Unfortunately Japan is like all the others when it comes to apologizing

Davey Meelker

Japan has committed many atrocities of which the results are still recognizable throughout Asia. I was eager to go the country that is responsible for the many atrocities back then. In the beginning I was positively surprised about Japan’s dealings with the past. As I wrote earlier I was amazed by a monument I found in Nagasaki apologizing to the Koreans about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the time Korea was colonized. Especially, because Japan is infamous when it comes to denying any guilt about the atrocities during the Second World War. So Japan did apologize for their brutal imperialistic behaviour. Or didn’t they?

I woke up out of my dream in Tokyo when we realised that Japan has indeed their own story about what happened in the war, and it was obnoxious. At the entrance of the Yushukan museum at the Yasukuni shrine you immediately see a big steam locomotive. Only after reading the sign we realised that this steam engine was riding on the infamous Burmese railroad once, also called the Death Railway, where more than a hundred thousand people died in the process of constructing it. Then, visitors get the chance to get indoctrinated by propaganda movies (only in Japanese) encouraging patriotism. Subsequently, the museum tells, in a subtle way, their vision of Japanese imperialism. For example, it stressed that Japanese soldiers never massacred people in Nanjing, only some soldiers dressed up as civilians were “prosecuted.” They further stress that they were not attacking China but were defending the Japanese in China. And, of course, it was Japan that ‘liberated’ China from the Western imperialists (including the Soviet Union).

Japan ignored most of their atrocities. Not a word has been said about the former Korean sex slaves still protesting in front of the Japanese embassy. Not a word about the many victims from the constructing the Death Railway. Not a word about any atrocity. At the end of the exhibition they concluded that although the Japanese militarily lost the war they morally won it. The decolonisation process after the war institutionalised the Japanese ideals of throughout Asia. Outside you will find a shrine were even class A war criminal are enshrined!

At the same time I could stop thinking about the atrocities my own country, the Netherlands, committed hundreds of years ago. They exploited great parts of Asia (especially Indonesia) and traded slaves around the world. For many years this was merely seen as a glorious part of Dutch history. The Dutch government never stated an official apology, however it does recognise the miseries and expressed regret (only hundreds of years after the atrocities took place!).

The Japanese did what the Dutch and other European countries did hundreds of years ago: expanding their territory and exploiting the local population. Consequently, one could argue that it is not right to judge Japan for doing the same a lot of European countries did?

Well, the fact that many European countries sadly exploited other countries and recognized this much too late does not mean that Japan should do the same. Every country committing such atrocities should be judged no matter its geographical location or culture. Some values are universal. How can we tell the former sex slaves or the relatives and friend of those massacred in the most brutal ways by the Japanese throughout Asia that they simply should forget the past?

If we ever want to prevent such atrocities to happen again, then the terrible stories should be told, it can still help survivors coping with their past. It makes me sad that Japan is still too proud and too scared to lose face to accept that its army fought an imperialistic war and slaughtered and enslaved so many people. Maybe, like the Netherlands, the realisation and admittance of what they will have to take time. Hopefully Japan needs less time than the Dutch, so that the survivors of Japanese brutality can find at least some peace with their past.

3 responses to “Unfortunately Japan is like all the others when it comes to apologizing”

  1. Chris Malcolm says :

    Hey, this is Chris, we met on the train up to Tokyo. Finally got back to Tokyo from Hokkaido and had a chance to check out your blog. Glad to see that you made it to Yasukuni. I’ve learned a few more things reading your posts, but i’ll have to eventually go see it for myself as well. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!

    • Davey says :

      Hey Chris! Great to hear from you! Yes, if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have gone to the Yasukuni shrine. It was extremely interesting visiting there, as you can see by all the blogs in which we reference it! Have a good time in Japan and good luck with your Master’s program!

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