Friday, August 14, 2009

Shoes on the Ground

I have to admit, I like this photo. It is good memorial art.

This installation of 6,830 pairs of cloth shoes was created on August 9th at a temple in Tokyo. It was to memorialize the Chinese laborers who died in Japan after being forcibly taken to there to work during World War II.

The previous day, about 300 people — including around 70 from China and two survivors — took part in a memorial service for Imperial Japan's Chinese forced laborers. Reportedly, this was the first "joint" Chinese-Japanese service. At the event, the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cui Tiankai said: "I hope the two countries will not only look back on history and pray for peace but also take opportunities such as this memorial service to lead to mutual friendship."

Although I have not yet determined if any well-known Japanese attended the ceremony, its timing and publicity is significant. Held between the anniversaries of atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the memorial tied the suffering of Japan's wartime victims to that of the Japanese. The Chinese also took unusual extra care to communicate this message in Chinese, Japanese, and English.

The Chinese, and many others, hold out great hope for a DPJ government. They seem to believe that the DPJ will work to resolve the lingering grievances from the War. This will in turn, remove an underlying obstacle to regional cooperation. Whereas China, and many US Alliance Managers, may see this progress as bringing Japan closer to Asia, it is equally possible that historic reconciliation will make the West more comfortable with Japan. Imperial Japan's unrepentant treatment of civilian and military POWs remains a wound between Tokyo and its Western allies.

Whatever the result of a stronger postwar peace, there appears to be a growing faith that the stated interest by some members of the DPJ to pursue meaningful contrition is real. The more savvy see a change of government as a long-in-coming opportunity. It may also embolden the majority to stand up to the vocal Right.

Some Japanese elites seem to sense this change. Japan's national television, NHK, has been running a series on the Pacific War and the atrocities committed. Retired Japanese diplomats have begun to participate in a rational history debate. And the Foreign Ministry has been tinkering with the Murayama Peace Statement to deliver overdue apologies. And curiously, disgraced construction company Nishimura is negotiating atonement payments to its wartime slave laborers.

Thus, the coming of the DPJ it is less about the shoes on the ground than the handwriting on the wall.

For more photos, see HERE.
For a video in Chinese, see HERE.
For the Chinese Ambassador's speech in Japanese, see HERE.

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