In “The Japanese,” Japanologist and former U.S. ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer wrote that “no people have committed themselves more enthusiastically to internationalism than the Japanese or have so specifically repudiated nationalism.”
“One need only scratch the surface, however, to discover the superficialities of their internationalism and the strong sense of separateness the Japanese feel.”
Indeed, he wrote, “most Japanese so strongly identify themselves with their country and their fellow Japanese that they have no need for the word ‘patriotism’ or for patriotic symbols.”
Reischauer’s analysis notwithstanding, there is a growing movement within the Japanese government to foster patriotism, ostensibly to “adjust to today’s internationalized society” and play a more confident global role.
However, the manner in which it is seeking to reinforce the Japanese sense of distinctiveness will likely have negative implications for the international community and minorities within Japan.
Revisions to the Fundamental Law of Education, enacted in 1947 and the backbone of the nation’s education system have lately been the focus of considerable debate. The Liberal Democratic Party, has sought to revise the law, arguing that the concepts of “love of one’s country and hometown” and “public minds and morality” be included in a revised law in order to foster patriotism at schools.
Coalition partner New Komeito has opposed the amendments, arguing that such steps might lead to unhealthy Japanese nationalism.
However, while champions of the fostering of patriotism have been careful that such steps not be reminiscent of war-time nationalism, the model upon which a patriotism policy would be based is the Imperial Rescript on Education (“kyo-iku chokugo”), a formal statement of Imperial Japan’s educational ideology, designed to imbue a strong moral sense.
According to philosopher Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and author of “Mind” and War,” current moves to foster patriotism in schools is not wholly different from the imperial model.
“Education Minister Takeo Kawamura said back in 1999 when they started actively revising the law, that ‘we’ll discuss (the revision of the law issue), while keeping in mind the Imperial Rescript of the Heisei era.’ The model of the new law is the war-time document.”
Under the Imperial Rescript, which sought to produce loyal, obedient, productive and patriotic Japanese citizens, students were taught to think of themselves as the “emperor’s children.”
This war-time patriotism was formed by inculcating school children with the belief that the Japanese nation and people were unique, through readings and history classes.
And, says Takahashi, “a similar thing has already happened, even before the law is revised.”
By 2003, the government had already invested more than 1 billion yen in producing ‘Notebook of Mind’ (“kokoro-no-note”), which was distributed to all public elementary and junior high schools throughout the country in spring 2002. This book, used for moral education at schools, tells students how “beautiful and worthy of love (their) home country is.”
“There are four versions of this notebook, for first through sixth grade and junior high students. These books are designed to form students’ way of thinking for a total of nine years,” says Takahashi.
“This notebook is used not only in classes, but is supposed to be used any time a student wants to open it and write down their thoughts. This is exactly how the Imperial Rescript of Education functioned to foster patriotism; a means of infiltrating people’s lives.
“The real motive of the government for pushing this policy is to build a ‘Japanese national spirit’ which can support, respect and admire what the Self Defense Forces (SDF) do overseas.”
“But ‘Notebook of Mind’ is also a danger call also for minorities living in Japan,” believes Takahashi. “The book speaks only about the majority’s Japan, without acknowledging any minorities’ existence or culture, such as Ainu or Okinawan. These minorities, to say nothing of foreign people living in Japan, are ignored in the book.”
Even though the government repeatedly says “exclusive patriotism is not good,” and used words such as “internationalization” and “globalization,” in framing its patriotic education policy, the concept of these books is already essentially exclusive. “This way of fostering patriotism will bring about further discrimination against minorities living in Japan for sure,” says Takahashi.
Indeed, the government’s education policy may not be unrelated to the denial of permanent foreign residents a vote in local elections. Japan Conference, an NGO with strong connections to the LDP is thought to have influenced the government’s forming of a patriotism policy.
Japan Conference’s sister organization, the “Diet member’s committee of Japan Conference,” is composed of about 240 members from the Houses of Representatives and Councilors, and its chairman, Taro Aso, also heads the LDP’s advisory panel on revision of the educational law.
Japan Conference’s aims include respecting the Imperial Family, revising the Constitution and the Fundamental Law of Education, contributing to world affairs and developing friendly relations with other countries. They also oppose granting suffrage to permanent foreign residents. Japan Conference is also said to have encouraged the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to make the Notebook of Mind. A representative of Japan Conference denied any relationship with the book.
There may, however, be another way for “outsiders” to join a united Japanese society, believes Akira Kurihara, a sociology professor at Meiji University. “Even though today’s patriotic education policy ignores minorities in a clearly discriminatory way, the government will surely target them as subjects of this patriotic education in the future.
“From an economic view, Japan cannot avoid accepting immigrants, and these immigrants, probably low-paid workers, may be offered citizenship and the rights that accompany it. However, in return, they will be expected to join the SDF.”
The Fifth World Youth Survey conducted by the Japanese government, asked: “Can you sacrifice self-interest for national interest.” Eleven percent of Japanese youth surveyed said “yes,” compared to 36.7 percent of Americans and 44.7 percent of Koreans.
It may prove difficult in the future, based on these kinds of results, to find enough Japanese young people patriotic enough to join the SDF, whose obligations overseas in the aftermath of the dispatch of troops to Iraq, may seem dangerous work that Japanese would expect only low-paid workers to do. Joining the SDF and risking their lives may well become an officially sanctioned shortcut for foreigners to get citizenship.
Kurihara is concerned that if the government’s policy of fostering patriotism doesn’t succeed, it may then be time for the “outsiders” to get their chance to co-exist in Japan.
However, the possibly damaging effects of the patriotism policy are not limited to minorities, as many Japanese school teachers are not especially willing to cooperate.
“I don’t want to teach an answer prepared by the government, and I don’t think it’s right to tell students what they should think,” says one teacher at a public elementary school in Tokyo.
However, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education has taken measures designed to force teachers to sing the “Kimigayo” and show their respect toward the “Hinomaru,” essentially depriving teachers of the right to freedom of though and conscience.
“Depriving teachers of this right means depriving students of it. However, if patriotic education was legitimized by a change in the education law, our constitutional rights will be denied,” she said.
The board announced on March 30 that it would punish teachers in Tokyo who refused to stand up and sing the anthem at graduation ceremonies. While the specifics of the punishment have not been released, there will likely be “pay cuts, black marks on their records and firings,” one source told The Japan Times.
Ceremonial patriotism has not been the only source of controversy.
In the summer of 2002, 69 elementary schools in Fukuoka City introduced items into sixth grade report cards to allow for evaluation of students’ “love of the nation” and “awareness as Japanese.” According to reports, some 172 schools nationwide have introduced these cards.
This is a worrying development, believes Lee Han Eun, vice chairman of Uri Safe, a Fukuoka-based group of Korean residents and Japanese.
“Many Korean children go to schools with Japanese names, and are in the same classrooms with their Japanese friends. But once they get the report cards, they will get nervous and feel ‘my background will be found out, I will be bullied,’ ” says Lee. “We’ve long felt ignored in society,” he says, “but this time we feel denied even our existence.”