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Japan's rising right-wing nationalism

Meet the people trying to make Japan great again

This video is part of Vox’s Borders series with Johnny Harris. Stay up to date with Borders by following Johnny on Facebook and signing up for the newsletter.

Like many other countries, Japan has seen the rise of nationalist movements in previous years. Although these Japanese movements coincide with their American and European counterparts and indeed share similarities, they are inherently and ultimately different.

This is largely in part because fringe right-wing nationalist movements in Japan have yet to create a narrative with populist appeal. Makoto Sakurai, the founder of the Japan First party, is trying to do just that. However, the nationalist sentiments that his party embodies can already be found within the platforms of Japan’s establishment politicians.

Makoto Sakurai
Makoto Sakurai, founder of the Japan First Party.

Shinzo Abe, the current and third-longest-serving prime minister of Japan, has repeatedly expressed a right-wing nationalist view of Japan’s history, especially its role in World War II. Abe has drawn both international and domestic criticism for his nationalistic brand of revisionist history. But his supporters claim this stance is vital in restoring Japan’s pride and national identity, which they believe was dismantled and manipulated following the country’s defeat at the hands of the Allied powers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the cover of Time Magazine, 2014.

The Time cover’s caption reads: “Shinzo Abe dreams of a more powerful, assertive Japan. Why that makes many people uncomfortable.”

This tension — between reconciling the past and charting a path forward for Japan — remains a contentious issue in the country today. Although it’s tempting to draw direct comparisons with the right-wing movements that have recently surged through America and Europe, the situation in Japan stands apart because of how deeply it’s rooted in the country’s history and culture.

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