TOKYO – Shinjuku station at rush hour is like a highly organized ant colony, as 3.6-million commuters converge on the world’s busiest transport hub every day. Yet harmony, rather than chaos, reigns in a society that remains a remarkable consensus of politeness, co-operation and affinity. A train that arrives two minutes late is greeted by rail workers bowing from the waist to express their regret.
Last week, however, a small explosion at Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, a controversial war memorial where senior political and military war criminals are buried, offers a reminder that Japanese society is more fractured than it might first appear.
No one was injured in the blast, which remains subject to investigation. But the Yasukuni shrine has been a lightning rod for accusations that Japan is embracing its military past ever since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited two years ago.
Recent moves by his government to re-interpret the constitution have further aroused fears of a rising nationalism and a return to Japan’s “old path.” In August, 120,000 people protested a new security policy – “proactive pacifism” – that gives Japan the right to send its forces overseas for the first time since the Second World War. And the normally sedate Diet witnessed a brawl between politicians arguing over the legislation. It may be the Yasukuni bombing is another example of the backlash against the Abe agenda.