Alarmed Japanese voters head to polls as threat of conflict with China looms

As eight fighter jets are scrambled over disputed islands, nationalist rhetoric grows louder

Tokyo

The threat of war has a way of concentrating minds and while few Japanese people believe conflict with China will actually come, they are heading to the polls this weekend with alarm bells ringing.

Japan scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets today after a Chinese government plane was reportedly spotted over territory disputed by both sides. The incursion, the latest by China over a small group of goat-infested islands they call the Diaoyu (Senkaku in Japan), may push Japanese voters further into the arms of right-wing candidates who want the nation to face down its increasingly powerful neighbour.

Among the most outspoken candidates is Shintaro Ishihara, who quit as Governor of Tokyo last month, pledging to ditch Japan's "ugly" war-renouncing constitution and take a tougher stance toward Beijing. At 80, the conservative warhorse has ruled himself out as the next Prime Minister and his sabre-rattling rhetoric is, in any case, too rich for most voters. But Mr Ishihara's Restoration Party, which wants to boost defence spending and revise the constitution, may hold the balance of power – the latest polls show it trailing behind the conservative Liberal Democrats (LDP) but ahead of the ruling Democrats (DPJ) in Sunday's general election.

Three years ago the left-leaning Democrats ended over half a century of LDP rule after promising something akin to a political revolution, tugging policy out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats, decoupling Japan from its six-decade US military embrace and shifting spending toward welfare. The Prime Minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, famously talked about feelings of "fraternity" toward China and the possibility of better relations.

Things look very different today. The DPJ has been reduced to a conservative rump. Most of its left has bolted, alienated by the party's drift from its 2009 manifesto.

The current Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has made little progress taming the bureaucracy, now strongly supports the US alliance and wants to cut welfare spending. He lost much of his support by backing the return of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster and working with the LDP to introduce a controversial sales tax. With the economy now sliding into recession, some even predict a post-election DPJ/LDP merger.

A record 12 parties have announced battle stations since Mr Noda called the election last month. That leaves a lot to fight for in an election with possibly ominous implications for Japan's increasingly tense relationship with China. Several of the newer parties disagree on policy but merged anyway, united in their determination to pull Japan out of its economic and spiritual torpor, a strategy reflected in their vanguardist monikers: Sunrise, Restoration, Stand-Up, Renaissance. They also share a penchant for nationalist rhetoric.

Mr Ishihara has quickly showed his flair for commanding headlines with a string of inflammatory bon mots. He has repeatedly said that Japan should consider building nuclear weapons to combat the growing military threat from China. This week he said that Japan's pacifism emboldened North Korea to kidnap Japanese citizens. "North Koreans see Japan's constitution and think: 'They will never wage war'," he said. His decision earlier this year as Tokyo Governor to buy the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands triggered a damaging spat with Beijing that has sent relations into the deep freeze.

Japanese voters are desperate for solutions to these problems and generally show less enthusiasm for aggressive nationalism. But the question of how much power the nationalist right will wield may be key. One likely outcome is merger or coalition with the LDP under its new leader Shinzo Abe. Mr Abe also wants to dump the constitution. A well-known historical revisionist, he has said he will visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to honour Japan's wartime leaders.

Mr Abe, who was also Prime Minister five years ago, along with Mr Ishihara and their colleagues have tellingly dropped all references to Japan's war history as the election looms.

Key policy issues: What will decide the election?

Stagnating economy

All parties agree that the economy needs a jump-start, now that Japan has slid back into recession for the fifth time in 15 years. They are at odds, however, over how to achieve enduring growth.

China tensions

Relations with China have been severely damaged by a territorial dispute over a group of islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

Nuclear power

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has lost much of his support by backing the return of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, despite mass protests.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution