On the streets of Tokyo, a majority of people reporters spoke to on Tuesday said U.S. President Barack Obama does not need to say sorry during his May 27 visit to Hiroshima.
And an online poll by The Japan Times, which sampled viewers worldwide, found overwhelming agreement.
“I’m simply surprised that the president of the United States is finally visiting Hiroshima,” said housewife Ayako Nishio, 54. “It’s hard to comment on its political aspects, but I think many Japanese are feeling positive about his visit.”
A 36-year-old man who identified himself as Masuda agreed: “It is more important that the president of the United State wants to understand a big historical event than it being an apology.”
Some young people said the war is so remote it makes an apology unnecessary.
“I don’t really care about Obama apologizing for past events,” said 24-year-old Naoto Adachihara. “It was years ago and Obama has nothing to do with what happened in the war.”
Adachihara said he doubts many young people expect contrition: “And even if he apologized, I would think it was not needed. It wouldn’t make any impression on me.”
Aun Ota, 42, from Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, stressed that Obama did not order the bombings and does not need to take responsibility, even though they were wrong.
“I don’t think Obama should make a personal apology but as a nation, America should admit the bombings were a mistake of the past and think of measures to prevent something similar from occurring,” Ota said.
Kazuki Sasayama, 22, a cake shop employee from Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture said he was aware that for Japan’s older generations, including survivors of the war, an apology would be unsatisfying.
“But instead of dredging up memories of the past, Obama could focus on future collaboration with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces or other positive steps for the future,” Sasayama said.
While calling the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima a “big step forward,” a 23-year-old female sales agent who did not give her name said an apology might trigger a negative response in the U.S.
“Some Americans believe Hiroshima bombings were justified so if he came to apologize it would anger them,” she said. “But for someone like me, who hasn’t experienced war, rather than whether Obama should or shouldn’t apologize, the more important thing is what we should do from now on.”
It was not only young people who said they are looking to the future rather than the past.
A 67-year-old man from the city of Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, said he hopes Obama will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where belongings of the bombing’s victims and other memorabilia from August 1945 are exhibited.
“I just want Obama to use it as an opportunity to see and contemplate what happened and why it shouldn’t happen again,” he said.
Tokyo-based IT salesman Yuichi Aimoto, 46, said Japan knows how it feels to be ordered to apologize, and Obama can be assured that won’t happen.
“Japan, too, hears demands by China or South Korea to apologize for war crimes committed against them, but I think it is not in the nature of Japanese people to seek recompense for past harm endlessly,” Aimoto said.
But for 74-year-old Tokyo resident Norihiko Fujii, Obama’s visit to Hiroshima “comes too late.”
He said that as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama should have made the visit long ago.
“In Americans’ understanding the bombings helped bring the war to an end, and they will never come to apologize. That’s something they just won’t do, culturally,” Fujii said. “They’ve never apologized for any war crimes … so why would they come to say sorry now. Even if Obama apologized during his visit, it would be too late.”
He added, he would not expect an apology from Americans whose perceptions of war crimes differ from those of Japanese. Moreover, he speculated that the decision is viewed unfavorably in the U.S.
“He’s losing popularity and knows he won’t be re-elected as president, so he doesn’t need to fear any consequences of his visit,” Fujii said.
Following Washington’s announcement of the visit Tuesday evening, The Japan Times began an online poll asking Internet users whether Obama should apologize.
More than 600 people responded as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, with about 62 percent saying he should not. About 38 percent of respondents said he should.
Of the total, 41 percent said no apology is needed, but they urged Obama to make a commitment to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.