Meanwhile, in Japan
July 14, 2016 7:25 AM   Subscribe

The Liberal Democrat Party* won big in the July elections in Japan, giving the coalition of parties led by the LDP a two-thirds majority in both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Japanese government, which could allow the party to ram through amendments to the constitution. While Article 9, the antiwar amendment, has long been targeted, it's starting to look much, much worse.

Behind all of this, a recently exposed group called Nihon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a small Shinto group whose goals include:
gut Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, end sexual equality, get rid of foreigners, void pesky “human rights” laws, and return Japan to its Imperial Glory.
While the Prime Ministers eponysterical Abenomics seems to be sputtering, with over 50% of a recent poll saying that they don't think it's going to help, Abe and the Nippon Kaigi are closer than ever to, as they say, making Japan a "normal" nation again. Critics of the group and the administration point to recent restrictions on press freedom as the first steps in a radical re-imagining of the country.

*It has often been pointed out that the party is neither liberal, nor democratic.
posted by Ghidorah (46 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
And the Emperor has announced he intends to abdicate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2016

Do the combined parties on the right (not a formal coalition) have a two-thirds majority? I read that they missed it by one seat. Anyway, constitutional change cannot happen without a referendum that secures two-thirds of the popular vote. The first step that Abe has indicated is to change that law about a referendum, which they can probably do with the (near) supermajority. So chatter/discussions about that is what I would be looking for.

I'm not sure if Abe will choose to do that, since Japan has a general election planned for 2018 (this last one was just for half of the seats in the Upper House), and I would imagine changing the rules on the referendum would be really unpopular.

The reason why Abe won last week is because of low voter engagement: it's summertime, it's the Upper House, there were no clear issues beyond the economy, and, most importantly, the Opposition has imploded and is, for the time being, irreparably damaged.

It doesn't look like the DPJ will be able to refocus by 2018, but the Communists have shown they are able to marshal significant public opposition (all of those rallies last summer were organized with strong help from the Communists).

And I do think Japanese people care about the future of the country, and I do think they appreciate their Constitution.

It's just that there is no effective opposition in Japan at the moment. It's a crisis, really.
posted by My Dad at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm actually a little surprised it's taken this long for crypto-fascism to make inroads again in Japan. It wouldn't take two "lost decades" in many places in the world before a country descends into far worse chaos.

There are demographics and economic composition factors here, as well. Trump, the rise of the far right in Europe, Brexit, all have certain similar shades of aging populations (or sub-populations) mixed with the gutting of the low-skilled employment sectors in favor of much lower paid service jobs.
posted by chimaera at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Would any MeFites care to share their perspectives on the Japanese opposition parties? What are they doing and what do they stand for? Why have they done so badly out of the recent elections? News media fail their readers when they don't discuss non-government parties beyond the barest facts of their existence, I think—it always makes it sound like in foreign countries, politics is something that people passively let happen to them.
posted by Panthalassa at 7:48 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for that, My Dad.
posted by Panthalassa at 7:49 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was also going to say that I'm not so sure Japan deserves its low ranking on the press freedoms index. To be sure, there is political pressure on the press, and that's not good. To be sure, there is political interference (to some degree) in NHK, but that's true of other public broadcasters in other liberal democracies, notably the CBC in Canada and the BBC.

But what role does a loquacious blowhard like Furutachi Ichiro play in freedom of speech? I found that all of the TV presenters who retired or resigned (they were all contractors) were bombastic, adding more heat than light to the national conversation (the exception was of course Kuniya Hiroko, but I think she was pushed out because of her age; look at who she has been replaced with).

If you read the tabloids, which I do, there is plenty of criticism of the Japanese government. The Tokyo Shimbun, one of the largest metro dailies in Japan, is highly critical of the government.

On top of that there is literally no communications surveillance in Japan, unlike the United States, which is supposedly a bastion of free speech.

People worry a lot about Japan, but compared to other liberal democracies, it's in the middle of the pack in terms of personal liberties. I mean, in Germany, a comedian was sanctioned for making a joke about the Turkish president!
posted by My Dad at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm actually a little surprised it's taken this long for crypto-fascism to make inroads again in Japan. It wouldn't take two "lost decades" in many places in the world before a country descends into far worse chaos.

Japan is a nice place to live. I'll take those "two lost decades" any day of the week. FWIW, it has taken two decades for Japan to decline to the sort of thing we take for granted in Canada: precarious employment, 20% childhood poverty. It's just a normal OECD country now, which is sad.
posted by My Dad at 7:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Honestly, for me, one of the only bright parts was seeing the Communist party out in numbers I've never seen before here in Chiba. Soundtrucks, people giving speeches at stations, trying to get the message out.

One of the most disturbing things I've read about Nippon Kaigi is that, in their view, Japan is a far left nation and that they are just trying to bring it back to a centrist position. If this is their idea of liberal, I'm terrified of their concept of centrist, seeing as at least one of their central tenets is ending gender equality.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:54 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

They are Creeps with a capital C, that's for sure. The one wild card between now and 2018 is China. If there are problems with China, Abe and co. can forget about the economy and focus on "national security", and rewrite the Constitution. The focus of the regional power struggle has shifted to the South China Sea, instead of the Senkakus. The Philippines were supposed to be a Japanese partner/client, but the new president there seems to be interested in collaborating more with China (even though the Philippines just won the judgement).
posted by My Dad at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2016

Communists against Fascists? So much for the "End of History".
posted by clawsoon at 8:00 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

While we're at it, I'd be curious to know how Shinto is informing the positions of Nihon Kaigi. Is this a particularly radical interpretation, or does Shinto typically not seek to impose itself in politics?
posted by GameDesignerBen at 8:02 AM on July 14, 2016

"Make Japan normal again"

Say what you will, at least the USA's insane people have enough ambition to shoot for "great."
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 8:05 AM on July 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

“Japan rightists’ patient wait is over as conveyor belt of death shudders back to life,” Debito Arudou, The Japan Times, 04 October 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 8:14 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, this is my new source of sadness for the day.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:17 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, I suspect their Imperial ambitions regarding the Chinese mainland will play out a little differently this time.
posted by Naberius at 8:21 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is this a particularly radical interpretation, or does Shinto typically not seek to impose itself in politics?

Depends on what kind of Shinto you're talking about. Traditional Shinto got aggressively co-opted around the beginning of the last century into a virulently nationalist State Shinto, which is where all the militant Emperor veneration and the like in the war years was grounded. In the process, they tried to drive out "foreign" influences, like the Buddhist syncretism that was extant in traditional Shinto of the time and drove underground more esoteric sects like Shugendo. The current anti-Article 9 push, to the extent that it's connected to Shinto, is a revival of sorts of the State Shinto style.

That said, there are other religious groups prominently involved, most notably the pseudo-Buddhist Soka Gakkai (a New Religion inflected Nichiren strain) and its disproportionately influential political party, Komeito. They're a key LDP ally.
posted by fifthrider at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's always important to take Debito Arudou with a grain of salt (or to throw salt over your shoulder if you happen to read one of his columns).
posted by My Dad at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anyway, constitutional change cannot happen without a referendum that secures two-thirds of the popular vote.
My Dad

Are you sure about that? I thought, and the articles in the post agree, that the referendum was a simple majority.

Article 96 of the Japanese Constitution says:
Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2016

Maybe I was getting the 2/3 thing mixed up with the supermajority.

Anyway, AFAIK (and we have seen how much I "know" off the top of my head, lol), it would be really difficult to achieve that simple majority. Changing the Constitution is just not a priority for the electorate.
posted by My Dad at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2016

To add a little to fifthrider's comment, Soka Gakkai is the only "Buddhist" movement that I know of that actively and intensively evangelizes. On the (tiny little) plus side, they do seek to convert foreigners

A question, will Akihito be Akihito until death, or does abdication mean the adoption of his reign name?

(The moves to fascism in multiple countries scare me. The saying is the arc of history is long and bends towards justice, but that does not mean that is by any means monotonic.)
posted by Hactar at 9:42 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

A question, will Akihito be Akihito until death, or does abdication mean the adoption of his reign name?

He's referred to by his title; using his given name is a Western thing that I understand to come across as more than slightly rude in Japanese. I assume he would receive a new ceremonial title, then adopt his reign name (Heisei) upon his death, as usual.
posted by fifthrider at 9:49 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

The moves to fascism in multiple countries scare me.

It seems like the only major industrialized nations without a significant new protofascist movement are, uh, Germany and Spain....
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:57 AM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh and Canada and New Zealand I guess.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:57 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe I was getting the 2/3 thing mixed up with the supermajority.

Anyway, AFAIK (and we have seen how much I "know" off the top of my head, lol), it would be really difficult to achieve that simple majority. Changing the Constitution is just not a priority for the electorate.

My Dad

I don't mean this as an attack on you, but this is a pretty significant error. The analysis in your first comment is therefore completely wrong: Abe isn't seeking to amend the referendum process because he doesn't need to since it's a simple majority, and a simple majority is much easier to achieve than a 2/3 super majority. I see people upvoting that comment and might be coming away with incorrect information about what's going on in Japan as a result.

As for the referendum vote itself, were it ever to occur, Brexit has taught us to be wary about complacency when it comes to simple majority votes with major consequences that everyone is sure will go the "obvious" right way.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:04 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

My Dad: Anyway, AFAIK (and we have seen how much I "know" off the top of my head, lol), it would be really difficult to achieve that simple majority. Changing the Constitution is just not a priority for the electorate.

That's usually the most dangerous situation, isn't it? The majority who doesn't care doesn't show up, while those who care passionately and want to make a change almost all do show up.
posted by clawsoon at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and Canada... I guess.

Be patient, we're working on it, eh!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:18 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why can Japan never seem to create a stable opposition party? Can Japan's opposition parties compete? "To change the constitution, the ruling coalition needs a two-thirds majority. This would require winning almost all 32 SMDs, a majority of proportional representation votes and a significant majority in the MMDs. But current polling suggests the LDP and Komeito will struggle to gain a majority of the PR votes."

An illiberal group called Nippon Kaigi wields enormous influence in Japan's halls of power: The Religious Cult Secretly Running Japan - "Nippon Kaigi, a small cult with some of the country's most powerful people, aims to return Japan to pre-WWII imperial 'glory'. Sunday’s elections may further its goal."*

not to be conspiracy minded but i'm intrigued by soka gakkai -- and the companies they control? -- and wonder what links, if any, there are between them (and new komeito) with nippon kaigi?

and in other (conspiracy minded ;) news: "Think 'helicopter money' is/will be confined only to Japan, which has been sending conflicting trial balloons about this unprecedented next step in monetary policy for the past two days (first Japan's Sankei reported that the government will be adopting 'helicopter money' followed by a government spokesman denying the report, then followed by a separate Bloomberg report about a 10T yen stimulus plan, concluding with Abe advisor Koichi Hamada saying that 'boosting fiscal and monetary stimulus at the same time would be effective' in Japan)?"

The moves to fascism in multiple countries scare me.

Oh and Canada and New Zealand I guess.

oh, canada!

Noah Smith: Freedom and democracy in retreat - "By itself, Brexit isn't a big deal. But it symbolizes the decade-long weakening of the U.S.-led bloc that advanced liberal values." [1,2,3]
posted by kliuless at 10:24 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding the majorities, my understanding is that a 2/3rds majority is needed in both houses so that the lawmakers can then put the issue to referendum, which itself only requires a simple majority. From the analysis I've digested it seems Abe will take an incrementalist approach, creating over time situations where his nationalist goals are easier to achieve, rather than immediately trying to swing for the fences.

This next is not Godwinning the thread, since I'm comparing Japan to Germany, not a commenter here to Hitler (you're all smart decent people, Godwinning not appropriate) - it worries me that whereas Germany's already 1) been defeated and had ignominious terms imposed, 2) re-armed and gone berserk and finally had sense knocked into them - Japan's defeat in WWII is more parallel to Germany's defeat in WWI. And Nippon Kaigi seem to be trying to adopt the most worrying bits of National Socialism, including literally worshipping the guy at the top. (!)
posted by iffthen at 10:40 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not sure why we would need to draw German parallels when there's a perfectly serviceable Japanese case study: inter-war Japan, relegated to the "kids' table" at both the Washington Naval Conference and the Treaty of Versailles.
posted by fifthrider at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2016

To clarify: I don't personally think the current political situation is remotely analogous to the inter-war period, whether in Japan or Germany. However, when the Komeito and Nippon Kaigi hardliners look back to the 'good old days,' it's the 30s-40s heyday of Imperial Japanese ambitions they're recalling, albeit through a very warped and selective lens.

It's all rather Trumpian, in its own way.
posted by fifthrider at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Those parallels aren't very good, though. The people of Japan are still incredibly pacifist, and opposition to the constitutional change was polling at about 80%.

The votes for LDP are for stability and economic reasons, not because the Japanese citizenry wants to change the constitutional provisions against war or go to war. And while the constitutional change itself may well happen, there's no reason to believe the LDP wants to start an actual war. They do have some legitimate concerns about what may happen if the US pulls out of defending Japan, which Trump has explicitly said he wants to do (or at least he wants to severely renegotiate, he wants Japan to arm itself with nukes, etc.... the Japanese government would not be wise to rely on the US during a Trump presidency, which is a statement that probably applies to the whole world)

Which is not to say it doesn't amp up the tension with China, of course. But the government is already creating plenty of ill feeling with the country over ramming these changes through in spite of widespread popular opposition. There is no appetite for actual conflict, and if it were to happen the vast majority of citizens would be shocked (and I suspect would actually create a large degree of political engagement which is typically not seen).

It's certainly true that a small number of right-wing politicians want to look at the war days with rose-tinted glasses, but this is a very very unpopular position. Even if they really want to start a war (and there's no reason to believe this) I'm not clear who they would supposedly start a war with. The geopolitical situation there is vastly different than a century ago, they are facing a numerically superior nuclear armed rival right next door, and they have been successful recently at cultivating military alliances against that country (in the same containment-based sense as the US has been doing since WWII).
posted by thefoxgod at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Constitutional revisionism" is trending on Twitter at the moment...
posted by My Dad at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2016

And I think it's worth noting that changing the constitution in this way would simply place them in the same situation as the vast majority of countries. Its not a vote for actual war. Even if it goes through (currently I suspect the referendum would have a hard time, but the hard sell from Abe hasn't happened yet and Brexit shows it can be hard to predict these things through polling way in advance of an actual vote), I'd still be less worried about Japan causing international problems than I am the US, for example. The general public there has no appetite for war the way the US or Russia seems to (or even China, which has been very aggressive in trying to grab territory recently).

Here's one recent poll showing only 37% support for revising the Constitution at this point.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2016

I don't want to make any sort of personal attack, but for anyone not living in Japan, I think it's important that you understand that MyDad has a very, very different view of what's happening in Japan than, honestly, most reporting about the country. The removal of the host of Close up Gendai was widely seen as having to do with her refusal to stop asking questions, almost literally so. That she was removed as the host of a government operated broadcast network is one thing, and bad enough. The other reporters abs broadcasters who were removed from their positions worked for private broadcasters whose owners removed/fired them at the behest of the government.

As for there being no surveillance of the population, it was revealed that, either last year or the year before that the Muslim community in Japan was actually under pretty heavy surveillance. There is a total lack of transparency in the government, though, so this could be an isolated incident, or could be more widespread, there's no way of knowing.

Furthermore, with the various "secrets laws" that have been enacted, or are being pushed, Abe and his cabinet are trying to make reporting on the government (that doesn't fit the official narrative) a criminal act. This is not a minor thing. Among the proposals (under the "much, much worse" link) is to essentially outlaw protest by classifying it as a nuisance to any number of unspecified parties. The vagueness of the language is intentional. The are seeking ways to remove freedom of speech from the freaking constitution. They have already been successful in causing a chilling effect on the media.

The thing is, you've got a government who thinks that Reagonimics was such a great idea, they're doing it again, headed by a group that believes the only way forward is to return to emporer worship. They look at the absurdly low birth rate and blame the equal rights movement and women in general, and are actively trying to remove the equal rights clause from the constitution. The one thing that the country needs (from an economic standpoint) is to seriously make immigration easier, simply because there will not be enough workers to run the economy otherwise, but their outright dislike/hatred of non-Japanese, combined with the their rampant idea of Japanese exceptionalism (Nihonjinron is alive and well) is strong enough that they would rather see the economy crash and burn than allow more non-Japanese into the country.

This is a country, and a government, that is clearly and blatantly sacrificing any kind of future for the non-elderly in favor of nationalist fever dreams and the fervent belief that their fathers (literally, in the cases of Abe, Aso, and tons of Japanese politicians) were utterly in the right in WWII. These are people who believe that Japan is a radical left wing country, and that they are merely centrists trying to bring it back to the middle, and that the way to do that is to effectively outlaw protest, muzzle the media, mandate "moral education" and patriotism in schools, and strip women of equal rights protection. These are dangerous people, and they've managed to finally achieve their supermajority in the government.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:21 PM on July 14, 2016 [29 favorites]

And I think it's worth noting that changing the constitution in this way would simply place them in the same situation as the vast majority of countries. Its not a vote for actual war.

This is something I have been telling myself for years, but I really wonder if I'm living in denial, sticking my head in the sand. "Naw, it could never happen here. No one would ever let them do that."

I didn't pay attention to the election last week, thinking that Abe was playing it safe (he could have dissolved both Houses) because the electorate is cranky (economy is doing shit, as usual).

But they got that supermajority, for the first time ever. With tensions with China, the next few years look pretty bleak, and it's an unpleasant thing to think about, since my kids (they are Japanese citizens) want to continue to live in Japan, either right now, or when they start university. What kind of country will they inherit?

The Wikipedia article on Kishi, Abe's grandfather, is pretty illuminating in terms of Abe's policies.
posted by My Dad at 12:21 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


A while back there was a study showing that if a country had a certain percentage of the populace be less than 15 years old, it was very highly lickely civil unrest if not civil war would break out.

I'm very tempted to make a weekend project of it to see if a country with a certain percentage of aging population doesn't turn to the right if not just plain dictatorship/fascism.

The US, Turkey, Japan, the Philipines, Russia and kinda China (maybe South Korea, too? Any others I'm missing) are all looking quite determined to take a hard right turn.
posted by MacD at 4:10 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a feeling my great-grandchildren will be reading books titled "2016."
posted by ocschwar at 5:22 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hmm, while I can see some of that Ghidorah, its a view that I hear far more from Westerners in Japan than people born there (not exclusively, though, just more commonly). I don't know what category you fall into personally.

I would say that my relatives and friends there (and my wife, who moved out of the country a year ago but still reads exclusively Japanese websites/news/etc) would say thats a somewhat alarmist way of stating it, while not necessarily disagreeing entirely with the facts.

And I suppose some of it depends on your perspective. Like, surveillance of Muslims? Not a good thing, but something every Western country is doing too. The USA in particular has led the way on that. I don't know anyone (even among conservatives) who takes emperor worship seriously (as far as I can tell this includes the Emperor, who publicly is not really a member of the extreme right wing). Almost everyone I know voted LDP (well, of the ones who will discuss it --- open discussion of politics is of course less common than in the US), but none of them support the extreme right wing of the LDP.

I guess thats one more confounding factor --- the LDP obviously has very mainstream support, and not all of its members are extreme. But it does have extreme elements, and they get voted in because the opposition has not had significant traction in a long time, and many people think they're better off sticking with what they've got.

But in general, I agree... I just think its not fundamentally different than what has been happening the US and parts of Europe. Which I suppose is in some ways a bigger problem, but one that is しょうがない to me I guess (I mean, I can vote/donate in the US, but it doesn't seem to help, where even someone like Trump is polling neck-and-neck with the Democrats).
posted by thefoxgod at 5:24 PM on July 14, 2016

FRED graph comparing US CPI (blue) to Japan (red).

Stunning that prices are up 0% since I first went to live there in '92 while US prices are up over 2/3.

Working age population (age 25-54) comparison

Japan's positive NIIP went up 4% last year, to 355 trillion yen, ~$3.5T USD assuming the yen stays around 100 now.

The US's NIIP is not doing so well.

My gut reaction is I like Japan's prospect this century much more than the US's; it's better to have "too few" people than the growing "Unnecessariat" we're developing.

I may or may not retire to Japan next decade, it depends on things.

It was nice in the 1990s, I think it's nicer now, even. But I was last there in 2002, on a visit.

Japan's colossal debt-to-GDP is not a hole they're going to be able to climb out of, short of a nice reintroduction of wage inflation, like they experienced in the postwar.

The flip side of that debt is that it's also everyone's savings, too, so if & when the BOJ inflates down the debt they're also inflating away savings.

With a declining population, Japan is going to need less and less this century, of everything. Quite a different picture vs. the USA.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:15 PM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Heywood Mogroot III, looking at that chart vs. the actual lived experience I've had in Japan is hard to process. The price of many staple goods has gone up significantly in the past few years, while wages have most certainly not. Full-time employment with benefits is incredibly difficult to find for younger Japanese people, leading to a large underclass forced to make do with contract work (same duties, same hours as full timers, less pay, no benefits, no security) or part time work that leads to people needing to live at home. While I understand that this is how things are and have been in the States, it wasn't, until recently, that way in Japan. Abe and his little think tank are all about bringing over the worst ideas from the west, and because the younger, urban part of the population are the one suffering, the older base of the LDP supporters couldn't care less.

The declining population doesn't mean they'll need fewer workers (they'll need more, in fact, as the elderly are no longer able to work, and need caring for), but the LDP is staunchly against any sort of immigration reform that isn't essentially an exploitation scam (at least recently, the Philippine nurse program, the 'trade school' scam where Asian workers are paid a pittance and put to work under the guise of training). Without some actual, honest, forward looking leadership, Japan is screwed. Abe and the rest of the LDP don't care because they're all about maintaining what they've got, and fuck anyone who comes after them.

And thefoxgod, shoganai has always been one of the biggest problems here. You have an entire generation that's been trained to believe that nothing they do will matter, that the country is run by the old, for the old. What this whole election cycle reminds me of is Bush claiming he would be an environmental president, an education president, anything that would make people happy, then, on election, he turned around and gutted most of the things he said he'd support. It's looking like Abe campaigned on Abenomics, but the actual goal was to gut the constitution. I'm not optimistic about the future here.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:47 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thats certainly possible. I'm sure you'd agree that Japanese are much less passionate about politics in general and don't discuss it the way Americans usually do. So I don't think many people have a sense of urgency or despair about any of this (certainly the people I know do not). But that doesn't mean it can't be bad.

I don't think war is the worry (the way it is sometimes framed in the West). There's no one Japan could start a war with that isn't armed with nukes, and Abe is not insane. On the military front the main danger is just the usual "high tension could cause mistakes that escalate", but thats a game everyone is playing now unfortunately (Russia especially, but also China, the US, France, etc).

So if I were a Westerner not involved with Japan, I don't think there's much to worry about. As someone who is likely to move there soon and will quite possibly spend most of my life there, and at the very least who will have substantial ties there forever, there is plenty to worry about inside Japan. I still think the biggest worry is the economy --- it would be one thing if all this was happening but Abenomics had worked. It has not worked, and so the only reason people actually voted for him was a failure (in large part because none of the reforms actually happened).

They're open to immigration from high-skilled Westerners, but the reality is few of those want to move there. The countries that actually have lots of immigrants who would be willing to fill the labor gap are much less welcome, which means they have no credible solution to the population problem.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:54 PM on July 14, 2016

They're open to immigration from high-skilled Westerners

That's very much a part of the problem. They only want certain people from certain countries to fill jobs that mostly don't have a demand for workers. Meanwhile, the demand for unskilled labor is incredibly high, as is nursing and elder-care related labor, but that's not the sector they're willing to open up to immigration.

As for war, no, it's not likely to most rational thinking people, but then again, these are people who believe that Japan was unjustly wronged, that it was acting in self-defense when it tried to conquer all of Asia. These are people who already censor textbooks, and want to introduce classes teaching patriotism and 'moral values' (whose values?... uh, well, don't worry about that) into schools. It feels like the beginning of something that, unchecked, leads to fascism. The apathy of the mass of Japanese people is utterly terrifying to me, because that's a key ingredient to that sort of system growing.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:03 PM on July 14, 2016

I think when they start moving from the medium-sized legal changes they've pushed through to taking on bigger issues, they're going to find an amazing amount of pushback. Folks care about sexual equality and free speech and human rights, but when presented with a party that looks like it can fix the economy at the expense of what people see are minor negative changes to those areas, people need money, so they will pick the economy. But when you switch to major changes, like trying to scrap Article 9 or institute emperor worship or possess nukes, you're going to find voters out in numbers that have never been seen in past elections, the vast majority of which will be in opposition.

I mean, most of us in this thread know how things are on the ground in Japan, but for MeFites who don't have a lot of experience with Japan: there are some, perhaps many, hawks in the government, but the Japanese people, as a whole, are overwhelmingly pacifist. It's just night and day compared to, say, America, where people (at least when I lived there, pre-9/11, and I'm sure it got far far worse after that) were really excited and gung-ho about the prospect of going to war.

Ghidorah: " These are people who already censor textbooks"

Trying to censor textbooks, sure, but I'm curious about how much they are actually censoring textbooks. I'm going to go have to check this out at a bookstore. I'd heard a lot about textbook censorship before moving here, and I did my university final thesis on the Rape of Nanjing, so when I started teaching at a Japanese high school I was curious, and a bit scared, to see how textbooks had been bowdlerized. But when I looked at the history textbooks being used at my school, I was surprised to see that it was all in there. Looking at the Wikipedia Japanese Textbook Controversies page it looks like there was big movement in 2007, but all that's sourced is a politician bragging about removing comfort women, and doesn't mention if it was actually true. Other than that, the big one I remember was the "New History Textbook", which as of 2001 was used by only 0.039% of junior high schools. Another big one apparently was an Asahi Shimbun article about a recommendation that further investigation shows didn't actually exist. So there seems to be a big gap between the impression of the textbook censorship situation and how things actually are. On the other hand, that's not to say that there hasn't been censorship, either (last time I looked at textbooks was 1999, and a lot can change in 17 years). When the rain lays off I'll go to the local bookstore with all the textbooks and check it out.
posted by Bugbread at 8:28 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the insight, Bugbread. Honestly, most of the teaching I've done has been at pretty conservative schools, and there were certain topics it was pretty clear we weren't supposed to talk about in the office, let alone with students.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:53 PM on July 14, 2016

Japan's Chance to Resist a Turn to the Right--@AbeShinzo now has unprecedented power. Will he use it to make Japan a more liberal nation, or a less liberal one?
Unlike many analysts -- and many of Japan’s own people -- I view the argument over remilitarization as a distraction. If the notorious Article 9 of Japan’s constitution is revised, the Japanese military will simply change its name from “self-defense forces” to “army.” There will be no repeat of imperial expansion or World War II. Whatever increased assertiveness Japan would gain could be used for liberal purposes -- defending weaker allies against encroachment by an expansionist China or a bellicose North Korea -- rather than for illiberal ones.

A more important question, in both the economic and social realms, will be the role of women. Japan has only small numbers of racial and religious minorities, so the main group that stands to lose from Japanese illiberalism is the female half of the country. If Japan is to have an economic and social underclass, it will be women.

Yet it is precisely on the gender issue that Abe has shown his strongest inclinations toward liberalism. He has relentlessly pushed companies to hire more women, with both rhetoric and real policy. He has expanded government day care and preferentially awarded government contracts to companies that promote women. Under Abe’s watch, Japan’s women have entered the workforce in record numbers, so that the norm of stay-at-home moms and single breadwinners now is mostly a thing of the past. The new emphasis on company profitability, thanks in part to Abe’s new corporate governance code, will also pressure Japanese industry to make better use of female employees -- an instance where economic and social liberalism go hand in hand.
posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on July 15, 2016

Well, I went to the bookstore, and whoops, I had forgotten that the textbooks are only at the bookstore at the start of the academic school year. I'm going to have to set myself a reminder for next spring.
posted by Bugbread at 12:15 AM on July 15, 2016

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