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Politicians whitewashing history, burning bridges to the past

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.

KEISUKE AKITA

Kakamigahara, Gifu

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • http://www.culturewarreporters.com/ CultureWarReporterEvan

    There’s a lot of truth in the words “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and that quote is particularly applicable to this issue Japan is facing at the moment.

  • kyushuphil

    History obliges an interest in how things change. Values. Hierarchies. Kingdoms.

    The Japanese over the shogun centuries evolved an aversion to change. Potters potted the same styles. Houses followed the same designs according to which of the four classes one inhabited. Clothing styles followed the same scripts — no exceptions, no changes.

    Maybe many today still harbor a longing for the continuities and comforts of staying on the same page. No one learns to ask any questions in schools because that, after all, signals willingness to imagine alternatives.

    Yes, Japan lives in the modern world. And doesn’t.

  • Denny Pollard

    The war with Japan ended in 1945 most people were not around when it took place. The Japanese signed an unconditional surrender with the allies all except Russia that still occupies Japanese territory.

    The question is why is Japan always singled out about not remembering what took place during the war. Why isn’t Germany held to the same standard as Japan? Is it because Germany is a caucasian nation? Didn’t Germany do the same things as Japan if not worse in the death camps? Didn’t Germany develop and experiment on people?

    Other Asian countries South Korea and China hate Japan because Japan reinvented it’s self into a proper country and got rid of the war machine and those that ran it. Japan also as a people pulled together and became a leading industrial country that South Korea and China despise. South Korea and China will never be as good as Japan and they know it so the only thing they have is
    bringing up the war or comfort women. Get over it. The war is over, Japan has apologized many times over and has helped many countries they once invaded. The Philippines, Australia and many other countries have accepted the Japanese apologize and become friends with Japan which has helped these countries get over the past and built a new future together.

    So why can’t South Korea and China accept an apologize from Japan? Maybe the race mongers will not let it die.

    Japan to this day is supporting South Korea by hosting the U.S. military in Japan
    that supports South Korea and this cost billions of yen to keep North Korea at
    bay. South Korea wants Japan to pay restitution for comfort women. Seems to me South Korea is a pimp trying to exploit money for these women. So If Japan does pay additional money for comfort women will this change anything? Of course not it’s not about the money, but envy.

    Lastly, politicians make stupid comments all the time and get called on it like what has happened recently about comfort women. However, Abe san is trying to do good for Japan and changing the Japanese Constitution is a good place to start. Japan cannot change the past, they can only change the future.

    • http://profiles.google.com/johnfreyan john freyan

      Why isn’t Germany held to the same standard as Japan? Is it because Germany is a caucasian nation?

      It’s probably because if Angela Merkel said “Holocaust was exaggerated, and the Jews, Poles, and the French should be thankful to the Germans for trying to protect them from the evil clutches of England and America” in public, she would be kicked out of her office (and actually face jail time) before you can say “Neo-Nazi”.

      For Abe? His approval ratings go up. THAT is the difference.

      Japan to this day is supporting South Korea by hosting the U.S. military in Japanthat supports South Korea and this cost billions of yen to keep North Korea at bay.

      First, The US military that supports South Korea is, you know, in South Korea.

      Second, that base in Japan has a LOT more to do with East Asian geopolitics that we’re playing (i.e. against China) than protecting South Korea from North.

      So If Japan does pay additional money for comfort women will this change anything? Of course not it’s not about the money, but envy.

      Actually, I believe the South Koreans just want the Diet to pass a resolution affirming that Empire of Japan was responsible for the Comfort Women system, and possibly criminalize revisionist history on that issue – like the Germans have done with the Nazis and WWII. The compensation from the Japanese government itself, as opposed to the private donations like AWF, would be a nice gesture. And really classy, using words like pimp on a subject about forced sex slaves.

      Lastly, politicians make stupid comments all the time and get called on it like what has happened recently about comfort women.

      Really? Abe, Hashimoto, and Ishihara gets called on their stupid comments? Because last I checked, Abe got the PM seat TWICE, Hashimoto has been in charge of the Osaka Area since my baby sister was in High School, and Ishihara was in charge of TOKYO (you know, that big city with the label “Capital of Japan” on it) until he got the post as the leader of the Restoration Party. Does that sound like they are being called out on their outrageous remarks to you? When Todd Akin said something really stupid about rape victims in America, was he elected with huge margins in 2012 election?