[Editorial] Japan’s difficult drive to be a ‘beautiful country’

Posted on : 2006-09-02 14:55 KST Modified on : 2006-09-02 14:55 KST

The Japanese news media are already calling the upcoming election for Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) chairman an "avalanche" and a "shut out." By "avalanche," they are referring to the way the LDP’s factions are lining up behind a shoo-in candidate and choosing not to field their own. When they say "shut out" they are using a term from sports, when your opponent’s victory is all but assured but duty requires that you go and play anyway.

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Shinzo Abe made his official decision to run for LDP chairman yesterday. Two others will be running, finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and foreign minister Taso Aso. Despite having fine careers and backgrounds, Tanigaki and Aso reportedly had a hard time getting the required 20 signatures from other members of the Diet required to register as candidates. Abe is being treated as the next prime minister before the election for LDP chairman even takes place.

We find it unfortunate that the process of choosing prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s successor is taking place with such haste and without any serious debate. Koizumi’s visits to worship at Yasukuni Shrine and other issues regarding his leadership have led to a rapid deterioration in relations between Japan and its neighbors. One would think that there should be some deep discussion about whether Koizumi’s foreign policies are really in Japan’s best interest, but when North Korea launched a series of missiles over the East Sea, any opportunity for real debate was closed.

What is worrisome is that it seems to be a trend in Japan to stand beside and let the country turn to the political right. On August 15, the countryside home of former LDP official Koichi Kato, who has consistently criticized Koizumi for worshipping at Yasukuni, was burned down in an arson attack. The arsonist, an official in a right-wing organization, was arrested at the scene, but mainstream members of the LDP stood back and "watched as if it were a house on fire on the far side of the river" instead of denouncing the attack. It is a bad omen when the same politicians who have taken the lead in defining North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens as "state terror," and have used the issue to promote a hard-line stance towards Pyongyang, become mere onlookers when the Japanese right commits political terrorism.

In July, Abe published a book describing what his government would look like, titled "Becoming a Beautiful Country." In it, he pledges to revise Japan’s "peace constitution" and pass a "basic law on education" that would cultivate "national awareness." Both threaten the foundations of postwar Japanese democracy. Looking at the direction in which Japanese society is moving, you question whether it currently has what it takes to "become a beautiful country."

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