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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #29:March 5, 2003

Japanese Anti-War Sentiment Reaches New Heights

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

A batch of recent opinion surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Japanese people are deeply opposed to a military conflict in Iraq and their already swollen ranks are still growing.* The public mood is causing increasing problems for the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi whose government now openly supports an American pre-emptive strike on Iraq. This situation has accentuated the pre-existent sense of alienation most Japanese feel towards their politicians. However, tensions are not yet as critical as those that have emerged between the British public and Prime Minister Tony Blair over the same issue.

An opinion survey in the Mainichi Newspaper on 3 March 2003 shows that only a mere 11% of Japanese favour military action with a colossal 84% now opposed to a U.S.-led war with Iraq. This is an increase of 4% from the previous Mainichi survey for January, which recorded 80% of the population opposing war. The January figure is very close to Asahi and Kyodo surveys conducted in February. The Asahi poll registered 78% and the Kyodo News survey recorded 78.7% opposition to an attack on Iraq. All recent TV and newspaper polls indicate that about 80% or more of Japanese are against a pre-emptive strike. Furthermore, half a year ago most polls showed that about 77% of people were opposed to military action against Iraq. Thus, the latest survey indicates that the strong level of anti-war sentiment is steadily growing in intensity as the prospect of war grows ever closer.

The new Mainichi survey also gives a clearer insight into the underlying thinking behind Japanese anti-war sentiment. Respondents were asked to state the reason why they are opposed to an attack on Iraq. A massive 72% selected "Because I am against any kind of war." In second place at 11% was "Because the weapons inspections should continue" and in third place with 9% was "Because the United Nations has not yet sanctioned the use of military force." This survey unmistakably demonstrates that Japanese abhorrence of war overrides all other concerns. Like the Germans, the bitter experiences of defeat in the last war have ensured that anti-war sentiment remains firmly etched on the national psyche.

The poll findings also appear to indicate that while a second United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force is an important issue for some Japanese, the overwhelming majority of people are primarily against a conflict with Iraq simply because they oppose any type of war. Even so, a February Asahi survey suggests that while most people are personally against military action, quite a few would nevertheless back their government supporting a U.N. approved American attack on Iraq. The Asahi survey showed that even though 78% were against war, 37% still said that Japan should support the U.S. position once military action has begun. A solid 52% were against this proposition, but 18% of people indicated they were prepared to support the government's stance, if military force was sanctioned by the United Nations.

It seems that while most Japanese are themselves deeply against conflict, many take a pragmatic geo-political attitude toward the U.S.-Japan alliance. They realize that it is in the country's economic interest to back the United States, even if they themselves disapprove of U.S. action. The Mainichi poll revealed that some of the 11% of people supporting a U.S. attack on Iraq did so because of "the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance."

While the various Japanese polls use different sets of questions and criteria, they all clearly indicate that the vast majority of people are strongly against the idea of war and many would oppose conflict even if it were to be approved by the United Nations Security Council. This situation means that the U.S.-Japan relationship will come under considerable strain once war begins. However, as long as military action is over swiftly, there is little likelihood of anti-war sentiment giving rise to increased anti-American feeling. The real danger is a prolonged conflict. On the basis of the survey results, a lengthy war would probably inflict considerable and lasting damage on Japanese perceptions of the United States.


* Mainichi Shimbun, opinion survey article (Japanese), 3 March 2003

Mainichi Shimbun, opinion survey translation summary (English)

Asahi Shimbun, opinion survey article (Japanese), 25 February 2003

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