It's a "special summer," in that on top of the coronavirus pandemic, we are experiencing intense heat. With the exception of a long-term recess of the Diet, to be precise.
The sparse attendance at the National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead in Tokyo on Aug. 15, with distance between each person as a novel coronavirus measure, was a sight from this summer that will not easily be forgotten.
In his speech at the ceremony this year, as with other years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not touch upon Japan's responsibility as an aggressor in Asia in World War II. And despite the fact that soldiers and civilians died in the war, he stated that the "peace and prosperity we enjoy today was built atop the precious sacrifices of the war dead."
The tone of his speech was wildly different from that of Emperor Naruhito, in which he referred to "reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse."
In the statement he made marking 70 years from the end of World War II, Abe acknowledged that "Japan took the wrong course" in the lead-up to the war. But still, he instinctively rejects calling the actions that Japan took as invasions.
In an interview with a magazine following the miserable collapse of the first Abe administration in 2007, Abe revealed that he had wanted to release a statement that would replace a 1995 statement made by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. His reasoning behind it? "There is no reason for us to be tied down by Mr. Murayama's personal interpretation of history forever."
But because Japan had to adhere to the Murayama Statement under the November 1998 Japan-China Joint Declaration on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development, it was not something that could be abandoned unilaterally. Perhaps he was feeling carefree from having stepped down as prime minister, but Abe said, "An outrageous pitfall had been awaiting Japan."
Even in Abe's 70th-anniversary statement, which left a half-baked impression, he was likely forced to say things that he did not mean.
Meanwhile, the term "proactive contribution to peace" made its first appearance this year in the prime minister's speech. It may originally mean something very simple. But when Abe employs this phrase, it becomes an antithesis to the Constitution and the rest of the postwar regime in Japan. In other words, it is a political slogan.
Anyone with normal sensibilities would hesitate to inject such a slogan into a somber, national ceremony. Abe appears to be down these days, whether it be due to his health, or doubts about his administration, but his lack of decency seems to be alive and well.
But will Abe display his view of history in his speech at the war memorial ceremony again next year? Even among ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers, unless they are extremely woolly-minded, fewer and fewer people are sure of a repeat of this year's ceremony. This is because not only is Abe's health being brought into question, the approval ratings for his Cabinet are lower than the approval ratings for the LDP, according to some public opinion polls.
Generally, the positive difference between the Cabinet's approval rating and the ruling party's approval rating is a barometer for how much cohesive power the prime minister has. But when that figure is negative, prime ministerial power weakens.
The cause is clear. Dialogue between the public, who are viscerally afraid of the spread of the coronavirus, and the government, has not been established. And at the axis of this is the prime minister. We must not let this special summer end with the axis unclear.
(Japanese original by Ko Koga, Expert Senior Writer)