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

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
CHINO Keiko  / Journalist

July 24, 2015
"Mom, what made you happy when the war ended?"
"Well, I was glad I didn't have to sleep in a monpe anymore. And we were free to keep the lights on at night. That also made me happy."

I had this conversation with my mother one early afternoon, more than half a century ago, when I was still a child. I'm not quite sure how much of her reply I was able to comprehend at the time, but I can still vividly recall how I nodded in appreciation on that faraway day. It was during that war that the baggy monpe workpants became the daily uniform of Japanese women.

That came to an end on August 15, 1945. Most Japanese had shed tears learning of their total defeat, in which Japan had "lost one-third of its total wealth and from one-third to one-half of its total potential income," according to the General Headquarters of the Allied occupation. However, it was also true that deep down in their hearts they had felt a sense of relief that differed from any feeling of despondency. Most of the urban areas of major Japanese cities had been burnt to the ground, but the scenes of vast open horizons evoked a sense of liberation in the minds of many Japanese, which could not have all been a case of sour grapes.

Asked by the Emperor what just cause would be served by declaring war, Prime Minister Tojo Hideki is said to have replied: "the matter is currently under study." ("'Showa Tenno Jitsuroku' no Nazo wo Toku (Unraveling the Mysteries of The Recorded Words of Emperor Showa)"; Bunshun Shinsho). It is an episode that captures the essence of that war quite well. As the frontlines continued to expand with no plausible explanation offered to its people, Japan had persisted aimlessly in a desperate war, even after Germany and Italy had surrendered, and eventually faced an unprecedented defeat.

Perhaps it had been a reaction to all that. Placing their faith in peace, the Japanese made a vigorous push for reconstruction. They toiled on, believing that life will be better tomorrow than today, and even better the day after tomorrow than tomorrow. And for the most part, that was indeed what actually transpired.

However, not all of it was the fruit of our labors. To begin with, Japan was favored by international circumstances. It did not experience the tragedy of having their country divided in two, as had Germany, nor was its monarchy abolished, as in Italy. Japan was also fortunate to have been occupied by the United States instead of the Soviet Union, which had unilaterally denounced its non-aggression pact with Japan during the war. In the years that followed, Japan continued to benefit from the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. We could also add to this the fact that tectonic activity around the Japanese archipelago had been extraordinarily subdued during the era of postwar reconstruction, which in retrospect can only be ascribed to good fortune.

Japan became the world's second largest economic power – a position it held until 2010, contributed to advancing developing countries as the world's top donor throughout the 1990's, and remained firmly committed to pacifism by firing not a single bullet against any country. Inherent in such a stance was a self-serving belief in the supremacy of peace, which expressed itself as opposition even to Japan's participation in U.N. Peace-Keeping Operations, while our own lives were being protected by foreign military forces. Yet, happily again, this contradiction did not place Japan in jeopardy.

It is now seventy years since the end of World War II. Will we continue to be graced with such good fortune? I believe not. We would do better to think that our good luck has run its course.

Above all, the international environment has changed. First, the advance of globalization has brought about an era in which our economies increasingly share the same fate. The Greek crisis or a sudden drop in Chinese stock prices have immediate repercussions on the financial markets in Tokyo. Second, the security environment surrounding Japan has undergone a sea change. China's hegemonic ambition of becoming a military and maritime superpower has become stronger than ever before, while the United States will no longer act as the "world's policeman," to quote President Barack Obama .

Caught between the U.S.-China rivalries, it will be crucial for Japan to not only forge a stronger alliance with the United States, but to better coordinate its actions with Australia, India, and Southeast Asian countries. Japan must also face up to the issue of redefining its relations with its neighbors – China and South Korea, which have deteriorated to the lowest levels in the past seventy years. While we can no longer return to the "era of friendship," neither can we turn to confrontation as a solution. The need for level-headed, hard-nosed diplomacy has never been as acute as it is now. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Japanese society is being threatened by the challenges posed by a rapidly aging population and declining birthrate such as the world has never seen.

While all this is upon us, we should acknowledge that they are also the cumulative consequences of the peace and good fortune enjoyed by postwar Japan. It will do us no good to rush into self-denial or take fright. Rather, the dulled sensitivity of today's Japanese, who remain oblivious to all these dangers as if practicing "see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil," may be the true danger facing us in the seventieth year of the postwar era.

Keiko Chino is Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun newspape.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野境子 / ジャーナリスト

2015年 7月 24日











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