Last month, the government revised its Basic Education Law for the first time since it was implemented after World War II, in an attempt to instill greater patriotism in students.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his majority in the Diet ostensibly argue that the educational reforms will quell an overemphasis on individuality, which they blame in part for "misbehaving children, bullying in classrooms and students who have no concern for others." Critics say it is an electoral ploy to shore up Abe's approval rating (currently at 48%). To the extent that the cynics are correct, it should be of little consolation to them, as the primary reason for the popularity decline is an attenuation of the reform agenda that made the eccentric former PM Koizumi so successful.
Most international media sources don't like Japan's rightward movement, especially Abe's attempts to strengthen his country's relationship with the US:
The alliance with the US is likely to become even more important in the face of China's rise, and, with the Americans' encouragement, Japan will continue to assume a wider global role.
Far from being persuaded by the growing power and prosperity of east Asia - and in particular China - to turn over a new leaf in its relationship with the region, it would appear that Japan is determined to continue with the mindset that has dominated its attitude ever since the Meiji restoration in 1868, namely one of superiority and detachment.
Most international media sources despise the US, and the reasons extend far beyond our flailings in the Middle East. As the ultimate market-dominant minority, America is naturally going to irk cosmopolitan elitists, who would like to see the US, and the West in general, decline to the point that there is no longer any globally dominant geographic area or civilization. This is another reason to cheer Abe on.
Looking long-term, the attempt to reacquaint this amazing nation (Japan didn't begin modernizing in earnest until the Meiji Reforms of 1868, and within four decades had defeated two hempispheric giants, Russia and China in back-to-back wars) with its past is a positive for the US.
It's part of a larger movement within Japan to amend its restrictive post-WWII Constitution, specifically Article Nine, which relegates the islands to a perpetual hiatus on military buildup and disallows the declaration of war.
The pacifistic constitution caused the US a headache almost immediately after being implemented, when a newly communist China still allied with the Soviet Union backed a North Korean incursion into the South in the summer of 1950. Electing to pull troops stationed in Japan to aid South Korea, the US, under Colonel Frank Kowalski, put together a ramshackle Japanese fighting force of some 75,000, equipped primarily with US supplies and weaponry.
It is a contemporary headache as well. While much attention is given to the justification for some 30,000-and declining US troops stationed in a South Korea that doesn't really want them there and matches up as favorably against the feeble North as well as the US does against Iran, the US has nearly twice that many active duty military personnel in Japan as it has stationed in South Korea. This 47,000-strong contingent strikes me as even less justified than the Korean presence.
Japan spends more than all but five countries in terms of total military expenditures, has the world's third largest economy, the second highest per-capita purchasing power in all of the East (only the financial and technology hub that is Hong Kong is more affluent), one of the world's most intelligent populations, over half of the world's working robots, and is home to several of the globe's most successful MNCs like Sony and Toyota. Can the country not defend itself? Do we have a vital interest in the island? Do we need a military presence there?
Or should we encourage Japan (and leave the door open for Taiwan and South Korea) to continue with its military buildup and look toward nuclear weapons (they were almost there at the end of WWII, and as the world's third largest user of nuclear energy, it can't be that far away)? Pincered by India to the south and Japan to the east, Chinese expansionism, to the extent that it is a threat to 'regional stability', will be checked. Letting our allies in the region stand on their own two feet, which they are clearly capable of doing, seems the best way to retain a favorable balance of power in the Pacific and curtail our unneccessary military commitments in an area of the world that is going to be increasingly difficult for us to control directly anyway.
The nationalistic bent may hold a key to turning the nation's demographic fortunes around as well. Japan's Health Minister recently came under fire for equating Japan's population of women between the ages of 15 and 50 with its number of "birth machines", but the context is important. He was pointing out the birth dearth that threatens a rapidly shrinking Japanese population, where one-fifth of the population is over the age of 65, and the total fertility rate has plummeted to an unsustainable 1.26 babies per woman (2.1 is generally considered the replenishment threshold). If current fecundity trends continue, those over the age of 65 will constitute more than a third of the population by mid-century, while the total population will have declined from 130 million today to 100 million. By the end of the century, it will have fallen to a paltry 64 million.
Japanese collectivism, and the racial pride that is essential to understanding East Asia (according to CIA estimates, Japan has a net migration rate of 0 per 1,000 people--few leave and few are allowed in), tell me that governmental reforms designed to impact the way the public views itself are more potent than in the West, where government-sponsored campaigns are often the target of derision and are rarely successful.
I wish the LDP luck.