Countryaah official website, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's ruling Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP, Jiminto) strengthened his position in
parliament in January by allying himself with the year-old
Liberal Party, led by Ichiro Ozawa. The new alliance
controlled 116 of the upper house's 252 seats. In the lower
house, the LDP already had its own majority.
The governor elections in April became a setback for the
government. The new governor of Tokyo was appointed the
controversial but popular Shintaro Ishihara, independent
nationalist and former LDP minister. Ishihara, author of a
well-publicized book on Japanese self-confidence, promised
to try to close the US airbase in western Tokyo.
In September, the LDP elected 62-year-old Obuchi as a
party leader with a good margin - more than two-thirds of
all votes. Shortly thereafter, the largest opposition party,
Japan's Democratic Party (DPJ, Minshuto), appointed Yukio
Hatoyama a new leader after Naoto Kan.
To get a grip on Parliament's upper house, Obuchi had
announced in June that he also wanted to cooperate with the
party Nya Komeito, supported by the Buddhist movement Soka
Gakkai. In October, the party was included in the
government, giving the tripartite coalition its own majority
in both chambers of parliament.
Japan's economy showed signs of recovery, although
unemployment in July reached a record level of 4.9%.
However, weak domestic consumption persisted. In November,
the government presented a new large stimulus package worth
about 18 trillion yen (SEK 1,300 billion). Critics claimed
it could delay the economy's cleanup by supporting overly
When Prime Minister Obuchi visited the United States in
May, the two states' new strategic cooperation was
strengthened, with Japan shouldering greater responsibility in
his own region. In trade negotiations, Japan opened up his home
market to something else for foreign companies.
The improved Russian-Japanese relations led to new joint
naval exercises in September. In the former Soviet Republic
of Kyrgyzstan, four Japanese geologists were released in
October after sitting with rebels for over two months.
On September 30, Japan and the outside world were shaken by
a serious accident in Tokaimura. From a nuclear fuel
reprocessing plant, owned by the company JCO, radioactivity
leaked and injured about fifty people, most of the employees
at the plant. Most severely injured were the three workers
who happened to pour too much uranium solution into a tank
and triggered a nuclear reaction. One of them later died of
his injuries. The incident, which was severely criticized by
JCO for lack of security, was described as the worst nuclear
accident in the world after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Doomsday Sect Aum Shinrikyo acknowledged for the first
time in December that it was an accomplice to the 1995
nervous gas attack that killed twelve people and injured
thousands of others in Tokyo's subway. On TV, a sect
representative said "we cannot deny that some of our then
supporters were involved" and asked the victims and their
families for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, Parliament
passed two laws aimed at Aum Shinrikyo's activities.
In December, hopes also spread that the imperial throne
he had long awaited was finally on his way. On the almost
final day of the year, however, the court announced that
Crown Princess Masako had been hit by miscarriage.
The conflict around the Senkaku Islands in the Chinese
archipelago flared up again in August 2012 after right-wing
Japanese sent a ship to the islands to emphasize Japanese
sovereignty. The islands had been managed by Japan since
1972, but both China and Japan claim them at the same time.
The right-wing activists were arrested by the Japanese
authorities, but that did not prevent the event from leading
to diplomatic relations between Japan and China and led to
fierce anti-Japanese protests in China.
Not surprisingly, the December 2012 parliamentary
elections became a disaster for JDP, losing 3/4 of its seats
in parliament (going from 230 to 57). However, if right-wing
politics were to be pursued, voters would prefer LDP, which
went from 118 to 294 seats in parliament, thus gaining an
absolute majority. The turnout of 59.3% was the lowest since
World War II. After the election, LDP's Shinzō Abe could
take over as prime minister. JDP's 3 years in power became a
paragon in history.
JApan declared in March 2013 that it entered the Trans
Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations. Observers
assessed that it was part of a settlement with, among other
things, the state-protected Japanese agricultural
production. The decision then also prompted sharp criticism
from the agricultural organizations. The negotiations
culminated in a final TPP agreement in October 2015.
Prime Minister Abe wanted to pursue an expansive economic
policy to kick-start the economy while aiming to keep
inflation below 2%. Initially, it was the defense budget
that allowed him to grow while reducing the country's
foreign aid. At the same time, he resumed the project of
rewriting history so that the Japanese war crimes during
World War II were dimmed. It was the same project that had
cost him the post of prime minister in 2007. The history
project was condemned in South Korea and China, the two
countries most severely affected by the Japanese war crimes
80 years earlier. While previously as Prime Minister and
since as Leader of the Opposition (most recently in October
2012) he had visited the Yasakuni Temple, which included is
a temple for the Japanese war criminals, he immediately
failed to visit the temple, albeit he expressed
understanding of the necessity of "honoring" the fallen.
However, the war criminals called, so in December 2013 he
visited the temple. It sparked sharp protests from China
declaring that Chinese leaders no longer wanted to meet Abe.
United States officials had also warned the prime minister
against conducting the visit. However, on the anniversary of
the end of the war on August 15, 2014, Abe failed to visit
the temple. It was seen as a gesture to South Korea and
China, but the two countries nonetheless vigorously
protested, as a large number of politicians and 3 government
ministers of the Abe chose to visit the temple.
On August 28, 2013, the government celebrated the 61st
anniversary of the end of the U.S. occupation of the
country. The celebration had been proposed by Abe as early
as 2012, and Emperor Akihito attended the festivities. On
Okinawa and in Tokyo, the event was described as a fraud.
The US base on Okinawa continues to exist and its
inhabitants hate it like the plague.
In order to consolidate control of security policy during
the Prime Minister's Office, in November 2013, Abe created a
"National Security Council" directly under the Prime
Japan, in its constitution, has waived the right to
declare war and to use military force in international
disputes. Still, in May 2014, Abe declared it was time to
"give up the inaction the country had been subject to since
World War II". Acc. Abe it was time for Japan to take charge
of "regional security". He stated that Japan wanted to play
a "key role" and "offered" neighboring countries Japan's
"support". Japan's confrontation with the peace policy it
had led since World War II triggered vigorous reactions from
China in particular, noting that the Japanese people were
against the idea of "collective self-defense".
On the International Day for the Eradication of Violence
Against Women, November 25, 2014, Amnesty International once
again called on Japan to apologize unreservedly to the
survivors of the country's military sex slavery during World
War II. The call was traditionally ignored by the
In December 2014, parliamentary elections were held. The
election gave a slight decline to the LDP and similar
progress to the JDP, but it did not upset the political
picture, so Abe remained on the prime minister's post. The
major victorious election was the Communist Party, which
went through 13 terms until 21. It got 13.3% of the vote.
Three death sentences were secretly suspended (without
the public being informed in advance) in 2014. That brought
the number of executed death sentences to 11 since Abe took
office in December 2012.