional strife which over period of time will erode away conservative position.

It would however be as cardinal an error to conclude that tide of affairs in Japan has either set strongly against close US-Japan association or is now beyond control as it would to minimize long-term seriousness of weaknesses in Japan which events of past week have highlighted.

As result of recent unfavorable developments there may be feeling in US that what has happened is in some way result of our policies and that therefore we should change our basic policy towards Japan. Department may therefore wish Embassy’s present tentative assessment of recent events, bearing in mind that, while political temperature is now cooling, crisis is still unresolved and any realistic estimate of longer term future will have to wait clarification of leadership problem within LDP and next general elections.

This tentative assessment follows and reviews: (I) Main lines of basic US policy bearing on present situation in Japan; (II) factors accounting for recent events here; and (III) outlook and elements of Japan situation which future US policy will have to take into account.

I. Basic policy

Our policies in last several years have been based on concept of “new era” through which we have tried to complete transition from occupation to independence of Japan by liquidating residual remnants of occupation policy, and to create with Japan a real partnership based on sovereign equality, mutual respect and mutual self-interest. We not only adopted above “equal” partnership policy but gave concrete and visible evidence to the Japanese people that we are implementing it and do understand their viewpoint by our handling of such matters as: Girard incident, withdrawal of United States ground forces and substantial reductions of other forces, return to Japan of many military facilities, parole of war criminals, change in land acquisition policy in Okinawa, compensation for Bonin islanders, economic cooperation and assistance through offshore procurement in Japan and participation Orissa iron ore project, assisting Japan to get into United Nations and generally trying to advance her international position, and above all by our liberal trade policy on Japanese imports. Our economic policy accorded Japan a fair and reasonable share of our market as premise and precondition for US-Japan relationships in political and security fields and has led to substantial expansion of Japanese exports, making possible Japan’s present economic prosperity.

In defense matters we moved to provide for continued presence US ground, air and naval forces in Japan and for continued use of Japan’s [Page 379] procurement and logistic base. We have assisted build-up of Japanese self-defense forces, and in so doing have created a defense establishment in Japan dedicated to Japan’s alignment with free world. This is of great importance for if Communists should resort to massive insurrection in future self defense forces would have to step in (Embdesp 85, July 1959).2

As result of above policies there has been change in Japanese attitudes toward US from considerable tension existing in our relations in 1957, as a result of Girard case, Japanese desire for reductions in United States forces and general feeling they were receiving unequal treatment. Until security treaty recently became enmeshed in question of Kishi’s future, there is no question as to improvement of image of United States in Japanese eyes over past several years. Indeed had not image been as good as it is, it seems quite probable that massive efforts of recent pro-Communist offensive to transform anti-treaty, anti-Kishi offensive into great nation-wide anti-American movement might have achieved considerable success. Instead when movement turned to overt anti-Americanism there was immediate reaction against it, even on part of anti-government pro-leftist press and echoed by elements in every sector of national life pointing out that Japan’s present well being and economic progress had been achieved through close cooperation and assistance from United States.

We believe strongly that main lines our present policies toward Japan are well conceived and should be continued.

II. Crisis factors

Basically, events of recent period here seem to us product of combination of weaknesses long evident in Japanese democratic system and massive Sino-Soviet campaign skillfully directed against fear, anxieties, and neuroses of Japanese public. Neither would probably have caused situation to develop so unfavorably in itself had they not been stoked by series of random and unexpected occurrences outside Japan and touched off by Kishi’s mismanagement of Diet ratification debate.

Chronic weaknesses–following seem to us most significant.
Novelty of Japanese democracy/particularly, as noted Embtel 4231,3 unrestricted press, free trade unions, new educational and university systems, and very limited police powers. Japanese have simply not learned how to handle these institutions, and press, unions, and [Page 380] schools have been particularly vulnerable to Communist penetration which GOJ has lacked both will and know-how effectively to resist. Furthermore many Japanese just do not understand that in democracy minority must bow to will of majority.
Conservative factionalism. From practical point of view there has not been in post-war Japan a single majority party but instead a loosely organized series of coalition cabinets not dissimilar to those of France in which rival factional leaders have jockeyed to advance personal ambitions at expense national interests.
Absence of responsible opposition. Minority parties since end of occupation have had no hope of achieving power and thus neither experience nor interest in political responsibility. They have failed to develop democratic programs, to acquire faith in democratic procedures, or to engage interests of their members (particularly among intellectuals and in universities) in any issues except foreign policy formulations, increasingly manipulated by Communists. When Socialist Party split last autumn its hope for advance through elections dwindled further and use of force became only method open to it.
Latent neutralism. Although most Japanese appraise their economic interests in terms of alignment with free world and recognize the importance of American market, in the security field there is an instinctive yearning on part of most Japanese for world where they would not have to side with either American or Soviet giant but could sit it out on sidelines. This widespread form of latent neutralism is fed on anti-militarist sentiments, pacifism, fuzzy-mindedness, nuclear neuroses and Marxist bent of Japanese intellectuals and educators.
Kishi’s lack of popularity. Kishi was never popular in part because he was considered “too clever”, in part because of bureaucratic background, and in part because of wartime association with Tojo, etc. This unpopularity has been constant factor throughout his administration. After he had made security treaty his own personal vehicle and instrument of third-term candidacy (trip to Washington to sign treaty instead of letting Fujiyama do it) treaty became inseparable from Kishi himself as long as Kishi refused to step down.

Massive Sino-Soviet campaign to neutralize Japan.

Sino-Soviet Bloc has long had as its principal target in Asia the isolation, neutralization, and eventual control of Japan. It has skillfully directed a massive campaign of threats, inducements, and agitation against chronic weaknesses of Japan’s democratic system. For more than year Moscow and Peking have clearly appraised period of treaty ratification in Japan as critically important chapter in world power struggle, determining whether independent and fully sovereign Japan would move freely into voluntary security association with us and they [Page 381] have mobilized all their assets in recent months for defeat of new security treaty and have made greatest effort in trade union and educational sectors.


Outside events.

Interaction of Sino-Soviet efforts and Japanese weaknesses, while posing major threat to our interests, would not have produced results achieved, had effects not been magnified by unfortunate conjuncture with succession of events outside Japan, which created major additional internal strains. Among most important of these were:

Failure of summit conference on which average Japanese had been counting heavily to relax tensions with considerable underlying feeling that particular cause of cancellation of summit and active renewal of “cold war” was our unwise U–2 overflight just before summit meeting.
U–2 affair served powerfully to bring to surface latent neutralism of many Japanese and to create image of US willing recklessly to trifle with peace, and very possibly from bases on Japan soil making Japan target for hydrogen annihilation. As reported,4 if U–2 aircraft downed in Soviet Union had taken off from Japan base it would have caused immediate downfall of Kishi. As it was U–2s based in Japan provided continuing major strain at most critical period, particularly in view US inability to transfer them from Japan.
Communist action. When Khrushchev walked out of summit and adopted hard line, Communist controlled apparatus in Japan soon was fully mobilized and doing best to discredit President and prevent visit. Previous restraints that would have limited scope of Communist action had President come to Japan from good will visit to Soviet Union were all lifted. Until Hagerty incident and assault on Diet general estimate of Japanese authorities was that while Communist organizations would demonstrate passively against treaty and President they would not resort to force and violence because of anticipated adverse public reaction from use of force.
Korean and Turkish crises with their strong emphasis on mass demonstrations and direct action by students, provided challenge and model for extremist youth organizations in Japan. Apparent student successes in Seoul and Ankara coupled with press attacks on “Kishi’s tyranny” encouraged Communist Zengakuren student leaders and left-wing professors to persuade both non-Communist professors and students to participate in Tokyo demonstrations ostensibly aimed at Kishi rather than treaty or US. As these demonstrations developed, weakness and inability of GOJ to use police through lack of strong public support [Page 382] coupled with failure to punish criminal acts by students encouraged increasing build-up of demonstrations and assumption by students that GOJ was powerless and they were free to act with impunity against law and order.
Fusing element. Kishi’s mismanagement of treaty ratification May 19 was fuse which ignited political bomb consisting of above combination internal Japanese weaknesses, massive Sino-Soviet pressures, outside events and influences, and most important Kishi’s own unpopularity.

Procedures Kishi used to obtain lower house ratification night of May 18 seemed to many, including some treaty supporters, as smart practice and as being “too clever”. Kishi’s actions gave Communists and socialists windfall; Kishi’s conservative opponents had popular issue to stab him with; press, intellectuals, and other neutralists found “respectable” grounds for outrage; and student movement represented itself in cloak of resistance to government tyranny similar to Korean and Turkish resistance to Rhee and Menderes tyranny. In two weeks following May 19 Kishi’s position degenerated swiftly and dramatically. While we reported Kishi was in serious difficulty, we underestimated speed with which his lack of popularity and events of the period turned into violent anti-Kishi opinion. Kishi himself did not realize what had happened until he was beyond point of no return.

Because of his May 19 action, principal target of many non-Communists who joined in, or tacitly accepted, Communist led demonstration was not Japan’s basic pro-Western orientation or its ties with US, or new treaty, but Kishi himself. As soon as Kawashima announced Kishi would resign after treaty entered into effect political atmosphere started cooling even with rabid Asahi editorializing it was not against treaty itself but felt improvements in it were needed.

III. Outlook

So much for the past. As to future, Embassy now undertaking basic assessment Japanese situation in light recent events in all important sectors of national life. While political atmosphere now cooling as result Kishi’s declared intention to resign, crisis is still unresolved and will probably remain so at least until new conservative leadership emerges. Much will depend on decision as to Kishi’s successor, speed with which leadership change accomplished, and whether or not new and revitalized conservative leadership will develop program and policies to deal effectively with pro-Communist left and at same time obtain support of Japanese people by enlightening them as to nature of basic issues and what is at stake. Such policies could be explained during forthcoming pre-electoral period so new leadership could have mandate to put them [Page 383] into effect if, as conservatives expect, they again capture a majority of Diet seats.

Therefore while predictions and forecasts are premature at this juncture, following seems to us to constitute main elements Japan situation with which US policy in future will have to reckon:

Stakes at issue in Japan remain same. Japan remains one of our greatest export markets. It is key to Western Pacific island chain. It is one of four major industrial complexes in world. Its orientation has major effect on existing world power relationships. It is already playing major role in development of free Asia and newly emerging states. In light these circumstances and despite recent events, main lines of policies we have been pursuing since 1957 seem to us to remain sound and valid.
Great majority of Japanese people, although lacking strong leadership and effective way to express their views, except for elections which probably will not take place until next autumn, remain stable, middle of road people opposed to extremism of right or left.
Great majority are seriously disturbed by and opposed to violence and nature of recent extremist demonstrations. This particularly true in country.
Great majority of Japanese wish US-Japan partnership to continue and feel that American friendship and cooperation, in terms of their own realistic self-interests, is indispensable to prosperity and progress of Japan. Despite massive Sino-Soviet efforts, pro-Communist elements have not been successful in transforming their movement into an anti-American offensive. This is perhaps best tribute to basic soundness of Japanese people and to fact that our basic policies of past several years have been well conceived.
While great majority would prefer not to have to join either free world or Communist blocs in security field and wish they could somehow sit on sidelines without involvement in superpower struggle, at same time they fear being isolated from US and left alone to face Sino-Soviet colossus facing them across a few miles of water. For present at least they desire continuation of security ties with us and while many probably feel that advantages to Japan in new treaty were not worth political turmoil which was caused, we believe as treaty and underlying issues are explained Japanese will view it as improvement and as assurance of continued cooperation by US, although there will be lingering taint for some time to come that treaty was ratified “undemocratically” if not “illegally”.
We believe that whoever succeeds Kishi either before and/or after elections will wish to carry out same basic pro-Western policy with special emphasis on trade and security ties with us. At present three leading candidates are Ikeda, Ishii and Ohno. Ikeda is as staunch as [Page 384] Kishi or Yoshida on fundamental need for US-Japan security treaty. Ishii is signatory to new treaty, and Ohno is committed publicly to its support.
At same time fundamental weaknesses of Japanese system remain, particularly shallowness of experience with and lack of understanding of democratic mechanisms, particularly in labor, press and educational fields. There is much latent neutralism, pacifism, and fuzzy-mindedness in Japan. Intellectual opinion is too often frustrated or anarchical. Massive Sino-Soviet efforts to isolate, neutralize, and then control Japan will continue. Domestic pro-Communist forces, profiting from all this, have unquestionably achieved short term gain by winning acceptance of use of force and illegal strikes as political weapon and by sharpening training, experience, and effectiveness of their action cadres.
Great question mark is whether from conservative ranks new and courageous leadership will emerge or whether there will be continuation of suicidal factional strife. There is basic requirement for more courageous, energetic and thoughtful action than any post-war Japanese Govt has yet displayed, to explain facts of life to people, to counter trend toward neutralism and Communist penetration of certain key elements of Japan life (particularly among youth and intellectuals), and to assert authority of government and law.
In sum, hard-core of conservative middle-of-roadism in Japan still seems basically unaffected by recent events although unless youth and education straightened out, prospects over ten to twenty year period are not good. Successor to Kishi will continue represent this dominant conservative force. Japanese pro-Communist left seems to have no early prospect of achieving political power or of drastically altering Japan’s international orientation, although its power and effectiveness are increasing and if conservatives cannot pull themselves together long term outlook is unsatisfactory. Effect of recent events may for immediate future serve somewhat to inhibit some tendencies evident even within Kishi govt, to move toward certain types of accommodation with Moscow and Peking, since many Japanese conservative leaders, shaken by US reactions will be wary of steps further undermining US confidence in Japan. Damage to Japanese democracy at home and Japanese reputation abroad caused by recent events, while very serious, is within power of Japanese conservatives to remedy, if they have will and energy to do so. However, only time can tell about this and in first instance next elections.

Dept please pass to interested posts.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 794.00/6–2460. Confidential. Transmitted in three sections and repeated to COMUS/Japan and CINCPAC.
  2. In telegram 4392 from Tokyo, June 24, MacArthur thanked the Department for sending out circular telegram 1600 on the situation in Japan regarding which the Ambassador wanted to emphasize two points: Non-Communist elements took part in demonstrations against Kishi’s “undemocratic and authoritarian” action on May 19 in the Diet, and the unpopularity of Kishi, not the security treaty, was the major issue. Consequently, MacArthur concluded, the political temperature in Japan cooled after the announcement of Kishi’s resignation. (Ibid., 794.00/6–2460) See Supplement.
  3. Despatch 85 from Tokyo, July 18, 1959, is a major survey of the political and economic situation in Japan and an assessment of the new Kishi cabinet. (Department of State, Central Files, 794.00/7-1859)
  4. Telegram 4231 from Tokyo, June 15, discussed forces in Japan that aided pro-Communist elements. (Ibid., 711.11–EI/6–1560) See Supplement.
  5. See footnote 1, Document 153.
  6. The Department sent some of these same points in circular telegram 1623, June 24, to all posts. (Department of State, Central Files, 794.00/6–2460) See Supplement.