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Japanese lawmakers scuffle during a committee voting of security bills at the upper house of the parliament in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) pushed contentious security bills through a legislative committee, catching the opposition by surprise and causing chaos in the chamber.Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press

In China, angry rhetoric and ugly state-sponsored television dramas daily stoke an image of Japan as unrepentant for its wartime sins and afflicted with a blood lust that must, to this day, be feared and kept at bay.

As proof, China has repeatedly raised alarm over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ambitions to reinterpret Japan's Constitution in ways that would allow for a militarism not allowed since the end of the Second World War. Mr. Abe has sought to let Japan use its military in defence of others, a significant loosening of previous restrictions on collective self-defence.

In China, it has been blasted as a "blatant betrayal" of pacifism. Beijing-run media have accused Mr. Abe of placing Japan on a "dangerous path" toward war, "at the dear cost of not only his own soul but also those of the entire Japanese nation."

But as Mr. Abe flexed his parliamentary muscle to shove through the legislation this week, he fanned a wild drama that seized the Diet, the Japanese legislature, and underscored the degree to which his policies are unpopular at home as well.

Riding a wave of anger that has flared in weeks of protests, opposition lawmakers physically blocked a government committee chairman from leaving a room until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Later in the day, a brawl erupted amid further attempts to frustrate passage of the bills. The uproar succeeded in delaying a committee vote, but only for several hours.

When Mr. Abe's government then skipped final deliberations to ram the bills through an upper house committee, protesters lay on a road outside in the rain to bar committee members from leaving. Opposition parties have pledged a vote of no confidence against the Abe government – although the Prime Minister's majority virtually ensures his ability to pass the legislation before the current parliamentary session ends on Sept. 27.

Yet the furious counterefforts staged by protesters and lawmakers made it clear that many Japanese see in the constitutional reinterpretation an image of their own country they do not recognize – one dramatically at odds with a modern-day "Switzerland of the East" that has dispatched its men and women around the world in service of a global role as a "peace-fostering nation."

The commitment is long-standing. Emperor Hirohito called for the creation of a "peace nation" in his first address to the Diet after his country's Second World War surrender in 1945. By the following year, nearly 70 per cent of Japanese supported the war-renouncing language in the country's Constitution that Mr. Abe is now seeking to reinterpret.

So central is pacifism to the Japanese identity today that in a poll this spring for The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, only 5 per cent disagreed with the assertion that Japan has, since the Second World War, "taken the path of a peace-loving nation." (Compare that with Canada, where, despite a reputation for multiculturalism 30 per cent of people think the country would be better as a wall of white, without other ethnic or language groups, according to polling done by the Association of Canadian Studies.)

Although voters handed Mr. Abe a majority government last year, less than 30 per cent of Japanese support his security bills.

And local observers have noted that the waves of protest carry echoes of those that pushed Mr. Abe's grandfather from office 55 years ago, after he shoved through a controversial security pact with the United States – a country that today also supports the current Japanese bid to become more militarily assertive.

That has raised hopes that the spectre of imminent victory for one of Mr. Abe's signature policy measures could also speed the demise of a leader marching out of step with his own people. This week, after all, also brought a downgrade in the credit rating of Japanese debt that called into question the effectiveness of "Abenomics", the other central plank of the Prime Minister's leadership.

If Mr. Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party succeed, Japan's refrain of " 'Never Again' will sound hypocritical as long as the LDP is intent on quietly reactivating Japanese militarism and offensive military capacities," wrote Kevin Clements, director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

"I hope that the thousands who have been protesting against this legislation inside and outside of the Diet will prevail and again reassert Japan's important moral pacifist credentials."