Japan Revisited

EDITORIAL, 3 Aug 2015

#387 | Johan Galtung, 3 Aug 2015 - TRANSCEND Media Service

70 years have passed since Japan capitulated to the Allies 15 August 1945. The key early postwar Japanese politicians, diplomats, academic advisers etc. have now retired and give highly interesting accounts, revealing some of the tricks and lies of the state system.

That may also apply to them if trying to relieve themselves of bad conscience. However, leaving that aside, the focus here is on how I myself, conventionally knowledgeable of Japan, revisit, and revise.

More particularly, on three aspects of Asia-Pacific history:

  • I thought, “Asia for Asians” meant “Asia for Japan”; what happened?
  • Japan pre-1945; the economic-military-cultural-political legacy?
  • Japanese atrocities particularly in Korea and China; apologies?

Only Japan in the whole world fought all Western colonial powers: Russia 1904-05, Germany WWI, USSR WWII, English-French-Dutch December 1941, USA after Pearl Harbor. For that, they all hated Japan. Other Asians, not China, fought their own: India-Malaya-Burma the English, Vietnam the French (and Japan-USA-China), Indonesia the Dutch-Portuguese.

Japan “advanced”, filling gaps left by West, occupied, extracted resources. Nevertheless, for those who experienced this for the longest time, Taiwan since 1895 and Korea since 1910, with obvious shortcomings, it was an inclusion in an expanding Japan, very different from Western colonization. Taiwanese and Koreans had the same education as the Japanese, had top imperial universities installed in Taipei and Seoul, still occupying top rank, and were accepted by the highest military academy and imperial universities in Japan.

So, what was it?

Not “Asia for Japan”; rather “Japan in Asia”, “Asia Japanized”.

Invited? Not by Western colonialists. The Ching and Yi dynasties in China and Korea were declining; there were openings, indications.

However, history is written by victors; Japan was punished, still is.

Japan’s legacy? Western colonialism put their colonies lowest in the world economic system–most still are–to get resources, little or no education, let alone higher education, with a tiny elite trained in the “mother” country. What happened to those Japan “included”?

Japan left behind an economic model with Buddhist and Confucian culture built into it, a “B-C” economy, not “J-C” for Judeo-Christian. A collective capitalism with rights and duties both high up and low down, and less inequality. And a very concrete development model.

Worth mentioning is one person, the economist Kaname Akamatsu, known in the West for the “flying geese” with a lead goose, Japan; but not known for what makes them fly. He challenged a pillar in Western economic thought, Ricardo’s comparative advantages, in favor of changing the factor profile by ever higher processing of resources, also human resources, investing the value added in more processing.

He worked out of occupied Malaya and Singapore, as adviser.

Western colonialism kept the processing for itself and pocketed the value added; Japan shared the value added with countries included.

The four “dragons”–South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore–had all been parts of the system, enabling them to compete with Japan itself later, in the 1970s, 1980s, with very high level products.

The economy Deng Xiaoping launched in China from 1980 onward was inspired by Singapore, but attributed to the politician Lee Kwan Yew; not to Akamatsu. To him private vs state ownership mattered less, what mattered is ever higher value added invested in processing. The result 35 years later, today, is a booming Chinese economy partly based on the Akamatsu theory, with a Buddhist-Marxist focus on basic needs.

Buddhism-Confucianism, shared all over East Asia is good soil for sowing these Japanese seeds. Collectivism used to be brought inside the company as lifelong employment and seniority promotion, keeping the cohort entering same year together; but this was less copied.

Militarily-politically, post-1945 de facto occupied Japan became a client of USA even interpreting A9 as compatible with “collective self-defense”. East Asia got some of the best of Japan; USA got a satellite, and pushed on Japan their own economy, as “reforms”.

What about atrocities? Japan was accused of many at the Tokyo tribunal, seven Class-A war criminals were executed; hundreds by military tribunals in China, USSR and other countries in Asia that Japan had occupied.

Most infamous are the Nanjing massacre of presumably 300,000 civilians, thousands of Korean “comfort women” used by Japanese soldiers, and the medical experiment camp in Manchuria; not revisited.

Atrocities did occur, but they were twisted and exaggerated.

Maybe one tenth that number in the Nanjing museum, said to be financed by Japanese trade unions. The majority might have been soldiers dressed as civilians. Japan was fighting a complex war against Chiang Kai-Shek supported by Nazi Germany and at times USA, and Mao supported by USSR, Komintern and a times USA.

Originally, the source of the “comfort women” story is a book by Seiji Yoshida, by his own confession pure fiction, history “as if”. The women were well paid by the soldiers. But the story was picked up by Japanese media outlets, notably Asahi Shimbun, by Japan’s so-called left, by Korea, and used against Japan. Japan must continue apologizing, forever, for war, colonialism, atrocities. Germany is hailed as the model to emulate. Did Germany apologize for WWII in Europe or colonialism in Africa and the Pacific? For shoa, yes; basically blaming it on Hitler and the Nazi party. War, colonialism, atrocities were seen as the essence of Japan, as accidental in Germany. Western racism at work: impunity for white people-not for yellow. Judged by Western colonial powers whose colonial crimes cry to the heavens relative to what Japan did.

Including me, attributing Western colonialism to Japan. Sorry.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Aug 2015.

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7 Responses to “Japan Revisited”

  1. The author has apparently not bothered to become well read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese in their all out conquest of Asia. They may not have killed as many people as did the Nazi’s but they were equally barbaric. From the place where people were experimented upon and later vivisected to the ‘Rape of Nanking’, from the building of the Burma Railway to the abduction and use of children to sexually ‘comfort’their troops, from the repressive means used in their efforts to control populations to their outright attempt to destroy Korea, its’ culture, and its’ people, and much, much more, there can be NO excuse.

    Worse still, they have not bothered to acknowledge their crimes. That they became a modern military nation only after being induced to do so by the US after the visit of Admiral Perry and that they learned much of their barbarity from what the US troops did in their effort to control the population of the Philippines does NOT mitigate their crimes.

    I completely agree that the west has committed many crimes for which it should be held accountable – and may someday find itself doing. This cannot be denied. But this does not diminish either the crimes of the west nor the crimes of Japan despite the author’s apparent desire to do so.

  2. Akifumi Fujita says:

    Thank you very much for your very inspiring and courageous statement about Japan revisited. I appreciate it very much. You newly interpret Asia for Asians as Japan in Asia or Asia Japanized. This reminds me of Yukichi Fukuzawa (1834-1901) who insisted on “Datsu-A” (Escape from Asia) in 1875 and in my understanding, that Asia included Japan itself. He hated feudalism in Edo-era. I think Fukuzawa is hated among Asian countries even today as an advocate of Japanese imperialism, but in a way I like him very much. In the context of Japan’s legacy, the economist Kaname Akamatsu is referred to. In this context I think Japanese tradition of Marxism is very important. From Hajime Kawakami in pre-war time to Morishima/Okishio who criticized Marx and Keynes to make their own economic model for Japan after the war. Yes, lifelong employment in Japan was based on Buddhism-Confucianism, but I think it was too oppressive for human development. The present Abe Administration interprets A9 as compatible with “collective self-defense” just like a mad man insisting on 1+1=3, a lie apparent even to the majority that stands in the position of “the tyranny of the majority.” I don’t know if this is a tragedy or comedy, but it may lead Japan to abyss.

  3. Daisuke Nojima says:

    Galtung sensei, your editorial, including this, is always impressive and full of insights. I read this should be a good lesson for Western people, especially who lacks self-reviewing habit or just believes only what are taught or spoken around Western society. However, without knowing basic knowledge of peace research and Galtungism (especially of the theories of reconciliation), what you mention here could be misunderstood, or utilized, by patriots and belligerent Japanese administrators; who are proud of, and want to re-establish, the Great Empire of Japan (not Japan of present regime).
    Some of the expressions look Japanese colonialism was milder than West’s, or nurtured cultures in colonies; might be like what internet right wing freak and revisionist writes every day, for superficial readers, I am afraid. Now, mass-media, education, bookstore, movie, comic, etc., turns into patriotism in Japan; even a school girl shouted doing another massacre against Japanese Koreans in Osaka in the hate speech line on the street. Another school boy said “Shitty, old man, failed to be killed!” against a Nagasaki survivor (both cases happened in last year). The day before yesterday, Osaka, Yokohama, and Kanazawa city adopted the most patriot school textbook of history. Pre-war preparation, day by day.
    Mahatma Gandhi once wrote for Japanese people at his open letter; that the Empire of Japan had started war in the idea of “Asia for Asians,” however, later its spirit turned into the Empire of Japan’s own ambition of imperialism. He pointed out the reason of alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and colonization in Asia. If you could mention that at least “controversial” about comfort women, to regard many cases other than Seiji Yoshida’s, I am glad. Twenty-one demands (1915), against China, is also worth revisiting.
    Peace activists welcome your “revisiting” to us in the late August! Our present small hope, some young peace movements on the meeting and demonstration in front of the State Congress, with supports by lawyers, doctors, and peace activists from elder generations. We would like to learn from you, again, at this very difficult phase.

  4. […] originale: Japan Revisited – TRANSCEND Media […]

  5. Clifford Terry is right in correcting me for not mentioning the “atrocities committed by the Japanese in their all out conquest of Asia”. Not that I did not know, but I saw them mainly in the context of Japan fighting all Western colonialists and being the only Asian country doing so. However, Japan should have used nonviolent methods, organizing general strikes, trade boycotts etc–like India.

    Japan was beaten by fire bombing and nuclear bombs, and punished by military courts, also by the colonial countries beaten by Japan. The colonials returned to recolonize, France to Vietnam, UK to Malaya and Singapore, Netherlands to Indonesia. In the First Indochina War- Anti-French Resistance War, December 1946 till August 1954 estimates of civilians killed go to 400,000 (Wikipedia). Both sides were wrong.

    Let me use this occasion to revisit Prime Minister Abe. The law opening for Japan to fight all over the world has been passed. But Abe also made a statement August 14 2015 on the 70th anniversary of ending the war more focused on peace, in fact with 10 theories:

    Prime Minister Abe’s 10 theories Comment
    1 Diplomatic settlement of disputes
    Rule of Law universally accepted
    Nonproliferation of nuclear arms
    Fine, but do diplomats know?
    Whose law? Rule by lawyers?
    Watch yourself, Japan
    2 Open trade relations, not blocs Japan is joining TPP, a bloc
    3 Assistance to developing nations Self-reliance works better
    4 Prosperity as foundation of peace USA-UK-Israel are all rich
    5 Poverty as hotbed of violence Poverty because you are rich
    6 Medical services, education Could make better soldiers
    7 Not challenge the world order Whose order? Colonialists?
    8 Freedom, democracy, human rights USA-UK-Israel have all that
    9 Countries sharing those ideas Not states, world rights &c
    10 Proactive Contribution to Peace Rhetoric for USA alliance
  6. Daisuke Nojima says:

    Galtung sensei,thanks for your further review of recent Japanese goverment’s policies, especially about PM Abe’s speech. Please let me share your comment among Transcend Japan people.