Home
Feature
The Small Print
Faces & Places
The Goods
Travel
Tech Know
Sports
Cars & Bikes
Arts & Entertainment
Music
Japan Beat
Clubbing
Art
Stage
Books
The Agenda
Listings
TV
Movies
Dining Out
Sake
Wine
Tastemaker
Table Talk
Local Flavors
International Dining
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
Classifieds
Jobfinder
Horoscope
Mailbox
The Last Word
Photo of the Week
Archive
About Us
Subscribe
Search
Distribution Points






 
 PAST ISSUES
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Bert McBean

History Lessons

The “4C” generation needs to acquaint itself with Japan’s militaristic past

Bert McBean is the author of MacArthur: General Douglas MacArthur & The Occupation That Changed Japan (Touka Shobo)

A joke lamenting the historical ignorance of today’s youth goes something like this:

Elder Japanese: Do you know there was a war between Japan and the United States 60 years ago?

Young Japanese: Really? Who won?

This joke wouldn’t be so funny even if the reference were to some long-ago war that had no bearing on life today. But World War II happened just 60 years ago and changed the country for the better. It’s safe to say that Japanese youth wouldn’t be enjoying all the freedom and prosperity they have were it not for the successful Occupation managed by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers from 1945 to 1951. Thus, it’s ironic (and, it seems to me, regrettable) that most Japanese under 30 know very little about the Pacific War, MacArthur and the Occupation.

Who or what is responsible for this sad state of affairs? One can hardly blame the youth. They are a generation born into affluence, spoiled by parents and obsessed with the four C’s: cellphones, comics, cars and clothes. Some blame can be attributed to elderly grandparents who are reluctant to talk about the war years, especially veterans who served overseas. These former Imperial Army soldiers, instead of passing down what they saw or did in China, the Philippines and other places, remain silent.

The media shares culpability, too. They—especially NHK—tread carefully around stories dealing with atrocities, and any discussion of the Emperor Showa’s role in the war is strictly taboo. University textbook publishers in particular tend to shy away from “controversial” topics. Perhaps they have in the back of their minds the unpleasant image of big black trucks with speakers blaring in front of their offices. The schools, for their part, have been constrained by having to teach Japan’s 2,000-plus years of history in fewer classroom hours. As a result, students often don’t get past the Meiji Restoration.

Mostly, though, the blame has to lie with the body responsible for educating youth: the Japanese government. From the inability to come to terms with the 15-year war of aggression to the distortion of history textbooks, the government has helped create a new class of victims—ignorant Japanese youth. This has fostered what’s been described as a collective national amnesia. Further, with repeated emphasis on Japanese suffering (i.e., Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the myth of Japan as war victim has been perpetuated.

Jon Siegel

I found out firsthand just how much 19- and 20-year-old Japanese don’t know about the war when I taught a university class to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the war’s end. I must admit that most of the kids knew that Japan lost the war and that they had heard of General MacArthur, but that was about the extent of their knowledge—except, of course, for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For homework, I asked them to research subjects like The Rape of Nanking, comfort women and prisoner-of-war camps in Japan.

To my amazement, most of the students reported that they had never heard about these topics before. After reading about them, however, almost all expressed shock and outrage, as if to say, “Did my country really do this?” or “Now I know why the Chinese get angry when Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine.” A secondary reaction seemed to be, “Why didn’t I know about this?” In one class, when I asked students to tell me how their present lives have benefited from the reforms made during the Occupation, one student responded (with a straight face), “Now we can eat MacDonald’s hamburgers.” Upon hearing that, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Cynicism aside, there is a silver lining: I found that my students became interested in Pacific War history once they were made to understand how it affects their lives today. Having decided with some trepidation to teach the subject to the 4C generation, I was delighted that students were more motivated and enthusiastic than I expected. Some spent hours on the Internet researching the topics in depth. Others sought out their grandparents to hear previously untold war stories.

Seeing their eagerness to tackle the material, I was reminded of the foolishness of a statement made by a right-wing politician a few years ago. He said, in effect, that Japanese youth should be taught only “good” history so they can grow up being proud of their country. Unfortunately for Japan, this nationalistic politician is not alone. In the last few years, a gradual shift to the right in the Liberal Democratic Party has resulted in a revisionist attitude towards war history. This has filtered down to the textbook level, as seen in the controversial text compiled by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and published by Fuso Publishing Inc., which has been criticized for glossing over Japan’s colonial rule and military atrocities and has drawn fierce protests from South Korea and China. Also disturbing is the possibility of rising nationalism among today’s generation, who feel unrelated to, and less guilty about, Japan’s wartime acts.

Whether the history education of Japanese youth will be further shortchanged by the government’s increasing movement to the right is not yet clear. At the least, it surely is a disturbing trend that bodes ill for Japan’s already frayed relations with its neighbors.

Would you like to have The Last Word? Send your thoughts and contact details to thelastword@metropolis.co.jp

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

top