The White Saviors (and White Poodles) of Japan’s Far Right

The White Saviors (and White Poodles) of Japan’s Far Right

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Guest authors Robert Whiting and Jake Adelstein call out the white savior complexes of Japan's far-right foreign mouthpieces.

By Robert Whiting and Jake Adelstein

You’re probably familiar with the term “white savior” which is a description of a white person who makes it their self-appointed mission to emancipate and uplift non-white people. It dates back to the days of Western Imperialism and was a literary staple in such works as Rudyard Kipling’s poem “the White Man’s Burden,” about the need for the US to colonize the Philippines, and Joseph Conrad’s withering critique of imperialism in Africa in the Heart of Darkness. In the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, of “Lawrence of Arabia” fame, can be seen as the prototypical white savior figure. Some people even refer to Douglas MacArthur as a white savior because of his outwardly-benevolent occupation of Japan after WWII, introducing democracy and civil liberties.

The term white savior has a negative connotation to it in the sense that it describes a mindset in which the people saved by the White Savior are seen as helpless recipients of white benefaction—as if without the White Man’s help, the poor non-whites would be unable to help themselves. Westerners trying to help poor, suffering countries have often been accused of having a ‘white Savior Complex.” MacArthur himself even compared the Japanese to 12-year-old children.

However, MacArthur did introduce a constitution that gave women the right to vote, fostered land reforms that created small farmers out of feudal serfs, and helped develop a middle class. Some might argue that Article 9 of the constitution, forbidding war, was detrimental to Japan. As Ishihara Shintaro put it, “it left Japan without a cock and balls.” Others would say that it created the grounds for Japan’s prosperity and economic growth and prevented another takeover by the military of the government. 

Self-professed white-saviors exist even today in Japan, but they’re more like white poodles. 

The Emergence of the White Poodles

They’re well-fed lapdogs who are pets of the Japanese right-wing. This is because old-school Japan, while promulgating the Yamato race’s place as the most superior in the world, still pays an inordinate amount of attention to what well-educated white men say. Even without academic credentials, a white schlub can become a “Charisma Man” in the world of Japanese ultranationalism. Tony Marano, in his late sixties, is known in Japan as the “Texas Daddy.” He has spawned a small industry that includes books, speeches, T-shirts with his cartoon image, and scores of videos. He parrots the right-wing nationalists, calling the women who were forced to work as sex workers under the Japanese empire “willing prostitutes”. 

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It’s as if these white men validate the sometimes difficult to understand arguments of the Japanese ultra-nationalists because it shows that “even white people agree with us so it must be true”.

A Potentially Lucrative Position

There’s also a fair amount of money to be made as a pet lapdog of the right-wing. Merchandise. Book deals. Translation payments. 

Japan is experiencing a boom in publications catering to right-wing views, during which painful historical disputes with Asian neighbors are escalating.

Over 100,000 copies of a book with a title that can be translated as, “Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, As Seen by a British Journalist” have been sold

The book was released only in Japanese. Henry Scott Stokes, 83, formerly worked as a correspondent and bureau chief for the New York Times, Financial Times, and Times of London.

The book presents a mostly sanitized view of Japan’s wartime conduct. It also denied that there was a massacre of Chinese civilians in Nanking. 

Stokes, who has said he does not speak or read Japanese, told Kyodo news that the Nanking denial had been inserted into the translated version of his book, and those weren’t his words. 

Stokes later reversed course and said that “massacre” wasn’t the right word and the book was correct. 

The book in question by Henry Scott Stokes - a man who could be considered to have a "white savior" complex.
The book in question by Henry Scott Stokes.

Conservative University Guard Dogs

Your typical white poodle is a Westerner who thinks Japan needs saving from other Westerners. They attack any people who think Japan was the aggressor in WWII and believe that any criticism of Japanese evasion of war responsibility is unacceptable. They will gleefully ignore constraints on press freedom in modern Japan and will not tolerate legitimate critiques of conservative politicians like Abe Shinzo

One of these individuals is Jason Morgan, an associate professor at Reitaku University, and a fervent ultranationalist. In Japanese right-wing publications, Morgan denies the history of comfort women and claims that Japan was on the righteous side in WWII, which he characterizes as a war against the “communist” regime of President Franklin Roosevelt. He criticizes U.S. academia as far-left and unobjective, arguing that the Japanese academy is superior in its objectivity and respect for academic freedom. Like a good poodle, he is loyal to his perceived master and will bark at anyone he feels threatens the hand that feeds him. 

While at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies  (日本戦略研究フォーラム), Morgan translated a dubious book on comfort women by conservative historian Ikuhiko Hata for publication in the U.S. The Forum allegedly funded this enterprise. In 2016 Morgan published a book in Japan titled  America ha Naze Nihon wo Mikudasu noka? (Why does America look down on Japan? アメリカはなぜ日本を見下すのか?間違いだらけの「対日歴史観」を正す) which challenges American historians’ views of Japan’s past.

Soon after, he was appointed as an assistant professor of foreign languages at Reitaku University, which also employs conservative big names including Takahashi Shiro, Yagi Hidetsugu (of the Japan Education Rebirth Institute), Komori Yoshihisa (of the Sankei Shimbun), and others among its faculty.

The book in question by Jason Morgan.

On the Attack

Japan-US Feminist Network for Decolonization (FeND), one of the very few English language sites that mention Morgan’s name, notes: “In his ongoing campaign against American historians and other scholars, Morgan is known to file Freedom of Information Act requests to public universities that employ academics he dislikes in wild fishing expeditions in search of incriminating emails.”

Targeted academics, including Yamaguchi Tomomi at Montana State, call it harassment. One such academic, Alexis Dudden, noted that in January 2022 Morgan failed to show up at a Freedom of Information hearing that he himself had demanded against the University of Connecticut.

Misguided Criticism

Morgan recently wrote an article in Sankei‘s online English tabloid, Japan Forward, in which he blasted veteran journalists in Japan Jake Adelstein, Robert Whiting, and experts on Japan Jeff Kingston, Gavin McCormack, and others for criticizing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics while remaining silent on the Beijing Winter Games. 

Like much of his work for an English-speaking audience, however, it drew ridicule. For one thing, the individuals in question are Japan experts who are called upon by media editors to discuss issues specific to Japan, not China. Moreover, polls suggested that a vast majority of Japanese were also critical of hosting the Tokyo Olympics. So are these tens of millions of Japanese also anti-Japanese? That’s what the article implied. Former Prime Minister Abe made the same mistake in early July 2021 when he said that anyone opposing the games was “anti-Japanese”. The public outcry was predictably huge given that surveys from the time show roughly two-thirds of the public opposed holding the Games because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s unclear why Morgan thinks Japan needs saving and why he seeks to muzzle freedom of expression in rectifying views on wartime and contemporary Japan, but he clearly needs to improve his game if he truly wants to graduate from White Poodle To White Savior. 

Just Who is the Intended Audience?

The problem is that Morgan is not very good at his job, being convincing foreigners of the righteousness of his cause in lambasting critics of Japan. He writes poorly and illogically, and as a self-appointed white savior of Japan does more to discredit the revisionist cause he serves than any critic could do. That Japan Forward editors do not point this out is to their discredit.

There are a number of good journalists who can make the case for the right-wing in Japan -which indeed perhaps has a case to make in many areas- but Associate Professor Morgan is not yet one of them.

One of the odd things about the white poodles of Japan is that they are often more rabid than their masters–but of course, that’s what makes them useful; they can be excellent attack dogs. 

Samuel Johnson once said, “False Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and he was correct. People like Professor Nakano Koichi, Mochizuki Isoko, and the individuals mentioned in the Morgan screed criticize the government of Japan not because they hate the country but because they live here and feel it is their civic duty to try to improve society. Julian Barnes once wrote, “The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” 

And perhaps the worst form of patriotism is to viciously attack anyone who dares to raise a critical voice. If the white poodles of Japan could see things a little more clearly, maybe they could graduate to becoming the watchdogs of democracy in a country where press freedom rankings have fallen from 11th in the world, to the lower 60s since 2011. Or at the very least, they could stop loudly barking at anyone who dares to speak out. 


Robert Whiting, the author of Tokyo Underworld, is a journalist and author who has lived in Tokyo on and off for more than half a century. Topics he has written on include sports, Tokyo nightlife, and crime. His most recent book is Tokyo Junkie, a memoir that plays out over the dramatic 60-year growth of the megacity Tokyo.

Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, Zen Buddhist priest, and author who has been covering Japan since 1993. His first book, Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan was made into a TV series that will debut on HBO Max and WOWOW on April 7th. His next book, Yakuza Wonderland, will be released this year.

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Jake Adelstein

Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, Zen Buddhist priest, and author who has been covering Japan since 1993. His first book, Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan was made into a TV series that will debut on HBO Max and WOWOW on April 7th. His next book, Yakuza Wonderland, will be released this year.

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