Patriotic few battle addiction to peace


Staff Writer

This is the third report in a four-part series looking at the past seven decades during which Japan maintained its national security while enjoying economic prosperity, and the ongoing social changes that could determine the country’s future course.

Ryota Toyomura, 18, a freshman at Waseda University in Tokyo, is adamant that he would enlist in the military and fight for Japan should the nation ever be attacked.

He also professes unwavering reverence to those he calls war heroes who died in the disastrous war Japan fought against the Allied powers seven decades ago.

Likewise, Mizuki Yamamoto, 19, another university student in Tokyo, vowed to do all she could to support the Self-Defense Forces in the event of war, because she believes that is a “natural obligation” as a citizen of Japan.

“Japan is a nation with a long history that must live on no matter what,” said Toyomura, who is majoring in politics. “And I want to protect it for future generations, like our ancestors did for us.”

In a nation that constitutionally rejects the option of going to war, with a society effectively allergic to the very notion, seemingly right-leaning students like Toyomura and Yamamoto are a rarity, and they readily acknowledge this.

As the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat approaches this year, the majority of the nation’s youths, critics and students appear as disinterested as ever about looking back on their nation’s wartime past — let alone paying homage to the sacrifices made by their compatriots back then.

“War is definitely evil. It should never happen again,” said Yamamoto, a Keio University student, voicing worry that today’s young people won’t be inclined to fight for their country should it again find itself drawn into a war. “But they don’t even seem the slightest bit grateful to those people who died as soldiers.”

Yamamoto may not be wrong to have such premonitions.

Japanese ranked the lowest in their “willingness to fight for country” in a global poll released last year by the World Values Survey.

Asked if they would fight for their nation in the event of war, only 15.3 percent of Japanese said yes, compared with 57.7 percent of Americans and 74.2 percent of Chinese.

By age, 9.5 percent of Japanese under 30 said they would be willing to fight, as did 20.3 percent of pollees older than 50.

Not only are young Japanese apparently disinclined to fight for their nation, they are generally disinterested in the war or have little understanding of what happened.

On one December evening on a street in Shibuya, the Tokyo shopping district that serves as Japan’s mecca for youth culture and fashion, an 18-year-old high school boy named Sora seemed stunned to learn Japan and the U.S. once waged a brutal war against each other.

“Oh, did they?” he muttered, somewhat embarrassed.

“Now that you mention it, I guess I did learn that somewhere before,” Sora said, asking to only be identified by his first name.

Likewise, 19-year-old university students Mitsuhiro Kurokawa and Tsuyoshi Tanaka said in Shibuya they had no idea what significance Aug. 15 — the anniversary of Japan’s unconditional surrender in World War II — holds for their compatriots.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not that interested in thinking about the war, although I do hope there won’t be another one,” Tanaka said.

Street interviews aired by NHK last Aug. 15 likewise showed 52 out of 100 young people approached didn’t know the significance of that date. Some nonchalantly said they had no idea Japan and the U.S. had even been enemies, before laughing at their own ignorance.

Critics and young people both blame this indifference in part on the short shrift given to the topic at school as teachers “run out of time” at the end of each semester.

Even the modicum of time spent on teaching modern Japanese history is consumed by rote learning, with an emphasis on memorizing even the minutest of details that could pop up on the vaunted university entrance exam, said Ryoichi Matsuno, a journalism and media studies professor at Chuo University in Tokyo.

He said it was “egregious” that modern history is being neglected by the school system.

“That’s the essential part of Japan’s history they need to know more about — those series of errors of judgment committed by the wartime government back then that caused such tremendous harm,” Matsuno said.

To rectify that problem, Matsuno advocates that schools introduce dedicated classes on modern history, rather than Japanese history as a whole, which tends to be lengthy.

The government of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be inching toward that goal — or around it. His team is thinking of making Japanese history, currently optional, compulsory at the high school level.

In January 2013, education minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters he will actively consider making the switch to instill a stronger sense of “national identity” in students. In November, the Central Council for Education, which advises him, began reviewing the guidelines for school curricula with an eye toward an overhaul in the near future. Shimomura asked the panel to consider, among other things, whether to make Japanese history compulsory.

Matsuno said this approach misses the point.

Even if studying Japanese history is made compulsory, he said, students will remain as ignorant as ever about the war as long as schools continue to give modern Japanese history the brushoff.

The youths interviewed for this article also said their education on the war, if any, boiled down to simply underlining that it was brutal, with the result that many were left with an almost instinctive aversion to war.

They also seemed aware of a few specifics about the fighting Japan engaged in during the first half of the 20th century.

“It’s like how you flinch at cockroaches,” said a 26-year-old former SDF member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “To many Japanese, war is something so cruel and evil, and responsible for so many deaths, that they automatically turn away from it and don’t think about it.”

This mindset seemingly ran deep among his former comrades at an SDF training school who, despite their purported patriotism, often voiced a reluctance to fight.

“Some of them said they would run away if there was a war,” he said, disappointed.

Keio University student Yamamoto noted that all she was ever taught about the war was that it was brutal. But she believes, like the ex-SDF serviceman, that war is not that simple. It is much more multifaceted — and even necessary — from a political and diplomatic standpoint, she said.

Yamamoto said she doesn’t believe that today’s Japanese can think of war in diplomatic terms. Even in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the Japanese, unlike the Americans in September 2001, would probably not be able to justify going to war, she said.

The eloquent 19-year-old was emphatic that she has no intention of glorifying war and that she is absolutely opposed to its recurrence, from a human rights perspective. But she nonetheless stood by her position that there are circumstances under which the nation must overcome its anti-war mindset and embrace the strategic importance of war to protect its people.

“Should Japan be involved in a war, it means the well-being of its citizens will be significantly jeopardized. Our economy may collapse. Or countries like China — for example — may take control of our government (and) deprive us of free speech,” she said.

“I think, in the face of such threats to our human rights, what the government should do is not dwell on the notion that war is brutal, but instead stand up and fight to protect us,” she said.

Young people approached by The Japan Times on the streets of Shibuya sounded blissfully hopeful that Japan will never again experience war.

But Yamamoto and her lot urge them to drop their complacency and accept the likelihood that Japan will, someday, again be involved in war, even if not directly, however much they might hope to the contrary.

“Just because Japan hasn’t fought a war for the past 70 years doesn’t mean it never will again.

“As the American experience suggests, war is something that’s there all the time. It’s time for (the younger generation) to step out of their comfort zone and start being realistic about it,” said Waseda student Toyomura.

  • Firas Kraïem

    “Even in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the Japanese, unlike the
    Americans in September 2001, would probably not be able to justify going
    to war, she said.”

    Well, that hasn’t worked too well for the Americans, has it?

  • KenjiAd

    In my experience, a person who talks about sacrifice is usually the first one who runs away when such sacrifice is needed. They keep shouting “go, go, go” from a safe distance away.

  • KenjiAd

    What is so wrong about thinking of these “patriotic” young Japanese is that those Japanese soldiers who died during the war weren’t defending Japan at all.

    These soldiers, common people really, were forced to die for nothing. There is nothing to beautify their deaths.

    That’s how their sacrifice should be understood. They died for nothing.

    • Brian Stump

      They died defending their country and culture. They should be honored. We, the USA, placed restrictions on the nation of Nippon that made little sense.
      They were defending their interests. How they went about it. .. well. ..
      My uncles fought and I honor them. The ones that came back honor them, Japanese, also.

      • KietaZou

        No, they didn’t. You’re just incredibly ignorant. It terrifies (but doesn’t at all scare) me what your ideas about “race” and “culture” are.

      • JimmyJM

        The sanctions placed on Japan were in no way as debilitating as those that are placed on Russia and North Korea today. And they were placed on Japan only after the Japanese invaded Manchuria and China. Sanctions, as they are today, were an attempt to get Japan to withdraw its military without resorting to war. They obviously failed.

      • KenjiAd

        I totally disagree. Japan started the war, invaded her neighbors, and killed a whole bunch of innocent people, including Japanese people. It wasn’t that China/America invaded Japan, and Japan was defending it.

        As to your idea of defending the culture, that’s a disturbing idea. You go and kill people, if you felt that your culture is being invaded? I know that’s not what you meant, but your line of thinking is in fact disturbing.

        What Japanese people should learn, at least what I learned, from the war history of Japan is this.

        Never, ever trust the government blindly, when it advocates any military conflict with another country, when your own country isn’t being invaded by them. You would be very sorry if you did.

        So I’m very pleased by hearing that most of young Japanese people seem to have no interest in “fighting for the country.”

      • http://batman-news.com labjmh

        People should remember the saying of S.Johnson: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In this case, the Japanese Military was the scoundrel. People should know that the war between Japan and the US was a consequence of the war between Japan and China in 1937, and it happened 8 years long right in the Chinese territory! Would you call Bin Laden patrotic for “defending his coutry and culture” for all what happened in the Twin Towers?

    • Dipak Bose

      Your logic is also true about the British or American, Australian, Canadian soldiers as well. They fought either to colonize people of other countries to enrich the robber barons or to dominate and destroy other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Libya, Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq and now Ukraine.

    • Truth2Today

      Do not brainwash people with wrong form of patriotic. Not learning from past mistakes just being patriotic is very big mistake!!!!!!!!

    • David Rothauser

      KenjiAd, You have made the most profound statement written about soldiers and war. “They died for nothing.”

    • Christine

      Japan is an island dependent on media information – unfortunately which is not what we foresee and understand. Is it back to Kamikaze? No clue, but it definitely is “education” – not knowing what really went on – how Japanese militant tried to invade other countries/islands and etc. History books have been re-written to subdue the matter… I cannot tell who is right or wrong, but… it is not what we like to see.

  • Rebane

    “Likewise, Mizuki Yamamoto, 19, another university student in Tokyo, vowed to do all she could to support the Self-Defense Forces in the event of war, because she believes that is a “natural obligation” as a citizen of Japan.”
    I wonder if in the U.S. “doing all you can do to support the U.S. Armed Forces in the event of war” is considered to be “a ‘natural obligation’ as a citizen of the United States.”

  • JimmyJM

    “He also professes unwavering reverence to those he calls war heroes who
    died in the disastrous war Japan fought with the United States seven
    decades ago.”
    You would think a Waseda student would have enough knowledge of history to know that the war that ended seventy years ago was fought against almost all of Asia not just the United States. Nobody attacked Japan. Japan was the aggressor. This article is correct in noting the incredible lack of historical instruction in Japanese schools today. I hope Mr. Toyomura and the other students mentioned here will learn what really happened between 1933 and 1945 as the Emperor suggested in his speech.

  • rossdorn

    Reading this make my hair stand on end…. what an absurd country, what a people…

    All that come to mind is the quote from Ambrose Bierce,
    author of The Devil’s Dictionary (1842-1913):

    ‘War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.’

  • Stephen Kent

    Quite a worrying article, I think. While there are some positives to be drawn from it, such as the apparent general aversion that most people in Japan have to getting involved in the brutalities of war, it seems to suggest that the wheels of history may have already passed through half a cycle and the inevitable march towards repetition has started with a large, passive majority and a small, highly ideological and militaristic minority coming to the fore.

    If history is not to be repeated then I think that education is indeed important, as Mr. Matsuno points out, but rather than just examining the facts of modern history young people should be encouraged to think critically and discuss the world around them with others. For example, by studying history and understanding that one of the main reasons the Japanese empire invaded Asia was to secure natural resources they might then make the connection with the fact that all most all of Japan’s energy resources still come from overseas and that any future war that Japan gets involved in might be over securing those resources and the sea lanes used to transport them. This would lead anyone with the ability to think logically to realise that being dependent on imported energy could potentially jeopardise the safety of citizens, and thus it would be prudent and patriotic to become as self sufficient as possible in terms of energy. The electricity generating monopolies who are refusing to invest in upgrading the electricity distribution grid to take advantage of the masses of unused renewable energy potential that Japan has might then come to be seen as failing to protect the Japanese people, and more action may be taken to pressure them into making a sacrifice (of profit) for the country instead of sending young men off to fight in a foreign land.

    This is just one example, but if people can start to think critically in this way, we might, hopefully, see a departure from the use of hollowed out language where “defence” means to fight over resources to maintain the status quo and “protect” means to build up a military with as much destructive power as possible instead of taking rational action to build better ties and avoid armed conflict with other nations. Then there might be genuine hope that Japan won’t become embroiled in anymore wars of aggression.

  • Truth2Today

    Japan brainwashing there youth is very different from being patriotic… Current Japan Abe government is no different from North Korea. Only difference is rich and poor.

  • Dipak Bose

    Japanese school education is really bad as they learn nothing about history. They have no idea about the history of Buddhism, their main religion. About the 20th century they know hardly anything. Japanese education system is Utilitarian; they learn mathematics, science and engineering, and nothing else. This is true about many European , British and American education system as well.

  • Ben

    what do you expect when you interview kids in shibuya? and interviewing them in front of their friends who they have to impress. this article overexaggerates, as does the NHK interview, what high school level students actually know about the war. i’m sure on a test the average student would be able to answer these questions. sensationalism at its best.

  • http://batman-news.com labjmh

    There are over 7000 museums in Japan, but none is dedicated to the foreign victims during the Japanese invasion on her neighbors. This is also a big problem. You can learn something from the history class, but a museum can get you think deeper by showing the real evidences. The Germans are experts in this field. There are museums everywhre in that country telling people what the their ancestors – Nazis, Wehrmacht and normal Germans – have done against humanity. The Germans nowadays know there can’t be a war again, because they were the bad guys. It’s definately good that mostJapanese now are against the war,too. But I doubt how long this would last: They only think they were victims of the two A-bombs. The antiwar mentality is based on a unstable ground.

  • A.J. Sutter

    I teach college students at a university in Tokyo. I wish I had more students like Yamamoto-san, who can see that war and self-defense have some subtleties. Instead, most of my students are either woefully ignorant like Sora-san, or overly simplistic like many of the commenters in this thread and, to some extent, the reportage in the story itself.

    First, there’s the question of “left” and “right”. In many countries, patriotism isn’t restricted to the right. I’m not speaking of countries like the PRC and Vietnam, where “left” today designates the conservative order fighting to maintain one-party rule. Rather, I’m thinking of countries like the US, Spain, France and Germany.

    For example: although right-wing icon Ronald Reagan served in the military during WWII, he spent the war entirely in the US, including in the Port and Transportation Office in San Francisco, in the Army Air Force (AAF) First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City CA, and in New York City to participate in a war loan drive. On the other hand, George McGovern, probably the most “left” of all major-party Presidential candidates in the past 70 years, volunteered for the AAF and piloted 35 bomber missions over Germany. Jimmy Carter was a navy officer qualified to command a nuclear submarine. In Germany, Helmut Schmidt was conscripted into the Nazi-run Wehrmacht and was even decorated, but served more than 8 years as Chancellor of West Germany from the left Social Democrats, and afterwards has remained a respected elder statesman of social democracy in Europe. Consider too the French Resistance, many of whose members constituted the French post-war left: were they unpatriotic? And the fighters on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War — they hated their country, I suppose?

    Many Japanese and many foreigners, apparently including the author of this piece, are too facile to label love of country and the willingness to take up arms in its defense as right-wing. The willingness to defend Japan against military threats doesn’t equate to a desire to subjugate neighboring countries or territories. Japan has a regrettable colonialist past, but so do many countries whose military forces today are regarded with tolerance both domestically and by their neighbors. Why does nobody freak out over the armed forces of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France, Germany or Portugal, the way commenters reflexively do about Japan?

    Belgium, for example, was guilty of many horrendous atrocities in its African empire. And France, whose empire dwarfed Japan’s, possesses nuclear weapons and still projects military power globally (e.g. in Central African Republic and New Caledonia) — unlike Japan. Yet these countries, who lack anything like Article 9 in their constitutions, are given slack, while commenters are horrified that some young Japanese people might actually want to defend the country where they and their families (and, most likely, many of the horrified foreigners) live.

    A second confusion, especially in the comments, is about those who died fighting for Japan during WWII. Most were conscripts. Even those who voluntarily joined for the most part didn’t command. They didn’t determine political strategy of whom to invade or not, just as most US GIs didn’t, either. This isn’t to invoke the “only following orders” defense on behalf of those guilty of true war crimes, but I’ve never heard it plausibly charged that every single conscript was a war criminal, any more than every conscript into the Wehrmacht was, either. Reverence for their sacrifices isn’t per se right-wing: in many families, it may be a simple matter of filial piety.

    The dangerous aspect of this issue consists more in the mythologizing of the reasons for those soldiers’ deaths — such as illustrated by Toyomura-san’s blanket characterization of the dead as “war heroes.” Most of those who died were tragic victims of arrogant politicians and a police state (though that doesn’t rule out acts of heroism in particular cases, such as to save comrades or civilians). The blame for obscuring that historical fact should be shared between the LDP that’s run the country’s educational system for most of the past 60 years and the left-wing teacher’s union (Nikkyouso), who apparently bought into the same false notion that being left and loving one’s country are mutually exclusive. That some thoughtful, level-headed and gutsy students like Yamamoto-san have emerged from this system is a miracle that should be applauded — and repeated.

  • Barry Rosenfeld

    This apathy is due to the post war pacifist education brought on at the behest of the American occupation during MacArthur’s governance. After 1952, the Ministry of Education kept up with this and hence as a result 60 years onwards, should anyone here who has lived in Japan for a meaningful amount of time and speaks the language fluently surprised?

  • http://batman-news.com labjmh

    I would call the Japan Times the conscience of Japan. You would not find such reports and analysis in other Japanese newspapers, even in the “liberal” Asahi.

  • Macky

    Apply for reserve candidates of JGSDF, then.

  • Ahojanen

    While I don’t oppose to the will of younger postwar generations (to which I still belong..) serving their country, they don’t necessarily have to “go military” to fulfill the cause. To grow up educated and professed with high skills, pay taxes/social security payments, stay healthy saving medical expenses, join social events or community development initiatives…. such “daily courses of action” can contribute enormously to the homeland security and welfare if not directly. We should never play down the impact of collective non-military acts.

  • andrew ferris

    I’m sorry… heroes?
    They were “heroically” invading Korea, forcing young women into prostitution, robbing the people there of their cultural heritage, even forcing them all to take Japanese names?
    Or how they heroically invaded China and upon falling onto the Chinese capital, rounded up all the men they could find, marched them out of the city and then shot them dead in mass. Then raped every young girl they could find, often gutting them like fish afterwards?
    Or how they “heroically” invaded the Pacific Islands and upon running out of meat rations, turned to cannibalism– eating “black pork” (local people) and “white pork” (American soldiers) and when that failed even killing and eating wounded members of their own squad, the last of which being the only one they felt any shame about.
    How they “heroically” tortured captured soldiers to death in the most horrific and creative manners for entertainment.
    How they “heroically” inspired the people of Okinawa to mass suicides by telling horror stories, lies that the Americans would treat citizens they captured as badly as the Japanese army treated the citizens it captured.
    How they heroically brainwashed young men into flying planes with the full intention of crashing them into ships, never once giving a damn about the lives of their own soldiers?

    Every one of those things has been proved as true and they were not the acts of one or two bad soldiers, they were general policies and behaviors of that military. So many were tried for war crimes for good reason, and many, many, many more should have been. I have not heard from a single Japanese war veteran who was part of a campaign in a foreign country who did not feel deep shame for what they had done. So many committed suicide, not out of shame for losing but the realization of what they had done. I have seen several documentaries where they were surviving veterans were interviewed.
    Where the heroism in this? Where exactly in this is “protecting national interests”?
    The Imperial Japanese army was the most barbaric and savage army in modern times. As bad as what the Germans and Russians did to one another, they did not hold a candle to what the Japanese army did to the citizens that were unfortunate enough to fall into its hands.
    Anyone who calls the Japanese army during World War II is either ignorant or also a complete monster.

    Forgetting those horrific monsters were part of their national history is young people doing them a damn favor. Canonizing them as something they weren’t is a slap in the face of all their victims. Many in Korea and China have never and will never forgive Japan for what it did, no matter how many times it apologizes. But if the young people in all three countries can just forget it all happened, maybe they can make a better future together.
    Granted, it might be best to at least remember the lesson. When young men are driven on by nationalism, dehumanize their opponents in their eyes and are encouraged by peer pressure to be ever more violent, brutal and nasty, there really is no limit to the depravity they can commit. And realizing once one is out of that environment how wrong one was does nothing to undo the crimes. There is a definite need for strict rules of engagement and soldiers must be constantly reminded that the nation they are fighting against are also human beings and should be treated with human dignity.