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Yoshito Hori and the Rightwing Turn of the Japan Times

SNA (Tokyo) — The November 30 “Editor’s Note” in the Japan Times—which appeared to adopt the rightwing Abe administration’s historical revisionist views on Pacific War Comfort Women and forced laborers—came as a shock to many of its readers. As it turns out, it was also a major shock to many of the editors and journalists working in Japan Times own newsroom.

Inside accounts have been clear that the Editor’s Note policy change was driven by Executive Editor Hiroyasu Mizuno, with the consent of a handful of other senior editors. No one else—at least within the Japan Times newsroom—seems to have been in the loop.

The reaction to the Editor’s Note, briefly tacked on to the end of a news article, was enormous, generating international articles and provoking a revolt from some Japan Times staff members and readers.

It also gained the outspoken support of some far right Japanese commentators.

Among those who celebrated the change in the Japan Times editorial line was Yoshito Hori, managing partner, chairman, and CEO of Globis Capital Partners, as well as the founder of the Globis University Graduate School of Management.

Hori’s reaction on Twitter was almost immediate (as if he knew in advance about what was coming). He offered one tweet in Japanese and one in English. His English tweet read, “Japan [Times] has changed the term ‘Forced Labor’ to ‘Wartime laborers’. Brave and right step to avoid misunderstanding. I hope other newspaper will follow.” In the Japanese tweet he singled out the Financial Times as an example of an English-language newspaper that he hoped would follow the Japan Times’ lead.

When The Guardian quickly published an article with a critical tone toward the Japan Times editorial note, Hori was evidently annoyed and he renewed his defense of the paper: “The Guardian should stop using the terms ‘Sex Slaves’ and ‘Forced Labour’, as these words are misleading and mostly wrong. Foreign media should learn from Japan Times’ decision, which changes of terms depict the historical facts better.”

While Yoshito Hori was hardly the only commentator who jumped to the defense of the rightwing turn of the Japan Times, he had three distinctions easily visible in the public record that set him apart: He is a long-time major advertiser in Japan Times through Globis University; Japan Times had become an official media partner to his G1 Global Conference 2018 only the previous month; and, most of all, Hiroyasu Mizuno, the Japan Times executive editor who had driven the policy change, had come the previous year from—you guessed it—the Globis Corporation, where he had served as Hori’s manager of global communications for almost six years.

What Hori was failing to mention in his tweets to his 115,000 followers was that he is not exactly an appreciative observer from the sidelines, but in fact the previous boss of the man who had engineered the controversial Editor’s Note.

We don’t know exactly what role Hori played in helping Mizuno to get the top job at the Japan Times in June 2017, but it is difficult to believe that the new owners of the Japan Times would have entrusted their newspaper to Mizuno without Hori’s advocacy. For Hori, it must have been quite a coup to get one of his proteges installed as the day-to-day chief of the nation’s leading English-language newspaper.

But it’s also in the public record what Yoshito Hori thinks of the English-language news media in Japan, and what goals he had for it, even before News2u Holdings took over the Japan Times from the Ogasawara family in June 2017.

Hori has spent several years promoting his rather megalomaniacal “100 Actions” program, whose purpose, he explained, is to fundamentally change Japan: “I’ve been gathering the best ideas from G1 Summit, the annual multi-day conference I run, to create a vision for Japan based on 100 necessary reforms,” he wrote earlier this year.

Among the “necessary reforms” Hori preaches are staples of Japanese rightwing thought such as revising the pacifist Constitution, increasing the use of nuclear power, the creation of a “state of emergency” power under which the rights of the people can be restricted, the abolition of prefectures, and an emphasis on the notion that the Japanese people have “responsibilities” to the state, and not simply rights to be protected.

While the entire document is quite an eye-opener in terms of the man’s messianic self-confidence, it is his section about the media that is most relevant to us in our current context.

Namely, one subheading of his “Action 89” calls for the need to “Cultivate a Healthy English-Language Media.” And what exactly is a “healthy” English-language media? In the English-language version of the 100 Actions document, Hori explains: “Japan’s English-language media is a gateway through which foreign nationals can access information about the country. It is unfortunate that the English-language media available in Japan is of poor quality. Since the English-language media is expected to play a leading role in disseminating information throughout the world, it is necessary to fundamentally improve its quality to ensure accurate information is shared so that Japan may be assessed fairly. It is also essential to build relationships with the foreign media. The Japanese English-language media should not only assert Japan’s position as a matter of public relations, as in the past, but should also lead the discussion in the media.”

This passage, published in English about nine months before Hori’s protege took over editorial control of the Japan Times, makes clear that he sees the role of the English-language media not as any kind of watchdog for the public interest or a venue for Japanese and resident foreigners to communicate honestly with one another, but rather as international PR outfits for the government “so that Japan may be assessed fairly.”

This is spelled out even more starkly and in more detail in the Japanese-language version of the document.

The Japan Times itself (then under the previous owners) was singled out for criticism by name: “The English-language media is naturally the portal through which foreigners come to know about Japan. It was very crude as journalists for the managers of the Mainichi Shinbun and the Japan Times to publish articles at variance with the facts, and they did enormous damage to Japan.”

Again, Yoshito Hori’s view is that the mission of the English-language media is only to distribute “correct” information about Japan, thus strengthening the nation’s positive image abroad. This is explicitly a call for journalists to become national propagandists. And it is the man who served as Hori’s own propagandist when he wrote these words—Hiroyasu Mizuno—who now runs editorial affairs for the Japan Times.

The evidence is strong, though not entirely conclusive, that Yoshito Hori is the immediate string-puller behind the rightward turn of Japan Times. Ultimately, however, it is clearly bigger than just one man. It is rather the rightwing political establishment in general that has now got its hooks into what some had regarded as the “last bastion” for independent English-language journalism in Japan. In that sense, Hori himself is not much more than a willing puppet.

It has been a clear pattern of the Abe years that many institutions that previously exercised a degree of independent power have been brought in line with the regime’s rightwing policies. Most of the time this has been done through some form of cooptation. It would appear that the Japan Times’ number came up last summer when the Ogasawara family sold the newspaper that they had held for decades. What is occurring now under the new owners was probably planned long ago.

When Mizuno became sufficiently panicked about the strong reaction to the Editor’s Note and wrote a full-page explanation on December 7, Yoshito Hori made no comments on his Twitter feed. He did, however, retweet an article published by the rightwing Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. The author of the piece that Hori recommended to his followers wrote: “Although the Japan Times is the country’s oldest English-language newspaper, founded in 1897, during the time of the previous owners it took an anti-Japanese editorial stance and thus was rightly called the ‘Anti-Japan Times.’ Last June it was bought by the online media company News 2u (with Minako Kambara as representative director). Since then, under the editorship of Hiroyasu Mizuno and others, it is adopting a new line. For the foreign journalists in Japan, who are mostly unable to read Japanese and so must use this English-language paper as their information source, the Editor’s Note was unmistakably a huge shock.”

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