Various opinions are noisily expressed at home and abroad on the content of a statement Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to issue this summer to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Some say the statement should place more emphasis on what Japan intends to do in the future while others prefer to see Abe express remorse over what Japan did, especially to its neighbors before and during the war.
In view of the dramatic changes in the international situation, those who like to see Japan look more to the future think that expression of “excessive remorse” would be a step backward.
Abe may be thinking that his policy regarding the statement is being obstructed by China and South Korea, on one hand, and by the “left-leaning” media, on the other. But the circumstances are a bit more complicated.
Shortly after Abe organized a group of knowledgeable persons to deliberate on the content of his statement, Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan and deputy head of the panel, said he would very much like to have the prime minister admit that Japan had committed aggression.
Even discounting the fact that those words came at a symposium attended by many non-Japanese members of the media in the presence of a Foreign Ministry press officer, his remark’s nuance appears somewhat difficult to determine. It sounds as if Kitaoka had given up hope of persuading Abe to acknowledge Japan’s aggression and was insinuating that he (Kitaoka) is not to blame if the statement fails to refer to it.
Kitaoka also stated, “We will draft a document incorporating every action that Japan took before and after the war. Which specific points Mr. Abe will select for inclusion in his statement is a different matter. And we are not directly responsible for that.”
This is a resentful complaint about the prime minister’s attitude of not listening to opinions expressed by knowledgeable persons.
There had been an advance hint. In May last year, Kitaoka, deputy head of another panel to discuss amending security-related laws to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, helped write a report that said that to achieve these revisions the Abe administration should change the government’s long-standing interpretation of the Constitution. But the Cabinet decision in July explained that the revisions would be made within the bounds of the traditional constitutional interpretation.
After the view he held for nearly two decades was shelved by Abe, Kitaoka did not bother to hide his bad mood for some time. At the aforementioned symposium, Kitaoka said, “It is not that Mr. Abe and I share same views on all policy matters. It is only that his views and mine are relatively close to each other on national security policy.”
It appears that Kitaoka would like to say that since Abe even did not adopt his view on national security policy, it is all the more logical that the two have different perceptions concerning the nation’s history.
A similar development took place in the course of a debate on whether to raise the consumption tax rate from 8 percent to 10 percent from October this year as scheduled.
The prime minister’s office heard opinions from 45 knowledgeable people from a wide variety of sectors, and about 70 percent of them argued for implementing the tax hike as scheduled. But even before a consensus was reached among them, Abe had decided to dissolve the Lower House for a general election to have voters pass judgment on his call for putting off the tax hike for 18 months through April 2017.
One member of the group said with a touch of self-derision, “Even though our opinions were ignored, nobody protested. What kind of knowledgeable persons are we?”
While he ignored the majority opinion of those knowledgeable people, Abe adopted an opinion calling for putting off the tax hike, which was suggested by two special advisers to the Cabinet — Etsuro Honda, a professor at Shizuoka University, and Koichi Hamada, a professor emeritus at Yale University.
There is a clear line that divides knowledgeable people into those who are “friends” of Abe’s and those who are not. This has something in common with Abe’s political style of pushing an agenda by claiming that election results show that people support it. But this tendency of his cannot be reduced to something attributable to his personal habits and personality.
There is a closer relationship between political power and scholastic knowledge of experts than generally thought. Relationships between those in power and knowledgeable people can serve as a yardstick to gauge the depth of wisdom and insight possessed by political leaders. Maintaining good relationships with knowledgeable persons help people at the helm of government to stay in power for a long time.
Two examples from Japan’s postwar politics are found in former Prime Ministers Eisaku Sato, who was in office from 1964 to 1972, and Yasuhiro Nakasone, from 1982 to 1987. Both were eager to surround themselves with “brains.” In selecting people, they did not reject those who had heretical ideas. They respected knowledge above everything else.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko must be paying keen attention — although unnoticed by most people — to the statement the prime minister is expected to issue on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. In 2013, the year after Abe’s return to power, they issued extraordinary messages on the occasions of their respective birthdays.
In a written response to questions from members of the Imperial Household Agency’s press club on Oct. 20, the Empress noted that debates on the Constitution were becoming much more active than in the past and referred to a meeting of local teachers, landowners and farmers who gathered in the city of Akiruno in Tokyo prior to the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. She wrote that she was greatly moved when she saw the draft constitution written by them.
Her statement went on to say, “I was told that similar draft constitutions were drawn up by the people in more than 40 places across Japan at the time. I was deeply impressed by the strong desire for political participation of the people … and their passionate hopes for the future of our country. As a document of how ordinary citizens in Japan had already developed an awareness of civil rights at the end of the 19th century … I think it is a rare cultural asset in the world.”
A natural interpretation of her words would be that she disagrees with the view that the present Constitution was forced upon Japan after the war by the Occupation forces and that she is concerned with the move by the Abe government to force a constitutional amendment on the people in a top-down manner.
Two months later, on Dec. 18, the Emperor told a press conference, “After the war, Japan was occupied by the Allied forces, and based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld, established the Constitution of Japan, undertook various reforms and built the foundation of Japan that we know today. I have profound gratitude for the efforts made by the Japanese people at the time … I also feel that we must not forget the help extended to us in those days by Americans …”
And on Feb. 21 last year, Crown Prince Naruhito said at a press conference held two days before his birthday, “The Japan of today has been built throughout the postwar period based on the foundation of the Constitution of Japan … I believe that it is important to continue to attend to duties in a manner compliant with the Constitution, while receiving the necessary advice.”
When a reporter asked Yutaka Kawashima, grand chamberlain of the Imperial Household Agency, if the Emperor and the Empress were skeptical about Abe’s call for amending the Constitution, he shouted, “How do you think I can answer such a question?”, breaking wooden chopsticks in anger. His reply is tantamount to giving an affirmative response.
It is undeniable that the opinion of the Imperial Family, derived from their perception of history, is for protecting the values of postwar democracy. This is because Chapter 1 of the Constitution (from Article 1 to Article 8) was devoted to various provisions related to the Emperor in exchange for inclusion of the war-renouncing principle in Chapter 2 (consisting of only Article 9).
Breaking away from the postwar regime as advocated by Abe is nothing other than a defiant political move to file a formal objection to the postwar Imperial Family and to put Japan’s best “knowledgeable and thinking people” into a subordinate position.
This is an abridged translation of an article from the April issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering political, social and economic scenes.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.