And never the twain shall meet
I know I shouldn’t get wound up about what I see on commercial Japanese television, but sometimes it raises seriously worrying questions about society in general.
Take this, for example, a clip from the show ‘Yorosen!’.
Hitler (or Hitoraa-Ojisan, “Uncle Hitler”) – a ‘great man of history’, so this roomful of vapid girls tells us, revealing a jolly little cartoon of a kawaii Hitler. Good at speeches, captivated his populace (ooh, they mentioned anti-semitism – bonus point for that).
So what about this Hitler fellow then? Good speaker, snappy dresser, but with an unfortunate penchant for totalitarian oppression and genocidal atrocity? Oh, scrap that last bit, it’s not mentioned. Why bring down the party mood!
How on earth that made it onto broadcast television, the mind boggles. But old Uncle Adolf made it onto the telly again last night, on the London Boots show, The Best House (no clip, sorry). To an upbeat, jaunty background tune, and the accompanying Pavlovian laughter of the brainless collection of tarento, we got to see a video clip of that sweet little dance Hitler did in an unguarded moment at the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) in Berchtesgaden. You see? And you thought he was all about the shouting, and the killing, and all that humourless stuff.
We are used to commercial Japanese television treating areas of extraordinary delicacy with a total lack of respect or dignity. What is worrying is wondering how far this mindset extends.
Last year, when General Toshio Tamogami, the head of Japan’s air force, published an essay denying that Japan was a second world war aggressor, he was fired, albeit with a 60 million yen going-away present. But the only ‘condemnation’ from those above him was that his words were “inappropriate”, and they ran “contrary to the current government’s position”. Ooh, I bet his ears were burning.
Japan has, in the form of several of its governments, issued apologies for its actions during the second world war. The problem arises with the assumption that mere words, in the usual style of a Japanese apology, are enough.
As Germany has shown, mere words are simply insufficient to get you readmitted to the human race. You need to back it up with action. Hence Germany is full of reminders of those years in which it chose the wrong path, in the hope that by not forgetting, such mistakes can never be repeated.
Japan, on the other hand, is entirely bereft of any official acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Quite the opposite – a vocal minority, the notorious right-wing uyoku, deliver loud diatribes to that effect in the high street, while good people (and the police) say nothing.
Where are the war museums? Well, you’ll find the Nagasaki and Hiroshima memorials to the dropping of the atomic bombs. These museums, both detailed and moving, say much about how the Pacific war ended.
But not a word about how it started.
All context is stripped away. You’ll find nothing about Japan’s invasions of its neighbours, no mention of its attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbour, just Japanese victimhood.
Japanese moderates will say that the past mistakes are simply understood, there’s no need to beat future generations over the head with it. As a westerner, I’m entirely unconvinced by this. If it was a self-evident truth held as such by the majority, you wouldn’t have military chiefs spouting revisionist nonsense, you wouldn’t have teenagers who are “not sure who Hitler was”, and you would never see a genocidal dictator reduced to a Hollywood villain on national television.
There seems to be little realisation that Japan was during those times and for many years after seen by the West with the same enmity as Hitler’s Germany. And that alone should mean that the Japanese, of all nations, should be the ones to teach themselves to tread most carefully around these issues. Instead, you see the remarkable insensitivity in the video above.