Denna sida skapades den: 2010-01-05 13:27


China and Japan: Consigning History to History: Japan and the History Consciousness Problem

It goes without saying that regional tension in East Asia hardly can be resolved unless Japan fully acknowledges its responsibility for its warfare there during fifteen years in the first part of the 20th century. Innumerable times Japan has been unfavorably compared with Germany in this regard.

The policies of the present prime minister Mr. Abe with the goal of making Japan what he calls a ”normal” country has strengthened this view, not the least in China.

A widespread picture of Japan is that the legacy of the war is not widely discussed there – and if it is, then Japanese in general do not feel guilty. On the contrary, they regard themselves as victims, betrayed by their political and military leaders and thus not responsible. In addition, as a country, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Japan as a nation a victim.

This preponderant view of Japanese relation to the history of the war is uninformed.

The debate in Japan is lively and the views are very varied. To understand them is especially important now when tensions between Japan and its neighbors, especially China, are deep.

The Japanese sociologist Akiko Hashimoto has identified three trends regarding the so-called History Problem. In her book, The Long Defeat, Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity she discusses views of who was responsible and in what way and how to accomplish a closure - not only for Japan but in relation to neighboring countries who suffered from Japanese warfare and occupation. I would like to introduce them here:
They can be named
Nationalism, Pacifism and Reconciliation.

1. Nationalism
During the last few years, Japanese nationalism seems to have become stronger.

The most obvious sign is the policies of the government of Prime Minister Abe. A string of changes in laws and interpretations of the constitution has radically changed some basic tenets (as we have heard). According to the new interpretation of the so-called Peace paragraph 9 in the constitution Japanese forces are now allowed to participate in warfare together with its allies. The Japan defense budget has been upgraded.The State Security Law makes it an offense even to seek information concerning an undefined field of security.

Also in other fields changes have been made. The anthem is now to be sung and the flag hoisted in schools. The opposition is vehement, not the least from the left- leaning Teachers ‘ union because the anthem, which hails the emperor, and the flag are strongly identified with the war.

The question regarding school textbooks and their presentation of the war has been a contentious issue for about fifty years. A law making the goal of schools to foster patriotism and loyalty, strongly echoes the wartime.

During 2015 Japanese media of all kinds published an almost unimaginable amount of material about the war. Again, as during years past, many veterans told their life stories, both those that were proud and those that were shameful. One reason that younger generations, born during or after the war, do not know so much about the war is said to be family reasons. The fathers, uncles and brothers who


came back when 2,3 million Japanese soldiers had died did not speak about their experiences. They carried deep trauma from more than sheer fighting - over 60 percent of the dead died from sickness, starvation and abandonment. Maybe specifically Japanese, out of respect they were not asked about their experiences either.

Another example of family influence may be the case of the prime minister himself. This was the subject of many articles last summer when I was in Japan. By making Japan a so-called normal country Abe is in fact said to fulfill the goals of his grandfather. He was Nobusuke Kishi, a leading government official in Manchukuo, Japanese Manchuria, later a minister of industry and after the defeat and the American occupation for some time prime minister. Like many, he wanted to change the constitution, written by Americans, in order for Japan to become truly independent from the victor ́s influence. He failed. But Abe is now said to be fulfilling his grandfather ́s goals.

To nationalists the dead are heroes – in spite of having lost the war. Many heroic stories circulate and some are made into films. An example is the Yamato, the world ́s largest war ship, which was sunk with its 3000 men. The heroes were tragic but brave and they fought for the survival of their nation. It is thanks to their sacrifices that postwar prosperity could be built.

In the ruling party, the LDP, many agree with Abe ́s assessment that change is necessary for Japan to get back its pride, which is stymied by the constant accusations regarding a war fought so long ago and demands for apologies. Japan must be a fully respected member in the international community, not only as an economic power.

Abe talks of peace – but peace has to be safeguarded by military power. Or, as the expression goes: ”pro-active peace”.

Not only right-leaning politicians welcome this nationalistic program. New, young groups, who are not interested in party politics, are nationalistic – some of them also racist. They are similar to disaffected youths in European countries where social upheavals, economic stagnation and unemployment have made their lives completely different from that of their parents.
Pacifism. However, nationalism is not at all the environment the young have

been brought up in. During the American occupation 1945-52, especially in the beginning, everything that possibly could foster nationalism was prohibited. Censorship of books, films, and even kabuki theatre was severe. All schoolbooks were changed and democracy was massively spread through radio and other means.

An important part was peace education in the spirit of the peace paragraph 9 of the constitution. In this perspective Paragraph 9 was not a means to weaken Japan and hinder it ever to make war again. It was something to be proud of.

This summer again I saw thousands of school children on school trips to the Atomic Bomb museum of Hiroshima. There are innumerable other museums all over the country showing all possible horrors of war. Older people are engaged to tell children about the consequences of war they themselves have experienced. The children are taught that militarists and politicians who failed and betrayed the people brought on the war.

Through their own experiences and such teachings a vast majority of Japanese are convinced pacifists. An example is a recent opinion poll showing that only 5 per cent would be prepared to defend Japan with weapons in a

conflict. All over the country thousands of groups are working against the change of the constitution, following the example of respected intellectuals like the Nobel Prize winner in literature Kenzaburo Oe. Right now for the first time since the Vietnam War young people are vigorously protesting. They have formed the organization Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (Sealds) against the change of the constitution.

In discussions about the changed interpretation of Paragraph 9 of the constitution, making it possible to sent Japanese soldiers abroad for so called collective self-defense, I noticed that the strongest feelings initially seemed to be horror at the thought that Japanese could be hurt or killed in warfare again – showing how memories of the 2,3 million dead soldiers remain a strong underpinning of pacifism.

One could say that pacifism has become a civic identity of the Japanese. Of course pacifism can be interpreted in different ways.

Peace through pacifism gives Japan moral prestige and thus pride. Japanese pacifism is the consequence of repudiation of the war. But it does not necessarily put emphasis on responsibility or even regret for what war brought to others.

3. Reconciliation. The third of Hashimoto’s groups in The Long Defeat is the reconciliationists. For them, reconciliation with the countries who suffered under Japanese warfare and occupation is the only way forward. This demands willingness to take full responsibility, to acknowledge guilt, to atone and to pay indemnities to victims. But it also means to build trust and mutual understanding in an even wider respect. An example is government-supported history projects, which have been started between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea. The ties between these countries and Japan go back more than two thousand years and the divergent interpretations of history concern much more than only the 20th century.

The reconciliatory approach to war time history is built not on past pride as a nation of warriors and on patriotism, neither on the ideal of pacifism as a moral position and a civic identity built through democracy but on concepts such as human rights and mutual trust. Building international relations is to build and safeguard peace.

Only a minority of Japanese, according to surveys, feel proud of their country and young people least of all. The question of which group - nationalists, pacifists or reconciliationists - will be dominant in years to come, will also be important for international relations in East Asia.

Monica Braw Ph.D.
Institute of Strategic and Developmental Studies Stockholm January 27, 2016 


Japan and the Dangers of the National Security Law


It is a historical irony that the government of Premier Shinzo Abe motivates the new law on State secrets protection by tying it to the creation of a National Security Council (NCS), decided by the parliament December 6, 2013.

The reason for the creation of NSC, in its turn, as given by the government, is the need for closer cooperation with the United States. Without the State secrets protection law full cooperation would not, according to the government, be possible. The US and other allies would not trust that secrets would be kept, not leaked. The necessity of this cooperation, in turn, is a part of a strengthening of the US-Japan alliance as well as furthering Japanese international influence, according to the government.

The historical irony consists of the fact that the freedom of information and expression lodged in the constitution of Japan, now being partly undermined, were formulated by the United States during the Occupation after the Second World War in order to ensure full democracy.

Japan is of course no exception historically concerning censorship and limits to freedom of expression. As in many other countries, even during periods when the goal has been development of modernization, the official restraints on citizens in this respect were wide-ranging.

In spite of striving to create a ”modern” state during the end of the 19th century, citizen´s rights were severely circumscribed. This included rules to limit political congregations as well as a total prohibition for women to participate in such gatherings. During the Taisho era a freer atmosphere ruled for some time, only to be exchanged for gradually tightening during the twenties onwards during the first parts of Showa.

The control included censorship of different subjects. Censorship control took several forms, not only prohibition after publication but also for example pre-censorship. Penalties included fines and prison terms.

During the Pacific War newspapers were completely controlled to the extent that every newspaper office had its resident censor. Japan surrendered August 15, 1945 and on August 28, the Cabinet Board of Information announced that press censorship, which had been in force since 1937, would be removed. But on the same day as the surrender was signed, September 2, new censorship was introduced, this time by the American occupation forces under the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD). It covered all print, but also film, theatre and mail. Regarding newspapers, the existing censors, placed in newspaper offices, were sometimes retained, as there was a lack of Japanese speakers among the occupation staff. Punishments ranged from suspension of publication to deportation (of a Taiwanese and a Korean) and hard labor. The rules, that were unclear and even led to discussions regarding interpretation and implementation within the CCD, led to a sense of insecurity and thus restraint among Japanese.

Censorship in all forms does not only have the result of suppressing certain information. It has also the added effect of self-censorship. The knowledge of the existence of censorship leads to precaution and fear so that information which might be regarded as dangerous by the government is not even introduced as an attempt at publication. This is particularly so if punishments for any trespassing against the information control are not clearly spelled out. The results were clearly seen during Meiji, Taisho and pre-1945 Showa and not the least during the American occupation censorship 1945-49.

To my mind, these observations are relevant in connection with the new State Secrets Law. According to the law, the definition of ”special secrets” referred to by the law is vague, covering the wide areas of defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism, and to be decided by ministries and agencies only. The punishments are severe, both for those giving out information and for those seeking information. There are no checks on what is classified, neither on the degree of punishment. This censorship, without being called censorship, is total. The result will be a severely limited freedom of expression, aggravated by the fear of stepping into danger. This makes abstention from even seeking information probable, as it is not known what in itself is secret.

In any state it is necessary that some information, for instance pertaining to defense, is secret. But Japan already has laws binding national servants to a duty of confidentiality with clearly stated punishments for breaking these rules. As a comparison, the execution of laws in the United States regarding secrecy and security is subjected to checks and balances with the object to control misuse.


An important reason for censorship and information control, however, is not only to limit or completely undermine knowledge of certain subjects. It is also practiced in order to shape the consciousness and attitudes of the population.

In addition to the motivation of national security, there clearly seems to be a second government agenda related to it for the present Abe cabinet, namely the forging of a stronger national consciousness.  In the national security strategy approved by the Cabinet in December the need for “promoting a feeling of love for one´s nation and hometown” is included.

In all nations, the education system is used to mold the children and consequently the citizens in the current ideology of the state. This can change within rather short time. In my native Sweden at the moment, school education centers on fostering children to become self-assertive and non-authoritarian, to regard men and women as equal, to have a positive attitude towards hbt questions, and to prepare them for flexibility in life. This is rather the opposite from my own school time five decades ago when the emphasis was on the teacher as an authority, a high school exam was only for the brightest and the goal was a set place in society. These two opposing views still however fit under the heading of democracy.

In Japan, during Meiji, the challenging goal in view of the threatening incursions from Western powers was to mold a patriotic consciousness among a people who until then had felt more loyalty to a han than to the nation. The burgeoning central school system was an important part in shaping this consciousness. The first real test was the Russo-Japanese war 1904-05. That the terms of the peace were widely felt as unjust, even leading to riots, because of Japan´s victory was in fact a receipt showing the success of the creation of patriotic feelings.

It is often said that the Tokugawa shogunate was a stagnant, controlled society. Actually, in spite of all regulations, it was a society where freedom was created and expressed, on the one hand by chonin, city inhabitants, with the wealth of business and the lively popular culture of everyman, and on the other hand by the farming population which responded to poverty and famine with thousands of strikes and riots.

On the contrary, during Meiji and Taisho, in spite of ideologies like Communism and a nascent feminism becoming popular in certain circles, conventionality grew among most citizens. Gradually during Showa, official suppression and censorship were strengthened. The well-known weeding out of all dissension continued ever stronger during the succeeding years of war. Dissent became impossible while the general public was indoctrinated to patriotism to death.

Concurrent with the State Secrets Law, the Abe government is now proceeding with an agenda in another area, education, relevant for the question of democracy. The Education ministry and an advisory commission to that ministry have recently suggested new standards for textbooks with requirements that they nurture patriotism under the veil of giving a balanced picture of disputed historical facts. In an interview with New York Times in December, 2013 ministry officials said that in practice two extremely disputed issues, basic for the relations between Japan and China and Japan and other Asian countries would be included, namely the Nanking massacre in 1937 and the comfort women. This would mean that the textbooks would be required to include viewpoints of nationalist scholars in dealing with these subjects. Up until now, it has been possible to challenge such interpretations of history in school textbooks, even if it sometimes has meant years of court struggles, as Saburo Ienaga showed. These and other changes influencing the teaching of history in schools will create a different understanding of Japan´s past and present.

Until now, the experiences of the Fifteen Years’ War 1930-1945 had resulted in a Japan widely regarded as a country adverse to militarism, based on Paragraph 9 of the Constitution. The government is now also working on changing this unique manifestation of national pacifism.

The combination of the policies of the Abe cabinet regarding security, education and the constitution are extremely worrying. The government seems to ignore aspects of history, precedents and own laws in favor of a system that undermines important aspects of democracy, including that of freedom of expression, built into the constitution of Japan.


Monica Braw

Ph.D. in Japanese History, author of Ken’etsu (Tokyo 1989, 2011)

Foreign correspondent of Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden in Tokyo 1983-1993




In 2011 Monica Braw was awarded the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun with Gold and Silver Stripes. The motivation was as follows:


" Dr. Braw was given the Order for her outstanding contribution to the promotion of understanding about Japan in Sweden. 


Dr. Braw is a well known specialist on Japan and has been active as an author, a journalist and a historian for many years. Drawing on her experiences first-hand as a Tokyo correspondent for both Finland’s radio and Svenska Dagbladet


from the late 60’s to early 90’s, she has written over 20 books, mostly on Japan. The subjects range from politics and social questions to history. She was awarded two Swedish literary awards for her novel, “Överlevarna”, which deals with the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Her most recent work is an extensive book on Japanese history, “Trollsländans land – Japans Historia (The country of dragonflies, the History of Japan)”, published last year. 

Dr. Braw has held lectures about Japan at many venues, such as Riksdag, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, the Royal Academy of Science of Sweden, Japanese and Swedish universties, libraries and schools. She has been invited to work as an expert on Japan at for example, the exhibitions regarding Japanese writing at the National Museum of Ethnography as well as the roots of manga at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. She has also been deeply involved with Japanese studies in Sweden and as the chair of the committee of the Swedish Board of Education evaluating Japanese, she has been responsible for setting the standard of Japanese studies in Swedish universities.

 The Order of the Rising Sun is bestowed upon individuals of merit, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the promotion of exchange between Japan and other countries in fields such as research and education, medicine and social welfare, economy and industry, and culture and sports. "

More on Japanese honors at 


The acclaimed dissertation by Monica Braw The Atomic Bomb Suppressed. American Censorship in Occupied Japan has now appeared in a second translation into Japanese. Ken'etsu was published by Jiji tsushinsha in December 2011.

The earlier translation, also called Ken'etsu, was published by Jiji Tsushinsha in 1989 but has long been out of print.

The publication is particularly timely because the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe has amply shown the dangers of governments trying to conceal nuclear facts from the public.

Read Monica´s lecture on

Fukushima, the_nuclear industry,_and_Hiroshima.pdf