I keep hearing from gaijin who think that/wonder if Prime Minister Abe went to Yasukuni to please his conservative base. (This is not infrequently accompanied with words like “moron” and “idiot.”) Maybe this CNN interview of Yuki Tatsumi started it all?
There are several things wrong with this idea. First, after passing the Special Intelligence Protection Act (SIPA), setting up the National Security Council, launching a review on the constitutionality of collective defense, stretching the envelope on the weapons export ban—where’s your thank you, South Korea?...oh…—and what else, the last thing that Abe needed to do was to shore up his conservative constituency. You know what he needed to shore up? His pacifist constituency, that’s what. Pacifist, as in coalition partner Komeito/Sokagakkai, whose support is worth maybe 11-14 percentage points of the vote in single-seat districts, which is like having a five- yard head start in a 40-yard dash.
Second, this stretches the notion of “conservative” in every which way. A majority/plurality (depends on the poll) supports prime minister visits to Yasukuni. Does that mean that a majority/plurality of the Japanese is conservative? On the other hand, Yomiuri, which pretty much agrees with Abe on most national security and history issues—the shibboleths of Japanese “conservatism”—and every major news outlet to its left were stunned and disappointed by the visit. In fact, Sankei Shimbun, with the smallest circulation among the mainstream national dailies, was the only one of its kind to welcome it. And you will be hard put to find a single publicly traded company whose support for Abe was shored up by the visit.
Third, why is it so hard to believe that Abe is sincere; that he felt morally compelled to go to Yasukuni to honor Japan’s fallen soldiers and chose a date that he thought would be least damaging to more tangible national interests and still retain some symbolic meaning? People, he is his own conservative support base. Not everything that a politician does is the outcome of a desire to please one constituency or other. But then, it is always hard to accept that people who disagree with what you think is self-evident could actually be sincere.
Granted, Tastumi is a think-tank analyst embedded in the Washington establishment and does have a sobering piece (in Japanese, sorry) that depicts the US-Japan relationship taking a serious hit from Prime Minister Abe’s Yasukuni visit. In any case, it is obvious that the visit was detrimental to the bilateral security relationship, and Abe must be aware of that. Which is another reason why Abe, his psychic needs satisfied, is unlikely to visit Yasukuni this year.