Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hironobu Ishikawa

【#205(Special)】 Our Stance on Aso Remark

Hironobu Ishikawa / 2013.08.08 (Thu)

August 5, 2013

      A recent remark on Nazi Germany by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has come under fire in media. Aso, who doubles as finance minister, made the remark as a panelist at a monthly workshop entitled “Path to Japan's revival” that the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (headed by Yoshiko Sakurai) organized at Toshi Center Hotel in Tokyo's Hirakawa-cho district on July 29. As many people including foreigners have complained that they were left unaware of the background for the remark or an overall tone of the workshop, I would like to give explanations on behalf of the organizer.
Panel discussions on constitutional amendments
      Since its creation six years ago, JINF has sponsored monthly workshops where politicians and experts were invited for public discussions on a wide range of key topics for Japan, including the Constitution, nuclear power plants, the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, Japan-U.S. relations, Asian security, education, Japan-India cooperation, and Tibetans' freedom and human rights. In response to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's overwhelming victory in the July 21 House of Councilors election, the latest workshop focused on how the LDP administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would and should tackle constitutional amendments and other challenges. Deputy Prime Minister Aso was invited along with other members of House of Representatives, Shingo Nishimura (independent) and Hirofumi Ryu ( the Democratic Party of Japan) to discuss the topic as panelists. Panelists from JINF were Vice President Tadae Takubo (Professor Emeritus at Kyorin University) and Director Koichi Endo (Professor at the Takushoku University Graduate School) as well as President Sakurai. Reflecting panelists' popularity, as many as 550 people participated in the workshop, many of whom were JINF members.
      During the panel discussions that were chaired by Ms. Sakurai and lasted for 140 minutes, Dr. Takubo said, "The conditions have matured for constitutional amendments." "The way has gradually been paved for implementing constitutional amendments that the LDP has advocated since its founding," Mr. Aso said. "If moves for constitutional amendments gain momentum, I will take action," Mr. Nishimura said. "While our party has developed no consensus, I want to promote constitutional amendments," Mr. Ryu said. "As a two-thirds majority is required for the Diet to initiate any constitutional amendment, and as the LDP alone fails to command such majority, a political realignment may become an issue," Mr. Endo said. As many JINF members were impatient with various constrains under the present Constitution created just after World War II, the audience was sympathetic to the panelists. In the absence of jeering to which panel discussions are usually vulnerable, the workshop room was filled with applause and laughter.
Aso made an irony against Nazis
      In such atmosphere, Mr. Aso said: "While America's economic power declines, China continues to expand military spending. As a U.S. ally, Japan must cover (American) shortfalls. We must be prepared to do what we can on our own... We will have to change the Constitution in line with the international situation and the national polity. But constitutional amendments should not be done amid furor... Newspapers fanned the flames of the last war by using the word 'kichiku bei-ei' (satanic, brute Americans/Britons). We must be calm." He went on to say: "Hitler was elected in an election. Even under the Weimar Constitution that was progressive and good, Hitler emerged." This remark represented Aso's negative view against Nazi Germany. Then, the deputy prime minister touched on a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, saying: "We must visit the shrine quietly. It is natural for us to pay thanks and respect to those who laid down their lives for the country. The media first began to make loud noise over the matter. Because the Japanese media make noise, China and South Korea make noise." Aso further said: "So I say we should do it quietly. Germany's Weimar Constitution changed while none was aware of any change. Why don't you learn from this method?" As most of the audience took this remark as a critical irony against Nazis, laugher arose in the workshop room. The remark on Nazis lasted for 20 seconds. Aso turned to a next topic swiftly. In response to Aso's emphasis put on "quiet discussions," JINF Vice President Takubo expressed concern that the LDP might have toned down its commitment to constitutional amendments.
      As the media began to make noise over the remark two days after the workshop, Aso on August 1 withdrew his remark citing the Nazi regime, regretting that the remark was misunderstood. Explaining about his real intention, he said, "I cited the Weimar Constitution case as a bad example where sufficient discussions failed to be made." Among the media, however, particularly the Asahi Shimbun used as many as five pages including an editorial in its August 2 morning edition to greatly criticize the Aso remark, indicating that the newspaper would not lay down its arms even after Aso's withdrawal of the remark.

Intentional media reports against Aso
      Summarizing the panel discussions, JINF President Sakurai said: "Facing China's rise in various areas, the United States needs Japan's help more than ever. By amending the Constitution to become a strong, independent and proud country, Japan may be able to help the United States and defend itself. Then, Japan will be able to contribute to protecting peace and order for Asia." The summary represented the atmosphere of the workshop. A quarter of the audience responded to a questionnaire survey. "Now that I know that there are politicians who seriously think about Japan's future, I am hopeful," said a company owner in the 40s. A student in the 30s said: "It was very encouraging for me. I would like to make efforts to reconstruct Japan." Most of the questionnaire respondents indicated they were very impressed by the workshop.
      For this reason alone, I regret that newspapers and television stations have made noise over the Aso remark at the workshop. While Aso's Nazi remark was ambiguous in some sense, the overall tone of his remarks clearly indicated that he was not lauding the Nazis or any Nazi method. The approach of singling out and questioning the Nazi remark alone is inept or intentional.
Hironobu Ishikawa is Acting Secretary General and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.