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Thursday, July 11, 2013

To better bridge the gap between Japan, Korea, and China, let's measure the gap within Japan

A few comments following an article in the WSJ's JapanRealTime today*, about a Pew Research poll** on the image of Japan and Shinzo Abe at home and across Asia.
Unsurprisingly, Japan fares much better in Southeast Asia than in China or Korea, where 85% of the people disapprove this most controversial PM... who certainly contributed to the spectacular deterioration of the image of Japan over the past few years: negative opinions reach 77% in ROK (+25 pts since 2008) and 90% in China (+16 pts since 2006).
And this poll was held between March 4 and April 6 2013, before the sick Abe - Hashimoto duet climax mid-May (see previous episodes)...

JRT @ WSJ today

Regarding the score of Indonesia. I remember that back in the late 80s, views on Japan were still very critical there, and now 79% of the population see it favorably, one of the best score among Southeast Asian nations. But this can be easily explained:
  • Indonesia is not exposed to provocations from top Japanese politicians as recurently as China or Korea, countries where, in the first place, Imperial Japan atrocities were arguably the most extreme
  • Unlike Japan's aging neighbors, Indonesia is experiencing a baby boom that completely modified its demographics, accelerating the 'pastization' of that period (one fourth of the population doesn't know how to answer the question about Japan apologies for Imperial Japan crimes)
  • Japan not only invests a lot in the Indonesian economy, but also provides considerable amounts of aid. China is probably more perceived as a fiend nowdays.
Regarding the public opinion in Japan, the Pew Research poll also confirmed significant trends we recently mentioned***:
  • Abe's popularity remains stellar at home with a 71% approval rate, and very little variations across key demographics. In spite of recent hiccups, "Abenomics" continue to play in his favor.
  • I just wrote yesterday about the project of changing Japan's Constitution so that the nation can become an offensive military power again (NB: in "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution" - the "Abeignomics" part of the equation). The proportion of people supporting these changes keeps increasing: over the past 7 years, supporters jumped from 27 to 36%, while opponents decreased from 67 to 56%. But here, demographics and particularly testosterone levels seem to make a difference: only 28% of Japanese women are ready to embrace militarism, compared to 45% for men.
Now regarding the question "Has Japan sufficently apologized for its military actions during the 1930s and 1940s?" (98% of South Koreans answer NO, 78% of the Chinese, 28% of the Japanese). It doesn't tell us much about what people actually know about the issues, and what is behind this very vague and neutral label "military actions". We do know that only 1% of South Koreans don't know what to answer, compared to 9% of Japanese or 38% of Malaysians, but we don't know how much the 48% of the Japanese who think the apologies were sufficient know about the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan, or if they are even aware that war crimes were committed, not to mention the fact that their dear Emperor himself gave the nod for the infamous Unit 731.

Note that the knowledge regarding Imperial Japan war crimes is not homogeneous among the victim nations either: for instance, the Chinese are certainly more aware of the Nanking massacre than the Koreans, who are themselves certainly more aware of the sexual slavery system for the Japanese military than the Dutch (in case you didn't know: among the hundreds of thousands of "Comfort Women", about 300 were Dutch girls and women).

If Nazi atrocities also covered a wide range of crimes, the Holocaust remains the ultimate reference, allowing surveys that can help clearly measure levels of awareness or denial, draw comparisons between countries. And if one cannot and should not compare 'Comfort Women' tragedy with the Holocaust, it could become an international marker to measure the perception of Imperial Japan beyond its "military actions". More and more people across the world are able to answer these two questions: "are you aware of the existence of a large scale system forcing hundreds of thousands of girls and women into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japan military (euphemistically referred to as 'Comfort Women')?", "do you consider it as a war crime?" If you answer "yes" to both, you'll probably do the same for the rest: "do you think the Japanese government should formally recognize war crimes, apologize for them, prosecute war criminals, make negationism and the praising of war crimes illegal, remove war criminals from Yasukuni shrine?"

Japan has, to this day, refused to recognize any war crime, and as long as descendants from Imperial Japan leaders control the local politics, that's not about to change. Consider that Shinzo Abe's own maternal grand-father, Nobusuke Kishi, a man also known as the "Showa Era Monster", a man who served under Hideki Tojo as Minister of Commerce and Industry, overlooking economic mobilization and thus forced labor, a man who only escaped trial as a Class A war criminal because in 1948 the US decided to recycle a bunch of key hardliners to secure a very conservative Japan during the Cold War****... consider that this man could still become PM between 1957 and 1960!

Speaking of Japan and the Holocaust. I just re-read Rotem Kowner's piece on the rise and fall of Holocaust denial in Japan*****, and to me it illustrates perfectly Japan's dichotomy in political / historical awareness:
  • On one side, the neo-fascist minority that cripples the whole political system manages to put a lid on wartime atrocities, denying the crimes, making sure no law emerges that would make denial illegal (Japan had to wait until 1999 to see a - local - ruling stating the existence of the Holocaust)
  • On the other side, the vast peaceful majority that now associate the Holocaust with the bombing of Hiroshima-Nagasaki (another war crime and trauma with long lasting effects), but without mentioning the responsibility of the Imperial regime in the conflict, or of course the countless war crimes it perpetrated
  • This ignorance / selective memory serves the purpose of the revisionists, because the dark side of Japan's history remains hidden under the overwhelming lid of nuclear apocalypse, and because Japan is presented as a victim... which ironically paves the way for their project of revising the Constitution to discard the peaceful nature of Post-War Japan, and restore the belligerent nature of Imperial Japan (see "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution"). After the Rape of Nankin, that's the Rape of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the victims of atomic bombings become victim a second time, forced into becoming propaganda tools for the impostors who want to disgrace Japan for the second time.
6 in 10 Japanese think their country should be more respected than it is overseas. They have the power to fix that by voting for democracy, honor, and justice or at least, since no one seem to be representing these values in their most devastated political landscape, by removing from power the dangerous minority of fascists who've been corrupting their whole political system for decades.

It would be easier if the right questions were asked. To better bridge the gap between Japan and its neighbors, it would be interesting to measure and follow the gap between what the Japanese people knows and what the Japanese leaders know.

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* "Japan's Glaring Image Gap" (Wall Street Journal - 20130712)
** "Japanese Public's Mood Rebounding, Abe Highly Popular" (Pew Research - 20130711)
*** see scores mentioned in "So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?"
**** see previous episodes, most recently "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution"
**** the US were clearly instrumental in the lack of justice for Imperial Japan war crimes (see "Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan"), and I'm glad to see many American local authorities show the way (e.g. Glendale, CA will also have a memorial for the victims of sexual slavery)
***** see "Tokyo recognizes Auschwitz: the rise and fall of Holocaust denial in Japan, 1989–1999" (Rotem KOWNER - Journal of Genocide Research (2001), 3(2), 257–272)

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