Table Speech


What Advice Would Tanzan Ishibashi Give?

May 25, 2016

Mr. Junji Asano
Director, Ishibashi Tanzan Memorial Foundation


 Let me introduce the life and career of Tanzan Ishibashi, a world-class journalist and statesman, together with his relevance in the present-day context. Some of you may remember when he became the 55th Prime Minister in 1956 after winning over Nobusuke Kishi in a runoff election by a narrow margin of 7 votes. Unfortunately he suffered from pneumonia and retired with a good grace in just two months.

 I still recall his warm smile as he greeted his colleagues, including new graduates like myself, at the office of Toyo Keizai Shimpo (Eastern Economic Journal). I was also impressed to get his insightful views.

 Tanzan was born in 1884 to a family of Nichiren-sect Buddhist high-priests. Nichiren’s view on how to rescue his country from its peril had a significant impact on Tanzan’s words and political beliefs. At middle school, he was influenced by the principal Masatake Oshima who had been under the tutelage of William S. Clark at Sapporo Agricultural College. Clark’s famous phrases “Boys, be Ambitious!” and “Be gentleman” became Tanzan’s lifelong mottos. Tanzan later studied philosophy at Waseda University, focusing on the teachings of an American philosopher John Dewey and his theory of pragmatism.

 Tanzan joined Toyo Keizai Shimpo at age 27 and became President and Chief Editor at age 40. He advocated “small Japan policy” with the belief that Japan must abandon colonialism, militarism and expansionism and should promote the growth of commerce, industry and trade. He called on Japan to establish a friendly relationship with China and get moral support from countries around the world. It is no surprise that the military stigmatized Tanzan’s liberal political views as an enemy and threatened Toyo Keizai Shimpo to be prohibited from publishing. Yet Tanzan and his colleagues continued to fight against the military and gave euphemistic criticisms on imperialism and colonialism.

 World War II concluded on August 15, 1945 and Tanzan immediately started to write a series of editorial articles entitled “Rebirth of Japan with promising prospects.” He gave encouraging messages to Japanese people in dismay that “the future looks rosy if we adhere to scientific spirit.” He believed that growth of commerce, industry and trade would make Japan enjoy prosperity. History proves that Japan succeeded in achieving a miraculous recovery, just as Tanzan had predicted.

 Tanzan strove to establish world peace after his resignation as Prime Minister. He tried to form a peace alliance among the U.S.A, China, Russia and Japan amidst the Cold War. He visited China in 1959 at age 75 and again in 1963 at age 79 when Japan had no diplomatic relations. He met Mao Zedong, Zhou En-lai and Liu Shaoqi and won approval for the proposed peace alliance. He then paid a visit to Russia in 1964 at age 80 but unfortunately it coincided with the downfall of Khrushchev and thus, his proposal ended up as an unfulfilled dream.

 Tanzan believed in the four basic values of “establishing one’s identity,” “liberalism,” “democracy” and “international pacifism”, which should carry equal weight to maintain a good balance. He cherished these values which are still relevant today and based his actions and argument on them.

 Recently, I am often asked “what advice would Tanzan Ishibashi give?” I think he would first say “Japan ought to pursue peaceful diplomacy more earnestly.” For Tanzan, peace was not merely an ideal model but was his first priority. He lost his 28-year-old second son in the battle at Kwajalein Island and witnessed firsthand the importance of peace. I think he would advise “Japan should shift its focus on building diplomatic relations with Asian countries,” especially with China and South Korea.

 Tanzan advocated the principle of “UN-centered diplomacy” and was ready to make contributions to the UN collective security arrangement besides the right to individual self-defense. But I think he would not support the recent move around collective self-defense propelled by the Abe administration. Tanzan was foresighted and raised an alarm over nationalism as early as in 1964. He expressed his concerns over “nationalism that is deeply rooted in human emotions. It is hard to overcome nationalism yet only humans are capable of solving it.”

 Tanzan was strongly against deflation that could trigger increased unemployment and low wages. Being a self-claimed “Keynesian,” he supported reflation to reduce budget deficits through sound fiscal and monetary policies based on a long-term perspective. However, Tanzan placed more emphasis on morality than economic power. He had long urged Japan to become a moral country so that we could earn the respect of countries around the world. I must say he would not be satisfied with the current political, economic and social conditions of this country judged from a moral standpoint.

 As I close my speech, let me say a few words on outstanding territorial disputes. Tanzan once questioned “what’s the merit of possessing small colonies like Manchuria and Korea?” I think he would suggest Japan to engage in discussions with China and Taiwan over the “tiny islands” of Senkaku, trying to find ways to satisfy China that wishes to maintain the status quo. As for the Northen Territories issue, I think Tanzan would suggest concluding an agreement between Russia in which Japan would promise not to set up military bases or bring in military forces to the islands. And lastly about the dispute over Takeshima, I think even Tanzan would find this issue quite demanding. But he would most probably say “it’s just a small island so time will solve everything.” Being a realist and pragmatist, I believe Tanzan would have a positive outlook on our relationships with China, Korea and Russia.