The smiling faces of the Japan Communist Party

For the past ten days, I have been visiting Japan with AT cofounder Richard Baehr and his wife Lijana.  Richard and I were close friends in college when I left to spend my junior year at Waseda Univeristy in Tokyo fifty years ago.  Since he has never been here, I wanted to take the opportunity to show him the country – and to reflect on my own life, which was forever changed by that year.  (Upon returning from my junior year, I decided to make the study of Japan the focus of my subsequent education and professional life, earning three graduate degrees in various fields and becoming a professor at Harvard.  The story of how and why I left academia remains to be written, if anyone cares to know.)

Today, we are in Kyoto, one of the world's cultural treasures, a city full of temples and shrines (literally, one can hardly walk a block or two without encountering some cultural or religious facility).  Thanks to a tacit agreement between the U.S. and Japan during World War II, Japan did not locate any military targets or production facilities in Kyoto, and the U.S. refrained from firebombing the city.  Everyone really should visit Kyoto, and in the midst of the cherry blossom tourist season, it appears that everyone is visiting it today.

But for reasons I do not fully understand, like Boston, the sister city to which Kyoto is often likened, Kyoto leans left politically.  In the upscale neighborhood in which we are renting an Airbnb house, there are lots and lots of political posters, mostly for Communist Party politicians.  Here are two examples:

Showing the smiling face of Mr. Kokuda of the JCP (Japan Communist Party), this reads, "Through the power of citizens + opposition parties, we can change politics." (corrcted - my kanji are pretty rusty)

This strikes me as somewhat outdated, since only about 2% of Japanese today are farmers, but historically, the uniting of farmers and workers has been a JCP slogan.

The slogan here is similar: "Farmers and city-dwellers combine forces to open the future."  (It makes a little more sense in Japanese.)

I was a resident in Japan in 1972 or so when the JCP decided to become a "friendly" party with a "smiling face," tossing aside militant confrontation and class struggle.  In 1949, the party attempted a general strike to bring down the government.  General MacArthur, leader of the Occupation, put a stop to it.

Apparently, they have kept up the pretense of a warm and cuddly Communist Party.

Communism is a virus that refuses to die – even in a country that has gone from poverty to wealth thanks to the power of markets.