As Japan marked the 69th anniversary of its surrender in World War II on Friday, people on the streets of Tokyo showed mixed reactions. Right-leaning visitors to Yasukuni Shrine found a new cause in their movement, while the day evoked memories of wartime suffering among older residents.
For many young people, however, the anniversary meant little more than a reminder of a day from the distant past.
Right-leaning activists around Yasukuni Shrine demanded the government embrace more nationalistic policies, such as revising the pacifist Constitution. They also called for recanting the so-called Kono Statement from 1993, which admitted the Japanese army and other authorities were at times involved in forcibly recruiting women, mostly from the Korean Peninsula, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
“We see more people are signing a petition this year compared to last year,” said Takao Ishihara, president of the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, which was organizing a campaign to present a more nationalistic view of the past in school texts. “This is a war for the correct understanding of history.”
The group said that their movement is gaining momentum, especially after the Asahi Shimbun, which is generally seen as a liberal daily and often becomes the target of conservatives, earlier this month admitted there were errors in its past “comfort women” stories.
Asahi retracted all the stories it had published, stretching back decades, that quoted a Japanese man who claimed he kidnapped about 200 Korean women and forced them to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
The Abe administration in June also said the accounts of 16 former South Korean comfort women, on which the Kono Statement was based, were not backed up by evidence. The government also said Japanese and South Korean officials consulted one another on the wording of the statement before it was issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people marched to Yasukuni Shrine, waving Japanese flags and claiming the war was defensive in nature and that Japan never invaded any Asian countries. The march was organized by a group headed by Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force general.
“It was not Article 9 of the Constitution that maintained Japan’s postwar peace. Thanks to the mighty Japanese soldiers who fought the war, China and Russia were too afraid to attack Japan,” said one participant in the march who only identified himself as Murata. “We should thank the soldiers.”
Tensions escalated in the afternoon when a group denouncing the emperor system marched near Yasukuni and had a close encounter with the Zaitokukai rightist group. Members of Zaitokukai yelled, “Go back home, you Koreans,” throwing PET bottles into the crowd of left-leaning activists who were part of Hantenren, the group opposed to the emperor system.
Elsewhere in Tokyo, however, several people interviewed by The Japan Times did not seem that politically active, though they said they hoped Japan will never again go to war.
“I was a child and remember that we were hungry because we didn’t have enough food,” said a 77-year-old woman in Shibuya Ward.
She remembers listening to the radio when Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender, she said.
“I didn’t really understand (what he was saying), as I was a child, but adults explained to me that the war ended,” she said.
“It’s a foolish thing to go to war . . . people die and you become poor with a shortage of supplies,” she said.
Satoshi Yamaguchi, a 39-year-old man who was with his 3-year old son, said he hopes Japan will never experience a war again, though it is hard for him to think of war as something close to him even on the anniversary of the country’s surrender, since he has never experienced it.
“I learned about World War II in school. But it fades with age,” he said.
Two 14-year-old junior high school students in Harajuku also said they don’t really feel connected to the anniversary.
They said their parents and even their grandparents did not experience the war, so they don’t really get to hear about it other than what they learn in school.
Shigeo Fukinbara, a 90-year-old man who was sent to the Korean Peninsula during the war as a pilot, admitted he doesn’t share his wartime stories with his family.
“I don’t really talk about it because they don’t listen to me seriously,” he said.