Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ticked off people in South Korea and China. This weekend, he hung out with nerds and got in a tank.
NicoNico Douga, Japan's popular video channel, hosted a big meet up this past Saturday and Sunday, celebrating the country's internet and geek culture. It seemed like an unlikely place for Japanese politics and the military. It wasn't.
Controversy recently arose in South Korea and China after a Yasukuni Shrine visit by over a 150 Japanese politicians and three members of Abe's cabinet. Yasukuni Shrine honors over two million of the country's war dead, including fourteen Class A war criminals.
Some people in Japan support politicians visiting the shrine on the grounds that they are honoring the war dead. Others say the visits are just not worth the diplomatic headaches they cause with neighboring countries, which still carry resentment over Japanese actions in World War II.
Note that Japan has issued numerous apologies for war crimes since the 1950s; however, there are arguments that these statements are not "official" apologies, even though Japanese leaders have repeatedly made them.
"It's only natural to honor the spirits of those who gave their lives for the country," said Abe (via WSJ). "Our ministers will not cave in to any threats." Abe also believes that "chipping away" at its right to honor the country's fallen soldiers will not improve diplomacy between Japan and its neighbors. Maybe, but it's certainly not helping.
What further complicates the issue is that Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto shrine, making this a religious issue, too. Enshrinement is thought to be irreversible, and you can't just take those Class A war criminals out per se.
Elsewhere in Asia, visiting the shrine is seen as ignoring Japan's military past. Japan, however, is now a pacifist nation. Under the Japanese Constitution, Article 9 states that Japan cannot use military force to settle disputes and renounces war as a "sovereign right". Japan does have a military, called the Japan Self-Defense Force; U.S. Military bases are also located within the country. Prime Minister Abe has expressed interest in re-writing Article 9 so that it expands Japan's military powers.
At this weekend's NicoNico event, Abe talked about the importance of the internet in Japanese politics and, decked out in camo, got in one of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Type-10 tanks.
Near the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. Forces booth, the tank was on display for cosplayers and NicoNico attendees to take photos with. Thanks to the popularity of tank-based anime Girls und Panzer, the Type-10's inclusion, oddly, doesn't seem totally out of place.
In the past decade, Japan has had a string of Prime Ministers. Many of them have been incredibly weak. Abe is trying to show strength, whether that's through the country's economy or the military. Not everyone in Japan agrees with Abe or wants expanded military powers. Abe's first tenure in office, which was from 2006 to 2007, soured after he expressed desire for increased military power.
More popular than ever, Abe does have his supporters, online and off. And as last December showed, geek culture and politics certainly can mix in Japan. Don't be surprised if they continued to do so.
安倍首相が自衛隊と在日米軍ブースを視察、10式戦車に搭乗 [Inside Games]
Net site becomes reality for two days [The Japan Times]
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