Turkey in Japan

Turkey in Japan

Last week, Turkey had a strong presence in Japan. A wide delegation under the leadership of the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) attended the U.N. world conference on “Disaster Risk Reduction.” The summit was held in Sendai, a town in the northeast of the country. An extensive group of representatives of civil society, academics and media in Turkey, including me, were also there.

Thereafter, we held several meetings in Tokyo under the auspices of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank based in Ankara. This gave us the chance to exchange views with the prominent academics, journalists and policy-makers in the country and to witness that the very same agenda dominates both in Turkey and Japan.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) beheaded two Japanese people at the end of last January, creating wide implications for Japan in two aspects.

First of all, Japanese people have been greatly affected. As is well-known, the Japanese overwhelmingly do not belong to a monotheistic religion. Some 80 percent of the society are Shinto and still a high number are also Buddhist. Yet both of these are philosophical movements rather than religions. However, according to recent polls, 60 percent of the people don’t define themselves as Shinto. This is due to the fact that there isn’t any concrete, institutional, categorical and exclusionary concept of religion in the country.

Therefore, ISIL confronted the Japanese people for the first time directly with a monotheistic religion, specifically Islam, which has raised great attention and interest among Japanese people toward the religion. However, it has also resulted in the identification of Islam with ISIL.

ISIL has also affected politics in Japan. The Japanese military was abolished after World War II so that militarism and fascism would not strike back in the country. The post-war constitution and curriculum formed by the United States were based on pacifism. Voluntary recruitment is still optional in the country, but volunteers are only trained in civil defense, the coast guard and disaster management. In other words, the use of arms is banned.

Moreover, the bilateral security agreement signed between the U.S. and Japan in 1951 handed over Japan’s defense to the U.S.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to change this pacifist constitution and promoting the formation of an army. For a long time, he has also been pushing for a more active foreign policy. Since the execution of the Japanese by ISIL, Abe has become more vocal about his stance.

But ISIL is not the only reason behind this demand. Right after the Fukushima nuclear accident during the great earthquake in Japan in 2011, most of the nuclear plants in the country were closed down. This, in turn, increased Japan’s dependence on oil, since it totally lacks underground resources. And this translates into the need for better relations with the Middle East.

Another reason is the U.S. Washington wants Japan to counter-balance China’s rising power in the Asia-Pacific region. As such, it has so far been supportive of Abe’s initiative.

In addition, Japan is not as confident as it used to be that the U.S. will defend the country from a possible assault. This is mainly due to the fact that President Barack Obama has not been able to realize his “Asia Pivot” strategy yet.

However, despite all of these reasons, Japan is not able to develop policies toward the Middle East. This is mainly because Japan’s foreign policy had been limited only to China and South-North Korea. For the first time, the Middle East has entered its agenda. Moreover, Japan’s foreign policy has been dependent on the U.S. for more than a half a century. Therefore, it doesn’t have enough experience with developing foreign policy.

Due to these reasons, Japan seems likely to plan to enter this new zone by developing close relations with Turkey, which knows the region well and is also a close ally of the U.S.

After all, what is most interesting is to see that the very same agenda rules all over the world. We all get affected by the same incidents. Just in different ways.