[VIEWPOINT]Japan's Teachers, Helping Right Wrongs

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[VIEWPOINT]Japan's Teachers, Helping Right Wrongs

Many years ago, during a trip to Tokyo, I visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum. There were many interesting things on display - art works and reproductions of streets of the Tokugawa period, including depictions of the daily lives of citizens of Edo (Tokyo).

But what caught my interest most was an exhibit depicting the Tokyo citizen's everyday life during World War II, a life shaped by army mobilization, the devastation of Tokyo caused by Allied bombing and the severe hardships of life which Tokyo citizens had to endure.

While wandering around the exhibition I asked myself a question. As members of Japan's post-war generation study these exhibits, do they perceive that the grim state of the Tokyo streets after the Pacific War and the tremendous number of casualties of the Tokyo bombing were the price their parents' generation had to pay for being swept away by a collective militaristic hysteria?

In Japan there are also museums devoted to peace, which I did not visit at the time due to my ignorance of their existence.

In the Ritsumeikan University, in Kyoto, there is a private peace museum. It inspires antiwar, antimilitaristic sentiments with displays of artifacts from the 15-year-long wartime mobilization and ruthless aggression committed by Japanese troops in Asia. The displays include information concerning Japan's forced recruitment of soldiers from foreign countries it invaded, antiwar movements in Japan and the barbarous acts of the Japanese army in their colonies and occupied territories.

There are monuments to peace such as this all over Japan. I have been told that museums in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Osaka, Takamas, Kawasaki and Sakai not only depict the disastrous consequences of war, but also provide materials that show Japan's responsibility for war crimes to the visitors, urging Japanese people to repent and remedy past mistakes.

Most of the Japanese intellectuals I have met at international conferences are deeply ashamed of Japan's past and express serious concern about the public frenzy rightists in Japan are attempting to stir up. There are many conscientious intellectuals who are active in movements that demand the Japanese government's atonement and compensation for compulsorily drafted workers and military sexual slaves ("comfort women") from Japanese colonies during wartime. These intellectuals are the people who take action according to their consciences, regardless of the threat of oppression and terrorism from extreme rightists.

Most of the city museums mentioned above were established at the suggestion of Japanese intellectuals and professionals. Notably, middle school and high school teachers were among those mounting aggressive campaigns to establish the museums. They played a crucial role in raising public support for the museums.

Therefore, Korea must seek to cooperate with these conscientious Japanese professionals and intellectuals in order to remedy the past ills of Japan.

Wide-ranging contact with Japanese middle school and high school teachers should be promoted. And it is important to help Japanese teachers to understand Korean and Japanese history more deeply and to reaffirm the importance of a fair, unbiased presentation of history.

Of course, the view of history endorsed in textbooks is of concern. But the attitude and perception of the teachers who use these materials exerts a far stronger influence on students.


The writer is a professor of English literature at Korea University.

by Suh Ji-moon

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