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Government and Economy

Looking at the Takeshima and Senkaku Problems
through Successive Public Opinion Surveys

Masaru Kohno
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

Japan's relationships with its two neighboring countries rapidly deteriorated after a series of shocking events that took place from August to September 2012. Our research group has been trying to capture and analyze how the feelings of Japanese people toward Korea and China have changed and what they think of the government's response to the Takeshima and Senkaku problems, using data from public opinion polls we have been conducting since October last year. Some of the results have already been discussed in the issue of Chuokoron that was published earlier this month. This article will examine the data from a different angle, exploring other important patterns that emerged from the trends in public opinion.

One of the distinctive features of our surveys is that we conduct them each month, with a partial panel structure such that we repeatedly interview the same thousand or so respondents (approximately one third of the total sample), in order to track short-term fluctuations in public opinion. There are two types of questions included in our surveys: regular questions that are asked every month and omnibus questions that are considered important at the time of the particular poll. One of the key regular questions features a feeling thermometerr and is worded as follows: "Please rate your feelings toward these countries, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favorable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavorable feeling, and fifty meaning not particular warm or cold. " Meanwhile, the latest poll conducted in September included the following omnibus question about Takeshima and Senkaku: "On the whole, do you approve or disapprove the measures taken by the Japanese government?"

Figure 1, which is based on the responses we received to these two questions, shows the changes in the feelings of Japanese people toward Korea and China over time. The solid line in the graphs represents the average of the total responses of those who had been continuously polled since October 2011. The dotted line narrows them down to the respondents who indicated in September 2012 that they "disapprove" or "somewhat disapprove" the measures taken by the Japanese government and (retrospectively) plots their average feeling temperature. The figure is indicative of the undeniable fact that the feelings of the Japanese toward Korea and China rapidly deteriorated in the months of August and September 2012. Certainly, a decline in the affinity Japanese citizens felt for Korea and China was predicted after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a sudden landing in Takeshima, Chinese activists in Hong Kong landed on Uotsurishima, and anti-Japanese demonstrations protesting Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands turned violent. But, these graphs, based on the data from our surveys, show that the change in the feelings of Japanese people was indeed extraordinary in the sense that the dramatic shift occurred in such a short period, clearly indicating the gravity of the situation.

Another intriguing point is the fact that despite the gap between the solid line and dotted line, they run almost parallel to each other in both the Korean and Chinese cases. This indicates, for one, that the people who had already felt a slightly lower degree of affinity toward Korea and China than the average Japanese person were more likely to be dissatisfied with the government's measures. On the other hand, it also makes clear that the people who were critical of the government's reactions in the September poll were not necessarily limited to those who originally lacked good feelings toward Korea and China. The inclination to evaluate the government's response in a negative direction should thus be understood as being distributed quite widely throughout the population irrespective of people's original feelings toward Korea or China.

In the previously mentioned article that appeared in Chuokoron, it was shown that respondents' evaluations of the government's measures were related to their respective ideologies and economic situations, and that criticisms against the government were especially pronounced among younger generation of respondents. I would now like to point out two more important features of the patterns that emerge in relations to the age of the respondents.

First of all, younger respondents were more likely than elderly respondents to not only be critical of the government's reactions but also to support hardline foreign policies. In our September poll, we presented specific descriptions of some of the measures the government could take to address the Takeshima and Senkaku situations and asked respondents whether they would approve or disapprove of these measures. Figure 2 shows the percentage of the respondents, according to age, who indicated that the government "should definitely adopt" the most hardline option for Takeshima-"deploy the Self-Defense Forces to forcefully remove Korean control [over the island]." It is clear from the graph that the percentage of respondents who are in favor of this measure increases as their age decreases, with a more than ten-point difference between those in their twenties and those in their sixties.

My second point concerns with respondents' perception of the Japanese government's responsibility for the escalation of the Takeshima and Senkaku problems. In our survey, we asked respondents, "To what extent do you think the Japanese government's past foreign policy is to blame for these events?" and had them select one of four responses-"very much to blame," "somewhat to blame," "not so much to blame," "not to blame at all"-for both "Foreign policy of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party)-led government before 2009" and "Foreign policy of the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan)-led government from 2009 onward." Figure 3 shows the percentage of people, according to age, who indicated that the LDP and the DPJ were "very much to blame." One interesting feature we can see in this graph is how the percentage of people who think the LDP is to blame increases with age. On the other hand, the percentage of people who think the DPJ is to blame does not vary that much with age. It is clear that criticism of the DPJ administration for this series of events is widely shared by Japanese people of all ages.

In sum, we can see that there was a very profound change in Japanese feelings toward Korea and China in August and September, and that the Japanese public is critical of the DPJ-led administration's foreign policy toward the two countries. As we continue conducting our polls, we would like to observe the ways in which Japanese public opinions continue to change toward these neighboring countries and how these opinions on foreign affairs will influence the upcoming election in the Lower House.

Figure 1: Changes in the feelings of Japanese people toward Korea (graph on the left in blue) and China (graph on the right in red)

Figure 2: Percentage of respondents in favor of the hardline option, by age

Figure 3: Blame of the LDP administration and the DPJ administration

1:This research is supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science under the title "A Study of the Formation of Foreign Policy Preferences among the Japanese" (Research Project Number: 23243030) and the Organization for University Research Initiatives, Waseda University. All of our monthly surveys are conducted through internet with adult residents in Japan who are randomly sampled from the pool of monitors registered at Nikkei Research, one of the major online survey companies in Japan. In consideration of the social value of our research and data, which captures public opinion on foreign policy in real-time, the results of our surveys, along with our tentative analyses, are promptly uploaded and made public in each month at the website of Waseda University's Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems (http://www.cjs-waseda.jp)

2:Keisuke Iida, Masaru Kohno and Shiro Sakaiya, "[Tracking with Successive Public Opinion Surveys] The Senkaku and Takeshima Problems: What Does the Public Think of the Government's Response?" ["Renzoku Yoron Chosa de ou: Senkaku/Takeshima-Seifu no Taio o Kokumin wa dou Hyoka shiteiruka"], Chuokoron, Dec. 2012.

Masaru Kohno
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

[Profile]
Prof. Kohno was born in 1962 and graduated from Faculty of Law, Sophia University. He received an M.A. in International Relations from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University. He has been a Professor on the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University since 2003 after serving as an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia; a National Fellow for the Hoover Institute at Stanford University; an Associate Professor for Aoyama Gakuin University, among other positions. Prof. Kohno also serves as a Research Affiliate at the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study; the Director of the Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems, Waseda University; and a visiting researcher at the Research and Legislative Reference Bureau of the National Diet Library. He also appears on television as a "brain-caster" on BS Fuji's "Prime News" show and a commentator on the same network's "The Compass" show.

[Major Publications]
Masaru Kohno, Japan's Postwar Party Politics, Princeton University Press, 1997.
Ichiro Miyake, Yoshitaka Nishizawa and Masaru Kohno, Politics and Economy under the 1955 System: An Analysis of the Jiji Public Opinion Data [55-Nen Taisei-ka no Seiji to Keizai: Jiji Yoron Chosa Dehta no Bunseki] , Bokutakusha, 2001.
Masaru Kohno, Institutions [Seido], Theories and Models in the Social Sciences 12 [Shakai Kagaku no Riron to Moderu 12], University of Tokyo Press, 2002.
Masaru Kohno, ed., From Institutions to Governance: The Intersection of Knowledge in the Social Sciences [Seido kara Gavanansu e: Shakai Kagaku ni okeru Chi no Kohsa] , University of Tokyo Press, 2006.
Masaru Kohno and Frances Rosenbluth, eds., Japan and the World: Japan's Contemporary Geopolitical Challenges. New Haven: Yale University Council on East Asian Studies, 2009.
Masaru Kohno, ed., Expectations, Institutions, and the Global Society [Kitai, Seido, Gurohbaru Shakai] , Keiso Shobo, 2009.
Aiji Tanaka, Masaru Kohno, Airo Hino, Ken Iida and the Opinion Poll Department of Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper, Why Was There a Change of Administration in 2009? [2009-nen, Naze Seiken Kohtai dattanoka], Keiso Shobo, 2009.