Chapter 7

BACK TO JAPAN – 1969-1970

1. From Lofty Academia to Grubby Journalism: Preparing for Japan

2. Getting a Life in Japan

3. ‘Discover Japan’

4. Japan-China Intrigues

Mid 1969: I have rebelled against the academic futility in Canberra. I plan to get back to Japan, via journalism.

Apprentice Journalist

I had visited Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. Headquarters in Sydney's Surrey Hills semi-slum district before, for my meetings with Menadue.

But then I had been shown only the ersatz plush of the executive suites.

Now I was in the newsroom of The Australian - a confusion of nondescript desks, grubby filing cabinets and un-swept floors.

They had asked me to spend a month or two there learning how to be a newsperson before setting off for Tokyo.

It was a very down-lifting experience. On one pillar of the room someone had tacked up a wartime headline - 'three subs disappear mysteriously in mid-Pacific.'

'Subs' was jargon for sub-editors. The news-people clearly did not like the way their copy was hacked around by the 'subs.'

Not that the news-people were much better. A semi-alcoholic old-timer who served as foreign editor was assigned to look after me.

Day-time, he would throw uninteresting agency news items into a large basket.

Evening-time, and after a few stiffeners at the local News Ltd. frequented pub just down the road, he would reach into the basket, pull out a fist-full of discarded items and throw them at the layout people for them to choose if they had to fill up any blank spaces on pages going to the print shop.

If in those days the paper looked scrappy, that is one reason why.

Rupert Murdoch

I only got to meet Murdoch occasionally during my Sydney stay.

He was too busy traveling round Australia, and then the world, trying to get his fledgling empire together.

But when we did meet he was unfailingly friendly and polite. He remembered how I had written for his paper back in 1965 on Vietnam and China.

I also knew his attractive wife to-be, Anna. She had White Russian parents and was also working in News Ltd.

Murdoch was still fairly progressive in those days.

But I remember well the moment when he began to cease to be progressive.

His Sydney printing facility was plagued with wildcat strikes. They would usually be timed for 6pm, just when the paper was supposed to be going to bed (i.e. getting ready for printing).

Even a delay of a few hours would cause chaos since the paper usually had to be flown that evening or early the next day all around Australia to reach customers before midday the next day.

Already it was facing circulation difficulties from not being delivered early enough in competition with local newspapers.

So everyone on the administrative side would be rounded up to go into the print shop and help set the lead type – a very messy job.

As he rolled up his sleeves to push the lead into the plates it was clear that the iron was entering into the Murdoch soul.

The progressives could have their trade unions. In future he would be siding with the anti-trade union conservatives.

His alliance with Madam Thatcher and the famous trade union lockouts at his Wapping plant in London were the result.

The world has been a different, and worse, place ever since.

And to think that I might have been there at the beginning.

Preparing for Japan

Meanwhile I was trying to get my hand in as a Japan-based journalist. First move was to try to interview Japanese firms with offices in Sydney.

Some were interesting, some not. But all were invariably polite.

It was my first lesson in Japan’s surprising openness to foreign journalists, even if the reasons for opening doors are not always clear.

Peter Robinson of the Financial Review later rebuked me for seeming to mix journalism with PR, especially after an interview I did with Onoki, a leading executive of Nihon Keizai, Japan's main economic newspaper, then in Sydney to publicize his newspaper.

(Today it needs no publicity. It is known worldwide, and it is also very profitable.)

But for an innocent like me at the time it was all a voyage of discovery. I would soon be off to Japan.

I wanted to immerse myself in the people and their business even before I got there.

(Robinson was clearly the doyen of Australian‘s Japan-watchers at the time. I can imagine he was slightly put out by an upstart like myself butting into his chosen field. )

(But he and his Japanese wife had always been very courteous to me earlier in Canberra when I was with the university there.)

(He had spent quite a few years in Japan reporting for the Fairfax group and the Financial Review. But he did not speak Japanese. I always wondered how he got established in Japan. )

(Like many of the immediate postwar generation of Western journalists in Japan, Australians especially, he may have needed some unusual links with some unusual people in government to get himself up and running.)

The Pilbara Miracle

Somehow the CRA (Conzinc Rio Tinto, Australia) people heard I was in Sydney planning to go to Japan.

As large-scale miners doing a lot of business with Japan they were very sensitive to media attitudes. They had invited me down to their Melbourne headquarters for a company briefing.

There I met Don Stewart who was in charge of their Hammersley iron ore operation in the Pilbara district of northwest Australia.

Don invited me to go up and have a look in the company jet, which I did, after a five hour flight across Australia.

It opened my eyes once and for all to the extraordinary scale and investment needed for these projects.

Stewart too had trade union problems – mainly with the tug boats needed to pull the massive 300,000 ton iron ore boats in and out of Port Headland.

A strike by a dozen or so tug operators would leave a line several miles long of waiting ships outside the harbor within a week. The steel mills in Japan would have to pay a fortune in demurrage.

I could see why he too had turned anti-trade union conservative.

(In later years I was to get to know Don well. I admired the dynamism and scale of his thinking.)

(But just for those reasons he fell foul of the CRA bureaucrats – despite having done the ground work to turn Hammersley into the success it is today.)

(He ended up managing Peko Wallsend, a coal and copper miner, which later developed the Ranger uranium ore project and signed the first uranium ore contracts for export to Japan’s electricity companies.)

(Don pulled me into the uranium negotiations as adviser. By this time – 1976 - I was fairly unemployed in Japan and keen to do anything.)

(He also wanted me to be involved with the Peko office in Tokyo. But the Japanese manager of the office resisted strongly.)

(Like most of the Japanese running Australian minerals offices in Tokyo, he seemed to be up to things that the head-offices back in Australia would not have liked to know about.)

As a Journalist, in Japan

Arriving in Tokyo in the middle of an especially vile summer, I had to set about opening an office. Temporary office space arranged for me in the offices of Asia Magazine, then also in the Murdoch stable, was clearly not adequate.

Most Western journalists in Japan in those days sought links and office space with major Japanese media. I felt I should do the same.

My first move was to visit the Asahi newspaper people.

The Asahi with its national circulation and progressive slants seemed closely to match The Australian of those days. It was the obvious choice for a tie-up relationship, and hopefully I would get an office there in the process.

But the Asahi people showed little interest in The Australian, or News Ltd. A long connection with Peter Robinson had led them to hope for a tie up with the Fairfax group in Australia.

Knocked back by Asahi, and quite rudely, I went to Nihon Keizai, which in those days was also fairly progressive. It had also hosted my father's lecture tours to Japan in the early sixties.

Ohnoki, with whom I had got on well during the Sydney meeting, took me directly to the Nikkei president, Enjoji Jiro.

There the Ohnoki/parental connection was more than enough to guarantee my being quickly offered a large office on the sixth floor - the newsroom floor - of the main Nikkei Building in Otemachi.

In those days Nikkei was home for only a handful of foreign correspondents, and they had all been shunted off to the eighth floor.

I don't think the News Ltd. people ever realised the deal I had got them.

(Eventually, I was to transfer to a small office in the UPI news-agency, partly to cut Tokyo costs and partly to be close to the UPI telex machines which I had to use to move copy to Sydney.)

( Later, the Fairfax people were to abandon Asahi in favor of the Nikkei eighth floor, which by that time was beginning to move to its current conservatism, making it a closer match for Fairfax.)

(Then as Murdoch and News Ltd moved rightwing, The Australian would eventually embrace tie-ups and offices with the rightwing and nationalistic Yomiuri-Sankei groups.)

(Newspaper musical chairs, played to a partly ideological tune.)

Scoop Fever

Having got my prime office space, it was then up to me to get some prime news. That was not easy.

My first exclusive - a salt project in Western Australia - took a month to find and ended up as two paragraphs on the finance pages.

But gradually the confidence grew. And as my Japanese reading ability improved, I discovered that I could beat my competition simply by getting Australia-relevant news items from the Nikkei galley proofs before the paper went to bed the night before.

My Australian competition - in those days mainly the ABC, the Melbourne Herald and the redoubtable Max Suich representing Fairfax – all had to wait till the next morning to get the same news.

Another trick was to get hold of the many small trade magazines writing about resource purchases and other dealings with Australia.

That also gave me a few scoops since the competition could not read Japanese and had to rely on assistants, who often missed the good stories.

(Already I was being infected by the scoop bug.)

(As the old hands put it, you can feel the hair rising on the back of your neck as you send off the exclusive which you are sure will end up big on the front-page the next day.)

( The nightmare for your rivals, of course, is a terse message from headquarters the next day asking how come they missed the scoop, and “Match it ASAP”.)

(For my Tokyo rivals the solution was at hand — go off and learn Japanese, ASAP.)

(The flip side to all this excitement, however, was that you are only as good as your last scoop. Memories are short in the world of competitive journalism.)

The Blind Wool-Market Manipulator

One of my better scoops came during a serious slump in Japanese purchases of Australian wool.

Buried deep in the Nikkei's commodity price pages was an article about an octogenarian Nagoya speculator, Nobuo Kondo, whose splurging on wool futures had helped to create an earlier boom.

But the time had come for his futures contracts to be unloaded. Potential buyers knew this, and had backed away from the market, forcing prices down to basement levels.

As a result Kondo faced enormous losses, and quite a few Australian farmers faced bankruptcy.

By any standard it was a great story.

It combined human interest (Kondo also happened to be blind, and lived in a closely guarded palace) with news of great importance to the Australian economy, plus an insight to the very volatile state of Japanese markets.

Fortunately the editors back in Australia recognized it as such, and ran it prominently.

No doubt my competitors’ offices were being bombarded with ASAP messages.

Australian TV channels even began flying people into Nagoya to locate and interview the reclusive Kondo.

But the Financial Review, which hated to be scooped on any story, let alone a major Japan business story, then ran a belated front-page piece from its own Tokyo correspondent trying to claim that Kondo and Japan's wool futures market were not very relevant anyway .

(In fact, Japan was buying 50 percent of Australian wool, much of it on a futures basis).

Sour grapes, and of a rather dishonest nature.

2. Getting A Life in Japan

Chasing scoops was one job. Trying to organise my private life was another.

I had been able to rent for 80,000 yen a month a cute two-storey Japanese house — what the Japanese call an hanare - in the garden of a large, wooded Kojimachi estate.

It was owned by the widow of a former top MITI bureaucrat. She lived there alone with her attractive, divorced daughter, with whom I tried obliquely, and unsuccessfully, to be more than just formally friendly.

(The daughter later married Ogura Kazuo, an up-and-coming diplomat who now heads the Japan Foundation, and whom I also knew since his father was an agricultural economist who had headed Ajiken when I had been there, and who had been a friend of my father who had also become keen on agricultural economics.)

(Wheels within wheels in Japan's fairly incestuous high society.)

Kojimachi in those days was a genteel, upper middle class residential area, very convenient to central Tokyo.

(Today it has become top high-rise residential and office territory.)

(The house, my hanare and the estate would soon give way to the wave of luxury condominium development. I would have to move to a conventional condo —‘mansion’ — in the more middle-class Waseda district.)

Alone in my little Japanese-style house, I began to miss R. greatly. I had become very close to her during the troubles of my last year in Canberra.

Selfishly, I wanted to be with her again.

One day when I felt I could not bear it any longer I rang her. I begged her to come to Tokyo, even if it meant having to give up her job in Canberra, which she did.

I was very happy when she arrived.

But within a few weeks I began to realise my mistake.

I had already sensed that Japan would be my future for quite a while, and not just because I liked what I had seen of the country.

The Vietnam war was still raging. Australia’s raucously dominant rightwingers were still confident of victory there.

Those who opposed the war were still regarded as demented bleeding-hearts at best, and traitorous, crypto-communists at worst.

Even quite a few of the progressives had looked at me askance.

It would be a long time before I could or would want to go back to Australia.

But if I was to survive in Japan, I would need someone with me who shared my feeling and interest for Japan.

R. did not have either, which was hardly her fault given her Canberra upbringing - something I should have realised from the start.

Soon the day came when I had to turn round and beg her to go back to Australia.

As she passed through the airport barrier for the flight back to Australia she gave me a look that haunted me for years.

I had behaved badly, and I knew it. Yet for the sakes of both of us, I had had to do what I did.

Back in Australia she married and had a family. That did something to ease the guilt.

Meanwhile I was renewing my friendship with Yasuko whom I had got to know well during my student days in Japan two years earlier.

She had waited patiently while I made up my mind.

Japan Erupts

Japan too was in turmoil, caught up in what came to be known as the kodo seicho jidai no makki - the last years of the high-growth period.

Today it had overtaken France’s GDP; tomorrow it would be Germany; soon it would be the US. The euphoria was breath-taking.

After a hot day at the beach I once wrote gushingly how the economy and society were like something poised on the top of an endless wave, being pushed on and on for ever.

(Little did we realise it would soon hit the rock of the 1973 oil shock).

Politics too were in the air - never-ending revelations of LDP corruption and other establishment scandals, the Vietnam War, student revolts, the Red Army affair (a small bunch of young Japanese radicals who had decided single-handedly to try to overthrow the Japanese government by force).

Red Army violence was being condemned out of hand. But was it really wrong to resort to violence to oppose a corrupt government determined to endorse and covertly assist the far greater violence and inhumanity going on in Indochina at the time?

I had faced the same question earlier back in Australia over Vietnam. There the best answer I could come up with was writing articles and to avoid taking any job where my taxes might help fund the atrocity.

In that sense these young radicals had been far more honest that myself.

3. ‘Discover Japan’
Gradually I began to get my private life into some sort of shape.

I began to see a lot of Yasuko. She still had her job with the Ajiken.  We spent many good weekends doing what we had enjoyed very much together when I had been doing my research at Ajiken two years earlier - exploring the beautiful countryside around Tokyo.

For someone brought up in the monotony, solitude and harshness of the Australian countryside, the lushness, variety, seasonal changes and the wealth of human interaction in Japanese nature was exciting.

Discovering Japan

’Discover Japan’ was a slogan developed by the national railways to encourage people to get out and travel.

It should not have been necessary. Japan is a goldmine of attractive places to discover.

We had begun during my Ajiken days with the mountain country an hour or so to the west of Tokyo  - the 1500-2000 meter ranges of Oku-Tama, Oku-Chichbu, Tanzawa.

Now we were gradually moving further a-field, mainly into the deep, vast and largely unknown 3,000 meter ranges of the Southern Alps. 

The Japanese are a strange people.  They will happily spend six-eight hours traveling to the well-known but distant and often over-crowded Northern Alps, mainly because they are well-known, distant and over-crowded.

But they ignore the equally challenging but deserted and very attractive Southern Alps just the other side of Mt Fuji - almost within viewing distance from Tokyo. 

Thursday afternoons would see me poring over hiking maps, planning the route for that weekend. Friday evenings we would set off on the overnight trains to the starting point for our climb.

 Sunday afternoons would be descending many miles away, tired and happy, hopefully to a hot spring hideaway before taking the train back to Tokyo.

One hangover from those years at Oxford studying geography was learning something about maps and geology.  Following the trails from one village to another, seeing how the the contours on the maps matched the reality, studying the rock formations, all that added to the enjoyment.

One of my ‘Discover Japan’ techniques was to take a map, look for an area with few villages or roads,  and head off to see what was there.

Inevitably we would find a Shangri-la hidden away in the hills and forgotten by history.

One of our best finds was the island of Kakeroma down Okinawa way. 

I had been invited down to Kyushu by the elderly Iwasaki Yohachiro. He was being bitterly criticised by Australia’s environmentalists for trying to build a honeymoon hotel in Queensland’s remote Yeppoon area (why the greenies should protest an hotel bringing people and funds to an area crying out for people and development seemed surprising).

He wanted me and some others to visit his resort hotel in Ibusuki near Kagoshima, so we could get some idea of what he planned for Yeppoon.

That was interesting enough – a mammoth affair with dozens of hot baths, live shows and dantai (group) tours moving through every night.

There I discovered he also had interests in the island of Amami Oshima to the south, where he had made his fortune prewar exporting hardwood sleepers for the Manchurian railways. 

His staff arranged for me to visit Amami also.

On a map of the large and little-known Amami island I noticed another large but totally unknown island just to the south with the unusual name of Kakeroma.

It seemed to have few roads or  large settlements. No one seemed able to tell me what went on there.

So we (Yasuko and myself) decided to go and find out.

Crossing the Setouchi channel from Koniya at the very bottom of Amami, we discovered a paradise of unspoiled semi-tropical hills and beaches surrounded by coral reefs, inhabited by dear hearts and gentle people clinging to the customs of another era.

In every village we could hear the clack-clack of the hand looms where the women of the island made the highly-prized tsumugi cloth for sale in the rest of Japan.

The place was so untouched that hotels, taxis and even vending machines did not exist.

Even now only a few diving fanatics know about Kakeroma, though it has over 200 kilometers of coral-lined coastline and a population of around 4,000 (7.000 then).

We have been back several times since.

The world has this image of Japan as a grossly over-crowded nation. But there are large areas of countryside where people rarely venture.

Even ardent hikers rarely want to stray from the beaten track.

In the Tanzawa hills just outside Tokyo it was thirty years before someone came across the remains of downed wartime plane.

The trails nearby are often crammed with weekend hikers. But no one had ventured onto the steep slopes alongside.

In the remote headwaters of the Mibu river on the western and rarely visited side of the Southern Alps I once came across what I am sure was a small Red Army camp.

About half a dozen of tough, good-looking youth were camped out there.  

If they really were Red Army fugitives, it was sad that their talents, energy and youth were being wasted in a fruitless confrontation with a society that had no idea of, or sympathy for, their idealistic goals.

4. Japan – China Intrigues

But back to my attempts to be a journalist.

Slowly, painfully, I was learning how to track down news sources and get stories.

Most of the time I was out there chasing down yet another report of a multi-million iron ore or coal contract with Australia.

Or else it would be another glitch in the still-prickly official trade and political relationship between Japan and Australia.

China was also very much in the news. How and when would the world finally come to recognise the existence of the world’s most populous nation?

But recognized or unrecognized, Beijing in those days held semi-veto power over the LDP choice of political leaders. To be branded as anti-China was the kiss of political death.

Japan still had some conscience about its former behavior in China. Most realised the absurdity of Japan refusing any formal relationship with its large neighbor.

In his push for the LDP presidency even the devious Sato Eisaku (prime minister of Japan 1964 —72) had felt the need to make strong hints of pretending to want better relations with Beijing.

The then Chinese Trade Minister, Nan Han-chen (zhen), was to be the deceived bearer of those hints after a 1964 Tokyo visit.

On this basis he and his colleagues back in China had dropped opposition to Sato, believing relations would soon be ‘put on the right track.’

But when he gained power Sato had quickly reversed course and embraced Taiwan — hardly surprising given his very conservative background and a half-brother relationship with the deeply anti-China former prime minister of Japan, Kishi Nobusuke.

In the process Sato did enormous damage not just to Japan-China relations, but also to those in China who had seen his 1964 overtures as genuine.

I am convinced it was probably one of the main factors leading to China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution.

Liao Cheng-chih, and the Origins of the Cultural Revolution

With some difficulty I had tracked down what could well have been the consequences of Sato’s devious game.

A key lead had been the former Nikkei correspondent in China, Samejima Keiji.

Like most other Japanese journalists in China at the time, he had been close to a senior and pro-Japan Chinese politician, Liao Cheng-chih (Liao Chengzhi in today’s romanisation).

Liao had been educated in Japan and spoke good Japanese. That made him a magnet for the Japanese journalists.

But with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Samejima in 1968 was suddenly arrested and thrown into jail for some years (some insiders have since suggested that he was imprisoned not so much for his Liao connection but because he had a double mission in China, the nature of which is known to some dubious people in Washington.)

Eventually he was released, but only after Nikkei had exerted all the pressure and influence it could.

Some time after Samejima's return to Japan, Nikkei began to run a series of very interesting front page anonymous articles detailing how Liao and others in the Chinese leadership’s pro-Japan faction had accepted Sato's assurances of wanting better relations with China.

But when Sato moved to a pro-Taiwan, anti-China policy, they had had the legs cut away from under them.

According to the articles, radicals in the Chinese leadership had then used this debacle to discredit not just the pro-Japan faction in the leadership but all other progressive elements in China.

This in turn had greatly helped the launch of the Cultural Revolution insanity.

For me these and other insider details in the Nikkei articles were nuggets of pure information gold. The world, and not just Japan, had to know about them.

First step was to confirm who wrote the articles.

To me it was obvious that it could not have been anyone other than Samejima. No one else in Nikkei could have written with such detail and authority.

(The articles were anonymous because a condition for Samejima’s release from China was that he be kept under wraps.)

As fellow Chinese speakers we already knew each other quite well. An ambiguous reply from him at a chance corridor meeting in the Nikkei building where I had my office was all I needed to confirm that he had indeed been the author.

At the time I had a deal with Derek Davies of the Hongkong Far Eastern Economic Review to send him the in-depth stories I could not get published in The Australian.

The Liao affair was just such a story (few in Australia would have realized the importance of that story).

In the FEER article I had suggested strongly that the recently-released Samejima was the source.

In those days the FEER carried a lot of weight in Japan. (It was later taken over by the Wall Street Journal and went cantankerously to a well-deserved anti-China grave.)

(Running an anti-China line out of a Hongkong booming from China’s progress? How ideologically stupid can you be.)

My article was inevitably brought to the attention of the Nikkei brass. Summoned to Enjoji's office for a formal reprimand, my relationship with the paper never really recovered.

(It was to suffer a far worse blow many years later when I criticised Nikkei’s strident support for the mistaken fiscal stringency policies of the Hashimoto and Koizumi regimes. More on that later.)

In the West, the integrity of a newspaper would normally depend heavily on identifying how and why articles of such import appeared. If for some reason they were anonymous, it would be taken for granted that others would try to guess at the authorship.

But for a Japanese newspaper, as for almost any other Japanese organisation, avoiding embarrassment is far more important that preserving integrity.

I had caused Nikkei possible embarrassment. I was a very naughty person, and they made sure I knew it.

Caution: Hawks at Work

The Liao incident was also an insight into the ease with which moderates can have their policies cruelly derailed by hawks.

Moderation has few friends. Confrontation has infinite backers.

One of the worst examples was the way Khruschev's 1955-64 efforts to gain détente with the US and end the Cold War were undercut by US hawks determined to keep military and diplomatic pressure on the USSR.

Soviet hawks then used the failure of those détente efforts to depose Khruschev and return the Soviet Union to Cold War confrontation.

The hawks and hardliners on both sides fed off each other. They got the Cold War they wanted. But they have a lot to answer for.

The same has been going on constantly between Japan and China ever since the sixties. Fortunately today’s China has matured to the point where it can largely ignore the barbs from Japan’s noisy hawks.

(Anyone seriously interested the US-USSR relationship is invited to read the now-released State Department records of how Eisenhower, upon whom Khruschev had placed all his détente hopes, was maneuvered by the Washington hawks into refusing to provide the crucial apology for the U 2 incident of July 1960. )

(It is a classic example of how in times of tension the hawks can use their distorted version of the national interest to manipulate events and opinions in their favor.)

If, as seems possible, the roots of China's Cultural Revolution can be found in the devious behavior of one Sato Eisaku, then he too has a lot to answer for.

At the very least, the Nobel Prize committee should demand the return of the Peace Prize they foolishly awarded him in 1974.

The award of that Peace Prize was also yet another example of foreigner ignorance of Japan. It was given to him because of his alleged contribution in keeping Japan out of the Vietnam War.

To anyone who knew Japan, it was the pacifism of the Japanese public and the intelligence of LDP progressives such as Ohira Masayoshi that kept Japan out of that war.

Sato and his fellow-LDP hawks did all they could, covertly, to encourage the US in that war.

If my hunch is correct, they were also to help create the disastrous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

But the GPCR in turn was to lead to my finally getting to China - thanks to some incredible coincidences, which I relate in the next chapter.