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Japan’s Dangerous Tilt to The Right: a report from Hamburg, Germany

by Natalia Berner* 


Japan is plunging to right, as voices of alarm start to rise, but most of German and Japanese society does not realize how serious the recent political situation has become. Reactions are similar to those of a paralyzed moose facing the headlamps of an upcoming truck. Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University (上智大学) is one of the very few outspoken critics still standing up and critiquing the Abe government. He recently lectured in Hamburg, Germany. He explained with great honesty and clarity, why in his opinion, Japan is shifting dangerously to the right. The lecture resonated in Germany in a way it may resonate nowhere else.

         “I can’t remember any time in postwar (Japan) when things looked this bad”.

If you heard the lecture about Japan’s drift to the right, ending with those words, held at the Hamburg University on December 9th,  you might seriously start to worry, if you’re not worried already.

In Germany, Japan's far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe's cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book "Hitler's Election Strategy" written by an LDP flack.
In Germany, Japan’s far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the current Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book “Hitler’s Election Strategy”,  written by an LDP flack. Prior to elections, the State Secrets Law, which muzzles reporting and whistle-blowing with odious punishments went into effect on December 10th. Elections are being held today December 14th, 2014.


I know you’re generally not supposed to start an article with the conclusion but it seems appropriate. Why? Because it is like in Lars von Triers film Melancholia: in the very first sequence, it is visualized how the earth is being irreparably destroyed by an enormous planet moving toward the earth. The viewer’s optimistic nature about the future during the movie is being nipped in the bud, it is certain you will feel no hope, because right from the start everyone knows how the story will end. And sadly, this bears a striking similarity to Japan’s recent political situation. Cherishing hope is what we should not do, especially with the elections today. It is very unlikely that Abe’s agenda will be stopped. A surprising failure of the LDP will not come true. The reason: there is no alternative. No opposition. No left left. Japan is in very dark and deep waters right now.

This situation seems not to make the Japanese people concerned and this is in a way, understandable. At first, if you just take a superficial glance, it might seem like nothing really will change or has changed. The LPD has ruled the parliament most of Japan’s post-war history, and it has always had some “nationalist lunatics” within their roster. For example Abe’s grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, who had been imprisoned as a category A war criminal, was released without any consequences and become the 56th and 57th Prime Minister of Japan. Kishi was synonomous with corruption, shady deals, criminal influence and even put up bail for a Yamaguchi-gumi (yakuza) boss accused of murder in the 1970s.

But exactly this is the reason why it is getting menacing: Japan is drifting to the right and it looks like the society doesn’t really realize, react nor care.

Koichi Nakano is asking exactly this question: “Is Japan shifting to the right?”. In his opinion Japan is on it’s way further “right” and in an almost right-tilting death spiral.

“Oh, gosh, this is just the ‘normalization’of Japan,” some say.  This is one of the arguments used by many, many people to trivialize the changes.

“Oh, Japan is becoming normal. They still have Article 9 in the constitution which forbids wars. The people are pacifists. They’re becoming normal just like Germany become normal. Germany also participates in military action and it’s not like it’s the return of Hitler all over again. So don’t worry: Japan is just doing the same.”


Japan could maybe do the same, if Japan’s process of coming to terms with their past existed like it does in Germany. Germany came to terms with the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the nation during WWII; Japan denies them. It doesn’t teach them to their children. The current administration wants to bury the past, whitewash it, but not come to terms with it.

Reputedly in recent years “nothing really changed”. This is such an unsustainable argument like Abe’s declaration that his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the masterminds of Japan’s war are enshrined, is just paying his respects to the spirits of the war dead. He even claims it’s to renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war.” Of course, he doesn’t mention his wish to revive militarism.

“New Right Transformation” is the term Koichi Nakasone is calling Japans political development within the last twenty to thirty years. He claims this change doesn’t start with Abe; things started to move from the 1980s. This change of the political system in Japan is a long-term development.

“During the cold war there was the 1955 system. The LDP was always in power, the socialists were always in opposition. It was like the Japanese political system was frozen. No change at all. Prime Ministers were coming and going, one corrupt man replaced by anothercorrupt man. It was impossible in the Cold War context for the socialists to gain power.”

Lost Opportunity

After the end of the cold war, after the end of the bubble economy in Japan, things came into flux. People are given more choices. Japan was more opening up, more self-concious . “The New Right Transformation” was built from this liberalization of the politics in Japan and these liberating moments also became the cause for the Japanese left to collapse.

“The socialists failed to adapted to the new liberalized open politics and they dug their own grave. The liberal opening is eventually ending today in illiberal politics.”

The Japanese have, of course, not become all of a sudden a horde of visible nationalistic maniacs, who go on the streets and spill hatred and blood. People like the Zaitoku-kai – an ordinary bunch of people, who are Japan’s version of neo-nazis—are still the minority, they have just become a little bit more “in your face” than before. But, they are a reaction to the right-leaning tendencies the elites in the politics are initiatin.

Professor Nakano points it out: it is not like Japanese society is outspoken and the government is following, it is exactly the opposite. It is an “elite-driven and not society-driven” process that pushed Japan to the right.

Nakano, explains Japans political development to the right within the last 20-30 years with waves and a pendulum: every time the pendulum (symbolizing the Japanese politicial front) swings to the right, the set-point is also shifting to the right. So the moment the pendulum is going back to the left, the left is more right than it was before.

The rightward tendencies can also be seen as waves, which are coming and going. The very first wave was with Nakasone Yasuhiro, the second wave with Ozawa Ichiro, the third with Hashimoto Ryutaro, the fourth with Koizumi Junichiro and now the rightist tidal wave with Abe Shinzo. So one thing is true: Japan’s right wing shift did not begin with Abe and probably it won’t end with him either.

The New Inequality

One indicator for Japan’s ultra-conservative shift can be also found in Japan’s social-economic conditions. Japan is a very unequal country. Japan used to be often referred to as a very equalitarian society. There was a semi-credible myth, that everybody in Japan was middle class. Now, relative poverty in Japan in according to OECD statistics is 4th from the bottom. A reason: the number of irregular, part-time, unstable jobs increased; decent, stable and regular jobs decreased. Thanks to Abe and his predecessors slowly crippling Japan’s labor laws and empowering temporary staffing companies and corporations over the common people.

Another indicator of a hard-shift right related to domestic politics is the Law and Order Issue. The Secret State Law, that came into effect on December 10th. The state now decides what is a secret, can keep anything secret up to 60 years, and can arrest and probably imprison anyone who is asking about a secret, even if they don’t know it is a secret. Nakano lambastes the law, saying, “It is absurd and makes Japan look more and more like Russia: the state knows everything and we do not know anything.”

Japan has become a very illiberal and undemocratic country in two short years. Japan isn’t just drifting right, it’s plunging into the right.

“I can’t remember any time in postwar Japan when things looked this bad.”

You don’t have to be an expert on Japan to see where things are heading. For those listening to Professor Nakano’s lecture in Hamburg, his words sent a chill up our spines.

History does repeat itself if you don’t know it—or you do know it and try to bury it.

The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That's not heartening.
The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That’s not heartening.


*Natalia Berner is the JSRC correspondent for Germany. A newbie journalist, we hope to hear more from her in the future. Jake Adelstein also contributed to this article. 


Managing editors of the blog.

15 thoughts on “Japan’s Dangerous Tilt to The Right: a report from Hamburg, Germany”
  1. As a rightist myself, I take issue with the characterization of Nazism as “right-wing”. Nazism is “National Socialism” and socialism is a creation of the left. I f you knew your history, Natalia, you would be aware that one of the selling points of National Socialism was its stated dedication to the reduction of income inequality.

  2. The article is well written and informative, thank you! However, I would politely advise the author to reread it once more and correct the obvious typos and grammatical mistakes. The article would definitely benefit from it.

  3. Sorry, but just because a party carried the word socialism in their name does not mean they followed socialist ideas. The mere fact that the Socialists of Nazi-Germany were some of the first to be persecuted and killed by the NSDAP, speaks for itself. What ruled in right wing Nazi-Germany were ignorance and intolerance. Even in right wing Germany those attributes are prevalently written on their banners. Just as the NSDAP had little in common with Socialism, so it seems that the LDP is hardly driven by liberal ideas, unless we consider neo-liberal to be part of the base principles of freedom and justice.
    The increasingly inward turned politics and economics of Japan, have been responded to by the international markets accordingly. In 2009 I received a note from my financial advisor that major investment houses and banks had advised their staff to cease including Japanese assets in their investment packages. Most of Japan’s government debt is within itself, I.e. It’s own banks. Japan’s conservative LDP governments are perhaps better likened with Israel’s government which has shifted to the right in terms of some ill defined ideas surrounding national identity and spirituality. Here too small nationalistic and religiously motivated groups seem to overly influence government policies. Here too the rest of the world that counts (or rather accounts) has noticed and taking a safer distance.
    Someone once said that most nations get the government they deserve. The question in respect of Japan is, if it’s people deserve to be catapulted back into the Showa period, just for the perhaps not so simple purpose of learning from the mistakes of the past.

  4. So….in your opinion Hitler was a communist? It’s that what you are trying to say? Thank you for the great laughs.

    Mr. Carr, I believe you didn’t get the essential point of my article. Don’t worry, that’s okay. Just read it again. And if necessary a third time.

    And by the way: I know “my” history pretty well. I am Polish.

    Best regards,

  5. Don’t bash Brendon so hard just because there are different definitions of the political right in the world. Where he must talk about the anglo saxon definition with their liberal catering to the big corporations and money, demanding less state involvement into their (shady) business, you(Natalia) talk about the european definition of the nationalist right, which is heavy on nationalism and state control. Sure both definitions have some overlap but I can see how Brendon doesn’t want to see his “right” associated with the european definition of it. And from his view some of the Nazi programs were pure socialism (again anglo saxon socialism which also has sutle differences). Some examples would be the state sponsored program to build the Autobahn and so on.
    Anyways it’s still to be seen and judged which “right” will be worse for mankind. The populist(hail to stupid little guy) or the consumerist(hail to stupid bitten apple)

    And that’s just a German point of view, East German to be exact.

    P.S. To be back on topic, the worst failing of Japan post war was living the lie and and denying all their atrocities. But then again the US maybe had a bit of a guilty conscience for dropping the A-bomb on them and left them of the hook easier.

  6. If Japan is on this endless move to the right,how does the author explain the fact that the Communist Party tripled its number of seats in the Diet,Minshuto won a few extra seats and that awful racist Ishihara and his buddy Tamogami got their arses kicked yesterday?I hate Jiminto and New Komeito as much as the next leftist,but I don’t find this endless liberal bleating about Abe and ‘Japan’ not facing up to its history in comparison to the wonderful,and completely mythical ‘German’ dealing with the past based on facts……the postwar regime in Germany was a horrible conservative government,the postwar regime in Italy was a horrible conservative government and the Japanese were lumbered with a horrible conservative thanks to the Cold War and the American need to fight the ‘commies’……..the commies have been dispatched and now the crumbling old parties have very little to sell people….if you are a carpetbagger for big business what is the best way to unite people?go on about the emperor,shinto and the beauty of Japan….they go on about it coz they have sweet FA else to sell……and as the low turnout shows,people are sick of the whole political game……voting is a con under the present circumstances…..

    1. Because a vote for the Communist Party may be the only alternative way to say “Fuck you Abe” when the opposition is weak.

  7. oh,also,do you remember the last idiot conservative PM who was supposedly popular?yeah,Koizumi.What was his big thing?Post Office privatisation…..he went on about it for years.It still isn’t privatised,coz the state functionaries don’t want it done.politicians in this country have very little power.its all media hoopla.

    1. The Post Office is heading towards an IPO. I don’t know if that really benefits Japan but i guess he achieved something.

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