News

Time Has Not Healed War Wounds Japan Inflicted in Asia

Multimedia

Audio

This month marks 60 years since the end of World War II in the Pacific, but Japan's neighbors say the country has yet to fully accept its role in starting the conflict and the suffering it inflicted in the nations it occupied. Japan's stance continues to cause problems in its relations with most of the rest of Asia.

The mix of spiritual and martial music from a ceremony at the Yasukuni Shinto shrine in Tokyo is an echo of an era when state religion was intertwined with militarism.

For Japan's Asian neighbors, Yasukuni is testament that Japan has never really atoned for its aggression in the 20th century. Many countries hold bitter memories of Japan's invasions, brutal colonialism and its slaughter of civilians and prisoners during World War II, which ended 60 years ago this month.

For the Japanese, however, the shrine is the eternal home of the souls of the entire nation's war dead. But it is controversial because that includes those convicted of war crimes.

Yasukuni chief priest Toshiaki Nambu says the shrine merely tries to console the victims of wars.

He says Yasukuni is not a haven of militarism, it is not a shrine dedicated to violence and he wants the world to properly understand this.

But every time Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits the shrine, China, South and North Korea express outrage. They say Japanese officials should not honor convicted war criminals.

There are few signs that Japanese leaders will budge on the issue of Yasukuni, or back away from other controversial actions. In fact, more and more voices are entering the mainstream debate in defense of Japan's 20th century militarism, including Professor Yasuo Ohara of Kokugakuin University.

Professor Ohara says it is not as simple as Chinese accusations of Japanese aggression. He says some Asian countries, such as Malaysia, appreciated the Japanese Imperial Army freeing them in the 1940s from Western colonialism. The professor admits Japan made mistakes, but it must be put in a more balanced perspective.

To many Asians, this attitude is unforgivable. They want Japan to follow the lead of Germany, which expressed profound remorse and educated its citizens about the horrors it inflicted and its responsibility for the deaths of millions of civilians during the war.

Japan has expressed regret repeatedly for any suffering it caused, most recently on August 2. But that falls far short of the atonement demanded by governments in Beijing, Seoul and elsewhere. Many critics also complain that Japan's schools do not teach students about its militaristic past and aggression in World War II.

Other critics say Tokyo has not tried to stop the recent deterioration in its relations with its neighbors. The approval of controversial textbooks that some people say whitewash Japan's past, sparked anti-Japanese protests this year in China and South Korea, and brought relations between Beijing and Tokyo to their lowest level in three decades.

Kasuhiro Haraguchi, a member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Party, blames the prime minister for this. Mr. Koizumi, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party, has focused on domestic reform during his four years in office and Mr. Haraguchi says he has used Yasukuni and the textbooks in a struggle to maintain the support of the party's conservative factions.

"Koizumi administration has no diplomatic strategy and no relationship with the leadership in China or in Korea. Koizumi's power base is very weak in the LDP, so he raised nationalism for domestic political reasons."

Balbina Hwang, Northeast Asia policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, agrees Japan could take steps to improve relations with its neighbors.

"If Japan really wants to win this battle over China and both Koreas, the best way to do it is for Japan to take away their ammunition," she said. "If they do so as a society, address these issues domestically, South Korea, China, North Korea have nothing to consistently accuse [Japan]. Then they're essentially blowing hot air and the world can see that."

In recent years, both South Korea and China have seen a rise in domestic nationalism and have become assertive in international affairs. Both have begun to confront Japan over territorial disputes that had long been ignored and to challenge Tokyo in other areas.

For decades after World War II, Beijing and Seoul were relatively mute about Japanese atrocities. Some analysts say that was before Japan re-emerged as an economic power and Beijing and other regional capitals realized they had a guilt card they could play at the diplomatic table.

But many Japanese accuse Asian governments of overplaying that hand. They say those countries ignore Japan's record of peace over the past 60 years and the billions of dollars Tokyo has given in aid. Now, many in Japan want their government to abandon the passivity it has shown in international dealings since the war, including lifting a ban on deploying forces except in self-defense.

James Przystup is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Washington. He warns the region could be heading into a downward spiral, in which worries about nationalism in one country prompt a similar path in another.

"It's a chicken-and-egg situation," he said. "Nationalism in both China and Japan is on the upswing and it is focused on issues that are very sensitive issues as sovereignty issues are. These are issues of concern certainly in terms of potential for increased tensions, potential for conflict."

Many in Asia hope that the significant economic and cultural ties between Japan and the rest of Northeast Asia can overcome old animosities. But at this stage and on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Tokyo and its neighbors appear to be allowing nationalist pursuits to interfere with their shared interests.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs