“Towards a Beautiful Country”: The Nationalist Project to Transform Japan
Japan is often regarded by scholarship as an example of what a healthy East Asian liberal democracy ought to look like. Despite its reputation for pacifism and liberal democracy, Japan has demonstrated a remarkable shift in political culture in the last decade, as successive governments have embraced decidedly nationalist policy choices. As the Abe Administration continues to push ahead with its plan for Constitutional Revision, a goal long advocated for by nationalist groups, Japan seems poised to enter a period of renewed nationalist discourses and policymaking. Existing scholarship presents these shifting political trends as having been facilitated by the political elite, and many scholars argue that elite driven, or top-down nationalism, is the driving force of political change in the modern Japanese political system. This paper challenges these assertions, instead arguing that resurgent nationalism in Japanese politics can be traced to the grassroots of society. Through a study of two non-government organizations, Nippon Kaigi 日本会議and Jinja Honchō 神社本庁, this paper clearly demonstrates the critical impact that grassroots organizing through non-government organizations has had on driving nationalist policymaking at the national level. The political success of these lobbying groups has been clearly evidenced in their presence at the highest level of Japanese government, as well as the remarkable similarities between their organizational goals and the political goals of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. This paper demonstrates that the relationship between grassroots nationalist organizations and the Japanese government is one of influence and pressure, rather than a coincidental alignment of political ideals.
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