The Trouble with Japanese Nationalism

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's brand of "new nationalism" is angering much of Asia and sowing doubts in the US. According to Francis Fukuyama, until Japan comes to terms with its responsibility for the Pacific War, revising the post-1945 constitution to allow Japanese re-armament – a key US goal – would be dangerously destabilizing.

Barely half a year into his premiership, Japan’s Shinzo Abe is provoking anger across Asia and mixed feelings in his country’s key ally, the United States. But will the Bush administration use its influence to nudge Abe away from inflammatory behavior?

Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, was a mold-breaking leader, reviving Japan’s economy, reforming the postal savings system, and smashing the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s faction system. But Koizumi also legitimized a new Japanese nationalism, antagonizing China and South Korea by his annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. If anything, Abe is even more committed to building an assertive and unapologetic Japan.

Anyone who believes that the Yasukuni controversy is an obscure historical matter that Chinese and Koreans use to badger Japan for political advantage has probably never spent much time there. The problem is not the 12 Class-A war criminals interred at the shrine; the real problem is the Yushukan military museum next door.

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