Viewpoints: Japan’s approach to history
In the week that Korea celebrated independence from Japanese rule, a Japanese teacher and a retired South Korean man gave the BBC News website their perspectives on Japan’s relationship with its own history.
Shoichi Minagi teaches English at a school in Japan’s rural Okayama prefecture. He thinks Japan needs to confront its difficult past.
Where I live in rural Japan, there were no special events to mark the anniversary of our defeat in World War II.
I don’t think Japanese people take the issue of war responsibility very seriously. If anything, we try to evade the subject. I sometimes ask my schoolchildren about the war but they never want to discuss it. Most ordinary Japanese have hardly any idea what they are criticised for.
Our society doesn’t provide much opportunity to think about our past. I grew up in the 1950s in a remote village in a mountainous region, west of Osaka.
The war did not affect our area; life went on as usual, and after defeat nobody really spoke of the war. My mother had a horrible experience during the American air raid in Kobe where she worked as a midwife, but she never refers to the war.
I think Prime Minister Koizumi’s official statement about the war and the Japanese war responsibility sounded too formal and ritualistic, even hollow.
The problem is history. Many Japanese people didn’t understand when the anti-Japanese protests erupted across China and Korea after those controversial history textbooks [which some accuse of glossing over Japan’s war crimes] were published.
The government is fully to blame – school textbooks should be free of government censorship. It’s incredibly important to learn good history, to compare the present with the past and learn from it.
But we must also realise that Japan has played a positive role in the world. We were the only Asian nation that stood up to a Western colonial power and defeated it in the Russo-Japanese war. We were the first Asian nation to industrialise.
Nevertheless, the future depends on how Japan and its people understand and cope with their past.
Kim Sae Joong is retired and lives in rural Kangwon-Do, east of Seoul. He says nations that fabricate their history run the risk of losing their history.
I live in a farming area about 100 miles from Seoul. Independence celebrations were very muted here. But I have strong feelings about the Japanese occupation of Korea. It feels a bit like our nation was robbed at gunpoint.
I was three years old when Korea was liberated. But I remember the difficult stories my parents told me about that time. Some of our neighbours were persecuted because the Japanese requisitioned private property and land. Many people we knew lost their land and some lived in starving conditions.
North and South Korea celebrated independence together for the first time. But this seemed to me simply a political gesture. At least some people from the North got a chance to see how their brothers and sisters in the South live. Maybe they will return and tell others.
They have been educated with a different history – the history they are taught is not the history we are taught.
History is a problem for Japan too. The history textbook controversies are unfortunate because the Japanese will lose their true past if they continue to fabricate it. They are trying to erase events out of a sense of patriotism. But patriotism to me is about understanding your past.
Many Japanese prime ministers have made apologies, even the Japanese emperor. But these politicians still visit the Yasukuni shrine, which honours war criminals. How could they pay respect to those people? Apologies make no difference when they continue to act like that.
We don’t want to take revenge on those who persecuted us but every country needs to acknowledge its history.
Life is different for Koreans now. We are an affluent people these days, there is no starvation. Many Japanese visit Korea and enjoy our culture. I’m optimistic that if politicians do not manoeuvre people by visiting shrines, international resentment will fade.