Japanese amnesia and the contrast with Germany. Guest blogger: Susan Menadue Chun

Aug 27, 2013

Our four Australian/Korean children were educated in Japanese primary schools.

Every summer holiday we struggled through the prescribed homework text- Natsu no Tomo (Summer’s friend). In the early August segment, there were assignments regarding WWII. They stated, “talk to your parents about WWII and write a composition about the importance of peace”. So, we talked to our children about their Korean grandfather, how he was conscripted from Korea into the Japanese army, how he fought in the savage battles on the Truk Island, was injured and was badly treated because he was not Japanese. In retrospect, writing about a Korean grandfather was probably off-limits as all Japanese children were expected to write the customary composition regarding how the Japanese had suffered as a result of the nuclear bomb and the importance of peace. Every following year in the Natsu no Tomo the topic never progressed past the nuclear bomb and a peace discussion. There was no mention of Japan’s hostile war of aggression. Because the nuclear bomb transformed Japan into a victim, education played the key role in creating what many Japan critics call collective amnesia.

Our homework chronicle was 25 years ago. Not a great deal has changed, Japanese textbooks still barely mention Japan’s war of aggression and the ultra-right nationalists have been successful in making war crimes such as the Comfort Women and the Rape of Nanking a taboo topic.

I have just returned from Germany. In comparison to, Japan, where the insensitive gaffes of Japanese politicians are relentless denial and whitewashing of history, Germany is coming to terms with its horrific past. All over Germany I found monuments displaying remorse for the carnage and the terror Germany caused. As I looked out over the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, (that covers the area equivalent of a housing estate) I couldn’t help thinking about the Japanese diplomatic outrage triggered by the monuments erected for Comfort Women outside of Japan in places such as Seoul, New Jersey and Los Angles.  The stepping stones, in Berlin with real names, memorializing the deportation of Jews to concentration camps, made me think about the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the massacre of thousands of Koreans that followed. However, collective amnesia again conveniently helps the Japanese public pretend the massacre never happened.

Public monuments help to reinforce historical facts. But most importantly, monuments can demonstrate contrition. In the 37 years I have lived in Japan, on occasion I have stumbled across privately erected monuments for Japan’s WWII victims- particularly the Koreans and the Chinese. But sadly they have invariably been desecrated by Japanese ultra-nationalists.

If Germany can come to terms with its horrific past, so can Japan, Collective amnesia denigrates victims and is extremely unfair to Japan’s next generation.

Nothing you can do can change the past, but everything we can do changes the future (Ashleigh Brilliant).

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