When ‘smaller is better’ is not
When I entered college 25 years ago, I was curious about Japan, so I immersed myself in Lee O-young’s “Smaller is Better.” The former culture minister explained in his book that the Japanese people were deeply rooted in culture and that the “smaller is better” tendency could be evidenced even in everyday items like folding fans, bonsai trees, flower arrangements, lunch boxes and portable radios. I nodded in agreement as I read the book.
Recently, I was once again marveled by this acute insight. It also appears to apply to Japan’s historical awareness and the extent to which it realizes how much it harmed its neighbors during the colonial period and during World War II. Japan protested when historical documents detailing the Nanking Massacre in China were added to the Unesco Memory of the World Register.
It claimed that the number of the victims killed in the six-week bloodbath carried out by Japanese forces occupying Nanking in December 1937 was inaccurate and refused to acknowledge the decision by the Nanking Military Tribunal in 1947 that more than 300,000 people were killed. Tokyo slammed China for making what it said was a unilateral claim and asserted that Unesco had been played. Until 10 years ago, it was widely accepted in Japan that the victims of the Nanking massacre numbered at least 200,000. In 2005, an approved high school Japanese textbook stated that it was likely to be more than 200,000, then it was reduced to 100,000.
Now, Tokyo again wants to drastically reduce the number of casualties, to about 20,000 to 40,000 victims. While the Japanese government’s official position is that the civilian killings during that time were undeniable, its demands for revision indicate that it wants to distance itself - even deny - its historical responsibility.
The “smaller is better” instinct can also be seen in its attitude toward Korea’s “comfort women,” the young women and girls the Imperial Japanese Army forced into sexual slavery.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration continues to deny that these women were forcibly taken and moved into military brothels. They advocate for a future-oriented relationship in a weak bid to improve the bilateral relationship with Korea. Tokyo’s tactic is to waste time, to wait until the witnesses and the evidence have disappeared. But this cannot make a dark past disappear and it will resurface someday. Japan must sincerely apology and repent. Only then, can there be a future for us.
The author is the Tokyo correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 26
by LEE JEONG-HEON