The Rising Sun flag, used by the Japanese Navy and Army in the Second World War is still used by Japan's armed force's today. It is widely seen as a symbol of imperialismTokyo Watcher

The start of this year, and indeed the entirety of last year have undoubtedly been a drastic departure from the charted, familiar politics that many of us have grown up with. The narrow decision to leave the EU, the unprecedented election of Donald Trump and a general trend globally towards a more nationalistic and conservative politics have provided us with a year full of political surprises.

Yet for someone who’s had an interest in Japanese politics, this trend towards nationalistic rhetoric in politics is absolutely nothing new. Whilst we should be concerned about events in Europe and North America, the insidious development of nationalism in Japan has a greater potential for destruction, and a far greater chance of realising it.

Politically, Japan remains for many people a relative unknown: more famous for Pokémon than politics, sushi and samurai than socialism. In Cambridge, most recently Japan came to prominence over the controversial Trinity Hall June Event theme in 2016. Indeed, whenever I tell people that I do Japanese, I’m greeted by the all too familiar question “Oh, is that part of MML?” (It’s not, it’s part of AMES). Unless you’re really looking for it, information on Japanese current events is hard to come by.

 “Nationalism permeates all aspects of Japanese politics.”

Yet politically, the past few years for Japan have witnessed a similar phenomenon to the one sweeping across the West at the moment. Faced with the threat of a nuclear North Korea, and a China that is increasingly willing to flex its muscles in the region, many of Japan’s politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzō Abe have turned to the nationalism that now is rearing its ugly head over much of the world. The rise of this ideology can be documented through various aspects of Japanese politics and society: the rise of nationalist groups such as the discriminatory anti-zainichi (zainichi being ethnically Korean people who are born and raised in Japan, many of whom have remained in Japan since their families moved while Korea was a Japanese colony) group Zaitokukai, influential political movements such as the controversial proposed alterations to the pacifist constitution, and the ongoing issue of history textbook revisionism regarding Japan’s role in World War Two that is continuously causing conflict with Japan’s neighbours. These controversies have included statistics regarding the Rape of Nanking in 1937 that have been contested by China as being too low, and misrepresenting the scale of the murder of civilians.  This continual debate regarding history textbooks has led to anti-Japanese protests in other Asian countries, and in 2005 Japanese businesses and nationals in both countries were targets of violence.

Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, has attempted to remove the pacifistic elements of Japan's constitutionPresident of Russia

Nationalism permeates all aspects of Japanese politics. Domestically, constitutional revisionism has been an issue more or less since the enactment of the document in 1947 under the American Occupation, with Prime Minister Abe’s attempts to remove the pacifistic Article 9 being far from the first attempts to revise it by a Japanese Prime Minister. On top of this, many politicians, around 60% of parliamentary representatives, are members of the controversial nationalist organisation Nippon Kaigi, created in 1997 to promote constitutional revision, as well as opposing what they perceive as the masochistic approach to the 20th century in the Japanese psyche; that is, the self-flagellant approach towards all aspects of Japan’s actions in the 1930s and 1940s.

“the creeping nationalism of Japanese politics is acting to undermine the precarious balance of relations in East Asia.”

 Japan’s wartime legacy still dramatically affects relations with China and South Korea. The withdrawal of diplomatic envoys from Korea in January of this year following the refusal of the Korean government to take action over a statue of a 'comfort woman'(coerced military prostitute, systematically organised by the Japanese in the Second World War) built opposite the Japanese consulate in the city of Busan evidences the influence that the two countries’ troubled past can still exercise on political relations. China and Japan frequently contend wartime issues, such as casualty numbers of the aforementioned Rape of Nanking, marring what could otherwise be a profitable and successful relationship.

But does this matter, and even if it does, why should we, thousands of miles away, care? So far it just seems like another country to worry about; another state sliding further down the slippery slope towards the nationalism and jingoism that many thought had finally been left behind. However, while much has been theorised about the havoc that Donald Trump could wreak throwing his political toys out of the pram, very little, at least in the West, has been said about the potential damage that could be done by the development of nationalism in Japan.

While Japan, China, and South Korea, as the most economically and politically influential countries of the region, should be acting as stabilising forces in the region, instead the creeping nationalism of Japanese politics is acting to undermine the precarious balance of relations in East Asia. With the increasing potential for conflict with North Korea, and the powder kegs of the South and East China Seas waiting for a spark, the destructive potential of Japanese nationalism is now more clear and present than ever. Through ignoring this transformation in Japanese politics, the West affords Prime Minister Abe more of the undeserved mandate to advance this agenda, bringing us closer to this destructive potential

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