TV & Radio
June 15, 2006 - 1:20 AM
Japan lobby group backs patriotism
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese lobby group which backs traditional values, seeks to rewrite the U.S-drafted constitution and wants schools to teach patriotism is winning growing support for its agenda from both ruling and opposition party politicians.
Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) is also keen for the prime minister to visit a shrine for war dead on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War Two -- an emotive date in Asia -- and preserve an ancient tradition of males-only imperial succession.
"We are dedicated to our conservative cause. We are monarchists. We are for revising the constitution. We are for the glory of the nation," commentator Hideaki Kase, a member of the group told Reuters in an interview.
"We represent Japan's 'red' prefectures," added Kase, comparing supporters of Nippon Kaigi -- founded almost a decade ago -- to the conservative voters who helped to elect U.S. President George W. Bush.
Central to Nippon Kaigi's platform is a desire to restore values such as group harmony, or "wa", and devotion to the public good -- a moral code they say was eroded when U.S. Occupation authorities gave pride of place to individualism in an effort to root out militarism after Japan's 1945 defeat.
A lack of such values, supporters argue, fosters violent juvenile crime, classroom chaos and corporate scandals.
"Of course, it is important to respect autonomy, but people do not live on their own," Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hakubun Shimomura, told Reuters in an interview.
"We need to rear children who have a spirit of contributing to society," added Shimomura, secretary-general of a 246-member group of MPs with close ties to Nippon Kaigi.
"We want to preserve Japan's national character. I don't think that is 'nationalism'," he said.
Nippon Kaigi has long urged Japanese prime ministers to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured along with fallen soldiers, on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's 1945 defeat.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Tokyo's military aggression run deep, have chilled since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi began annual visits to Yasukuni in 2001, though he has avoided the emotive August 15 date.
Nippon Kaigi's secretary-general, Yuzo Kabashima, said the group had 50,000 paid-up members, while its supporters, including members of Shinto and other religious groups, numbered around 6 million, a figure some analysts questioned.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, a dark-horse candidate to succeed Koizumi, is a former chief of the parliamentarian support group, while front-runner rival, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has been a member, although both left the group when they joined the cabinet, a Nippon Kaigi official said.
"The liberals in the LDP were the major current for a long time, but in terms of power and influence, not any more," said Sven Saaler, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo.
"All this lobbying by Nippon Kaigi has contributed to a change in the LDP and a change in the balance."
Momentum has been building in the LDP and the main opposition Democratic Party to revise the U.S.-drafted, pacifist post-war constitution to resolve the ambiguous status of the military as Japan seeks a bigger regional and global security role.
The government has also submitted a bill to change another Occupation-era law spelling out the goals of education policy, to include instilling "love of country" -- a change critics say has disturbing echoes of wartime teaching.
The bill looks set to be taken up in an extra session of parliament this autumn.
Plans to revise the imperial succession law to permit females to take the throne have been put on hold while the country waits to see if a pregnant princess gives birth to a boy.
And a caveat against trying to erase all sex-based differences -- a goal Nippon Kaigi fears feminists are pursuing -- was included in a government gender equality plan last year.
Still, Kabashima said the pace of change was too slow as the key issues "still run on rails laid down by the Occupation. So Japan is not really an independent, sovereign nation."
The extent to which Nippon Kaigi's values-based agenda resonates with the broader public, though, is hard to gauge.
"The positions that Nippon Kaigi takes are non-mainstream, yet they have tremendous influence in the ruling party," said Andrew Horvat, a visiting professor at Tokyo Keizai University.
"I think Japan is headed for a very divisive debate on values."