Saturday, April 11, 2009

From Their Hearts

The other day I had an audience with one of Washington's premier Japan managers. It was the usual 10 minutes interrupted by personal phone calls. It was the great man's necessary gesture to ensure that I never ask him for something again. After all, his friends don't like me.

He told me that I was working on the history issues: "important work" and "is not being done" and I am "adding to the debate." He had no idea what I have been doing. How can I add to any debate when no one, including him, invites me to the discussion table or reads what I write? He did do an impressive save when I mentioned my New York Times op ed: "Oh, yes, that was the article I was referring to..." He had not the slightest idea, and I am safe knowing he will never look it up.

OK, I have ranted enough. The point of this is his question to me. He asked, not really wanting my answer, "why do our Japanese friends continue holding these views on history; what is wrong with their society?"

I answered anyway. I responded that it is wrong to paint all Japanese as having reactionary, non-logical, afactual views of their history. In fact, I suggested, the majority of average Japanese citizens do not. Those who do, I said, are Japan's elites, the very people that Americans do business with, the ones with whom we manage the alliance. There are a host of reasons for this.

One, I noted was that there was a curious generational change occurring among Japan's elites.

In a study I did for this very Japan manager a few years back*, I said, the current leadership generation is more like their grandfathers' and not their fathers'. These men in their 50s and 60s look back and admire their grandfathers. These wartime memories of a successful respected Japan are the ones the emerging leadership look to as models. The postwar time was not one of much happiness or order or one's father being available.

Returning to my office, overwhelmed completely by my insignificance, I found an email waiting from one of my activist girlfriends. As if to provide a footnote to my observation of about Japan, she gushed on about the successes of her Japanese friends in pushing through resolutions in local government councils supporting an apology to the Comfort Women. She wrote:

Last month, Fukuoka City Council in southern Japan passed a resolution asking the Japanese government to recognize and apologize for establishment and management of the Comfort Women system for the Japanese military during the Pacific War.

This was the fourth local council in Japan to pass such a resolution.

Takarazuka City (Hyogo Pref.) March 3, 2008
Kiyose City (Tokyo Metro Pref) June 2, 2008
Sapporo City (Hokkaido Pref.) November 11, 2008
Fukuoka City (Fukuoka Pref.) March 25, 2009

Other local councils in Japan are expected to follow soon. These local resolutions initiated by Japanese grassroots activists and NGOs are profoundly meaningful to those who care about the issue.

The pressure to pass a resolution of apology is coming directly from hearts of Japanese citizens. From the bottom up using the democratic process. This avenue of raising awareness on the Comfort Women and other issues of war history can go along way toward a permanent Japanese reconciliation with their past.

"Coming directly from the hearts of Japanese citizens" is a long way indeed from the political discussions at bar of the Hotel Okura.

*It was never published as he did not like its conclusion, that I spent time defining "generation," and that I used extensive polling data as sources. I did not think interviews with 20 "elites" that were personal acquaintances of the original undergraduate researchers were good enough to base a paper on, so I did some of my own research. Mistake.


  1. Jeff Kingston in an article that appeared in the online journal Japan Focus, called the group you refer to as the "megaphone minority." The majority of Japanese do not believe the conservative views, but those that do hold major positions (like Prime Minister...even if he doesn't say it, he believes it). I believe it was in the same article that said that the books the conservative group Nihonkai publish are only used in 1% of schools across Japan. I truly believe that education is essential in this unending battle, and I hope school boards across Japan don't get swayed.

  2. Dang, you keep writing good stuff, and a NYT op ed piece too. Our Man can relate, he used to deliver the paper on Sundays to make ends meet. Sorry, got a call on another line, gotta go...


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