The past year has seen a number of tensions and tugs-of-war, as conservatives promoted past glories and preservation of the status quo while liberals lobbied for unprecedented levels of tolerance. This year’s Community quotes of the year column will break with tradition by not giving a guided tour of the year through quotations, but rather letting the words stand alone as capsule testaments to the zeitgeist.
“I cannot think of a strategic partnership that can exercise a more profound influence on shaping the course of Asia and our interlinked ocean regions more than ours. In a world of intense international engagements, few visits are truly historic or change the course of a relationship. Your visit, Mr. Prime Minister, is one.”
— Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe’s December trip to India, where agreements were reached on infrastructure investment (including a much-feted high-speed train), nuclear energy cooperation, classified intelligence sharing and military hardware sales to deter China from encroaching upon the Indian Ocean.
“Since taking office, I’ve worked to rebalance American foreign policy to ensure that we’re playing a larger and lasting role in the Asia Pacific — a policy grounded in our treaty alliances, including our treaty with Japan. And I’m grateful to Shinzo for his deep commitment to that alliance. He is pursuing a vision of Japan where the Japanese economy is reinvigorated and where Japan makes greater contributions to security and peace in the region and around the world.”
— U.S. President Barack Obama, during a joint news conference marking Abe’s visit to the United States in April, during which he became the first Japanese leader to address both houses of Congress.
“If Japan gets attacked, we have to immediately go to their aid. If we get attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us.”
— Donald Trump, leading U.S. Republican presidential candidate, on the stump.
“Administrative bodies must leave records. Without records, how could the public as well as experts examine the process in the future?”
— Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University, commenting in September on the Abe administration’s lack of records on internal discussions behind the historical reinterpretation of the Constitution in 2014, which led to the lifting of the long-held ban on collective self-defense, potentially enabling Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.
“Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable. … I will pledge assistance of a total of about $200 million for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure and so on.”
— Prime Minister Abe in January, pledging nonmilitary assistance for Middle Eastern countries battling the Islamic State group.
“Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
— Terrorist “Jihadi John” of the Islamic State group, in a video message to the Japanese government in January, moments before beheading journalist Kenji Goto.
“The Japanese government didn’t make due efforts to save my son. It was simply remiss in its duties. I believe my son died a tragic death because the government did nothing. I demand that it conduct a thorough soul-searching.”
— Junko Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, in a statement in May denouncing the Japanese government’s handling of the hostage crisis.
“There are 100 million voters in Japan. What percent of them are protesting in front of the Diet? The number is insignificant. I’m not denying their right to protest. But it’s wrong for the national will to be decided by such a small number of demonstrators.”
— Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, regarding a demonstration in August that organizers said drew 120,000 people to protest security legislation that paves the way for the deployment of Japanese troops abroad to fight in defense of allies even when Japan is not directly threatened.
“Their claims are based on their self-centered and extremely egoistic thinking that they don’t want to go to war. We can blame postwar education for such widespread selfish individualism.”
— Liberal Democratic Party Diet Member Takaya Muto, 36, criticizing university students protesting the aforementioned security bills in August.
“Since we started our activities as an ‘emergency action,’ and many of our members are slated to graduate from universities soon, SEALDs will dissolve after next summer’s Upper House election. After that, if individual persons want to take action or create another movement, they are free to do so.”
— Mana Shibata, 22, organizer of the prominent Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, speaking at a news conference in October at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
“In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed 80 percent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.”
— Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August.
“Focusing on the vocabulary, some observers failed to notice that Abe had embedded these words (of apology and remorse) in a narrative of Japanese history that was entirely different from the one that underpinned previous prime ministerial statements. That is why his statement is so much longer than theirs. So which past is the Abe statement engraving in the hearts of Japanese citizens? … The problem with Abe’s new narrative is that it is historically wrong.”
— Historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki commenting shortly afterwards on how Abe’s WWII statement failed History 101.
“Regarding the ‘comfort women’ issue, I can’t see an official government stance on it yet. So for that reason, I think it’s very important to consider very prudently whether it is appropriate for us to take it up for broadcast.”
— NHK Director-General Katsuto Momii, revealing the national broadcaster’s lack of independence from the government vis-a-vis reporting on issues surrounding Japan’s government-sanctioned wartime sexual slavery.
“It’s not only pre-war nostalgia. He needed to step up the rhetoric for the election. But I don’t think it’s coincidental that something related to wartime propaganda came up.”
— Sven Saaler, history professor at Sophia University, on Abe’s new goal of building a “Society in which all 100 million people can play an active role,” and how it is redolent of an old martial mobilization slogan.
“People come up to me every day and ask, ‘What happened to women’s empowerment?’ “
— Masako Mori, former Cabinet minister in charge of dealing with the low birthrate, noting how as soon as Abe launched his “100 million active people” catchphrase in September, his previous one about empowering women disappeared.
“There’s something wrong about exploiting underprivileged women from abroad to do household work in the name of boosting female labor participation in Japan. Men’s share of housework has not yet been discussed sufficiently.”
— Motoko Yamagishi, secretary-general of Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, speaking in November about the foreign workers being imported as maids and household workers on an experimental basis in Osaka and Kanagawa, which have been designated as “special economic zones” where some labor protections do not apply.
“When I was a member of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, I had a bitter feeling that foreign reporters who don’t understand the Japanese language are filing biased ‘anti-Japan’ articles worldwide. How about Japan making Japanese language ability a condition for issuing a visa? That might lead to a correct understanding of Japan.”
— Author Noburu Okabe in a column earlier this month in the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
“After 20 to 30 years knowing the situation in the Republic of South Africa, I have come to believe that whites, Asians and blacks should be separated and live in different residential areas.”
— Ayako Sono, novelist and former Abe Cabinet adviser on education reform, in another Sankei Shimbun column — this time in February — suggesting that an apartheid-style policy be instituted in Japan.
“Already we have more foreigners than registered dogs.”
— Hiroaki Noguchi, a LDP assemblyman in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, while asking questions earlier this month about the number of foreign residents who had allegedly not paid their taxes.
“Municipalities can offer the biggest support to same-sex couples who face hardships in everyday life. We want to deliver this message: Don’t worry on your own, we are with you.”
— Tomoko Nakagawa, mayor of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, which announced in November that it was joining two Tokyo wards in legally recognizing same-sex partnerships as being equivalent to marriage.
“Other advanced countries prioritize political education. Things like mock elections should be promoted for students in Japan. If young people aren’t encouraged to participate in politics, we’ll end up with politics only for the elderly.”
— Tokyo University education professor Shigeo Kodama, commenting in the leadup to the lowering of Japan’s legal voting age from 20 to 18 in June.
“Young people aren’t hanging around places for a long time as much as they used to. It’s tough to know what they’re doing and where. Police haven’t been able to keep up with the spread of social networks. It’s getting harder to grasp what’s happening.”
— An unnamed senior National Police Agency official speaking in March about the effects of social media on Japan’s youth.
“If you come across children alone at night, please ask them, ‘What are you doing?’ If this is difficult, it’s also OK to contact the police and other authorities.”
— Mieko Miyata, director of the Japan Research Institute of Safer Child Education, speaking after two junior high school children were found dead after they had spent a night hanging around the streets of Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, in August.
“The Self-Defense Forces are trying to brainwash students without leaving any evidence behind.”
— Parent of a school student in Shiga, complaining in October about the SDF distributing recruitment messages on toilet paper to six junior high schools in the prefecture.
Debito Arudou writes the Just Be Cause column. His latest book, “Embedded Racism,” is available from Amazon, or directly from the publisher with 30 percent off. See www.debito.org/embeddedracism.html. Twitter: @arudoudebito. Your comments and story ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org