SUPPORT for right-wing attitudes is gaining ground in Japan, with a candidate holding such views in the recent Tokyo gubernatorial election garnering a substantial proportion of the vote from younger Japanese.
Exit polls conducted by the influential Asahi Shimbun daily showed that 24 per cent of voters in their 20s picked former military man Toshio Tamogami, second only to the 36 per cent for former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, who won the election.
Among voters in their 30s, 17 per cent chose Mr Tamogami, against 15 per cent for former premier Morihiro Hosokawa. Mr Tamogami won 611,000 or 12 per cent of votes cast.
In his campaign speeches, Mr Tamogami denied that the Japanese imperial army had committed any wartime atrocities against Japan's neighbours. He was sacked from the air force in 2008 for publishing an essay that made the same allegations.
The electoral support for Mr Tamogami is consistent with the results of opinion polls that showed strong backing for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's controversial visit to the Yasukuni war shrine in December last year.
The visit predictably upset China and South Korea, which regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past. Even the United States voiced its "disappointment", while Singapore expressed regret.
But a Jan 6 survey by the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun daily showed that support for Mr Abe's shrine visit and his plan to revise Japan's peace Constitution was widespread among the younger generation of Japanese.
The survey showed 50.6 per cent of Japanese in their 30s and 43.2 per cent of those in their 20s approved of both the visit and the constitutional revision bid. The proportion was as high as 64.3 per cent for men in their 30s.
Many of these young Japanese are Internet-savvy. In pre-election surveys conducted on the Internet, netizens rated Mr Tamogami the top candidate, though he ranked only fourth in traditional telephone surveys.
Netizens who espouse right- leaning or ultra-nationalistic views have become so prevalent in recent years that they are known as netouyo, Internet slang that is a contraction of the Japanese words meaning "Net right-winger".
Mr Abe's overtly nationalistic stance and his administration's tolerance of such views appear to have contributed to the country's drift to the right.
Writer Naoki Hyakuta, a friend of Mr Abe's, who authored a popular novel glamorising Japan's wartime suicide pilots, told a campaign rally in support of Mr Tamogami that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre by imperial Japanese troops did not take place.
Yet government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, who is the Chief Cabinet Secretary, casually dismissed Mr Hyakuta's remarks as "personal" and not worthy of official comment, even though the writer sits on the board of governors of public broadcaster NHK, which is bound to neutrality.
Mr Abe's nationalistic stance extends to wanting to revise past war apologies, including the celebrated 1995 statement of then premier Tomiichi Murayama that apologised for the suffering Japan inflicted on its Asian neighbours through colonisation and wartime aggression.
Mr Murayama, who went to Seoul yesterday to speak to lawmakers about the 1995 document, has described Mr Abe's Yasukuni visit as "an unforgivable act that betrays the nation".
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