Love of nation has become a hot political debate topic in Japan.

Many Japanese are arguably reluctant to wave the flag, some out of a sense of guilt for what the symbol once stood for, and the bitter memories it conjures up. Then there are the countless elderly people across Asia who can recall Japan’s half-century of expansionism — beginning with its making Taiwan a colony in 1895. For them, the mere sight of an unfurled Hinomaru flag recalls Japan’s brutal Imperialist oppression.

So it came as little surprise that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party met resistance from liberal lawmakers when it tried to include “patriotism” among ideals laid out in the Fundamental Law of Education. The conservative LDP prevailed and the revision was passed into law in December.

Now that the LDP is trying to replace the U.S.-imposed Constitution and infuse that, too, with a sense of patriotism, a similar furor has erupted.

Yoshiko Sakurai, 61, a well-known former TV anchor and staunch advocate of a clearly patriotic Constitution, wants to know what all the fuss is about.

“I wonder why it is such a big problem. No one has given me a satisfactory explanation,” Sakurai, whose soft-spoken yet frank commentaries are a mainstay of monthly journals and Sunday-morning talk shows, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “It is irrational to say that inclusion of ‘patriotism’ in the preamble of the Constitution would send Japan reeling back into fascism.”

First off, she said, Japan should point out to anybody worried about resurgent militarism that six decades after the war the country has not used its de facto military to launch a single act of overseas aggression.

With the war fading into memory, LDP heavyweights have dreamed of enshrining patriotism in a new Constitution. A proposal drafted by the party in 2004 stated a new charter should “spell out the basic meaning of nationhood and clarify what the relationship is between a nation and its people. As a result, a spirit of patriotism will naturally sprout among the hearts of the people.”

The latest version, however, urges only that, “Japanese people share the responsibility of supporting and protecting the country and society to which they belong, with love, responsibility and mettle.” In the Japanese wording, the characters for “love” and “country,” which when combined mean “patriotism,” have been separated in an apparent effort to avoid controversy — a fact that draws Sakurai’s ire.

“(Lawmakers’) indecisiveness is more pitiful than surprising. They cannot even express ‘love of nation’ clearly,’ ” Sakurai wrote in her 2006 book “Kedakaku, Tsuyoku, Utsukushiku Are” (“Be Noble, Strong and Beautiful),” in which she enumerated several proposed changes to the Constitution.

Sakurai said the revised draft was “a result of concessions” with coalition partner New Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization and a staunch proponent of pacifism.

Sakurai brushed off the argument, popular with Japanese liberals, that patriotism should be a natural outgrowth of a contented citizenry rather than something imposed by Constitutional decree. “It is overly optimistic, and misses the point, to say that happiness makes you naturally patriotic,” Sakurai said.

Sakurai added, “The Japanese people lost sight of our nation after the second world war.” The Jan. 19, 1960, signing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States brought Japan under the U.S. defense aegis amid expanding Cold War tensions, she said.

As a result, Japan’s foreign policy slavishly followed that of the U.S. while leaders focused instead on revving up the economic engine and fostering consumerism, she said.

“What has emerged (since the end of the war) is the concept that as long as everybody is well off, life is perfectly satisfactory,” she said.

In her 2006 book, Sakurai devotes a chapter to education and family in which she criticizes the heavy emphasis on individualism embodied in the Constitution. In this view, she is like many other conservatives who consider the legal document too imbued with American political thought.

Although personal liberty is important, the new Constitution should place greater emphasis on family in line with traditional values and reflect Japan’s own culture, civilization, climate and land, Sakurai said.

It should also clearly describe the Emperor as head of state, representing the country but without the right to rule. The Constitution now calls the Emperor “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”

Also, in line with the socially conservative stance of much of the LDP, Sakurai rejected calls to allow a woman to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

As she put it in her book, the emperor system has been the center of the country’s spiritual culture for 2,660 years, or 125 generations, and the tradition to continue the Imperial line through male descendants should not be stopped.

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