Secrecy, Santa and Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister has seen his name attain worldwide recognition due to his trend-bucking Abenomics. Yet regardless of whether his policies prove in any way successful or not, his legacy almost certainly won’t be in the arena of economics, but in the clamping down of freedom, investigative reporting and whistleblowing.

With his government’s hugely controversial secrecy bill rammed through parliament this month, citizens will now cease to know — indefinitely if desired — what those in charge deem unnecessary, dangerous, or simply damaging. So anything that did and may happen at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will doubtless be put through the censorship filter, as will any unflattering scandals, human rights issues and regional squabbles. The latter of which the increasingly hawkish Abe is preparing for with a hefty increase in Japan’s already substantial military spending. The move couched in a very unsettling form of doublespeak — proactive pacifism.

But as worrying as the situation is, reassuringly people are still out there protesting. Both in large groups, or like this artist, alone.


The question is though, for how long?


Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats) on the campaign trail in Tokyo

Japan’s upper house election on July 21st means more noise pollution, and more repetition of potential candidates names. Now and again maybe even the odd nod towards policy too.

Plus it also means Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats). Serial inventor. Some would say serial liar. And something that’s not disputable, serial political candidate — this time for the Happiness Realization Party. A wish that certainly won’t be realised, but if the faces of those watching him were anything to go by, it will at least bring about a bit of happiness.

Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats)

Japanese voters turning their backs on politicians?

Just like Japan’s other attempts at democracy, last weekend’s Tokyo assembly election saw the capital hit by the usual campaign tactics; namely, the familiar sound of vested interests echoing round train stations and local neighbourhoods, as prospective candidates repeatedly bellow their names and not much else through ear-splitting sound systems.

However, with a voter turnout of only 43.5% — 11% down from 2009 and the second lowest figure on record — there’s a suggestion that after years of economic stagnation, bureaucratic waste and the ongoing problems of Fukushima, some people are finally turning their backs on politicians who did the same to the electorate a long time ago.

Japanese politician speech

Japan, where will you go?

Territorial disputes and a hawkish new government have undoubtedly played their part in the recent rise of nationalism in Japan. Or if not nationalism itself, then certainly the rise in nationalist marches. A worrying trend that has understandably left many people wondering where Japan is heading.

Then throw in the faltering economy, tsunami reconstruction, an ageing population etc., plus of course Japan’s nuclear problems, and it’s a decidedly heady mix indeed. One that needless to say is perfectly suited to all manner of manipulation and scaremongering.

But despite all this, modern Japan is a very different beast than it was a century ago. And while nobody really knows where the country will eventually go, a cursory glance at the average Tokyoite makes it reassuringly hard to imagine that it’ll be back down those dark paths of old.

traditional Japan, where will you go

Or is that just hope taking an equally cursory glance at reality?

Abenomics, the falling value of the yen, and fallen yen

Abenomics is now a buzzword both in Japan and abroad, with the current, Shinzo Abe led government, creating a huge stir with its unusually bold economic policies. Understandably the verdict is still out on whether this new approach will be successful or not, but Japan’s message for the G20 that ‘Abenomics is good for all’ managed to escape criticism, and the rapidly weakening yen is there for all to see.

For many, however, such speculation remains of little concern. Likewise the falling value of the yen. As fallen yen are a much greater necessity.

Japanese homeless man squatting and looking for money

Goose stepping Japanese nationalists and a call to arms against China

The yen might well be falling, but due to an island dispute and hawkish new prime minister/long simmering resentment/economic stagnation/sheer idiocy (delete where applicable), nationalist sentiment is going very much in the opposite direction. Or at the very least, public expression of such views is, with shouted attacks and individual hatreds just a few of the scenes I’ve seen of late.

But a goose stepping flag waver heading an (albeit rather small) organised march seemed like a further shift in an already worrying trend.

Japanese nationalists

Particularly so as those behind him were suggesting a call to arms in the country’s aforementioned and ongoing territorial discord with China.

Japanese nationalists

The only blessing being that a brief fracas with a group of angry bystanders and some of the marchers about 5 minutes after these photographs were taken, does suggests that some people at least are having their eyes opened in regards where the country may be headed.