by Nakano Koichi, Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University, Japan Focus, February 1, 2017, Volume 15, Issue 3, Number 4
While it is important to note the eerie similarity of the “Japan is great” boom in the media today with that of the 1930s, as this article does, it also bears emphasizing that this is hardly a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. As the following article indicates, while the self-congratulatory praise of Japan by the Japanese media was temporarily dormant in the postwar period, it energetically re-emerged during the 1990s and since then, has become more and more vociferous. But this increase in praise has not come about merely as a spontaneous reaction to the decline of self-confidence in the aftermath of the collapse of the bubble economy.
The reassertion of national pride and identity by the Japanese has also been actively encouraged as healthy and desirable by the United States. As the Cold War came to an end, Washington pressured Japan to shake off its postwar self-constraints and project its influence and political power (even its military power) in international affairs more forcefully. This was demanded of Japan in order to make it better serve the goals of American foreign policy. (e.g. Michael Green’s “Japan Is Back: Why Tokyo's New Assertiveness Is Good for Washington”).
In the United States itself, it has been pointed out that Ronald Reagan, as president between 1981 and 1989, ushered in a new era of patriotic language, including symbolically, the sign-off phrase “God Bless America” that has been standard presidential rhetoric ever since (See here). In Japan, Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, Reagan’s counterpart in the 1980s, gave new force to the nationalist cause, which included not only historical revisionism but also rearmament, by couching it in rhetoric of iconoclastic reformism that claims to confront postwar taboos, constraints, and conventions (See here).
It matters greatly that Japan is not just “great” but that it is recognized as such by the world, and by the United States in particular. It remains to be seen whether Abe’s “patriotic” fervor will be deemed sufficiently supportive of US military goals in the eyes of Trump who declared his inauguration a National Day of Patriotic Devotion. Trump would certainly demand from the Japanese no less than Tokyo serving Washington’s interests first and foremost. NK