The 9/11 terrorist attacks five years ago added a new page to world history, posing a new threat to global security. Following the attacks, the Bush administration in the United States demanded that the international community choose between democracy and dictatorship, between good and evil. Calling for eradication of terrorism and abolition of weapons of mass destruction, the administration has pursued a hardline policy in the Afghan and Iraq wars and over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Bush administration’s strategy of trying to spread U.S.-style democracy in the Middle East has angered not only Arab nations but the entire Islamic community, including in Asia and Africa.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s five-year rule has coincided with the Bush administration’s new diplomatic initiatives. Japanese diplomatic and security policies have dramatically changed, underscoring the Japan-U.S. alliance in the world and providing justification for the dispatch of Self-Defense Force ships to the Indian Ocean and ground troops to Iraq to support allied forces in the war against terrorism.

Koizumi, who assumed power with a pledge to push structural domestic reforms, adopted a top-down style of policymaking. “Yes-or-no” answers from the coalition became a de facto loyalty test. A typical example was his decision to dissolve the Lower House after the Upper House rejected legislation related to his plan to privatize the postal service.

Koizumi set about to fight the “resistance forces” in the ruling coalition and the government, since they, rather than the fragile opposition, were viewed as “archenemies.” Thanks to strong public support of this strategy, Koizumi has consistently maintained popularity ratings of around 50 percent, which is unusual among postwar administrations. However, Koizumi has failed to fully explain key policies to the public, resorting instead to political one-liners.

Under Koizumi’s rule, Japan is staging a strong economic recovery, emerging from the “lost decade” of stagnation that followed the bursting of the bubble. However, public opinion has changed greatly in the past five years, indicating that people are perplexed by the international and domestic turmoil.

In an opinion poll conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2005, four items posted sharp drops as “sources of pride” for Japan, compared to 15 years earlier:

“Public safety” fell more than 30 percentage points to 18 percent.

“High educational standards” dropped 17 points to 13 percent.

“Economic prosperity” decreased 16 points to 10 percent.

“Social stability” fell 7 points to 9 percent.

The data suggest that the Japanese system — in which a combination of high educational standards and public safety have supported economic expansion and helped maintain social stability — is beginning to crumble.

A number of factors are behind the phenomenon, including an increase in unemployment during the long recession, wider gaps between the rich and poor, collapse of the family system as indicated by child abuse and parenticide, and a surge in serious crimes.

By contrast, the rating of other items such as “long history and tradition” and “superb culture and arts” changed little as “sources of pride.” Thus it would appear that families, schools, companies, government offices and other important units in Japanese society are on the verge of a meltdown.

Public perceptions about the government have also changed a lot. In the Cabinet Office survey, the proportion of respondents who said government policies reflected public opinion was 18 percent, half of the 36 percent posted 20 years earlier. The ratio of respondents who felt otherwise jumped 30 points to 76 percent. This shows that an overwhelming majority of the public distrusts politics.

Furthermore, public perceptions have changed regarding international relations. According to the poll, the ratio of respondents who mentioned “antiterrorism” measures as a crucial area of international cooperation jumped to 54 percent from 24 percent in 1997.

The percentage of respondents who felt affinity toward China fell to a record low 32 percent from 78 percent in 1980, while that of respondents who felt otherwise jumped to 63 percent from 14 percent over the same period.

The Chinese government’s persistent criticism of Koizumi’s controversial visits to Yasukuni Shrine and mass anti-Japanese demonstrations in China have pushed anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan higher in the past two years. Anti-China sentiment in Japan has continued to worsen for 25 years now.

If the emergence of China as a major power has led to a surge in nationalism in both countries, it is a dangerous sign in international politics.

Meanwhile, the ratio of respondents who supported active overseas economic cooperation fell to about one-half from 15 years earlier. The percentage of respondents favoring minimum aid increased threefold. In 2002, the percentage of pollees who had reservations about aid exceeded that of active-aid advocates.

These figures are not unrelated to the Japanese economic recession, but the increasing “inward-looking attitude” of Japanese affects the nation’s international prestige.

Despite the Cabinet Office’s opinion polls, the government has failed to reflect the results in major policy challenges. The government should closely monitor changes in public opinion in trying to accomplish the nation’s goals. That is the major challenge for the post-Koizumi administration.

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