TOKYO, JAN. 24 (THURSDAY) -- Responding to pressure from abroad and a rising tide of guilt among the Japanese people, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu has decided that Japan should pay an additional $9 billion to support the U.S.-led military effort in the Persian Gulf.
If approved by the Diet, the national legislature, the new Japanese contribution would appear to meet fully the U.S. request of financial aid from this rich but oil-dependent nation. On top of the $4 billion Tokyo has committed already, it would make Japan the largest financial donor to the war effort outside of the United States and the gulf nations directly involved.
Kaifu originally scheduled a nationally televised press conference for Wednesday night to explain his proposal. Then, in a last-minute melodrama in keeping with Japan's on-again, off-again connection to the gulf conflict, the announcement was scrubbed.
This morning, after many more hours of closed-door negotiations, chief cabinet secretary Misoji Sakamoto announced the $9 billion proposal. The government also said it would send planes to Cairo to fly home Vietnamese refugees who have made their way there from other parts of the Middle East. Thousands of Vietnamese labored on construction projects in Iraq before the gulf crisis began.
As recently as 10 days ago, any suggestion that Japan would come up with $9 billion would have been politically unthinkable here. But now that a shooting war has erupted, many Japanese have reacted with a sense of shame that they are going about their normal business while others are at war.
People are canceling parties and vacations as unseemly in wartime. Corporations and national organizations are running fund-raising campaigns to help victims of the war and rushing gift radios and tape players to allied soldiers. Japanese companies here and in the United States are mounting blood drives.
"It's a shameful thing that our young people are playing around, taking trips to Hawaii and places like that, when men of the same generation are fighting for our interests against Iraq," said Diet member Shokei Arai.
In fact, tens of thousands of Japanese have canceled vacation plans, according to travel companies. "For older people, this is partly fear of terrorism," said Takeichi Niikura of the Japan Travel Bureau. "But among young people, the sense of shame is strong." With the school year coming to an end here, many college seniors are canceling long-awaited graduation trips, he said.
That sense of guilt may make it easier for Kaifu to win support for the contribution he is proposing. The $9 billion figure reportedly was suggested by the United States, based on a formula calling for Japan to pay 20 percent of the costs, the United States and other allies to pay 20 percent, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to provide 60 percent. The $9 billion reportedly would cover a 20 percent share of a $45 billion three-month outlay.
A $9 billion outlay also would shatter Kaifu's hope of finishing the budget year without an operating deficit. An amount that big would would probably require a tax increase. Still, the government has a strong chance to win Diet approval for some major increase in Japan's contribution.
Japan is not expected to send military personnel, even in noncombat roles. National devotion to the country's pacifist constitution -- written by Americans and imposed on Japan by the U.S. occupation after World War II -- is strong.
Some opinion polls show a majority of the Japanese people consulted saying President Bush was wrong to go to war. Still, now that the fighting is on, many clearly feel uncomfortable about carrying on life as usual.
As in the United States, there has been considerable comment about the propriety of sports events continuing during war. The consensus here seems to be that sports are okay at home, but not overseas.
Thus the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions professional baseball teams canceled scheduled spring training in Hawaii. "It was not a matter of security," said Giants third basemen Kaoru Okazaki. "What we have to keep in mind is what the Americans in that locality would think about Japanese playing games."
Although there now seems little threat of a serious oil shortage, many heavy users of energy here have cut back for the duration to show solidarity with the war effort. The all-night lights on such landmarks as the Yokohama Bay Bridge, Tokyo Tower, and the Diet building are doused. TV networks that normally broadcast all night are stopping early -- except when they have new bulletins from the war front.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Washington, representing many Japanese firms operating in the United States, is to stage a nationwide blood drive Saturday to benefit allied troops. Sony Corp. has donated 20,000 Walkman players to allied soldiers, and Panasonic Corp. is planning similar gifts.
All of that stems in part from shame, a fundamental element of the national character. "Each Japanese seems to be constantly worried about what the other people thinks of him," noted the late Edwin O. Reischauer, scholar and ex-ambassador. "Shame before the judgment of society is a strong conditioning force."