I haven’t seen this reported yet in any of the English-language Japanese media but this story has piqued my interest. On July 21st, during an evening news story about the notorious Imperial Japanese Army unit “Unit 731”, Japanese broadcaster TBS inadvertently (or not) briefly included an image of current Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is the front-runner to succeed current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down from office this September. [UPDATE, July 31: You can see a clip of the TBS story here, with the Abe photo inclusion occuring in the first few seconds of the clip. And here is TBS’ apology for the “unintentional” inclusion of the “unrelated” photo.]
TBS has predictably claimed it was an accident, saying the photo was just laying around the prop room and intended to be used in another program. Abe spoke to the issue in a recent press conference that he was surprised and that he wants to believe it is much ado about nothing. This is not the first time that TBS has been implicated in “subliminal” broadcasting. In May of 1995, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications severely reprimanded the network for repeatedly interspersing split-second edits of the image of Aum cult leader Shoko Asahara during unrelated parts of a documentary piece about the cult. (There’s much more to TBS’s relationship with Aum — this is a good place to start.)
Ostensibly there is no relationship between Abe and the 731 unit that was being reported on, although the way that Japanese politics works, figures in power past and present can all be linked in much less than six degrees of separation. Just as the tip of the iceberg of these connections, chew on this:
Abe’s grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was a former Class A war criminal (never tried) who later became Prime Minister (1957-60). Kishi served his time for war crimes with Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa. All three were involved with some shady goings-on in China before and during the war such as ammunitions and drug trading (Kodama and Sasakawa amassing large “war chests” in the process), and all three were released by the Americans for political reasons (ie. to help in the anti-communist fight). Kishi himself organized slave labor as part of his responsibility for “industrial development” in Manchuria. I don’t know if there is any evidence linking Kishi with Unit 731, which operated in Manchuria, but given that his was a leading member of the “Manchurian Clique” which included Hideki Tojo, it’s suspected that he at least knew of its existence.
I mention Sasakawa because later, around 1963, he became an important advisor of Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (aka “Moonies”) in Japan. Kishi himself was sympathetic to Moon and offered glowing tributes to him and his followers in the press at a time in the late 60’s when Moon was trying to get a foothold for his organization (er, church) in Japan. (Here’s a photo of the two.) In fact, the Japan headquarters for the Unification Church was built on land in Tokyo that had once been owned by Kishi (source). As reported on some blogs in June, this YouTube video shows two Unification Church wedding ceremony events in May to which Shinzo Abe apparently sent congratulatory telegrams (note that he is referred to by the speaker, Katsumi Otsuka, President of the Family Federation of World Peace and Unification in Japan, as Nobusuke Kishi’s grandson in addition to his Chief Cabinet Secretary title). (Just for the record, there are lots of other Japanese politicians — just as there are not a few American politicians — that have been involved in some way with the Unification Church, including Abe’s father Shintaro Abe and the current opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa.)
(If you are interested in more Unification Church connections, here’s perhaps a somewhat obscure one but rather curious as well. In this YouTube video clip, you can see the same Katsumi Otsuka who was presiding over the wedding ceremonies in the other YouTube video here opening a meeting of the UPF (Universal Peace Federation) Rally for the Restoration of the Homeland held in Yokohama (this year?). What’s interesting about this clip is that one of the dignitaries introduced is one Tadashi Kobayashi, Chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Wikipedia link), a group that authored a controversial revisionist textbook on Japanese history that was published last year, and which predictably drew the ire of South Korea and China. The clip ends with some dignitaries, including the aforementioned Kobayashi, on stage being blessed rather strangely by two Koreans. Anyone know more about this?)
Not surprisingly, TBS was the only TV network I know of that ran a story about the Abe/Unification Church connection. I say not surprisingly because TBS has often been linked to Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization (cult?) that is rather powerful here in Japan, and therefore perhaps a media outfit with some sort of axe to grind against the Unification Church and Abe.