It is described that the freedom of expression, one of the indispensable elements to remain the nation democratic, in Japan has gradually restricted. Especially in recent decades, this trend is pronounced under the long-term regime, the second Abe administration and his successors belong liberal democratic party(LDP). Specifically, the increasing tide of self-censorship, attitude of public broadcasters avoiding criticism of the regime and obstruction against anti-government displays are pointed out.
After WWⅡ, Japan has been under the LDP most of the time. Since 1955, a party other than the LDP had been the ruling party only few times and they hadn’t been stabled. Although, at least opposing had played a role in monitoring the ruling party and maintaining balance. However, the second Abe administration, assumed the reins of power in 2012, won a total of more than two-thirds of the seats.
Restriction of Freedom of Expression under the Long-Term Regime
Under the Abe regime, with an overwhelming majority, laws which sparked debate, including a security-related bill and the Specified Secret Protection Law relating to the right to know were adopted. These adoptions, especially a security-related bill split the public opinion, and various forms of protests, include demonstrations, extremely rarely, young generation participated, took places. Artists, who against the bill, were displaying or performing their works at the public spaces to protests. However, a number of works were forcibly excluded or had their patronage withdrawn by the city or prefecture on the grounds that they were highly political.
It is no longer rare for whom trying express specific political opinion at the public spaces to encounter some form of interference.
In 2015, Non-Freedom of Expression Exhibition, the exhibition focused on the artworks which were censored, or could be censored, especially artworks describe war perpetrators in WWⅡperiod and the one criticise current administration, had been held at the several venue in Japan since 2015. However, one of this held in Aichi prefecture in 2019 was relegated to discontinuation. One of the projects of the Aichi Triennale 2019, “Freedom of Expression: Afterward,” featured many works that presented ideas different from the government’s interpretation of history that were exhibited, such as a work which imitate a statue of Korean comfort woman(woman who engaged sex work during the pacific war), a video of burning a collage of photographs of Emperor Showa and so on. In response, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura issued a statement opposing the allocation of funds for the exhibition, and a series of anonymous threats against the secretariat and sponsoring companies led to the abrupt cancellation of the exhibition on the grounds that safety was not sufficiently ensured.
These kinds of cases can be seen not only local authorities, but also government agencies. In 2019, The Japanese Embassy in Austria has revoked its official recognition of the Japan Unlimited exhibition in Vienna, Austria. The exhibition was an art festival commemorating 150 years of diplomatic relations with Japan, and featured works dealing with the Fukushima nuclear disaster and criticism of the Abe administration.
Reaction of Japanese Media
Although some media had intensified their pursuit of these instances of what could be seen as censorship, tensions between the media and the government were thin at press conferences by the central authorities. Press conferences are normally held by kisha club, voluntary organisations formed by major media for the purpose of ongoing coverage of various organisations, such as public authorities and industry associations. Since the members of the clubs receive preferential treatment and only the members of the club can enter the press conferences, they can cover the story from an advantageous position. The reason why the kisha clubs are able to maintain these privileges is simply because the government allows them to exist. As a result, journalists and media belonging to the press clubs tend to refrain from criticising the government. At the press conference, the media asking only prearranged questions and the government refusing to answer any other questions. In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the media organisation’s independence, noting that it was vulnerable to government pressure.
According to the press freedom index, press freedom of Japan was ranked 11th in 2011, when the movement dismantling kisha club progressed under the democratic party was. However, since then, rankings are on a downward trend. In 2022, Japan was ranked 71st, the worst rank among countries belonging G7.
Japanese Democracy and People’s sense
As mentioned above, the last decade has seen an increase in cases of gradual restrictions on anti-regime activities, and major media coverage has become more favourable to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government. It can be said that democratic erosion has already begun. However, the public has little sense of crisis about it.
In the first place, democracy in Japan was forced upon the country by the victors of World War II. The sudden transition from an autocratic state to a fully democratic state was completed not as a result of the people’s resistance, but by the people’s acceptance of the government’s policies. For the generation living today, which has no experience of living under an authoritarian state, democracy is something that exists as a matter of course, regardless of the will of the people, and is not maintained by the will of the people. As indicated by the small number of social movements and a voter turnout of less than 50%, the people’s sense of participating in politics is weak.
Japanese democracy is complete, but not mature. Perhaps it was inevitable that the current situation would develop into what it is today. When the crisis of the backsliding of democracy gets more serious, Japan can make its democracy mature ,if people stand up for democracy.