Friday, March 02, 2012

The Enforcers of Patriotism

On Tuesday, the Osaka City Assembly overwhelmingly approved an ordinance requiring teachers and schools officials to stand facing the Hinomaru flag and sing the national at school functions. The ordinance, crafted by Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru, passed overwhelmingly, with support by his own Ishin no kai, the Liberal Democratic Party and, amazingly, the New Komeito. A similar ordinance had passed in the Osaka prefectural assembly in June of last year but only on the strength of the then governor Hashimoto's Ishin no kai. The LDP and the New Komeito voted against the measure.(J and E)

What has happened in the interval? How can the New Komeito, which is purportedly sensitive about enforced patriotism issues, its founders having been imprisoned by the authorities in the pre-1945 era, suddenly switch sides on the issue seven months after it first came up, the two ordinances being nearly identical?

Certainly Hashimoto's victory in the fall mayoral election, despite the united opposition of all the national parties including the usually standoffish Communists, has changed the political calculus for the New Komeito and the LDP in the Kansai area. With his Ishin no kai rising in prominence, becoming the default anti-Democratic Party of Japan party in the event of a House of Representatives election, at least in the Kansai region, the local branches of the LDP and the New Komeito have an incentive to helping Hashimoto realize his sweeping reformation of the government of his Osaka bastion. By allowing themselves to be co-opted by his movement, the parties seem to be hoping that they will, in direct negotiations with the Ishin no kai, reserve a number of House of Representatives districts for their candidates.

Unsurprisingly, Hashimoto's emphasis on patriotism and destruction of the left-wing teachers and civil servant's unions has brought all kinds of characters out of the woodwork. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose administration had seen the first ever amendments of the 1947 Basic Law on Education, this in order to emphasize greater pride in being Japanese (whose first draft was rejected by the LDP's ally the New Komeito, the only force in the Diet at that time that could oppose it) met on the 26th with Hashimoto's handpicked successor as governor of Osaka Prefecture Matsui Ichiro and the personal represetive of Hashimoto, former Yokohama mayor Nakada Hiroshi. Both Abe and Matsui came away from the meeting declaring that their ideas about reforming education, the Constitution and the civil service were the same. (J)

Among other persons who have been laying low, or have been at least off the nation's radar screens, is right-wing education reformer and close Abe advisor Yayama Taro, who emerged on Wednesday with an op-ed in the Mainichi Shimbun praising Hashimoto efforts to rein in the freedoms of the teachers of Osaka, whilst avoiding to specifically mention the now enforceable command to pay honor to the flag and sing the national anthem.

Protectors of the freedom of conscience had already received a blow on February 10, when the Supreme Court ratified the Tokyo Metropolitan City ordinance requiring similar patriotic behavior from Tokyo teachers. The reprimanded teachers had won in the first court decision but the appeals court and now the supreme court have found the ordinance constitutional. (E)

One would think that the leaders of Japan's major cities and prefectures would have greater issues on their plates than whether or not to punish or even expel teachers who do not leap to their feet when they hear the national anthem (even in the very patriotic land where I was born, the announcer always says "Please" when making the request that everyone stand for the national anthem). However, these trivialities loom large in the minds of the sliver of the populace with illusions that the left-wing teachers unions have hobbled Japan's development into a normal or even a powerful nation. That the only Socialist to ever become PM since 1955 did so with the full support of the hardliners in the LDP seems to indicate that whatever effect the teachers may have had on the minds of young Japanese, it sure did not show up at the ballot box. Lefty education influence may have made the bureaucrats into a bunch of wusses -- but someone will have to show me evidence of supporting such a proposition.

The major problems Abe, Yayama and their fellow travelers have is with the Japanese people themselves. Dissatisfied with the Japanese as they are, these activists want a whole new set of citizens, molded and defined by a more patriotic education system and Constitution, and policed by a more unswerving state power-oriented bureaucracy.

It remains to be seen whether Hashimoto should be added to their number. For the most part his crusade seesm limited toward producing a more cowed and obedient civil service, with any expression of opposition from those under him being met with a sledgehammer reaction from Hashimoto. His views seems more corporatist than statist, likening civil servants to corporate employees and drawing biting ironic comparisons between the behavior (and remuneration!) of workers in the private sector with those working in public offices. In so doing he taps into the deep resentment of those in the private sector toward the public servants in local and prefectural government, as these public servants have not undergone the ferocious browbeating and economic stress the national bureaucrats (kanryo) have suffered for the past two decades.

For the present time it seems that Hashimoto is following the beat of his own drummer, making deals with those who need him and whom he needs, rather than listening to the siren calls of the descendants of the Pacific War's leaders and their opportunistic sycophants. Hashimoto apparently comes from entirely different stock. Though folks like Abe and Yayama may see in Hashimoto a kindred spirit, he may have entirely different psychological underpinnings to his actions.

What Hashimoto is doing ("Stand up or lose your job!") may look like nationalism, patriotism's ugly twin. However, just where Hashimoto is taking his home city and prefecture is still very much up in the air.

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