Against Abe: Listening for Oppositional Voices within Japan

“Take back Japan!” A pro-Abe political poster in Tokyo.

Memo #268

By Hyung-Gu Lynn – hlynn [at]

The poster beside the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Tokyo features a photograph of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, adorned with the slogan “Take back Japan!” Most English-language media accounts and op-eds create the impression that all of Japan is enthusiastic in its endorsement of Prime Minister Abe’s call to “take back” – Japan’s past apologies for historical wrongdoing, disputed islands, the right of individual government officials to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and Japan’s place as a “normal” nation by revising the Constitution to allow for collective self-defense. These accounts are not incorrect – the rightward shift is very palpable.

However, the editorials and the reports in English often fall into the common trap of using the nation-state as the default unit of analysis, and focusing on governments rather than the full spectrum of political views. In other words, they have often been missing an important element: the emerging array of oppositional voices within Japan’s political elite.

Former Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi, best known for his 1995 Murayama Declaration or Apology, called the visit to Yasukuni a “betrayal” of the nation. In the same month (January 2014), Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of the New Kōmei Party, the key coalitional partner of the LDP, publicly declared he and his party’s opposition to Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and attempts to revise the country’s Constitution. Yanagisawa Kyōji, a former high-ranking official in the Japanese Ministry of Defense, has repeatedly voiced his displeasure at the lack of consistent logic behind Abe’s security policies. Former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro’s entry into the February 9 Tokyo Gubernatorial election, armed with an anti-nuclear energy platform and the imprimatur of the still-popular former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō, revived dormant debates about the future of nuclear energy, though he has placed second in latest projections. Ozawa Ichirō, head of the opposition Life Party, has begun to increase the volume of his criticisms of the Abe cabinet.

Very few democracies are painted in political monochrome. The success or failure of Abenomics remains a key for the Abe government’s sustainability, but the gradual crescendo of oppositional voices within Japan to the current government’s security and diplomatic policies requires some listening.

Poster at the LDP Headquarters – featuring the slogan, “Take back Japan!” (Credit: Hyung-Gu Lynn).

Hyung-Gu Lynn is the AECL/KEPCO Chair in Korean Research at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, where he also serves as Editor of the journal Pacific Affairs as well as the Asia Pacific Memo.


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