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Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006, 09:50 GMT
Japan upgrades defence's status
Soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force in Northern Kuwait, November 2004
Japan's troops have started to join international missions
Japan's upper house of parliament has voted to upgrade the country's defence agency to a full ministry.

The move is part of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to lift Japan's diplomatic presence and rethink its post-World War II role.

The upper house also passed a bill that requires schools to teach patriotism in the classroom.

Both moves have caused unease among Japan's Asian neighbours, who remember Japanese militarism last century.

The bills now become law as they have already been passed by the powerful lower house.

Nationalism fears

Mr Abe earlier survived a no-confidence motion, which was brought by the opposition in a last ditch bid to halt the controversial education bill.

The bill calls on teachers to instil thinking among students "respecting tradition and culture and loving the nation and homeland."

Opponents are wary because Japan's military leaders used patriotism to justify the expansion which led in part to WWII, and they also fear a resurgence of Japanese nationalism.

Mr Abe says Japan's education system - unchanged since 1947 - has not done enough to address "moral values, ethics and self-discipline".

The vote to upgrade the defence agency passed with a majority and included support from the main opposition Democratic Party.

The upgrade, which will give the new ministry more status and budget control, is part of a wider shift to allow Japan a greater role in global military co-operation.

Japanese troops have begun participating in international military operations, including in Iraq.

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