Archive for the 'History' Category

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Yasukuni Again

Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi apologized in front of 100 Asian and African leaders for the damage Japan is responsible for in World War II. Hu Jintao, the Chinese president was also present, and I would be really curious to know what they will talk about directly during the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta. Unfortunately, Japan will have to show that its words are backed by actions. Right now, the opposite is the case, and that is exactly why apologies can be made, but their believability is equal to zero if at the same time 80 Japanese members of parliament turn out to pay their respects to Japan’s war dead at Yasukuni shrine. What do the Chinese, Koreans and other people see right now? On the one hand, one part of the government apologizes for the war and and at the same time, a considerably big part of the parliament pays its respect at a temple with enshrined war criminals. The parliamentary’ spokesman said, they paid the ‘visit to honor the dead and pray for peace’, there seems to be quite an insensibility towards the additional meaning of the visit.

There have been plans to move the war criminals out of the shrine as an attempt to defuse the problem. Unfortunately, the government can’t has no influence over Yasukuni’s priesthood in this matter. Although Shinto experts have confirmed that a relocation of class-A war criminals can be done, the priests in control have no inclination of doing so. They (correctly) refer to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, but a look on their website reveals a revisionist and nationalist view on history. Interesting enough, the Google search result in English gives as a description Includes photos, FAQ, and its nationalist war memorial museum. The description hits the mark. Let’s take a look at their website.

The text books used in history instruction at intermediate schools from the 1997 school year will contain material on the subject of comfort women. The textbooks depict as a historical fact the story of Asian women who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese Army. Imparting this story to students who are still young and immature has become a great problem since last year. […] Can we say that this view is correct? […] We cannot help but feel that the possibility of ulterior motives have not been discounted. […] Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. […] We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni.

I guess the content doesn’t require further explanation, the message is quite clear. The shrine claims eight million visitors per year, including top government officials. The shrine itself might be independent, but the message the shrine and the visits send out to Japan’s neighbors weight far more than words. I can’t imagine China will be contented by Prime Minister Koizumi’s recent apology, there’s quite a chance that it will be seen as an opportunistic move to increase Japan’s chances for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council – irrespective of the honesty of the apology.

Koizumi Apologizes for Past, Meeting with Hu Sought

Shadows of the Past

Since the end of World War II Japan has – in contrast to Germany – never really looked back and dealt with the shadows of their history. Surely, there has been an apology by the government under Miyazawa for example (first apology by a Japanese prime minister in a policy speech), there’s the normalization agreement with South Korea from 1965, reparations have been talked about, but the issue of Military Comfort Women hasn’t been on the table until the 90ies.

A lecturer at the Institute of Modern Japan once said, Japan behaves ‘like a bull in a china shop’ when it comes to its history – and he might not be mistaken in this point. Shintarô Ishihara, Tokyo’s governor and Prime Minister Koizumi are good examples. In 2000, Ishihara referred to Koreans and Taiwanese as “sangokujin” and calling on Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to maintain order if the immigrants rioted in the aftermath of an earthquake. On several occasions Ishihara suggested that the Rape of Nanking was a Chinese fabrication. He is still Tokyo’s governor. There are other shadows in the past nobody likes to talk about, chemical and biological warfare and experimentation with prisoners by Unit 731, for example. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about in Japanese media. Prime Minister Koizumi repeatedly visited Yasukuni shrine, which is a well known memorial, where the remains of 14 convicted and executed Japanese war criminals are interred. I sometimes think those visits were comparable to a visit of a German chancellor to a church with a graveyard where Nazi-Germany’s military political leaders are buried. All of Europe would cry out loud, for sure. There are regular protests in China and South Korea, but until now, Japan’s conservatives had the luxury to largely ignore those protests.

Another weak point is the so-called textbook scandal. Being the only victim of nuclear attacks, post-WWII Japan allowed itself to more or less blend out their active role as committers of war crimes and to focus on its role as victim. The textbooks issued by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform play down Japan’s role, but fortunately, most Japanese teachers traditionally lean to the left and use other books. Nevertheless, there’s an obvious decrease in knowledge about both sides of the story noticable.

A few years ago, the Institute of Modern Japan in Düsseldorf organized a meeting with several Japanese aged 18 to over 60 to talk about WWII. The younger the person, the less they knew about what the imperial army actually did in Asia 60 years ago.

Now, Japan rallies to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Since its neighbors are not happy with the way Japan deals with the past, protests rose in the past weeks. In China, a grass-roots movement started an internet campain, gathering more than 30 Million signatures to express their feeling of opposition. Also, large anti-Japan protests broke out, for example in Shanghai, where the manager (born ’63) I’m teaching German travelled to last week. It’ll be interesting what he thinks about the whole matter. If Japan’s leaders really want to get into the UNSC in September – provided there won’t be a consensus and the General Assembly will get to vote on the matter – talking to China, South Korea and other Asian countries will be crucial.

Thilenius-Kolumne: Kleiner Anlass, große Krise