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

The Beginning of the History Problem

During the period between 1965 and 1988, Japan’s official commemoration came to adopt the cosmopolitan logic in a limited way. Japanese prime ministers expressed “deep regret” and “reproach” for Japan’s past wrongdoings against South Korea and China. The compensation policy for A-bomb victims was partially extended to South Koreans. Descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in history textbooks also increased, and the textbook-inspection criteria were modified to take into account foreign perspectives. These small changes were driven primarily by transnational interactions: the Japanese prime ministers’ contrite speech acts took place when meeting with leaders of the South Korean and Chinese governments, and criticisms from South Korea and China prompted the changes in Japanese history textbooks. Similarly, the compensation policy for A-bomb victims was initiated by Japanese and South Korean NGOs supporting South Korean A-bomb victims.

These changes remained small because the mobilizing structures of cosmopolitan commemoration, including the JSP and NGOs affiliated with A-bomb victims, were much weaker than their nationalist counterparts. Although the proponents of cosmopolitan commemoration succeeded in stopping the Yasukuni Shrine from being renationalized, they were unable to make Japan’s official commemoration decisively more cosmopolitan because they lacked direct access to the government. The LDP, backed by the Japan Bereaved Families Association and other conservative NGOs, continued to single-handedly control the government and defend the nationalist logic of commemoration, rejecting the Tokyo Judgment. Nevertheless, these small changes demonstrated influences of transnational interactions on Japan’s official commemoration. Despite its robust mobilizing structures and political dominance, the LDP government—a defender of nationalist commemoration—had to incorporate cosmopolitanism into Japan’s official commemoration. Put another way, the transnational interactions added an international dimension to political opportunities, constraining the LDP government’s attempt to maintain its nationalist commemoration.142

Most significant changes during this period, however, happened at the subterranean level rather than at the official level. Japanese A-bomb victims and affiliated NGOs began to articulate the cosmopolitan logic of commemoration more forcefully than before by encompassing foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings. Concurrently, nationalistic sentiments began to develop in South Korea and China, partly engineered by the govern?ments and partly springing up spontaneously from citizens. This growth of nationalism in the two countries fed into, as well as was fed by, their commemorations of Japan’s past aggression, wart ime atrocities, and colonial rule. These subterranean changes did not yet influence Japan’s official commemoration, but they were ready to galvanize the history problem in East Asia. At this juncture, two historic events happened that changed the dynamic of the history problem at both domestic and international levels: the death of Emperor Hirohito and the end of the Cold War.

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