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Abe's war shrine visit confirms shift to right

Publication Date : 31-12-2013


Japan is rapidly drifting to the right.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's surprise visit on December 26 to the infamous Yasukuni war shrine has established beyond any doubt his nationalistic credentials and the dangerous direction he is bent on taking his country.

The ultimate aim of the so-called Abenomics growth policies that Mr Abe ushered in soon after coming to office in December last year is not merely to lift Japan out of deflation.

It was also to win the July 2013 Upper House election, thereby giving his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) control of both Houses of Parliament that will allow him to achieve his top agenda item - to revise Japan's Peace Constitution.

After the Upper House victory, Abe immediately put Abenomics on the back-burner and in its place trotted out a new buzzword - "proactive pacifism".

Taking advantage of his party's domination of Parliament, he quickly rammed through laws to protect Japan's official secrets with stiff punishments for violations, and also to set up a national security council to direct security and foreign policy from his office. Along the way, he also raised the country's defence budget, the first time in a decade.

Abe even admitted on television recently that it is his "career goal" to revise Japan's Peace Constitution. He has made it known that he considers it a humiliating document forced upon Japan by the post-war United States-led Occupation.

Revision requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Parliament. But he is hopeful it can be done by aligning his party with two opposition groups - the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party - that share his ideals.

Abe's Yasukuni visit has already caused a serious diplomatic fallout, both over Japan's ties with China and South Korea and in its security alliance with the US. Other Asian countries, including Singapore, have expressed concern. The shrine visit was useful in confirming to the Koreans and Chinese that they were right not to trust him.

Beijing on Monday said Abe had closed the door to talks with Chinese leaders with the visit and that the Chinese people did not welcome him. South Korean President Park Geun Hye urged Japan not to impair bilateral ties by opening up past colonial wounds.

Much as Abe would like other nations to believe that the Yasukuni Shrine is a suitable facility at which to console the war dead, it is no ordinary Shinto shrine but had been established by Japan's pre-war army and navy to guarantee soldiers who died in battle in the name of the Emperor a place for eternal repose.

Despite severing its links with the government after the war, in 1978, the shrine secretly added to its list of honourees the names of war criminals, including Class A criminals who had directed the war against other Asian countries.

After that move, which the shrine refuses to reverse, the late Emperor Hirohito stopped going to Yasukuni.

In the shrine's present state, neither the present Emperor Akihito and his wife nor foreign dignitaries are able to visit it.

For Abe to say he went to Yasukuni only to pray for the souls of the war dead, while knowing full well that the shrine also honours 14 Class A war criminals, is disingenuous at best.

As political commentator Shigetada Kishii points out, young Japanese are apt to side with Abe as they know little about the history of Yasukuni, a disturbing fact given the impact of the shrine on Japan's diplomacy in the region.

Young people with no direct experience of the last war are also more likely to succumb to the influence of the popular media.

A best-selling novel about a fighter pilot killed in a suicide attack during the Pacific War has been turned into a movie called Eien No Zero (Eternal Zero). Zero refers to the Japanese fighter planes used by Imperial Japanese pilots during World War II. The story has both been lauded as "refreshing the spirit" and lambasted as "right-wing entertainment".

The book's author Naoki Hyakuta revealed recently that he had encouraged the prime minister to visit Yasukuni, using the argument that there is nothing wrong with the leader of a country appeasing the souls of those who gave up their lives for the nation.

It is the same rhetoric favoured by Abe and others of his ilk that conveniently ignores the war criminals among the 2.5 million souls enshrined at Yasukuni.

Incidentally, Hyakuta is known to be critical of Article 9 of the Constitution which forbids Japan from going to war and once wrote on Twitter: "If another country attacks Japan, those who worship Article 9 should be sent to the front line."

Yet this man was appointed by Abe to the management board of the country's NHK public network, a broadcasting entity that is supposed to take a neutral stance.

Like many older Japanese, former diplomat Kazuhiko Togo, whose late grandfather was foreign minister and Class A war criminal Shigenori Togo, believes that Japan's problem is the failure of Japanese society all these years to come to a consensus as to who was responsible for the last war.

Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to be born after World War II, has even declared in Parliament that there is no definition of aggression.

Like many conservative Japanese, he even denies the existence of war criminals, seeing them as the result of victor's justice.

Meanwhile, Abe wants school history textbooks to be revised so as to foster patriotism and to include the views of nationalist scholars on issues such as the 1937 Nanking Massacre, ostensibly to give students a more "balanced picture".

A recent poll by the influential Asahi Shimbun daily found that of Japanese in their 20s, only 33 per cent thought that the last major war fought by Japan was a war of aggression. This was the largest percentage among all age groups.


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