War in Ukraine has bolstered Japan’s support for a stronger army

In August Japan’s foreign minister, Hayashi Yoshimasa, gave a performance at a café in Tokyo. Sitting on stage at a keyboard, the Ukrainian flag emblazoned on the wall behind him, he played and sang “Imagine”, John Lennon’s peace anthem. Mr Hayashi’s appearance at an event called “Flowers of Peace” was one small sign of how deeply the war in Ukraine, 8,000km away, has rattled Japan.

Lennon-esque ideas have shaped Japan’s security policy since the end of the second world war. Its constitution, drafted under American tutelage after Japan’s unconditional surrender, renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation” and declares trust in the “justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world”. Though Japan did build up its armed forces—which it calls the Self-Defence Forces (sdf)—in subsequent decades, pacifism remained a powerful political force.

Mr Putin has provided a wake-up call for many of Japan’s dreamers. His unprovoked invasion of a neighbour is a reminder that autocratic regimes can be extremely dangerous. China’s recent sabre-rattling around Taiwan has highlighted the possibility that something similar could happen in Japan’s part of the world. “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida Fumio, Japan’s prime minister, has repeated.

Politics is shifting as a result. Defence has jumped up the list of voters’ concerns, and permeated news agendas. Polling done earlier this year by the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal daily, found that 64% of Japanese favour strengthening their islands’ defences, the first time the figure has topped 60% since the paper began conducting the surveys in 2003. The Yomiuri Shimbun, its conservative rival, found 72% support for a stronger army; fewer than 10% felt that way in a similar survey carried out in 1988. Other polls show that a majority now favours acquiring long-range missiles which would let the sdf strike targets beyond Japan’s territory, another break from established norms.