It is disturbing that a country where a sense of history is so apparent can be so blind to the lessons of the past. Until last Friday, Japan could pretend that its moribund economy, stagnant democracy and sense of drift were manageable, that over time, and with the application of painful remedies, the country would again have a future to inspire it and a present to be proud of. That changed on Friday morning when reformist politician Koki Ishii was assassinated. Of course, assassination is not unique to Japan. No democracy has been spared the murderous attentions of political killers. What was disturbing about this assassination was its immediate aftermath. A sense of denial seemed to kick in automatically, as if Japan's first political assassination since 1960 was too traumatic to digest. One major newspaper changed its early edition headline from 'Lawmaker assassinated' to 'Lawmaker stabbed to death by assailant resembling a right-winger'. The obfuscation was obvious. No sooner had Hakusui Ito turned himself in on Saturday and confessed to the killing than various reasons for his act were trotted out. He had sought financial help from the murdered politician, who turned him away; they had had a 'disagreement of viewpoints'; the assassin had harassed his victim for months beforehand, badgering him for money, asking for help with rent. The excuses were paraded to give the killing a less political dimension, to make it look like a disagreement over money. When ultra-rightists carry out an assassination it must be played down, explained away as 'nothing to do with politics'. Nobody is suggesting that Japan will become a military state in the foreseeable future, but the building blocks for such a state are disturbingly visible on the streets of Tokyo - from the schoolboys in their Prussian-style uniforms with brass buttons, to the menacing black sound trucks which blare out nationalist propaganda and to which police turn a deaf ear, the Yasukuni shrine to Japan's war dead, which glorifies its militaristic past, and those who deny the rape of Nanking and other atrocities of the Imperial Army occurred. Immediately after World War II, Japan experienced its only time of true liberalisation. Trade unions were allowed, political debate and dissent encouraged. But then the occupying Americans became chilled by the Cold War and reversed course. War criminals were rehabilitated and political stability became the watchword. Beliefs that sustained and nourished the extreme right were never challenged, as they were in post-war West Germany. Imagine the outrage if a truck bearing symbols of the SS and blaring out wartime propaganda paraded down Berlin's Kurfurstendamm today as policemen stood idly by. Impossible, yet an equivalent occurs in Tokyo daily. In Japan where the defeat of militarism, not militarism itself, has been discredited, the reminders of a militaristic era are an everyday sight, and its people are blind to their menace.