JIN-333 -- New Currents in Views of the War

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 333
Thursday August 18, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: New Currents in Views of the War
1. The 50th Anniversary as Starting Point
2. A Phlegmatic View of History


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+++ VIEWPOINT: New Currents in Views of the War
1. The 50th Anniversary as Starting Point

Mid-August, with the anniversaries of the Hiroshima (the 6th) and
Nagasaki (the 9th) atomic bombings and capitulation (the 15th),
is a time of remembrance in Japan. Newspapers devote entire pages
to war timelines and reminiscences, and TV stations broadcast the
Hiroshima Peace Ceremony and countless documentaries. This was
especially true this year, which marked the 60th anniversary of the
end of the Second World War, 60th anniversaries being known as
"kanreki," the end of the traditional sexagenary cycle.

Historical debate in the 10 years leading to the 60th anniversary has
evolved since the 50th anniversary. It began with Prime Minister
Murayama's apology in 1995 for "colonialism and invasion," which
marked a new junction in Japanese politics. In the same year was
established the Asian Women's Fund, which provided compensation
to former "comfort women" (women forced to provide sex to the
Imperial Japanese Army).

The Murayama statement has come to represent the Japanese
government's official understanding of history. Prime Minister Koizumi
has said he shares that understanding, yet his four visits to Yasukuni
Shrine have largely negated any goodwill gained in China and Korea
by his purported support of the Murayama statement.

The 50th anniversary of the war was, in retrospect, perhaps less
a point of demarcation than the starting point of new currents in
the historical debate.

"Our generation was not involved in the conduct of the war; we have
no reason to search our consciences," remarked Sanae Takaichi
in 1995, when she was a 34-year-old representative of the New
Frontier Party. "No one should demand we reflect on our past conduct.
"Her remark seemed to signal a change of generation in awareness of
history. Indeed, Masayuki Fujio (88), Seisuke Okuno (92) and others
of the prewar generation who denied Japan had invaded other
countries were retiring from politics. The younger generation is now
consciously reevaluating history. They are perhaps motivated
by a desire to free themselves from the feeling of being under siege
as the Japanese economy slumbers and China rises.


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2. A Phlegmatic View of History

1995 was also the year when the Society for a Liberal View of History
(later the Committee for Creating New History Textbooks) was formed.
Criticism of this organization as a proponent of a masochistic view
of history continues today.

These different trends have created new frictions with China and Korea,
but Japan is a pluralistic society; public opinion is not monolithic. Exit
the world of politics and discussion and you get a different perspective.

Korea and Japan were awarded joint sponsorship of the World Cup
in 1996. Against the background of tense Korean-Japanese relations,
there were fears the passionate support of young fans would
exacerbate nationalism. However, the 2002 World Cup was a shining
success that ushered an era of fresh interest in things Korean that
has even weathered anti-Japanese flare-ups over Takeshima Island and
Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Likewise, in spite of the anti-Japan demonstrations that swept China
earlier this year, the Japanese public remained calm. These past
10 years Japanese society has generally adopted a phlegmatic view
of history, and kept a lid on emotions with respect to neighboring
countries. This trend is encouraging, and makes us look forward to
the Japanese historical view ten years hence.

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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