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

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
ONO Goro  / Emeritus Professor, Saitama University

September 17, 2015
At this juncture of 70 years after the end of the war, there is no end to Japan's squabbling with its immediate neighbors over the question of postwar settlement. Admittedly, when most Japanese have no direct knowledge of Japan's aggression or war in the past, they may well feel fed up with the demand that they apologize for actions committed by their forebears. At the same time, the people in the countries and areas where the scars of Japan's acts of aggression and destruction remain directly or indirectly would naturally be reluctant to tolerate Japan, the nation that inflicted those damages on them.

That said, in this age of increasing globalization, if the neighboring countries continued to reject mutual reconciliation and try to cultivate friends in the distance while antagonizing those nearby, it would only benefit the countries in other regions. It would be too self-serving for Japan as the perpetrator of past actions to suggest that it is time to let bygones be bygones. Some Japanese who are conscious of this have begun to engage in acts of atonement one by one, each within the realm of his or her capability, without asking for anything in return. These actions have little by little prompted some people in our neighboring countries to understand the value of reconciliation. We should not allow these efforts to come to naught.

If you look back on several thousand years of Japan's history, Japan first imported from the Chinese Continent innumerable products of Chinese civilization directly or through the Korean Peninsula, and digested them to shape Japan's own culture. Thus, in East Asia, China is the eldest sibling, Korea is the second, and Japan is the third. If these three siblings kept quarreling, it would only trouble younger siblings in the region.

As Western-style modernization proceeded since the Meiji era, it would have been natural for this tradition of absorbing and digesting the products of foreign civilizations to continue under the banner of "Japanese spirit, Western learning". However, as "hakurai sūhai" (addiction to things imported) became more prevalent through "seiyōka" (Westernization) and "datsua nyūō"(Leave Asia, enter the West) advocated by the self-styled intellectuals, things traditionally Japanese came to be dismissed altogether as being antiquated. This trend has become more pronounced since Japan’s defeat in the last war. If things were left as they are, we could even lose what people abroad have appreciated as the "good qualities" of things Japanese.

Further, seen at least from Japan's point of view, Japan, China and Korea had each maintained its independence before the Meiji era. There had been many wars and regime changes on the Chinese Continent, within the Korean Peninsula and within the Japanese Archipelago, but none had led to total domination or occupation of one by another. The Mongolian invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592-1598 and the Wokou piracies in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries can be seen as temporary aberrations.

This equilibrium was broken after the Western major powers started their invasion of Asia with the Opium War. Amidst this challenge, Japan lost little time in ending its isolation, and launched itself at breakneck speed on the path of Westernization and modernization, in order to preserve and strengthen its independence that it had barely kept. As a result, it deluded itself that it had succeeded in becoming a strong power on a par with the major Western powers.

This in turn led Japan, which had long had an inferiority complex toward China, to wallow in an undue sense of superiority over China and Korea, making up for its inferiority complex toward Europe and the United States. It drove Japan to its annexation of Korea, aggression of the Chinese Continent and, fueled by the impetuous urge to free itself from its long-standing inferiority complex toward Europe and the United States, its rousing call to the nation to fight the demonic and beastly United States and Britain (kichiku beiei) and finally to its defeat in the last war. If we are to look to the future, we will first of all have to rid ourselves of such a short-circuited thinking pattern of the modern Japanese.

These are essential facts that should be known to every Japanese. The biggest reason why, in actuality, they hardly figure in the consciousness of the Japanese of today is the governing principle laid by the all-powerful Allied Occupation Forces in the immediate postwar period that "All the blame lay with the Japanese military, and the Japanese people were also the victims." Most Japanese found this to be expedient and gladly accepted it. It somehow led them to consign into oblivion the fact that they, too, had been a part of the perpetrators. The victims, for their part, would never allow this to be forgotten. Further, there have been adverse feelings among the Japanese about the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which seemed to be on dubious grounds in terms of international law, and the lop-sided accusations against Japan regarding its past unlawful or wrongful conducts, for example, on comfort women. Some felt that similar actions have been widely committed with impunity in cases other than wartime Japan. It cannot be denied that these feelings served to weaken or dissipate the sense of remorse that the Japanese people should have felt as a matter of course.

Be that as it may, it remains a historical fact that Japan and the Japanese invaded other countries and ruled over their people. We should forthrightly admit and repent it. It is shameful that we abused or destroyed the cultural assets of China and Korea, who are our cultural elders. This is a serious issue, and the debate should not be trivialized into such questions as whether there was government involvement in the recruitment of comfort women or how many were killed in the "Nanjing Massacre".

Today, the Western (European and American) consensus, which has led the world, has begun to show its limitations. It is perhaps time for Japan to act with dignity and forthrightly admit its past wrongdoings. Then, the three East Asian siblings, each with its long history and rich culture, can work hand in hand to show how to shape the world in the future. At the risk of injecting a jarring note, let me add that we should also recognize that the existing "postwar order" is nothing more than a strand of the order that the Western major powers had introduced to East Asia since the Opium War.

Goro Ono is Emeritus Professor of Saitama University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小野 五郎 / 埼玉大学名誉教授  

2015年 9月 17日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II