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

Historical Reconciliation and the Perception Gap between Japan and Europe
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

May 12, 2015
Not so long ago, experts from Japan and Europe met in Tokyo for a dialogue titled "Japan and Europe: Creating Together a Better Future―Rule-Based and Prosperous."

Japan and Europe have both seen their security environment deteriorate, as China rises in East Asia and Russia interferes with Ukraine in Europe. Experts from either side spoke of the need for closer cooperation between Japan and Europe in broad areas including politics, economy and culture.

Throughout the dialogue, there was but one point that set the two sides apart, and that was their perception towards reconciliation with neighboring countries. One British participant expressed his view that a symbolic gesture was necessary to bring about a turning point in the reconciliation process. He cited the case of Chancellor Willy Brandt of what was then West Germany, who fell on his knees in front of the ghetto monument in Warsaw upon his visit to Poland in 1970, and suggested that Prime Minister Abe Shinzo should pay a similar visit to Nanjing, China, to issue an apology.

To this the Japanese participants responded as follows: "Unlike in Europe, in East Asia we cannot even agree on the historical facts. For example, China claims that as many as 300,000 fell victim in the Nanjing Massacre, but that figure is simply inconceivable," and "in Asia, historical issues are intertwined with justifications for history, politics and ethics." They argued that Japan and Europe could not be treated the same way due to the differences in their circumstances.

A few months before the Japan-Europe dialogue, a symposium between Japanese and French experts was held to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of La Maison Franco-Japonaise, which has served as center of bilateral cultural exchange over the years.

Here too, the topic turned to history. A French participant said that "while Japan claims to have apologized, China and Korea do not see it that way, and therein lies the real issue." A Japanese participant responded by pointing out that "South Korea should give fair recognition to Japan's efforts to date, however insufficient they may have been. Otherwise, the sense of frustration will only grow within Japan and give way to the rise of ultra-rightists, which would ultimately be harmful for South Korea as well." He also said "we must create an East Asian model of reconciliation, instead of seeking to emulate the European model."

In past discussions on this topic, the usual formula was to cite the Franco-German relationship as an analogy for the Japanese-Korean relationship, and conclude by saying: "let us be guided by the postwar reconciliation between France and Germany in seeking reconciliation between Japan and Korea." During my time as a correspondent in Paris from the 1980s to the 1990s, I myself felt envious of the close relationship that existed between France and West Germany, and had proposed modeling the Japanese-Korean relationship after the Franco-German relationship in my own newspaper columns.

However, in recent years the view that "Japan and Europe cannot be treated the same with respect to historical reconciliation" has been gaining ground in forums of intellectual discussion in Japan. And such an opinion is being voiced not by persons who lean towards rightist rhetoric, but by knowledgeable persons of sound judgment.

Why should this be? We could certainly point to the fact that Japan's history issue with China and South Korea has taken a turn for the worse. However, I believe there is a more profound reason behind this. Among Japanese born before and during World War II, there was a tendency to set aside the differences between Japan and Europe to speak idealistically about reconciliation out of a sense of atonement. Now, a new generation of pragmatists has given rise to the idea that historical reconciliation should be seen from a more realistic perspective. There is now a growing perception that it is unrealistic to speak of reconciliation outside the given political environment, that such an approach is actually having the opposite effect.

Take the relationship between Japan and South Korea, for example. Japan and South Korea did not engage in war as sovereign nations on equal terms, as was the case between France and Germany. In fact, the relationship between Japan and South Korea has more in common with that of France and Algeria, which is the relationship between a former colonial master and its colonial subject. France occupied Algeria in 1830 and kept the country annexed as part of its territory for 132 years. Japan also annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and made it part of its territory for thirty-five years. If so, Japan and South Korea should look to the relationship between France and Algeria, rather than seeking guidance from the relationship between France and Germany.

We should further note that Franco-German reconciliation was not based on German apology alone, but was paired with French tolerance. Historical reconciliation becomes possible only through the cooperative effort between aggressor and victim. The Japanese have begun to doubt whether such a political climate exists in East Asia.

On a recent visit to Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel touched on Germany's historical reconciliation with its neighbors during her meeting with Prime Minister Abe. Commenting on her remarks, Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio may have been reflecting the popular sentiment in Japan when he said it would be "inappropriate to make a simple comparison between Japan and Germany, considering the different circumstances under which the two countries sought to deal with postwar issues and the different set of neighboring countries they face."

Once there were calls to create an organization for East Asia modeled after the European Union (EU), which would unite the region in the areas of politics, economy and principles. These days, that idea seems to have died away. Instead, East Asia is focusing its resources on developing economic ties and expanding the network of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) centered on liberalization of trade and protection of investment and intellectual property. While it is true that the appeal of the EU has faded in the wake of the euro crisis, we could also see this as confirmation of an obvious fact, that ultimately, a region can only give rise to whatever suits itself best. And a similar process is underway with respect to our perception towards historical reconciliation.

Megumi Nishikawa is contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of "Asia Jiho."
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2015年 5月 12日
少し前のことになるが、東京都内で「日欧が創る未来 法の支配と繁栄を目指して」と題した日欧対話がもたれた。













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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Historical Reconciliation and the Perception Gap between Japan and Europe