chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction

Since the 1990s questions about Japanese wartime conduct, apologies for aggression, and compensation for former victims of the country’s Imperial policies, have been brought to the fore of national and regional politics. The changes in the geopolitical setting in the region, the re-emergence of previously forgotten or neglected episodes of the Asia-Pacific War as well as political shifts on the domestic front, which included the temporary loss of control of the government by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), contributed to a greater recognition of the wartime culpability of Imperial Japan by the government and engagement in the politics of apology towards neighbouring countries. However, the increasing prominence and purchasing power of discourses emphasising Japan’s culpability, as well as the instances of the expression of remorse at the official level, have provoked negative reactions from certain sectors of conservative political elites and the wider society against the so-called masochistic view of national history. The way in which the state addressed the subject of war memory and

responsibility for the suffering inflicted on nationals of neighbouring countries in the 1990s, including the efforts to popularise a more ‘positive’ overview of the Asia-Pacific War by certain sectors of lawmakers, has attracted wide academic interest.1 Additionally, the grass-root movement to correct the ‘masochistic’ view of history, centred on the Association for History Textbook Reform (Atarashii rekishi kyo-kasho o tsukurukai), has been vigorously discussed by scholars, and has led to broadening knowledge on the reasons for its emergence, its discourse(s) and actions.2 The tendency to deny or justify the country’s wartime record, as reflected in the behaviour and remarks of conservative political lawmakers as well as the growth of a vocal historical revisionist movement, prompted certain members of the research community to evaluate war memory in Japan in a highly critical manner, as demonstrated in a study by George Hicks (1997) condemning Japanese ‘amnesia’ and an unfavourable account presented by Gavan McCormack in his work entitled The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence (2001: 225-87). Other members of the academic community have expressed their disappointment with simplistic portrayals of the multiplicity of attitudes in Japanese society towards the country’s wartime past and the introduction of sweeping generalisations by

other scholars as well as foreign observers (e.g. Seaton 2005, 2007a; Richter 2008: 53-4). The war narratives produced at the state and official commemoration level

are of paramount importance in international relations owing to their influence in shaping the perceptions of the past held by members of the public, and by extension the citizens’ sense of national identity. There is no denying that the state remains the most important actor in the process of memory production and, therefore, the level of academic attention devoted to the state is well justified. However, accounts of failure to acknowledge responsibility for Japan’s wartime past at the official level, as demonstrated by denials of wrongdoing by a significant number of conservative legislators, and attention to the grass-root revisionist movement, unintentionally lead to a certain marginalisation of discourses and actors that demand greater acceptance of manifold responsibilities stemming from the country’s past. The under-representation of these ‘progressive’ voices operating below the state level lessens the possibility of grasping the complexity of Japanese war memory and attitudes towards the legacies of the Asia-Pacific War.