Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
A Downward Spiral of Nationalist Commemorations
While JSHTR’s history textbook rocked Japan’s relations with South Korea and China in spring 2001, Koizumi Jun’ichiro was newly elected as LDP chairman. During his campaign for the chairman position, Koizumi had already promised to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, distinguishing himself from the other candidates, including Hashimoto Ryutaro, who had declined to make the same promise. After Koizumi took office in April 2001, he announced his plan to visit the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of the war’s end: “I believe that Japan’s peace and prosperity today was built on the invaluable sacrifices made by war dead. I would like to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to offer my utmost respect and thanks to them.”30 In response, the South Korean government expressed concerns regarding both Koizumi’s planned visit to the shrine and the official approval of JSHTR’s history textbook.31 Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan also warned of the potential ramifications of Koizumi’s visit and asked the Japanese government to “consider feelings of the victim nations seriously” and “confront its past history.”32 Opposition parties in Japan, too, criticized Koizumi’s planned visit for attempting to justify the war of aggression and undermining Japan’s relations with Asian neighbors.33 Even the chairman of the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito, Kanzaki Takenori, pointed out that the prime minister’s official visit to the shrine would violate the constitutional separation of religion and state, and he suggested that Koizumi “should take caution and avoid creating unnecessary tensions with Asian neighbors in light of the history of controversies over the enshrinement of Class A war criminals.”34
In the end, Koizumi chose to visit the Yasukuni Shrine on August 13, 2001, two days prior to the anniversary of the war’s end. After his visit, Koizumi issued a statement to express his remorse for damages and pains that Japan’s “colonial rule” and “aggression” had inflicted on its Asian neighbors. He also stated that he had avoided the anniversary to prevent people both inside and outside Japan from misunderstanding his true intention, to thank war dead for “Japan’s peace and prosperity” and “pray for peace,” rather than to honor Class A war criminals and justify Japan’s past aggression.35
Nevertheless, Koizumi’s visit drew heavy criticisms from both his supporters and his critics. Chief secretaries of prefectural LDP associations expressed their disappointment with Koizumi for not honoring his original promise to visit the Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary.36 The nonpartisan Association of Diet Members Who Support Prime Minister Koizumi’s Visit to the Yasukuni Shrine (Koizumi Sori no Yasukuni Jinja Sanpai wo Jitsug- ensaseru Chotoha Kokkaigiin Yushi no Kai) also criticized Koizumi for giving in to pressure from South Korea and China and pressed him to honor his promise the following year.37 On the other hand, Koizumi was denounced by left-leaning Japanese NGOs that had opposed his visit. These NGOs created the Asian Association of Plaintiffs against Prime Minister Koizumi’s Unconstitutional Visit to the Yasukuni Shrine (Koizumi Shusho Yasukuni Sanpai Iken Ajia Soshodan) and filed five different lawsuits against Koizumi between October and November 2001. The plaintiffs, including members of the Association of South Korean Victims and Bereaved Families of the Pacific War, argued that Koizumi’s visit had violated the constitutional separation of religion and state as well as caused them psychological pain.38 Furthermore, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing “deep regret for Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, the symbol of Japan’s militarism,” which enshrined “the war criminals that destroyed world peace and inflicted indescribable damages on neighboring countries.”39 China’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar criticism, though it did recognize the changed date of his visit—August 13 rather than 15—as evidence that the Japanese government had considered the feelings of its neighbors. But the People’s Congress dismissed the changed date as “trivial,” compared with “the fundamental issue of how Japan should understand its history of aggression.”40
Despite these criticisms, Koizumi continued to visit the Yasukuni Shrine annually, and the controversy over his visit began to intersect with the changing landscape of world politics. For example, after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, led to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Koizumi’s government deployed the SDF to support the US- led coalition and created laws to specify what the Japanese government and the SDF could do if Japan became involved in an armed conflict. In late 2004, Koizumi’s government also pushed UN reforms to expand the membership of the Security Council, so that Japan could become a new council member. South Korea and China, however, did not support Japan expanding its military capability and gaining greater influence in international society: the two countries did not trust Japan because they were not convinced of the sincerity of Japan’s contrition for its past wrongdoings.
The growing tensions in the region reached a new level of intensity in spring 2005. First, in late February, the Shimane Prefectural Council proposed a bill to designate February 22 as a day to celebrate the incorporation of the disputed island, Dokdo/Takeshima, into Japan’s territory. This galvanized South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun to criticize Japan at the memorial ceremony celebrating the March 1st Movement, the demonstration against Japan’s colonial rule that had taken place in 1919: “Although the South Korean government has refrained from fueling the people’s anger and hatred, South Korea alone cannot solve the history problem. . . . Japan should investigate historical truths and truly express remorse and offer apologies and compensation. That is the universal formula for solving a history problem.”41 Then, in late March, UN secretary general Kofi Annan stated that Japan could become one of the new permanent members of the Security Council. Annan’s statement prompted Chinese citizens to launch petition campaigns against the UN reform and vandalize Japanese stores.42 The anti-Japanese sentiments in China escalated in early April, when the Japanese government approved the new edition of JSHTR’s history textbook. On April 9, approximately ten thousand protesters gathered in Beijing and broke windows of the Japanese consulate, Japanese restaurants, and buildings that housed Japanese companies. The protests spread to other major cities, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Shanghai. On April 16, more than ten thousand protesters attacked the Japanese consulate and restaurants in Shanghai.43 The anti-Japanese protests continued in China until late April.
These strong reactions from South Korea and China were coterminous with growing nationalist commemorations in the two countries. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan continued to criticize the Asian Women’s Fund for “trying to drive a wedge between the Korean Council and former comfort women” and refused to meet with the fund’s representatives.44 In fact, Usuki Keiko, one of the fund’s promoters and also president of the Association for Exposing Japan’s War Responsibility, was denied entry to South Korea because she was planning to meet with former comfort women there.45 When representatives of the fund finally managed to meet with seven anonymous former comfort women in South Korea and provided each of them with a letter of apology, atone?ment money, and medical and welfare relief, South Korean NGOs and mass media denounced them as traitors to the Korean nation. These anti-Japanese sentiments, widespread among South Korean citizens, were reinforced by history education centered on the struggle of the Korean people under Japan’s colonial rule; for example, South Korean history textbooks positively described all forms of resistance against Japanese imperialism while negatively presenting all of Japan’s colonial policy.46 Between 2004 and 2005, the National Assembly also passed bills to authorize the government to investigate acts of collaboration under Japan’s colonial rule and confiscate properties owned by those who were judged as pro-Japanese collaborators.47
Similarly, the Chinese government continued to promote patriotic education by defining Japan as the worst enemy in modern Chinese history. In 2001, for example, the Chinese government published new standard history textbooks for mandatory education that expanded descriptions of the Nanjing Massacre, and gave teachers the following instructions: “By showing pictures of the Nanjing Massacre and making students read diaries by the Japanese soldiers, the barbarity of the Japanese empire’s aggressive war against China must be exposed. . . . Students must be taught to relive the unspeakable tragedy and acquire deep resentment and intense hatred toward Japanese imperialism.”48 Indeed, many of the Chinese citizens who staged anti-Japanese protests in 2005 were younger generations who had been exposed to patriotic education in primary and middle schools since the 1990s.49 The commercial growth of print and digital media also fueled both nationalistic and anti-Japanese sentiments among Chinese citizens, frequently ignoring the official distinction between “evil Japanese fascists” and “innocent Japanese people.”50
Since the logic of nationalism dominated Japan, South Korea, and China, citizens in the three countries came to commemorate the Asia-Pacific War very differently. According to an opinion survey that Asahi shinbun, Dong-A Ilbo, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences jointly conducted in March 2005, 66 percent of the Japanese regarded the Yasukuni Shrine as a place to commemorate war dead, whereas 61 percent and 59 percent of South Koreans and the Chinese, respectively, regarded it as a symbol of militarism. Moreover, 43 percent and 48 percent of South Koreans and the Chinese, respectively, thought that an apology from Japan was the key to solving the history problem, whereas only 13 percent of the Japanese shared this opinion.51
As the history problem escalated, Koizumi issued an official statement on August 15, 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War’s end by reaffirming Murayama’s apology ten years earlier: “In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Sincerely facing these facts of history, I once again express my feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology, and also express the feelings of mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, in the war.”52 Koizumi’s apology, however, did not help repair Japan’s relations with South Korea and China. Only after Koizumi’s successor, Abe Shinzo, refrained from visiting the Yasu- kuni Shrine was the Japanese government able to stop criticisms from the two countries. The two successive LDP prime ministers, Fukuda Yasuo and Aso Taro, also did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine out of consideration for diplomatic relations with South Korea and China. This shows that the LDP government recognized the constraint imposed by the international dimension of political opportunities, and it was once again willing to moderate its pursuit of nationalist commemoration.
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