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Those Darn Historians

November 29th, 2004

This from Kyodo News via Japan Today:

Education minister Nariaki Nakayama on Saturday said history textbooks used in Japanese secondary schools contain passages that are extremely “self-torturing” and suggest “Japan has done nothing but bad things.”

He told a news conference he should judge textbooks from a “neutral” standpoint given his capacity as minister in charge of screening textbooks. “Every country’s history has light and shadow. While we must reflect on bad deeds, we must not conduct education on the basis of a self-torturing historical perspective that everything that has been done was bad.”

So, exactly what is he referring to when he says that “everything” done was reported as bad? Was the Unification under Oda, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa represented as evil? Was the Meiji Restoration written as a bad thing? Was Japan’s post-war economic miracle never mentioned? Was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki related as a bad deed done by the Japanese people?

I have the feeling that when Nakayama refers to “everything” done, he means “everything bad” that was done. For which he himself gives the answer: we must reflect on bad deeds. But by exaggerating to the point that “everything is represented as bad deeds,” he’s claiming an excuse to whitewash (excuse me–“view from a neutral standpoint”) some of the bad stuff–and you can guess primarily what he’s talking about. And no, it’s not the wars of the 6th and 7th centuries over the Soga clan’s rise to power. Something a lot more recent. Care to guess?

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  1. Tim Kane
    November 30th, 2004 at 00:28 | #1

    Of course he’s talking about “excessive” nationalism of Imperial Japan begining in the Meiji restoration and culminating in the Rape of Nanking during the Showa era.

    I always find this a disapointing aspect of Japan.

    Almost alone among the first world industrialized democratic nations in the post World War II era, Japane has had a decreasing crime rate, although this trend did not continue through the recession torn 90s, the crime rate remains low.

    This is due, in part, to the wide spread practice in criminal law of a system of contrition. Japanese law, traditionally allows for “forgiveness” if an alledged criminal will seek and make restitution with his victims, admit his crime and ask for forgiveness and acknowledge the superior authority and legitimacy of law the case is dropped. A judge my ask for surrogates of his “community” to speak on the behalf of the alledge criminal and testify to take a role in his redemption. This appears like an incredibly leaniant system, but in fact 95% of the time those that have been through this process never commit another crime.

    More than any other society, Japan understand the role and importance of contrition, restitution and its redeaming qualities. More than any society, Japan should want to admit its mistakes, acknowledge the inferiority of its actions and the superiority of international norms against war, torture and cruelty because such admition brings correction and redemption and full and complete integration with the larger community. Failure to admit such keeps Japan stuck on the issues.

    I understand that there are other parts of Japan’s culture, especially its commitment to its unique sense of community on a national scale, that get in the way of doing it. But by now the logic and benefits of the system of contrition should be so wide spread that the Japanese would think to pursue it on a national and international scale.

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