Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

War of the Pacific - The Japanese Side of the Story
ITO Teruhiko / Professor Emeritus, Wako University

July 25, 2013
Since 1945, the four months from May to August have held a special meaning for Germany and Japan, even to this day. On May 7, Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces, and on the next day U.S. President Harry S. Truman urged Japan to accept an unconditional surrender. On August 2, the United States, The United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union reached a final decision on their division and occupation of Germany at the Potsdam Conference. And on August 15, the Emperor made a radio broadcast proclaiming Japan’s defeat to his people and the entire world. During this time, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place on August 6 and 9 .

It is now 68 years since those days. Neither Germany nor Japan show any signs of the devastations of that war, nor do they face any imminent danger to their respective national security. Judging from their economic track record, neither the Germans nor the Japanese are likely to be threatened by starvation, and their respective societies are for the most part steady. Based on their activities for international cooperation, there is no reason why either Germany or Japan should be talked about behind their backs by other countries. Yet, when it comes to dealing with its nearest neighbors - China and South Korea, Japan’s efforts have only produced frosty diplomatic relationships, even though its historical and cultural exchange with the two countries go back at least 1,700 years. It seems as if China and South Korea have joined hands in a united diplomatic offensive against Japan.

Several overlapping diplomatic issues between Japan, China and South Korea have nurtured a detrimental mood so that none of them can now afford to step back. The two issues of sovereignty over disputed islands - Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with China and the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands with South Korea – may differ in nature, but the three countries have no choice other than to maintain the status quo while each claiming territorial rights. With respect to the Senkaku Islands, the “status quo” means the state when it was private property, up to September 2012, when the Japanese government at the time nationalized the islands. Find a nongovernment benefactor to repurchase the islands, and the dialogue between Japan and China should resume. Japan need only to continue listing the islands on its official territorial map of the Geospatial Information Authority. Japan would lose face, but it would lose little else except for some fishery rights. It would be no big deal for Japan if the islands are left unattended.

With South Korea, there is the additional issue of the comfort women. No other issue has caused the Japanese government to apologize so frequently to a foreign country over its misconduct during the Pacific War. The government has established the Asian Women’s Fund in cooperation with a private domestic organization for the purpose of paying reparations to Korean women. And yet, South Korea has remained unforgiving.

Hate campaigns against Japan are the staple of South Korean mass media. As recently as May this year, the JoongAng Daily, a quality newspaper, published a commentary claiming it was by “God’s grace” that the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As might be expected, this drew sharp protests from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the paper had no choice but to carry a rebuttal statement from the Japanese side.

Yet, I feel there is an issue that undermines Japan's spiritual and cultural independence as a nation at a different level altogether from the territorial disputes over uninhabited islands and the comfort women during wartime. At issue here is the fact that the governments of China and South Korea protest each time a high-ranking Japanese dignitary pays respect to the Yasukuni Shrine. This has occasionally derailed diplomatic efforts as a consequence. It began in 1978, when fourteen Class A war criminals prosecuted by the Tokyo Tribunal following the Pacific War were enshrined at Yasukuni.

Yasukuni is a Shinto shrine built in 1879 on the order of Emperor Meiji, who wished to console the souls of soldiers who lost their lives in the shadows of Japan’s modernization. In later years however, Emperor Showa, the grandson of Emperor Meiji, stopped worshipping at Yasukuni once he discovered that Class A war criminals were enshrined there. Since then, no visits have been made to Yasukuni by members of the Imperial family. That may have been an insightful decision. Then again, even after it was stripped of state protection and is now no more than only one of tens of thousands of Shinto shrines in Japan, Yasukuni remains dedicated to the five million or so souls that were lost to war since the Meiji era. Every year, about a million surviving relatives gather at Yasukuni to be at one with the soul of a great-grandfather, grandfather, father or brother who died on the frontlines. For them it makes no difference whether the soul of Tojo Hideki, who was executed for his wartime deeds, is enshrined there. And it is the same for top government officials who had lost family members to the war. It should be treated as a matter of personal faith.

If I may draw an abrupt conclusion, herein lies the crucial difference between postwar Germany and postwar Japan. After its defeat, Japan did not go through any "denazification" phase. War criminals were impeached and heavyweights in the military establishment were purged from office at the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, the head of the U.S. occupational forces. However, no efforts were made at the time to penalize ordinary Japanese citizens as in Germany, where its citizens were classified into either sympathizers or opponents of the Nazi Party. Looking at it from another perspective, Germany sought and succeeded in establishing that it was the abnormal group of Nazis who were to be blamed for launching and expanding the war to conquer Europe and for instigating a plan to exterminate the Jewish and Romani peoples, that ordinary innocent Germans had nothing to do with all this, and subsequently getting this view accepted as international opinion.

General Tojo Hideki of the Imperial Japanese Army, the principal member among the fourteen Class A war criminals, was executed. Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsuoka Yosuke, who had been a “friend” of Adolf Hitler and German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop, died of illness before his sentence. For most Japanese living today, they are merely some dead old men from the past. It is difficult to find any reason to stop people from paying their respects at Yasukuni Shrine, even if the souls of those war criminals may still be drifting about the place. It seems extraordinary that the governments of other countries should be poking their fingers into such acts of faith.

Japan imported most of its ancient culture from China and Korea. We acquired the basic elements of culture – Chinese characters, Buddhism and iron manufacturing – from our two neighboring countries, and the world knows we proudly admit to our indebtedness. It is estimated that a quarter of the Japanese are of Korean ancestry and one-tenths of Chinese ancestry. The remainder is composed of indigenous peoples and an influx from the northern regions of Okhotsk and Siberia and from the southern regions including Indonesia. The worship of Shinto shrines is a northern tradition that has nothing to do with either Chinese or Korean culture, but the fact does not justify nor entitle them to find fault with the Japanese custom of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

Up until the rise of the Asian movement for independence in the aftermath of the Pacific War, the whole of Asia had been colonized by the Western powers, with the exceptions of Japan, the Republic of China and Thailand. How did the former colonial masters greet their slave laborers after retreating from the colonies? Having little knowledge, I must say I have no idea.

Teruhiko Ito is Professor Emeritus in international relations at Wako University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

伊藤光彦 / 和光大学名誉教授

2013年 7月 25日


いくつかの外交上の問題が重なり合って、日本も中国、韓国も後に退けない悪しき雰囲気が醸成されている。島の領有権問題(対中では尖閣列島、対韓では竹島)は双方で性格が違うが、3当事国はそれぞれ領有権を主張しつつ、現状status quoの維持を続ける他に道はない。尖閣についての現状とは昨年9月に当時の日本政府がこの島を国有化する前の状態(私有土地だった)である。誰か民間の篤志家に買い取ってもらう。そこから両国の対話は復活するだろう。竹島は日本国土院の公式領土地図に載せ続けるだけでよい。面子を別にすれば、日本にとって多少の漁業権益損失以外、放置して影響のない島だ。







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > War of the Pacific - The Japanese Side of the Story