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Japan’s New Islands?

Nationalism makes a comeback.

Jul 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 43 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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Back in 2007, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe used the sixtieth anniversary of the ratification of the postwar constitution to call for a “bold review of Japan’s postwar stance and an in-depth discussion of the constitution.” Abe’s tenure lasted less than a year, though, and no constitutional changes were made. Altering the constitution, after all, is hard: It requires two-thirds passage in both houses of the Diet, followed by a successful referendum. Changes are probably unlikely in the immediate future, too, given that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has a moribund economy, a nuclear disaster, and massive post-tsunami reconstruction on the country’s northeast coast to deal with.

But revisions to Article 9 certainly can’t be counted out, especially a few years from now. Given that the Japanese constitution was drawn up under the guidance of the occupying Allies, it doesn’t inspire the kind of reverence that, say, the American Constitution does. What’s more, experts on Japanese public opinion say that the younger generation is much more nationalistic and much less inclined towards pacifism than previous postwar generations of Japanese. 

There is also ample evidence that public opinion is already pushing the national government in a more aggressive direction, even without constitutional changes. This month, some three months after Ishihara’s initial provocation, Prime Minster Noda bowed to public pressure and declared that it is now the policy of the national (not just Tokyo) government to purchase the Senkakus. And that Japanese ambassador to China who condemned Ishihara’s plan to buy the islands? Members of the Diet have demanded he be fired, and last week he was recalled to Tokyo for “discussions.”

Ethan Epstein is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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