On the eve of an election, a politician stood before a crowd. The speech was fiery. And flags fluttered. If this were anywhere else, nobody would think twice. But this wasn't anywhere. It was Tokyo.
Akihabara to be exact. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lead his conservative Liberal Democratic Party to a huge victory yesterday, bring him back to power.
On December 15, Abe made a last minute speech in Akihabara, Japan's geek district. He spoke from a van in front of the Gundam Cafe. Next door, the neon lights for idol group AKB48's restaurant burned. A crowd of one to two thousand gathered to listen to Abe speak. It's not uncommon for large crowds to gather and listen to politicians in Japan.
What is uncommon is widespread flag waving, even at campaign speeches. At events like this, rallying around the flag brings up memories of World War II—not just for people outside Japan, but people in the country. This is compounded by Abe's desire to change Japan's Constitution, which says that Japan can have a self-defense force, so it could have a more assertive military. (Other things he wants to do is jump-start the economy, keep nuclear power, address the bullying problem in schools, and end the country's crippling deflation.)
"This is so unsettling", wrote one user on 2ch, Japan's largest bulletin board. "This is scary," wrote another. "The hell are these people doing," added yet another. "I really cannot comprehend."
Another said only left wingers equated the Japanese flag with war. Some even pointed out how during foreign elections—whether that's America, France, England or wherever—numerous people wave their country's flag. "Ha, so it's only strange for Japan," quipped one commenter.
"It's bizarre to hate your own country's flag," wrote another commenter. "It's normal to be proud of one's country. The only ones who hate the Japanese flag are Koreans living in Japan."
Even in Japan, the concern that some have is that strong patriotism brought all sorts of hardship onto Japan and the rest of the world. And as those who experienced those hardships during the war continue to pass away, there are fewer reminders of just how bad things got. The war left such a bad taste in enough people's mouths that even today such public displays of nationalism can make people in Japan uneasy. Some Japanese don't even like singing the national anthem or the flag because they are reminders of Japan's military past.
There could be different explanations for this recent display of nationalism in Akihabara. On Twitter, some individuals even worried if these flag wavers were (偽客), or plants—you know, faux flag wavers. Or perhaps, a right wing group passed them out to people at the rally. Even if they were phonies, the landslide victory on December 16 was very real.