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

Growing Cosmopolitanism and the Escalating History Problem

During this period, Japan’s official commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War became more cosmopolitan, though the logic of nationalism remained dominant. Since pol itical opportunities increasingly acquired an international dimension in the post—Cold War period, even the LDP government had to adopt contrite gestures, precisely because doing so was necessary to remove the obstacle of the history problem from its nationalist quest for making Japan a regional leader. Moreover, the LDP lost its monopoly access to the government, and this created a political opportunity for the two non-LDP prime ministers, Hosokawa and Murayama, to promote the cosmopolitan logic of commemoration. Murayama in particular offered a decisive apology in August 1995, and his government created the Asian Women’s Fund to provide relief for former comfort women.

Coterminous with the changing structure of international relations and Japanese politics was the growth of the transnational network consisting of Japanese NGOs and South Korean and Chinese victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings. While the transnational network had originally emerged to provide relief only for South Korean A-bomb victims, it expanded to include more actors, such as former comfort women and forced labors, and gained momentum in the early 1990s. The expanded mobilizing structures for cosmopolitan commemoration exerted indirect influence on Japan’s official commemoration even when the LDP still single-handedly controlled the government, and especially when the JSP headed the ruling coalition. By making the suffering of foreign victims widely known, the transnational network also helped, in conjunction with Ienaga’s textbook lawsuits, to make history education more cosmopolitan, that is, to increase descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in history textbooks.

These attempts to promote cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration, however, were compromised by the LDP. Given the power asymmetry between the JSP and the LDP, the former was unable to fully exploit the political opportunity—access to the government—to significantly alter Japan’s official commemoration. Put another way, due to the JSP’s weak position, the growth of mobilizing structures for cosmopolitan commemo?ration at the transnational level was not effectively translated into Japan’s official commemoration. Thus, the resultant compromise of nationalism and cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration contributed to the history problem’s full development. On the one hand, South Korean and Chinese victims and their Japanese supporters felt that the Japanese government did not go far enough in adopting cosmopolitanism, and they continued to demand apologies and government compensation. On the other hand, conservative politicians and NGOs felt that Japan’s official commemoration went too far in the cosmopolitan direction, disrespecting Japanese war dead who had sacrificed their lives to defend Japan. Galvanized by the growing South Korean and Chinese demands for apologies and compensation, these proponents of nationalist commemoration began to openly challenge the evidential bases of the victims’ demands and raised the stakes of the history problem by focusing on its educational implications for future generations.

 
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