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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs