What's the Japanese national narrative about WW2?

Here in the USA, World War 2 seems like a point of great pride for us. Our history textbooks depict us as saviors, we have a bunch of random naval and air museums dedicated to WW2 feats and vessels, and it’s generally celebrated as a glorious thing that we did.

How does modern Japan view their involvement? Do they have museums, memorials, etc.?

How soon will this get moved to IMHO/GD?

I’m guessing the overview is the same as Germany:

we were sick, but we got better*

    • and real sorry about the sex slave thing, too

As I understand it, the Japanese teach WWII as starting with American aggression in the Pacific with war being all but inevitable, which is a stark contrast to the way it is taught in the U.S. where everything that had been going on in the Pacific prior to Pearl Harbor is completely ignored and it is taught as if the Japanese just attacked out of the blue. While both sides are obviously skewed, there’s actually something to be learned from taking a look at the Japanese point of view, IMHO. Things aren’t always as simple as we were taught in school.

It is also my understanding that Japanese textbooks tend to be a lot less patriotic about the topic. The basic lesson for them is that war is bad. There’s somewhat of a disconnect in that the government and military of the time are viewed as having done whatever they wanted to do, regardless of the views of the common Japanese people.There is no blame for the common people of Japan because they didn’t have any control over what was going on. And besides, Japan only attacked so that it could defend itself, so there’s not much blame there anyway, from the Japanese viewpoint. This, too, is markedly different from the U.S. viewpoint.

The Japanese histories whitewash a lot of things, just as U.S. histories do. For example, while the textbooks I read in school were quick to mention the German and Japanese prison camps, no mention was made at all of the Japanese-American internment camps like Manzanar.

Here is wikipedia’s list of Japanese WWII museums:

    • hey, at least we didn’t nuke anybody

There is a disturbingly large segment of Japanese society that basically says, “Our ancestors were heroes who did no wrong.” They acknowledge that war crimes were committed, and then try to forget it.


Edit: there were no replies at all when I started mine.

Leaving aside some right winger types, I think the general consensus is that the war was misguided and that the majority of people at the time were mislead by a powerful few who basically spoon fed the rest massive amounts of propaganda, telling them that the war(s) were necessary, that it would help not only the Japanese people but other peoples in the region (throwing off the shackles of European oppression and all), and that victory was right around the corner. Even after the atomic bombs fell there was shock on the part of the Japanese people when the Emperor surrendered, since the majority had been told that they were winning or at least holding their own. A lot of the really heinous stuff gets glossed over, such as a lot of the Japanese war crimes, which tends to piss off a lot of other countries in the region, who have a real grudge against the Japanese over their actions during the war, but the Japanese certainly are aware of and taught about WWII in school, just like most other countries, and there are war memorials and such just like there are in the US, though mostly they are more somber affairs (though a lot of US memorials aren’t all banners and cheering either, and pretty somber…go see the Arizona memorial for instance).

I’ve been to this rodeo before.

A few posters here that LIVE there have said that the teaching basically goes " well maybe Japan did some things not quite so kosher (at worst) and then they nuked our victim asses".

Maybe it has gotten better over the past decade or so but I have my doubts.

I’ve always gotten the impression it’s a southern version of “hey, we were just growing cotton and then Lincoln went all medieval on our asses” (which, BTW WASN"T how I was taught history in the south).

They sure do. There’s a museum in Tokyo, Yūshūkan, itself located in a controversial shrine to Japanese war dead, in that it includes war criminals.

Hiroshima has a memorial/museum too, the English guide gives you an idea of the tone they were going for;
“The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event, supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombings and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from the A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.”

Previous thread on what the Japanese are taught about WWII. They are often accused of having no narrative at all, or covering the period superficially and glossing over certain unsavory parts. The history textbook controversies are well known, this post from a Japanese former student goes into detail on just what they were taught;

I learned about Manzanar in Junior High and High School in the late 70s/early 80s. Then again, I grew up in West L.A. Many of my classmate’s parents and grand parents were interred there.

My understanding is that the general drift is “Yes, Japan started a war and tried to conquer other countries. And that’s not a good thing to do. But lots of other countries have started wars of conquest so Japan is no worse morally than they are.”

From my very limited experience living in Japan from 91-94, an awful lot of under 30 Japanese at the time, played the victim card. Ie, Japan was the only country to ever suffer a nuclear attack. And they had little to no clue about the “other” part of WW2.

The Japanese argument during WWII itself was that China, itself, was falling apart and that this would leak over into Japan, regardless of which group won, so for the defense of the nation, it was imperative to take over China. But then, the Americans started to supply China with arms against Japan, so Japan had no choice but to try and scare the USA off.

But instead, the US launched a full attack, China fell and became a communist nation, and Japan was bombed to nothingness.

I suspect that much of this view still lasts through to today.

For the most part, there isn’t much of a narrative. It’s been 70 years and the only people with any real memories are in their 80s or 90s. The post war period is just a little nearer, but even that is also fading from the national conscious.

For people I associated with, mostly white collar types now who would be in their 40s to 60s, the bubble and the subsequent burst carry much more weight.

For the vast majority, it was something you got through and then let go. I’ve frequently posted accounts of firebombing my former in-laws lived through as children, as well as personal friends who survived the Nagasaki bombing, so I won’t rehash that, but it was really an extraordinarily difficult thing for them personally.

However, I never got the sense that any of them were playing the victim card. Japanese can be quite vocal when they are the victims, and this never really was like that.

People know there was a war, they know that Japan lost, that the US defeated them but that we are friends now Japan grew afterward.

For decades after the war there was a really pronounced opposition to any suggestion of changing Article 9 of the constitution, which prohibits Japan from having a military (but not “self-defense” forces) as well as other restrictions, but the outcries seem to be quieter the longer we are from the war years. Likewise the more liberal members, including teachers really pushed initially back strongly against the militancy including opposition to singing the national anthem or displaying the national flag at school functions, but the opposition doesn’t seem as pronounced now. Which makes sense, Japan now is fairly peaceful.

NHK, the national broadcaster, runs programs in August about the bombings. Some are actually quite informative and I learned a number of things. (Including how Japanese signal intelligence had picked up on the training for the bombing group tasked with the atomic bombs, but hadn’t put two and two together fast enough.)

The majority of the programs are understated, telling the stories of the victims without getting into the deeper details.

I don’t think that the right wing population is that huge, it’s got to be a smaller percent than the Tea Partiers, which according the its Wiki article is between 10% to 30%.

I lived in Japan for over 25 years over a 32 year period and personally ran into only a few supporters of the ultra right wing, but we didn’t discuss their politics so I don’t know if they supported them because of those reasons or not.

The ones who are disturbing are those who don’t believe that Japan committed any war crimes. Fortunately, that population is quite small.

If they even think things through that far. Most of the people I discussed it with, which honestly wasn’t that many, really weren’t that interested in talking about it. For most people, the schools fit it in at the very end of the year when they don’t have any remaining time.

How many Americans really think about our history? Other than us who open threads about it, it’s not really that hot of a topic.

A majority of the urban Japanese people were well aware that Japan was losing. The rural folks had much less information, but they would be aware of setbacks.

The loss of Saipan, part of the “inner defense” of Japan, made it impossible for the government to conceal the losses any further. Tojo was sacked as prime minister and more accurate reporting started occurring.

The people were shocked hearing about the surrender because they anticipated having to suffer longer. (This, of course, does not excuse any of the things the Japanese did, it’s just an explanation of how they viewed it.)

I would say that the majority of people are not familiar with the the war crimes. I wrote a post once about the difference between Germany and Japan and why the Japanese haven’t reacted the same way. I couldn’t find it though.

The one at Yasukuni Shrine, where the war dead including the war criminals are interred, is quite right wing pro Imperial Japan.

Nope. Completely missing the mark.

The link gives the experience of most Japanese, IMHO.

Unfortunately i can’t find the article, but within the last few months I read an article about a Japanese man who started traveling to nearby countries in order to educate people about how Japan had suffered during the war. However, he was shocked after visiting some of the places that had been part of Japan’s “co-prosperity zone” to learn how badly people in the occupied countries had been treated by the Japanese. He ended up going back to his country with a new mission-- to educate people about what he had learned about the suffering caused by Japan.

How do Japanese historians deal with the “Rape of Nanking”? Almost 250,000 Chinese civilians were murdered there, by Japanese army troops.
Not to mention the atrocious treatment of POWs (almost half of the prisoners building the River Kwai bridge died.)
Which makes me laugh whenever the subject of Hiroshima and Nagasaki comes up.

You have a strange sense of humor.

At the end of the war the Japanese had to return to China the POW’s that they had taken during the war.
The Japanese returned 56 people to China, they were all that had survived the war.

Some American POWs couldn’t return to the USA because they had been eaten by their captors.

I am reading *The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors *about US destroyers that went up against capitol Japanese ships. There are quotes by Japanese officers regarding the bravery of US sailors, and I wonder if they spoke of this to placate the Americans interrogating them.

Well, the captain of a Japanese destroyer that help send USS Johnston to the bottom saluted her as she sank, according to some of her survivors:

None of Center Force’s destroyers were sunk or captured, so there wasn’t any sucking up to captors here.

FWIW, the charge of Taffy 3 off Samar would have been recognized by any student of Miyamoto as “treading down the sword”:

I always thought Taffy 3, and particularly Cdr. Evans captaining Johnston, were the true samurai on that battlefield.

And the attack succeeded. The Yamato and her fleet were chased off.