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Two recent positions taken by the Japanese government — denial of the military’s use of physical force to recruit “comfort women” during the Pacific War and the decision to start hunting humpback whales — make Tokyo appear determined to alienate the rest of Asia and the West. There must be some reason for these inexplicable actions. Things become a little more comprehensible if one takes into account the Japanese value system, which stresses group loyalty over objective truth.

The story of “Chushingura,” based on the real-life Ako Incident, is instructive. In both the actual and fictionalized versions, 47 samurai became heroes for murdering the man who had ordered their lord to commit seppuku two years earlier (in 1701) for attacking the man in the shogun’s palace.

In my value system, the 47 samurai were guilty of murder and the man they killed, Kira, was a victim twice over: He was first attacked and injured by Naganori Asano, and then he had his head chopped off by a phalanx of Asano’s vengeful warriors. Yet, in Japan, these warriors are admired for their “sincerity.” Instead of considering exactly what Kira did to provoke Lord Asano plus abstract ideas of right and wrong, we are expected to admire the singleness of purpose and selflessness of Asano’s retainers who, in turn, were ordered to commit seppuku.

I think the Japanese government is also taking a self-destructive path by adamantly sticking to its positions without considering how offensive they might be to foreign governments. Tokyo needs to realize that Japan belongs to a wider group: the international community.

eric hilton

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