17. Japan and Asia: Mutual Ambivalences

Referring to “news” over the past five years, how would you characterize Japanese-Asian relations, especially relations between Japan and China and Japan and Korea? For example, the outbreak of anti-Japanese demonstrations in April 2005, or the Chinese and Korean response to former Prime Minister Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Most recently, in late October 2008, the Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Tamagami Toshio was dismissed for a essay he wrote defending Japan from charges of aggression during World War II. What is the cause of friction-sometimes bordering on hate-between Japan and other Asian countries? And what is the history of this friction? Have Japan and its neighbors always been at war with each other?

Can you find counter examples of “love” and friendship between Japan and other Asian nations? What about the Japanese fascination with Korean television dramas? And what about Asian fascination with Japanese popular culture, including J-pop, anime, manga, and fashion? How does Japanese “cool” relate to the cultural heat generated by Asian history wars?

Who is Kobayashi Yoshinori (b. 1953)? What should his views of Japanese history matter? What difference does it matter that he publishes his views in manga form?

For an informative essay on Kobayashi Yoshinori see: Rumi Sakamoto, “Will you go to War, or Will you stop being Japanese?” Nationalism and History in Kobayashi Yoshinori’ s Sensoron, Japan Focus, January 28, 2008.

When did these history wars between Japan and China and Japan and Korea intensify in the late 1980s, and especially after the end of the Cold War in 1989? What else happened in 1989? (How did the passing of Emperor Hirohito impact Asian relations?)

China under the control of Mao Zedong had minimal relations with Japan or with other “capitalist” nations. China began to emerge from international isolation only after the death of Mao in 1976. Under Deng Xiaoping, China began to “modernize” its economy and society, taking Japan as a model. A Peace Treaty was signed between Japan and China in 1978, initiating a new period of economic cooperation. As trade expanded between the two nations, expressions of mutual friendship (and war amnesia) abounded. Emperor Akihito’ s visit to China in October 1992, the first and only visit by a Japanese emperor to China, was highly successful. Later, on August 15, 1995, Prime Minister Murayama’ s apology for Japan’s wartime behavior, was favorably received in China and other Asian nations.

So what happened after 1995? What happened in Japan, in China and other Asian nations? How can we explain the growth of Japanese and Asian nationalisms in the new global age? What role has slow economic growth in Japan at a time of rapid economic growth in China played in creating this mutual ambivalence? What role has been played by popular culture in the form of film, anime, and manga? And what about the influence of the Internet: appeals to cyber-nationalism or to global internationalism? Any guesses about what the future will bring?