2016.07.30 Saturday 14:42

The Japanese people's illusion of freedom


The 18th century Francophone philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote as the following in “The Social Contract” in criticizing parliamentary politics: “The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing.”

This criticism by Rousseau can be applied as it is to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, particularly his betrayal of the Japanese people in his discussion regarding the Constitution. Since the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Abe has expressed his eagerness to revise the Constitution, especially the war-renouncing Article 9, and said he wanted to secure a two-thirds majority of the Upper House needed to initiate a constitutional amendment. However, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party never touched on the issue during their campaign for the July 10 Upper House election. He essentially escaped from the topic as opposition parties built their campaign cooperation on their common cause of preventing revision of the Constitution.

And when his ruling coalition won the election and political forces in favor of constitutional revision captured the two-thirds majority of the Upper House, the prime minister said, “As for the question of which article of the Constitution should be changed and how, it is expected that the discussion would converge through talks at the Commission on the Constitution (in the Diet). The LDP has consistently advocated revising the Constitution, and it is my duty as president of the party to realize the party’s revision draft. Revising the Constitution is not so easy, since an amendment needs to be initiated with the support of at least the two-thirds of seats in both lower and upper chambers of the Diet. How to build up the two-thirds support on the basis of our party’s idea will indeed be a question of technique of politics.”

To call it “technique of politics” to forge a two-thirds majority consensus on the basis of the LDP’s revision draft is an outrageous attempt at justifying a sneak attack on the people. The LDP’s revision draft, if implemented, will restrict people’s basic rights to a degree “that they will not disrupt public order,” which can possibly result in enabling government authorities to suppress people’s expressions and demonstrations undesirable for those in power as a disruption of public order. The revision draft also makes it people’s obligation to respect what the LDP considers the nation’s tradition and family values. Just as Rousseau warned, the Japanese people can be turned into slaves.
The arrogance of the Abe administration is particularly evident in its policy toward Okinawa. Immediately after the Upper House election was over, the government began construction of a helipad for the U.S. military in its training range in Takae in the northern part of Okinawa Island. The police are using violence against local residents who protest against the move. The national government has also filed a legal action against Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to confirm illegality of the governor’s decision to cancel his predecessor’s go-ahead for reclamation work to build a new U.S. military facility to replace the U.S. Marine Corp’s Air Station Futenma.

The intentions of Okinawa voters have been repeatedly made clear in recent elections. The Upper House election saw the incumbent Cabinet minister in charge of Okinawa issues lose her Okinawa constituency seat by a large margin. There are no longer any ruling coalition Diet members elected from Okinawan constituencies. But Prime Minister Abe does not seem to care — perhaps the people of Okinawa are not among Japan’s electorate in his mind. For him, the ballots cast by Okinawan voters must be just empty slips of paper.

The problem is that most Japanese people do not seem to regret having chosen such an arrogant leader to take the helm of government. Post-election media surveys clearly indicate that voters have anxiety over the future course of the administration, with one survey by the Asahi Shimbun showing that 48 percent of the respondents say they are “more concerned than hopeful” about Abe’s policies, compared with 35 percent who say they are more hopeful than concerned. The same Asahi poll said 35 percent of the respondents favor revising the Constitution, compared with 43 percent who oppose the revision. However, such concerns on the part of the people do not necessarily translate into political action by them.
In the ongoing Tokyo gubernatorial race, a female candidate who favors revising the Constitution, suggests arming Japan with nuclear weapons and has ties to an organization that promotes racist hate speech is said to be collecting the most support among voters — just because she ran for the election without the LDP’s organized support. Could it be that the Japanese, after all, are an obedient herd of sheep?

Japan Times, July 28


2016.07.01 Friday 03:50

What’s at stake in the Upper House election

What’s at stake in the Upper House election
By Jiro Yamaguchi

The official campaign for the July 10 Upper House election has begun. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to make continuation of his economic policies a central issue in the race. The opposition parties, on the other hand, are urging voters for their support to stop attempts to revise the Constitution. If the ruling coalition and other forces that rally behind the Abe administration combined win more than two-thirds of the Upper House seats, they will clear the requirement needed to initiate a constitutional amendment — a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet — raising the prospect of the Constitution being revised, as Prime Minister Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party have eagerly sought.

An election is an act by the people to give power to the majority party. The majority party would be ethically accused if it breaks its campaign promise. But voters can only punish the party for breaking the campaign promise by depriving the party of its majority in a parliament in the next election. After returning to power in 2012, the Abe administration experienced two national elections — the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Lower House race. There are huge discrepancies between what it promised in each of the elections and what it carried out after the races. The Abe administration rammed the state secrets law through the Diet in late 2013, changed the government’s interpretation of the Constitution in a Cabinet decision in 2014 to lift the ban on Japan engaging in collective self-defense and enacted last year the security legislation that implements the Cabinet decision. The LDP did not touch at all on these issues in its election campaigns. Once a party wins a majority in an election, what it will do after the poll is left to the discretion of the party in power.

If the ruling coalition wins the Upper House race this time, the Abe administration will likely insist that his bid for revising the Constitution has been endorsed by the public and embark on efforts for a constitutional amendment. He has in fact been openly saying since the beginning of the year that he would like to change the Constitution, especially the second section of the war-renouncing Article 9 - which says that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized” - and that he wishes to secure a two-thirds Upper House majority for that goal. He became more muted on the issue as the July election drew near but in a recent internet program of debate with leaders of other parties, he expressed his desire to begin studying specific amendments to the text of the Constitution.

If indeed the Constitution is to be revised on the basis of the draft amendment released by the LDP in 2012, that will mean that Japan will experiment with what will be quite rare in world history — a regression from a constitutional democracy to an authoritarian regime. Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister who drafted the prewar Meiji Constitution, that a constitution is meant to restrict the power of the ruler and protect the rights of the people. As for moral teachings that people are supposed to follow, he prepared a different document called the Imperial Rescript on Education. The Meiji Constitution was separated from the ethical/moral rules for the people. The LDP’s draft amendment, however, ventures into the realm of ethics and morals - for example, preaching the importance of members of a family helping each other and respect for traditions. Furthermore, it imposes an obligation on the part of the people to uphold the Constitution. In short, it can constitute a violation of the Constitution if family members fight each other or people destroy traditions. The LDP’s draft would introduce a constitution unparalleled in the civilized world that would allow the state power to interfere with individuals’ way of thinking. It is even more pre-modern than the Meiji Constitution and can only be labeled as authoritarian.

What constitutes the foundations of democratic politics is the integrity of politicians. If those in power opportunistically repeat telling lies, the people’s trust in government will be lost. There are no politicians as remote from the idea of integrity as Prime Minister Abe. As host of the Group of Seven summit last month, he warned that the global economy faced a risk equivalent to what was prevalent before the 2008 Lehman shock. As the campaign began for the Upper House election, he started saying that the economy is in good shape. He also insisted that the aftermath of the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant was “under control,” even though in fact the power company is struggling to stop the outflow of radiation-contaminated groundwater. When his lies and inconsistencies are exposed, Prime Minister Abe never feels ashamed and instead pushes straw man arguments or attacks his critics to escape criticism.

Are we going to let such a person drive the effort to change the basic principles of our political system? If voters do not wish to give the Abe administration a carte blanche, they must express their intention in this election. Japan’s constitutional democracy is facing the most serious crisis ever.

Japan Times, 30 June


2015.12.26 Saturday 19:04

The scourge of conformism besetting Japanese society

 

The Supreme Court on Dec. 16 turned down a complaint by women that a Civil Code provision that does not allow a married couple to use different surnames violates the Constitution. The plaintiffs were not demanding that all couples use separate surnames. They were instead arguing that people should be given the freedom not to change their surnames when they marry if they so wish. They said that this freedom relates to the very dignity of individuals — a core principle of the Constitution. People who want to have the same surname as their spouse should of course do so if they so wish. But the system of marriage should also be open to people who do not want to use the same surname, said the plaintiffs. Why did their complaint go unheeded by the top court justices?

 

A majority of the 15 justices who sat on the Grand Bench of the top court said that allowing the choice of different surnames for married couples is not irrational and urged the Diet to discuss the matter. However, the plaintiffs had turned to the court because the majority of lawmakers in the Diet did not understand the issue. The Supreme Court was simply passing the buck. Behind the ruling, I believe, was the bureaucratic consideration of the justices that a ruling declaring the provision as unconstitutional was certain to trigger strong reactions from the the ruling parties and would cause trouble in the future. The top court is not qualified to call itself a watchdog of the Constitution if it is unable to protect the freedom of a minority against the ignorance and prejudice of the majority. Anyway, this ruling seems to reflect the problem of conformism prevalent in Japanese society.

 

Unlike the Western nations which cherish individualism, people in Japan have a tendency to rejoice in everybody taking the same action and sharing similar attitudes. Built on that ground of conformism are built conventions deriving from the domination of men over women. Testifying to this is the fact that as many as 96 percent of married couples use the surnames of the husbands. Since many women started to take on major roles in society, it is not uncommon for them to use their maiden names in their jobs. But it is  women who mostly bear the brunt of the same-surname rule in official matters ranging from obtaining a driver’s license to declaring taxes and going through social insurance procedures.

 

Japan’s conservatives care so dearly about the nation’s traditional family system. The right-wing movement which has become quite vocal over the past two decades or so has campaigned against allowing separate surnames for married couples by saying that such a system would destroy families. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is closely aligned to such a movement. The prime minister himself in 2010 made an utterly off-the-mark statement that separate surnames for husband and wife is a Communist idea. In fact, the rule requiring same surnames for married couples has nothing to do with traditions. In Japan, having a surname was a privilege of the samurai class for a long time. It was only after the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s that common people were allowed to use surnames. Therefore, the same surname for married couple is a fabricated tradition.  An argument that separate surnames would lead to collapse of families is also a prejudice, not based on any evidence.

 

Japanese schools teach children the virtue of cooperativeness. A minority who behave differently from others — children and adults alike — can be the target of bullying. There were times when such conformism improved the performance of a group of people. One example would be the typical management policies of Japanese companies in the period of the nation’s postwar rapid economic growth. In a group where conformity is given priority, however, there will be no self-innovation or breakthrough. The so-called lost two decades of the Japanese economy is perhaps attributable to the lack of extraordinary characters capable of renovating the nation’s systems. The lingering suppression of women in society is one manifestation of this problem.

 

The recent trend in Japan in which growing ranks of youths choose not to marry and women give birth to fewer children is not unrelated to the social conformism that tends to suppress women’s freedom and people’s individuality. Of course, economic factors such as unstable employment and low-wage jobs are highly responsible for the low marriage and fertility rates. But in addition to that, the government and the majority in society continue to bind women to old family values while at the same time imposing on them selfish desires that women should play greater roles both as the labor force to drive economic growth and as the manpower to take charge of raising children and caring for the elderly. It seems as if women were putting up a quiet resistance against a society that refuses to recognize them as free individuals.

 

Japan’s conservative rule will likely continue as long as people who look suspiciously at Prime Minister Abe as he loudly touts slogans such as “women shine” for the sake of economic growth - while himself refusing to recognize women’s due freedom - remain a minority in society.

 

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo.


Japan Times, December 25


2015.11.28 Saturday 23:27

Japan and the war on terror

  Calls are rising — particularly from within the government and the ruling coalition — for Japan to beef up its security measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. During specially arranged Diet sessions held right before the deadly attacks, while the legislature was not in an official session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned the idea of giving the government emergency powers at the time of crises as a theme on which to amend the Constitution. It may be improper to say this but the latest terrorist incident may serve as a convenient pretext to push his agenda of constitutional revision.


We need to confirm one thing here — that the government bears the burden of proof that anti-terrorism measures that it spells out would really deter terrorist activities. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki preaches the necessity of making the act of conspiracy a crime. But he does not explain how that serves to prevent terrorist activities from taking place. Prime Minister Abe would likely be unable to give clear explanations as to why changing the Constitution to give the government massive powers to respond to what it determines as an emergency would contribute to protecting people’s safety.


What I would like to know is whether Japan’s police, which were incapable of preventing the terror attacks launched by the Aum Shinrikyo cult 20 years ago, have reflected on their inability and improved their operations. In 2010, internal police documents on their probe into the privacy of innocent Muslim residents in Japan — determining that some of them were terror suspects — were leaked on the Internet. Is it certain that such sloppy intelligence operations would never be repeated? There is a risk that the terror attacks in Europe would be used as an excuse by Japan’s authoritarian lawmakers and police bureaucrats to expand their powers.


On the very day the Paris attacks took place, Japan’s Foreign Ministry put up a help wanted ad to recruit experts on Middle East affairs as part-time workers. What it offers as working conditions is a shabby treatment — three days of work per week with no social security coverage for a job that requires high levels of foreign language skills and academic backgrounds of at least graduate school levels. Beefing up Japan’s intelligence capabilities became a national agenda under the Abe administration, which in 2014 established the Japanese version of National Security Council. But the administration is going to rely on part-timers for help in the analysis of the Middle East situation —supposedly the most crucial part of anti-terrorism efforts. Japanese politicians and bureaucrats have an illusion that problems at hand will be resolved once a new organization or a system has been created. It is not a laughing matter that Japan’s crucial intelligence matters are handled by anti-intellectual politicians and government officials.


What needs to be examined in the first place is how seriously the Japanese government has pursued efforts to thwart terrorism under the existing legal framework. We should never repeat the days when fear of terrorism justified giving unconditional powers to the government.

 

So much for the talk about domestic measures against terrorism. Now that the new security legislation makes it possible for the Self-Defense Forces to use force abroad, how Japan would involve itself in the war on terrorism in the international community must be questioned. It would become necessary to use force to fight against fanatic groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram, which totally disregard humanity and human rights. Such use of force, however, has always carried the risk of sacrificing innocent civilians. The war on terrorism waged since 9/11 — especially since the Iraq War — has produced large numbers of victims and intense hatred, which in turn produced new breeds of fanatic terrorists. The world shudders when more than 100 people get killed in Paris. But the news of large numbers of unintended civilian deaths in mistaken bombings by U.S. forces hardly attract worldwide attention. Such a disparity will continue to breed more terrorists. In short, the problem will not be resolved with or without the use of force.

 

I believe that Japan, which has given up on the use of force in the international arena so far in its postwar history, will have no choice but to start by resigning itself to this reality. It would be unrealistic to proclaim that it would reconcile the Western powers and the Muslim world. What Japan can do now would be to sympathize with people who were irrationally sacrificed in the war on terrorism and extend its helping hand to them. It should not rally behind the major powers which use force out of desire for revenge. While reiterating that terrorism cannot be tolerated in the name of humanity and human rights, the nation should keep declaring that the lives of people in the Middle East on whom the use of force by major powers inflicted an irrational sacrifice have the same value as those of other people.


The Japan Times, November 26


2015.10.31 Saturday 17:34

Possibility of opposition realignment

Having witnessed the enactment of the government’s security legislation despite the surge in popular movement opposing the bills, citizens who took part in the movement acutely feel the need to change the composition of the Diet. In response to such popular will, the Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii took the lead to advocate uniting opposition parties to create what he called a people’s coalition government. Talks are now under way among opposition parties for cooperation.


Among industrialized democracies, Japan has a relatively large number of political parties that have seats in the national legislature. Currently, the Liberal Democratic Party dwarfs all other parties like a Gulliver. In some European countries, with Switzerland as the typical example, small parties coexist, each representing a group having a specific ethnic, linguistic or religious identity. In Japan, however, no such social division exists, except in the case of Okinawa. In this respect, the existence of so many parties in Japan cannot be explained under the theory of political science.


Since the years around 1990 when the old LDP was mired in what appeared to be a bottomless chain of corruption, similar to what plagued Italy’s Christian Democratic Party, a sentiment critical of established political parties have permeated Japanese politics. Unlike Italy, however, Japan did not experience a political realignment that involved a dominant party. One political party after another that claimed to challenge the LDP emerged but quickly became obsolete. Then came the new parties on the “third pole” agenda of criticizing the established parties, many of which collapsed due to internal strife or money scandals. One reason that Japan has so many political parties is that most of the breakups and mergers of parties have taken place only in the opposition camp.


The Democratic Party of Japan once succeeded in taking power but has not been able to sustain a force that enables it to play a significant part in a system in which two major parties compete for power. If the DPJ’s performance in the Upper House election next year ends in a result similar to its performance in the 2013 race, the party will be reduced to a force with less than 20 percent of Diet seats, disqualifying itself from staying as a party capable of aiming for power again in the future. That would be a heavy blow not just for the DPJ but also for Japan’s democracy.


In its disregard of constitutionalism, the Abe administration seems to be on the brink of becoming a supra-constitutional force. It rejects the joint call by five opposition parties to hold an extraordinary Diet session, despite the provision in Article 53 of the Constitution that the Cabinet must convene such an Diet session when demanded by a quarter or more of the members of either chamber. Not just in order to keep in check an unconstitutional management of government like the above but aslo to maintain the competitive nature of party politics, it is imperative that the opposition parties unite their forces in preparation for the coming Upper House election.


The JCP has proposed establishment of a people's coalition government for the sake of abolishing the security legislation. However, it would be difficult under current circumstances for the opposition parties to agree on a roadmap beyond cooperation in the Upper House election campaign toward a change of government. This is because while they may be united in their opposition to the Abe administration and the security laws, they would need to do more, that is, to reach an agreement on various policy matters if they are going to take power.


Since Komeito, the LDP’s ruling coalition partner, strongly opposes simultaneous elections of the Diet’s two chambers, the election next summer will likely be an Upper House election alone. The triennial Upper House election, like the midterm elections in the United States, tends to be a venue for venting voters’ frustration with the incumbent administration. The opposition parties should first give priority to reducing the seats of the ruling alliance. To achieve this goal, they should quickly agree on fielding their candidates in a unified manner in those Upper House constituencies in which only one seat is up for grabs. Their common agenda can focus solely on punishing the Abe administration.

 

The other day I had a chance to talk with DPJ Upper House member Teruhiko Mashiko, who is seeking reelection next year from Fukushima Prefecture, where only one seat is up for grabs in the triennial race. He said the opposition camp can unite on the sole agenda of pacifism and phaseout of nuclear energy and that he sees a chance of winning as long as the JCP refrains from fielding its candidate in his constituency.  If the opposition parties agree on the model of a joint campaign to take on the LDP in Fukushima Prefecture, it will certainly have a nationwide impact.


True, reservations toward and distrust of the JCP exist among DPJ law makers. But can they now afford the luxury of rejecting such a joint campaign? The biggest task now for the opposition camp is to end the LDP’s domination of the political landscape and DPJ lawmakers should realize that it is their priority mission.


If the LDP loses in the next Upper House election, the Abe administration would face more difficulties in running the government. That can be a start for changing the political atmosphere and it would become realistically possible for the opposition forces to draw a vision for a change of government on the two principles of international harmony and social justice. Australia saw the creation of a new administration headed by a moderate conservative prime minister and the elections in Canada brought a change of government with the creation of a left-of-center administration. I would like to see Japan follow suit.

 

Japan Times October 29


2015.08.28 Friday 14:46

Democracy 70 years after the war's end

  As Japan greeted the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II in the midst of growing opposition to the government-proposed security legislation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must have realized that he has to run his administration under a variety of constraints.

 

One of such constraints is international opinion. Initially, Prime Minister Abe appeared to be resolved to issue a war anniversary statement that reflects his own perception of Japan’s modern history. However, it was obvious that a right-wing viewpoint of history, which tends to deny Japan’s responsibility for its aggression and colonial rule, was not to be acceptable not just to Asian countries but also to Western nations. For Japan to live as a member of the international community, the prime minister could not choose to publicize a self-righteous perception of history. As a result, the statement that Abe made on Aug. 14 deviated from his own personal sentiments and its message became weak because of its lengthy text. The prime minister did use an expression that apparently reflected his own thought — that Japan must not let its future generations be predestined to apologize for that war, with which they have nothing to do. He may have wanted to dispel the chagrin at having had to refer in the statement to the wartime aggression and the “women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” As long as he and right-wing politicians close to him continue to try to deny that Japan had waged a war of aggression and justify its colonial rule, the new generations of Japanese will have to keep apologizing to the people of Asia. I wonder if the prime minister understands the logical structure of this problem.


Another — and even larger — constraint is the popular will. As long as Japan is a democracy, the acts of those in power will obviously be constrained by the will of the people. It was in fact an extraordinary situation that the prime minister, until just recently, did whatever he wanted on the strength of the strong popular approval ratings of his Cabinet. Abe might have preferred to paint the 70th war anniversary statement with his own colors if the approval ratings had stayed high. But he had no other choice but to take a low posture now that public criticism of his administration has gained momentum. And while he extended the Diet session through the end of September in order to secure enactment of the security legislation, he is reportedly ready to shelve the passage of his other controversial bills, including the one to exempt some office workers from work-hour regulations. This may indicate that the popular will is serving as a brake on the administration to some extent.


On July 1 last year, before Abe’s Cabinet made a decision the same month to justify Japan’s exercising the right to collective self-defense, I joined hands with other scholars in political science and constitutional law and launched a movement to protect constitutionalism — the Group for Constitutional Democracy. Its members are pushing the movement with a sense of crisis that a series of moves by the Abe administration threaten to destroy constitutionalism, which constrains political power with the Constitution. To be honest, the changes in public opinion since June this year went beyond our imagination. In prewar Japan, political parties used the term constitutionalism to oppose the dominance by bureaucrats and the oligarchy that ruled the country since the Meiji Restoration. After being pushed to oblivion for some time as postwar democracy prevailed, the term is back in circulation —triggered by the controversy over the security legislation.


 Our trial and error in pursuit of full democracy in this country over the past 20 years or so led us to rediscover the crude reality — that no other political party except the Liberal Democratic Party is yet capable of running the government. However, the LDP itself has lost the breadth and prudence that it used to possess, and is now dominated by politicians with little experience as lawmakers, whose words and actions border on those of right-wingers on the Internet sphere. And these lawmakers are trying to push through the Diet a set of bills that are labeled by a majority of constitutional scholars as unconstitutional.


Under such a situation, we may not have the luxury of advocating a system where political parties take turns running the government, but will need to return to the bottom line of constitutionalism, that is, putting a brake on political power by confining it in a certain frame. It is not that such a view is shared by citizens who take to the streets to voice opposition to the security legislation. But I am hopeful that the agenda of putting abrake on political power will gain sympathy and support from a broad range of citizens.


The movement for constitutionalism would not be sustained if it ends up being a game of whack-a-mole against arrogant leaders in power — a process that will be tiring for those who pursue the movement. We need to establish a custom in which those in power who ignore the Constitution will be severely punished by voters in elections. But that will also require creating an alternative political entity that can take the place of the LDP. I grew a bit tired after saying the same thing repeatedly ever since the Democratic Party of Japan lost power three years ago. Still I need to keep saying that. The opposition forces should work together to create a minimum set of agenda on important policy issues that can represent the energized citizens who are active in protecting the Constitution and peace. The Upper House election next year will be a crucial test for survival of constitutional democracy in this country.


Japan Times, August 26



2015.08.03 Monday 17:56

Transformation of political culture in Japan

Discussions on the government-proposed security legislation have brought to the fore a clear polarization of political culture in Japan. One of the trends is anti-intellectualism. The other is civic culture pushing for democratization.


Anti-intellectualism has permeated not only movements that champion nationalism and part of the mass media but also the political circles. In the first place, the security legislation itself can be deemed as a product of anti-intellectualism. Many scholars of constitutional law and former chiefs of Cabinet Legislation Bureau declare that the security legislation violates the war-renouncing Constitution. But the government has been unable to give convincing rebuttals to their argument. Because Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are allowed to possess weapons only for the purpose of defending the nation, exercising the right to collective self-defense to defend another country is out of the question under the Constitution. In the Diet deliberations so far, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani have not answered straight on the questions raised by lawmakers but instead spent their time dodging the questions.

In the cultural sphere, authors and politicians who do not hesitate to flaunt their anti-intellectualism continue to fuel discrimination and prejudice. Novelist Naoki Hyakuta, who was invited to speak at a gathering of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers supposedly to discuss issues related to culture and arts, suggested that the two local dailies in Okinawa, which are critical of national government policies, must be shut down while LDP lawmakers trumpeted controlling TV reports by applying pressures on the sponsors of their programs. Some politicians and conservative journalists even tried to justify such remarks in the name of freedom of speech. Japan is a country where attempts to defame others through demagogy or negate freedom are condoned in the name of freedom of speech.


Anti-intellectualism has deteriorated the quality of political parties. The LDP has lost much of the width of perspectives and the sense of balance that the party used to have. Few voices of criticism arise from within the party against the Abe administration’s push for the security bills. It lacks next leaders who can step in to remedy a situation when Prime Minister Abe makes mistakes. This is a crisis both for the LDP and Japan.


On the other hand, a new wave of civic culture has certainly emerged and is spreading, triggered by the movement opposing the security legislation. In 1960, the attempt by Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi — Abe’s grandfather — to revise the Japan-U.S. security treaty met with large-scale protest movements. However, the culture of civic political movements then disappeared. It was only after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis gave rise to the movement against nuclear power that citizens acquired the practice of taking to the streets on a daily basis to raise their voices on important policy issues. Civic political movements scaled down after the LDP returned to power but they continued. A new movement led by students has built on such forces to generate public opinion. The students in the movement are using emails and Line messages to expand their organizations and are successfully mobilizing thousands and tens of thousands of citizens in rallies around the Diet compound. Such actions by students have in turn led scholars to be ashamed of their own silence — with many of them starting to speak up against the security legislation and to express their opinions on other political issues, including their call on the government to clearly state Japan’s remorse and apology over its wartime aggression when Prime Minister Abe issues a statement marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II this summer.


Approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet in media opinion polls dropped sharply after the administration railroaded the security bills through the Lower House, falling from the level around 50 percent to less than 40 percent insome polls, while disapproval ratings surged in many polls to top approval figures.


Meanwhile, facing strong public criticism, Prime Minister Abe had no alternative but to scrap the controversial plan to build a new National Stadium — the main venue of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — at a massive cost of ¥250 billion, although an order for its construction had already been placed to a general contractor. People harbored a specific anger because the issue at stake was how taxpayer money will be used. The episode has proven that public opinion is not powerless against a government action.


In East Asia, pro-democracy movements began in the latter half of the 1980s, starting with the ones led by students in South Korea and Taiwan. Japan has long defined itself as a pioneer of democracy in Asia and supposedly viewed those movements in its neighbors in a favorable light. In reality, however, democracy in Japan has been confined to the system of political parties and parliament - which is just a form. It must be said that in fact Japan is right now following the democracy movements that started in its neighbors such as South Korea and is trying to create a new political culture of its own, Seventy years after the end of WWII, Japan’s political democracy is at a major crossroads. Will Japan, with egocentric anti-intellectualism and suspension of judgment, destroy the peace and stability built on its postwar democracy? Or will the new civic culture turn the nation into a more mature democracy? I only hope that the Japanese people will make a wise choice as we think of war and peace in the war anniversary month.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.


Japan Times, July 331


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