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Nationalism gains strength in Japan
By Paul Wiseman, USA TODAY
TOKYO — — Yuko Tojo remembers her grandfather, Hideki Tojo, as a gentle man who wrote loving letters to his family and allowed her to tear through the garden with the servants' children. History remembers him as a war criminal, the World War II prime minister responsible for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Yuko Tojo, 68, seeks a seat in the upper house of Japan's parliament to clear her grandfather's name. In elections Sunday, she is running as an independent, shunned by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that shares many of her revisionist views on Japan's wartime past. Even she is skeptical about her chances, and polls suggest that the LDP, led by unpopular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is headed for defeat, too.
Whatever happens Sunday, the nationalistic ideas that Yuko Tojo and the LDP champion are likely to survive. Their platform once languished outside the mainstream: They want Japan to revise the anti-war constitution imposed by the United States after World War II. They want Japan to rearm its military and rewrite history, erasing bits about sneak attacks and massacres and replacing them with odes to patriotism and honor.
Such ideas were heretical in postwar Japan but have gathered public support in recent years as China has launched a rapid military buildup and North Korea has tested missiles and nuclear devices. The United States, which has borne the burden for Japan's defense, has encouraged it to rearm.
"No matter who wins the election, nationalism will grow in Japan," says Yan Xuetong, foreign policy professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
Tokyo political commentator Yoshiko Sakurai agrees: A victory Sunday by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) might slow the trend, she says, but won't stop it. Why:
•The LDP, controlled by a nationalist faction, will keep its grip on parliament's lower House of Representatives, which picks the prime minister.
•The LDP has pushed through parts of Abe's nationalist agenda, expanding the role of Japan's armed forces by sending troops to help in Iraq and Afghanistan, passing legislation intended to set the stage for revising the constitution, and approving school policies that stress "patriotic" education.
•Shintaro Ishihara, a nationalist who is governor of Tokyo, punishes teachers who won't follow the patriotic line in the classroom.
Even the opposition DPJ calls for Japan to build its defensive capability and to play a bolder role in world affairs by joining United Nations peacekeeping operations — regarded by past Japanese governments as flirting with constitutional restrictions on war.
The drive to revise the constitution dismays many Japanese, proud of their country's pacifist postwar record. "We have to protect" the constitution, says Hayato Uemura, 51, who sells software. "We shouldn't start war."
Japanese forces invaded and occupied China and South Korea before and during World War II. Right-leaning commentators such as Sakurai deny or downplay documented wartime atrocities such as the Nanking massacre, in which Japanese troops butchered thousands of Chinese civilians.
In 2001, Abe, then the LDP's acting secretary general, pressured national broadcaster NHK to censor a program on the Japanese military's wartime use of sex slaves (known as "comfort women"), according to the Asahi newspaper.
"We did terrible things during the war to foreigners and our own people. This is a fact," says left-leaning political commentator Minoru Morita. "We lost 3.1 million people and a third of our national wealth. It took us 25 years to recover. We learned we have to get along with the United States and China. Some of our politicians don't realize that."
Hundreds of Japanese teachers have refused to cooperate with what they see as coercive attempts to instill patriotism in youngsters and with the revision of Japan's history.
In Tokyo alone, 320 teachers have been punished — some docked pay or suspended — for refusing to salute the flag or stand for the national anthem, according to the Tokyo school board. Akira Suzuki of the school system's personnel department says the board is enforcing the rules, not political orthodoxy.
Tokyo middle school teacher Kimiko Nezu has been suspended so often that she expects to earn less than $17,000 of her $58,000 salary this year.
She says she's been punished for refusing to stand for the national anthem and for teaching her students about comfort women, despite repeated warnings to stay away from the taboo topic.
Nezu, 56, says nationalist pressure began in 1994 and intensified after Ishihara became governor of Tokyo in 1999. "I never imagined it would get this bad so quickly," she says. She was transferred this year to a school for the disabled in what she views as punishment. She expects to lose her job before her lawsuit against the school board is decided next year. "This is my way of being a patriot," she says.
Yuko Tojo has a different view of patriotism. She says she believes history, written by World War II's winners, needs to be revised to salvage the reputation of her country — and her grandfather. He was hanged in 1948 after being convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal. Her view: Japan invaded its neighbors and attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 because the United States was smothering Japan with economic sanctions. "It was a war of self-defense," she says. "Japan's history has been distorted."
A former housewife, Tojo has no gripe against the United States. Her 29-year-old daughter, who married an American and settled in Seattle, was upset when her husband left his job and joined the U.S. Air Force after the 9/11 attacks. "I told her this is the time his country needs him," Yuko Tojo says. "I told her his act was splendid."
Contributing: Naoko Nishiwaki
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