Everyone likes the new-ish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right? Why, his so called “Abe-nomics” promises to deliver Japan from two decades of economic malaise, by embracing the supply side prescriptions endorsed by right thinking folks within Washington and along the corridors of the Economist magazine. The “three arrows” of Abe reform reportedly consist of “monetary loosening, fiscal stimulus and pro-growth reforms.” Earlier this week, Abe and his LDP party won a stable majority in both houses of Japan’s parliament that will now enable him to enact his reform programme free of any meaningful constraints. Whoopee. The Economist can barely conceal its excitement:
Among the three “arrows”, as Mr Abe has dubbed them, the third [ie, the pro-growth reforms] is the most important and the most controversial. The prospect of supply-side structural reforms, badly needed, for instance, to loosen the inflexible labour market, has boosted outside investors’ hopes for Japan and sent its stockmarket soaring….
In particular, those lobby groups within Japan who oppose Abe’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal have lost out, big time:
Japan Agriculture (JA), the country’s most powerful political lobby group, which usually backs the LDP, regarded itself as having been betrayed by Mr Abe’s decision in March to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free-trade agreement which—JA reckons—will harm its members’ livelihoods. In a key battle in rural Yamagata, where JA was backing an independent politician, Yasue Funayama, against the LDP’s less-experienced candidate, Mizuho Onuma, who had been obliged to back joining talks on TPP, Ms Onuma won. This is a good omen for the coming struggle: to persuade the LDP’s vested interests to accept radical third-arrow reforms.
Fantastic news, huh? Maybe even a few market opportunities could emerge down the track for New Zealand investors and exporters, if Abe can prise open those hitherto closed internal markets. Is there anything not to rejoice about, given that Abe has just won such a sweeping mandate to do whatever he likes? Uh oh. Hold on a minute. There’s this:
[Since] earlier this year. Abe has tried to reframe Japan’s role in World War II: He’s questioned “whether it is proper to say that Japan ‘invaded’ its neighbors” and questioned the 1995 official apology to “comfort women,” the conscription prostitutes provided to Japanese troops during the war. Abe is currently pushing for a revision of the Japanese constitution that would not only ease the country’s prohibition on military aggression, but would also enshrine the Emperor as the head of state and compel “respect” for symbols of Japan’s pre-war heyday.
Among the few people in Japan willing to engage with these less savoury aspects of the rise of Shinzo Abe has been the 72 year old Japanese film maker Hayao Miyazaki, best known to New Zealanders for his animated classics Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. This week, Miyazaki released his first new film in five years – a dramatized biography of Jiro Hirokoshi, the designer of Japan’s signature WWII fighter plane, the Zero. The film isn’t a piece of nationalistic flag-waving along the lines favoured by Abe’s supporters. In interviews for the film, Miyazaki has sought to explain why – partly by inclination, and partly through the lucky accidents of family history – he holds a negative view of that phase of Japanese history:
“If I had been born a bit earlier, I would have been a gunkoku shonen (Militarist Youth),” Miyazaki writes… But instead, he grew up in a family in which his father went from building airplane components during the war to opening a jazz club to cater to American soldiers during the postwar occupation. Removed from the “hysteria” of the war years, Miyazaki writes, he “had a strong feeling in my childhood that we had ‘fought a truly stupid war’.”
Given the nature of that war and his experience of growing up in the shadow of Japan’s defeat, Miyazaki strongly opposes Abe’s avowed plans to rewrite the Japanese Constitution in order to enable a revival of militarism, and devotion to the Emperor. “It goes without saying that I am opposed to revising the Constitution,” Miyazaki has written. “That is something that should never be done.”
Reportedly, Miyazaki’s comments have raised the ire of nationalists and Abe supporters. He deserves our support. Every Anzac Day, we are encouraged to welcome the renewed interest in our history of military sacrifice. It would be nice to think that our political leaders and diplomats could find the time – during the other 364 days of the year – to consider other issues besides money and market opportunities. It would be nice if they could make their feelings known about the unchecked rise of nationalism and militarism now under way in the Japan of Shinzo Abe. Surely, the sentimentality about slaughter that we exhibit fairly readily at the Dawn Service on Anzac Day should require us to make some comment about this prospect?