Japan’s erasure of WWII history education causes trouble: Japanese peace activist

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Akira Kawasaki Photo: Courtesy of Kawasaki

Editor’s note:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. In recent years, it seems that Tokyo has chosen to lean towards Washington and show growing hostility towards Beijing. Meanwhile, the risk of Japan reverting to its old militaristic path worries not only countries in the region, but also the global community. Akira Kawasaki (Kawasaki), a member of the executive committee of the Tokyo-based non-governmental organization Peace Boat, discussed related issues, including his organization’s peace-promoting activities and the future of China-Japan relations, with Global Times (GT) reporter Xia Wenxin.

GT: Can you tell us more about Peace Boat? What kind of cooperation have you had with China?

Kawasaki: Peace Boat, founded in 1983, conducts educational programs on peace, the environment and sustainability through its global voyages with a large passenger vessel. Originally, it started as a journey of young Japanese people to learn from past history in order to build peace by visiting cities such as Nanjing and Hiroshima, with a firm commitment not to repeat the mistake of conducting a another war. In recent years, more and more Chinese people are boarding our global journeys as passengers, enjoying tourism as well as social and cultural programs in various parts of the world.

GT: Many Japanese participants in Peace Boat trips are shocked to listen to the memories of the victims of their country’s atrocities during World War II (WWII), because the Japanese education system largely avoids this part of history. Do you think Japan is forgetting its WWII history? What negative impact does this have on Japanese society?

Kawasaki: The Japanese government has systematically erased description of Japan’s brutal and criminal acts towards its neighbors before and during World War II in history textbooks, pushed by right-wing politicians. The same goes for the mass media, which tends to disseminate provocative statements and comments by historical revisionists on issues such as the Nanjing Massacre or military practices of sexual slavery, known as “women of comfort”. These made the Japanese, especially the young, oblivious to the basic facts of history that Japan was the aggressor during World War II. This poses problems for Japan to promote mutual understanding and friendship with its neighboring countries.

GT: As a peace activist, you have endeavored to educate the young Japanese generation about their country’s war history. Have you ever encountered any opposition or obstruction in Japan? If so, could you give us some examples?

Kawasaki: Hate speech has been promoted against those who publicly focus on the negative side of Japan’s history, including through social media. In some extreme cases, they blackmail and force certain public events to stop taking place. Legal measures to control these attacks are being put in place but have not been sufficient.

GT: To a large extent, the United States takes the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to further weaken Russia. Many believe that Washington is trying to “cut and paste” a Ukrainian crisis in Asia. Do you think Japan will become an American pawn or even end up in war?

Kawasaki: I see no reasonable grounds for discussing security issues in East Asia by analogy to what is happening in Ukraine today, despite the fact that Japanese and Western media often talk about what would happen if the same was happening in Taiwan or even in Japan. The lesson of the Russian war against Ukraine is that every nation must remain committed to the principles of the United Nations Charter and that all conflicts must be resolved peacefully. I believe that all responsible nations in our region, including Japan and China, are learning the lessons and acting accordingly.

GT: As a core member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), how do you see the creation of AUKUS? Does it exacerbate the risk of nuclear proliferation in Asia-Pacific?

Kawasaki: Australia’s procurement of a nuclear submarine triggers the risk of undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It would also promote an arms race in the Asia-Pacific. ICAN calls on all nations, including Australia, Japan and China, to advance nuclear disarmament by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

GT: Do you think there could still be a turning point in the improvement of Sino-Japanese relations? How can it be achieved?

Kawasaki: There is a serious mistrust between Japan and China that needs to be addressed and alleviated. China’s perception of Japan as a hostile threat mirrors how Japan views China today. Mutual mistrust favors an arms race, which would benefit neither the Chinese nor the Japanese. Mutual collaborative efforts, including within civil society, must be made for better understanding and dialogue.

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