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Public Opinion in Japan and the Nationalization of the Senkaku Islands

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This article examines the role of public opinion in Japan in directly influencing the Japanese government’s decision to nationalize the Senkaku Islands in 2012. The public mood in Japan is becoming increasingly nationalistic. Although this does not immediately mean the return of militarism in the country, such a mood is especially evident with respect to China. The nationalization of the Islands took place within this nationalistic domestic environment. In the case of the nationalization, public opinion was channeled most notably through Tokyo Governor Ishihara. His plan to purchase the Islands and strong public support for his plan eventually forced the central government’s intervention. Prime Minister Noda simply could not force Ishihara to give up his plan because going against such a popular politician who was enjoying strong public support would almost certainly have caused a strong public backlash and resulted in electoral punishment. On the other hand, Noda was also concerned that Tokyo’s successful acquisition of the Islands would lead to severe criticism of his government for not properly protecting Japan’s territorial integrity. There was also a more serious concern that Ishihara’s control of the Islands might lead to a change of the status quo and thus dangerously provoke China. Therefore, Noda had no choice but to intervene and nationalize the Islands. If he was also seeking to mobilize public opinion in his favor, he was not entirely successful.

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Correspondence to Toru Horiuchi.

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Horiuchi, T. Public Opinion in Japan and the Nationalization of the Senkaku Islands. East Asia 31, 23–47 (2014).

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