Recently, China and Korea have expressed outrage at a new Japanese history textbook that glosses over Japanese wartime atrocities, and at Japanese politicians visiting Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honored along with the rest of Japan's war dead.
Springing into action, Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology yesterday for his country's past actions that hit all the right notes. The Mainichi Daily News reports:
"Our country caused huge damage and pain to many countries, especially our Asian neighbors, through colonial rule and aggression, " Koizumi said.Sounds good, except for a bit of poor timing: On the very same day Koizumi was issuing his apology, 80 other members of Japan's national Diet, most of them from Koizumi's party, were paying a visit to Yasukuni Shrine. The unfortunate juxtaposition of events inspired the following editorial cartoon in Korea's Chosun Ilbo:
..."We humbly face historical facts. Through deep regret and a heartfelt apology, Japan became an economic superpower after World War II but not a military giant and has maintained a policy of settling any problems peacefully without resorting to armed force," Koizumi said.
"We are determined to contribute to world peace and prosperity, while at the same time place importance on trustful relationships with other countries."
Japan's bumbling diplomacy plays into cultural sterotypes of Japanese saying one thing but doing another. To put it more delicately, it seems to illustrate the the Japanese concepts of tatemae, the face one presents to the world, and honne, one's true feelings.
But does it really? I personally don't doubt that Koizumi, and almost all Japanese, do honestly regret the harm Japan once inflicted on its Asian neighbors. Surely, its past sixty years of peaceful coexistence with them must go a long way towards proving its sincere rejection of its militarist past. Yet as long as Japan's actions continue to undermine its words, Koizumi's latest apology is unlikely to have an impact any greater than the dozens of other official apologies Japan has issued over the past several decades.
To break this cycle of impotent outrage and empty apology, Japan should do two things:
(1) Set forth a minimum required treatment of certain historical events, such as the Rape of Nanking and the use of comfort women, for all history textbooks. They should be addressed in sufficient detail to provide students an understanding of what really happened. Such texts can still allow Japanese students to take pride in all that their nation has accomplished, and how far it has progressed, since then. Indeed, ignoring Japan's dramatic postwar transformation would be just as misleading as glossing over its wartime actions.
(2) Redefine Yasukuni Shrine (or, perhaps, dedicate a new shrine) as a memorial to all Japanese war dead, without giving special emphasis to military leaders or war criminals. No one can fairly object to a nation honoring its dead. Singling out the architects of Japan's invasion of China and Korea for special honor generates much antipathy toward Japan without providing any particular benefit.
I've written before that China has a lot of nerve criticizing Japan when China itself tolerates no interference in its own "internal affairs". But that doesn't mean China, and Korea, are fundamentally wrong. If only it would take a few key actions, Japan could finally put an end to its decades-long string of apologies. And China and Korea would have to find something else to complain about.
You can't beat primary research. As I learned when I went to Yasukuni yesterday, there is no part of the shrine itself specifically dedicated to the war criminals.
However, their spirits were inducted into the shrine in a separate ceremony some years after the war, which may have given the impression that these men were being accorded a distinctive honor.
Also, there is a war museum practically next door to the shrine that goes into great detail about Japan's military history, including the actions of men like Tojo, from (as might be expected) a very sympathetic perspective.
I'm planning a further post about Yasukuni, but it's going to take a little time.