Shinzo Abe

Abe's nationalist revival does not have popular backing among Japanese

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 8:48am

The antics of Japan's nationalists give the impression that they have widespread support. Boatloads of activists who recently sailed to the contested Diaoyu Islands, known to Japanese as the Senkakus, and the nearly 100 politicians, three cabinet ministers among them, who visited the Yasukuni shrine to the country's war dead, well knew their actions would unleash fury in China and South Korea. They are emboldened by the revisionist views of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others in his right-wing, Liberal Democratic party-led government. But the box office success of the latest offering by pacifist anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki shows that not all Japanese share their provocative attitudes.

Miyazaki, considered among Japan's greatest anime filmmakers, often touches on pacifism in his movies. Usually, there are only mild objections from right-wingers, but the latest, The Wind Rises, has unleashed a storm of protest. That may be to do with the subject, pre-war Japan through the eyes of the designer of the most famous Japanese jet fighter, the Zero, or it could be because the movie has spent more than a month at the top of the box office and is soon to be released internationally. Or perhaps they have been spurred by comments the director made against efforts to change the constitution so that the military has more muscle.

Whichever, the debate that has been stirred, and comments on websites, show that Abe does not have popular backing when it comes to nationalist revival. Recent elections to the upper house of parliament also made that plain. The LDP and its New Komeito coalition partner made handsome gains and now control both houses, but do not have enough backing to be able to push constitutional reforms. Japanese voters came out for Abe's economic policies, although not in great numbers; the 52.61 per cent turnout was the third-lowest in post-war history.

Japanese desire change, but only so that the economy can improve. Threatening peace and stability by infuriating neighbours with nationalism is not what they want or need.