Japan should apologize for wartime brutality: historian

Updated: 2014-12-13 15:48


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TOKYO - It is utterly regrettable that the Japanese society is taking backward steps regarding its perception of the wartime history as a number of politicians and ordinary people avoid facing up to or even deny the country's past atrocities, a Japanese veteran historian, Hisashi Inoue, said.

Inoue, a professor in the faculty of law at Surugadai University, made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on the eve of China's first National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims on Dec. 13, which also marks the 77th anniversary of the mass-slaughter.

Japanese troops captured Nanjing, capital of China at the time, on Dec. 13, 1937. There then followed more than 40 days when more than 300,000 people were murdered and about 20,000 women raped.

The professor noted that as far as in Japan's wartime history is concerned, there is an underlying ethos that an increasing number of people would prefer to live in ignorance or denial rather than face the fact, particularly the Nanjing Massacre.

"Taking history seriously and making sincere apologies to the victims of the massacre and other acts of wartime brutality is of paramount urgency for Japan to do," said Inoue, also known as an active researcher on the Nanjing Massacre.

In today's Japan, growing nationalism is evidenced by numerous best-selling books and publications carrying disparaging content about South Korea and China, available in high street bookstores. Such xenophobic literature, known here as "kenchu-zokan," meaning "dislike China and hate South Korea," was placed among Japan's top 10 best sellers last year.

"Japan is becoming less tolerant of different cultures and divergent viewpoints," said the professor.

"National headaches such as the aging society and low birthrate, sluggish economy and Fukushima nuclear crisis have catalyzed Japan 's eagerness to regain its self-confidence. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's slogans like 'toward to a beautiful Japan' and 'making Japan a shining country in the world' have bridged the gap increasingly. "

"However, the Japan that Abe and his right-wing fellows want to bring back is the Dai Nippon, or the Empire of Japan, and what they are doing initially is trying to justify the country's past actions. It is totally wrong," Inoue pointed out.

He said the prime minister is planning to invalidate the "Kono Statement," which offers an official apology to "comfort women" -- a euphemism used in this case for the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery system as it has, according to some ultra nationalist factions, sullied Japan's reputation.

The professor noted that such backtracking on irrefutable historical facts has affected the direction of young history researchers' studies in Japan, as they thought subjects like the Nanjing Massacre could not provide them with a better opportunity to be promoted in terms of their future career and academic achievements.

"Only a small number of researchers are working on the issue," he said.

A recent Xinhua interview outside Shibuya Station, a popular downtown shopping district in Tokyo, revealed how ordinary Japanese look at the Nanjing Massacre.

When asked whether or not they know anything about the Nanjing Massacre recently, many avoided answering the question and the majority of respondents said they simply just didn't know.

"When I looked into references about the Nanjing Massacre, I found that a lot of historical materials say the incident never happened, but we Japanese have been described 'cruel' due to the incident," said a college student in his 20s majoring in history, requesting his name be withheld.

"There is a predominant viewpoint that leans toward believing the Nanjing massacre possibly never occurred. So, I think those who claim the incident happened and therefore insist Japanese are cruel are ignorant and I think they should research more carefully and express their thoughts once they're better informed," he said.

"Schools should have greater responsibility to deliver real, unadulterated historical education," Inoue emphasized.

"The biggest problem is that Japanese younger generation has little access to this period of history, especially to the Nanjing Massacre, and the lack of related common sense makes the youngsters credulous of the right-wing propaganda as they could find no reason or facts to refute it."

He said, in Japan, there are two factions that question the Nanjing Massacre, -- one group that blatantly denies the existence of the mass-carnage without any study of it and the other questions the official number of victims after insufficient studies.

"It is difficult to verify the exact number of victims, but whatever it is, the incontestable fact is that the Japanese Imperial Army conducted the mass-slaughter in Nanjing, killing captured and innocent civilians indiscriminately and raping numerous women," said the professor.

"Massacres were not only limited to Nanjing, but also happened in other parts of China occupied by Japanese troops," he added.

Compared with European countries that legally ban speeches denying or justifying the Nazi's wartime wrongdoings, Inoue said that implementing legal measures could be the first step for Japan to face up to its past villainy.

In this regard, he said, the more pressing issue is to cultivate a social consciousness that respects real, verifiable history and stands against those who refute the country's war crimes only as a means to revive the Empire of Japan.

"Japan has to admit the historical facts, as other countries like Germany has done. You look at the historical facts, the massacre is undeniable, its simply a fact, albeit a truly regrettable and disturbing one," said the professor.

He stressed that enhancing mutual understanding at both official and civil levels is key to improving strained relations between Japan and China.