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The Compromise of Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in Education

While the controversies raged over the Yasukuni Shrine and JSHTR’s history textbook, Koizumi’s government also tried to reform the Basic Act on Education to emphasize patriotism in school curricula. This move toward reform had begun in August 1999, when Obuchi Keizo’s government had created a new law to formally define Hinomaru and Kimigayo as the national flag and anthem, respectively.53 Obuchi had also established the National Commission on Educational Reform in March 2000, and the commission’s final report in December 2000 had emphasized the importance of “educating the Japanese people in the new era” and recommended that the Japanese government and citizens should debate how to reform the Basic Act on Education for the new century.54 In March 2003, the Central Council for Education, too, had recommended that the act be reformed to put greater emphasis on the cultivation of “love for the country” (kuni wo aisuru kokoro).55

The recommended reform gained momentum in 2005. In May, Koizumi’s government submitted a bill to privatize the postal service, and the House of Representatives passed the bill in July. However, the bill was rejected at the House of Councillors in August when a significant number of LDP members voted against it. Koizumi promptly dissolved the House of

Representatives, and the election held in September propelled the LDP to a landslide victory, thanks to popular support for Koizumi’s reform-minded gestures.56 After the 2005 election, the coalition of the LDP and Komeito began to discuss the content of a bill to reform the Basic Act on Education.

At first, the LDP and Komeito disagreed over how to include patriotism in a bill. The LDP insisted on the phrase “to love the country” (kuni wo aisuru), whereas Komeito wanted to moderate patriotism and suggested another phrase “to value the country” (kuni wo taisetsuni suru). In April 2006, the LDP and Komeito reached an agreement to adopt the phrase “to love the country,” provided that the “country” should be understood as excluding the government, and that other phrases be included to express the importance of respecting other countries and contributing to international society.57 Koizumi’s government then submitted a reform bill to the House of Representatives in May 2006.

Opposition parties objected to the bill for different reasons. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) agreed with the government on the principle of patriotism but argued that the phrase “to love Japan” (nihon wo aisuru) was better because the word “country” in the government’s proposal had a connotation of prewar Japan’s ultranationalism.58 The communist and socialist parties were squarely opposed to the idea of legally specifying inculcation of patriotism as an educational objective. Specifically, they criticized the proposed reform of the Basic Act on Education as a step toward a future revision of Article 9 of the constitution to allow Japan to engage in war again.59 While the 2006 regular session of the Diet was ending in June, the government and the opposition parties remained locked in heated debate. The coalition of the LDP and Komeito therefore voted to extend deliberation to the next Diet session.

Then, during a summer recess, the LDP elected Abe Shinzo as new chairman. Abe had been more vocal about his nationalistic sentiments than his predecessor Koizumi. For example, Abe had felt that “it was a shame that the Diet passed the ‘apology’ resolution on the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end” because he did not think that Japan should apologize to the Asian countries that it had invaded.60 After Abe was sworn in, he promised to reform the Basic Act on Education as soon as possible and emphasized the importance of “cultivating in next generations confidence and pride as the Japanese,” given that “our country has the world-class natural environment as well as long history, culture, and traditions.”61 When the Diet resumed deliberation on the reform bill in October, however, Abe’s government and the opposition parties could not work out a compromise. In the meantime, teachers unions and antiwar NGOs across Japan held demonstrations against the proposed reform, under the slogan “Stop the Deformation of the Basic Act on Education” (Kyoiku Kihonho Kaiaku Hantai).62 Given its majority in both houses of the Diet, Abe’s government pushed the reform bill through the Diet in December 2006, while the opposition parties boycotted the vote in protest.63

The emphasis on patriotism notwithstanding, the new Basic Act on Education retained cosmopolitanism. The preamble of the new act, for example, introduced “inheritance of the tradition” into the purposes of Japanese education, but it reaffirmed the cosmopolitan objective to “contribute to world peace and welfare of humankind.”64 The second article also introduced a new emphasis on the “cultivation of respectful attitudes to the tradition and the culture, as well as love of our country and native land that have produced them,” but again, this was coupled with the commitment to cultivate “attitudes to respect other countries and contribute to peace and progress of international society.” Thus, while the LDP finally succeeded in institutionalizing patriotism as a goal of Japanese education, it had to simultaneously reaffirm the cosmopolitan principles in the old Basic Act on Education. The process and outcome of the reform thus confirmed that, even for conservative politicians, the choice was no longer simply how to defend nationalism but how to combine it with cosmopolitanism.

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