The Yomiuri Shinbun stunned the world in late November with a highly unusual apology. The paper announced that it had found dozens of articles in past issues of the English-language Daily Yomiuri (now called The Japan News) between February 1992 and January 2013 that used the expression “sex slave” to refer to wartime comfort women.
It has been impossible for any journalist in Japan, whether Japanese or foreign, to overlook the agony of the Asahi Shinbun over the past couple months. They have stumbled from one mistake to another, and in the process they have inadvertently energized the Japanese right and deflated moderates and liberals.
Senior members of the Shinzo Abe administration, from the prime minister on down, have already jumped into the Tokyo gubernatorial race to insist that candidates must not appeal to the public in terms of anti-nuclear policy, but instead according to what the government believes are the most “proper” subjects, namely preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and health care policy.
The return of Shinzo Abe to the Japanese premiership was expected to lead to renewed efforts to build ties with fellow democracies, albeit within a pragmatic framework designed not to give the appearance of an explicit containment policy vis-à-vis China. The early foreign trips by some key members of the administration, including Abe himself, to Southeast Asia, made it clear that this would indeed be on the agenda.
After about a year of hanging about in the background, the issue of Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations was suddenly thrust back into the front rank of political debate. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in favor of Japan’s participation in TPP negotiations all along, as was his predecessor Naoto Kan. However, it appears that Noda decided to soft-pedal the matter late last year as he faced the daunting challenge of raising the national consumption tax, a divisive issue within the ruling party that he saw as the bigger priority.