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The obscured ‘middle-way’ in Japanese politics: the transformative power of dialogue – with Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen

19 March — 6:45 pm

Monday 19 March 2017 6:45pm

The Swedenborg Society
20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St)
London WC1A 2TH

For a PDF map of the venue please click here

Free – booking recommended
Book online here

“War” is the political ghost of the Japanese State. Any talk of changing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution will for many involve a complex set of sentiments, and distrust can easily arise as to the intentions of such talks. As a meta-signaller of ‘Japanese peace’, Article 9 also often intercept with an imagined relationship to the State as a moral one that automatically protects peace when opposing any changes to Article 9. Representations of security issues in relation to Article 9 have often been constructed as if binary, moral choices existed between a ‘pro-peace’ (‘the pacifists’ stance) or ‘pro-war’ (‘the nationalists’ stance). This greatly simplifies and obscures the many contradictions and overlaps in positions that in reality exist.

In my recent work I explore the highly charged political rhetoric that erupted with the Peace and Security Legislation debates between 2014 and 2016, which resulted in freezing debates at the level of being ‘anti-Abe’ meant being pro-peace, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented by the opposition as the irredeemably ill-intentioned prime minister. This created a polarized political discourse that did not reflect the fact that the legislation was not a significant departure from Japan’s past policies or from its ‘self-defence-only-pacifism’.

Looking closely at the actual processes of negotiation and outcome of the bills, Komeito played an instrumental role in persuading the LDP to significantly change their initial security proposals. The legislation, arguable, increased the possibility of maintaining Article 9 and Japan’s self-defence only position rather than the opposite.

For Komeito, left-right ideology as a framework for critique has long been regarded as itself reactionary to the extent that it denies the possibility of change in the people with whom one may disagree. It has for long sought to move political debate beyond binary ideological approaches towards a focus on concrete proposals and a more conciliatory form of dialogue.

This presentation focuses on Komeito’s ‘middle-way’ politics that is driving a political agenda of complexity and concrete policy proposals, as well as direct engagement on the international scene. The ‘middle’ is not an easy pursuit amidst the current tendency to politicise debates into simplified, binary moral choices, not only in Japan but elsewhere as well. Komeito’s politics have often been invisible to the general public, or explained away by the mass media as simply ‘giving in’ or ‘compromising’ with the LDP.

The talk will focus on two specific issues: 1) the politics that surround the LDP-Komeito coalition government decision not to sign the 2017 United Nations global ban on nuclear weapons and Komeito’s long-standing political objective of abolishing nuclear weapons, an issue the party’s support base, the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai has for decades been involved as one of most active global players, working closely with organisations such as ICAN that was this year’s Nobel Peace prize recipient; 2) Komeito’s long term direct engagement with China and what that may mean in Sino-Japanese relations today. Here I take an in depth look at the workings of politics to reveal the complexity of achieving ones’ objectives that goes far beyond simple statements of purpose that tends to be the focus of media speculation.

Dr Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen is a social anthropologist focusing on politics and religion in Japan. She was born in Denmark, but lived primarily in Hong Kong, Japan and the UK. She received a PhD in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 2008. Her research has focused on Japanese politics, and particularly on Komeito and its relationship with Soka Gakkai. Other areas of interests are civil society engagement, peace activism, religion in Japan, politics in Okinawa, and media and the public in Japan. In recent years, she has focused on politics surrounding security debates and Komeito in Sino-Japanese relations.

She became a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS in 2008 and lectured on Japanese Culture and Society and Social Theory until August 2017 when she moved to Tokyo to take up a post as Associate Professor in Social Anthropology in the Department of Humanities at Soka University Japan. From April 2018, she will be teaching a new major titled Global Japan Studies. Some of her publications related to the current talk are , Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan: Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito (2012), From Japanese Buddhist Sect to Global Citizenship: Soka Gakkai Past and Future (2015), Has Komeito Abandoned its Principles? Public Perception of the Party’s Role in Japan’s Security Legislation Debate (2016) and Peace Through Friendship? The Sōka Gakkai 1968 Youth Peace Movement between Japan and China’ New Religious Movements in Asian History (2018).

To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996, email events@japansociety.org.uk  or submit the online booking form.



19 March
6:45 pm - 8:30 pm
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