Abe and Obama shaking hands at Hiroshima Peace Memorial

On Japan’s brutal wartime record and official Japanese apologies for it, Abe told Time: “In the previous war, Japan has given tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asia. Japan’s postwar era began based on this remorse. Previous Prime Ministers have expressed their feelings of remorse and apology. In my first administration, I also did so.” [Source: Hannah Beech, Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 17, 2014 <^>]

In a speech to a joint meeting of the United States Congress in April 2015,the first such address by a Japanese prime minister, Abe said: “History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone.” He also said: “My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II. Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.” [Source: New York Times, August 14, 2015]

"Earlier in April, Shinzo Abe had expressed remorse for Japan’s war deeds at a conference in Bandung, Indonesia, where he also met President Xi Jinping of China. However, a day after their meeting, three of Mr. Abe’s cabinet ministers visited the Yasukuni Shrine (See Below). In 2013, Abe broke with tradition by not expressing remorse for Japan’s wartime actions in his annual speech on August 15, the day of Japan’s official World War II surrender."

On the 1993 Kono Statement that recognized the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of Asian “comfort women,” which Abe indicated during the 2012 campaign he would like to revise: “At the time of the first Abe administration, a Cabinet decision was made stating that there was no information that shows people were forcibly recruited. Lots of Japanese citizens did not hear that, and it may have not been recognized internationally. I had been saying in the election campaign that this Cabinet decision and the Kono Statement should be considered together. Because I have said this, lots of people are aware of this issue now. As for the Japanese government, we are not considering revising the Kono Statement.” <^>

Abe’s Dangerous Revisionism

According to a New York Times editorial: “Abe’s brand of nationalism” and “his use of revisionist history” are a dangerous provocation for the region, which is already struggling with China’s aggressive stance in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. Mr. Abe’s nationalism can be hard to decipher, because it is not directed against any country. It is directed instead against Japan’s own history since World War II, which he finds shameful. He wants to shed what he calls the self-effacing postwar regime and recreate a renewed patriotism. [Source: New York Times editorial, March 2, 2014 ^^^]

“But before he gets to Japan’s postwar culture, he also whitewashes the history of the war. He and other nationalists still claim that the Nanjing massacre by Japanese troops in 1937 never happened. His government on Friday said that it would re-examine an apology to Korean women who were forced into sexual servitude by Japanese troops. And he insists that visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead including convicted war criminals, merely shows respect for those who sacrificed their lives for their country. Despite clear signals from Washington to refrain from visiting the shrine, he went in December,” 2013. ^^^

“A confrontational relationship with China at this time could help him convince a deeply pacifist people of the need for heightened defense preparedness. It seems a peculiarity of Japan that those who advocate a greater military posture tend to overlap with historical revisionists. Mr. Abe’s nationalism aside, however, neither he nor other mainstream Japanese leaders are about to enhance Japan’s military capabilities without American consent because they are deeply committed to the U.S.-Japan security alliance.” ^^^

Abe’s Stance on World War II Angers Asian Neighbors

In May 2013, Kirk Spitzer wrote in Time, “After weeks of muddled statements, verbal gaffes and bungled photo ops, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made one thing unintentionally clear: He thinks Japan did little wrong in its years of war and colonial expansion, and he sees no reason to apologize now. The controversy, perfectly avoidable, has alienated both friends and foes and renewed fears of rising nationalism in Japan. It may be too much to expect Abe and other conservatives to abandon comforting historical narratives. But if Abe cannot manage to at least reign in the rhetoric, it could worsen an already dangerous security environment, and wreck Japan’s best shot in decades at reviving its slumbering economy. [Source: Kirk Spitzer, Time, May 20, 2013 +=+]

“I believe that Shinzo Abe honestly thinks that the Second World War and the aggression and events leading up to it were relative – that Japan basically was forced into fighting because of Western colonial policies,” says Robert Campbell, a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Tokyo and a long-time social commentator for Japanese television and radio. “It’s very difficult to move on and to gain the political capital necessary to solve difficult economic and political problems when you are constantly carrying this enormous bagful of historical rocks.” +=+

“The latest drama began last month, during a question-and-answer session in the Diet. Abe, who had focused largely and so far successfully on boosting the economy, repeated a standard line recognizing that Japan had caused great suffering and damage during World War II. But he added that he did not fully agree with a landmark apology issued by Japan’s prime minister in 1995, and he questioned, in lawyer-like fashion, whether Japan had actually committed “aggression” against anyone during the war. “The definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community,” Abe said. The policy chief for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party later said that Abe also disagreed with the allied tribunal that found 14 wartime leaders guilty of war crimes. +=+

Abe's with his father Shinaro Abe, a foreign minister, and family in 1956

“Predictably, there were howls of protest from China, where an estimated 20 million Chinese died fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s, and in Korea, which Japan ruled as a colony from 1910 to 1945. South Korea quickly cancelled a visit by its foreign minister to Tokyo and withheld an invitation to Japan to attend a diplomatic conference with China and the United States; in a clear snub, President Park Geun Hye scheduled her first visit to an Asian country with China, rather than with Japan. More ominously, articles appeared in China’s government-controlled press hinting that Japan’s entire southwest island chain, not just the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, might actually belong to China. +=+

“It didn’t help that nearly 170 LDP members visited the Yasukuni Shrine during its annual spring festival. Some 2.3 million Japanese soldiers who died on behalf of the country are memorialized at Yasukuni. But the ones who really matter – at least to Japan’s neighbors and former victims — are the 14 wartime leaders who were tried, convicted and hanged for war crimes by allied authorities. Nor did it help that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a rising conservative star, claimed that the “comfort women” system — which is believed to have forced some 200,000 Asian women into sexual servitude — had been “necessary” to maintain good order and discipline in the Japanese military. He later clarified that he did not approve of the system, and blamed translators and foreign media for implying otherwise. +=+

“The extent of Abe’s tone-deafness, however, was demonstrated during a goodwill visit to the tsunami-ravaged region of Japan last week. With the controversy still swirling, Abe posed for a photo in the cockpit of a military training jet emblazoned with the number “731” – that’s the unit number of an infamous Imperial Army group that conducted lethal chemical and biological warfare experiments on Chinese citizens. Entire chapters are devoted to Unit 731 in the harshly anti-Japanese educational systems in China and South Korea. That neither Abe nor his handlers grasped the significance of the photo – or didn’t care – demonstrates the distance between Japan and its neighbors when it comes to wartime issues. +=+

“It wasn’t until the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued a report in early May branding Abe a “nationalist” and warning that the controversy over historical issues could damage U.S. interests that Abe and the LDP went into serious damage control. Abe now says he fully accepts the apologies issued by previous administrations. In some respects, none of this should be surprising. Abe has long exhibited strongly conservative, if not nationalist, tendencies. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a wartime industry minister who was arrested on suspicion of war crimes; Kishi was never charged and later became prime minister. At a recent ceremony marking the anniversary of the return of Japanese sovereignty after the war, Abe was among the first to raise his arms in an unscripted – and somewhat startling — “Banzai” salute to the Emperor and Empress. +=+

Abe's grandfather Nobusuke Kishi (upper right), a member of Tojo's World War II cabinet

Abe and Yasukuni Shrine

In regards to Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 major convicted war criminals are honored with war dead, Abe has walked a fine line between addressing the demands of the conservative factions of his party — and what seem to be his own personal beliefs — and a desire to avoid stirring up diplomatic trouble. His visit to Yasukuni, in December 2013, angered China and South Korea and provoked rare criticism from key ally the United States. Since becoming premier in late 2012, Abe has sent ritual offerings to the annual spring and autumn festivals. He sent a cash offering in August 2015, at the time of the 70th anniversary of Japan's World War II defeat, but did not visit.

Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji. It memorializes almost 2.5 million Japanese, including women and children, who died in wars since 1868. The overwhelming majority — about 2.1 million — died in World War II. What makes the shrine so controversial is the fact that it honors hundreds of convicted war criminals, including 14 so-called Class A criminals, such as executed war-time leader Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who authorized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Their spirits have been "enshrined" there since 1960s and 70s. Shrine organizers stress that many thousands of civilians are honored. China and South Korea however see the shrine as glorification of Japanese atrocities. The 14 "Class A" war criminals were the men who ordered and oversaw Japan’s brutal war in China and South East Asia, which left millions dead and included widespread massacres of civilians, rape used routinely as a weapon and the use chemical and biological weapons by the Japanese against civilians. [Source: BBC, Washington Post]

In April 2016, Abe made a ritual offering at Yasukuni Shrine, prompting sharp criticism from China. Reuters reported: Abe's spring festival offering of a "masakaki" ceremonial tree at the Yasukuni shrine, which some see as a symbol of Japanese militarism in World War Two as it honors convicted war criminals among other war dead. "I am aware that the prime minister sent a 'masakaki' offering," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. "He did it as a private person and did not use public funds." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "We urge Japan to honestly and deeply reflect on its invasion history, demarcate a complete boundary on militarism, and take practical actions to win back the trust of its Asian neighbors and the international community." [Source: Reuters, April 21, 2016 *-*]

Abe avoided going to Yasukuni Shrine in 2014 in hopes of meeting with China’s Xi Jinping but more than 80 Japanese politicians, including three cabinet ministers, visited the shrine. Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post: “Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni war shrine, the 69th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat, but opted not to visit the controversial site in person. His absence was widely viewed as a diplomatic move aimed at easing tensions with China, in the hopes of a first meeting with President Xi Jinping in November. But China and South Korea denounced Abe’s offering. “Such a show of ‘compromise and sincerity,’ as some put it, is hardly acceptable, particularly given the recent barrage of remarks and moves by Japan’s rightist politicians which lay bare their unrepentant attitude toward World War II,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary. “It has become a matter of urgency for the current Japanese leaders to truly reflect upon the lessons of history.” [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, August 15, 2014]

Abe did meet briefly with Xi at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which China hosted in Beijing in November 2014. They have not held a bilateral meeting since they both assumed office at the end of 2012.

Abe Visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 2013

On Abe’s December 2013 visit to Yasukini, the BBC reported: “Japan’s prime minister has infuriated China and South Korea by visiting a shrine that honours Japan’s war dead...Shinzo Abe said his visit to Yasukuni was an anti-war gesture....But China called the visit "absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people", and Seoul expressed "regret and anger". The US embassy in Tokyo said in a statement it was "disappointed" and that Mr Abe’s actions would "exacerbate tensions" with Japan’s neighbours. It was the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006.[Source: BBC, December 26, 2013 <<<]

Yasukuni Shrine

“Mr Abe entered the shrine on Thursday morning, wearing a morning suit and grey tie. His arrival was televised live. "I chose this day to report [to the souls of the dead] what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war," he said. "It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people." Officials said Mr Abe visited the shrine in a private capacity and was not representing the government. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We strongly protest and seriously condemn the Japanese leader’s acts."This poses a major political obstacle in the improvement of bilateral relations. Japan must take responsibility for all the consequences that this creates." <<<

In April 2013, a group of 168 Japanese lawmakers—most of them members of Abe’s political party—visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 leading war criminals of World War II. Their move followed donations by Abe and three cabinet ministers' weekend visits to the shrine. [Source: Xinhua, April 30, 2013 \\//]

The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported: “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent remarks defending his cabinet and parliamentarians' visits to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine have aroused strong criticism from the international community. Abe questioned the definition of "aggression,” which he described as vague both academically and internationally, saying it depends on from which side one looks at the situation. On the following day, the prime minister told a parliamentary panel that it is only natural to "honor the spirit of the war dead who gave their lives for the country", and that "our ministers will not cave in to any threats." \\//

“Urging Japan to have a correct understanding of history, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it would be difficult for her country and Japan to move in a future-oriented manner if Japan holds incorrect perceptions of history. Park added that if Japan continues its rightward tilting, its relations with many Asian countries will bog down, which is not desirable for Japan as well. In protest against the visits, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has called off a planned visit to Japan, while his ministry summoned Japanese ambassador in Seoul Koro Bessho for representation. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's government newspaper Democratic Korea published an article on Sunday saying that the incumbent Japanese government is more conservative than previous ones, adding the Abe administration twisted and denied the history of Japanese aggression. \\//

Pro=Yasukuni Shrine protest

Why Does Abe Visit Yasukuni Shrine

If the shrine is so offensive to China and South Korea why has Abe gone? According to the BBC: “Firstly, because he wanted to. Close observers of the Japanese prime minister say he is at heart a nationalist and a historical revisionist. He believes the trials that convicted Japan’s wartime leaders were "victors' justice". His own grandfather Nobusuke Kishi served in the war cabinet and was arrested by the Americans on suspicion of being a Class A war criminal. He was later released without charge. “Secondly, Mr Abe’s support base comes from the right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party. According to Professor Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo, Mr Abe is "showing he is a tough guy", that he is not afraid of China. It is something that plays very well to his base.[Source: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC, December 26, 2013 ^^]

“But there is perhaps a bigger goal that Mr Abe has in mind. He wants to radically revise Japan’s post-war constitution. This, too, is a long-held dream that started with his grandfather in the 1950s. Mr Abe believes he is the man to complete the historic task of getting rid of the hated "peace constitution". Like many on the right here, Mr Abe believes that constitution was forced on Japan by America and is a humiliation. It imposes not only pacifism, but also Western notions of human rights and civil liberties. It rejects Japan’s uniqueness in favour of "universal values". Mr Abe would like to change a lot of this. But it will be very hard. And so he will need some help. "Abe has provoked China, and China has reacted just as Abe wanted it to," says Prof Kingston. "There is a shrewd political calculus at work here." What he means is that having an external threat in the shape of big and frightening China may be just what Mr Abe wants to help push through his controversial nationalist agenda at home. ^^

“Japan made an unwritten agreement with China in the 1970s that serving leaders would not visit the shrine. In August 2013, Mr Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine but was not among a group of dozens of Japanese politicians who visited Yasukuni. During an earlier period in office between 2006-2007 he said he would not even discuss visiting the shrine "as long as the issue remains a diplomatic problem". Mr Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was minister of industry for much of the war. He was arrested after Japan’s surrender but was never charged and went on to serve as prime minister. [Source: BBC, December 26, 2013]

Abe himself told Time magazine:“I paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine to pray for the souls of those who had fought for the country and made ultimate sacrifices. I have made a pledge never to wage war again, that we must build a world that is free from the sufferings of the devastation of war.” <^>

Anti-Yasukuni Shrine protest

Abe’s 2015 Apology for World War II Falls Short, Some Say

In a speech in August 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Abe reiterated his support for past official apologies for inflicting “immeasurable damage and suffering” on “innocent people,” adding “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.” Despite this many Abe and Japan critics felt the remarks fell short of sincere, unequivocal apology Japan needs to make.

Jonathan Soble wrote in the New York Times: “Using the carefully chosen words that govern reckonings with Japan’s militarist past... Abe reiterated his country’s official remorse for the catastrophe of World War II. In a nationally televised address, Mr. Abe described feelings of “profound grief” and offered “eternal, sincere condolences” for the dead. He said Japan had inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” when it “took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.” But in a potentially contentious break with previous expressions of contrition by Japanese leaders, he did not offer a new apology of his own. [Source: Jonathan Soble, August 14, 2015 ^|^]

“The decision, a product of months of deliberation, appeared calibrated to draw a line under what Mr. Abe and many Japanese see as an endless and enfeebling cycle of apologies for decades-old offenses. But Mr. Abe sought to do so while still addressing lingering resentment in China and South Korea, nations that bore the brunt of Japan’s often brutal empire building in the first half of the 20th century. “Japan has repeatedly expressed feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” Mr. Abe said. “Such positions articulated by previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.” But, he added, there was a limit to the number of times Japan could apologize. “We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” he said. It is enough, he added, “to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.” ^|^

“Mr. Abe has long sought to break with what conservatives call Japan’s “masochistic” approach to addressing history. Apologies dating to the 1990s have not prevented feuds with China and South Korea, which have their own reasons, political analysts note, for keeping public animosity toward Japan alive. Jennifer Lind, an expert on Asian history at Dartmouth College, said Japan had acknowledged past wrongdoing more frequently and candidly than any other country. Mr. Abe, for all his flaws as a messenger, is “trying to bring what he sees as balance back to the historical discussion,” she said. ^|^

“Yet Mr. Abe has also sown doubts about his commitment to the forthright reckoning with the past that he endorsed. He has appointed unapologetic revisionists to high-profile posts, including at the national public broadcaster, NHK. China’s official Xinhua news agency said Mr. Abe’s speech “trod a fine line with linguistic tricks” and was insincere. President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said that Mr. Abe’s statement “left much to be desired” and that for Japan to earn its neighbors’ trust its words needed to be supported with “consistent and sincere conduct.” Tomiichi Murayama, a former prime minister who delivered Japan’s landmark first war apology in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, was also critical. “He used flowery words and talked at length, but he didn’t make clear why he was doing it,” Mr. Murayama, 91, said on a program on the Fuji TV network.” ^|^

“Mr. Abe’s statement included an oblique reference to women and girls exploited in Japanese military brothels. The Japanese right was particularly incensed by an apology in 1993 that acknowledged that many of these “comfort women” were coerced and that the Japanese state was to blame. “We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured,” Mr. Abe said.” ^|^

South Korea and Japan Make Deal on Comfort Women

World War II Comfort station

In December 2015, Japan and South Korea reached a breakthrough agreement to “irreversibly” end to the controversial “comfort women” issue which refers to women — many of them Korean — forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels. The issue has stirred animosity between the neighbors for decades.Jake Adelstein wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “After a meeting in Seoul, the two countries’ foreign ministers said Japan will contribute 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for the surviving elderly comfort women; in return, South Korea will refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue and work to remove a statue representing the victims from in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. [Source: Jake Adelstein, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2015 ***]

“South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters that the issue would be “finally and irreversibly resolved” if Japan fulfilled its obligations.The agreement dovetails with the United States’ geopolitical priorities. Washington has long hoped for improved relations between its two major Asian allies to counterbalance an increasingly aggressive China and the erratic behavior of North Korea. ***

“South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to use the agreement to improve bilateral ties. Abe told reporters in Tokyo that Japan apologizes to the women for their pain; yet he added that future Japanese generations should not have to keep on doing so. “We should not allow this problem to drag on into the next generation,” he said, echoing remarks he made marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15. “From now on, Japan and South Korea will enter a new era.” ***

“The agreement was unexpected, especially under the conservative Abe administration. Until quite recently, Abe has been critical of attempts by previous administrations to acknowledge Japanese military involvement in the enslavement of the comfort women before and during World War II. Critics have called him a historical revisionist, but he appeared to be echoing a widespread belief among Japanese nationalists that many of the Korean women were sold by their families, or worked willingly as prostitutes. In 2007, Abe said there was “no evidence to prove there was coercion.” ***

In April 2016, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye confirmed the importance of implementing the December 2015 agreement to settle the comfort women issue. Kyodo reported: “Abe and Park met one-on-one in Washington on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit, following their high-profile meeting in November, the first since the two leaders took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Abe was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Park that he is willing to follow up on the deal to help the women, euphemistically called “comfort women,” though some problems remain surrounding the matter in both countries. Park said South Korea intends to implement the deal in a sincere manner, according to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda. Tokyo has promised to provide the money to a foundation to be set up by the South Korean government. Seoul, however, has yet to create such a body as many former comfort women have criticized the Tokyo-Seoul deal, calling on Japan to admit legal responsibility for compensation. The deal was clinched without any consultation with surviving victims.”[Source: Kyodo, April 1, 2016]

Japan Defense Budget to Increase for First Time in 11 Years

Japanese naval ships
In January 2013, Isabel Reynolds of Bloomberg wrote: “Japan is set to increase its defense budget for the first time in 11 years and boost Coast Guard spending as it copes with rising tensions with China over islands claimed by both countries. The defense budget will rise 0.8 percent to 4.68 trillion yen ($51.7 billion), the Defense Ministry said. The Coast Guard budget will go up 1.9 percent to 176.5 billion yen, its first expansion in six years. [Source: Isabel Reynolds, Bloomberg, January 30, 2013 <<>>]

“Abe is beefing up Japan’s ability to monitor and protect the uninhabited East China Sea islands called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. His plans are limited by a shortage of funds as Japan struggles to service record debt, as well as a decades-old informal military spending limit of 1 percent of gross domestic product. “They should spend more, but it’s significant that they’ve managed to stop the shrinkage,” said Ikuo Kayahara, a former general and a visiting professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo. “The events around the Senkakus made the Japanese realize they might not be safe.” “Owing to historical reasons, any move taken by Japan in the military area will draw great attention from neighboring countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Jan. 28 at a daily press briefing in Beijing. <<>>

“Japan’s defense spending in 2011 was the world’s sixth largest at $59.3 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China was second behind the U.S. at $143 billion, spending 2 percent of GDP, compared with Japan’s 1 percent.Military outlays account for about 5 percent of Japan’s budget, while almost a quarter goes to servicing the world’s largest debt and nearly 30 percent goes to social security spending, according to Finance Ministry data. Defense spending will total 4.8 trillion yen according to Finance Ministry figures that include some expenses for relocating American troops and aid to residents of Okinawa, where 75 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan are located. <<>>

Shinzo Abe's Plan to Change Japan’s Constitution

1947 constitution
Abe wants to radically revise Japan’s post-war "peace constitution". This is a long-held dream of not only Abe but also of his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi who was prime minister of Japan in the 1950s. According to the BBC: Many on the right in Japan believe that constitution was forced on Japan by the United States and is a humiliation. It imposes not only pacifism, but also Western notions of human rights and civil liberties. It rejects Japan’s uniqueness in favour of "universal values". [Source: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC, December 26, 2013 ^^]

According to The Economist: “Ever since its founding in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has wanted to write a constitution to replace the ultraliberal one which America drafted for the devastated country in a matter of days in 1946. Throwing off the framework imposed by the former occupiers is the life’s work of Shinzo Abe. Many Japanese who do not support Mr Abe’s right-wing views also favour revision, at least of article nine. This is what makes the constitution a pacifist one, for in it Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and even vows not to keep a standing army, air force or navy. Japan’s sense of itself as a pacifist nation remains extremely popular. But according to the constitution’s current interpretation, Japan may not even come to the aid of allies if they are attacked. Re-interpreting, rather than amending, the constitution would legitimise collective self-defence. Still, for many Japanese it rankles that Japan’s “self-defence forces”, formed in 1954 and among the world’s most sophisticated armed forces, cannot call themselves a standing army. There is broad support for changing the constitution, which has never been amended, so that they can. It is a matter of national pride as much as anything else. [Source: The Economist, June 1, 2013 >>>>]

“The LDP’s draft is heavily influenced by Mr Abe’s revisionist wing of the party. The revisionists gloss over militarist Japan’s atrocities in the region and want Japanese children to be taught a beautified picture of a past in which a harmonious society thrived under the fond gaze of the emperor. The draft elevates the concept of “public order” as a limit on individual freedom. It restores the emperor as the head of the state, and even seems to remove his obligation to uphold the constitution. It deletes entirely an article in the current document guaranteeing human rights. To a clause on equal rights written by the late Beate Sirota, a 22-year-old American interpreter at the time who is a heroine among Japanese feminists for her advocacy of women’s rights, the LDP adds a homily on the family, whose members, it says, must help each other. >>>>

Tobias Harris wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Recognizing that Japan's constitution is among the hardest in the world to revise, the LDP has focused its attention on first simplifying the constitution's amendment process. Article 96 of the constitution stipulates that an amendment must pass with two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet and then be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum. The LDP wants to replace the supermajority requirement in both houses with simple majorities, clearing the way for other, more drastic amendments. [Source: Tobias Harris, Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2013, Mr. Harris is the author of Observing Japan, a blog on Japanese politics /^/]

“Discussion of constitutional revision in Japan often focuses on Article 9, by which the "Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation." Yet the draft constitution released by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2012 calls for wide-ranging revisions such as an extensive list of obligations borne by citizens and new emergency powers for the prime minister. Above all else, Mr. Abe and other members of his party believe that Japan cannot fully regain its sovereignty until Tokyo has effectively replaced the constitution drafted by post-war occupation authorities in 1946. /^/

The Japanese government insists it is not seeking to deny Japan’s wartime role with its campaign to amend the Japanese constitution. Yosuke Isozaki, a key Abe ally and a leader of the group pushing for constitutional change, told the Washington Post: “There are some misunderstandings that the Liberal Democratic Party is trying to deny history, but we don’t intend to do that at all...Amending the constitution can only be done if the people agree. Also, this requires the agreement of two-thirds of both houses of the Diet. So it’s a very difficult challenge.”[Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, May 23, 2015 *|*]

Shinzo Abe's Effort to Change Japan’s Constitution

1947 Constitution

Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post,“In July 2014, Abe’s government “reinterpreted” the constitution with a cabinet resolution ending a ban on the deployment of Japan’s military overseas.” In September 2105, the Diet passed “a package of bills that revised national security laws to, among other things, allows Japan’s self-defense forces to act in “collective self-defense” if the United States, Japan’s closest ally, came under attack. A 2015 Kyodo news agency poll found that almost half of respondents oppose the revised guidelines, while a third support them. The proposed changes have also raised hackles in the region, fueling fears on the Korean Peninsula and in China that Abe wants to remilitarize Japan. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, May 23, 2015 *|*]

“Separately, the government is accelerating its efforts to formally revise the constitution, imposed under the U.S. occupation after World War II. The LDP and its partners have a 60 percent majority in upper house and a 68 percent majority in the lower house. "If approved by parliament, changes would be put to the public in a referendum. To destigmatize the idea of amending the constitution, the government is expected to start with relatively noncontentious issues such as environmental management and human rights. “The people of Japan, including lawmakers, don’t have any experience of making constitutional amendments. So there is some hesitation,” Isozaki said. *|*

Tobias Harris wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “If the LDP hoped to dodge controversy by focusing on the seemingly innocuous question of amendment procedures, its ruse failed. The newspapers are filled with editorials about the inadvisability of constitutional revision, and the LDP's draft has drawn scrutiny from the domestic and international press. The political obstacles to revising Article 96 are considerable. First, lacking a two-thirds majority in either house of the Diet, the LDP needs political allies in order to amend the constitution. Komeito, the LDP's formal partner in government, has refrained from indicating whether it supports the amendment. [Source: Tobias Harris, Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2013, Mr. Harris is the author of Observing Japan, a blog on Japanese politics /^/] <

“Even if an amendment were to clear both houses of the Diet, it remains an open question whether the Japanese public would support revision. Mr. Abe admitted in the Diet” in 2013 “that if a national referendum on revising Article 96 were held today, it would lose based on the latest public opinion polls. For example, a recent poll by the Asahi Shimbun, a center-left daily, found 54 percent of respondents opposed to revising Article 96, compared with 38 percent in favor. /^/

“But the question remains as to why Mr. Abe has felt such a strong urge to focus on constitutional reform in the first place. His core motivation is likely more psychological than tactical. Mr. Abe has long spoken of himself as a "conviction politician" with a mission to reshape Japan for the 21st century—a mission he literally inherited from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, the postwar prime minister (and suspected war criminal) who founded the LDP after serving in Tojo's World War Two cabinet. Part of Mr. Abe's mission is to remove the lingering traces of Japan's defeat, of which the constitution is the most prominent example. In doing so, the prime minister hopes to restore what he believes to be the diminished pride of the Japanese people." /^/

As part of the effort to amend Article 9, "authorities have begun distributing a comic book featuring a family questioning a constitution written by Americans to “make Japan powerless.” “Japan must never again pose a threat to the world,” the cartoon has Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney, one of the Americans who drafted Japan’s constitution in 1946, saying. The family then discusses how the document could be updated. *|*

“Many experts, here and in other countries, are deeply troubled by the Abe government’s approach of preparing the way by “reinterpreting” the constitution’s language regarding the military. “I don’t think there is any way that you can read the constitution and, with a clear mind, say that it allows collective self-defense,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University and a critic of the Abe government. “This is basically changing the constitution through the back door. The constitution that is supposed to constrain the government is being de facto changed by the government,” he said. Reiichi Miyazaki, a former director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, said the proposed changes were clearly unconstitutional. “They would open a way to unlimited execution of force overseas as long as the U.S. requests,” Miyazaki said. *|*

U.S. policymakers, by contrast, have welcomed Abe’s moves because they fit with Washington’s vision of a more robust Japan capable of acting as a counterweight to China. “Prime Minister Abe is leading Japan to a new role on the world stage,” President Obama said.But Craig Martin, an expert on Japan’s constitution at Washburn University School of Law, said that Americans ought to be a little bit more circumspect about Abe’s plans, which, he said, were “entirely illegitimate” and could “do violence to the constitutional order and undermine democracy in Japan.” “It’s an end run around the amendment procedures in the constitution,” Martin said, adding that it was as if the Obama administration were to try to reinterpret the Second Amendment so that Americans no longer had an individual right to bear arms. “It would be inconceivable,” he said. “It would be outrageous.” *|*

Japan’s Parliament Approves Overseas Combat Role for Military

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces
In September 2015, Japan’s parliament passed a bill that allows the country’s military to fight in wars overseas, something which many think is prohibited by Japan’s “peace constitution,” which only allows the use of military force for self-defense. Jonathan Soble wrote in the New York Times, “In a middle-of-the night vote that capped a tumultuous struggle with opposition parties in Parliament,” Abe “secured final passage of legislation authorizing overseas combat missions for his country’s military...The legislation had been expected to pass; Mr. Abe’s governing coalition controls a formidable majority in the legislature. But analysts said the grinding political battle and days of demonstrations that accompanied the effort could hurt his standing with a public already skeptical of his hawkish vision for Japan’s national security. [Source: Jonathan Soble, New York Times, September 18, 2015 *=*]

“The debate often doubled as a forum for airing views about Japan’s most important ally, the United States. Many were hostile. “If this legislation passes, we will absolutely be caught up in illegal American wars,” Taro Yamamoto, a leader of a small left-leaning opposition party, said in a committee debate. The debate ended with lawmakers piled on top of one another in a melee for control of the chairman’s microphone.” Earlier, “Mr. Yamamoto held up the voting by taking a slow-motion “cow walk” to the podium to cast his ballot. Other opposition groups entered symbolic censure motions against Mr. Abe and officials in his Liberal Democratic Party or made long, filibuster-like speeches, often repeating the conviction that a military with expanded powers would end up being dragged into an unjustified American war. “We must not become accomplices to murder,” said Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party. Similar sentiments have been echoed — usually in less provocative terms — by newspaper columnists, political scientists and members of the general public. The opposition’s obstructionist tactics delayed Mr. Abe’s victory until after 2 a.m., but could not prevent it. *=*

“Mr. Abe’s critics have a variety of grievances against the defense legislation. Not least is the question of its constitutionality: In multiple surveys of constitutional specialists, more than 90 percent have said they believe that it violates Japan’s basic law, laid down by the United States in the postwar occupation, which renounces the use of force to resolve international disputes. The legislation is likely to be challenged in the courts. Most constitutional scholars say the legislation violates Japan’s pacifist postwar charter. However, Japanese judges have generally been unwilling to overrule the government on security matters.” *=*

“Mr. Abe’s government has kept a number of limits on military deployments in the new legislation. The Self-Defense Forces will be able to engage in combat overseas to protect allies, but only when all peaceful options are exhausted and not intervening would threaten “the lives and survival of the Japanese nation.” Critics say those criteria are dangerously vague.” *=*

Japan’s Overseas Military Combat Bill

According to the New York Times: The overseas military combat legislation — a package of 11 bills — permits “the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to cooperate more closely with the militaries of allies like the United States, by providing logistical support and, in certain circumstances, armed backup in international conflicts. [Source: New York Times, September 17, 18, 2015 ><]

“The bills allows Japan to engage in combat overseas to defend allies, but only when all peaceful options have been exhausted and when failure to intervene would threaten “the lives and survival of the Japanese nation.” Currently, the military is barred by law from using force except in direct defense of Japan. ><

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the restrictions on the military, imposed by the United States after World War II, were inadequate to meet potential threats. He also said the legislation would let Japan be a more equal partner in its military alliance with the U.S. Opponents said the bills violated Japan’s Constitution and could lead to unnecessary involvement in foreign wars. ><

“The legislation is a significant shift for a country whose armed forces have not seen action since World War II. The United States imposed Japan’s pacifist Constitution after its wartime aggression, and antiwar sentiment remains widespread in Japanese society. In the past, the Self-Defense Forces have played noncombat roles in United Nations peacekeeping operations and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the use of force has been limited by law to the direct defense of Japan. ><

“Mr. Abe and other conservatives argue that the strictly defensive security policy that Japan has followed since the end of the war is inadequate to meet modern-day threats like the growing military power of China. Critics worry that abandoning the policy would lead to Japan’s becoming involved in unnecessary foreign wars, and they contend that the legislation violates Winning final passage of the legislation is an important victory for Mr. Abe, who has dedicated his career to correcting what he sees as an excessive, outdated national pacifism that is a legacy of Japan’s disastrous wartime experience. His defense agenda is opposed by a majority of the public, however, according to opinion polls.” ><

Concerns Japan’s Overseas Military Combat Role

Jonathan Soble wrote in the New York Times, “But a less abstract fear of being “caught up in war” has been just as important in fueling opposition to the legislation, exposing a strain of public unease about the United States-Japan alliance that is usually kept out of view.Japan has accepted American protection for ever since the end of the United States’ occupation, and today there are more than 40,000 United States military personnel stationed in the country. Yet the arrangement has come at the cost of Japanese independence, many here believe. The trade-off has taken on new significance now that Japan could be asked to risk the lives of its own soldiers and sailors for the United States in “Japan is caught between fear of entanglement and fear of abandonment,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, a policy research group. “It’s partly about public distrust of Japan’s own government. People think Japanese leaders are too weak to say no to the U.S.” return. [Source: Jonathan Soble, New York Times, September 18, 2015 *=*]

“Mr. Abe argues that Japan needs to play a more active role in the alliance in order to strengthen it against threats like the growing military power of China and a nuclear-armed North Korea. His legislation has won support from United States policy makers, who have welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security at a time when American resources are increasingly stretched. But a central question for many Japanese is whether loosening restrictions on the military will put Japan on a more equal footing with the United States, as Mr. Abe has argued, or, as critics contend, turn it into an American “deputy sheriff” in Asia, its new military powers at Washington’s disposal. *=*

“Leftist politicians and peace campaigners have been the most vocal proponents of the latter view, but they are not alone. Some to the right of Mr. Abe are also concerned. Yoshinori Kobayashi, a right-wing author and manga artist, came out against Mr. Abe’s plans at a gathering of foreign journalists last month, saying, “We must not be caught up in American wars of aggression.” Such attitudes are partly fueled by the war in Iraq, though they have existed in one form or another at least since Vietnam. Although Japan did not fight in Iraq, its government was a vocal supporter of the war and sent troops from the Self-Defense Forces, as the military is known, to play a noncombat rebuilding role during the American occupation. “Japan has not been careful about choosing when to support the United States, which is the biggest worry,” said Kiichi Fujiwara, a professor of international politics at Tokyo University who was otherwise broadly supportive of the legislation. *=*

“He said the main aim of the changes was to allow Japanese and United States forces to coordinate responses to contingencies on Japan’s doorstep, such as any destabilization of the Korean Peninsula, not to get Japan involved in faraway wars. And he noted that the risk of military entanglement runs both ways: American leaders, for instance, worry about being drawn into a potential conflict between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea. *=*

”That’s not something you hear about in Japan,” Mr. Fujiwara said. “There’s this assumption that it’s America that will get Japan into trouble, when it could just as easily be the other way around.” Mr. Abe has said it is “inconceivable” that Japan might be caught up in an Iraq-style war, but many average citizens remain wary, seeing the changes as a slippery slope. In several surveys conducted by news organizations in May 2015, after Mr. Abe first made that pledge, only one in six respondents found it convincing. *=*

“Outside the Parliament building, that doubt was the prevailing sentiment. Crowds over the three days leading up to the final vote reached between 10,000 to 30,000 at peak times, according to estimates by the police and the Japanese news media. “American’s power has been weakening and they can’t bear all the military costs on their own, so they want Japan to share the costs,” said Taketo Yamanouchi, an office worker from Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, who had traveled to the capital to join the demonstration. “My impression is that Japan is legislating the security bills in response to the U.S.’s request.” Yoshie Baba, a history student, worried that backing the United States in places like the Middle East could earn Japan dangerous enemies. “If Japan shares the same policy beliefs with the States, Japan could be targeted by terrorists just like Britain and other U.S. allies,” she said. “I am concerned Japan could be involved in conflicts or troubles.” *=*

Japan Military Bills Provoke Scuffling in Parliament

Before the bill that allows Japan to fight in overseas wars was passed, opposition politicians tried to physically prevent the vote in a chaotic scene that was aired live on Japanese television. Jonathan Soble wrote in New York Times, “Legislators scuffled in Parliament and demonstrators took to the streets as Japan’s governing coalition moved to secure final passage of contentious legislation...The package of 11 bills was still tied up in Parliament’s upper house late in the night, past an initial deadline set by the” Abe government” “who has spent considerable political capital trying to convince a skeptical public that Japan should play a more assertive role in global military affairs. [Source: Jonathan Soble, New York Times, September 17, 2015 >>>]

“Scenes reminiscent of a rugby match played out in the committee chamber where lawmakers have been debating the bills for weeks. Opposition politicians tried to prevent voting by piling on top of the committee chairman and wresting away his microphone. Lawmakers from the governing party pulled them away and formed a protective scrum around the chairman to allow him to call the vote. The scenes were shown live on television by the national broadcaster, NHK.

“The committee eventually passed the bills, sending them to the full upper house for... a final, decisive vote. The chamber, which is controlled by Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its ally Komeito, began deliberations late in the evening and was expected to work through the night to overcome procedural roadblocks thrown up by five opposition parties. “It’s unfortunate that the bills had to be approved this way, but they are absolutely necessary to protect the lives and happiness of the people,” Masahisa Sato, a former military officer and Liberal Democrat who is a member of the committee, said after the raucous session. “If bills can be passed in a violent way like that, then our country’s democracy is dead,” said Tetsuro Fukuyama, a committee member from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. >>>

“Organizers put the number of demonstrators Wednesday night at 35,000, though the police said the crowd was about half that size. A few braved heavy rain to stay through the night and and the crowd swelled again the next day. Though there is little they can do to prevent the bills’ ultimate passage, they may be hoping to further stoke public sentiment against the bills and inflict maximum political damage on Mr. Abe, whose support, measured in opinion polls, has slipped as debate over the legislation drags on. >>>

“Parliament’s lower house approved the bills in July 2015, under similarly tumultuous circumstances, and adoption by the upper house would ensure that they become law. Even if the upper house does not approve the bills, the government could send them back to the more powerful lower chamber, where it could use its overwhelming majority to override the upper house.” >>>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Defence Talk.com

Text Sources: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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