Nationalism Returns to Japanese Politics

ASIA--PACIFIC, 3 Feb 2014

Jacob Lynagh – New Matilda

Nationalism is on the rise around the world, but Japan’s tense relations with China make it a special case. The West needs to tread very carefully, writes Jacob Lynagh.

At last week’s World Economic Forum, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chillingly compared China and Japan’s relations to those of Britain and Germany in 1914. Denouncing China’s expanding military power and presence, Abe split his address between calls for peace and warnings of retribution. A sign of the decline of Japanese-Chinese relations, his words also acknowledged the rising tide of racialised nationalism returning to Japan.

At the beginning of the Pacific War, the Japanese government used the values of Bushidō, already engrained in the population, as a tool of propaganda. Bushidō literally translates to “the way of the warrior”. The ideology was used to convince Japanese soldiers that their race was pure and that their expansion into Asia would purify the world. The belief was one of the driving forces behind kaiten and kamikaze suicide attacks. The idea of a powerful spirit of Japan plays directly into the hands of the racial supremacists, who all but disappeared after the Pacific War but seem to be crawling out of the woodwork now with the national government re-legitimising many of their beliefs.

In 2007 politician Yuki Tojo, granddaughter of Second World War Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, was criticised for her ultra-nationalistic comments. The criticism came as a result of repeated references to the “honourable Japanese warrior race” and the attempts of Western nations to smear their reputation. Tojo’s hyperbole peaked with her claim that “no Japanese warrior ever committed a crime if his heart’s true intent was the expansion of our grand Empire”.

Shinzo Abe, despite distancing himself from some of Tojo’s more polarising remarks, has also adopted policies of revisionism and expansionism. Abe claims that the highly publicised “comfort women” were not coerced into sexual relations with Japanese soldiers and has repeatedly provoked South Korea and China with veiled threats of war and unrelenting occupation of contested territories. The war of words between the leaders of Japan and China, that has been steadily growing in passion for some time, reached a frightening high in late December after Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni; a controversial war shrine that remembers Japan’s war dead, including many convicted war criminals.

Western nations have made no effort to quell the situation in the Pacific — they’ve only fanned the flames of militarism. Joint military exercises conducted by Japan and the United States in the later months of 2013 did not reassure the Chinese government. In an increasingly unstable region the presence of a foreign military is nothing short of antagonistic. With Abe’s attempts to revise aspects of the Japanese constitution that work to prevent militarism and offensive war, and his embarking on a five-year plan toward dramatic military expansion, live ammunition drills off the coast of China open old wounds that have not yet healed. Japan’s occupation of much of China during the Pacific War and the many horrors that occurred during the occupation will not soon be forgotten.

The nationalistic ideas presented by popular Japanese politicians are being mirrored by powerful organisations. New Japanese religion Shinreikyo claims to have over 100,000 members in Tokyo and regularly organises parades aimed at swelling Japanese pride. The organisation, which was been described as intensely nationalistic and based on “patriotic fervour” held a popular Dawning World March through Shibuya in October last year. With approximately 400 people involved and hundreds more supporting them on the sidewalk, a banner emblazoned with the words “The Japanese Spirit Will Purify the World” in both Japanese and English was carried ahead of the marching band.

The Japanese ministry of education has proposed policy to include a nationalistic view of World War II in school textbooks and perhaps even allow the banning of books that do not harbour patriotic ideals. An anti-war comic series entitled Barefoot Gen, which not only paints a gruesome picture of the aftermath of the atomic bomb but shines a light on the use of comfort women by Japanese soldiers, was successfully banned in certain Japanese schools after a popular campaign in early 2013. Unfortunately, this campaign of revisionism and patriotic importance seems to be catching on. Ultra-nationalism is on the rise in Japan and it seems the age of post-war pacifism is finally at an end.

When walking through Tokyo, it is not uncommon to see blacked-out vans with roof-mounted speakers projecting racist slogans (like these), businesses declaring themselves for “Japanese only” patronage, or organised protests that propose the banning of “anti-Japanese” accounts of World War II. It is, however, rare to see any opposition to these acts.

This dramatic swing to ultra-nationalistic principles has seemingly reignited fires in Japan’s heart that have been dormant since 1945. The kind of vehement polemic coming from Japan’s leaders has understandably worried their Chinese and Korean neighbours. Although it has received little coverage in the Australian media, the shift could have just as large an impact here.

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2 Responses to “Nationalism Returns to Japanese Politics”

  1. satoshi says:

    Let me refer to some relevant issues in the above article in terms of the following three view-points:

    1. Some Legal Discussions:

    What is going on in Japan now? Is it the country that has the so-called Peace Constitution whose Article 9 stipulates, “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

    The spirit of the Peace Constitution is expressed in the Preamble, Article 97 and Article 98 as follows:

    Preamble (excerpt):
    “We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want. We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations. We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.”

    Article 97:
    “The fundamental human rights by this Constitution guaranteed to the people of Japan are fruits of the age-old struggle of man to be free; they have survived the many exacting tests for durability and are conferred upon this and future generations in trust, to be held for all time inviolate.”

    Note that the “right to live in peace” is also a human right, without which almost all other human rights can hardly be implemented. Who says that the Article 9 does not stipulate the right to live in pace? The Article 9 should be interpreted in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution, in which the right to live in peace is referred (as also mentioned above) as follows: “We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.”

    Now, let’s read the Article 98 as follows:

    Article 98 (Paragraph 1):
    “This Constitution shall be the supreme law of the nation and no law, ordinance, imperial rescript or other act of government, or part thereof, contrary to the provisions hereof, shall have legal force or validity.”

    2. Some Recent Movements of Relevant Countries:

    So, what is the Japanese Government doing now? Against the Articles 9, 97 and 98? One of the examples is this: In August 2013, the Government announced a new aircraft career which the Government claims a “helicopter destroyer”. The Bloomberg on 7 August 2013 reported as follows (Souce:


    China said Asian neighbors must be alert to Japan’s defense buildup after it unveiled a vessel capable of carrying 14 helicopters, the largest Japanese military ship produced since World War II.

    “Japan should reflect on its history, adhere to self-defense and respect its promise to follow the road of peaceful development,” China’s Defense Ministry said in a faxed statement today, referring to the pacifist constitution Japan adopted after losing the war.

    Yesterday’s unveiling of the 19,500-ton Izumo reflects Japan’s push to bolster its maritime forces as it faces off with China over East China Sea islands that both claim. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to boost defense spending for the first time in 11 years coincides with China’s own defense budget expansion of 10.7 percent this year.

    The Izumo is a “symbol of Japan’s strong wish to return to its time as a military power,” China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper said in a commentary today. Japan already has two helicopter carriers.

    In the statement, China’s Defense Ministry urged Japan to stick to self-defense. China’s projected 2013 defense budget is the equivalent of $121 billion, more than twice Japan’s 2013 defense budget of 4.68 trillion yen ($51.7 billion).

    The English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today that Abe has adopted a “militaristic approach to building national pride.” The editorial said the Izumo was “provocatively named after” a World War II ship involved in the invasion of China.


    The Diplomat (on the website), on 15 January 2014, argues about the “so-called helicopter destroyer” as follows (Source:


    Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force may begin flying unmanned surveillance drones from destroyers at sea as a possible prelude to procuring aircraft carriers, local media is reporting.

    According to The Japan Times, “The Maritime Self-Defense Force is considering deploying fixed-wing unmanned reconnaissance aircraft that can take off from and land on destroyers.” If the plan is approved, the MSDFs intend to research these operations extensively.

    “Depending on its research, Japan might someday build an aircraft carrier equipped with fighter jets,” The Japan Times report said, citing numerous unnamed sources. No details were provided about the affiliations of the sources that might help evaluate the credibility of their claims. However, the paper did report that a source in the Defense Ministry had said that the studies will not lead the MSDF to operate fighter jets from surface ships in the future. The Defense Ministry source did say that unmanned drones would be deployed on the ships, however, because these can operate in “dangerous areas in emergencies.”

    The move to operate aircraft from surface ships is likely to spark concern and criticism from some states in the region, particularly China, which insists that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to break loose from the country’s post-WWII Pacifist constitution. As the report noted, although the MSDF currently flies helicopters from some of its ships, it has no experience flying fixed wing aircraft from its vessels because such a move could be construed as an offensive military capability, which Japan’s constitution prohibits.

    Japan’s decision to only consider using (presumably unarmed) reconnaissance drones at this time was likely made, at least in part, with an eye toward deflecting the almost certain criticism that the move will provoke. By starting with unarmed aircraft, Japan could seek to gradually seek to make the region comfortable with it operating fixed wing aircraft from surface ships. Moreover, even if the Defense Ministry source is being truthful in saying that only drones and not fighter jets will be flown from Japanese ships, unmanned aircraft will become increasingly capable of being used in some of the same ways as bombers and jets in the years ahead.

    Still, the decision to use surveillance drones is also consistent with Japan’s strategic interests. In particular, as Tokyo’s dispute with Beijing over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has dragged on, Japan has taken a number of steps to increase its surveillance capabilities over some of its outer lying islands. This has most certainly included fielding a capable drone force. As The Diplomat has previously reported, Japan intends to procure RQ-4 Global Hawk drones in the coming years to augment the ones the U.S. already maintains in Japan. The Japan Times report also quoted its sources as saying that Japan hopes to procure 19 of the new RQ-21 Blackjack small tactical unmanned drones currently being tested by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

    One issue Japan will encounter if it moves forward with the plan is that its current destroyers are not equipped with takeoff and landing equipment for aircraft. It’s possible that one of the Izumo-class helicopter destroyers Japan is currently building and testing will be upgraded to have this capability. Japan unveiled the first of these new, large helicopter destroyers last year, which some in China called an “aircraft carrier in disguise.” Some have speculated that the larger size of the Izumo-class vessels was due to Japan’s desire to launch V22 Ospreys off the ships. However, the larger size may also allow Japan to use them to launch drones.


    Meanwhile, another movement by the US is reported, according to some US media, including reports on 15 January 2014, for instance: “US Carrier Reagan To Replace GW in Japan; Roosevelt to San Diego” (Source:

    What does the US consider China in terms of its military view point? PressTV (on the website) reports on 7 February 2014, as follows (Source:


    “It’s [the question of] what the aircraft carriers mean. Are they meant offensively or are they meant in a deterrence role? This something is preventing the outbreak of war and it’s a good thing and in China’s situation it finds itself encircled by US bases and in a territorial dispute with some neighbors so it seems a prudent course of action,” co-editor of Dissident Voice Kim Petersen told Press TV on Wednesday.

    “China right now is looking at doubling its aircraft carrier fleet to two which would be exactly the same as Japan and it would be many less than the amount that the US has. Given that the US has 10 aircraft carriers it should have nothing to complain about,” he added.

    Last month, Beijing announced plans for building several more warships after it launched its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning in Dalian, two years ago.

    Military experts say the United States Navy is concerned that China is accelerating the construction of its second aircraft carrier, according to Stars and Stripes.

    “For decades, the US Navy has controlled the world’s waterways, in both size and strength. But China appears to be preparing to challenge US supremacy by accelerating the construction of a second aircraft carrier,” the report said.


    3. Who or What Seems to Be Behind Nationalism of Japan Now?:

    While Yuki Tojo is a granddaughter of Hideki Tojo who was the Japanese Prime Minister when Japan commenced the war against the US in 1941 by attacking the Perl Harbor, the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a grandson of the Prime Minister Nubusuke Kishi (LDP), who concluded, in 1960, “AMPO” or the “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan”.

    It seems, however, that Kishi was receiving the pressure from the United States at that time. (Who could refuse the pressure from the US?) The Japan Times reported, on 20 July 2006, as “U.S. admits CIA gave LDP money in 1950s, 1960s” as follows (Source:


    The CIA secretly sent money to the Liberal Democratic Party in the 1950s and 1960s to help stabilize the LDP-led government and prevent a leftist administration from emerging, according to a U.S. document released Tuesday.

    The document, titled “Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XXIX, Part 2,” also suggests that some of the CIA money went to moderate members of the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party, the LDP’s rival at the time, apparently to help them form a moderate breakaway.


    On the other hand, however, if Japan did not conclude AMPO with the US then, would the small country in the Far East maintain its independence successfully in accordance with the spirit of the Peace Constitution, especially in front of the USSR during the Cold War Era? This is another contentious point of the discussion on the above mentioned issue.

    So, who or what seems to be behind Abe government’s militaristic stance? Don’t blame Abe alone. Don’t blame the LDP alone. The realities of relevant countries both then and now are far more complicated than we imagine it.

  2. satoshi says:


    Regarding, for reference and information for the TMS readers, the above article and my comment above, let me quote the Editorial of Asahi Shimbun, on 6 February 2014, as follows:

    Note that the argument in the quoted editorial below does not necessarily reflect my opinion.


    EDITORIAL: Abe’s views mock the principles of constitutionalism

    During a Lower House plenary session last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed his commitment to constitutionalism and pacifism by asking a rhetorical question.

    “Is there even a single person among those who are present in this hall, including me, who belittles constitutionalism and pacifism and neglects the problems of disparities and poverty?” Abe said in response to a question posed by Banri Kaieda, head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. His remark evoked loud applause from lawmakers of the ruling camp.

    Less than a week later, however, Abe made disturbing comments at the Diet that appeared to contradict his previous statement.

    An opposition lawmaker asked the prime minister about his thoughts on the nature of the Constitution during a session of the Lower House Budget Committee.

    “There is a view that the Constitution sort of restricts the power of a state,” he answered. That’s exactly what constitutionalism means.

    Then, he said: “But it was the mainstream view in the era when the monarchy had absolute power. The Constitution of today, I think, should define the form of Japan as a nation, its ideals and future and also its goals.”

    We find it impossible to agree with this view about the Constitution.

    Modern democracy is a system in which the nation is governed according to the Constitution. The Constitution cannot be changed by laws or decrees. In other words, even the person in power cannot tamper with the Constitution at will.

    Is Abe saying that this idea of constitutionalism is a relic from the era of absolute monarchy?

    We are inclined not to believe he is entertaining such an idea about constitutionalism. But we cannot help but suspect that Abe may really have such a disquieting view of the Constitution when we hear his answers to questions concerning Article 96, which sets a high procedural bar for constitutional amendments and embodies constitutionalism.

    Abe reiterated that Article 96 should be revised, an argument first made during a Diet session last year.

    His ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s proposal to amend Article 96 would ease the requirement for initiating constitutional amendments from the vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House to a simple majority.

    Abe argues this should not raise concern because any amendment proposal would be submitted to a referendum for the public to approve or reject. But is that so?

    Debating actual proposals to rewrite the Constitution is the role of Diet members, who are representatives of the public.

    The Constitution requires lawmakers to have careful and exhaustive debate on any proposed amendment until it wins the support of two-thirds of the members of each chamber. Reducing the required vote to initiate an amendment to a simple majority would effectively make it possible for the person in power to change the Constitution at will.

    Abe stresses the importance of a referendum, pledging to “bring the Constitution back into the hands of people.” But the LDP is unwilling to broaden the scope of the referendum system so that people can vote directly on other issues as well.

    Abe has admitted that there is not yet broad public support for his proposal to amend Article 96. That’s probably because many Japanese have the feeling that Abe is trying to hollow out the principle of constitutionalism through the amendment in order to push his political agenda.

    People won’t buy his claim that the Constitution is a relic from the past.

    –The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6