[Column] The isolated civilization of Japan and its dangerous self-contained world view

Posted on : 2019-08-25 18:17 KST Modified on : 2019-08-25 18:17 KST
Abe’s objective of “normalizing” Japan is only driving the country further into isolation
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a training exercise of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force near Tokyo on Oct. 14
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a training exercise of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force near Tokyo on Oct. 14

In his “The Clash of Civilizations,” US political scientist Samuel Huntington divided the world into eight civilizations. Interestingly enough, he named Japan as a civilization of its own, distinguishing it from the rest of East Asia. Whereas all of the other civilizations encompassed multiple countries, he explained, Japan was the only case in which the civilization unit was coterminous with a national one; from a cultural and civilization perspective, he declared, Japan was an island unto itself.

There is some truth to Huntington’s conclusion. While Japan has been subject to Confucian and Buddhist influences from China and Korea, it also remained within its own isolated cultural world through the Meiji Restoration under its indigenous Shinto religious system. The situation has remained basically unchanged since the Meiji Restoration as well. Even as Japan adopted modern culture from the West, it only intensified the role of past heritage by elevating Shinto to the status of a state religion, with the emperor at its apex. This religion of emperor worship was used as a justification for Japan’s invasions of East Asia and waging of the Pacific War.

The cultural characteristics that Huntington saw in Japan have started to become more pronounced again in the 21st century. From opening its arms to the world under its Peace Constitution, Japan has now seemingly succumbed to a mass delusion of sorts, sinking deep into itself amid obvious signs of regression. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been at the forefront of this voyage backward. Abe’s true colors were once again on display in an Aug. 15 ceremony remembering Japan’s World War II surrender. For the seventh time since he returned to office in 2012, he focused solely on praising the “sacrifices” of the Japanese rather than acknowledging Japan’s responsibility as the country responsibility for invading the Korean Peninsula and waging war. He offered not a single world of remorse or apology. As he had done in the past, he made offerings at the Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are honored. Fifty far-right politicians who support Abe have visited Yasukuni and paid their respects to the “glories” of the past. If recognizing and taking responsibility for the mistakes that result from our actions is a mark of maturity, then Japanese politicians remain stuck in adolescence, forever stumbling at the threshold of growth.

In 2006, Abe shared his political blueprint with the publication of a short book titled “Toward a Beautiful Country.” Judging from the various attempts he has made since taking office to amend the Peace Constitution and enable Japan to wage war again, Abe’s idea of a beautiful country appears to incorporate the “Rising Sun” advancing toward an invasion of the Asian continent and conquest of the world, as in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War and Mukden Incident. Yet the farther Abe moves toward his version of a “beautiful country,” the farther Japan drifts from beauty. The more he pursues a place for Japan as a “normal state” capable of waging war, the more Japan diverges from the normal and succumbs to isolation. Such is the paradox of Abe’s wild ride. He may think that he is fighting to make Japan a beautiful country, but the more he battles to acquire his own kind of “beauty,” the more Japan is thrust into a place that is anything but beautiful. A country that is dishonest, unreflecting, and undemocratic cannot be a “beautiful country” as is commonly recognized by humanity.

Under Abe, Japan is using its Indo-Pacific strategy as a basis for joining forces with the US and enlisting India to encircle China. But simply harboring these kinds of military ambitions is not enough to make Abe’s Japan the kind of country the international community esteems. As long as it fails to break down and rebuild the same mental framework that gave rise to the errors of the past, it will never escape a fate of practical diminishment, for all its imagined exploits in the Indo-Pacific region. When all is said and done, Abe’s aggressive approach will only leave Japan as the kind of “shut-in country” alluded to by Huntington – an odd country out. Until it stops Abe’s race backwards, Japan can never become a truly “normal” state, a moral party to the world’s universality.


Economically, Abe’s approach poses a threat to South Korea – but it poses a far more fundamental threat to the Japanese themselves. Unless its people wake up, Japan will remain trapped with Abe’s delusions in a state of eternal immature isolation. Herein lies the supranational sense of the battle being waged against Abe by South Koreans. If the anti-Abe campaign under way with a boycott of Japanese products does succeed in awakening the Japanese public and developing into a joint battle by South Korean and Japanese civil society, it could become the starting point for creating a new order of peace in East Asia.’

By Ko Myoung-sub, editorial writer

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