How Japan Can Overcome Its Historical Issues

Did America’s President Obama and China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping make a deal about Japan’s historical issues?  Has a “Second Nixon Shock” occurred, with a Sino-American rapprochement that goes behind Japan’s back?  This photo is of their discussions in Washington in February 2012.

There are indications that the American Secretary of State John Kerry made a “deal” between the US and China concerning Japan’s historical issues during his visit in mid-April. It was a backroom deal for “the US to put pressure on Japan over its historical issues” and for “China to put pressure on North Korea over its missile launch issues”.


A Sino-American Backroom Deal on Historical Issues?

After Kerry returned to the US, America vehemently began to find fault with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stance on historical issues.

The Obama administration unofficially expressed its “concern” to Japan, and the US Congressional Research Service criticized Abe for “having a revisionist view of history that denies Japan’s aggression”.

Leading US mass media also concentrated their fire. The New York Times criticized Japanese cabinet ministers’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine as “extremely thoughtless actions”. The Washington Post published an editorial stating that “Prime Minister Abe cannot face up to history”.

In response, Prime Minister Abe was forced to declare that his government would stick to the “Murayama Statement” (See Note 1), in which a previous Cabinet apologized for “colonial rule and aggression” in Asia. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga later announced that there was no policy to review the “Kono Statement”, which had recognized that the former Japanese Imperial Army had forced women to provide solace for the troops, even though it has now become clear that there was no coercion.

Prime Minister Abe also toned down his comments on the revision of Article 96 of the Constitution, for which he had previously shown strong enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, China applied its strongest pressure ever on North Korea. In April, North Korea continued with its provocations by preparing to launch mid-range missiles, but major Chinese banks, in early May after Kerry’s visit to China, suspended transactions with North Korea and strictly imposed economic sanctions. In response to this, North Korea removed its missiles in mid-May and stopped its reckless behavior.

It seems as if the US and China closely cooperated to prevent Japan’s “rightward drift” and North Korea’s missile launch.

(Note 1) On August 15th, 1995, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Socialist Party government, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, announced the Murayama Statement. It clearly acknowledged that Japanese colonial rule and aggression tremendously damaged Asian countries and caused them to suffer. Mr Murayama used the words “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology”.


A New Type of International Relations between the Major Powers:
The Compatibility of Barack Obama and Xi Jinping

President Obama and General Secretary Xi Jinping actually seem to be compatible.

When Xi was inaugurated as head of state in March, he held a telephone conversation with Obama in which he said, “I want to find a path for a new win-win type of superpower relations”. For his part, in early April Obama told the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to the US, “I want to make every effort to build a new type of superpower relations”.

What is more, Xi repeated the same words in his discussions with Kerry in Beijing in May, and added that “the Pacific is wide enough to accommodate both the US and China”. He as good as said let’s “split” the Pacific Ocean between the US and China, and Kerry simply parroted, “I want to concentrate my energies on the US and China building a new type of superpower relations”. Xi reminded him that a condition for this new type of superpower relations is “the respect of one another’s core interests”.

The only way to see it is that Obama and Xi are secretly in cahoots.


Has the “Second Nixon Shock” Happened?

After Kerry’s visit to China, Chinese “pressure” on Japan suddenly increased. In early May, the People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party organ, published an article saying that the jurisdiction of Okinawa is “a pending issue and an unresolved problem”. Immediately after that, an editorial in the Global Times, an affiliated newspaper, argued that influence “should be cultivated” to advocate “Ryukyu independence” in the Okinawa Prefecture.

“Ryukyu independence” is clearly connected with Chinese annexation in a direct sense, and it would seem that China’s expansionism has been unleashed.

Japanese foreign affairs commentator Hisahiko Okazaki contributed an article to Japan’s Sankei Newspaper on April 10th, before Kerry’s visit to China, in which he wrote, “I cannot suppress my concern that there will be a Sino-American rapprochement that goes behind Japan’s back, like the Nixon Shock of the past”.

The term “Nixon Shock” refers to the “event” where a close aide of President Nixon went to China without sounding out or consulting Japan in advance and completely transformed America’s diplomatic relations with China. From the words and deeds of diplomats, Okazaki predicted that under the Obama administration “it would not be at all strange if at some point there were a rapprochement with China without notifying Japan in advance.

There is now a strong possibility that his prediction has already become reality.


Is Japan Still Anti-Democratic?

One element that unites the US and China is the historical viewpoint that “pre-war Japan was fascist”.

The argument that “democratic countries such as the US and Britain fought against totalitarian Japan with its system of state Shinto centered on the Emperor” places Japan in the company of Germany’s Nazis and Italy’s fascists. However, that is clearly mistaken since parliamentary democracy already existed in pre-war Japan.

Nevertheless, there were aspects that America and Britain inevitably viewed as anti-democratic.

The way in which kamikaze units crashed into enemy ships and soldiers fought to the death shouting “long live the Emperor!” was seen as being “opposed to democracy, the aim of which is the happiness of the individual”. That is why American leaders felt it their mission “to enlighten this backward race”, and tried to introduce an American-style democracy in Japan (though that might have been true, it did not justify the mass slaughter of civilians in the Great Tokyo Air Raid and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).


Why do Westerners Detest Yasukuni Shrine?

After the war, all of the war dead, in other words “beings close to the gods”, were enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine, including the leaders who had ordered the kamikaze attacks and the deaths without surrender. The religious beliefs of Japanese Shinto enshrine even vengeful spirits as gods.

In mid-May, the current envoy at the Japanese Embassy in Washington invited foreign reporters to a meeting in the city at which he explained the issue of historical awareness and the Yasukuni problem. Using the animated movie “Spirited Away” as his theme, he sought to create an understanding regarding Japanese Shinto and Yasukuni Shrine. The 8 million ancient gods of Japan appear in this movie, so in other words, many types of specters are included in the scenes. Japanese Shinto’s animistic sense of values includes them in the rank of “gods”. When they heard, the foreigners could no doubt understand that “the Japanese venerate everything as a god”. Although on the other hand, they probably felt that it was a slightly backward religion.

In any event, Yasukuni Shrine doubtless arouses the misgiving in Westerners that “even today Japan endorses suicide attacks and deaths without surrender, and it doesn’t respect the happiness of the individual, so it’s probably not a democratic country”.

This misgiving is also linked with the way in which Westerners feel they cannot endorse Islamic extremism. Islamic extremists frequently carry out terrorist attacks where people turn themselves into human bombs and throw away their own lives. Islam teaches that such terrorists will go to heaven when they die, so there is something there rather akin to the thinking of Yasukuni Shrine, which venerates kamikaze units and the people who gave them their orders as heroic spirits.

The Yasukuni issue is a conflict that involves the religious views of Japanese Shinto and Christianity, and in some ways cannot be laid to rest by simply saying, “We both have a different way of looking at things.” It is a conflict that involves value systems and whether or not people regard the respect for each person’s happiness as important.


The Difficulty in Understanding Japanese Shinto

The thinking of Japanese Shinto is extremely obscure from the perspective of Westerners, and most Japanese cannot explain it well themselves.

Japanese Shinto has as its core gods such as Amenominakanushi with his teachings on progress that are close to America’s New Thought, and Amaterasu Omikami with her spirit of “harmony”. Under this ideology, the advanced Nara and Heian civilizations blossomed and reached the highest living standards in the world. The world-famous miracles of the Meiji modernization and Japan’s rapid post-war growth also occurred due to the positive influence of the Shinto faith.

On the other hand, Japanese Shinto still has animistic values that also regard specters as gods. Animals such as snakes and foxes, as well as plants such a sacred trees, are venerated as gods.

Christianity and Buddhism, which have written teachings and separate everything into right and wrong, are seen as what could be called “advanced religions”. Although Japanese Shinto has a potent ideology of progress and harmony, in some ways, there is no clear distinction between right and wrong in its stipulated teachings, so it is sometimes seen as a “primitive religion”.

Japan historically compensated for this backward aspect by incorporating “advanced religions” such as Buddhism.

After Meiji, the State Shinto system suppressed Buddhism by way of an “anti-Buddhist movement” and rejected its “advanced religion” teachings. It could be said that this is why the values that “regarded the respect for each person’s happiness as important” faded.


Japan as the Standard-Bearer of Democracy

Even though such issues with State Shinto and Japanese Shinto exist, it is clearly an intervention, even if America does it, for another country to meddle in the comforting of the spirits of the people who died in battle. What should Japan do to overcome its series of historical issues while making legitimate objections?

For good or for bad, the Constitution forced on Japan by America after the war gave us a way of thinking typified by “the right to the pursuit of happiness” (Article 13) and it is now firmly established. America destroyed the State Shinto system and, in that sense, we could say that a “reformation” occurred.

In order to overcome the historical issues, there is probably nothing better than for Japan to act resolutely to outdo America in transmitting throughout the world values that regard the respect for each person’s happiness as important; values that are the foundation of democracy. Since, as I mentioned just now, America, which should be “the standard-bearer of democracy”, is pushing forward with the construction of “a new type of superpower relations” with China.

However, a country already exists close to Japan that is causing the most damage in the world to individual respect and happiness.

It is thought that China has more 3 million people in concentration camps and “laogai” who were sent there without a proper trial. Mao Tsetung purged as many as 6.5 million people.

Freedom of speech is greatly restricted, and people are arrested if they criticize the Communist Party. Religious liberty is only tolerated under the guidance of the Communist Party. 1.3 billion people are still being oppressed under its one-party rule.

If America stops being “the standard-bearer of democracy”, that means that it will avert its eyes from the on-going misery in North Korea.

In North Korea, hundreds of thousands of people have been incarcerated in state-run prison camps simply because they “criticized the system” or “believed in religion”, and many of them have been barbarically killed after being treated as less than animals. To start with, its 24 million citizens are like prisoners, and it has been reported that 2 million people starved to death in the 1990s.

Auschwitz is said to have killed 1.5 million Nazi victims, but a tragedy worse than the mass killing of the Jews is still going on today.


Saving the Oppressed People of China and North Korea

In January, when Prime Minister Abe visited Indonesia, he proclaimed, “We will deepen our involvement with countries that share our values of freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights, and spread these values in Asia.” However, if we look at what he is actually doing, there is very little of this “spreading [of values] in Asia”.

In May, Prime Minister Abe sent Cabinet Secretary Isao Iijima to North Korea as his personal representative for discussions aimed at the resolution of the issue of Japanese abductees. Abe’s ideas of “freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights” are now limited to the Japanese, and his proclamation was merely an empty slogan.

This attempt to resolve only the Japanese abductee issue is too limited in scope, and it is not a fitting of the Japanese superpower. Japan should be pursuing a mission to smash the totalitarian systems of China and North Korea. It should save the people of both these countries.

Japan can take over the protector of freedom role from the US, and defend democracy and human rights in Asia and Africa.


Making Japan a Country that Respects Religion

Japan has to take action since America has lost its sense of “justice”. The most important thing in order to do that is to become “a country that respects religion”, not just Japanese Shinto, but also advanced religions like Buddhism and Christianity.

As we can see from looking at the American Declaration of Independence, God created all human beings equal and gave them the right to the pursuit of happiness. In other words, the basis of everyone having human rights such as the right to pursue happiness is that “human beings are children of the gods and children of Buddha”. According to materialistic values, human beings are not sacred. Japanese people should first be required to value religion, and realize that “as children of the gods and children of Buddha, we are sacred”.

Only then will we be able to tell the people of China and North Korea, “You, too, are children of the gods and children of Buddha, and therefore you are sacred.” Then, we will be able to save them from “despotism and slavery”.

Japan, when it becomes a religious nation, will transform China and North Korea into democratic countries, and at the same time it will raise them to the position of global leaders. When that happens, the historical issues will simply become history.

(Jiro Ayaori)

How Japan Can Overcome Its Historical Issues
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