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Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia

Growing Tensions between Domestic and International Demands

In addition to the promotion of the official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, the LDP tried to reduce descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in Japanese history textbooks for junior high and high schools; those descriptions increased throughout the 1970s because Ienaga Saburo had won his case at the Tokyo District Court in July 1970.88 The LDP began to criticize history textbooks by serializing Textbooks Today (Ima kyokashowa) in its official newsletters in January 19 8 0.89 LDP minister of justice Okuno Seiryo also publicly criticized existing textbooks for their “inadequacy in cultivating love of the country,” and in June 1981, the LDP decided to create a new law that would further strengthen the power of the Ministry of Education to regulate the contents of history textbooks.90

These attempts to promote nationalism in education affected the 1982 cycle of textbook inspection for high schools: textbook inspectors recommended that authors of Japanese history textbooks should replace the expression “aggression” (shinryaku) toward China with “advancement” (shins- hutsu) and use more conservative terminology to describe the Nanjing Massacre. One of the textbook inspectors, Tokinoya Shigeru, justified the recommendations as follows: “I was troubled by the inconsistency, where the author [Ienaga Saburo] uses ‘aggression’ only to describe Japan’s acts toward China while using ‘advancement’ to describe the Western Powers’ acts t oward Asia and China. . . . Since historical interpretations of the Nanjing Massacre became more diverse after Mr. Suzuki Akira’s A Myth of the Nanjing Massacre won the Fourth Oya Souichi Nonfiction Award, the author can no longer assert his interpretation that the Japanese military committed systematic atrocities immediately after occupying Nanjing.”91 After the inspection, two out of the ten Japanese history textbooks for high schools adopted the recommendations and replaced “aggression” with “advancement.”92

Soon after major Japanese newspapers reported the changes recommended by the Ministry of Education, newspapers and broadcasting stations in South Korea and China began to criticize the Japanese government for trying to distort history. Minister of Education Ogawa Heiji rejected the criticism by stating that inspection of history textbooks was a “domestic issue” and not the concern of foreign countries.93 But the criticisms from South Korea and China continued. NGOs in South Korea organized meetings and demonstrations against the recommended changes, pressing Chun Doo Hwan’s government to protest.94 The Chinese government told the Japanese embassy in Beijing that the recommended changes contradicted the spirit of the 1972 Joint Communique and the 1978 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries.95 The Chinese government also refused to proceed with Ogawa’s scheduled visit to Beijing.

Suzuki Zenko’s government initially tried to defend the recommended changes. When JSP member Doi Takako asked whether the government was trying to deny the “obvious historical fact that Japan waged a war of aggression (shinryaku senso) against China,” Hashimoto Hiroshi from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “We humbly recognize that such a historical view is held by people in China,” and indicated that Japan did not have to adopt the same view.96 Ogawa also argued, “The nature of the war that Japan waged against China is open to diverse interpretations and judgments. I do not think it is necessary for the Japanese government to issue a statement officially acknowledging that it was a war of aggression.”97 These attempts to defend the recommended changes were consistent with the LDP’s longstanding rejection of the Tokyo Trial. Explaining why the number of victims of the Nanjing Massacre was removed from the textbooks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Miyazawa Kiichi argued, “Even though the Tokyo Trial stated that 200,000 people were killed in Nanjing, I do not know whether we can establish a historical fact solely based on that statement. History is far more complicated, and it will take us a long time to learn what really happened.”98

International criticism continued, however, and prompted the Japanese government to issue a statement, promising to “listen carefully to the criticisms of the textbooks from South Korea and China, among other countries” and “modify the current textbook inspection criteria so as to promote friendship with neighboring countries in Asia.”99 The Japanese government then incorporated the so-called Article on Neighboring Countries (kinrin shokoku joko) into inspection criteria to encourage textbook writers to include descriptions of foreign victims of the Asia-Pacific War.100 As a result, the international criticism abated, and descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in history textbooks increased during the 1980s.101

Frustrated with this sequence of events, the National Council for the Defense of Japan (Nihon wo Mamoru Kokumin Kaigi) announced its plan to produce a new history textbook that could “make children proud of being Japanese” as an alternative to the existing history textbooks marred with “masochistic tendencies.”102 The council then submitted its draft history textbook for high schools, New Japanese History (Shinpen nihonshi), to the 1985—1986 cycle of textbook inspection. This history textbook discussed myths of the imperial family extensively, praised the Imperial Rescript on Education in prewar Japan, and downplayed Japan’s past wrongdoings. The draft textbook stated, for example, “The battle over Nanjing was extremely intense. The Chinese government argues that the Japanese military committed atrocities against the Chinese people at the time. . . . But a controversy exists over truths of the event, and it is yet to be settled.”103 After inspecting the draft textbook, the Ministry of Education required the council to make about eight hundred revisions. After the council completed the required revisions, the ministry provisionally approved the textbook in May 1986.

Again, the Japanese government received strong criticisms from South Korea, China, and other Asian countries. The South Korean and Chinese governments, in particular, demanded further revisions of New Japanese History. In response, the Ministry of Education required the council to go through four additional rounds of revision regarding its descriptions of Japan’s past aggression, wartime atrocities, and colonial rule.104 This action on the ministry’s part pacified the international criticism but also galvanized some LDP members to form the Association for the Nation’s Basic Problems (Kokka Kihon Mondai Doshikai) in August 1986. Association members criticized the government for accommodating foreign demands and argued, “Interpretations of history differ across countries. . . . By demanding changes in Japanese history textbooks, China and South Korea are interfering with Japan’s domestic affairs.”105

In spite of the controversy over history textbooks in the 1980s, the LDP stepped up its effort to legitimate an official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. The Council of Diet Members to Honor War Gods, the Association of Diet Members for Bereaved Families, and the Association of Diet Members for Visiting the Yasukuni Shrine Together joined forces to press Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro to officially visit the shrine.106 While Nakasone visited the shrine on annual festivals as well as on the anniversary of the Asia- Pacific War’s end, he was careful not to refer to his visits as “official” and avoided spending government funds to pay visit-related expenses.

To finally make an official visit on the fortieth anniversary of the war’s end, Nakasone created the Commission on Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Cabinet Members (Kakuryo no Yasukuni Jinja Sanpai Mondai ni kan- suru Kondankai) in August 1984. The commission published its final report on August 9, 1985, concluding that an official visit was possible within the framework of the constitution.107 In addition, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujinami Takao issued a statement on August 14, explaining that Prime Minister Nakasone’s official visit should not be interpreted as validating Japan’s past aggression; on the contrary, Fujinami argued, “We are deeply aware that we caused great pains and damages to many people in the world, especially in Asia. Our determination not to repeat such an act . . . guides our official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. We will continue to make efforts to help other countries understand the intention of our official visit, to honor war dead and pray for world peace.”108

Despite these efforts to preempt international criticism, the Chinese government still warned of possible consequences of Nakasone’s planned visit: “If Prime Minister Nakasone and other cabinet members visit the Yasukuni Shrine, their act will harm feelings of people around the world, especially Chinese and Japanese people who suffered greatly from militarism, for the shrine honors war criminals like Tojo Hideki.”109 Nevertheless, Nakasone proceeded with his visit on August 15. As Japan’s prime minister, he used government funds to pay offerings for the first time. After his visit, Nakasone held a press conference and stated, “Of course, it was an official visit. I am convinced that the majority of Japanese citizens support a prime minister’s official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. . . . My visit will never resurrect prewar militarism, extreme nationalism, and national Shintoism. I will make efforts to help foreign countries understand the true intention of my visit.”110

Galvanized by Naksone’s action, university students in Beijing protested against “Japanese militarism” and “visits to the Yasukuni Shrine” on September 18, the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident. Protests spread to other major cities and continued until October.111 Opposition parties in Japan also strongly criticized Nakasone’s official visit. JSP member Doi Takako spearheaded the criticism as follows: “In the past, Japan inflicted enormous damages on China and the whole of Asia. Victim countries will never forget it. So, what will they think of an official visit to the shrine that honors those who were prosecuted and punished as war criminals?”112 In November and December, Japanese bereaved families critical of Nakasone’s official visit also filed lawsuits arguing that his official visit had violated the constitutional separation of religion and state.113

While exploring how Nakasone could continue his official visit without incurring international and domestic criticism, some LDP members considered the possibility of removing the Class A war criminals from the shrine. For example, Itagaki Tadashi, an LDP member and son of Itagaki Seishiro—one of the seven executed Class A war criminals—tried to contact bereaved families of the other Class A war criminals, hoping that they might agree to remove their family members from the Yasukuni Shrine. When Itagaki talked to Tojo Teruo, a son of Tojo Hideki, in November 1985, however, the latter argued that such a move would mean accepting the “victor’s justice” of the Tokyo Trial and, thus, he could not allow it for the sake of his father.114 Yasukuni priests also categorically rejected the possibility of removing the Class A war criminals on religious grounds, insisting it was “impossible to remove a person who has been already enshrined

as a god.”115

In the end, Nakasone decided not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine again. To explain the decision, Chief Cabinet Secretary Gotoda Masaharu issued a statement on August 14, 1986: “Since the Yasukuni Shrine honors the so- called ‘Class A war criminals,’ the last year’s official visit drew criticisms from people in neighboring countries who had suffered enormous pains and damages from acts of our country in the past. This will risk causing misunderstandings and distrust between Japan and neighboring countries . . . and will not serve our national interests and, ultimately, the wish of war dead, to promote friendship with other peoples.”116

By the mid-1980s, then, the Japanese government had to negotiate the opposing demands: that is, South Korean and Chinese calls to commemorate how they had suffered from Japan’s past wrongdoings, and nationalist insistence inside Japan that the government reject such foreign demands. As a result, even though the LDP had sufficient mobilizing structures and controlled the government, its attempt to strengthen nationalism in Japan’s official commemoration—through prime ministers’ actions and history education— did not succeed. In fact, thanks to the international pressure, Japan’s official commemoration became less nationalist, in that a prime ministerial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine was suspended. Instead, it became more cosmopolitan because the government introduced the new textbook-inspection criterion to increase descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in history textbooks.

 
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