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The 70th Anniversary of the End of the World War II / How Japanese People Approach Religion | 公益財団法人フォーリン・プレスセンター(FPCJ)

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The 70th Anniversary of the End of the World War II / How Japanese People Approach Religion

post date : 2015.04.27

Monthly Magazines Covered This Month

Gaiko, Sekai, Chuokoron, Bungeishunju (May issues)



Vol. 1, April 2015 

The 70th Anniversary of the End of the Second World War and Japan’s Never-ending Postwar Period/

How Japanese People Approach Religion


1.The 70th Anniversary of the End of the Second World War and Japan’s Never-ending Postwar Period

原爆ドーム2015 marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. Amidst friction with neighboring countries over historical views, international attention has focused on what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will say in his statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. In response to this interest, many magazines are doing features on the anniversary. One notable point is that instead of focusing on aspects related to international relations such as historical views or wartime responsibility, the magazines gathered articles dealing with what the last 70 years has meant to Japan and the Japanese people. Instead of just being retrospective, these articles demonstrate how Japan and its citizens are still wrestling with how to deal with World War II and the postwar period.


Bungeishunju ran an interview between former Grand Chamberlain Makoto Watanabe and Showa historian Masayasu Hosaka titled “Their Imperial Majesties’ 20 Years of Prayer for the Island of No Surrender.” The former aide to the emperor describes the imperial couple’s journey to the Republic of Palau to commemorate the dead, and the meaning behind their prayers.


The island of Peleliu in Palau was the site of a vicious battle, in which the entire defending force of approximately 10,000 Japanese soldiers was wiped out. Fifty years after the end of the war, the imperial couple began their journey to commemorate the dead within Japan, and for the 60th anniversary in 2005 they went to Saipan. They wanted to go to Palau during this trip as well, but this plan did not come to fruition due to issues with transportation, accommodation and security. This time, a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel was dispatched to the island to serve as accommodation, in order to allow the imperial couple to visit the island as they wanted.


Watanabe said, “Of all the duties I have watched His Majesty perform, I believe that praying for those lost during the war accounts for a very significant portion.” On the topic of when the emperor first began to feel a particular duty to pray for the dead, the former aide mentioned a press conference in August 1983 where the emperor said, “I feel strongly that a war such as that must never happen again. I can’t help but think about all those who lost their lives, and the families they left behind. In Japan, I believe there are four days that we must remember.” According to Watanabe, “They are the day commemorating the end of the war, the days the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the day commemorating the end of the Battle of Okinawa.” He explained his thoughts on the emperor’s feelings, saying “…as time passed, and we entered the Heisei era, I believe his feelings that the war and those who lost their lives in it ‘Must not be forgotten’ only became stronger…”


Both Watanabe and Hosaka suggested the reason for the strength of the emperor’s feelings was due to the fact that he had been alive during the war, and had experienced the deaths of many from his own generation. Watanabe indicated his concerns about there being a generation gap in interest in the war, mentioning that “Since neither HIH Crown Prince Naruhito nor HIH Prince Fumihito have experienced war, it is unclear in what way they will carry on commemorating the dead. This may be a problem for their entire generation in Japan.”


This difference in opinion about the previous war and the postwar period exists not only between different generations, but also between different regions. Prime examples are Okinawa, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of which the emperor included in his list of days to remember. In Okinawa Prefecture, for years there has been concern over the plan to relocate and consolidate the United States Marine Corps’ Futenma base within Camp Schwab, the existing Marine base in Henoko. However, recently opposition has been heating up. In the November 2014 Okinawa governor’s election, former Naha mayor Takeshi Onaga ran on a platform opposing the base relocation and defeated by a significant margin incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima, who supported the relocation.


Sekai’s piece “Okinawa Will Become a Bridge Between Japan and the Rest of Asia” is an conversation between the aforementioned Governor Onaga and Jitsuro Terashima, president of the Japan Research Institute. Onaga explains how public opinion in Okinawa opposing the relocation of the base to Henoko involves not just the issue of the base, but also the identity of Okinawans that gradually developed through “Japan treating Okinawa with prejudice” since Okinawa was returned to Japan after being governed by the US military for 27 years. He also said, “The reason for opposing the new base construction in Henoko is obviously not just due to anti-American sentiment. It is because at this rate, neither the Japanese nor American governments will properly discuss the role Okinawa should play or its relationship with the rest of Asia.” He then insisted that “Solving the Okinawa base issue will be a demonstration of Japan’s peaceful intentions, and it would be possible to use Okinawa as a form of soft power.” The root of the current Okinawa problem is in how the Japanese government made no effort to resolve the issues and put an end to Okinawa’s postwar period.


Sekai also carried a piece from Tadatoshi Akiba, the former mayor of Hiroshima, another place with a never-ending postwar period. The article, “A Nuclear-Free World Is Possible,” is about nuclear abolition. As the mayor of a city that had been hit by a nuclear bomb, Akiba was a leader of nuclear abolition efforts. As he believes that hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) are a major force to prevent nuclear proliferation, and the number of living hibakusha is decreasing, he mentioned his concern that “Compared to our generation, the next generation will have to overcome even greater difficulties. Being unable to hear directly from hibakusha and others who have used their experiences in World War II as a deterrent to nuclear proliferation or war, they will have to pursue peace in a world without any such deterrents.” From the viewpoint of respecting the constitution, he also criticized the shift in Japan’s security policy, and pointed out how it conflicted with nuclear abolishment efforts.


However, this shift in security policy may be the biggest postwar period issue left for Japan to deal with.


In Gaiko’s special feature “My Historic Moments of 70 Years after WWⅡ” former Japanese Ambassador to the United States Takakazu Kuriyama chooses the moment the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait, and explains the breakdown of the Japan-centric pacifism that had ruled postwar Japan. Kuriyama became vice foreign minister the year before the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and created a post-Cold War diplomatic policy of “great power diplomacy without acting like a great power.” According to him, “not acting like a great power” entailed “repenting and breaking away from pre-war militarism,” and “great power diplomacy” entailed “…working to build and protect global order as a member of the G7.” This diplomatic policy was clearly different from the Japan-centric pacifism of postwar Japan, which had stubbornly refused to commit to dealing with any international problems, and this contradiction immediately caused issues. During the Gulf War, Japanese cooperation was sought to help restore international order in its role as a great power, but Japan was criticized by international society for doing nothing but supplying funds.


Kuriyama gave the following briefing to Prime Minister Kaifu after the ceasefire. “It is necessary to note that Japan’s actions over the past seven months have caused severe damage to Japan’s international reputation. …Japan has given the impression to the international community, particularly the US, that it is using the constitution and pacifism as an excuse to avoid external responsibilities. The legitimacy of the reason for not deploying the Self-Defense Forces was questioned more than the lack of an SDF deployment in itself. It will require new effort and many years to restore Japan’s reputation.” Mr. Kuriyama passed away on April 1 this year, making this the last piece he wrote. The article concludes with “...[At the time,] I could not overcome the barrier of Japan-centric pacifism. This year, 70 years since the war, I would like to make another attempt to overcome that barrier.”



2. How Japanese People Approach Religion

11ea043155822cdd83cdfbafdec1538f_sIn addition to IS (an extremist group calling themselves the “Islamic State”) taking Japanese people hostage and murdering them in Syria, three Japanese tourists died in the March attack on a museum in Tunisia by Islamic extremists. Until now, the Japanese public felt that the terrorism by Islamic extremists in the Muslim world and the West was not their problem, but these incidents made people take notice. Nonetheless, there are still many comments claiming they are unable to understand terrorism. This is due to the background of monotheism and the ideological conflict between religious absolutism and rational absolutism that has continued in Western Europe and the Muslim world since the Middle Ages, which Japan never experienced. This is likely part of the reason why monthly magazines have been running features on the nature of religion since those two incidents.


Chuokoron made a feature called “Wandering Religious Beliefs,” and introduced the current state of Japanese religions, completely different from the world of monotheistic religions. Included in this feature is “Shrines, Places Where Everyone Is Welcome” by Tsunekiyo Tanaka, president of Jinja Honcho (Association of Shinto Shrines), a religious corporation that oversees approximately 80,000 shrines throughout Japan. In the article, he says “It comes from a faith that found gods in different aspects of nature such as mountains, rivers and boulders. That is why Japanese people believe they should respect everything around them,” explaining how Shinto began as nature worship and has no teachings or religious texts. In response to the criticism leveled against Japanese people, primarily by monotheists, of being religiously inconsistent, he suggests Shinto forms a societal foundation in a different way than dogmatic religions, saying “Seeing the people of Japan helping each other out, lining up politely, and considering each other’s feelings after the Great East Japan Earthquake caused all that damage, a number of different people began to realize that the reason for that may lie with Shinto, with Shinto presenting a model for Japanese behavior."


In the same feature, Chodo Yazawa, head priest of Anrakuji Temple and editor in chief of Gekkan Jushoku, wrote an article called “The Problems Facing Japan’s Separated and Isolated Head Priests” about Buddhism, Japan’s main dogmatic religion. In it, he describes the difficulty of managing a temple as a “family business,” including issues such as a lack of successors, and explains how the role of temples has been reevaluated following the Great East Japan Earthquake, as being “...indispensable to people’s well-being, and temples have always supported the local community.”


Gaiko ran a feature called “Martyrdom for Values—Theocentric Islam Versus Western Democracy,” directly approaching the issue of terrorism by Islamic extremists. This feature has a sense of urgency to it, and is from the perspective that Islamic fundamentalism can never coexist with Western democracy, which forms the basis for order in international society, and the basis for Japan’s existence.


Yoshikatsu Suzuki, editor in chief of Gaiko, wrote an article called “An Age When Satire Breeds Tragedy” discussing the January attack on Charlie Hebdo and explaining the conflict from its most extreme points. In it, he writes “Culture is a product of people’s spiritual world, and is part of the internal ‘cultural framework’ composed of thoughts, feelings and actions, with satire being one form of journalistic expression that is sensitive to changes in politics and society,” relating the articles of Charlie Hebdo to the nature of modern society. He also points out the double standard and prejudice that can be seen when it comes to the magazine’s satire of Islam compared to other religions. He explains that as part of globalization people must both consider the cultural framework and recognize the existence of others, and that “There is likely no other way than to spend the time to develop a common foundation of sensibility and rationality.”


a8bce9ceb2cea4030dece2029c598d26_sTokyo University Professor Emeritus Masayuki Yamauchi, one of Japan’s leading experts on Islam and the Middle East, wrote an article called “Where Do Threats to Modern Society Come From?” In it, he points out the same structure exists with hate speech towards ethnic Korean citizens and residents of Japan (zainichi). Yamauchi writes “The concern now is that in Western society, the position that ‘Why should the actions of Islamic groups always be forgiven? Why is Islam in a position to judge, and why should we be the ones judged?’ has been gaining purchase. There is a significant possibility this will lead not only to hate speech, but to hate crimes.” On the subject of how Japan should proceed in the future as international society becomes increasingly complex, he said “The only real choice is to maintain a position as the biggest beneficiary of the international regime that is ensuring Japan’s current prosperity, the system of free trade. In order to do so, stability in the Middle East will be necessary, as well as maintaining maritime security for the sea lanes originating from there,” emphasizing the need from the perspective of modern global order for Japan to become involved in issues with the Muslim world.


In “Japan Targeted by Islamic Extremists ‘IS’–What Lessons Can Japan Learn from the Hostage Incident?” in the same issue, former Minister at the Embassy of Japan in Iraq and Deputy Director-General of the MOFA Middle East Bureau and current research director at the Canon Research Institute Kunihiko Miyake points out that Japan had already become a target of terrorism by Islamic extremists in 2001. Mentioning that “IS’s strategy is to establish an Islamic state through continual jihad,” he explains that “The chance of negotiations or talks with a group like this is minimal.” He was quite harsh on the topic of the criticism by Japanese media that Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Middle East triggered the crisis, saying “This shows the intellectual limits of the Japanese mass media.” Still on the topic of terrorism, in the same issue former Ambassador to India and France and Acting Chairman of the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies Hiroshi Hirabayashi submitted an article called “New Determination of Japanese People to Not Give in to Terrorism.” He lists a number of things Japan should do: 1) Continue peaceful humanitarian aid to the Muslim world, which Japan has continued since WWII; 2) Maintain Japan’s positive image as a non-Western country that has succeeded at modernization; 3) Promote awareness of the religious tolerance of Japanese society; 4) Promote awareness of Japan’s position on the Muslim world directly to the Muslim world; and 5) Remember Japanese laws and the state of the SDF. He also indicated the necessity of improving systems to protect Japanese citizens overseas.


*This page was created independently by Foreign Press Center Japan, and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese government or any other organization.

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