The Land of the Unsettling Sun: Japan’s Revisionist Slide under Abe

Japan has become tired of being asked to apologize by China, which due to its own human rights violations forfeits any moral high-ground in the eyes of the Japanese.


Chinese Premier Wen and Japanese PM Abe shake hands following the China-Japan joint declaration signing ceremony in Tokyo. Credit: Reuters

With the election of Shinzo Abe in 2012 the Japanese government has made a determined effort to reform the economy, as well as shift the nation’s political culture.

The government touts the image of a strong Japan, in the process downplaying the country’s wartime legacy and reinforcing the notion of Japan as a victim. Since 2012 far-right revisionist views, once the purview of fringe elements, have gained legitimacy as the government either tacitly consents to, or openly espouses similar ideas in public.

Recently the minister for national law enforcementEriko Yamataniwas photographed with a prominent member of the far-right online activist group, Zaitokukai. The government did not comment on the incident, yet such groups are often tolerated, undoubtedly because they act as proxies for the government, extolling similar revisionist views.

In recent weeks Net Right activists have harassed a small village in northern Hokkaido where residents have, after years of research, uncovered the graves of eighty Korean laborers press-ganged into constructing a military airport in the area. The village of Sarufutsu has been inundated by calls accusing locals of being traitors following village efforts to build a monument in honor of the Koreans. Far-right activists also threatened a boycott of the local shallot industry, prompting the mayor to halt construction of the memorial.

A similar backlash saw the local government in Nagasaki delay permission for the construction of a memorial to Korean laborers killed in the atomic bomb blast. Mainstream historians estimate that some 700,000 Koreans were press-ganged into service by the Imperial military, yet the far-right denies these claims, stating that the Koreans voluntarily aided Japan.

One of the chief impediments to Japanese-Korean accord is part of a larger Japanese refusal to officially apologize for its wartime activities in Asia. The cool state of bilateral relations is apparent in the fact that both Abe and his Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye have been office since 2012, but have yet to meet. In response to the Japanese government’s actions, Noh Kwang-il, spokesperson for the South Korean Foreign Ministry stated that “however hard the Japanese government tries to distort the true nature of the comfort women issue and play down or hide past wrongdoings, it will never be able to whitewash history.”

Abe’s efforts to “whitewash” Japan’s wartime history is not a new phenomenon, yet the prominence of such efforts within government policy is a new development. It is important to note that many Japanese are fully aware of their country’s misdeeds, and notable Japanese academics have called for official apologies. The key to understanding the government’s position on World War II is the fact that following the war, the United States took a very pragmatic stance vis-à-vis Japan.

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The US did not abolish the monarchy, even retaining Hirohito has Emperor. Furthermore many wartime bureaucrats were pardoned in order to quickly rebuild Japan as an anti-communist bulwark. Interestingly, Abe’s grandfather was Nobusuke Kishi, a class A war crimes suspect who has briefly detained, but later released, in large part due to his anti-communist sentiments. Kishi later served as prime minister from 1957-1960.

The Japanese legacy in World War II is split into two parts; that of Japan’s fight against the Americans, and Japan’s campaigns on the Asian mainland. Japan’s actions in China have become a vehicle for political maneuvering, with Beijing playing the history card to discredit Japan. Over the years Japan has become tired of being asked to apologize by China, which due to its own human rights violations forfeits any moral high-ground in the eyes of the Japanese. Consequently the legitimate need for redress is buried and discredited by contemporary political machinations.

Conversely Japan’s war with the United States dominates the public consciousness, because only the US managed to defeat Japan: China may have eventually ousted Japan from the mainland, but could not have forced Japan to unconditional surrender. Japan remains the only nation to have been attacked by nuclear weapons, and it is this legacy that dominates the Japanese psyche. Japan is tired of being portrayed as the sole purveyor of evil in the war. Pearl Harbor is defining moment in American history and justification for all subsequent actions against Japan. The death toll from Pearl Harbor was (only) some 2,400 people, almost all military personnel.

Japan lost between 124,000-246,000 (overwhelmingly civilians) people in the two atomic bomb attacks alone; more than the US lost in the whole Pacific war (approx. 111,000). Victor’s justice sees these attacks written off as necessity and Japan’s actions as war crimes, something which Japan strongly disagrees with. The emphasis on its war with America, and de-emphasis on actions in Asia has led to Japan conflating its sense of victim-hood vis-à-vis the Americans and its memories of empire in Asia. This has resulted in an across-the-board resistance to accusations of Japanese war crimes by powerful countries which themselves do not adequately address their own actions.

Jeremy Luedi has a Bachelor’s consisting of an Honors Specialization in Political Science, major in History, minor in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction from The University of Western Ontario. Born and raised in Switzerland, Jeremy is fluent in English and German, and has Swiss and Canadian citizenship. Read other articles by Jeremy.


  • johnniewhite

    This article is based on Asahi Shimbun or its copies, representing ultra-left views of Japanese politics. Jeremy, you must look at the argument from both sides, and make fair and objective judgement. If you want to write an article to be published and to be read by other people, it is important that you investigate if the information you saw is true or not. It is a bad practice to copy and paste information from elsewhere as if what you write is truth. You can even google “japan apology korea” or something, and you will find a Wikipedia article listing the apologies made in the past.

    • I will make a complaint to UCSD if there’s a malign education is proceeded, like beautifying Yasukuni Shrine and imperial Japan.
      As that is a wrong education, same as beautifying Nazi Germany.

      Descendants of Japanese immigrants are no more Japanese, practically, legally either.
      They are American citizens, pursuing American interest only, have no right to a country where their ancestors ever came from.

      Comfort women issue is not a legal problem.
      Think about it, when will this is supposed to be settled?
      T H I N K.

      This will be settled only when the people in victimized countries are feeling secure, feeling eased.
      When will they feel so?
      It is only when their dignity is back.
      How will it be back?
      Only when the descendants of the assailants are being truly honest.
      No legal thing or refutation can work.
      “Fact” is just there was the women abused.
      And it wouldn’t have happened where there were no Japanese imperialism and war and aggression that the imperialism brought in.
      This is where the responsibility lies.
      No other meticulous fact is needed.
      What you are doing is more than nothing, minus.

      True national interest of Japan is where the people in most victimized countries welcome us all from their hearts.
      There’s no win or lose.

      This is nothing to do with Japanese American, nothing to do with weeaboos either.
      If you are really annoyed by some statue in USA, you have to change your mindset from root and branch as it is there for every woman ever sexually tortured.
      It is not an issue offending Japanese American and what you do at the best is to mourn the victims WITH Korean American people.
      That is what Japanese American can do at their best for benefitting Japan.
      To begin with, that is what a real Japanese should do without being told to do so but they can’t because they have lost Japaneseness at all.
      I feel really odd with them not doing so, as they don’t do it since they should have had no Japanese parents anymore, to tell them to do so like what decent Japanese native usually do.

      • johnniewhite

        I take your point — in ideal world where the matters are simplistic, there is one way for solution.

        The problem in a real world is that there are many groups of people with different ideas, some exploiting others to benefit unfairly and illegitimately.

        Unfortunately, the so-called comfort-women issue has become a political propaganda tool for some liberal laywers for their money-making opportunity, which is then hijacked by left-wing media (Asahi Shimbun) to damage then conservative government. And during the process the figures were inflated to the extent that the whole nation of Japan looks as if the country committed war crimes. It was at a later stage that the Koreans are involved.

        This is the dark side of the world we live in, I am afraid. We must put this vicious cycle to an end. We are keenly waiting for a courageous journalist, Mr Michael Yon, to publish his findings on this issue. Please watch out what he is going to write.

        • No, you don’t take any of my point at all.

          So you are something to do with UCSD, right?
          You were taught wrong Japanese hisotry at the university, and brainwashed, right?

          But you never think of yourself taught something wrong, right?

          Make your folks do the same as I tell you below.
          I know there are many of your colleagues on the internet.
          You people stop claiming “I’m Japanese” because “I’m Japanese citizen” and “I’m Japanese American” are totally different. That’s annoying, malign to us Japanese native.
          Japanese American and we Japanese native have no connection, and totally different creatures.
          Chinese and Korean people take it different when it is hate or animosity out of Japanese American’s mouth.
          Let yourself separate from us so not to let you annoy us.
          We don’t like to have any regards to whatever you do.
          I have to do something to take care of what Japanese native does when it is malign to Japan, but I don’t need to do so when it is Japanese American does.
          You and your colleagues should put up your identity as “Japanese American” on your profile and say anything what you like.
          You are definitely nothing Japanese anymore, maybe a mere weeaboo with no regards to Japan, I don’t know, but they are the same, no difference in their annoyance to us.

          Just don’t give any further harm to us, so stop claiming merely “I’m Japanese”.
          Make yourself distinct from us.
          In fact you have nothing common with us, right?
          And I actually didn’t expect you to understand correctly something that I told.
          Because I know we and Japanese American or weeaboos are not able to understand with each other.
          I really know how we can’t.
          Not merely a language problem.
          We have no same culture, no same tradition, no nothing, so we can’t truly interact with each other, this is what I am certain.

          • johnniewhite

            You now tell me that I am brainwashed. Oh, dear! Please pause for a moment to ask the same question to yourself. Did you investigate the issue yourself seriously? Have you not been accepting what was being published in left-wing media such as Asahi Shimbun and their allies abroad? My advice is to treat each piece of information carefully and think if they are all connected somehow. Liberalism is often associated with the fabrication of historical facts, but what I learned from my own study is that the fabricated stories do not match up. There will be places where lies cannot fill the vacuum of logic and established facts. The Rape of Nanking is the best example.

          • No, you are a we*aboo by all of your deeds.

            1 You can’t come talking to me in my language.

            2 Japanese native don’t tend to linger in talking in a foreign language.
            Because it is too inconvenient and no reason to keep doing it.

            3 You have no link to your own web.
            I have my Twitter and blog, I’m regularly posting on my friend’s web so you can join us so to discuss with each other including my friends.

            4 There’s nothing that ensures your nationality.
            No one makes sure or assumes what you really are.
            While I put up a photo of my Kosekitohon(you must know what it means), and photos of my TOEIC results too, which you can see in which country I got the tests.

            5 Obviously you were not educated in Japanese.
            None of the literature that you ever read is written in Japanese.
            What you can offer me to look into is all about references written in English, or someone Western.
            That is a circumstance never happened to someone Japanese native.

            “I am Japanese citizen” what do you mean by such?
            My nationality is Japan, and how about yours?

            Foreign expat is not a Japanese citizen, no matter with his passion or loyalty to Japan.
            No matter with his tax money ever paid.

          • johnniewhite

            水間 政憲のひと目でわかる「慰安婦問題」の真実を読んで、感想文を書いてみろ。

          • 発狂すんじゃねえよバーカ。



            普  通  だ  ろ ?


          • Bruce Chatwin

            From johnniewhite’s youtube page:

            I (Johnniewhite) am here in England waving the hinomaru (the Japanese flag).
            I hate the China and Korea’s lies about history. Don’t give up until we defeat them.
            johnniewhite would appear to be a neto uyoku (a Japanese extreme right-wing ultranationalist).

        • I think you still don’t understand it at all.
          You or your colleagues are still bothering us peace loving Japanese, speaking like Japanese while they are not at all.
          I said “stop it”.
          State anything by your own title.
          Come back here and make yourself clarified.
          What are you?
          What kind of right do you have to Japan in bothering Japanese interest?
          As I said, Japanese interest is nothing to do with you unless you are a present Japanese citizen.
          This is a basis of the basis when we discuss about what you are doing.
          Now make a decent answer.

          • johnniewhite

            I am Japanese citizen, and I do not believe that you are who you claim to be. I speak for those who really seek the peace and security of Japanese citizen in Japan and abroad. Please read what I have written carefully and follow up properly. No need to be rude to me.

          • だから日本語で話をつけようって言ってんだろ。
            出 せ よ。

          • johnniewhite

            Thanks Michiko. Please don’t judge that I am not Japanese, simply because I can write a better style of English than yours. You are doing pretty well, but you need more practice. That’s it. Don’t be rude to write horrible Japanese.

          • Beatnix


          • てめーが本当に日本人なら、ここに来い。

  • Bruce Chatwin

    Johnniewhite states: “If you (the author) want to write an article to be published and to be read by other people, it is important that you investigate if the information you saw is true or not.”

    According to Reuters, National Public Safety Commission chairwoman Eriko Yamatani was photographed with members of an ultra-right group known as Zaitokukai. Mr. Luedi’s comments are accurate. on the nature of Yasukuni and its “museum” the Yushukan are accurate.

    On October 28th, The New York Times published an article on the discovery of the remains of Korean forced labourers in Sarufutsu, and the resulting campaign of intimidation and harassment by Zaitokukai when local began building a memorial to commemorate the forced labourers. Mr. Luedi’s comments on Sarufutsu are accurate.

    Likewise, the same article in The New York Times supports Mr. Luedi’s comments on the memorial in Nagasaki.

    Mr. Luedi’s comments on the nature of Yasukuni and its “museum” the Yushukan are likewise also accurate.

    Who is credible, Mr. Luedi (his real name btw) or Johnniewhite?

    • johnniewhite

      I am only asking the journalist to get down to the bottom of the issue before publishing the story. There are simply too many lazy journalists around in the world, just publishing their stories that are circulating around the world. Let’s wait until a courageous journalist appears and publishes the story that is based on painstaking research. I heard that Michael Yon is currently preparing to do that. Can we wait till then?

      • Jeremy Luedi

        I appreciate the interest generated by my piece, but one must be aware that articles on the site are constrained to 750 words max. It is not possible to include every detail in such a short format. I was writing on recent events, not an expose on the entire history of the issue.

        If you would like a longer discussion I direct you to my work on China-Japan relations and the Nanjing Massacre found here:

  • One thing I just forgot to mention in my previous visit in here is, miscomprehension that the author assumedly has.
    This is frequently found in Western scholars and coverages.

    Chinese government is not requiring Japan of making an apology for the same thing that they once forgave.
    There are new misdeeds happened after the apologies have made, that need a new apology, for not keeping the promises, or not being enough in keeping it.
    This certainly deserves apology.
    Our government has new issues that need to make new apologies for.
    And needs to state a new policy that can make sure of keeping the promises, in handing down history as it was, to new generations, and to keep the remorse still, so not to let offensive speech happen again, as it is an outcome of ignorance, poor education of history, or of less consensus for the remorse among the populace.

    I recommend the author to “check” if there’s any reference that China asked Japan for making an apology for the same thing they once forgave, then he will find out nothing such.