Alimentary Machinations

Summer Rain, Spring Snow

Contorted, oppressive clouds swirl in the skies. The empyrean thunders down a pure white snow, down upon the empty streets, thatched rooftops, and flickering street lamps of Tokyo, wrapping the city in an eerie atmosphere. A young man cannot sleep, mind swirling with new urban troubles; if he paid just a little attention to the frigid air, just a little, he might notice this strange climate is a cloak - it conceals the deep breath before the plunge.

The stage was set for a ritual cleansing by none other, no less than Heaven itself, a blanket of purity across the land. The kami bear witness from beyond the clouds and from the underworld, as if bestowing their blessings upon conspiratorial young officers in their barracks: “Heaven will not forsake you, this is your moment! Spill the blood of the traitors and purify the nation, defaced and vandalized by the wicked!”

These young officers leap to follow that harbinger brought down to earth. With guns loaded and plans laid, they leave their barracks to carry out the righteous operation. They seek their targets without hesitation, knowing a long ordeal of blood lies ahead. The true promise of the Meiji Restoration, brought about with a crimson splash across the white snow.

It is early morning, no earlier than four o’clock; the date is February 26, 1936.

Contrary to Mishima Yukio’s observation that Japan may have been “castrated” in the postwar period, there lay dormant in the subterranean a vital energy that resides in the kokutai. We saw many flashes of it throughout the postwar period, whether it tickles the Japanese mind through its Kulturindustrie (yes, I am referring to big bouncy anime tiddies) or explodes like a firework then fizzles out in outright rebellion. This energy is not exclusive to any particular political affiliation: the Zengakuren student activists who so fervently rebelled against American occupation harnessed this energy and embodied it at their height; as did both Asanuma Inejiro and his assassin, Yamaguchi Otoya, at theirs. The students had an action for the sake of action ethos. This is what enabled Mishima to feel a companionship with them:

“I found we had much in common — a rigorous ideology and a taste for violence. Both they and I represent new species in Japan today. I felt a friendship for them. We are friends between whom there is a barbed wire fence. We smile at one another but we can’t kiss… What the students and I stand for is almost identical. We have the same cards on the table, but I have a joker — the Emperor.”

I have mentioned before that after the Pacific War; there was a shift in the Japanese mythology: away from reverence of the kami and the Emperor to a worship of Japan’s metamorphosis since the Meiji Restoration while treating pre-Meiji period history as essentially a footnote. What I neglected to mention at the time was that this was just the mainstream mythology - it goes without saying that other mythologies, whether 'Japanised' Marxist eschatology, prewar theorists, anime waifu fascism or even just detached apathy exist. What links these mythologies is that they all have their roots in the context of the Meiji period onwards. It seems that the Japanese consciousness cannot escape the events of the past 200 years even if they comprised only a fraction of Japanese history. Frankly, neither can I, nor other people at the fringe. There is a reason I wrote the first three paragraphs with as much gusto as I could muster - I mythologise that specific incident. Some would also mythologise the hypnotic delirium that the Zengakuren students experienced in 1968, or Mishima’s dramatic suicide in 1970, or even the moment a Japanese person heard Emperor Hirohito’s voice for the first time in 1945.

Of course this phenomenon of mythological shift is not unique to Japan. The whole world saw the same thing at different historical periods. The mainstream West in particular has been anticipating the Eschaton since the 18th century despite its non-arrival. It seemed that for liberal ontology, the eschatological age was finally summoned in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Afterwards the political scientist Francis Fukuyama prophesied the indefinite continuation of the liberal world in his book The End of History and the Last Man. It seemed more than ever that the “Celestial City” would descend onto Earth; even today it seems that way to most people. Liberal ontology has not allowed for these people to think outside of its own framework meaning they are “stuck” on this eschatological anticipation. While I mentioned in my Twitter thread that Japan’s mainstream myths are uniquely stuck in the Pacific War, the consequences of that war mean that those myths are also flavoured with the same liberal eschatology that has also gripped the West.

In the Mishima quote I put above, I think he is very wrong in saying that they are a “new species”. Mishima and the Zengakuren were two newcomers in a 2000 year old (possibly more) tradition of tragedy, orgasmic limit experiences and saying “fuck you to hell” at the face of crushing defeat and nihilism. There is however, a difference between people like Mishima and the Zengakuren as he himself pointed out, that they could “smile at each other but not kiss”, or that there was a “barbed wire fence” between the two. What is it that fundamentally separated the two, despite both harnessing this same primordial energy? The answer lies in the joker that Mishima had: a nostalgia for Sovereignty embodied in the Emperor, something that escaped the understanding of the Zengakuren so much that they had to debate Mishima about it. Why had it escaped them? Because they were children of the postwar, an era with no Sovereignty.

Mishima’s nostalgia is recursively nostalgic for a time when people were nostalgic for a mythical past that may or may not have existed. As if echoing Hesiod, they reached into the deepest mists of prehistory for the foundation of this Sovereignty, before even the ancient Yamato court during the Kofun and Asuka periods. They reached into a time when the Emperor was a high priest of a clan community and extended it towards the whole nation, declaring that the direct relationship between the Emperor and his subjects was indeed the basis of Sovereignty. This served as the ideological and ontological basis for theorists in prewar Japan and it was an aesthetically attractive one at that.

Besides the recursive element, there is also nostalgia for a time that did not have a crushing finality. In the Shōwa period, there were no resolutions yet to the inter-army disputes, ideological arguments and everything were more subject to change than they were in the postwar period. As we all well know, a period wherein there were endless possibilities is fondly looked back upon (boomer pride) whether those possibilities were economic, political, or even aesthetic. This crushing finality forces people in the fringe to look back in envy and admiration at the officers who had perpetrated the numerous assassinations throughout the 1930s. “How lucky they were able to die for and serve the Emperor, their people, and their families, there is surely no greater feeling than that!”, they must have thought.

I see the wisteria
that moves like waves
and longings rise
for Nara and Kyoto,
the ancient courtly days

Masaoka Shiki

While I have made frequent reference to Mishima and his writings in this article so far (and it is merited - he derived a lot of his aesthetics and writings from the prewar period, and just so happened to be influential after the war), there is a fundamental split between the perpetrators of various incidents in the 1930s and Mishima: his unabashed, tragic fatalism which is at the core of his meditations. In other words, fundamental to his thought is the idea of no escape, no victory. A cold death was not for him, only a burning life that would scorch his soul and a fiery, inevitable death that would brand his very being onto the world, which would whimper out into an echo.

This fatalism wasn’t novel – we can certainly see it emerging during the war, specifically towards the end. What exactly do people think kamikaze planes and kaiten torpedoes were? It wasn’t optimism, it wasn’t win-at-all-costs, it was acceptance of finality. The war is lost but to hell with you anyway, we will drag you and your devilish American mechanizations to the underworld with our beautiful corpses. It was a simultaneous re-enactment and homage to the highly esteemed nobility of failures throughout Japanese history, arguably beginning with Mononobe warrior Yorozu’s last stand against the victorious Soga clan in 587. This is what it means to stare into the abyss and fire expletives towards it; it means becoming a part of this tradition of tragic failures to be exalted by later generations.

The atomic bombs and the Jewel Voice Broadcast marked the pinnacle of this fatalism, yet were not the pinnacle of the mainstream Japanese myth. They were instead viewed as just another event in a sequence, and as a basis rather than a representation. As the occupying Americans imposed their Constitution upon the Japanese, there was a strong sense of humiliation, and it was necessary to rehabilitate into something more to the liking of the American masters. To this day Japan remains tightly gripped by the Constitution, its secular leaders pondering over its revision and how to play by its rules. A never-ending 1945. This ontopolitical grip served only to further fuel the fatalism of Mishima and many others’, crushing any hope for future dynamism and victory. Yes, it now makes absolute sense that Mishima would go on to characterize a part of the “Japanese spirit” as “a navy officer leaping from a human torpedo, brandishing his sword on a moonlit night” - he spent his formative adolescence in an era of Winter, of fatality and finality.

The capital rang like a bell with the sound of gunshots. It stops for a brief inhale… movement... and another flurry of bullets. Exhale, an anxious mist… inhale... repeat. Within a few hours, the first phase of their plan was over. The streets smelled of gunpowder and blood. Their guns, frigid to the touch. Their hearts, hardened. Yet, beating faster than ever before in their lives.

Okada was perforated, and rightfully so - he had been a major thorn to the Shōwa Restoration. The inn Makino and his family were staying in was set ablaze and reduced to ashes, much like his obstructions to the kokutai. Takahashi, that perfidious bureaucrat who continued the suffering of the people, shot and slashed open in his sleep. A corrupt politician is shot - his tearful wife covered his body with her own, begging the assassins to kill her instead of him. She was pulled aside and her husband shot, over and over. These same troops immediately headed to end Watanabe’s life for his arrogance. Though they met with opposition from military police, they managed to force their way into his home. The gunfire outside gave him fair warning of the threat, and he was found with pistol at the ready and his futon as cover. After a brief gunfight, he was riddled with bullets and impaled on one officer's sword. This was a great measure of cruelty - his daughter, hiding behind a table, witnessed the final, brutal seconds of her father’s life. For obstructing the imperial virtue, Suzuki would be shot twice, his suffering only ended when his wife begged the captain of the troops to allow her to finish her husband herself with a sword. The captain apologized to her and explained that their cause was just, that it was for the sake of rescuing Japan and the kokutai from the wicked.

An attempt was made to secure the Imperial Palace, but to no avail. However, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters, Army Ministry, the residence of the Minister of War, and the General Staff Office were all captured by the officers. The then Minister of War, Yoshiyuki Kawashima, heard their demands: Kawashima was to resolve the situation in a way that advanced the Shōwa Restoration; the army was not allowed to use force against the officers; ministers and commanders who had contributed to the disunity that plagued the army since the 1920s were to be immediately dismissed and arrested; and Sadao Araki was to be appointed as the new commander of the Kwantung Army.

Kawashima was urged by several senior officers sympathetic to the movement to accept these demands. He left to speak with the Emperor regarding this matter.

The sky began to brighten, the nocturnal quiet lifting. What appeared above was not the finespun, impartial, merciless sunlight, only an uncaring, drab, almost oppressive grey. Amaterasu did not grace anyone in the capital with her celestial presence. She would not bless anyone. She would not favour anyone. She, along the millions of other kami, would only observe, ordaining that this bloodstained ordeal on a canvas of snow continue. An anxious silence fell upon the capital; a great many hearts palpitated. This was it, and they all knew it. It was a moment for all Japan, for all histories that resonated in the distant past and future. A great exhale.

Let us step back for a moment, take off the postwar nostalgia goggles for a while. What was the actual prewar situation: what did the Imperial Japanese Army officers grow up with? For them, it was Spring-turned-Summer. From their point of view, Japan was to be the leader of Asia (the Meiji Restoration said so), standing strong against Western imperialism, and yet… how exactly were they qualified to be leaders? If they were plagued with a corrupt state that reduces the Emperor to just another organ of it, if they showed no sympathy for the plight of an essential part of Japan (that is, the everyday farmer), if they were ruled by a class of treacherous bureaucrats… what good was Meiji modernism for? What exactly was Japan building to ever since the Restoration? Look at the Taishō Democracy, an age of glamour, of art, culture and powerful aesthetic! Nevermind that the Rice Riots occurred 10 years prior, nevermind the Great Kantō Earthquake, nevermind the disappearing ties of familial solidarity. An agrarian thinker, Tachibana Kōzaburō, commented:

“According to a common expression, Tokyo is the hub of the world. But I regret to say that Tokyo appears to me nothing but a branch shop of London.”

The officers vowed to destroy these perversions of Japan, which they thought originated from the West, and leave a trail of blood in its wake, a true restoration. In a way, they were opposites of Mishima. They were optimistic. There was hope for victory. It mattered not that there was, in reality, almost no chance of victory - it mattered that they knew that they would resoundingly achieve it. Even as the snow fell on their backs, they knew they would vanquish Japanese Wintertime, and ume would bloom all over the nation. They did not engage in lamentations as postwar Japan does, instead having a strong nostalgia for the Green World and a righteous fury at what they saw to be unjust and inexcusable. Their uprising as a revolutionary action of high morality was not a piece of art or an aesthetic, it was a direct political action. These are the differences between the prewar and the postwar ontologies and mythologies of Japan. It is yet another episode of “idealism vs. realism”.

Just as Mishima and the Zengakuren differed, so did many of these officers. A large amount of them were inspired by the vision of revolutionary-nationalist-socialist Kita Ikki, who owed more to Marx than to classical learnings in the Orient for his Weltanshauung. He and the Amur River Society cooperated with Sun Yat-sen in China before the Xinhai Revolution, and much of his vision stems from his utter chagrin at being unable to bring about a democratic China as well as his desire to promote a revolutionary, united Asia. Not only did he desire this Pan-Asianism, he saw it as inevitable, and Japan would be the leader. Therein lies the rub: there were prerequisites that had to be met in Japan, including the seizure and nationalization of major industries and fortunes, an eight-hour workday, a purge of the “corrupt influences” around the Emperor and an extensive land reformation program. The Emperor would be at the center of the totalitarian state, giving him direct rule over the people. Indeed his thought was still rooted in a kind of Meiji modernism (the central government would still exist and be the machinery of this national reorganization) but it was an interesting, eclectic mix of his experience studying Confucian classics, Japanese discourse on the nature of Sovereignty, and his ventures into Marxism all with an agrarian flavour.

Kasuga Plain:
O, this day burn it hot!
Young grass,
My wife is hidden there,
As too am I.
On Kasuga Plain,
O, warder of Tobuhi Plain,
Go out and see!
How many days must pass
'til we may pick fresh herbs...
Kokin wakashū I: 17 & 18

In sharp contrast to Kita Ikki and even the hegemonic State Shintoists, in stood the more McTraditional agrarianists such as Tachibana Kōzaburō, Gondō Seikyō and Katō Kanji who longed for the values, aesthetics and energies of the misty distant past. Their influences came not from any Western source, but rather from their studies into the deep history of Northeast Asia and their notable interest in Lao Tzu’s philosophies.

Gondō Seikyō in particular decried the Meiji cult of the all-powerful state which he equated with “a Prussian bureaucracy degenerated into such a foul state that not even dogs would eat it”. Furthermore he posited that capitalist production and cosmopolitan urban life were antithetical to kokutai for the reason that Japan had been, in his words, “founded on the principles of self-rule and autonomous living”. Far from appealing to the Western concept of individual rights he made an appeal to a traditional hierarchy and history, for this “self-rule” to take shape. The Emperor must fulfill the function of the head priest of the clan community, ruling virtuously and through example. His writings show a profound distrust in the state cult and it is truly reflected in the distresses of the villagers in modern Japan. Not only were the farmers victimised by the government and by its unjust political parties, by the zaibatsu and by the wasteful military, but they were deprived of their autonomy and their livelihood. This was further accentuated by the Great Depression and the famines of the mid-1930s.

This rural sentiment carried over to both Katō Kanji and Tachibana Kōzaburō. Katō wished to enhance the soul of the Japanese peasant, which he described as "the sincerity to find one's true life-work in the sacred occupation of agriculture". This sincerity and purity, according to Katō, had been corrupted by economists and capitalists influenced by “Western individualism and materialism”. Tachibana was more associated with the League of Blood, a group of agrarianists that had planned many of the assassinations that occurred throughout the 30s, in particular the assassinations of Mitsui zaibatsu baron Takuma Dan, former financial minister Inoue Junnosuke, and the prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai.

While I have catalogued a lot of information regarding ideology and historical events, this piece is a gross oversimplification of the intricate and complicated webs that had been threaded through the Imperial Japanese Army, let alone Japan. For example, not once did I mention the 1931 invasion of Manchuria and its fallout on theorists and officers, not once did I mention the nature of army factionalism (including its long-rooted bias towards Chōshū officers), let alone the inner machinations of the civil government. Studying those topics takes books rather than essays. These intricate webs resulted in this assassination government phenomenon which one can argue was a collaboration-competition between the League of Blood and those who were heavily influenced by Kita Ikki, which culminated in the ultimate, the 2-26 Incident. Despite these differences, their collective roar against the turning gears of Japanese history was heard. There was no better encapsulation of these officers than in the song “Ode of Shōwa Restoration”:

Tumultuous waves swell from the depths of the Miluo River
The peak of Mount Wu is hazy with swirling clouds
I stand alone in this murky and opaque world
My blood simmers in righteous anger

The monied elite, beholden to nought but wealth and status
Thinking nothing of this land and its fate
High and mighty are the zaibatsus and their ilk
In their hearts are nowhere our soil and grain


A tragic ode, the Sorrow at Parting
Here the heavy elegy finds its end
Setting our hearts we draw our swords
A surging sweep, a dance in blood

The song speaks for itself, but there is an interesting allusion in the beginning of it. A reference to strange places, namely “Miluo River” and “Mount Wu”. It would be unfamiliar to the reader if they did not study Eastern classical literature, but these refer to the great poet and statesman of Chu, Qu Yuan. The insidious court intrigue that ensnared the state of Chu sent it into decline and eventually into defeat with the capture of the capital city Ying by the state of Qin in 278 BC. His poems not only showed his great despair and his lament at this, but also his beacon of virtue and righteousness in a world of corruption and apathy. His struggle with this reality and his journeys into the world of spirits and deities when he was exiled by the Prime Minister of Chu was plain to see as well. Qu Yuan would eventually drown himself in the referenced places in the song: in the Miluo River with the hazy Mount Wu in sight.

It must have reflected like a mirror to the officers. Pure were Qu Yuan’s heart and actions, no doubt these officers felt the same thing about their own. A corrupt world? If not for this, they wouldn’t have deemed it necessary to carry out the Shōwa Restoration. Journeys with spirits and deities, struggles with the distant past now obscured in haze, these were their similar struggles with ideology and the spiritual world. It all made sense. Everything aligned for the officers. They yearned for the Sun that would cease Japanese Winter. The officers would embody the scorching Sun herself- Amaterasu descending down to earth, a sun of fierce dark flames of feeling that would melt the Meiji permafrost. As they would transform themselves into fiery beings, in their hearts shone an innocence and purity that has rarely been seen in Japanese history since.

What was the transition from prewar to postwar but simply the gaining of experience? Mishima, a man of the postwar era, was fully aware that there was no hope. He had the wisdom of experience - it was clear that the events from 1930-1970 had left him a fatalist. As I mentioned above, this fatalistic view of the world came into focus during the latter half of the war. It did not come with the atomic bombs or even the firebombs that razed the cities. It goes back to Perry’s Black Ships in Kanagawa and was institutionalized during the Meiji period as if to say we have to turn to pragmatism, we cannot forget these Black Ships and its consequences. It was only in World War II that it enveloped the Japanese noosphere in its collectivity. The beauty of Japan’s pragmatic, experienced rationalism has been expressed through the Saga Seirenjo’s energetic imitation, the Taishō period’s chic fashion and Kawabata’s tragic inevitability. By no means is this a denial or a condemnation of this pragmatism - I have simply grown weary of it, exhausted of its desolation. This is why I fixate upon prewar bravado and naivete; it was the last time I sincerely feel that there were actions of high morality and assurances of victory.

This weariness is not unique to the fringe in Japan. It is similar to political fringe movements (both reactionary to revolutionary) in the West. From their perspective, the West has much like Japan been enduring a Winter fraught with the harshest blizzards imaginable. It makes sense that the seeds of apocalyptic rebirth are looking to sprout, to bring forth a way out of the Celestial City. This desire to explore the infinitely actual and to reveal submarinic truths is very apparent in the writings of Bronze Age Pervert, of Nick Land, of Logo Daedalus and many others. The question of liberal ontology and eschatology is something that the Western fringe have to directly confront in its totality because it has been the vast spectre that has crawls beneath the surface of the Western world like a sinking gas, thus its effects are far more consequential.

How is the Japanese fringe to confront this liberal ontology? With significant ease. It remains a novel, perhaps even transient phenomenon in Japanese ontology and mythology. If even the pragmatic Empire and its theorists can see through the shroud of the Enlightenment, what more the revolutionaries? Yet, even if the humiliating and culminating year of 1945 serves as the basis of postwar Japan, it would be foolish to outright dismiss it and the previous 74 years. It would be equally as foolish to dismiss all the periods that came before it as well, their legacy still forms a great part of Japanese essence today. This is something that the postwar fringe of Japan understand well. They understand that there was no loss of “Japanese civilization” or a crippling of it following 1945 but merely that a veil was placed over the archipelago and it is waiting to be removed. They would tell you that the death of Japan is overexaggerated regardless of what anyone says about the proliferation of American norms, herbivore men and the prominence of Kulturindustrie.

By demoting the giant lurking imps of the Meiji Restoration and the Pacific War to a phase rather than a foundation, the sum total of Japanese history can be called into the present; summoned upon the absolute Japan that has lived for thousands of years, so covered and obscured by layers upon layers of history and mythology. Let the smoky mists of the distant and near past ring loudly and clearly into the Japanese collective subconscious, bringing the subterranean ancients back to the surface. Can Japan ever forget the age of the ancient imperial court? What of the self-sufficiency of the Edo period which is now relegated to simply a setting in Japanese Kulturindustrie? Even the prehistoric Jomon and its snake cults? The answer: it was never forgotten and never can be. They lay dormant, waiting to be realised once again. It is time for an escape from the shadowy imps and to dream as the officers once did but take it further - it is and always was high time for a Total Restoration.

Impatience. It was five hours since Kawashima left to meet the Emperor. The thought “What is taking him so long?” did not emerge in the heads of the righteous, but rather “Why did time have to slow down now of all times?”. Each grain of sand that went down the hourglass was growing more agonizing. It was as if the seasons were beginning to alternate and the forests were beginning to regrow their evergreen. It was late February after all. The sakura would bloom, all of Japan could almost hear the chirping of the uguisu. And yet there was a great blank that obscured this seasonal alternation.

Despite their impatience, everyone was strangely at ease. They all leapt towards this blank of obscurity and were now in freefall. There was no installation or armour of protection against this ordeal - they were naked. Accelerating towards terminal velocity, they ripped through the void like a silver bullet piercing a great incomprehensible ocean. This bullet travelled at supersonic speed towards a vector it did not know; it had no orientation in this dark dimension. There was no feel, no sound, and even the sensation of gravity had left them. Before they knew it, they were in the outer edges of space. There was no longer any distinction between swift freefall and solemn stillness. They floated in who knows where. There was no thrill, only resolve and determination to see through a duty bigger than this domain of infinity.

The void devoured all distinction and threatened to crush Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry. The inner and outer world blended into each other. This was neither Heaven nor Hell but something completely different altogether. There was the Milky Way and there was the unforgiving rays of the Sun. Mythic visions of earth roared into the hearts of the officers. The colouring leaves, Daimonji, their families... it was strangely divine. They felt no ecstasy, these were not meant to be images of self-indulgence. No, these were reminders and revelations. It was a sign that Time has been consumed. All that has ever existed were laid before them, there was no longer any distinction between past, present and future. This was everything.

Whether insanity or idiocy, we hurtle headlong.

The clear waters of Kinkakuji started to reverberate.
Fires in the harvesting fields began anew.
It was Springtime.

...“Captain Nonaka, a proclamation has just come from the Minister of War.”