Not surprisingly, Abe has become the first prime minister in more than a decade to see his public approval rating actually improve, rather than starting their inevitable decline into the low double digits, leading to eventual resignation. A huge majority says it has hopes that Abenomics will promote growth.
But there is another Abe buzzword that one doesn’t hear much about at present: that is “Beautiful Nation,” or “Beautiful Japan.” Abe rolled out this phrase in his first policy speech in 2006, during his previous term as prime minister.
This term is a kind of code word for a catch-all of conservative hobbyhorses, such as inserting more patriotism into the school curriculums, downplaying or denying some of the more unsavory aspects of Japan’s conduct during World War II and rewriting the constitution to eliminate the war-renouncing Article 9.
It shows the difficulty of applying contemporary American ideas of what is “conservative” and what is “liberal” to Japanese politics and policies. After all, the conservative Abe administration has gone whole hog for Keynesian pump priming, which would be anathema to American conservatives, and is in fact out of fashion in nearly every other country in the world.
The Liberal Democratic Party that Abe leads even provided enough votes to pass the doubling of the national sales tax last year (though they were happy enough to let former Premier Yoshihiko Noda and his Democratic Party take all the credit). In fact, Abe and most of his supporters are deeply conservative, just conservative in a very Japanese way.
Abe has two sides to his political persona. One side is the foreign policy realist. He does not rattle sabers, and he seems intent on smoothing relations with China that have been severely damaged since the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands issue caught fire last year. In his first term he actually improved relations with China that had fallen sharply due to former PM Junichiro Koizumi’s official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.
The other side to Abe is the romantic, “Beautiful Nation” side that makes him want to rewrite Japanese history to put its actions during World War II into a more favorable light, and to drastically revise the American-written constitution to dilute some of its protections for individuals in favor of nurturing a greater “we Japanese” collective spirit.
For the time being, he has suppressed the "Beautiful Nation" desires as he concentrates on economic revival. Abe has evidently learned and absorbed the lessons of his first administration (2006-2007), when he appeared to put “Beautiful Nation” before ordinary bread-and-butter concerns. So he will play it safe, at least until the elections to the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s bicameral parliament, are concluded in July.
Abe is very keen on winning this election for his party and winning control of this important institution, even though he will likely not be able to attain a two-thirds majority necessary if he wants to amend the constitution. After all, he presided over a serious defeat in the 2007 upper house election that led to his resignation. Undoubtedly a big win this time around would be very sweet.