SHINZO ABE’S POLITICS HAVE INVIGORATED JAPAN’S YOUNGER GENERATION
Last Saturday (July 8) marked the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of Shinzo Abe. As gatherings were held across the nation, a memorial event “to inherit the will” of the former prime minister was broadcast live on the Internet from Meiji Memorial Hall in central Tokyo. At the outset, footage of a portion of his May 30, 2014 keynote address delivered at the Asian Security Summit in Singapore was played. Having managed to inaugurate his second administration in December 2012 after a lapse of more than five years, Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine a year later to express his respects to the spirits of those who died serving their country. He launched his “Abenomics” policies (associated with monetary and fiscal stimulus and economic reforms) with hopes of creating a society in which all Japanese would be able to live with a dream. Brimming with energy in his Singapore speech, Abe said:
“Over what is now almost a year and a half, I have worked to the very best of my ability to remake the Japanese economy into one that once more grows robustly, abundant with innovations. People call this “Abenomics” and classify it as a type of economic policy. But for me, it is a mission that goes far beyond economic policy. It is nothing less than an undertaking to foster ‘new Japanese’ who will shoulder the responsibilities of the coming years.”
Abe’s definition of the “new Japanese” was plain and simple: “Japanese who have lost none of the good qualities of the Japanese of days gone by.”
Abe went on to demonstrate his pride as an Asian leader in concrete terms, apparently with China strongly in mind: “Japanese, who loathe poverty and believe that universal values are found in the joy of hard work, have—since the days when Asia was still said to be synonymous with being impoverished—continued to contribute untiringly to the construction of Asia’s economies, in the belief that there is no reason why other Asian countries would be unable to accomplish what the Japanese themselves achieved.”
During his lifetime Abe frequently contended that, unlike China, Japan has taken care of its people with compassion and respected its neighbors, asserting that Japan’s national character had been formed by its ancestors long ago as a legacy for the generations to follow. He declared: “The ‘new Japanese’ are not different in the least from their fathers and grandfathers in the sense of rejoicing at each and every one of these selfless contributions.”
The world cast a spotlight on Abe when he made an unexpected comeback in 2012 following more than five years spent on curing a chronic ulcerative colitis that had forced him to resign only a year after becoming, at 50, the youngest prime minister in Japan’ history. World leaders applauded Abe as he fought hard, demonstrating strong leadership in implementing a range of controversial policies. This included such actions as the enactment of new peace and security legislation in 2015 that enabled Japan to exercise, within certain limits, its right to collective self-defense. With India heading the list, Asian neighbors welcomed Abe’s positive attitude reflected in his trust and fair evaluation of their potential, his conviction that there was no reason they would not be able to follow in Japan’s footsteps, and his readiness to help bring out the potential of each Asian nation.
Asahi’s Sinister Editorial on Abe’s Memorial Day
In its editorial dated July 8, the liberal Asahi Shimbun, committed to only criticizing Abe no matter what the circumstances, derided his politics as “rough-and-tumble politics marked by division.”
True, a sense of social injustice increased as the era changed from Heisei (1989-2019) to Reiwa. On the other hand, the sense of being personally responsible for one’s own welfare increased. An example of this would be taking care of the cost of social security now instead of passing it on to future generations. The Asahi brushes this aside as an adverse effect of Abe’s politics. But it was Abe who improved the plight of our young people, creating a work environment open to everybody. Abe had this to say about the positive effects his policies produced when he appeared as a guest on my “Genron” weekly Internet TV news show on December 3, 2021:
“In 2012, when I took over from the Democratic administration (September 2009-November 2012), the nation’s job offer rate stood at 68%, which was worse than during the so-called ’employment ice age’ that followed the bursting of Japan’s ‘bubble economy’ in 1991-93. But the rate eventually shot up to 98% during my tenure, which inevitably led to an increase in the number of new graduates and that meant the average real wage of Japanese workers decreased, because salaries for new graduates would be low. Some 3 million men over 65 found work, although earning less than before retirement, and 3 million women started working again. Some of them were highly paid, but the initial salaries of many of these women who returned to work after marriage and/or childrearing were relatively small. Some of them started as part-timers before being able to find full-time jobs. Add up and average what they earned over time, and the average real wage was low initially. Later, however, the average real wage began to increase. The important thing is to see growth in what is known as the total employee compensation—the sum of the earnings of all employees across Japan. It was minus 2 trillion yen (US$13 billion then) under the Democratic administration, but under my administration it soared to a whopping plus 35 trillion yen ($337 billion).”
Finding employment was extremely difficult for young men and women in Japan during the three plus years under the Democratic administration. In 2012, when Abe took over, the jobs-to-applicants ratio for ordinary office workers was 0.48 times. The ratio increased to 1.4 times in 2019—eight years after his comeback. It marked the first time that the ratio was more than one in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Abe intended to grow the economy so as to create a society in which everybody can find work and be independent. Possibilities will then blossom, and dreams will come true, he reasoned. That was the society Abe prepared for the young men and women of Japan. Despite the Asahi’s refusal to admit it, numerous Japanese genuinely valued and placed their hope on Abe’s policies. Many of those men and women, young and old, made long lines last Saturday to locations across the nation to pay their respects—from Shiba Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, where a large memorial service was held by the Abe family, to a small flower stand set up in front of the Kintetsu-Yamato Saidaiji train station in Nara Prefecture.
Can We Defeat Hostile Forces?
Another voice of Abe’s was conveyed at Meiji Memorial Hall—a policy speech he delivered at the Diet on January 28, 2019. Touching on Japan’s era transition from Heisei to Reiwa, Abe referred to the devastating 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquakes and the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake, emphasizing how much the words of encouragement from Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako comforted and empowered victims and their families. On top of that, Abe recited a poem written by Emperor Meiji, which in essence read:
“The gallantry of the spirit of Yamato will reveal itself when the nation is faced with a national emergency.”
Abe passionately called on all Japanese to work together in order to carve out a solid future for Japan in the same spirit that Emperor Meiji expressed in his poem.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine overlaps in my view with a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan and Okinawa. Relative US geopolitical power had been declining even before the Russian invasion, with the Chinese threat intensifying. Faced with this once-in-a-century international threat, Abe in 2015 managed to put together peace and security legislation, despite suffering a 13 percent drop in his cabinet’s approval ratings.
Abe at the time summoned top Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) officers and asked them: “Can we defeat hostile forces should they invade Japan?” A shock wave ran through the assembled officers, recalls Nobukatsu Kanehara, former deputy director-general of the National Security Agency and Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary.
Its activities rigidly restricted by our “pacifist” constitution, the JSDF is “an army bound to lose unless the US army comes to its aid,” so to speak. How then can Japan win any war under such circumstances? Our constitution cannot safeguard the nation’s survival nor protect our people. That is why, even after his resignation in September 2020 due again to his failing health, Abe kept sounding the alarm that an attack on Taiwan is an attack on Japan and the US-Japan alliance. He also strongly advocated nuclear sharing and an increase in our defense outlay to 2% of GDP.
And yet, in reviewing the record of this political leader who has demonstrated exceptional dedication in his endeavors, the Asahi tirelessly returns to focus on Abe’s alleged dark connection with the Unification Church. In an editorial dated July 9, the daily wrote: “Abe was said to take charge of Unification Church votes in national elections.” Isn’t the daily aware that the church can generate only between 60,000 and 80,000 votes across the nation? Compare this to the 6 to 8 million votes that Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, can count on Soka Gakkai to provide. The entity is a lay religious organization based on the teachings of the Nichiren Buddhist sect. If the Asahi wants to continue to make an issue of the 60,000-80,000 votes of the Unification Church, why doesn’t it also raise questions about the drawing power of Soka Gakkai, which is 100 times greater?
Carried away by its obsession to denigrate Abe, the Asahi’s assertions are sorely wide of the mark.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,057 in the July 20, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)