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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is a young and ambitious far-right politician who struggles to exist in Japan's political landscape, now a foul smelling swamp where even mainstream parties position themselves between ultra-nationalism and hardcore historical revisionism.

This unhealthy marketing niche has become so mainstream and crowded that last year's general elections quickly boiled down to a sick race for the most outrageous provocations. To keep the helm of his Democratic Party of Japan, supposedly a center-left organization, PM Yoshihiko Noda all but provoked a war with China and Korea (see "Japan politics? No to Comfort women, yes to Political whoring"). Of course, Noda was weeks later demolished by experts in the field, Shinzo Abe emerging as the clear winner. This outspoken negationist soon confirmed his priority: the methodical destruction of Japan's democracy.

I always hope that some day, Japanese citizens will refuse to see their country follow this suicidal path (see "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics"), but if Shinzo Abe's latest provocations about "the definition of what constitutes aggression" caused a major international uproar, they proved politically correct in today's Japan: his approval rates remain sky high, and Abe even progressed to 72% five months after his inauguration, where his predecessors had already nosedived to 30-45%! Yomiuri Shinbun published the results today, and if the public seems more convinced by Abenomics than by what I called "Abeignomics", only a tiny majority of 51% oppose the constitutional changes that Abe is so desperate to make.

Again, a German Chancelor who'd dare denying Nazi atrocities would be fired on the spot, and that goes without saying. But in Japan, you obviously can't become or remain Prime Minister without proving negationist credentials or bowing in front of the remains of war criminals. And the Mayor of the city boasting Japan's biggest Koreatown can make the most outrageous remarks about "comfort women" without causing major riots in front of his city hall (well aren't Zainichi Koreans treated as sub-citizens anyway*?).

Yesterday, Osaka Mayor's latest provocation was to say that "a comfort women system (was) necessary" during WWII. Of course, what if necessary is apologies, justice, making revisionism and negationism illegal, and banning people like Abe and Hashimoto from East Asian politics.

The things that you're liable to read in future Japanese textbooks, it ain't necessarily so

Mr Hashimoto's party is resolutely right-wing, and its name itself reeks of noxious nostalgy: "Japan Restoration Party" is not just about reducing the US influence in the archipelago. Marketing-wise, it claims a third path distinct from the usual suspects (LDP and DPJ), but as we saw before, issuing that sort of positioning statement isn't that easy. And the young leader had to mark some more or less subtle differences with the "new" Prime Minister, without running the risk of passing for a dove, which resulted in a nauseous collection of comments. In substance: Abe is right when he says that academically, there are no definitions on "aggression"/"invasion", Abe is wrong when he doesn't support Murayama's 1995 apologies, but we probably wouldn't have had to apologise, had we won the war...

As usual in Japan (see previous provocations), international outrages are often driven by the national agenda. Toru Hashimoto probably felt the need to catch some spotlight because he's fighting for survival: his party is on the verge of implosion. Shintaro Ishihara might decide to split again and a much older politician, the former Governor of Tokyo has already proved he could fly with his own far-right wings. Ishihara has the perfect pedigree: he's racist, and considers the "Nanjin Massacre" as a myth.

Barf bag, anyone?

Seoul Village 2013
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* see "100 years of Koreans in Japan"
** see "Hashimoto says ‘comfort women’ were necessary part of war" (The Asahi Shimbun 20130513)

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