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Cool heads needed to defuse exploding nationalistic fervor

The one good thing about Japan is that there still are some cool heads among the rigidly conformist Japanese, though always a very, very small minority. Some 800 of these people, considered mavericks in Japan, gathered together in Tokyo last Saturday to call for calm in the current Japanese spat with China, Taiwan and South Korea over the disputed islands in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Among them was novelist Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994. Another author, Haruki Murakami, who may become a third Japanese Nobel laureate in literature for his novel “Norwegian Wood,” wishes that cool heads will prevail. Oe's civic group launched a signature campaign urging the Japanese government to solve the sovereignty dispute over the Tiaoyutai or Diaoyutai Islands with Taiwan and China and over Takeshima, known as Dokdo in Korean, with South Korea that has occupied it after the World War II, because all these islets were taken over by Imperial Japan while China and Korea were so weak that they could not defend their territories against the Japanese encroachment.

In particular, Oe recalled that Japan had tacitly agreed with China in the 1980s to shelve the Senkaku dispute in pursuit of better overall relations. That tacit agreement was broken by Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, who “nationalized” three of the Senkaku islands ultra-nationalist Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara had tried to purchase so that he might defend them against an imagined, imminent Chinese takeover.

While these cool-headed citizens are calling on the Japanese government to accept that there exists the dispute over sovereignty, which Tokyo denies, and restrain ultra-nationalism to dispassionately solve it, Murakami is warning of the peril of politicians offering the “cheap liquor” of nationalism. Writing in the Asahi Shimbun, the popular author pointed out that when “a territorial issue ceases to be a practical matter and enters the realm of 'national emotions,' it creates a dangerous situation with no exit.” He compared the situation to cheap liquor which “makes you speak loudly and act rudely ... But after your drunken rampage, you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.”

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