No, Japan Is Not Reverting to Fascism

No, Japan Is Not Reverting to Fascism

National elections were held in Japan this week, with the Liberal Democratic Party winning a two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors of the National Diet (the Japanese parliament). The LDP already held a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. If you read Josh Gelernter’s column in National Review, this win was the beginning of Japan “reverting” to fascism.

A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform. The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.”

Gelernter points out several planks of the LDP’s platform, which are definitely nationalistic, and harken back to a more rosy view of Japan’s imperialist past.

What has the LDP got against the “Western European theory of natural human rights”? you might ask. Well, dozens of LDP legislators and ministers — including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — are members of a radical nationalist organization called Nippon Kaigi, which believes (according to one of its members, Hakubun Shimomura, who until recently was Japan’s education minister) that Japan should abandon a “masochistic view of history” wherein it accepts that it committed crimes during the Second World War. In fact, in Nippon Kaigi’s view, Japan was the wronged party in the war. According to the Congressional Research Service, Nippon Kaigi believes that “Japan should be applauded for liberating much of East Asia” during WW2, that the “Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate,” and that the rape of Nanking was either “exaggerated or fabricated.” It denies the forced prostitution of Chinese and Korean “comfort women” by the Imperial Japanese Army, believes Japan should have an army again — something outlawed by Japan’s current constitution — and believes that it should return to worshipping the emperor.

And then he points out that if any amendments – or a whole new constitution is approved by the National Diet – then all it will take is a simple majority to approve it.

If the new constitution is approved by two-thirds of each house of the Japanese legislature, its adoption will be voted on in a national referendum requiring a simple majority. Who can say if 51 percent of Japanese voters would vote against their own civil rights? On the one hand, it seems absurd; on the other, they did give the LDP’s coalition a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers.

After reading his column, and reading reactions to it, I need to tell everyone to CALM DOWN. Really. Take a deep breath.

First of all, the election JUST happened this last Sunday. The earliest that any discussions will begin on any constitutional amendments will begin this coming fall, per the Japan Times (which is the only English daily paper in Japan). It’s also worth noting that while the LDP has been elected, there is almost no popular support for ANY change to the constitution. When I lived in Japan (this is now coming up on 20 years ago, so I acknowledge that times have changed), the Japanese were proud of the fact that the 1947 constitution has never been altered. If the Japanese media is to be believed, that sentiment still runs strong.

With little prospect of winning majority support for the proposal in a national referendum, Abe admitted that it is difficult to achieve the revision under the current circumstances.

The prime minister is believed to be preparing to make an attempt at rewriting Article 9 after inuring the public to constitutional amendments by focusing first on less controversial revision proposals.

So the LDP knows that they first have to cross the hurdle of getting the people to approve ANY constitutional change, before going for the big one – Article 9. It reads as follows:

Article 9. 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.
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.

We also need to remember that the United States maintains permanent military bases in Japan, because that was the post-war compromise. We rebuild you, we will protect you, but you will not wage war again. However, in the last nearly 70 years since the constitution was implemented, things have changed. Japan now has a capable Self-Defense Force with modern military equipment, even with Article 9 never having been amended. Many in the United States might welcome a change to Article 9, and let the Japanese have a bigger military presence to counteract the Chinese one, and the threat from North Korea. But the LDP acknowledges that this is a change waaaaay down the road – realistically, perhaps not even before the next election cycle, which will be held sometime in 2018 (for the House of Representatives). Their House of Representatives has a 4 year term, but the House of Councillors has a 6 year term, with half the chamber being up for election every three years. The LDP has traditionally held a majority in the House of Representatives, but if they upset enough of the voting population by pushing constitutional changes… who knows?

As to the more nationalistic planks of the LDP’s platform – yes, they are troubling. But I had people apologizing to me “for the war” when I was living in Japan in 1997. I wasn’t even alive during the war! At what point do we finish absolving people of the crimes of their forebearers? We haven’t even figured that out here in the United States. The LDP is tired of having to rehash the past crimes of the Japanese Empire, and continuing to hammer the current Japanese population for the crimes of 70 years ago – which should never be forgotten or swept aside – is not politically helpful.

But then the news broke that Emperor Akihito was thinking about abdicating.

And then Emperor Akihito intruded on Abe’s post-election celebrations with apparently well-sourced rumours that he wants to abdicate. Despite being the figureheads of the rightest Shinto nationalist movement, the modern royal family actually has a long track record of liberalism and concern about Japan’s Pacific War actions. This seems to put them at odds with Abe’s approach to the world.

Akihito’s position is curious because while he is venerated, he really lives in a gilded cage controlled by an ultra-conservative Imperial Household Agency which has since denied he wants to abdicate.

Akihito, the son of Hirohito, became emperor upon his father’s death in 1989. Theoretically, he would abdicate in favor of his son, Naruhito. But even the hint that the emperor would like to abdicate and spend his remaining years in retirement (he is 82) in the face of a big win by the LDP that would like to re-venerate the emperor… you can see how that threw cold water on Prime Minister Abe’s celebration.

Let’s also consider that Japan has an aging population. Census numbers showed that the total population of Japan shrunk by a million people in five years. When the government can’t even convince the young people to procreate, how do they expect them to vote for a constitutional amendment that might eventually require a military draft? After all, if they change Article 9, they are going to have to have soldiers and sailors for that military. The college kids are barely having sex, and you think they are going to join the army? HA!

We need to keep an eye on Japanese politics, because that’s just smart policy. I just returned from seeing what unchecked Japanese nationalism, combined with military might, can do. But to say that Japan is “reverting” to its old fascist, nationalistic ways? That’s just overblown panic.

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  • channamasala says:

    “At what point do we finish absolving people of the crimes of their forebearers?”

    …when the continuous society that they and their forbearers live(d) in and benefited from provide adequate transitional justice, and reparations as needed, for what that society has done to wrong certain groups in the past.

    I personally did nothing wrong in terms of slavery and post-slavery discrimination. But the society I was born into and benefited from being white in DID, and in fact that society is NOT absolved of its crimes, nor can it ever be until it makes good.

    This isn’t a difficult concept to understand.

    • Paul says:

      Yeah, except that you’re not talking specifics. You’re basing your claims on vague concepts of “privilege” and “reparations,” which invariably lead to more and more government expansion. At the end of the day, the question is, how much is enough? How many more million dollars must America invest in social programs to “repair” its so-called crimes? Will that happen only when we have a reached complete equality in terms of income and job positions per race/gender/etc.? Does that even account for the fact that people make different life choices? Do you propose that the state should force people to make certain choices just so that we can achieve your utopia? Have you any IDEA how much America already invests in those programs? And guess what? It’s not working.

      You sound like you’ve been drinking too much of the Marxist kool aid, and it’s thanks to liberals like you that America has been going down the toilet under Obama, with the worst race and gender relations in decades.

  • Melissa says:

    I’m all for them defending themselves and paying for their own defense, but they should NOT be allowed nuclear weapons!

    • Emily says:

      If you knew ANYTHING about Japan (including basic history) you would know that the two nuclear attacks conducted on Japan during WWII put the Japanese population off the idea of nuclear weapons pretty effectively. The government would have to go against the wishes of practically the entire population (and insult the memory of the tens of thousands of people who died in those attacks) in order to even think about developing nuclear weapons.

  • Matthew says:

    I do think the mentality has changed over the past 20 years. Currently living in Japan now and I’ve never had anyone “apologize” to me for the war. The most I have heard is someone in their late 20’s say, “Oh it was stupid of us to attack America, we couldn’t possibly win.” So apparently invading the rest of Asia was okay. There has been a concerted effort over the past couple of decades to make education more “patriotic,” and I think that we are going to be reaping the results of that from now on.

    • GWB says:

      This is the largest concern I have – the signs in Japanese in places like Saipan still speak as if the poor Japanese invaders were dealt with oh so terribly by the Americans. They have no acknowledgement, for example, on the cliffs where so many families leapt to their deaths, that it was the lies of the Imperial Japanese military and government that caused that loss of life.

      Yes, many individuals acknowledge the truth of the matter. But so many do NOT. (Unlike the Germans, the Japanese did not primarily commit their atrocities at home.)

  • Avery says:

    Why does the National Review article refer to Japan’s current national anthem as the “controversial imperial national anthem”? And that’s just the beginning…

  • TerriM says:

    A very rational counter to the other article. I do believe
    though that 20 years can mean huge changes
    in a culture. And the population of Japan must
    have helped vote in that 2/3 majority by at least
    sympathising with their viewa. The other article
    may have stated the concerns a little dramatically
    but there seems at least reason for mild alarm.

    (And no . .we are SO done with the slavery thingn
    Liberal academia scores another empty
    mind. A nation cannot go back and back and
    fix all the wrongs. We work together to
    move forward. This everything has to be
    fair BS. .has nearly bankrupted this nation
    and driven a wedge of resentment and hate
    amongst its citizens)

  • I am in Japan right now, here today. Many people are afraid they no longer have any say in their country’s political life. Many older people feel this is because of a combination of apathy and ignorance among the very young.

    Are any of these feelings real? Are they panicking over nothing? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

  • Takahiro says:

    I don’t think you completely understand the ramifications of LDP and its partners’ recent landslide victory. LDP has come a long way to achieve the 2/3 majority in both houses, and they pressed with ‘other’ relevant measures to familiarize the people with the changes they sought to set. As a result, just a few less than 50% of people outrightly oppose any amendment to the constitution.

    These ‘other’ measures included publishing a manga booklet to suggest how ‘outdated’ the current Constitution is. They have released pamphlets, collected 1 million in petitions in favor of amending the Constitution via the Nihon Kaigi, pressed educational institutions to not include Constitutional education programs in the curriculum, and encouraged LDP-dominated municipalities to ban Constitution-related events in municipal facilities and events. You just don’t understand how much this encroachment means.

    In addition to these Constitution-focused measures, fascism is becoming a open reality in the Japanese political scene. Media is becoming increasingly subservient to the ruling coalition and the government, with very few criticisms being reported in the media except for few tabloids that escape the wrath of government control, especially not on the television. As the well-known saying goes, “Revolution is not televised.” Anti-government rallies are either not well exposed, diminished, misled or sometimes even crushed. Look at Okinawa. Look at what’s happening in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in a daily basis. Yes, it’s not being televised. At least not by the Japanese mainstream pro-government media.

    Why do you think our ratings fell by 61 points in just 5 years for Press Freedom? You think Reporters Without Borders are too biased? Still, 60 points! That ought to tell you something!

    The signs are all over; that the world is becoming increasingly like what is being envisioned in the LDP’s draft Constitution. And most people don’t even know it. Because the intentions are well hidden under the disguise of the benign, peace-loving story that the government sells on the TV to the nonchalants. But those who are keen are sensing it: the coming and the rise of fascism is only too real for those in the realm of political expressionism, which in today’s world is a rare commodity.

    • Avery says:

      Reporters Without Borders said that it’s illegal to report on Fukushima in Japan. They actually said that. And you think they aren’t biased?

  • Lee says:

    I live here. I don’t think you should rebuttal if you haven’t lived here for 20 years.

    1) People are having lots of sex here. They just don’t want or feel able to raise a child.

    2) Abe had meetings with media executives and the three most outspoken journalists “resigned”. He also pushed through a law by which the government can tell what cannot be reported and jail journalists for disobeying. Freedom of speech is dead. The main television studio, NHK, is deeply in the pocket of the current government. Overall, it’s very disturbing.

    3) Yes young voter apathy is a problem that is most likely encouraged by the government. I was just in this conversation with a young Japanese two nights ago. There is little to no democratic government education in primary and junior high school. Did not get a clear picture of what the high school situation may be, but Japan often rewrites history in it’s text books as they are basically approved by the government ministry of education. (I’m sure something like this happens all over, in the US as well)

    I’ve lived here for 10 years now. I’ve thought about living here all my life, but I have a feeling Japan may change and that might complicate things a bit.

  • David Meyer says:

    I’ve been living in Japan for the last 25 years and agree with Deanna’s assessment. Following is a copy of the comment I made on the National Review article:

    “I looked up the Bloomberg 2015 opinion piece Gelernter appears to cite (… and the original LDP Japanese documents the Bloomberg piece appears to cite. While there is some concern over some of the proposed changes and how they may be implemented, claiming the proposal makes for a fascist constitution is an overstatement. I think the Bloomberg writer either mistranslated the Japanese documents or made an overly extreme interpretation of their contents.”

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