Land of the Rising Gun
Japan’s PR Push Against Pacifism

Japanese is having a military coming out party of sorts: next month, Yokohama will play host to modern Japan’s very first proper arms trade show, the Japan Times reports:

While previous commercial aerospace shows in Japan have included exhibits of military planes, the MAST event, focused on maritime security, is the first event of its type in Japan.

Visitors will be welcomed with a concert by the Maritime Self-Defense Force band, and the program includes a speech by former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and tours of U.S. Navy vessels and a Japanese defense research center, according to organizers.

“I’ve always had an interest to come here, but up until a few years ago, there was no appetite domestically for anything like this,” said MAST organizer Warren Edge, who said he has been organizing security industry events for about 20 years.

Japan’s rising militarism, following more than half a century of official pacifism, is one of the big stories in Asia. That the arms show is being held at all is a sign of how much progress Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made toward overturning his country’s proscriptive attitudes towards war.

Nevertheless, Abe’s attempts to recast Japan’s role in Asia still represent a live and divisive issue among voters, as a summary of recent public opinion polls from Japan Policy Forum shows:

[In a Yomiuri shimbun poll,] 51% did not support Japan’s limited exercise of its right of collective self-defense, against only 36% who did support it. Opinion polls in other media outlets showed similar results. A poll conducted on July 11 to 13 by NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai [Japan Broadcasting Corporation]), Japan’s semi-national public broadcasting organization, said that 38% supported the cabinet decision to approve the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, while 56% did not.

Abe’s cabinet reinterpreted Japan’s constitution last year, but the Diet, Japan’s parliament, has yet to vote to formally approve the changes (though the changes are functionally in effect already). The Japan Times piece notes that the arms show will coincide with Abe’s government submitting bills to the parliament to bolster its security stance—a move that 52 percent of the population opposed in a Nikkei poll released just today.

With the LDP firmly in control of the Diet, the measures stand a good chance of passing despite public unease. And when Abe comes to Washington to meet with President Obama and to address Congress, he will try to put a brave spin on Japan’s progress in meeting the challenges that a rising China poses to world order. But the trauma of World War II and decades of institutionalized pacifism have left their mark on the Japanese public, and try as he might, Abe has not yet fully managed to sell his countrymen on what he sees as a necessary shift for Japan.

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