#5: Our Past is Our Present
The legacy of the Japanese empire for both historiographical and political reasons is an extraordinarily controversial area of inquiry. One can be characterized as the more internationalist view and could be termed the peace view. Superficially, in the peace view the Japanese were Victimizers of East Asia and if they are portrayed as victims, they are victims of their own nationalism as much as their enemy‘s. The other is the nationalistic view or the war view.
The war view sees Japan primarily as a victim, primarily of the devastation caused by the two atomic weapons and a spring and summer of heavy and indiscriminate aerial bombardment of its major cities. The war museums investigated include the Yasukuni Shrine War Museum, Showa Hall, and the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots. This last museum is categorized as a war museum because it is designed in such a way as to conceive of the Kamikaze pilots as somehow praiseworthy or at least not blameworthy. The primary rationale for this assertion is that the museum engages in the “practice of glorifying the past”(Jeans 162). Further than this, other war museums espousing this viewpoint have been more aggressive in seeking to rehabilitate the image of the war.
At the same time peace appearing in various cities in Japan, in August 1994 a huge new war museum in Tokyo that would “portray World War II as something Japan could be proud of” (157). The nationalist reinterpretation of Japanese Imperial history then seeks to represent Japanese military history in the same way that other nations venerate their military history. The peace view on the other hand is expounded by the peace museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Osaka International Peace Center and the Kyoto Museum for World Peace. They present Japan as an aggressor in the war and describe its brutal treatment of other Asian peoples. These museums did not become part of the cultural landscape in...