The New Yushukan – a more refined elitist self-delusion

Over the Golden Week holidays, I had the chance to visit Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead and the Yushukan, a museum on the shrine grounds that mainly focuses on the military history of modern Japan through World War II. It was my first time to the museum, and it ended up being well worth the 800 yen admission fee, if only to catch a glimpse of mainstream right-wing thought on the war. Without pretending to expertise on the subject, I’d like to give a quick rundown of my visit and some impressions.

We visited on Saturday, and our first encounter was with an outdoor antique market, in full swing despite the light rain. The lineup of wares, while heavily featuring elaborate ivory carvings (a scale model ship was the most impressive bit elephant tusk), were an interesting assortment of Showa-era memorabilia. There were old records, collectible cards of forgotten manga characters, tattered Imperial Army uniforms and medals (one in English, perhaps for colonial conscripts?), waifish, flapperesque mannequin heads, old jade, and many vintage magazines (I especially liked a Takarazuka Revue promotion from the 80s and a playbill/promotion from a Japanese stage production of Gone with the Wind). We bumped shoulders with the middle aged female clientele and traded greetings with the cantankerous older men who ran the shops.

After a quick perusal (we didn’t buy anything out of a desire to avoid filling up the apartment with other people’s musty memories), we walked under the enormous tori’i arch and past the refreshment stand. Some men, elderly but not elderly enough to have fought in WW2, sat in front of the vending machines, decked out in military gear. One wore a t-shirt calling on “all Japanese to be proud” of their Yamato racial heritage. Are those of the Yayoi stock not their compatriots?

We showed our guest the prayer-and-donation area where Koizumi made his controversial visits and turned right, past the memorial sakura grove and the stage to the square in front of the museum.

By my count, there are four major memorials in the square – for war horses, dogs, pigeons, battleships, and Justice Pal, the Indian representative at the Tokyo tribunals who issued a dissenting opinion that Japan was not guilty of waging a war of aggression. He gets quite a large concrete memorial, with his photo and a key quote written in Japanese calligraphy. At first I wondered why Justice Pal, who is neither Japanese nor enshrined at Yasukuni, would warrant higher billing than, say, Tojo or Admiral Yamamoto. But as we shall see later, war crimes, and the legacy of Japan’s ruling elite, are the overwhelming theme of the Yushukan.

As we entered the building, the first things we saw were: directly in front, a locomotive that once ran over the “bridge of death” over the River Kwai; to the left, a Mitsubishi Zero fighter; and the ticket machines (800 yen) on the right.

The museum starts on the second floor, and before the real exhibits begin you can take a look at some “fan artwork” — there is a stylized rendering of a pilot training center, some preserved cherry blossoms from when they were in full bloom last month, and a somewhat odd statue featuring a brave WW2-era Japanese soldier with, if I remember correctly, a woman on his right and a naked boy to the left who would probably be best described as “savage” in the colonial sense of the word.

The first main exhibit is a quick rundown of pre-Edo and Edo period Japan, focusing on the “samurai spirit” that the museum claims has been a consistent code of Japanese warriors. The explanations and displays of armor are accompanied by pictures of the great leaders from Warring States through the WW2 era, with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, uniter of the archipelago, gaining a place next to Admiral Yamamoto, a man who plunged Japan into war with the United States despite having bluntly told Prince Konoe that such a war was unwinnable.

We were then treated to the section on the late Edo period, when the shogun was forced into signing unequal treaties with the Western Powers, a move that would eventually result in civil wars and the “restoration” of the emperor and the construction of modern Japan.

Here the translations were extremely spotty. There was plenty of explanation of geopolitics (the Opium Wars are duly noted for foreign visitors), but several interesting facts were left in Japanese only – for instance, a chart showing the number of foreign ships sighted off of Japan’s coasts in the 19th century (very few until the 1850s), a depiction of attacks on foreigners perpetrated by pro-emperor agitators in the “sonnou-joui” (“respect the emperor, expel the foreigners”) campaign; and no translation of passages showing how that movement turned its anger at the shogunate. Also, no translation of the descriptions of various nations by the Iwakura Mission (“Britain is a model of even development!”)

The message, however, was clear – Japan was forced into national disgrace by a weak shogunate, the pro-emperor faction fought and won control of the country, and it was this faction, and its ingenious leadership, who took Japan deftly into the modern era by learning from the West, renegotiating the unequal treaties, and embarking on the national modernization drive.

For the uninitiated such as myself, it might be perplexing why Yasukuni Shrine would feel the need to spend so much time playing up the events and achievements of the late Edo/early Meiji era. One more obvious motive is the need to characterize the West as a dangerous imperialist power that Japan has needed to deal with since that era. The other, detailed in the section of the museum that outlines Yasukuni’s history, surprised me – Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 to commemorate those who died for the emperor in the pre-Restoration civil wars.

From there it was on to Japan’s development and colonial period, which was fairly unremarkable except for the fact that triumphal arches were once a common sight throughout Japan, though most have been taken down. While the Meiji section fascinated me, I will admit that the complicated geopolitics from the first Sino-Japanese war through the Marco Polo Bridge Incident made my eyes glaze over. I will note that Japan’s unsuccessful proposal to the League of Nations to ban all forms of racial discrimination receives prominent mention.

The WW2 section is also quite convoluted. Both this and the previous section seem aimed straight at the hardcore nationalists who are likely the most enthusiastic visitors. The basic story seemed to be, everything was going great (they really nailed the Brits in SE Asia) until “the turning point” and then they were pretty much doomed.

As far as I can remember, there was no section on the home front (no bamboo spears) and not a word about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the interpretation of the bomb is sensitive even in Japan, I guess the rightists didn’t want to get near that.

The immediate aftermath of Japan’s loss is briefly touched on (captured soldiers sent to Soviet gulags, another monument to Justice Pal), and then, finally, after a whole museum dedicated to Japan’s wondrous political leadership, a memorial to the Japanese who died in World War II. The walls are lined with small photographs, along with a profile containing their names, some vital stats, and how they died (in battle, of a battle-related disease, etc.). There are also exhibits of personal effects.

Though this seemed like the logical end of the museum, on our way out there was a final exhibit of the various suicide attack weapons – small fighter planes and manned torpedoes. The sheer size of the exhibits probably dictated their location, but it was a little jarring to see a respectful homage to the countless war dead followed by what seemed like a justification for pointless, desperate suicide missions that came into full use only after the war was a lost cause. The explanation next to the fighter plane implied that the pilots used ejector seats to escape and survive after the attacks. A video in the corner featured a Western reporter interviewing (in fluent Japanese) a surviving kamikaze pilot who seemed to be dismissing the conventional wisdom on kamikaze attacks, but unfortunately I did not stick around for that.

Last week’s visit came well after the museum’s 2006-2007 renovation. Yushukan was widely ridiculed for hyperbolic arguments justifying Japan’s involvement in the war, such as “Roosevelt forced Japan to go to war to lift the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression,” leading some cooler headed conservatives, such as retired diplomat and foreign policy commentator Hisahiko Okazaki, to refine the exhibits and take a more reality-based stab at making the facility’s central arguments.

And overall, the museum benefits greatly from omitting such cheap shots. The views of those involved in the shrine and what it stands for are made much clearer (to name a few: Japan was foisted into the international scene at a time when the great powers were bent on bringing Asia under their domination, good-faith attempts by the Japanese to encourage a more just international system (such as by calling for Korean national sovereignty prior to annexation or by suggesting that the League of Nations proscribe racial discrimination) were constantly thwarted by the West, the denial of Japan’s legitimate interest by the West were ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japan fought bravely but was ultimately outmaneuvered).

Personally, though I deeply disagree with the museum’s approach, I am not offended by the mere existence of a rightist war memorial. The arguments made did not seem particularly pernicious or dishonest, though certain claims (such as “Japan had repeatedly proposed national independence for Korea, but the West rejected the idea” prior to formal annexation in 1905) seemed kind of disingenuous. I am not in much of a position to make a strong case for or against most of the claims, but a private group, especially one so highly revered and with such a key role as Yasukuni, has every right to make an argument from a certain historical perspective.

But despite the outward appearance of officialdom and authoritativeness, Yasukuni could never be a “national” war memorial. The endless beatification of the Japanese ruling elites, including the bunglers who brought about Japan’s destruction in World War II, is as insulting as it is undeserved. The deaths of millions of Japanese, and the complete upending of the society, gets barely an afterthought, not to mention the destruction wrought by the war. In their place are the aforementioned lengthy historical diatribes and minutely detailed geopolitical analysis. Mrs. Adamu commented that it was like a three-dimensional edition of a typical Japanese textbook – lots of names and dates to memorize, not much context.

I had a hard time deciding whether the planners of the museum were simply carried away with respect for the war leaders and the voyeuristic lure of political intrigue, or if they were more interested in refuting the charges of “aggression” and absolving the “So-called Class A War Criminals” to quote the title of a prominent right wing manga on the subject.

This relentlessly defensive tone misses the point of what a war memorial should be about. When average Japanese talk about the war, only rarely will someone bring up the war leaders or the Powers. Mostly people bring up their personal, first/second/third-hand experiences – grandfathers who brought back souvenirs from Manchuria, memories of hunger in the early postwar years, and on and on. Where is the memorial for them?

85 thoughts on “The New Yushukan – a more refined elitist self-delusion”

  1. Nice review, good to get an update on this.

    On the Korean issue, they are being blatantly disingenuous: the various calls for Korean independence were targetted at blunting the influence of other regional powers over the Korean court, on the grounds that — according to Japanese strategic calculations — the only natural and legitimate influence in Korea should be Japanese. They called for Korean independence from China before the Sino-Japanese war (after which China explicitly recognized Japanese interests in Korea), then independence from Russia before the Russo-Japanese war (after which Russia and the US explicitly recognized Japanese innterests in Korea). It’s still not a settled question as to when Korean annexation became Japanese policy, but there never was any question (after about 1876 or so) that control of Korea was critical to Japan’s strategic situation.

  2. Perhaps “unifier” of Japan is better than “uniter” of Japan.

    No photos? Do they not allow pics inside? Would not be surprised.

    An interesting post. I haven’t been to the Yushukan since 1991, and don’t remember much about it. Except that it certainly didn’t cost 800 yen then. I also know a little bit more about Japanese history now than I did then, and it would certainly be interesting to take another look. The thing about the Yushukan, as far as I can tell, is that in many ways they are right. Japan was indeed foisted into the international scene at a time when the great powers were bent on bringing Asia under their domination. Its efforts at racial equality issues were routinely rejected (I would like to read the Versailles reason for rejecting the racial equality clause. Probably available online somewhere mind you): papers from the decades before the war are full of articles and editorials about Western racism and especially immigration restrictions in the US. Much propaganda is based on truth, and takes flight from a solid grounding of fact. As Jonathan Dresner points out, Japan was keen for Korea to be free of Chinese and Russian influence, indeed, but wasn’t exactly altruistic about Korean independence….

    On the Korean issue, the most detailed book in English I know is “The abacus and the sword : the Japanese penetration of Korea, 1895-1910” by Peter Duus. It’s very detailed indeed.

  3. Great post! I have been to the shrine and museum twice and I’m glad to hear they have now toned down some of the more silly exhibits.

    That said, I don’t think the view of history espoused by the museum is entirely inaccurate. It is a reaction to the mystification and beatification of the war in the West. For example it is ridiculous that when the Japanese army slaughtered civilians in China it is (rightly) viewed as an atrocity but when the American army carpet bombed civilian Japanese cities or dropped the A-bombs it is “justified and necessary means to end the war”. It is also ridiculous that Japanese colonialism is somehow more wrong that British or American colonialism (e.g. Philippines). WWII the last war when the propaganda machine was in full swing in the west and it seems many people still have a mystified view of it were America/Britain is fighting a “good war” in the Pacific. In my mind it was simply about empires vying for influence.

    One area I think the museum should focus more on though is the complete failure of the Japanese military and the incompetence of the leaders at the time. More than half of all the Japanese soldiers who perished in the war died from starvation! The Japanese military leaders cared too much about the “Samurai spirit” and too little about supply lines. For a very interesting series of articles on this see Bungei Shunjun (帝国海軍vs米国海軍 in Dec 2007 issue and another one about the army in an earlier issue)

    This is another reason Tojo and the rest shouldn’t be honoured at Yasukuni – they committed war crimes AND they bought complete destruction on their country. America still honours the war time leaders who dropped the A-Bombs which in my mind definitely qualifies as a war crime as well, but at least they were competent and won the war.

    Finally, as you say, unfortunately the shrine as it stands is not a war memorial for all Japanese people. Personally I think it should be nationalised and the right wingers who run it kicked out – I don’t disagree entirely with them but Yasukuni is not the right place for them to express their views. Of course the Japanese constitution with its strict separation of religion and state gets in the way of that… However even though it takes the form of a shrine I don’t think a “War Memorial” should be classified as a religious site and hopefully they can get around to changing the constitution to make it possible at some point. And throw out article 9 at the same time!

  4. Greetings all.

    I took in the museum last Friday. Adam’s detailed depictions are quite impressive – fair, well-thought out, well-written. (Yes, I mean that! Despite the diatribe that follows.) And Adam, you really read both the Japanese and English? Sugoi. I would have been in there a week if I had tried that. Great idea, though, to look at how explanations change when the language (and assumed readers) change.

    Up until the age of imperialism, the exhibit is excellent. Once Japan embarks on foreign adventurism, though, the museum veers quite obviously (but professionally) into whitewashing and self-justification. For example, I also noticed the odd claim that Japan was in favor of Korean sovereignty before the Japanese invasion. JD in his response cleared that one up very nicely. Biased teaching of history in Japan, though, would probably lead many Japanese to accept the claim at face value. Adam, to his credit, does not.

    And the Nanking Massacre? Well, only a single word is given to that. The occupation of Nanking was, ahem, “confused.”

    However, there’s a general problem of tone to Adam’s review, a problem sprung from Euro-America’s own biased teaching of history. (The tone is gentle, soft, understated, could I be wrong?) It’s a problem, I have to admit, that I shared until some rather extensive post-9/11 studies of the imperial history of my own country (USA) opened my eyes a bit.

    Westerners in Japan tend to be quite cognizant of Japanese imperialism and militarism, but generally whitewash our own.

    ADAMMU: Japan was foisted into the international scene at a time when the great powers were bent on bringing Asia under their domination, good-faith attempts by the Japanese to encourage a more just international system (such as by calling for Korean national sovereignty prior to annexation or by suggesting that the League of Nations proscribe racial discrimination) were constantly thwarted by the West….

    MARK: Am I being hyper-sensitive to detect irony here on the part of Adam? Is he implying disbelief that the Japanese, of all people, could really have been fighting racial discrimination? At that time, though, racial discrimination was national policy and entrenched national belief in virtually all of the West. The superiority of western peoples and nations was not to be challenged, especially by upstarts from Asia who bucked world opinion with a lone and despised voice. Were the Japanese racists? No more, and maybe less than were western nations. Japan deserves a bit of credit here.

    ADAMMU CONTINUES, IRONICALLY: …the denial of Japan’s legitimate interest by the West were ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japan fought bravely but was ultimately outmaneuvered.

    MARK: Yes, there is blatant whitewashing by Japan of its own imperialism and militarism. However, because Japan’s militarism is challenged by most of the world, as it should be, the whitewashing is rather underplayed compared to similar whitewashings in American war museums. (OK, I’ve only been to one. In North Carolina, near a major military base. Like Yushukan it was very professional and propagandistic, but the propaganda outdid anything at Yushukan by miles.)

    ADAMMU: [the former] Yushukan was widely ridiculed for hyperbolic arguments justifying Japan’s involvement in the war, such as “Roosevelt forced Japan to go to war to lift the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression,”

    MARK: Too bad American war museums are not similarly ridiculed. In fact, that hyperbolic argument was not all that far off the mark. Japan knew something was up, even if they didn’t exactly understand what. But modern American and Western historians love activist war-like presidents, and FDR is one of their favorites. Such statements, to them, are wild hyperbole and they rule the intellectual agenda. Western war museums therefore easily get away with their pro-war versions of history while Japan’s museums have to walk on eggs.

    The truth is, though, that in the late 30s, Roosevelt was desperate for war while the American people were determined to follow the path of peace. You can debate whether the Prez or the People were right, but you can’t debate the reality of this.

    FDR’s illegal, undeclared war in the North Atlantic was intended to instigate an attack by Germany that would lead to war. Hitler knew it, and ordered his ships to leave American warships alone, even when his submarines were being shot at, which they often were. Still, things happen in the fog of war. Two American warships were sunk and hundreds of US sailors killed. FDR took to the airwaves to scream bloody murder and call for war, conveniently turning one of the warships into a mail ship. America, though, knew what he was up to and refused. The Senate investigated and discovered what everyone already knew: FDR was only trying to manipulate the nation with the lives of American sailors into a war it didn’t want to fight. This is NOT an obscure conspiracy theory. This was standard knowledge in the late 30s. Everyone knew it. It’s a bit of history, though, that got buried behind the huge event that was WWII. Anyway, FDR finally, in frustration, turned to what his cabinet called the “Back door” entry into war. He could get his war with Germany (the one he wanted) through Japan, by forcing Japan into a corner from which it would have to attack America.

    Roosevelt had the means to do this because of America’s explicit and triumphant jump into imperialism in 1898. Without that and America’s resultant acquisition of the Philippines and Hawaii, Japan would have had neither a reason nor a place to attack America, and Roosevelt would have been unable to force Japan’s hand. But because both countries were already engaged in imperialism, it was no surprise they ended up fighting each other. Or that, after the war, they BOTH try to whitewash their imperial histories.

    We modern Americans know about Japan’s despicable sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. We know nothing about America’s despicable maneuvering to force that to happen, and little about the American imperialism that gave it room to maneuver. Americans in Japan know about the Nanking massacre, but almost nothing about America’s horrendous and sickening suppression of the Philippines just 30 years before.

    America in the 30s had come to its senses. Imperialism and international militarism earlier in the century were generally recognized as a huge mistake. With that mindset they saw in the Pacific three imperial powers – Japan, Britain, and the Netherlands – fighting their imperial fights, and saw no reason why American should take sides.

    How much of that can you find in American war museums, or even in standard modern American histories?

    Mark Ledbetter

  5. Well, I’ve been trying to think how best to say this, but I basically agree with most of what appears in Yushukan. The modern understanding of WWII is frankly based on revisionist narative. Yushukan is based on the subjective Japanese viewpoint of the 1850s-1940s. And that viewpoint should be appropriately considered when learning history, and applying history’s lessons to today.

  6. “Yushukan is based on the subjective Japanese viewpoint of the 1850s-1940s”

    Problem is we have lived 57 years since we signed San Fransico treaty and in that treaty Japan had accepted every legal judgement at International Military Tribunal for the Far East.In another word,Yusyukan version of history would never be the orthodoxy of post war Japan.The shrine may have some legitimacy,but Yusyukan do not..

    How westerner’s deal with their imperialism is another matter,me think.

    And about Yusyukan itself.Though Yusyukan was originary build as gallary of weaponry in 1882,few realize that the place has been used as the head office of Fukoku Mutual Life Insuarance Company.It was renovated and reppened in 1985.
    I’d imagine the exhibition in the pre-war days were much more matter-of-factly,than the one made in the 80’s,when rightists started history war to overcome “Tokyo tribunal mindset”.So the current understanding of WW2 itself is frankly based on revisionist narrative.

    When I was an ethnology student wayback in the 90’s,we heard that there were numerous attempts by members of diet and buisiness world big-shot and father of Japanese ehnology”Shibusawa Keizo of building the museum of ethnology in Yushukan estate.
    At the time there was small ethnological musum in the city of Hoya(now Nishi-Tokyo)but the collection and artifacts got to big to store in the small building.
    There was even a discussion at the House of Representatives in feburuary 27 of 1962 to use Yusyukan estate(which was leased to Fukoku MLIC)to build a national museum of ethnology.In the end,the museum was build in Senri,Osaka,formerly used as EXPO70 estate in 1973.
    Hearing that all of us in the class cursed Umesao Tadao(Kyoto Univ.professor and the founder of National Museum of Ethnology,also known as avid Kansai centrist)not just for the Kansaians stealiing the antholopological treasures from Kanto,thus us Tokyoites have to take a ride on Shinkansen to Osaka for the research,but the building of Ethnological museum in Yusyukan would solve one of our historical disputes.

  7. While I might agree that the descriptions of the conflict with the USA were “not particularly pernicious or dishonest”, this means very little, as America was far from being a victim in WW2. The litmus test to use for the Yushukan ought to be its account of the aggression against Asian countries and populations. Unfortunately Adam’s eyes were “glazing over” at this point – which ought immediately to suggest to the reader that his observations and opinions on the content of the museum will be of little worth. When I visited the Yushukan in 2003 I remember the aggression against China being described essentially as an police operation to fight “terrorists”. This was not only completely self-serving and distorted, but was even more pernicious for trying to forge a link between the historical crime of invading China and the more recent criminal aggressions of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq and Afghanistan, relying on today’s neocon propaganda to justify earlier atrocities. All the worse at the time, when Koizumi was trying to piggyback on the “war on terror” to subvert Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

  8. “In another word,Yusyukan version of history would never be the orthodoxy of post war Japan.”

    True. But I don’t see why it shouldn’t be taken for what it is — the subjective truth as it was viewed by many Japanese during and before WWII.

    Facts are just facts. But any serious historian will find that the truth and narration of those facts must be interpreted by human beings. Thus the story of history becomes subject to interpretations, which hinge on the hopes, fears, feelings, concerns, prejudices, and interests of the persons engaged in the interpretation. Even if you don’t, as I, find much to appreciate in Yushukan, I would hope you would at least respect it as the alternative viewpoint.

  9. Curzon: the Yushukan depiction of the American-Japanese conflict might be construed as an “alternative viewpoint”, but the accompanying account there of the Japanese war against Asian countries does not merit such a charitable assessment. It is not a valid “viewpoint” to call Chinese self-defence in the 1930s “terrorism”, especially when the Japanese army provoked or fabricated all of the main historical “incidents” which conveniently escalated into full-scale conflict.

    You write as if the Yushukan itself is an exhibit in some museum of the history of wartime propaganda. It isn’t. I don’t remember seeing big quotation marks surrounding its entrance in the Yasukuni grounds.

  10. One other aspect of presenting history is the audience: does anyone go to the Yushukan expecting to find an unbiased treatment? I definitely should go the next time I am in Tokyo, which isn’t often these days.

    I do find Mark Ledbetter’s comment that “Biased teaching of history in Japan, though, would probably lead many Japanese to accept the claim at face value.” strange. Japanese history teaching is if anything left-wing (Japanese historians are usually left-wing to varying degrees, and their intellectual pedigree for the war is based on classics like Toyama Shigeru, and the anti-war intellectualism that returned after the war based in part on the let-wing ideas of prewar thinkers like Noro Eitaro) and the reason for books like “Kokumin no Rekishi” and insanity like “Sensoron” is disgust at the current state of Japanese history teaching, which they define as “masochistic”. The problem could arise in the way history is taught, and a lack of a clear narrative (certainly at the middle-school level, and it’s optional at high school, so many may miss out on the greater detail). But even at primary school level textbooks make it clear this was Japanese aggression: Buneido’s “Kuwashii Shakai” textbook for 6th-years says “In 1931, the Japanese Army blew up the South Manchurian Railway at Ryujo Bridge (the Ryoju Bridge Incident), and blamed it on the Chinese Army, starting to fight with the Chinese Army.” They also have a page that basically blames economics factors for Japan’s 1930s expansion (which mentions the Nanking Incident and Chinese getting killed indiscriminately by Japanese but does not give a figure. In sum, any confusion is probably due not to apologetic teaching of history, but inadequately-learned facts.

    Talking of facts, we must remember Reagan’s words: “facts are stupid things.” Very true. That’s why they need to be given context and interpretation.

  11. Curz:

    “But I don’t see why it shouldn’t be taken for what it is—the subjective truth as it was viewed by many Japanese during and before WWII.”

    Because that is the view that allowed Japanese to start the war and that Japan was what Tokyo tribunal sentenced guilty.
    Secondly,Yasukuni shrine still operates as the place to commemorate the souls who lost lives in the war and frequently visited by veterans/Defense Force service personnel/politicians/sometimes prime ministers even.In another word,it’s seen as the place where Japanese collective memory of war being represented.
    For those reasons,the exhibitons at Yusyukan must be updated to the version that we teach school kids in the classrooms.
    The problem is Yasukuni and Yusyukan is not government institution and somehow they use current constitution(of which they do not support it’s legitimacy)to protect the right of religious institutions and activities of civic groups from government intrusions,thus official advisory impossible.

  12. JADE: “I do find Mark Ledbetter’s comment that “Biased teaching of history in Japan, though, would probably lead many Japanese to accept the claim at face value.” strange. Japanese history teaching is if anything left-wing…”

    MARK: Good point, Jade. “Biased teaching of history” possibly should have been something more like “Biased presentation of history in general society.” In general society (where leftist intellectuals probably don’t have all that many readers) I don’t get the impression that a lot of people really know much about the Nanking Massacre, or care, or even believe it when non-Japanese begin railing about it. It’s only an impression, though. I might be wrong. And I’m sure a lot more Japanese know about Japanese atrocities in China than Americans know about American atrocities in the Philippines. I’m pretty sure that fewer Japanese justify Nanking than Americans justify Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

    You know about the new Yasukuni film which can’t find theaters in Japan? I remember reading that, for the Japanese version of the film Empire of the Sun, Spielberg had to reshoot the scenes of the Japanese army moving into Shanghai to soothe Japanese sensibilities. Those are two examples of “biased presentation of history in general society.”

    That being said, though, I still think Yushukan’s presentation of Japan’s military history is much better than the presentation of American military history in American museums. I also suspect that the general presentation of Japanese military atrocities abroad are faced much more honestly in Japanese textbooks than American military atrocities abroad in American textbooks.

  13. “You know about the new Yasukuni film which can’t find theaters in Japan?”

    Oh,No.It’s been shown in more than thirty theaters starting from May 3rd.

    And never even heard of “Empire of the Sun”issue.Can you quote me from some where?

  14. I second Aceface – it would be interesting to know more detail about “Empire of the Sun.” A simple comparison of the US version and Japanese version should be enough.

    I cannot compare Yushukan with US museums, as I have never been to a US war memorial museum (not being American makes them less accessible) but I do recall the fuss over how to display the Enola Gay.

    The trouble with “general society” is that it is very general – to what extent are the noisemakers representative of it, for example? General society probably isn’t influences by “intellectuals” to any great extent anyway.

    To be honest, my impression on talking to a lot of Japanese who aren’t history specialists is that most of them are profoundly ignorant of pretty much every aspect of the war and history in general. If it’s not a computer game or major manga series, they don’t know it. I would imagine the same applies worldwide however.

  15. Let me ge back to the argument.
    To the veterans,Yasukuni matters,however,not so about Yusyukan.
    Simply put.All the nasty narrative in the exhibition started in the 80’s,not before.
    Personally Yusyukan should be burned to the ground.

    “All the worse at the time, when Koizumi was trying to piggyback on the “war on terror” to subvert Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.”

    Though Koizumi had made some statements of constitutional revision long before he became prime minister,subverting article 9 was not on his agenda during his five years of premireship.Secondly,fighting “war on terror”was a global issue and Japan had reacted pretty wisely in moderate manner.
    I should also add that I think article 9 is the source of all the political confusion of this country and has been paralyzing democracy for more than 50 years.Article 9 and so called “peace”constitution had undermined Japanese democracy just as Meiji democracy did.It must be scrapped at some times in the future.

  16. “You know about the new Yasukuni film which can’t find theaters in Japan?”

    Er… wrong.

    It has been shown in Tokyo and Osaka and will soon be shown in Nagoya. It isn’t in every movie theatre, but hey, it’s an arthouse doco. I remember having to go to specialist movie theatres to see even blockbuster docos like Bowling for Columbine.

    Apparently the first night of the Osaka showing sold out of tickets (or was that KYUUPONs) when they opened on a rainy night. Nor were there any protests by the loony right. Quite a feat for a movie that is being suppressed.

    I have heard of the edits made to the Empire of the Sun. I don’t know if the story is true or not (M-bone, where art thou?). But if it is true that the Japanese are queasy when it comes to critical representation on the silver screen of their role in the war , one wonders how the extremely graphic scenes in classics like the Ningen no joken trilogy (making a comeback on, apparently) got through.

    Great post Adam, I’d like to comment on much of it, but I am a little pressed for time these days.

  17. Three points:


    “It is not a valid “viewpoint” to call Chinese self-defence in the 1930s “terrorism”, especially when the Japanese army provoked or fabricated all of the main historical “incidents” which conveniently escalated into full-scale conflict.”

    Well, what is terrorism, and were the Mau-mau in Kenya terrorists, or the Jews in British-occupied Palestine, or the so-called insurgents in Iraq? Remember also that even as Japan advanced into China, the Chinese were waging a fratricidal civil war. Designation of Chinese guerilla attacks on Japanese forces and civilians was accurately designated as terrorism.


    “To be honest, my impression on talking to a lot of Japanese who aren’t history specialists is that most of them are profoundly ignorant of pretty much every aspect of the war and history in general.”

    My experience is that the “average” Japanese person knows more about history than their counterparts in North America and Oceania, and about on-par with Europe.

    3. To me, the most horrifying thing about the retrospective looks at WWII is how cooly so many Americans have been programmed to accept without questioning the Tokyo firebombing or the dual atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which, while not any official US government view, is widely accepted by officials and individuals.

  18. 1.
    No.Since in Tokyo tribunal,establishing Manchukuo by Kwantung Army was judged as illegal.Thus occupied Japanese troops in North Eastern China also made illegal.
    Since Japan had accepted San Fransico Peace Treaty,the description of historical narratives in public places must follow the line of Tokyo tribunal.


    Frankly soeaking,I don’t feel the necessity of that,Curz.
    a)The war was started by the Japanese
    b)Japanese did a lot worse in occupied territories
    c)America already helped Japan to stand on it’s own feet during the seven years of occupation.

    I’m slightly more worried about WW2 veterans becoming more like a sort of “living-god”in the U.S,when it comes to the narratives of WW2.Such case was revealed in Smithonian Enolla Gay exhibition in 1995.

  19. “My experience is that the “average” Japanese person knows more about history than their counterparts in North America and Oceania, and about on-par with Europe.”

    I had no intention of comparing the “average” Japanese with average non-Japanese. My point was not about what Japanese know about their history compared to others, but about what non-specialists do not know. Therefore the same no doubt applies in many countries. Which is why I said “I would imagine the same applies worldwide however.”

    Ace – “Since Japan had accepted San Francisco Peace Treaty,the description of historical narratives in public places must follow the line of Tokyo tribunal.”
    Is this actually codified in law or some form of strong administrative guidance? Interesting if it is.

  20. “Is this actually codified in law or some form of strong administrative guidance? Interesting if it is.”

    However,there is a so-called “Neighboring nations close” as the textbook guideline of Monbusho in selecting textbook contents.

    But since SF treaty was signed by GoJ and becoming the foundation logic of post-war Japan,I think it is natural for any institutio to adopt this as the historic orthodoxy.

  21. Ace:

    1. “Since in Tokyo tribunal”
    Victor’s justification. Semantics of international law aside, this is morally and logically meaningless.

    2. Whatever. We can throw links on this topic at each other for weeks, but I’ll give you a solid comparison — the “woah, what idiots” in Japan is that only 46% of elementary school kids know where the equivalent of Nebraska is on the map.

    …compared to a MAJORITY of Americans who can’t even identify the vice president.,0,2716995.column?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

    The Japanese are far more knowledgable than their counterparts in North America and Oceania, and perhaps on par with the EU.

    “b)Japanese did a lot worse in occupied territories”
    That logic and morality is revolting.

    We’re just going to have to agree to profoundly disagree.

  22. “When average Japanese talk about the war, only rarely will someone bring up the war leaders or the Powers. Mostly people bring up their personal, first/second/third-hand experiences – grandfathers who brought back souvenirs from Manchuria, memories of hunger in the early postwar years, and on and on. Where is the memorial for them?”

    You are kidding, right? Have you never been to the peace museum at Hiroshima? You’ll also notice that individual Japanese suffering is the dominant discourse in prefectual/municipal history/war memorial museums. And then there are the museums like the one connected to Ritsumeikan that take into account the suffering of people in Asia under the boot of Japanese occupation as well. Even the Yushukan has ‘personal’ items related to the suffering of war – letters written by soldiers to their families, coconuts inscribed by Japanese soldiers with heartfelt messages that miraculously floated from dinky Pacific Islands to Japan, etc.

    I do take your point though-the Yushukan is about “Japan” writ large, and that is the problem I find with Curzon’s comments. The Yushukan frames a couple of Chinese pinging off shots at a Japanese regiment in terms of “China” attacking “Japan” and justifies the Japanese pretext for full-scale warfare. Such totalising representations can be found elsewhere in the museum. For example, the invasion of Manchuria is depicted as a ‘Japanese’ advance, not the exploits of an uppity army acting semi-independently of Tokyo. From memory, there is even a bit in the restored exhibition that depicts ‘independent’ Manchuria as the product of ‘Manchurian’ desire for freedom from Beijing, not of collusion between local despots and the Kwantung Army.

    That these representations can be related to the excesses of British Imperialism or American neo-Imperialism, only, in my view, strengthens the need for a more critical view. I’m not sure how war is represented in British or American museums, but I’m sure in the more established ones there are representations similar to those at the Yushukan, but viewed from the other side. (And on the journalistic front, Curzon’s hero, Robert Kaplan, is a purveyor par excellence of such essentialism.) But that is not to say that such representations are correct – or justified. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  23. As some people have noted above, one elitist self-delusion does not preclude the many others that exist in the world. When our guest, an Australian who lives in Bangkok, made the point that the US is likely guilty of similar crimes of aggression as WW2 Japan, I felt the need to comment to her that while Japan has stopped any pretensions to liberating the people’s of Asia, the US still considers itself to be self-evidently the bringer of freedom in the world.

    I did not intend any irony in my explanation of the exhibits… it was more of a shorthand way to trot out what they were saying. Some of it seemed a little far-fetched, but I hope to avoid getting bogged down in the details of all this.

    And why would I not want to wade into the war history debate, despite the risk of having my comments declared “of little worth” for not having done so? Because a) It’s already been done to death elsewhere on the Internet and my point was to offer a fresh take from my own perspective; and b) as I said, those exhibits that made my eyes glaze over completely miss the point of what a war memorial should be about.

    Also, while many people are rightly offended at Yushukan’s depictions of the War in Asia, I feel like it’s barking up the wrong tree to ask these folks to see your point of view and change the exhibits.

    I agree with Ace in this case – it would be more helpful if Yushukan just shut its doors. Its location lets it dress itself up as a semi-official memorial, situated right in the midst of the confused roles of Shinto and the Emperor in Japan’s national identity. Is the emperor the head of state? Is he the spiritual leader of Shinto? These questions are left unanswered, to Yushukan and the right’s benefit.

    The SF Treaty is the law of the land in Japan since it’s, you know, a treaty. And more than that, it’s the document that granted Japan sovereignty, and unlike some aspects of it (the status of Okinawa for example) the Tokyo Tribunals clause has not been revised. But whatever the GOJ line, I am sure that there are many who might disagree with the idea that SF Treaty is completely unassailable, even on the question of the trials. Though the sentences of the Tribunal and so on were accepted, many of the GHQ policies not specifically included in the SF Treaty were reversed, such as the purges of officials from public life and so on.

    I do realize that the “dominant discourse” is focused on the individual suffering, and being used to this specific sensibility was what made Yushukan’s focus on the Great Men so jarring. But while Hiroshima’s peace museum is extremely well done (I’ve been), it’s all the way in freaking Hiroshima. Going to Yushukan made me realize Tokyo needs something like that, if it doesn’t already exist somewhere.

  24. Oh, and yes there is a fairly large exhibit dedicated to the Japanese lives lost in WW2, but considering how little was done to tell the story of war’s toll on society (tons of little pictures and some stories of heroism and personal effects), it is clear that their heart just isn’t in it, especially compared to the multimedia extravaganza (video, motion-triggered audio, 3-D replicas) that was consistent through the depictions of Japan’s geopolitical intrigue through the 1890s-1945.

  25. While it’s a bit different, there was an emphasis on the personal aspects of war before the war as well. The “great sacrifice” of the war dead and their personal, immediate, aspects were emphasised, in some cases over the mere mechanics and weaponry of war. Very much a “these people are out there dying for Japan” aspect of course, so I’m not sure you’d call it “suffering” as such, but it was undeniably personal. There were also books put out in the 1930s that were collections of “inspiring tales” of self-sacrifice: the war effort was definitely made personal.

    “it’s all the way in freaking Hiroshima”
    Well, that’s your fault for living in Tokyo… 🙂

  26. Sorry if I sounded harsh before. This was actually a great post. I was merely picking up on one point. In any case:

    “it’s all the way in freaking Hiroshima”

    Funny that.

    “Tokyo needs something like that, if it doesn’t already exist somewhere.”

    There is a corner in the Edo Tokyo Museum that covers Tokyo-ites’ suffering during the firebombings. Small though the exhibit may be, the paintings depicting the hardships of Tokyo’s citizens during the war are pretty freaky. Anyway, I’m not sure that Tokyo does need an ‘alternative’ to Yasukuni, when, as you have rightly pointed out, the narrative of wartime suffering tends to be the dominant discourse. Who would go to a museum that demonstrates to people what they know already? The only reason you would set up such a place is to prove a political point (Yushukan) or point out something that really defines the locality (Peace Museum in Hiroshima). Firebombings were hardly a ‘Tokyo’ phenomenon, and there are plenty of museums around the country (including the Tokyo museum) that go into this. I think a room or two in one of the national history museums would be a good addition.

  27. Curz:
    “Victor’s justification. Semantics of international law aside, this is morally and logically meaningless.”

    As you know,law is executed by those who exercise the power and maintain order. And the Japanese government had accepted Potsudam declaration and agreed for unconditional surrender in the name of the emperor.It is logical for Japan to accept Tokyo Tribunal.
    And from moral perspective,the victims of Japanese agression would demand for vindicative acts had there not a court to judge Japanese war crime.Because of the Tokyo tribunal, there were certain justice being done for the victims and ordinary Japanese citizens were saved from relentless vengence from the victors.

    And I’m pretty confident on Japan has bigger death toll and showed more brutality in 20th century than the U.S.


    I think I’ve wrote about this in the past about two years ago, that Mizuki”Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou”Shigeru had drawn some manga illustration for this 平和祈念展示資料館 in 48th floor of Shinjyuku Sumitomo Building that stands right near Ishihara’s twin towers.

  28. This is usually the type of post/debate that I would be all over with comments but I`m low on time and internet access so I`ll just say that this is great stuff from all involved.

    Quick point – according to various surveys about 85% of Japanese report that they believe continued apology and reflection toward Asia to be necessary. 2% are opposed to any apology and reflection. The rest are `do not know` or `nothing to do with me answers`. These numbers have not changed since the early 1980s. This speaks to a high (in terms of international comparison) level of contrition and knowledge about `bad stuff` in history. I agree strongly with Curzon`s comments about `general knowledge` in other areas.

    The 2% are basically the Yushukan supporters and various rightists. They are an important area of academic interest but should under no circumstances be mistaken for the mainstream. I imagine that if a similar survey was conducted in Germany, it would turn up 2% Holocaust denial (consider a small but active rightwing, immigrants from countries with different views of history, etc.).

    I imagine that if surveys were taken in the US about America`s bombings of other countries, the Vietnam legacy, etc. it would be somewhat the opposite of the Japanese with about 85% insisting that that apology and reflection are not necessary and instead insisting that, say, the atomic bombings were just, saved Japanese lives, there was no alternative, they deserved it because they attacked us first, etc.

    A more diverse consideration of WWII and other wars in the United States – more `war as horror` stories to temper the typical heroic narratives of the `greatest generation` and more honest consideration of America`s victimization of others – could help to keep American out of Iraq-like situations in the future.

  29. `And I’m pretty confident on Japan has bigger death toll and showed more brutality in 20th century than the U.S.`

    But what if we consider 1840 to present?

  30. Ace: OK, that is on the itinerary for the next time I have a foreign visitor and need to arrange for sightseeing.

    My other recommendations for an off-the-beaten-path Tokyo Tour (these may or may not show up as future posts): Mizumoto Park (manmade nature preserve/picnic area), The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (located in a quaint shitamachi neighborhood), cycling along the Sumida river on a sunny day, Burmese food in Takadanobaba (because where else outside of SE Asia is there such a selection? mmm, chick pea tofu……)

  31. Like M-bone, I wish I had the time to get involved in the debate, but with no internet at home or even my own computer, I really don’t have the time right now. I’m sure we’ll get into similar discussions again in the future though. Once I get that DSL and a new computer I have several things I’d like to post that should be fun.

  32. ”But what if we consider 1840 to present?”
    America certainly had a huge death toll in the civil war.But then again,that was a civil war.Not agreesion to the neighboring country.America’s military intervention to the south of Rio Grande is in no match to Japanese invasion of Asia Pacific. region in the scale of damages.

  33. An impressive feat to wade all through the museum like that- I went in with pretty much the same idea but gave up on reading the English and Japanese captions at about the 3rd room.

    My quibble is earlier in the post than most people- surely Jomon is to be contrasted to Yayoi rather than Yamato. I also believe there are still doubts over whether Jomon and Yayoi were racial changes more than they were just cultural ones.

  34. Alex’s quibble: That was my attempt to reference the popular idea that there are two subdivisions of Japanese people, distinguishable by faces…. off the top of my head I thought they were Yamato and Yayoi, but is it actually Yayoi and Jomon? If I am wrong then the guy’s t-shirt was not excluding the other group and I take it all back!

  35. Yayoi and Jomon are the two types. Jomon, the older, is characterised by a rounder face, and is currently the type of choice based on which tarento are now hot. However the ideal through the Edo period was the longer, slimmer, Yayoi face, as seen in for example Utamaro’s woodcuts of Yoshiwara babes. The theory is, if I remember right, that the Jomon were the first inhabitants, arriving from North Asia, and were later supplanted (partially) by the wet-rice cultivators from southern China, the Yayoi.

    Yamato, a later term (that is, referring to a later period), is usually contrasted with Ainu and also the Okinawans.

  36. `Japanese invasion of Asia Pacific. region in the scale of damages.`

    Going back to 1840 would include the final stages of the destruction of Native American populations and a host of atrocities committed against slaves.

    `I’m sure we’ll get into similar discussions again in the future though.`

    Yeah, we can be sure that these issues are not going away.

  37. “Going back to 1840 would include the final stages of the destruction of Native American populations and a host of atrocities committed against slaves.”

    Yeah,But we have Tokugawa shogunate with full fledge feudalism and Matsumae clan commiting atrocities over Ainus….

    Re:Jomon and Yayoi.
    This was the special exhibition over at National Science Museum in 2005

  38. Hmm. I visited the NSM in 2005 (or was it 06?). Would have liked to have seen that. The NSM, by the way, is definitely a nice off-the-beaten-tourist-trail place to go: the new part is very well done.

    I’m pretty sure that the Bakumatsu yonaoshi + eejanaika etc uprisings were smaller in death tolls than the US at the same stage.

  39. J-wiki has some detailed entry on 一揆.It seems translating the term “ikki” into “uprising” or “revolt”may give you the wrong idea of the term,because as you say Jade,the bakufu usually punished only the guys at the top.

    But still there were quite good numbers of ikki in the three centuries of “Pax Tokugawana”.

    BTW,my OBTT place to go in Tokyo is here.Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectual Museum.
    It’s been said that the museum inspired Miyazaki Hayao when he was making “Spirited Away”.

  40. That’s somewhere I want to check out too. I used to live not too far from there, but that was before the museum was built. It’s the annex to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku I believe.

  41. Man, you guys are high-brow. My favourite OBTT place is a certain beach in the north of Hyogo.

    Anyway I’m not sure the debate on ‘how many numbers of indigenous folk etc did the (white) Americans kill vis-a-vis the (for want of a better term – jomon and yayoi) Japanese’ is really very fruitful. Surely the fact that in both cases genocide occured is bad enough in and of itself and constitutes acts of comparable ‘brutality’, which is what this line of the debate was about in the first place.

    In any case, as I’ve noted before ‘comparative atrocity’ is a detour anyway.

  42. Jade:

    Exactly,and I currently live pretty close to it,right near Asia University in Musashisakai.

    “In any case, as I’ve noted before ‘comparative atrocity’ is a detour anyway.”

    Precisely.That’s why I believe comparing Japan and Germany means little.
    Anyway the topic was basically “Can the Tokyo tribunal be legitimatized/”And I’m pretty confident on that.

  43. Bryce: I have yet to see a really decent beach in Japan north of Okinawa (I saw some lovely ones on Kerama: wide, deserted stretches of white coral sand). And I’m not talking about the flotsam and jetsam that seems to accumulate either. Plus too many of them have those silly “don’t go past here” ropes set at about waist-height. At least in summer. When I think of OBTT I think of places that are not only somewhat more minor, but of interest to tourists. In that respect, for example (leaving out the “only in Japan” things), the National Science Museum is as good as any I have seen, if not better, but beaches are done far better elsewhere.

    Totally off topic of course….

  44. “I have yet to see a really decent beach in Japan north of Okinawa”

    That’s why I’m not telling you where it is. It’s a secret. No ropes. Just a shit load of those concrete things that look like jacks when you get to about shoulder depth. But they are under the surface and at high tide you can swim over them them. And white, white sand with blue blue water.

    In terms of OBTT museums (which is a little more on topic) I did rather enjoy the ‘Meiji Village’ outside of Nagoya, but it will never cease to amaze me why things like Natsume Soseki’s house and the lobby of the Frank Lloyd Wright Imperial Hotel aren’t in their original location. Nine of the buildings there are officially designated as Important Cultural Assets, for cripes’ sake!

  45. Yeah, the destruction of Wright’s Imperial Hotel was a very stupid and short-sighted idea and the…thing…that replaced it is an abomination. However, aside from being far too small, it seems that Wright’s hotel was actually sinking into the mud.

    There’s a heap of good photos at this site: (this is page two)

    Wikipedia in English says “While the Imperial Hotel was originally owned and partly funded by the imperial family” which is rather odd – it was Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru’s idea and Shibusawa Eiichi and a couple of other guys who founded it as a private company from the start.

    Hmm – found this sentence in the Imperial Hotel official site: “Meijimura, a sort of Japanese Williamsburg” Very much “sort of” I would think….

    Time to go beach-hunting in Hyogo…..

  46. [biennial de-lurking]

    Re: Jomon vs. Yayoi:

    Readers might be interested to know that Meiji-Mura has a darkly beautiful (semi-)panopticon in its collection (h/tパノプティコン ):

    This is the Central Guard Station and Ward of Kanazawa Prison, relocated from Ishikawa (note: the warden’s room itself was relocated and reconstructed from a similar prison in Hokkaido). I described it above as a (semi-) panopticon, because, if I understand correctly, only the corridors are visible from the central warden’s room, not the interior of the cells themselves.

  47. ”Precisely.That’s why I believe comparing Japan and Germany means little.”

    Well, yes and no. As has been argued here before on numerous occasions I’m sure, the interesting comparative exercise comes when you look at how the two nations have apologised. Germany is held up as a poster child for apology vis-a-vis Japan but this is unsatisfying because;

    a) although there were official apologies, there wasn’t actually much public discussion on the war in Germany until about the 1970s in Germany (cf. Basil Fawlty), and

    b) Germans (rightly) tend to remember the war in terms of the holocaust. There isn’t much discussion of atrocities that occured on the front lines, which would be more comparable to Japan’s situation.

    I think it is useful to point out that both nations have ‘apologised’ for their wartime campaigns by way of policy. In Germany you have the commitment to a stable European community with shared sovereignty, whereas in Japan you have the commitment never to initiate (either independently or collectively) military action. While commitment to Article 9 is soft in some quarters in Japan, the same might be said about German commitment to an integrated Europe.

  48. Germany also has its versions of Yasukuni – many of them in fact. Any medium-sized village will have memorials to the soldiers that died for their country during the two world wars.

  49. “Germany also has its versions of Yasukuni”

    Reminds me about this.,9171,1048345-1,00.html

    I think you could add one crucial element.There are much more decent discussion on the German affairs by western press than the ways they handle the Japanese.
    Perhaps this could have something to do with the foreign press people speaking and reading German while no such thing canbe expected from those who cover Japan.

    But in the end,it has more to do with the ideas of gains and losses national interest.Foreign countries gain more by making Germans standing their own feet,because there’s win-win situation in European international relations surrounding Germany.While putting Japan on their knees serves better for the national interests of the shareholders in East Asia where the name of the game is zero-sum .

  50. Basil Fawlty, the John Cleese character? I do remember the Germans episode, but I never thought of it as a historically significant moment…

  51. I think the idea is the whole “Shhh! Don’t mention the war!” thing.

    “I got a bit confused because everyone keeps mentioning the war…is she all right? Is something wrong?”
    “Will you stop talking about the war?”
    “Me? You started it!”
    “We did not start it!”
    “Yes you did – you invaded Poland!”

    Interesting panopticon – Bentham would be very happy. He certainly looks happy these days. And has done for the past two centuries….

  52. “although there were official apologies, there wasn’t actually much public discussion on the war in Germany until about the 1970s in Germany (cf. Basil Fawlty)”

    From wikipedia:The Germans
    “This was the only episode from the series to be omitted when it was first aired in Germany, for reasons of cultural sensitivity”

  53. Many scholars of historical memory point to the late 70s airing of the American mini-series `Holocaust` as a significant moment in German public Holocaust memory. Japan had better from the 1950s.

  54. “Japan had better from the 1950s.”

    That I don’t know about.I think Germany had better denazification compared to Japan.

  55. Ace,

    You can’t de-Nazify a country if it has no National Socialist party. Despite Maruyama Masao’s prolific writings about ‘fascism’ in Japan the prerequisites of fascism (a mass party that exists solely as a vehicle to power for a charismatic leader – who can then largely forget about the party) never existed in Japan. If anything Japan’s problem was a vague constitution that failed to identify clearly where substantive power lay. It was not ‘Nazism’.

  56. Bryce:

    “Nazism”party it may not be,but there was certainly a National Socialism of a sort was in action at the time. The lack of the political party nor charismatic leader as wasn’t a problem since Japanese national socialism’s vehicle was mainly military /security bureaucracy.

    There was an anecdotal tale that Goebbels was envious about the Emperor system.
    And said that he would lose his job,had Germany owned the equivalent(although this anvdote is questional since the term”天皇制”is hihly ideologish term).

  57. [de-lurking twice in one year, my goodness!]

    Aceface: Neither did the House of Savoy seem to inspire the same degree of dedication as the Chrysanthemum Throne, and the fascists weren’t able to make nearly as much use of them for propaganda purposes. The lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Italian people for their royals was made clear in a post-war referendum in which “more than 54% of Italians cast their … vote in favour of a republic and the post-war constitution specifically banned the male heirs of the house of Savoy from setting foot on Italian soil,” an exile which only ended in 2002.

    One wonders what the results of such a referendum would have been in Japan? Imagine, if you will, Akihito (not a bad guy by all accounts, even if I disagree with the Emperor system as such) not being allowed into Japan until his 69th birthday!

  58. `Japan had better from the 1950s.`

    Better public sphere atrocity representation.

  59. “One wonders what the results of such a referendum would have been in Japan? ”

    While I agree that Hirohito should’ve put on trial and there are may similarity between modern Japan and Italy(Although I still haven’t read that Richard Samuels’book).I have to say that Chrysanthemum Throne means more to the Japanese than Houseof Savoy to Italians.This will put us back to the topic of “comparative atrocity=detor”theory,but I think Italians could accept the consequence of the WW2 far more lightly for they were among the victors,thanks to Padoglio.

    And I also think Italy is doing far more worth than Japan in terms of “facing the dark side of history” issue.

  60. “I have to say that Chrysanthemum Throne means more to the Japanese than House of Savoy to Italians.”

    I agree. Wasn’t it MacArthur himself who said that trying Hirohito for war crimes, and therefore possibly executing him, would be like crucifying Jesus for the Japanese? I think this is hyperbolic, but yes, there definitely was/is a deeper attachment to the royal family in Japan than in Italy. Victor Emmanuel III was never held up as any kind of living god- the most outrageous he ever got was “Emperor of Ethiopia” (which IS pretty outrageous, but for different reasons)…

  61. And in relate to that it was Chalmers Johnson who said,
    “If you want to repeat the Japanese experience in Baghdad.
    First,you pardon Saddam Hussein,and then put him and the regime back in power and let all the insurgents gather under him.”


  62. Ditto that sigh, Aceface.

    BTW, The Emperor = Christ idea, in relation to retaining the throne and the man on it, seems to originate with one Bonner F. Fellers (see p.282 of Dower’s “Embracing Defeat,” this excerpt from Bix’s “Hirohito”: , both of which I’m guessing readers of this blog have read, though, like me, they may have forgotten the details). The Americans, MacArthur included, took his advice, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    I’d love to hear Chalmers Johnson and John Dower discuss the occupations of Japan and Iraq in comparison, as both were keen on pointing out the differences in the two situations before the invasion of Iraq, which they opposed, Dower keener still after Bush quoted “Embracing Defeat” in *defense* of the invasion/occupation:

    This may all be common knowledge for folks on here, but I thought I’d mention it out nonetheless…

  63. Emperor=Christ seems a huge stretch to me, but Emperor=Pope is a comparison that makes a lot of sense in political terms, especially if you compare the relationship between Emperor and Shogun with the relationship between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor during the middle ages. Italy might not have cared much about the Savoys, but imagine how they would have reacted if the Pope had been arrested for aiding and abetting the Nazis and Fascists-a charge which I believe a number of people have accused him of.

  64. Good call, Roy. Much better comparison. Where were you in 1945 when the world needed you? 🙂

  65. >I think Germany had better denazification compared to Japan.
    >The lack of the political party nor charismatic leader as wasn’t a problem since Japanese national socialism’s vehicle was mainly military /security bureaucracy.

    Do you believe in “1940 regime theory”? Or do you talk about ideological aspect? I don’t think the post-war soft dirigism is the remains of “national socialism”, though I prefer to call it simply the war regime.

  66. the scarlet symptom,

    If the former emperor was excuted or monarchy was abolished after WWII, post-war Japan would become another Weimar republic, not chaotic Irak. In fact, imperial Japan look like Wilhelm’s empire rather than Nazi-Germany, I believe.

  67. Good post and many thoughtful replies. I always love the idiotic argument that the Americans committed genocide against their aboriginals. Gleaned, no doubt, from a careful study of the accumulated episodes of “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman”. This argument ignores the true underlying conflict, that of an expansive western culture coming in contact with a neolithic culture. The more efficient culture always wins out. Otherwise, we’d still find Malayo-polynesian villages in Central and Southern Japan, co-existing in happy harmony with modern Japanese. As for the “genocide”, the greatest deaths in the 1840s were from disease (notably among a people friendly to the Whites, the Mandan). In the 1860s, while the CIvil War raged, the aboriginals were again on the ascent, as noted in “The Comanche Empire” by Pekka Hämäläinen. But even by then, one of the two great pillars of their society, the Buffalo, was disappearing. (The other great pillar was the horse, which came with the Whites.) Perhaps the expanding Americans should have roped off the Great Plains, declared it a national park, and left its peoples as living museum exhibits, torturing and killing each other off while well-heeled European tourists watched. Oh, yes, the genocide argument also ignores the fact that the single most common aboriginal American polity on the Great Plains during that period was the warrior band, a 19th Century version of Hells Angels mounted on horses rather than motorcycles. Pity the purveyors of this argument have not travelled the real American West, where they’d find plenty of aboriginal Americans living today. But, why ruin a good argument? If you counted up all the real massacres that took place, (three) you’d still have less than a thousand. Certainly a tragedy for those involved, but hardy on a scale with what the Japanese did in China, or the U.S. did in Japan with the fire bombing. At least in this latter case, they were saving American and Allied lives. The ugly necessities of a war which, however you view it politically, Japan unleashed upon itslef.

  68. `The more efficient culture always wins out.`

    That is, of course, a perfect justification for violence and cultural destruction.

    `If you counted up all the real massacres that took place, (three) you’d still have less than a thousand.`

    Wikipedia reports 20,000 deaths as a result of various forced relocations and if that were wrong, I`m sure some hot-headed American jingoist would have edited it by now.

    The societies of native Americans were destroyed, those left were put first into concentration camps and then into reservations and their descendents continue to suffer from huge rates of poverty, infant mortality, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.

    It is to America`s credit that there have been efforts at restitution, cultural preservation, etc. While `genocide` may not be a suitable term, there is no need to whitewash the past either.

  69. M, I didn’t count the “trail of tears” as a massacre. The only aboriginal Americans with a real beef are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminoles. They had moved their societies closer to the 18th Century American model, and when gold was discovered in North Georgia, Congress came up with the Indian Exclusion Act. Interestingly enough, Davy Crockett was the only congressman to vote against it. But deaths caused through incompetence and massacres are quite different. The former lacks the element of criminal intent. Massacres of Whites, by the way, were far more common than organized massacres of the tribes. But of course, they had accepted that risk by transiting what was essentially a war zone, and to the Aboriginal’s credit, they didn’t just massacre Whites. Other tribes and clans were also on their hit list.

    As for reservations being concentration camps, that’s a bit of overstatement. As I speak, the Seminole tribe is running an add on the telly promoting their new Las Vegas style slot machines at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa, Florida. (As an aside, the Seminole tribe has a nice web site explaining their history, and the origin of the term “Seminole”) From 1983 to 1986 I worked in the Mountain West (New Mexico up to Montana and Idaho), and my work put me in contact with numerous aboriginal Americans and their reservations, and a lot of those societies are alive and well. Yet the problems you note are widespread and serious, both on and off the “res”. But they are also widespread among their corresponding socio-economic slices of other American groups.

    “The more efficient culture wins out” is merely a statement of the obvious. My apologies for the term “idiotic”, by the way. That bordered on ad hominem and was unjustified.

  70. `But deaths caused through incompetence and massacres are quite different.`

    Not in everyone`s eyes. For example, the majority of US POWs who died in Japanese hands died from starvation or disease. This was also the cause of the deaths of HALF of the Japanese troops who died in WWII. This is due to incompetence (and a lack of regard for human life, including the lives of Japanese troops) but there are similarities with mass killings on a moral level that mean they should at least be talked about in the same way. The Bataan Death March has serious similarities with the Trail of Tears and both should be talked about in the same way (although not, obviously, exactly the same).

    `As for reservations being concentration camps, that’s a bit of overstatement`

    Its also something that I didn`t say. Many native Americans were put into concentration camps before reservations. For Americans, the term concentration camp conjures up images of the Nazi death camps but that is not the only way to use the term – it really refers to just what it says – a large area where a population are `concentrated` by force. For example, there is nothing wrong with calling the camps where Japanese Americans were placed `concentration camps` as it does not, by any means, imply elimination. The points that you make are valid but the historical concentratoin camp to reservation process is also.

  71. M-Bone, I believe we’ll agree to disagree on that last point. Otherwise, your other points are well taken. A bow, monsieur.

  72. Although in this case I certainly lean more towards M-bones’s stance, you have no idea how happy it makes me to see people actually debating respectfully in blog discussions instead of just arguing. Please, Lirelous, M-bone, and anyone else reading, let’s have as much of this as possible in the future.

  73. It could only happen among the people who don’t really have anything to lose in the debate.I guess.

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