Here's an article from the Onion - the satirical newspaper - that prompted me to write this in the first place:
Many people have asked me recently about what the mood is like in Japan now that North Korea is, apparently, a nuclear power. After all, it's the Japanese who have the most to fear from N. Korea; with the North Korean missile tests, the Japan has already had two shots fired across its bow. I read in the NY Times online or the BBC News that there's a great fear of nuclear proliferation, of what a maniac like Kim Jong Il might do. The Koreans - even the South - still carry a great deal of resentment, to say the least, against the Japanese over what happened during WWII, and the consistent refusal of the Japanese government to accept responsibility for its wartime actions.
Considering the amount of basic hysteria across much of the US about terrorist attacks - even in places (the entire Midwest?) no terrorist could possibly have heard of, let alone care to target - I thought there would be some level of popular discourse about this situation. I came to work the day after the announcement of the testing of a nuclear weapon. I waited to hear teachers commiserate over their anxiety, or students to ask questions about what would happen, or the principal to make some sort of statement. I waited entirely in vain. The only announcement at the morning meeting was to report on a bicycle accident and remind students to be careful on their way to school. Talk between teachers was as rare as always and as always centered around classes and the monotony of grading papers. Everyone acted like they hadn't heard anything at all, to the extent that I wondered if in fact they hadn't heard anything at all.
Finally, sitting at the computers and reading the newspaper, I brought it up with the Beach Boys Sensei and another teacher. I asked them if they were aware of what was going on, and how they felt. They said of course they knew about it, but responded, "what are we going to do about it?"
And that sort of shrugging off really typified for me the attitude of most everyone here regarding politics. If people are aware of politics at all, they seem aware of it in a totally peripheral way. Politics seems to be to most Japanese, something that happens off in Tokyo. Politics is the business of politicians, and these decisions are to be made by the people off in those governmental buildings. They'll take care of it, so it isn't necessary for people to have opinions either way on issues; they just need to do their jobs.
And know I'm coming from a country where the majority of people don't even vote, and even if they do, it's often based on party lines or without a clear understanding of the issues. Still, I have a hard time imagining Bush getting angry at representatives from his party that don't fully support him and fielding new candidates in an election for their districts that don't even live in the areas. But that's what Koizumi did in the last election; he blacklisted several representatives and sent actresses and businesspeople to run in areas of Japan they might not even have visited before. And they won. People voted for candidates that don't even live in their areas or know anything about them to represent their hometowns and their interests in parliament. That seemed to me to be a pretty clear indictment of how seriously people take the idea of representative government here.
The LDP, roughly equivalent to the Republican party in the US, has been the ruling party here for almost 50 years, with only one brief interruption. We complain about our two party system being inadequate for a real democracy; the system here is a joke. The same giant conglomerates that ran Japan before and during WWII - the equivalents of the huge German companies basically - were never dismantled or run through any sort of process comparable to the de-Nazification in Germany. The current top politicians are either holdovers or descendants of the same people who drove the country right into war before and never recanted afterward. The Emperor has never been held responsible for anything he did, so how can anyone else be, really?
These things shock me, but leave no impression on most people it seems. There was no political discussion going on at Waseda when I was studying there; no protests, no activism, no general awareness of issues at all, really. The complete disassociation with what's going on in their country by people here leaves them dangerously open to being led into another bout with disastrous nationalism. With the same sort of people in power as before WWII, it's just fortunate that the current goals of the government seem merely economic.