JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Nationalism has an ugly history in Japan but now it seems sentiment on the far right is on the rise again.
Elections later this year are expected to deliver huge parliamentary gains to the nationalists.
It is a prospect which will further strain ties with Japan's neighbours.
James Oaten reports.
(Footage of nationalists rallying plays)
JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: Nationalism is back as a powerful force in Japanese politics, as the feud over disputed islands escalates with China and South Korea. That patriotic anger is colouring the upcoming election.
(Footage of Shinzo Abe at his victory party plays)
Former prime minister Shinzo Abe won a tight battle to lead the opposition Liberal Democratic Party to the next election. He’s renowned as a hard line conservative, believing Japan has apologised too much for its war time past, and he wants to strengthen Japan's military capabilities.
Now, it’s feared he will take a more abrasive position against China and South Korea.
SHINZO ABE, PRESIDENT ELECT, LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (Translation): We want to express our intention to defend the Senkaku Islands and the surrounding territory.
JAMES OATEN: Several candidates were considered potential leaders for the LDP but ultimately it was the powerful factional leaders that got Mr Abe over the line.
PROFESSOR JIRO YAMAGUCHI, HOKKAIDO UNIVERSITY: When I listened to the debate or speeches made by five candidates, it was very difficult for us to differentiate them. You know, they share a common agenda, and especially they share nationalistic sentiment.
JAMES OATEN: By contrast, selecting prime minister Noda to lead the Democratic Party of Japan was a one sided affair. No one else was seen as capable to take the reins of this fragile and increasingly unpopular party.
(Footage of DPJ rallies in 2009 plays)
The DPJ swept into power in the 2009 elections after more than 50 years of LDP rule. It did so on a platform of welfare reform, something that appealed to voters when unemployment was at a record 5.7 per cent.
But such promises proved hard to deliver. 20 years of stagnation and the world's worst debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio meant a poor economic climate constrained monetary policy. And then in 2011, catastrophe struck.
(Footage of the Tsunami and Fukushima disaster plays)
The tsunami devastated the north east. The Fukushima disaster discredited nuclear power. Even before Fukushima, Japan consumed nearly a third of global gas supplies and finding an alternative to nuclear power has proved difficult.
YOSHIHIKO NODA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (September 2011) (Translation): On top of the need to reconstruct and recover from the great disaster, this cabinet's other top priority will be rebuilding the Japanese economy.
JAMES OATEN: But Mr Noda has been accused of bowing to business interests for refusing to set a concrete timetable to eradicate nuclear power.
He also joined the Liberal Democratic Party in pushing for an unpopular tax hike, doubling the consumption takes over three years from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. That caused almost 50 of his own MPs to break away and form their own political party, the Peoples Life First Party.
PROFESSOR PURNENDRA JAIN, UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE: I think it is also the DPJ's incompetence, in particular, we know that the DPJ is a party which was formed out of a mixture of a number of political leaders and party members. So there was no one particular party policy line to which everyone in the party agreed.
(Footage of Turu Hashimoto at Japan Restoration Party plays)
JAMES OATEN: Hoping to tap into a rising distrust towards the major parties, popular Osaka Mayor, Turu Hashimoto, has launched a new right wing party, one that polls suggest could win 50 seats, becoming Japan's third biggest party.
TURU HASHIMOTO, JAPAN RESTORATION PARTY (Translation): This is not a time for walking paths made by others. I say to you all today and with the Japan Restoration Party that all paths are gone. Now we must create our own way and it will stretch out behind us for others to follow.
PROFESSOR KOICHI NAKANO, SOPHIA UNIVERSITY: Turu Hashimoto has sort of pushed up the level of anti-foreigner discourse on issue of conflict with South Korea, for example more recently, and, you know, established politicians are feeling the need to react to that and to respond in kind. So he's definitely pushing Japanese political discourse further to the right.
(Footage of Japanese nationalists rallying plays)
JAMES OATEN: And that means that whoever wins the election, relations between Japan and its neighbours are likely to suffer.