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Debate continues over Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s statement last month that Japan is “a country of gods with the Emperor at its center.”

The mass media jumped on Mori for the comment, saying he was trying to revive the militarism of Imperial Japan. Opposition lawmakers said Mori was unfit for his job. Waves of critical comments came from officials of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Japan Communist Party.

To quell the confusion, Mori was forced to explain his remarks — once before the full House of Councilors and then at a special news conference. He made these points:

* He had no intention of reviving the militaristic Japanese empire, in which the Emperor was considered divine.

* The Emperor is not a god, but a symbol of a united nation. He had no intention of worshipping the Emperor as a god.

* He was not talking about gods worshipped by a specific religion, when he said Japan is a country of gods.

* He intended to protect parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of the press.

I was satisfied by Mori’s explanations.

Under the Imperial system, the Japanese were forced to worship the Emperor as a god and sacrifice their lives for the god. Japanese, as children of the god, were required to use military force under his orders. That was the only purpose of life.

Close examination of Mori’s explanations reveals that he was not advocating a reversion to the value system of Imperial Japan.

But the mass media and opposition forces continue barking at Mori. People sometimes make misleading remarks and fail to explain them. Detailed explanations usually clear up doubts. People are fed up with the unrelenting criticism by the media and the opposition, which suspect Mori is dissembling.

Nonetheless, Mori’s statement that “Japan is a country of gods with the Emperor at its center” contravenes the Constitution, which stipulates that sovereignty rests with the people. The people are at the center of the nation. Mori was mistaken there.

The gaffe may raise questions about Mori’s fitness as prime minister, as the opposition parties say, but he says he has no intention of reviving the old Imperial system. We should smile and forgive his slip of the tongue.

I have known Mori for 20 years and I know what he is talking about. Mori made some careless, misleading remarks, but the opposition’s demand for his resignation smacks of electioneering.

Mori made matters worse early this month by talking about the need to protect “kokutai,” a term used in Imperial Japan to refer to a national polity centering on the Emperor. He should have been more careful with his language.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, as prime minister, caused a furor when he said the United States is a melting pot of people with different skin colors, such as blacks and Hispanics. Nakasone apologized after various U.S. groups criticized his remarks. The furor started because many people suspected that his remarks had racist connotations. The late Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira once told me that the United States is a “colorful country.” He did not mention blacks, Caucasians, Orientals and other races.

Mori should learn from the remarks and jokes made by his wise predecessors, such as Shigeru Yoshida.

Following Mori’s gaffe, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party faces an uphill struggle in the June 25 election. I doubt, however, if the DPJ, the top opposition party, will win a majority in the Lower House. The LDP could win a majority by hard campaigning.

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