Shin Kawashima recalls his heart sinking with the reelection of Shinzo Abe. A specialist in Asian diplomatic history at the University of Tokyo, Kawashima has spent years trying to narrow the gap between Japan and China's strikingly different interpretations of wartime history. The election could undo much of this work, he fears. "If we think about what could happen over the next few years," he says, "it's frightening."

Half of Abe's 19-member Cabinet belong to a parliamentary association for "reflecting" on history education, or revisionists who deny Japan's worst crimes from World War II. Education minister Hakubun Shimomura has said he wants to revoke not just the landmark 1995 Murayama Statement, expressing remorse to Asia for Japan's wartime atrocities, but even the verdicts of the U.S.-led 1946-48 Tokyo war crimes trials.

In January, Abe revived a panel on education reform many historians predict will put his revisionist theories into practice. One of the panel's declared aims is to demand rewrites of high school history textbooks, removing "disputed" facts. It also wants to eliminate the so-called neighboring-country clause, which gives "consideration" to Chinese and Korean sentiments about the war.