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by Mappy » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:01 pm

50th anniversary of Japan's 1st Antarctic mission


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 13:25 EST

TOKYO — A ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of Japan's first Antarctic expedition was held Wednesday in Tokyo, with a reenactment of the sending off of the mission on the ship that made the first trip.

Aboard the retired icebreaker Soya, which made six trips to the Antarctic between 1956 and 1962 and is now moored at a museum in Tokyo's Daiba seafront district, former members of the expeditions waved to participants on the quay and threw to them the traditional colored paper streamers that are used when ships depart.

Court backs bearded assemblyman's election win by a whisker


Monday, November 6, 2006 at 16:19 EST

TAKAMATSU — The Takamatsu High Court on Monday rejected a former Naruto city assemblyman's suit against the Tokushima prefectural election commission, saying he lost by one vote to a bearded candidate described by some voters on their ballots simply as "bearded" candidate.

The high court ruled in favor of a bearded Shigemitsu Bando in the suit filed by Naofumi Akeno, who collected 853 votes in the Naruto city assembly election last December, one vote shy of Bando's 854. Judge Tsutomu Mabuchi said in his ruling, "'Beard' has become a nickname for the victorious candidate among citizens and the intention of those who voted for him is clear." Bando started wearing a beard around 1985 and urged Naruto residents to vote for "Bearded Bando" during last year's city assembly election campaign.

Host clubs facing tough times


“Great Dying” is the somewhat melodramatic heading of an article in Spa! (Oct 10). A potential “extinction” is indeed the theme, but it’s of neither a natural species nor a culture, and just how distressed we should be over the tight spot host clubs find themselves in is a matter of personal inclination.

Host clubs are venues where well-heeled women go to be entertained by attentive young men charming enough to make their clients forget how much money they’re spending. Many of the clients are high-flying executives; many others are off-duty hostesses enjoying ministrations similar to those they themselves provide at their own places of business.

Are host clubs really “dying?” It depends on who you ask. Spa! Sounded the alarm after a Sept 21 overnight police raid in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s prime red-light district. The neighborhood is home to some 200 host clubs, 50 of which were included in the sweep. Two arrests were made, including that of a 19-year-old host club “manager.”

The quotation marks are appropriate because, Spa! hears from an investigator involved in the crackdown, a very young club manager is, more likely than not, to be a front figure, an apprentice mobster working his way up the gangland ranks by risking arrest himself and thus shielding the club’s real yakuza-affiliated operators.

The September raid marks the latest phase of a Kabukicho “purification drive” that began in April 2004. One host club operator the magazine speaks to is unconcerned. “It’s aimed at clubs that go over the limit,” he explains, “clubs whose touts are a little too pushy, or clubs that admit underage girls. If police crack down on clubs like that, so much the better for us, because we’re a higher class of establishment.”

To Spa!, that insouciance reflects a pre-2004 mentality. The Entertainment Law violations the operator mentioned are important but secondary. The real point, the magazine’s police sources claim, is to choke the flow of cash from the clubs into yakuza coffers. That being the case, keeping within the letter of the Entertainment Law will not necessarily guarantee a club’s survival.

It is strange, muses Spa!, how hosts’ images on TV and in the media generally tend to soar above some of the sleazier aspects of the profession. TV dramas celebrate the host life and its sexy glitter while ignoring “the strong mob ties” and “the victims in the shadows,” prominent among them underage girls who, drawn by the outward glamour, don’t know what they’re getting into.

A club said to be high on a police list of crackdown targets is the Ai Honten, known as a kind of spawning ground for novice hosts who learn the trade there and then set up their own establishments.

“Absurd!” says Ai Honten operator Takeshi Ai. “Five, six years ago,” he explains, “they came down on us, and we went along with them, opening at 4 p.m. and closing at 10:30 p.m. So what happened? Half our employees went elsewhere. If the authorities shut us down, our competitors will rejoice, that’s all.” But why would they want to, he wonders. “Unlike some other places, we check IDs at the door. No one underage can possibly get in. We have no touts. We pay 200-300 million yen in taxes.”

By all means, let the authorities go after the clubs that flout the law, he says – “it would be good for Kabukicho’s image.”

As for the hosts themselves, most of the ones Spa! speaks to seem prepared to take whatever happens in stride. They have other lives to return to. “I go to university,” says a 19-year-old who has been a host for six months. “When I graduate, I’ll get a job. I don’t are one way or the other.”

But, wonders Spa!, will young men spoiled by easy women and easy money be able to fit into the workaday world where neither is easy?

October 6, 2006

The easy lifestyle of high school teachers in Japan


In the background of the emerging problems of schools failing to implement the correct curriculum and bullying are the delinquency of the teachers. Kojiro Ueda, a former public high school teacher and author of the book “The Mechanism of Teachers” (Kyoshi No Shikumi), points out: “There are increasing numbers of teachers who do not try to reach out to the students and are happy as long as they get paid. The recent series of scandals have just come back to haunt them as they ignored the problems. But this is not the end.”

According to Ueda, there are “easy-going” high school teachers, some of whom he describes.

A physical education teacher in his early 50s, who works at a public high school in the Kanto area, leaves the school in between classes and goes to a pachinko parlor. “If he hits the jackpot, then he calls up a rookie physical education teacher to make him come over to the parolor and keep playing pachinko for him until he is done with his class and then he comes back to the parlor,” said Ueda.

What is described above is not a rare instance. An anonymous teacher from Yamaguchi Prefecture confesses: “There are teachers who only teach four or five classes a week at prep schools for higher education because such schools hires a greater number of teachers,” he said. “Some of the teachers go for bike rides during the day; others play pachinko or golf.”

Even if there are no classes to teach, there is still plenty of work to be done, says the aforementioned Yamaguchi teacher. “I am also an advisor for extracurricular activities, so I have no weekends off and I can only sleep about four hours a day.”

Some of the slackers think of themselves as “executives” of a corporation, said Ueda

One teacher in his 50s has been working at the same school in the Kanto area for over 10 years, and he has become the “don” of the school. “He is not in charge of any of the classes, and by taking advantage of the newly arrived principal failing to speak up to him, he doesn’t attend any of the meetings and he doesn’t even come to school until right before his class starts,” a colleague said.

Another teacher in Aichi Prefecture tells Shukan Post: “There are some teachers who only come to work in the afternoon. It makes me feel stupid working responsibly as we are getting paid an equal amount.”

One math teacher in his early 40s was criticized by some of his students’ parents for not being enthusiastic in teaching and had the number of classes he teaches reduced as a result. However, the teacher showed no remorse in his conduct, but instead took advantage of the decreased number of classes to trade stocks online.

The truth is that many teachers openly neglect classes in the name of preparation for college entrance exams.

“Many prep schools end their curriculum early and the seniors will get a ‘study period’ starting at the end of the second semester to prepare for the entrance exam,” said one high school teacher. “This is especially true among the classes that teach subjects that will not be on the entrance exam. The teachers will then spend their day chatting away or reading a book. Some will even admit to saying that ‘this is so good and easy and the students welcome it.”

According to Ueda, teachers in rural areas are increasingly more likely to neglect their responsibility. “When there is not much competition in the area, like private schools in cities, the attitude at school is that ‘anything and everything goes as long as it doesn’t surface,’” he said. “The root cause of the curriculum fiasco and bullying is the same, in my opinion. Teachers should work with dignity and seek to improve on the situation. They have been neglecting to admit the existence of the problems.” (Translated by Toshiya Fujii)

November 8, 2006

The meaning of 'itadakimasu'


Eika Furudate
November 7, 2006

What was the first Japanese word that you learned? If you’re like most foreigners, it was probably a common term like "konnichiwa," "arigato," "sayonara," or maybe "itadakimasu." Yet, as familiar as these words are, even most Japanese people are unaware of their associations with our traditional culture.

For example, the true meaning of "itadakimasu," which is a ritual word uttered before meals, is virtually unknown today. It first referred to the practice of raising your food above your head and pausing for a moment to show respect and thankfulness, such as when receiving a meal from someone of higher rank or before eating the food placed on an altar as an offering.

I was a small child when I learned that part of the original meaning of "itadakimasu" was "to receive and consume a life." At first, I was shocked and thought this was cruel. Yet as I grew older, I began to appreciate the wisdom behind the word, and I came to appreciate that it expresses not only gratitude for receiving food but remorse for taking a life.

In fact, this true meaning of "itadakimasu" shows that our ancestors grew up in a different kind of Japan. They had a way of instilling their morals and manners in their children and grandchildren. People today, however, use such words mechanically. The greatest regret of the older generation is that we have somehow broken the chain that connects our own manners and customs with those of the current generation. Without tradition, we might as well be Pavlovian dogs conditioned to say "Itadakimasu" before a meal without giving it a second thought.

Case in point: a friend recently told me about a letter she read in a newspaper. It was written by a young mother. "Don't force our children to say 'Itadakimasu' at lunch," the letter said. "We pay for the children's school meals, so there's no need for the kids to say that before eating." What the young mother clearly did not realize is that saying "itadakimasu" expresses gratitude not only to those who paid for the meal, but for the very food itself. If parents don't appreciate this meaning, then it's no wonder that the younger generation will soon break away from such traditions.

Today, we often grade our children based on written examinations, but we don't have a system to tell whether they understand the simplest life lessons. Feeling a sense of appreciation for food and for life is not something that should be forced, but rather experienced.

The older generation, it seems, knew this very well. For instance, our ancestors felt a spiritual connection to rice, which has always been a staple food in Japan. The work that farmers must do to grow this crop is formidable — it's said that there are 88 steps in the process. Rice also cannot grow without the natural gifts of sunshine and rain. Of course, a grain of rice can't walk by itself, either; someone had to ship it. Nor is rice given away for free; someone in your family worked hard to buy it. Rice also can't be eaten raw; someone had to cook it. The farmer, the sunshine, the grocer, the delivery person, the shopper, the cook — when we say "Itadakimasu," we give thanks to all the people and things involved in this great chain.

During and after World War II, food was so scarce that some Japanese had to eat roots, weeds and insects. Because of this hardship, people learned to respect and value even the smallest amount of food. Even in my childhood, teachers and parents were strict; wasting food wasn't allowed. "Eat all of your rice or the farmer will cry," my mother would tell me. Or, "If you don't eat all your rice, your eyes will get darker." Today, though, the abundance of food makes it difficult for children not to be wasteful.

But we must remember that it sometimes takes two sides to break a chain. The younger generation has certainly lost its respect for the past, but has the older generation done its part to ensure that traditional Japanese ideals live on? It would be tragic if the only thing that we leave behind for our kids and grandkids is the responsibility to pay for our pensions. We must also consider what sort of culture we want to pass on.

Eating a meal may be a simple, everyday process, but the older generation was aware that it is also an essential act, and as such, it shouldn't be turned into a routine. I believe that the more we are able to appreciate life's simplest things, the more fulfilled we will become. We need to get in touch with the essence of what being Japanese means and hand those real values to the next generation before they are lost forever. We Japanese should begin by rethinking our most common routines and manners. In that way, we can relearn the skill of hearing the older generation's wise voice in almost everything we do.

Eika Furudate is a Tokyo-based ikebana instructor (http://www.ikebana-eika.com).

Minivan skids off icy highway over cliff in Akita, killing 4


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 08:02 EST

AKITA — A minivan carrying five people plunged about 70 meters down a cliff after skidding off an icy highway in Akita Prefecture, killing four passengers, police said Wednesday. The wreckage of the vehicle owned by a local construction company, Tosei, was found by company employees in the village of Higashinaruse in the prefecture around 12:30 a.m.

The company had been removing a guardrail from the highway from around 8 a.m. Tuesday, but stopped working around 4:30 p.m. because of heavy snowfall. The highway had been shut from Monday for the duration of the winter and had about 10 centimeters of icy snow accumulating, police said.

Education boards search for sender of suicide warning


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 07:04 EST

TOKYO — A number of education boards across Japan ordered local elementary and junior high schools Tuesday to check for possible problems after the education ministry received a note purportedly written by a boy warning he will commit suicide this coming Saturday inside his school because of bullying.

The letter addressed to Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Bummei Ibuki was delivered Monday. It bore the Chinese character that means "affluence" in its postmark that may help identify the area of origin, government officials said

Two girls jump to death from school building in Saitama


Monday, November 6, 2006 at 14:15 EST

SAITAMA — Two female students at Nihon Pharmaceutical University in Ina, Saitama Prefecture, were found dead Monday morning after apparently jumping from a school building, police said. The two were identified as a 20-year-old and a 19-year-old, both medical pharmacy majors.

A 12th-floor window in the college's research lab building had been removed and a suicide note signed by the two students was found nearby, police said.

Doctor admits 10 more unhealthy-kidney transplants


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 05:00 EST

MATSUYAMA — The doctor accused of transplanting unhealthy kidneys in 11 cases at a hospital until 2004 said Tuesday he had conducted about 10 more similar transplants between around 1990 and 2004 at a separate hospital.

Makoto Mannami, 66, senior urologist at the Uwajima Tokushukai Hospital in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, told a news conference at the hospital that he had conducted the 10 more transplants while he worked for the Uwajima Municipal Hospital which is run by the Uwajima city government. Mannami also said he remembers nothing about the diseases affecting the kidney donors.

9 killed, 21 injured as tornado hits eastern Hokkaido


Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 21:03 EST

SAPPORO — A tornado hit a tunnel construction site and other areas Tuesday in the town of Saroma, eastern Hokkaido, killing at least nine people and injuring 21 others, police and firefighters said. Also, more than 30 people were unaccounted for, including those engaged in the construction work, after the tornado hit the site shortly after 1 p.m., smashing several prefabricated huts and toppling power poles.

A tornado is believed to have broken out at two places, according to the firefighters.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told state minister in charge of disaster management Kensei Mizote to go to the area as quickly as possible "to look into the disaster site and do our best to rescue the victims," Mizote told reporters afterward.

A liaison office was set up at the crisis management center of the prime minister's official residence to deal with the disaster, and held a meeting of officials of ministries and agencies concerned in the evening.

Mizote said he will dispatch a team of about 20 government officials to the site on Wednesday.

At the construction site, a consortium led by construction company Kajima Corp was building a 4.1-kilometer tunnel, which would be the second-longest tunnel in Hokkaido.

Victims include workers who were attending a meeting on the upper floor of a two-story lodging-field office for the site, which was blown off by the tornado, Kajima said, adding that people on the ground floor were safe.

Hokkaido police were first alerted at around 1:20 p.m. that more than 20 workers were buried under collapsed prefabricated huts at the work site.

Town officials said, meanwhile, they were informed of about 10 houses collapsing in the town, and the town office sent officials to study the situation.

Some residences near the construction site were seen later in the day with roofs partially blown off, and power polls were falling down with electric wire hanging above rubble.

Power to 631 houses in the town and to the neighboring city of Kitami was cut off after the tornado toppled five electrical poles, Hokkaido Electric Power Co said.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was warning about strong winds and turbulent waters in wide areas in Japan, including northern Japan, due to a strong low-pressure system developing and traveling from the Sea of Japan toward the Okhotsk Sea.

The Sapporo District Meteorological Observatory had issued a weather advisory, warning the residents in Saroma and its vicinity on the Sea of Okhotsk coast of rain, thunder and strong winds from Monday night due to a cold front.

Gov't begins investigation into Hokkaido tornado


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 07:17 EST

SAPPORO — A group of experts from the Japan Meteorological Agency and Hokkaido University, as well as government investigators, on Wednesday began investigating the cause of the deadly gust of wind that hit eastern Hokkaido on Tuesday. Nine people died and 23 others were injured when the gust of wind believed to be from a tornado hit a tunnel construction site in the town of Saroma, eastern Hokkaido.

Investigators from the weather agency will study how these buildings collapsed and will interview residents to determine whether the phenomenon was in fact a tornado. They will also look into why it caused such major damage. On Tuesday, the weather agency was warning about strong winds and turbulent waters across a wide area of Japan, including northern Japan, due to a strong low-pressure system developing and traveling from the Sea of Japan toward the Okhotsk Sea.

11 students injured after tumbling down escalator at Tokyo Edo Museum


Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 16:28 EST

TOKYO — Eleven students were injured Tuesday afternoon after going down one after the other like dominoes on an escalator at Tokyo Edo Museum in Sumida Ward. The 6th graders from Yugawara Elementary School were on their field trip, said officials. Shortly after noon, one student suddenly stopped at the end of the escalator going down, causing students behind her to lose their balance.

About 40 students were involved in the accident. Ten girls and a boy were injured, including two who suffered head injuries and had to be taken to hospital.

Gov't apologizes for trying to fake support for education law reform


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 06:00 EST

TOKYO — The Cabinet Office apologized Tuesday for asking a local city education board to enlist people who would make remarks in favor of the government-proposed revision of the basic education law at a September town meeting in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture.

During a meeting of a Diet committee Tuesday, Cabinet Office officials also revealed that the education ministry had originally produced a document presenting sample questions to be asked by participants, with two people actually following the guidelines when speaking at the government-sponsored meeting on educational reform.

70-year-old man dies after alleged assault by U.S. base employee


Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 21:00 EST

YOKOHAMA — A 70-year-old man who was allegedly assaulted by a civilian employee at the U.S. Navy base in Kanagawa Prefecture died Tuesday at a hospital. Nolan Burns, 54, a bar owner at the Yokosuka base and an assistant personnel manager in the navy, will be charged with assault resulting in the death of Katsumi Nakagawa, they said.

Burns is suspected of forcing Nakagawa out of the bar while he was drinking there on Nov 2 and pushing him to the ground. Nakagawa sustained a fracture to his skull, police said.

171 attacks on Korean schools, students reported since July


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 07:00 EST

TOKYO — A total of 171 cases of verbal or physical attacks directed at Korean schools and their students have been reported across Japan since North Korea test-fired ballistic missiles on July 5, a pro-Pyongyang group said Tuesday.

The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon, said that Korean schools have reported 120 cases of such attacks from July to Oct 2 and another 51 cases since Oct 3, when North Korea announced it would conduct a nuclear test.

Man shoots ex-wife, two cops in Kumamoto


Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 15:47 EST

KUMAMOTO — A man shot his ex-wife and two policemen Tuesday in a Kumamoto Prefecture house after a quarrel with her there, according to police. Satoshi Yoshida, 58, seriously injured the woman and one of the policemen, they said.

The other policeman and three firefighters sustained minor injuries in the shooting, which occurred in the town of Jonan around 9:35 a.m., police said.

Yoshida, an interior worker, and his 54-year-old ex-wife first argued alone in the house. They lived there together before and now Yoshida uses it for work.

The police officers and firefighters then came to the house as she had called them for help. The police say her former husband had stalked and beat her.

On seeing the woman fleeing from him to the policemen, Yoshida opened fire at the three from within the house.

Yoshida then holed up in the house and continued shooting before emerging and being arrested about 80 minutes later, the police said.

One of the firefighters was injured by a stray round and another tripped while trying to flee the shooting. The cause of the injury of the third firefighter is yet unknown, the police said.

Culture Day and the constitution


Hisane Masaki
November 2, 2006

Friday is Culture Day, an annual national holiday for promotion of culture and the love for freedom and peace. So will this year’s Culture Day be any different from previous ones? As in the past, there will be a lot of festivities such as art exhibitions, parades, and award ceremonies for distinguished artists and scholars across the country to commemorate the holiday. But the political landscape surrounding Culture Day has changed significantly in the past year.

It was Nov 3, 1946 that the present constitution of Japan was promulgated to replace the Meiji constitution. To commemorate this event, the date was made into a holiday two years later to foster the ideals of the constitution — the love of peace and freedom — through cultural activities. The constitution did not actually come into force until May 3, 1947, though, and so there's a separate national holiday, Constitution Day. Nov 3 had previously been celebrated as Meiji Setsu, the birthday of the Meiji Emperor. Strangely enough, Nov 3 always seems to be blessed with fine weather.

The current constitution has never been altered, in stark contrast with Japan's World War II ally, Germany. Including the period when it was called West Germany until its 1990 unification with communist East Germany, Germany has changed its basic law — or constitution — more than 40 times since the war. The Meiji constitution, predecessor of the present constitution, was never altered during its 57-year history, either. In Japan, a constitution has tended to be put on a pedestal as an “immortal code.” The Taiho code, established in the early 8th century, was revised in the middle of the same century and renamed the Yoryo code. The ancient code effectively became a dead letter soon afterwards but lived on for about 1,100 years — albeit only nominally — until the 1868 Meiji Restoration, which ended the Tokugawa Shogunate and restored imperial power.

Just a year ago, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) adopted its draft of a new constitution to replace the current war-renouncing, pacifist constitution, drafted by the U.S. occupation forces immediately after Japan's 1945 defeat in World War II. Establishing a "self-imposed constitution" has been the LDP's credo since its 1955 founding. It was the first time the LDP had proposed a new constitution in writing.

The LDP draft calls for rewriting Article 9 — the clause almost synonymous with Japan's post-war pacifism as it renounces the use or threat of force as a means of settling international conflicts — to acknowledge clearly the existence of a "military for self-defense." It also calls for more active participation in international peace cooperation activities. The current constitution is widely interpreted as forbidding the possession of a military. Although, in reality, Japan has about 240,000 troops of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and one of the world's biggest defense expenditures, successive governments have explained away the contradiction by claiming that SDF is not a military.

Political momentum for revising the constitution has mounted following the LDP’s landslide victory in general elections in September last year. The LDP-New Komeito coalition garnered more than a two-thirds majority in the Lower House. And Shinzo Abe, a nationalist and staunch advocate of a new constitution, became the new LDP president and prime minister in late September, succeeding Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe, 52, is the youngest postwar premier. He is also the first premier born after the war. His rise to the top government post marked a new turning point for Japanese politics. Naming his new administration the "nation-building cabinet," Abe has said he wants Japan to revive family values, be proud of its identity and take leadership in international affairs. He has called for a “departure from the postwar regime” by revising the pacifist constitution, among other things.

Abe has said he will seek to have constitutional amendments realized within five years. It remains to be seen, however, if the supreme law can be revised while he is in office. Under Article 96, any amendments must be proposed with support of a two-thirds or more of both houses of the Diet and then be approved in a national referendum with a simple majority vote. Legislation setting procedures for such a referendum is still pending in the Diet. The LDP-New Komeito coalition is still far short of a two-thirds majority in the Upper House. In addition, New Komeito, backed by the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, remains reluctant about rewriting Article 9.

To be sure, adoption of a new constitution could be years away. But the world is still sitting up and taking notice.

The growing political momentum toward constitutional amendments have been hailed by many security and foreign-policy experts in Japan's most important ally, the United States, as clear evidence that Tokyo is going in the right direction to become a more reliable and responsible security partner regionally and globally. But it has raised grave concerns among many in Japan’s Asian neighbors who fear that the country's military genie might be finally beginning to escape its bottle, 60 years after the war. Many in Japan’s Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, still harbor bitter memories of Japan’s wartime aggression and atrocities.

For many years since the end of World War II, even the slightest sign of nationalism in Japan had been widely denounced at home as well as abroad as signaling a resurgence of militarism. But the situation has changed dramatically in recent years. A tide of nationalism seems to be on the rise.

Many Japanese also feel more insecure in the increasingly volatile security environment surrounding their country. Discussions on questions that had long been considered taboo have moved into the Japanese mainstream. There have been discussions in the political and media circles even about the pros and cons of Japan possessing nuclear weapons to defend itself. There is growing alarm in Japan over potential threats posed by neighbors North Korea and China. Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test and test-firing of missiles have significantly heightened concerns among most Japanese.

Japan is also under increasing pressure from the US to shoulder more of the burden of its foreign and security policy, regionally and globally. Having the kind of "self-imposed" new constitution that was drafted by the LDP is not merely a matter of national pride, but something Japanese leaders firmly believe the nation must do to cope with those new challenges. Like his predecessors, Koizumi stretched the boundaries of the constitution, including deploying non-combat SDF troops to Iraq, the first SDF mission to a combat zone after World War II.

After being elected the LDP president, Abe said, "I want to take the helm to lead the country in the right direction.” But critics fear that he might lead the country in the wrong direction.

Abe has been elected five times to the Diet since 1993 from a constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan. Yamaguchi was once called Choshu. Samurai from the Choshu clan played a leading role in the Meiji Restoration. The main power of the Meiji government was from the former Choshu clan, including the first prime minister, Hirofumi Ito.

Koizumi, who roared into office in April 2001 with a vow to “destroy the old LDP,” changed the way Japanese politics work. Koizumi became widely known as the "destroyer” and sought to cast himself in the same light as the 16th century warlord Oda Nobunaga, who ushered in a new era of national reunification after 100 years of strife. Abe apparently has a strong desire to become the “creator.” Having in mind Choshu people who built the post-samurai era, Abe said, “People from Choshu are good at creating things.” However, the biggest question is: what will he create?

Friday marks the 60th anniversary of the constitution’s promulgation. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In Japan, 60-year-olds have customarily been celebrated for their kanreki - the end of the traditional sexagenary cycle in which people are said to be born again when they reach the age of 60. But many people in neighboring Asian countries would not want to see Japan reincarnated as a country with a full-fledged military force that projects its power abroad freely, just as the country was until its World War II defeat.

Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economics.

38 LDP lawmakers attend anti-Abe meeting


Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 05:00 EST

TOKYO — Thirty-eight lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party took part Tuesday in the first meeting of a study group on Asian diplomacy and security, launched by members critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's view of history, the members said.

The group, headed by former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, decided in the meeting at the Diet to debate matters including the North Korean nuclear issue and China's military buildup, and to come up with proposals for Asia-oriented policies.
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