Japanese Amnesia. Guest blogger: Susan Menadue Chun

Feb 7, 2013

In the Washington Post articles http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/japan-must-face-the-past/2013/01/25/7a9b9244-6713-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_story.html  Jennifer Lind describes how Japanese conservative politicians have been playing a potentially dangerous game in disputes with neighbouring countries. The dispute arises mainly because of Japan’s inability to acknowledge its past aggression.

The current Japanese hostility to neighbours is in part designed to distract national attention away from the country’s economic woes. Fortunately, Prime Minister Abe did not antagonise the ROK on territory issues as feared on Takeshima Day on 3 February 2013.(Takeshima/Dokdo are the disputed islands between Japan and ROK). Hopefully, it is a sign that Prime Minister Abe is becoming more moderate. He may even decide not to make any more visits to the Yasukuni Shrine which commemorates Japanese war criminals and others.

The present hostility to neighbours may only cause short-term damage in Japan’s relations with neighbouring countries. However, there is the likelihood of continuing long-term damage as a result of Japan’s reinterpretation of history which is taught in schools under the direction of the Department of Education. After World War II a new and standardised national identity was created through the school curriculum. This curriculum reinterpreted history. As a result, the majority of Japanese adults, including conservative politicians themselves, have not had access to the teaching of a comprehensive view of history. They fail to comprehend why Japan’s neighbouring countries continue to be angered over Japan’s denial of the past on such sensitive issues as comfort women. The modifying of history through textbooks has indeed affected the Japanese public. It has caused a collective amnesia. It is likely to continue as conservative politicians are now proposing to further revise school texts to reflect their nationalistic view of history. The current damage could be made worse and reconciliation with neighbours could become all that much more difficult.

The problem runs deeper than the current indiscretions of conservative politicians. The problem is endemic as a result of 60 years of Japanese reinterpretation of history.

Susan Menadue Chun

Tokyo, Japan

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