Joel Assogba, in his Hotline to Nagata-cho column on April 30 (“Stand up to Abe for the sake of Japan, Asia’s future“), wrote that the Japanese [in particular] want to forget their most unpleasant memories as quickly as possible. He may be right. But I am not so sure, because I have no means of comparing the attitudes toward the past between the Japanese and people of other nations.
One thing, though, may safely be said: The Japanese tend to confuse history with melodrama. It is true that every nation prefers feel-good narrative over critical examination of its history. But in Japan, the scarcity of politicians who base their policy-making on conscientious and critical study of history is conspicuous.
What the Japanese word rekishi (history) primarily evokes in the Japanese mind is research into the location of Queen Himiko’s castle at the dawn of Japanese history, or heroic battles of warlords in the Warring States Period. I wonder if there is a counterpart of the Japanese phrase “rekishi no roman” (“history that inspires us”) in other countries, which does not refer to some epic story, but to the study of history [itself].
In Japan, we are facing a diminishing stock of politicians who have proper knowledge of the past and are able to draw lessons from that history. Most Japanese politicians refer to historical episodes as a means to rationalize or dramatize their political maneuvers.
I am disgusted by the way history education is carried out in China, where it seems to be designed to serve the purposes of the administration of the time. History education in Japan, on the other hand, has always been a tool to keep students busy with rote learning, and a convenient means to rate them in examinations, with the content students learn tweaked under pressure from right-wing politicians from time to time.
Thus, when I want to fight against the Abe administration’s white-washing of the past, I have great difficulty finding common ground for discussion with regard to history in this country. Many historians have been doing excellent work elucidating the causes of mistakes and tragedies in modern Japanese history, but they are far short of being shared by the ordinary Japanese.
Since the end of last year, decision makers in the mass media businesses must have been frightened to death by the memory of being tormented by the Abe-Suga pair several years ago [Yoshihide Suga was internal affairs and communications minister in Shinzo Abe’s 2006 Cabinet]. And sure enough, we have been inundated with sycophantic coverage of Abe in recent months, most notably by NHK, stepping up their brain-washing efforts.
All we can do is raise our voices against the whitewashing of history, and urge as many people as possible to listen to the testimony of, for example, former Japanese soldiers who invaded China or other Asian countries and now lament their deeds.
In order to hand over this country to the next generation (the future) in peace, we (the present) have to institutionalize the lessons learned by the former generations (the past). The Japanese Constitution is just such an attempt to bridge the gap between the past and the future. But the rotten present, made more brazen by past economic success, has been trying to burn down that bridge. We are obliged to the past to ensure a secure path to the future by fighting back against the rotten and arrogant present.