Abe’s base aims to restore past religious, patriotic values



As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promises voters a bright future for Japan’s economy, key parts of his conservative base want him to steer the nation back toward a traditional ethos mixing Shinto myth, patriotism and pride in the ancient Imperial line.

Proponents say such changes are needed to revive important aspects of Japanese culture eradicated by the U.S. Occupation after World War II and to counter modern materialism.

Critics say they mirror the Shinto ideology that mobilized the masses to fight the war in the name of a divine emperor. The legacy of that war still haunts ties with China and South Korea nearly 70 years after its end.

A predicted landslide win by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday’s general election, which is being called a referendum on his economic growth policies, and prospects Abe may become a rare long-term Japanese leader have given his ardent supporters their best chance in decades of achieving their goals.

“We really have trust in him,” said Yutaka Yuzawa, director of the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership, or SAS, the political arm of the Association of Shinto Shrines. The group, which counts Abe as a member, is one of a network of overlapping organizations sharing a similar agenda.

“The prime minister’s views are extremely close to our way of thinking,” Yuzawa said in an interview.

Among the key elements of the SAS agenda are calls to rewrite Japan’s U.S.-drafted, postwar Constitution, not only to alter its pacifist Article 9 but to blur the separation of religion and state. Education reform, to better nurture love of country among youth, is another top priority.

“After the war, there was an atmosphere that considered all aspects of the prewar era bad,” Yuzawa said. “Policies were adopted weakening the relationship between the Imperial household and the people . . . and the most fundamental elements of Japanese history were not taught in the schools.”

Similar concerns drive other organizations such as Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a broader lobby group for which Abe serves as a “supreme adviser.”

Experts see parallels between these groups and the U.S. Tea Party movement, with its calls to restore lost American values.

“Nippon Kaigi and the Shinto Association basically believe the Occupation period brought about . . . the forced removal of Shinto traditions from public space and public institutions,” said University of Auckland professor Mark Mullins.

“For them, this was authentic Japanese identity . . . and to be an independent and authentic Japan again those things need to be restored.”

Abe has long been close to such groups, but they have increased their reach since his first 2006-2007 term as leader.

Membership data show 301 members of the Diet, mostly from the LDP, are affiliated with SAS, including 222 in the 480-seat Lower House before the dissolution. A Nippon Kaigi caucus had 295 members, including some opposition MPs.

Members of the groups are central to Abe’s administration.

Nippon Kaigi supporters accounted for 84 percent of Abe’s Cabinet after it was shuffled in September and almost all of the ministers were affiliated with the SAS. Eighty-four percent also belonged to a separate caucus promoting visits to Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Abe’s December 2013 visit to Yasukuni sparked outrage in Beijing and Seoul. Far less attention was paid to what some see as his equally symbolic participation in October that year in a ceremony at Ise Shrine, the holiest of Japan’s Shinto institutions.

The ritual is held every 20 years, when Ise Shrine is rebuilt and sacred objects representing the Emperor’s mythical Sun Goddess ancestress are transferred to the new shrine.

Abe became only the second prime minister to take part in the centuries-old ritual, and the first since World War II.

“Without anyone blinking an eye . . . it became a state rite,” said John Breen, a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, commenting on Abe’s participation.

The lobby groups are also active at the grass roots.

On Oct. 1, they launched the “People’s Council to Write a Beautiful Constitution” to boost support for revising the charter in 2016.

Amending the Constitution faces big hurdles even if the LDP succeeds in winning two-thirds of both chambers, since a majority of voters must then approve the changes in a referendum.

But other parts of the conservative agenda are moving ahead, such as making “moral education” part of the official school curriculum with government-approved textbooks, a change slated to take effect in 2018.

That follows a revision to a law on education during Abe’s first term to make nurturing “love of country” a goal.

“Things related to patriotic education are getting pushed through and institutionalized so they are shaping the next generation, whether parents know or think about it or not,” the University of Auckland’s Mullins said.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Welcome to the Meiji Restoration II. Shinto, patriotism, and a divine emperor? Didn’t this type of thing lead to some problems in the 1930s? What’s next, re-annexing Korea?

  • tiger

    It’s a sad state of affairs and I don’t think it will bode well for the future of Japan. Anyway, if Japan ever wants another war, we will make sure Japan is on the receiving end this time.

  • Ahojanen

    Some of the LDP’s slogans “Japan is back”, or “Bring back (the glorious past?) Japan!” seem to me a bit odd and off-the-mark (aimed by the Abenomics’ three arrows?). For the country is now facing unprecedented challenges, namely its rapid population decline and aging. Japan cannot simply refer to its past successful cases to apply further them for these emerging challenges. It can hardly find any ideal models overseas like “clouds above the uphill (after a Shiba Ryotaro’s masterpiece 坂の上の雲). ”

    Japan now needs to set sail itself for uncharted waters, and Japanese people/passengers seek a captain who are brave, sensible as well as innovative.

  • rossdorn

    All of these commentaries simply ignore one fact.

    These governments are elected by a majority of valid votes, that is the way democracy works. The responsibility lies squarely with the people, and no one else.
    All of Japan’s governments and its politics have been and will be identical, only the faces change. That these people want to hang on to their priviliges is totally normal, and that this made possible by the people of Japan, sadly enough, is also totally normal.

    It is the rest of the world that has changed. China no longer is a third or even fourth world country. Economically it has passed Japan long ago and now already even the USA, soon it will be number one, not only in Asia.
    And there is no way Japan will not have to pay the prize for not being able to get out of america’s clutches…. it will be expensive.

  • Barbara Trout

    This present LDP-dominated government is elected because many Japanese did not vote. Only 53% voted in the last election for the Upper House, 59.3% for the last Lower House.

    The elected members are going to stay in the Lower House for the next 4 years. The next 4 years will be good or miserable for you depending on which party is in charge.

    PM Abe has artificially weaken the yen from 80 yen to a dollar to 119 yen to a dollar. This helps companies that export.
    It creates misery and hardship for many companies which import and millions of citizens because imported food, oil, gas, goods, etc. cost much more than before PM Abe.

    By voting for any party except Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito or the Party for Future Generations, you may be able to help :
    (1) revoke the state secrets laws which allows the government to cover up corruption, wasteful spending, and illegal activities, etc..

    (2) stop the sales tax increase which can make your life more miserable and lower your standard of living.

    (3) annul the reinterpretation of the Constitution to
    stop the government from engaging in “expensive” foreign military adventures, etc.. The USA spent at least $2000 billion US dollars or roughly 238 000 billion yen on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    (4) stop more weakening of the yen which makes imported food, oil, gas, goods, etc. more expensive for you.


    Do not vote for the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito or the Party for Future Generations because they all share the same authoritarian policies above and “will take away your constitutional rights”.
    Go vote for the Democratic Party of Japan, Japan Innovation Party, Your Party, etc. on Sunday December 14, 2014.
    You can stop the next “Hideki Tojo” now.

  • timefox

    Overwhelming victory of LDP. For some reason, China and Korea express disappointedly. A prime minister goes and worship at Yasukuni-jinja where the Japanese killed by a foreigner in the end of the year is deified. A victim faces, and China and Korea express disappointment. Is this part a template?

  • Gordon Graham

    This guy should be focusing on the economy not getting drunk on self-aggrandizement. Someone please take his mic away and give him a calculator.

  • GBR48

    Politicians globally are rarely young people. They are usually over 40 and often in their 50s. When we reach that age, we get nervous. The world around us has changed from how it was when we were growing up, forming our opinions, deciding what was good and bad in the way the world worked, and how it could be fixed.

    The best way of dealing with this is not to try to change the present and future so that it better suits us and our increasingly obsolete world view, but rather to engineer a world that is free from the prejudice we carry from our own past, indoctrinated into us by our education, the media and our parents in a world long gone.

    A good politician does not attempt to turn back the clock, but tries to build a better world than they have experienced, even if that world may seem alien to them. Politicians who govern for their own, passing generation, with a mindset from the past, will poison the future for their children.

    No government needs to indoctrinate its children at school with nationalist text books to force them to love their country. They just need to do their job and create a country their children will love and be proud of by their own volition. So make it beautiful, just, fair, honest, open, safe and peaceful. Politicians everywhere can accomplish this by wiping away secrecy, lies, criminality, fraud, racism, discrimination, xenophobia, poverty, and gender inequality.

    Replacing history with propaganda in schools (something right-wing regimes do, globally) merely stores up trouble for the future. Leave school history texts to historians. They are good at it. It’s their job.

    Young Japanese people I’ve met are passionate about their country and their rich cultural heritage-they don’t need to be told what to think by their government. Trust your children a bit more.

    If you want to make the future a better place than the past, instead of lessons in nationalism, use that time to start teaching English from the first day of school. It is the default second language of global communications and trade, and a great asset on a CV. And then set up online video links between Japanese, Korean and Chinese schools, so children can learn English together, and get to know each other.

    Such activities do not cost money and schools don’t even need a mandate from government to initiate them. High school students themselves can even set up such links in an after school club, using the school network.

    Without going the full Rousseau, if you don’t indoctrinate Japanese, Korean and Chinese children with a distrust of each other, they will discover that they are not that dissimilar, and they will get on with each other. That is not a bad thing. If you think it is, maybe you need to take a long look at your own values and consider how much your own parents and the media indoctrinated you as a child, and filled you with prejudice.

    We all have the opportunity to be the people who end that cycle of prejudice.

    If our politicians, globally, are intent on stirring up division and prejudice for their own petty ends, the internet now allows all of us to network with people from other nations and form bonds that offer the hope of change for the better in the future. International diplomacy is no longer the sole purview of governments. We can all make friends across international divides. Schools and universities are good places to start.