A few days ago, the New York Times printed an article by Martin Fackler that claimed that the country was “shifting further away from pacifism.” But is that really the case? Several online commentaries have taken issue with Fackler’s narrative.
The most interesting response is from Corey Wallace of Japan Security Watch. He notes that the article contains some “memes” that commonly appear in international media reports about Japan’s security policies:
As with many media commentaries, the problem often resides in the framing rather than the information itself. First, any reference to Japan “moving away from pacifism” will be an inherently loaded characterization, and while not all who do refer to it buy into the idea that this is necessarily a bad thing, it will unfortunately reaffirm the knee-jerk narratives around Japanese remilitarization which prey on pre-existing stereotypes regarding Japan.
First, the concept/frame of “moving away from pacifism” is kind of a meaningless distinction to make in the first place. Japan has never been formally “pacifist” and has never been as purely idealistic (or naive, if you take your cue from DC) as many believed. In this sense, the “moving away from pacifism” is a double fiction. Defensive-orientated defense (senshu bouei 専守防衛) and certain antimilitarist norms, established in the public imagination and institutionalized politically much later than 1947, are a better starting point for understanding Japan’s initial “non-offensive” security doctrine. I wonder if it would be so hard for commentators to use language such as “Japan’s security doctrine continues to incrementally evolve in line with regional developments and Japan’s changing international identity after periods of societal debate.” Of course, that would be boring. But appropriate.
Second, the specific claims about Japan’s security evolution, while not incorrect per se, are probably not quite as meaningful as they might seem at first glance, at least as conceptualized within the frame of “weakening pacifism.”
Another noteworthy response to Fackler’s article comes from Thomas U. Berger of Boston University:
“…If anything, it has been startling how slow Japan has been to respond to the changing threat environment, although that can be attributed to the fact that Japan still feels that it has a certain margin of safety to work with with regard to the Chinese and North Korean threats.
The analytical problem comes from the use of the term “pacifism.” While there is indeed a pacifist streak in the way Japan thinks about defense and national security, it has always been a minority view. Even in the 50s and 60s there never was a consensus in favor of unarmed neutrality, and there is virtually no support for it today.
A more accurate term for Japanese attitudes is what I have called anti-militarism. The Japanese are extremely skeptical about the use of forces because of their historical experiences of the 1930s and 40s. These experience have been institutionalized in various ways in Japan’s legal and bureaucratic systems and they are reinforced supported by popular attitudes that are periodically reinvigorated by books, movies as well as the way Japanese people – both elites and on a popular level – talk about the past.
This does not mean, however, that the Japanese have completely foresworn defending themselves. There has always been a readiness to defend Japan and its territory….”
In another NBR Forum post, Todd Kreider examines the statements Fackler writes about Japan’s public opinion and defense spending. As others have observed, defense spending increases are tiny and public opinion has barely changed over the last decade. Buy why let that get in the way of a good story?
The results of today’s election are coming in, and it’s terrible news for the Democratic Party of Japan. The ruling party, which failed to live up to a lot of the hype that got it elected a few years ago, has suffered miserable defeat. A lot of people were expecting the Liberal Democratic Party to return to power, but the extent of their victory is pretty damn impressive.
Exit polls showed the LDP would win 296 seats in the 480-seat lower house, while its longtime ally, New Komeito, was on course to win 32 seats. Combined, the tally would give the parties the “super-majority” they need to take total control of both houses of parliament and end years of policy deadlock and instability.
Shinzo Abe will become the new Prime Minister. Get ready for a flood of international news articles about how his victory supposedly shows that Japanese voters are right-wing nationalists…
The Japan Restoration Party, led by former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, has picked up over 50 seats.
Update: The results are in. The big winners were: LDP 294 seats(up from 118), Komeito 31 seats(up from 21), Japan Restoration Party 54 seats, Your Party 18 seats (up from 8). The DPJ only won 57 seats (down from 230!). The Tomorrow Party of Japan, which heavily promoted itself as an anti-nuclear party, suffered a crushing defeat (9 seats, down from 61).
Taiwan’s NMA Youtube channel has produced yet another wacky computer animated video about current events in Japan! It’s election time:
Somebody must have read about Shinzo Abe’s battle with crippling diarrhea, because he is shown shooting vast amounts of liquid feces out of his rear end. Noda, who famously compared himself to a loach fish, seems to be using one as a weapon. And it looks like South Korea’s national symbol is now the Gangnam Style guy…
This weekend, Japanese voters will head to the polls to elect new lawmakers. Some expect that the election will drive the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) out of power and replace it with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by former PM Shinzo Abe.
If you’ve watched much Japanese television over the last couple weeks, you’ve probably noticed that political parties are running a modest number of commercials. It’s a little more tame than the kind of stuff that goes down in America, where parties and political groups flood the airwaves with ads that harshly attack opponents.
Let’s look at a few examples.
First, we have the LDP’s commercial:
It’s a very simple commercial with a very simple message. Shinzo Abe repeatedly calls on voters to help him “take back” Japan and return the country to economic prosperity.
The DPJ’s commercial is also very simple:
This one has Prime Minister Noda standing in front of a red screen as the camera slowly zooms in on his face. In contrast to the LDP message, Noda emphasizes the need to move forward and create a future that we can proudly leave to our children and grandchildren. Their slogan notes the importance of determination.
Both major parties have pretty boring commercials. The smaller parties have less to lose, so they can take a risk by making their commercials creative and/or entertaining.
Although I have not seen them aired on television, the Japan Communist Party’s YouTube channel has uploaded several issue-specific ads. For example, here is one about raising the sales tax:
As cute birds bathe, they discuss how raising the sales tax might make it hard for them afford daily baths. They wonder why they, the common folks, have to suffer from such a tax increase. Shouldn’t the government tax rich people instead? (Another ad sends the same message with a conversation between two men eating oden.)
The JCP also has an anti-TPP advertisement:
Cute little onigiri are discussing the impact of a free trade agreement with the United States. Japanese farmers work hard to produce rice, but if Japan joins the TPP, say goodbye to those cute rice balls! (In another ad, pushy American beef is trying to force Japanese beef off a supermarket shelf.)
The JCP has a few other ads too. One has a light bulb telling voters to support the complete abolition of nuclear energy in Japan. Another anti-nuclear ad has a hermit crab that fears for his life and wants Japanese people to remember the scary explosion that occurred in 2011. In one ad opposing U.S. bases in Okinawa an American aircraft replies to Okinawans’ safety concerns by saying everything is okay. The aircraft speaks Japanese with a shitty American gaijin accent. Another anti-base ad has cute fish playing up fears about Osprey aircraft.
Here is the CM for Your Party (or “Everyone’s Party” in Japanese):
Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe races across the screen on a skateboard! So hip and cool! Watanabe says there are more important things to do than raise taxes. The CM also emphasizes the party’s total opposition to nuclear energy and focus on economic recovery.
The Happiness Realization Party, a right-wing party that is linked to the Happy Science spiritual movement, was known for some pretty extreme advertisements during previous elections. Unfortunately, their CM for this year is a bit more boring:
One of their leaders outlines their major policies: 1) protect Japan from China’s nuclear weapons by strengthening defense (within the U.S.-Japan Alliance), 2) stop attempts to raise the sales tax, and 3) move forward with the development of nuclear energy in Japan.