A Doomed Man [運命の人]

By Toyoko Yamazaki  [山崎豊子]

Bungei Shunju, April-June 2009, 4 volumes, each volume is 256 pages, 1524 yen each.
volume 1: ISBN 978-4163281100;
volume 2: ISBN: 978-4163281209;
volume 3: ISBN: 978-4163281308;
volume 4: ISBN: 978-4163281407,

Review by Fumiko Halloran

The author, known for her best sellers on the corruption of power and social injustice, has come out with a novel that explores the political dynamics surrounding the return of Okinawa from the U.S. to Japan in 1972. Thinly disguised as fiction, the book is based on research and interviews. Even the real names of the politicians, diplomats, and journalists are easy to guess from the fictional names in the novel.

The tale focuses on “The Nishiyama Incident,” or “The Return of Okinawa Agreement Confidential Document Leak Incident,” a scandal that is still alive. In 2007, Takichi Nishiyama, a former reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun who was a central figure in the scandal, filed a civil suit against the Japanese government to overturn the verdict in a trial that found him guilty of obtaining confidential government documents. He demanded compensation for damaging his reputation but the court rejected his claim, citing the expiration of the pertinent statute.

The beginning of the tale stretches back almost four decades. In 1971, negotiations between the U.S. State Department and the Japanese Foreign Ministry over the return of Okinawa were intense. Prime Minister Eisaku Satoh was determined to achieve the reversion, declaring that Japan would not be free of the wartime trauma without the return of Okinawa.

In the novel, Ryota Yuminari (Nishiyama in real life) is a star reporter for Maiasa Shimbun (Mainichi Shimbun) who has broad contacts with politicians and officials. Overconfident and arrogant, Yuminari does not hesitate to play games with sources and information. He has an investigative reporter’s instinct for finding big stories, particularly when officials try to hide information.

An unsolved issue in the negotiations is payment for returning property requisitioned by the U.S. forces. The Japanese government expects the U.S. to pay for restoring property to usable condition. Otherwise, U.S. forces would leave behind concrete structures and damaged land. Earlier, in 1961, the U.S. had paid for restoring farmland to its original condition. This time, however, the State Department tells the Japanese that the U.S. Congress is in no mood to pay $4 million (about 1 billion yen at the exchange rate then) as the U.S. government had pledged that no further compensation would be paid to the Japanese.

The Japanese balk, pointing out that the Japanese government had already agreed to pay US$320 million to buy American utility, water, and financial corporations, to pay severance to base workers, to cover the cost of removing nuclear weapons, and to cover the cost for transporting American forces elsewhere. Prime Minister Satoh insisted that $4 million should be paid by the U.S. so that the Japanese government could avoid criticism that Japan had “bought” the return of Okinawa.

To preclude the $4 million issue from becoming the last obstacle to reversion, in the book the American embassy’s Minister Sneider (Richard Sneider being his actual name in real life) proposes to establish a trust fund with Japan’s $4 million, out of which compensation would be paid to the property owners, thus avoiding Congressional scrutiny. Minister Sneider tries to persuade the reluctant Japanese negotiators that appearances are more important than substance in this instance.

Further, Sneider demands that Foreign Minister Aichi (Kiichi Aichi in the real world) write a letter to Ambassador Meyers saying the Japanese government intends to pay $4 million to the U.S. for compensating the property owners in Okinawa. He assures the Japanese that the letter would remain confidential. Otherwise, Sneider warns that prospects for the return of Okinawa may be at risk; he suggests that the State Department officials believe in a solid U.S.-Japan alliance but the Senate and the Pentagon are concerned that the return of Okinawa may reduce the effectiveness of the U.S. military presence in Asia.

Foreign Minister Aichi meets U.S. Secretary of Defense Rojard (actual name Melvin Laird) in Paris at an OECD conference. Pressed with the demand from Sneider and a time table for announcing the conclusion of the Okinawa negotiations, the Japanese team in Tokyo sends confidential cables to the foreign minister in Paris outlining the American demands. At a press conference in Paris, the foreign ministry announces the conditions of the agreement, saying the U.S. will compensate Okinawan property owners-without mentioning the secret agreement that the money will come from the Japanese government.

In June 1972, the signing ceremony for the return of Okinawa is televised via satellite in Washington and Tokyo.

During the Diet debate on the ratification of the agreement, the reporter Yuminari obtains drafts of three top secret cables from Tokyo to Paris from a source in the foreign ministry; they clearly indicate the scheme for the trust fund. He writes articles based on these cables but without revealing documentary evidence.

Frustrated that exposing the trust fund does not develop into a major issue, Yuminari meets with a member of the Japan Socialist Party, Hiroshi Yokomizo (Takahiro Yokomichi in the real political world) who is eager to use Yuminari’s information to attack PM Sabashi (Satoh in our universe). Yuminari shows copies of the cables to Yokomizo but did not give them to him. In the next Diet debate, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the foreign ministry’s director general of the America bureau all deny the existence of a secret agreement.

Yuminari decides then to give copies of the cables to Yokomizo, believing he can protect his source and still deliver evidence of government deception. Yuminari warns Yokomizo not to show the copies in public but Yokomizo does so anyway. In addition, photocopies appear in a rival newspaper.

An eruption ensues and an investigation into the source of the leaked cables is launched. PM Sabashi is furious that the fiasco has interrupted the smooth sailing of Diet ratification. Sabashi calls the Director General of the Police Agency to demand that Yuminari be found criminally responsible. Sabashi’s ambitions include winning a Nobel Peace Prize for the return of Okinawa and he will not accept all his work and effort being thwarted by a journalist.

At this juncture a sexual scandal involving Yuminari comes into the story. A secretary, Akiko Miki (Kikuko Hasumi in our reality), of a senior foreign ministry official, stuns her superior when she confesses that she is Yuminari’s source. She voluntarily submits herself to the police.

Yuminari is summoned for police questioning but by the time he arrives, the police have a full confession from Miki and Yuminari is arrested. He is charged with having “aided and abetted” a public servant to disclose confidential matters. Yuminari spends 10 days in jail before being released on bail.

The incident ignites wide press coverage, roiling public opinion, and stirring outrage among journalists who make Yuminari a hero for fighting to protect news sources and the right of free expression against government pressure. His newspaper hires lawyers. Other newspapers support Yuminari on the need to protect sources, criticizing the government’s deception, and asserting the public’s right to know.

When the trial opens in the Tokyo District Court, however, the prosecution discloses that Yuminari and Miki, a married woman, had had intimate relations. The implication is that Yuminari obtained top secret information by taking advantage of their relationship. Yuminari asserts that it was a relationship between consenting adults and he never pressed her to supply information; rather, she gave documents to him as a favor.

But the damage is done and public opinion turns against him. Maiasa editorials are unable to justify the way Yuminari obtained confidential information. Support for Yuminari and his newspaper plummet. Public outrage damages the paper’s reputation and subscriptions drop as it is boycotted.

The defence team tries to emphasize the public’s right to know, dismissing the sexual relations as irrelevant. Senior foreign ministry officials deny the existence of a secret agreement, claiming loss of memory about the three cables. Prosecutors, aware of the displeasure of the prime minister and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, are relentless in chasing Yuminari while the defence team paints the government as a powerful machine trying to deny the press to information that should shed light on major issues of state.

The Tokyo District Court, in which three judges without a jury make rulings, finds Yuminari not guilty but rules that Miki has violated the civil service code. She is sentenced to six months in prison with one year of probation. The prosecutors appeal Yuminari’s not guilty verdict to the Tokyo Superior Court where the first verdict is overturned and Yuminari is sentenced to four months in prison and one year on probation.

Miki begins to paint herself as a victim of Yuminari’s sexual harassment. She collaborates with a reporter of the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine and appears on television talk shows. Yuminari remains silent even though his lawyers urge him to treat Miki as a hostile witness. Yuminari’s marriage breaks up, he resigns from his newspaper, and goes into his family business of produce supply in Kyushu as he prepares for a trial at the Supreme Court. That court, however, refuses to hear the case, ending his hope of clearing his name. He ends up selling his family business and becomes addicted to gambling on horses and binge drinking.

Several years later, Yuminari finds himself in Okinawa after having been rescued from a suicide attempt on a ship heading toward Okinawa and retreats into seclusion. Gradually he begins to reconstruct his life by getting involved with Okinawans who still carry the scars from the battles of 1945 in which one in three Okinawans were killed. After that terrible ordeal they then had to live for decades under the iron rule of American forces.

In 2000, the Kyokunichi Shimbun (Asahi in our realm) reports that a professor at Ryukyu University has discovered a memorandum between Minister Sneider and Director General of America Bureau Magoroku Yoshida (real name Bunroku Yoshino) in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It outlines the scheme of the trust fund. Yuminari’s suspicion is now proven but Yoshida continues to deny there was such an agreement even though his initials are on the document. The novel ends with reconciliation between Yuminari and his wife at the Peace Memorial Museum in southern Okinawa.

The author of the novel writes in an afterword that most of the former foreign ministry officials involved in the Okinawa negotiation declined to be interviewed. In 2006, however, Hokkaido Shimbun interviewed Bunroku Yoshino, the former director general of the America Bureau who signed a memorandum on the secret agreement. He admitted its existence and said he lied on orders from Foreign Minister Yohei Kono when the Asahi story broke out. Yoshino’s motivation to finally come clean is not clear, but at the age of 86, he talked in detail about the negotiations.

The $4 million compensation was a small portion of the $685 million the Japanese government paid to the U.S. Yet that small deception ruined the lives of Nishiyama and his family, Kikuko Hasumi and her husband, and several senior Mainichi editors. The Mainichi Shimbun never recovered from the boycott and its subsequent decline in subscriptions. Several foreign ministry officials suffered from reprimands. Perhaps the real victims were the property owners in Okinawa who received only $1.4 million, not $4 million, in compensation.

This four volume novel is a page turner that skilfully weaves historical narrative with complex characters and human drama. In the background is the theme of arrogance within Japan’s bureaucracy that does not take into account personal suffering in the larger scheme of foreign policy. That bureaucracy is indifferent to the need for a healing process for the Okinawans who suffered from the Japanese military during the war, then from the American military in the post-war period. Yamazaki, herself a former reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun, looks hard at the role of the press in politics.

The part about Yuminari living in Okinawa in the fourth volume is somewhat contrived. Neither Yamazaki nor Nishiyama mentions that he actually lived in Okinawa. The fourth volume gives much space to the collective suicides by Okinawan civilians after the American landing in 1945. It dwells on the American military bases that Okinawans have endured and the crimes committed by American soldiers. Yamazaki intends to drive home the harsh reality of life in Okinawa for Japanese readers who are unfamiliar with its history but she may be faulted for possible overkill in the novel.

The return of Okinawa was hailed by the Japanese government as marking the end of the wartime trauma. The U.S. government asserted it was evidence of the democratic processes in which the former warring nations agreed on the peaceful reversion of occupied territory. But the Okinawans themselves were excluded from the negotiations even though they allied themselves with Japan’s opposition parties and the activists who criticized, distrusted, and rejected the approaches of both governments.

For those who criticize the U.S.-Japan alliance, the belief is strong that Okinawans will not be at peace so long as the Americans stay there. Since the U.S. military is not likely to leave Okinawa, peace of mind will not come to Okinawans. At the same time, Okinawa’s economy depends on the bases and subsidies by the Japanese government. Life goes on but Okinawa’s history is still an open wound in US-Japan relations. For that reason, Toyoko Yamazaki’s novel will be widely read.

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