The education reform bill triggered controversy, because of its sensitive content and disclosures this week that the government had planted officials posing as ordinary citizens at town meetings to discuss the measure.
On Thursday, Abe apologised for helping to rig the meetings to give the impression of public support for his policies and said he and four senior cabinet members would work for three months without pay as penance.
The scandal and other issues inspired a spate of no-confidence motions against Abe and Taro Aso, his foreign minister, but they were crushed in parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP).
Aso had angered opposition politicians, and some members of his own party, by suggesting Japan should hold debate on building a nuclear arsenal.
Last month, he told members of a parliamentary committee that Japan’s pacifist constitution did not prevent it from building nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and that it was capable of building a nuclear weapon but had no plans to do so.
The upgrading of the defence agency to a full ministry passed parliament without significant opposition, propelled by deep concern in Japan over North Korea’s nuclear test on October 9.
|The upgrade to full ministry gives
Japan’s generals greater prestige
The upgrade, to be effected early next year, gives Japan’s generals greater budgetary powers and prestige – a reversal for a military establishment that has kept a low profile since the war.
The education measure, the first change to Japan’s main education law since 1947, calls on schools to “to cultivate an attitude that respects tradition and culture, that loves the nation and home country”.
The reform reflected concerns voiced by Abe and Bunmei Ibuki, the education minister, that Japan’s long stretch of economic prosperity has eroded the morals and co-operative spirit of prewar Japanese.
“The new education law will allow children to acquire a good understanding of their heritage and become intelligent and dignified Japanese,” Hiroo Nakashima, an LDP legislator, said during the upper house debate.
Critics, however, attacked the move as harkening back to Japan’s war-era education system, in which children were instructed to support the country’s imperialist military and sacrifice themselves for the emperor and nation.
Opponents on Friday voiced fears that the changes could lead to schools grading students on their patriotic fervor – possibly as a prelude to making Japan an aggressive nation once again.
Ikuko Ishii, a Communist party lawmaker, said: “The government is putting the future of Japanese children at risk and turning Japan into a country that wages war abroad.”
The call for more patriotism in the schools coincides with a push by some local governments to crack down on teachers and students who refuse to stand for the national flag or sing an anthem to the emperor at school ceremonies.
The no-confidence motions come amid sliding popularity polls for Abe’s government which only came to power in September.
At the time his public support stood at around 70 per cent. But in a poll released this week, conducted before the scandal over the public hearings emerged, that had slumped to 42 per cent.
Voters have expressed worries over Abe’s handling of the economy and his approach to foreign policy, particularly in the wake of North Korea’s test.