Building lighthouses on disputed islands may seem dangerously provocative. But by the standards of some of Japan's right-wing groups, it could almost be described as moderate. Last year, for example, a group calling itself Taishiki rammed the gates of the Diet, the Japanese Parliament, with a car bomb and hurled a smoke bomb into the headquarters of the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama's Social Democratic Party. The group was protesting at Mr Murayama's attempt to get Parliament to adopt an anti-war resolution to mark the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. Other organisations parade round Tokyo in 'sound wagons', usually buses or small trucks blacked up to look like armoured cars and often genuinely protected against attack. Decked out with loudspeakers where the police might have installed water cannon, they blare out propaganda. Some merely add to the city's endemic noise pollution with slogans declaring the Senkaku, Takeshima or Kurile islands Japanese, instead of Chinese, Korean or Russian. Others park outside the homes of politicians or company headquarters and scream insults until they are paid to go away. They also intimidate with more violent methods. Newspaper offices have been fire-bombed. Journalists have been beaten up. It is not unknown for sound wagons to be donated by big companies sympathising with a group's anti-communist or nationalist viewpoint. Takeshi Koketsu, of the self-styled Anti-American Patriotic Youth Movement, loves to park his rising sun-bedecked wagon outside the US embassy and scream: 'Yanks out of Okinawa. Stop bombing Iraq.' Like the Japan Youth Federation's Toyohisa Etoh, he is a one-issue politician. When not out protesting, rightist groups like to show a human side. The Youth Federation commit themselves to being organ donors. Others organised food and shelter during the Kobe earthquake while the Japanese Government dithered and quibbled over which ministry should take responsibility. But are the rightists a serious threat to Japanese society? Police estimate there are probably no more than 90,000 activists still at work in the entire country. The Spectator's Murray Sayle thinks they appeal to a very small section of society. 'If some guy went around London playing the British Grenadiers at full volume, certain elements of the Tory party would probably support him. Here, too, there are some elements of the Liberal Democratic Party who are unreconstructed Japanese nationalists. But to most Japanese these people are just loonies.' There is also probably a less savoury side to things. The left believes the police are far less ready to interfere with rightists than left-wing demonstrators, for instance. Even Foreign Ministry spokesman Ken Shimanouchi was embarrassed this week when asked why the Maritime Safety Agency spent its time preventing journalists in boats landing on the Diaoyu Islands, but was happy to let the Youth Federation trespass there to build lighthouses. All he could say was he was not an expert on legal matters. There is also the unresolved question of what these groups do for money. In the Nihon Seinensha's case, Mr Etoh claims he pays for it all out of his own pocket. But Sayle and others point to connections with organised crime, the largely Korean-owned pachinko parlours (which, strangely enough, also play a major role in propping up the Stalinist regime in North Korea) and possibly also Shinto temples which glorify nationalism. But the right-wing does appear to be in terminal decline. Of the 1,000 or so so-called rightist groups police estimate are still active in Japan, only about 20 per cent are considered politically committed. According to the Japan Times, the rest are criminal gangs interested in extorting money, using the right-wing banner as a political front for their activities. Like Hong Kong's triads, originally set up to restore the Ming Dynasty after its overthrow by the Qing, these groups have degenerated from groups of former samurai and are their ideological heirs. They were used to whip up anti-Chinese, Korean and Russian sentiment at the end of the 19th century and later to attack the socialists. Most still think the Emperor is a God. The trouble is the present Emperor is a pacifist, brought up by a Quaker and chosen for the job by his father, once considered a god. Most would also probably subscribe to the brand of Japanese nationalism which believes occupation and colonisation were good for Asia, that the Nanjing massacre never happened and comfort women were only in it for the money. For the most part, they would support US military bases in Japan. But Takeshi Koketsu's sound wagon campaign is evidence of the right's divisions even on this. Without a Soviet enemy to unite them, says Sayle, Japan's rightists may simply be fading away.