The Rise of Right Wing Japanese Nationalism

By: Jacob Hales

The archipelagic nation of Japan, a country revered for its secrecy and order. Known for thousands of years to be an island shrouded in mystery. A feudal system reigned the country for well over 900 years, which was characterized by the emergence and dominance of the Samurai. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to the rest of the world with the Convention of Kanagawa.

Japanese imperialism began in the late 1860s during the reign of emperor Meiji. During this time, the country believed in a kill-or-be-killed ideology; therefore, it eventually had control over most of the South Pacific and the Korean Peninsula by the late 1920s. During the mid-’30s, Japan invaded Manchuria and plowed through the Chinese army. After World War II, the country was repressed in military size and strength by the United States Government, and it has had a democratic republic in place of the Empire.

Nationalism plays a pivotal role in the lives of the Japanese, but the two types of nationalism that are most prominent in the nation should be distinguished: cultural nationalism and political/state nationalism. Cultural nationalism focuses on a national identity shaped by cultural traditions, such as holidays and customs. Japan is chock-full of vibrant traditions, festivals and folklore. The Japanese respect their history and their culture to a radical extent unlike any other nation; they commemorate the days of olde while still maintaining a modern society. This article will focus more on the rise of conservative political/state nationalism in Japan.

Uyoku Dantai (right-wing groups) are very prominent in modern Japanese society. They focus on core conservative values, similar to the ones found in countries like the United States and the Russian Federation. Uyoku Dantai are split among many organizations that don’t agree on all sides of the nationalist spectrum, but three philosophies are universally accepted: the advocation of kokutai-goji (maintaining the fundamental character of the country), opposition of Communism and Marxism, and hostility towards the Japan Teachers Union.

The political party Jiyū-Minshutō, known in English as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been in control of Japan’s government almost continuously since its founding in 1955 with exceptions between 1993-1994 and 2009-2012. Despite its seemingly ubiquitous name, the Liberal Democratic Party is, in reality, a conservative political party.

The nation’s president, Shinzo Abe, is a member and leader of the LDP. Since the elections in 2012, right-wing groups have been on the rise. After all, the only represented political stance is conservative. But the groups that are rising to fame are not in complete favor of the LDP. 

Uyoku Dantai are well-known for their highly visible propaganda vehicles. They decorate these vans—known by the Japanese as gaisensha—the signs, loudspeakers, and propagandic slogans. Typically, they are also adorned with the Imperial Seal of Japan, the Flag of Japan, and the Rising Sun Flag. They are seen driving in busy metropolitan areas, blasting the national anthem and miscellaneous propaganda songs.

Most of these right-wing groups are attempting to rewrite Japan’s role during the second World War—denying war crimes committed by the military pre-1945, such as the previously mentioned invasion of Manchuria and the unhinged slaughter of Chinese civilians (6 million of them). This is basically the equivalent of the Germans removing the Holocaust from textbooks and trying to justify for it happening. Most of the country still supports a “self-hate” mindset when it comes to post-WWII historical education, bashing themselves for the “mistakes” the nation made under the imperial reign of Emperor Hirohito.

But, this isn’t necessarily the greatest way to look at the dark side of a nation’s past. A more beneficial way to shed light on the corrupt history of Japan would be to acknowledge the cynicism of the nation and grow from the ashes, knowing that the country it was back then is not the same as it is now.

On a more personal note, I sympathize for the nation of Japan. It’s a country with a brutal but vibrant history of war, culture and natural/nuclear disasters. The Japanese are a different brand of human being, and their respect for their country rivals none other. American patriotism is almost a joke nowadays—an excuse to say what you want because it’s your First Amendment right. The Japanese have never abused their Constitution and respect it accordingly.

Since the end of World War II, the Japanese have been repeatedly told that they were in the wrong since the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Granted, the Imperial Japanese Army slaughtered millions of people in the span of eight years, but plenty of great things came from the work ethic and determination of the Japanese. The citizens and government have been in a constant state of self-deprecation since they surrendered in 1945. We, as humans, learn from our mistakes; we must not let our actions in the past affect the way we act today nor should we forget them. In the end, a little nationalism—not right wing or left wing just plain, unbiased nationalism—may not be the worst thing for a country that’s been constantly defecating on itself for the past 70 years.




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