Japanese obsession obscures reality

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Japanese obsession obscures reality

Japanese have a special obsession with commemoration. They would never fail to celebrate any memorable occasion, and they put a special emphasis on numbers and formalities.

The recent chaos at Tokyo Station is a good example.

East Japan Railway Co. was to sell limited edition cards commemorating Tokyo Station’s 100th anniversary on Dec. 20. The commemorative card was priced at 2,000 yen ($17). Considering the cost of production and labor, however, there would be no profit from the sales. So JR East decided to produce 15,000 cards and offer them to passengers on the first trains to arrive that day. People who waited at the station overnight got none.

On the day of the sale, however, JR East broke the rule. Then the Japanese, who are generally known for their law-abiding tendencies, were cutting in line and cursing one another. JR East gave up after two and a half hours and decided to reissue the cards to everyone who had signed up. By the end of the weekend, nearly 5 million people had signed up, 333 times the 15,000 that had originally been produced. JR East failed to understand what the people wanted. If it had stuck to the rule, it wouldn’t have had to assume 333 times the initial loss. Because of that misjudgment, JR East will have to print centennial cards for the next two years.

The next commemorative occasion will be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement on Aug. 15 on the 70th anniversary of Emperor Hirohitos radio broadcast announcing Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Abe announced on Feb. 19 that he was launching a committee of 16 civilians under a grand title, “The Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century.” It sounded like the advisory panel would have an important role. But Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga said their advice would be for reference only. In other words, the content of the statement is already in the mind of Abe.

Another news story gave me a headache. When Abe visits the United States in late April, he will issue a “joint statement” with Washington apologizing for the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is a trick to present a preemptive and “limited” apology to the United States, while neglecting any repentance and apology for its colonial rule and war of aggression in the Aug. 15 statement.

It is similar to the chaos over the commemorative cards at Tokyo Station. Abe tries to ignore the hidden truth and break the promise and principles. The outcome of the trick will be chaos and estrangement. But the result of the misjudgment will be far more severe. Japan will face harder and longer pressure.

Abe’s obsession for commemoration is rather strange and absurd if he really wants to plant a seed of tragedy to mark the end of the war, which was actually a humiliating defeat.

*The author is Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 24, Page 34


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