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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Comment (June 21, 2006)

Comment on Mr. Masahiko Ishizuka's Article "Past 'Is Not Past' As Japan Faces Test to Chart Course in Asia"

Kenneth Leung (University of Southern California)

In Ishizuka's recent article on the GLOCOM Platform, he discusses the controversial issue of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a war memorial that honors 2.5m soldiers who have died in wars since 1868, but also memorializes 14 Class A war criminals from WWII. These war criminals were deemed responsible for the atrocities committed on other Asian nations, particularly China and Korea. Every time Koizumi visits Yasukuni, Chinese and Koreans emerge in protest. As a result, it is revealed that many Japanese are simply annoyed by these protests, yet Ishizuka proceeds to praise Koizumi. This is revealed in the very first paragraph when the attitudes of China and Korea are described by Ishizuka as "irritating, even exasperating" to some Japanese, and when Koizumi is extolled, "[He] should be credited for bringing this point home by adamantly refusing to cease his annual visits to the shrine."

Throughout the article, Ishizuka hints subtly that the Japanese people grow tiresome of China and Korea constantly putting pressure on Japan to "face history." He also subtly implies that the Tokyo Trials which sentenced the war criminals was not legitimate: "The tribunal sentenced seven so-called Class-A war criminals, mostly former military leaders, to death and 18 others to jail terms." Upon reading this article, it is clear to me that Ishizuka may be what is called a revisionist when viewing Japanese war-time history. Furthermore, his subtle praise of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni and his subtle dismissal of the legitimacy of the Tokyo Trials fail to acknowledge the fact that these issues are severely damaging Japanese relations with China and Korea.

First, allow me to give a brief introduction of the two different camps that view Japanese war-time history. There are the progressives and the revisionists. The progressives are those who acknowledge that Japan did in fact commit war-time atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre and Korean comfort women (forced prostitutes). The revisionists are those who try to deny or refute the validity of such atrocities, either by claiming these incidents were fabrications of the Tokyo Trials, or by downplaying these incidents' significance. Based on Ishizuka's comments, he smells of a revisionist of Japanese war-time history. His statement that the tribunal sentenced seven "so-called" Class-A war criminals is appalling and downright offensive. To use such a word as "so-called" is a feeble attempt to exonerate these war criminals. It implies that these war criminals were wrongly accused by the trial. He then proceeds to dismiss the trial as merely victor's justice, saying it was "legally flawed in the way it was organized," and that "a couple of the tribunal's judges" criticized it as unjustifiable. In reality, only one judge, Radhabinod Pal from India, felt this way. Interestingly, there is a large exhibit at Yasukini hailing this judge, and on the shrine's website, a slogan appears: "The truth of modern Japanese history is now restored." As a student who is well-versed in what was documented during the Nanjing Massacre, I invite Ishizuka to come talk to me about whether or not the war criminals sentenced during the Tokyo Trials are indeed war criminals. However, a lesson in Japanese war-time atrocities is too lengthy for this commentary. All that needs to be said, however, is that every single atrocity committed has not only been proven by victim accounts, but also by accounts of former Japanese soldiers and officers (Yoshida).

Ishizuka also mentions Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun in an attempt to corroborate his implications that the Tokyo Trials were illegitimate. He says that the paper is running a series of special features on the Tokyo Trials in response to the Yasukuni controversy, which in fact, it is doing. He believes that while these features would not undo the Tokyo Trials, they would at least shed some light on the supposed truth. However, according to The Economist, Tsuneo Watanabe, the chairman of the Yomiuri Shimbun, says that Yasukuni is "the source of all Japan's problems with its neighbors," and he equates Tojo with Hitler. He then proceeds to blast Koizumi for his visits to the Yasukuni shrine, saying he is ignorant and "doesn't know history or philosophy, doesn't study, doesn't have any culture." So while Ishizuka thinks that the Yomiuri Shimbun will give Japanese people more things to criticize than just the supposed illegitimacy of the Tokyo Trials, the Yomiuri Shimbun is in fact trying to reveal the real truth of Japan's war-time record to the Japanese public.

While Ishizuka may be a revisionist of Japanese war-time history, he does clearly praise Koizumi for his visits to the Yasukuni shrine. He describes Koizumi's stubbornness as "worthwhile." Why? Because the visits have somehow "called on the Japanese to think hard again about who should be responsible for the war." In this case, it is wrong to praise Koizumi for supposedly bringing who's responsible for the war to the attention of the Japanese public. His visits do not accomplish that at all, as Ishizuka claims. Rather, it only creates a bigger rift between Japan and China and Korea. Case in point no summit meetings have been held with China since 2001. The president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, has also suspended meetings with Koizumi. What this has accomplished is an inability to take any regional initiative. For example, negotiations were to take place between China and Japan last year over who should own some oil and gas deposits below the East China Sea. However, due to Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, the Chinese backed out of the negotiations. All Koizumi has done is jeopardize Japan's chances of finally acquiring its first patch of secure energy. Japan has no oil of its own. Another example is a territorial dispute between Korea and Japan over two islets, the Dokdo which the Koreans control, but the Japanese claim and calls Takeshima. Again, Koizumi creates a hostile negotiation environment by irritating the Koreans with his Yasukuni visits.

In conclusion, Ishizuka reports that some Japanese are growing tired of the anger of their neighbors. I would not be surprised if he is one of these Japanese, for I can imagine that any slight mention of a Japanese war-time atrocity would be blasphemy in his home. He mentions the Tokyo Trials, but wrongly dismisses them as illegitimate. Finally, Ishizuka thinks that Koizumi is doing a service to the Japanese public by bringing scrutiny upon himself for constantly visiting the Yasukuni shrine, but the reality is that Koizumi is only damaging relations with China and Korea.

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