Donald Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week might have been more symbolic than the president-elect knew. Because if we want to know what happens with far-right movements after a nationalist leader is swept to power, Abe’s Japan may provide a hint.
Trump’s election victory has raised serious questions about the prominence of America’s nationalist movement and its ability to leave a lasting mark on American society.Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants, from his calls for “extreme vetting” to his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, resonated strongly with a fringe far-right movement that felt its views were finally validated. Where is this movement headed? Well, look no further than Japan.
In 2012, the Japanese people elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a staunch nationalist who advocated a more proactive defense posture for Japan. He promoted a revisionist narrative of his country’s history, unnerving South Korea and China — two victims of Japan’s past military adventurism.
Abe’s victory energized far-right groups that were previously confined to the margins of Japanese society and politics. Some of these organizations have explicitly xenophobic aims, often targeting Korean or Chinese minorities, while others advocate a return to militarism.
Although Japan’s far-right groups remain relatively marginal, after Abe’s election they became increasingly active and vocal. A xenophobic group opposed to what it calls the “privileges” of ethnic Koreans in Japan staged several demonstrations in Korean neighborhoods in 2013 and 2014. Journalists and academics deemed hostile to the views of the far-right became the targets of threats and harassment.
In one case, Hokusei University faced intense pressure to fire a lecturer because he had published in 1991 an article casting Japan’s history in a negative light. Only two weeks after the presidential election, one cannot help but observe similar incidents in the US, with reports of harassment against minorities and opponents of Donald Trump.