How do the Japanese view Pearl Harbor?

We just got home from a vacation to Hawaii, which included a visit to Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial (we had gotten there at 10:30 am last Sunday, and all of the tickets for the day had already been distributed), but we did visit the U.S.S. Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

One thing which surprised us quite a bit was the number of Japanese tourists we saw at Pearl Harbor. We saw a fairly large number of Japanese tour groups at the various sites…which got us to wondering:

How do the Japanese view Pearl Harbor?

Clearly, while that battle was a devastating day for the U.S., and the U.S. Navy in particular, it became a rallying point for the country.

My guess is that the Japanese, at least at that time, saw Pearl Harbor as a great military triumph. But, when viewed through the lens of eventually losing the war, how is it viewed today? It seems like it’s still an event and location of interest to the Japanese people; why is that?

I don’t have a factual answer, but here are a couple of guesses based on 30 years of contact with Japanese people:

Most Japanese, even those who were alive at the time (of whom there aren’t many left) dissociate themselves from the actions of the Japanese government starting with the invasion of Manchuria through the end of the war. It was a bunch of right-wing nationalists who managed to dupe the emperor into going along with them and who took over the country by fascist means.

And the rest of the time they just don’t think about it. Japanese aren’t big on introspection, in my experience. If they think about history at all, they prefer to dwell on the heroic behavior of samurai in the feudal period, or the rapid modernization after the Meiji restoration, or the defeat of Russia in 1905 (just as we prefer to dwell on our “good” wars and not on the questionable ones). Like most countries and people, they don’t like to think about anything that paints them in a bad light. Victims of the A-bomb, yes. Perpetrators of atrocities and surprise attacks, not so much.

I saw a picture of a caption card in a Japanese museum. It outright stated that the US actions (embargo and sanctions) forced Japan to attack Pearl Harbor. It neglected to mention why the US took those actions.

It was just a few years ago that this story was hitting main-stream new sources on Google – the reason, mentioned just at that time from Japanese sources, that a “surprise-attack” occurred, was a delay in getting the Japanese diplomats access in Washington to deliver the war declaration. It was Sunday, and all major diplomats were off, or at church I think is how the story went, and the message couldn’t be delivered on time. You should be able to find this story on Goocle news, it will go back to the time of the articles.

Kinda steams me up, just a little bit. See the honorable thing to do was say, “We declare war”, and hit us a few minutes latter. The dishonorable event, that attack, then the declaration, was really the US’s fault. :rolleyes: So I can see where Roderick Femm: is coming from.

American’s feel the sting about Pearl Harbor because it was a “sneak” attack.

The Japanese planned on their ambassador delivering the Declaration of War an hour before the attack, but he got held up decoding the overly-lengthy message.

Operationally, the attack was a brilliant success. Strategically, less so.

Without the emotionalism attached to the event that the Americans have, I would have to guess that the Japanese don’t see that day as badly (shamefully?) as we do.

One thing to remember: unlike Germany, Japan never came to terms with its role in starting the war. A lot of reasons for this: no concentration camps on its soil to act as enduring reminders, the Emperor never abdicated, traditional Japanese reluctance for confrontation, the need for Japan as an ally during the Cold War, etc.

Sure, Japan accepted pacifism quickly and easily. But their treatment of the Koreans, the Chinese, Allied POWs, etc. remain sore, even unmentionable subjects.

I think the likeliest response from the Japanese is that they don’t think about Pearl Harbor much at all-- nor Nanking, nor Bataan, nor… you get the picture.

But Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That’s a different story.

Maybe. But I wonder if they understand why the US feels the way it generally does?

“We made this brilliant attack on the US after declaring war, which we needed to do because you just forced us to. Oops, our bad, we didn’t quite declare war first, but we meant to. So it’s all OK, right?”

Then there are those who think that Roosevelt purposely provoked the Japanese so something like this would happen and he could get the US into the war. I wonder if that is a popular line in Japanese history classes too.

Possibly. They may also feel that they have already paid for this misdeed, so “Let’s move on, OK?”.

Well, that seems to imply that FDR (or the other movers and shakers in the US) didn’t really care about what Japan was doing in China, and elsewhere.

I don’t agree. I think he cared.

FDR knew that England and company was in a struggle for survival. He knew that they could ill afford another front (that is, the Far East/Pacific) to open up, and FDR did not want Japan to try to take advantage of the war in Europe and establish an unassailable hegemony in the Far East.

There are many ways to get into a war (WMD, etc.), and purposefully provoking your enemy to cripple your own navy would have been one of the stupidest. I mean, if you want to get in a war, you presumably want to win it, right?

FDR did care what was going on with Japan’s rampant aggression and embargoed oil, knowing it was likely to lead to war. He wanted to openly help the British in Europe, but all he could do was supply them. Japan’s attack, with or without declaration 10 minutes before hand would have come off the same with loss of life and ships.

Yamamato told the high command that success would be short lived, but the high command didn’t understand Yamamato’s explanation that the US would get in a huge war over the attack. The only thing preventing the full US might coming down on Japan was the fact that they had not attacked us. The American people would demand a strong military response. For some reason the high command brushed that aside, either thinking it was wrong or that it would be militarily able to deal with it. As it was Hitler declared war and Roosevelt put the emphasis in Europe and Japan was still roundly and quickly defeated getting second billing in theater priorities.

One of the questions I have is if the entire fleet was out on maneuvers, as the carriers were, would the saved battleships have distracted the US command from immediately understanding that carriers were the true capital ships? The loss of the battleships forced that on us right away, leaving us only with carriers to respond, but would we have put the carriers in second place if the battleships survived, and what would the consequences be, if any?

In Shattered Sword, Parshall and Tully state that it was Pearl Harbor that broke US admirals from the old surface-centric thinking. They state that one of the great ironies of the war was that Yamamoto planned the Battle of Midway under the false opinion that the USN was still thinking in terms of battleships when it was his attack on Pearl Harbor that put carriers at the top of the USN tactics.

This should never surprise anyone.

I’ve never been to any major tourist destination where busloads of Japanese tourists are not a common scene. National Parks & Monuments everywhere would probably notice some measure of financial loss if Japanese tourists stopped coming.

This. Hawaii is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese tourists, and naturally many will want to see Pearl Harbor for its historical connection with Japan.

Getting pissed off at the Japanese for carrying out a “sneak attack”, is about as stupid as being annoyed at the IRA for not warning when a bombing would be carried out. Since when has war been about “fairness”?

I know this may be hard to believe, but there are also many people who feel that IRA style bombing is not very honorable.

I thought the IRA generally gave a warning shortly before a bombing.

The US and Japan were not at war when PH happened.

And the secretarial staff had the day off, with only high ranking diplomatic officials around, none of whom could type very well or quickly.

The IRA usually gave warnings before they carried out bombings. That’s what a Provisional IRA member argued distinguished the IRA from the 9/11 bombers, and the IRA and its splinter group have been heavily criticized even by their own supporters and those sympathetic to them for giving inadequate or misleading warnings in advance of certain bomb attacks, including the Omagh bombing. Moreover, the IRA wasn’t “at war” with anyone either, it’s not a sovereign state. It was a paramilitary group waging a secessionist campaign. Basically I don’t think the IRA comparison makes any sense whatsoever here.

I don’t believe that most Japanese think very much about Pearl Harbor in any way, neither as great victory nor as regrettable aggression. It’s the A-bomb that dominates their consciousness when they think about World War II.

Kind of like Americans thinking of Vietnam are likelier to remember the helicopters lifting off from Saigon or the Tet Offensive than Operation Rolling Thunder.

Just to point out that even if one accepted that Japan had no choice but to go to war, that’s a long way from saying it was force to attack Pearl Harbor. A considerable number of Japanese leaders wanted nothing to do with the Pearl Harbor plan, hoping instead to lure the US fleet within range of land-based aircraft and fight the Great All-Out Battle there. Without Yamamoto’s tremendous prestige behind the plan, Japan never would have hit Pearl.