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Saturday, December 12, 2009

International Human Rights Day Student Symposium

Here is my closing plenary speech at the International Human Rights Day Student Symposium, organized by Vancouver School Board and BC ALPHA. I would like to express sincere thanks to Thekla Lit and Angela Brown to allow me to be part of this important event, and congratulations for the great success of the event.

International Human Rights Day Student Symposium
Theme: Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific 1931-1945

December 10 and 11, 2009 at Vancouver School Board

Closing Plenary: Towards Peace & Reconciliation – Endeavours of Human Rights & Peace Activists in Japan

Satoko Norimatsu, Director, Peace Philosophy Centre

December, 72 years after
Thank you ALPHA and Vancouver Board of Education for this opportunity to speak to high school students and teachers. This time of December is an emotional time for me, as this is the time when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Nanking, 72 years ago, leading into the series of massive war crimes now known as the Rape of Nanking. I think about the people of Nanking, who spent sleepless nights with the fear of night-time air-bombing. I think about the people who drowned in the freezing water of Yangtze River trying to escape. I think about the people in the surrounding farming communities, where food was stolen, fire was set on the houses, women were raped and killed, and men were falsely accused of being soldiers and executed.

The Japanese military assault of Nanking actually started earlier on August 15th of the same year. Most Japanese people remember August 15 as the anniversary of the end of the war, but few know that was the day when the 20 bombers of the Japanese Imperial Navy left its base in Nagasaki for the first air-bombing of the city, the beginning of the over 50 such raids leading up to the city’s occupation on December 13.

In 1937, my father was a 10 year-old elementary school student in Tokyo. My mother was only to be born in the following year. Our family connection with China was my grandfather, who was a scholar of Chinese Literature. He lived in Hankou, part of the city now known as Wuhan, for thirty years from 1897 to 1927. He died right after he and his family came back to Japan, when my father was only a few months old. I was born 20 years after the war.

Like many other Japanese of my generation, I learned about the WWII at school, but not in real depth. I knew about the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and firebombing of cities across Japan, but not about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army and Navy outside of Japan. When I was 17, I left Japan for the first time to study at this international school in Victoria. Only there, I learned about the cruel acts by the Japanese soldiers, from my Asian classmates. In 1982, I read a book about Unit 731’s biological and chemical warfare research that used live human bodies for experimentation. I still remember how shocked I was then, to learn of the savagery of those acts by the men of my own country. I was almost in disbelief, and it took me a long time to process such knowledge.

Indeed, it is very difficult for many Japanese to learn about this chapter of history, and to think about the possibility of their fathers and grandfathers being involved with such crimes. For me too, even though my family members were not directly involved, I feel deeply shameful and remorseful.

Today, my role is to present some of the efforts by Japanese people who are working for peace and reconciliation in Asia. I have a deep respect for those people in Japan who are working for these causes despite the constant threat from right-wingers. Although it is impossible to talk about all of those people’s efforts in 20 minutes, I will share a few examples that speak of the essence of the Japanese activism for Asian reconciliation.

Textbook debate, and China/Korea/Japan creating a common textbook
First I would like to touch on the textbook issue, which many of you may be familiar with, because of the infamous textbook written by the organization commonly called “Tsukurukai,” which justified Japanese imperial and military aggression in Asia and had little or no mention of atrocities Nanjing Massacre or sex slavery. A contrasting example is Tokyo Shoseki’s textbook. This textbook mentioned “comfort women,” forced labour, myths of “Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere,” atrocities like Bataan Death March and Nanjing Massacre.

The adoption rate of the problematic “Tsukurukai” textbook is less than 2 %, and more honest textbooks like Tokyo Shoseki ‘s are still used by the majority of schools in Japan. But the fact that the Tsukurukai textbook is approved by the government itself is a problem, and a more serious problem is that the reference to the “comfort women” issue, which used to be in every approved textbook back in 1997, has almost completely disappeared from the junior high school textbooks.

To countervail such move, an organization called “Children and Textbooks Network Japan 21” was established in 1998, and has over 5,000 members – teachers, scholars, activists and journalists. This Network recently hosted the 8th Conference of the annual “Historical Consciousness and Peace in East Asia” Forum. This Conference started in Nanjing in 2002, with teachers, scholars, and citizens of the three countries – China, Korea, and Japan, in response to the establishment of “Tsukuru-kai.” Instead of just criticizing Tsukuru-kai’s textbook, the trilateral committee decided to create a textbook together. The textbook called “Mirai o Hiraku Rekisi.(History that Opens the Future)” was created by over 50 committee members from the three countries.

Japanese manga exhibit at Nanjing Massacre Museum
One of these committee members was Zhu Cheng Shan, Director of Nanjing Massacre Museum. I will next tell you about the special exhibit he decided to do this summer. This past August 15, he held a special exhibit of 130 pieces of manga art, brought by a group of Japanese graphic artists who experienced war. Yoshimi Ishikawa, the writer who brought this project to China, asked many publishers in China if they are interested in publishing these manga, and he was rejected by all. Japanese war-related publications were just not acceptable. The Ishikawa brought the matter to the President of “People’s Daily,” and after a series of negotiation and censorship, the book got published. Then Ishikawa got in touch with Zhu Chengshan, the Director of Nanjing Museum. As soon as Ishikawa met him, he congratulated Zhu for having created a museum based on the idea that war should never happen again.

Zhu was surprised, because he had only met two types of Japanese before – one just tried to negotiate the number of people killed in Nanjing Massacre, and the other simply apologized. He had never met a Japanese who praised the museum. Zhu liked Ishikawa’s ideas of showing Japanese people’s war experience at the Nanjing Museum, and the exhibit held on August 15th was attended by 20,000 people. There were some criticism, but the overall response from the Chinese people was very positive. For example, Chinese children did not know that Japanese cities were firebombed. It was the power of manga and its graphic presentation of the people’s real experience that moved Chinese people with curiosity.

Peace museums in Japan
Nanjing Massacre Museum is one of the many museums for peace around the world. There are 204 peace museums around the world, and 66 of them are in Japan According to Kazuyo Yamane’s research, 67% percent of the Japanese peace museums surveyed had display contents about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 30% of them displayed those about the Japanese aggression on other countries. The peace museums in Japan tend to emphasize on the victim side of Japan in the war. This tendency definitely needs to be corrected, but we should still recognize the fact that more than 10 museums in Japan honestly display the past wrongdoing, and act as public peace education centre and bases for activism. Among those museums, the most notable is Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum, which exclusively exhibits Japanese colonization, atrocities and Korean victims of the atomic bombing. This Museum has a partnership with the Nanjing Museum, and raise funds every year to send Japanese students to China.

Another courageous museum is WAM, or Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo, which specializes in Japan’s military sex slavery. This museum was funded by late Yayori Matsui, who was a renowned journalist who was also one of the conveners of the International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sex Slavery held in 2000 in Tokyo. Not just this museum, there are 50 to 60 organizations across Japan that are committed to supporting the victims, but again, there are under constant threat. This summer, one of these organizations held a special exhibit in Mitaka City in the suburbs of Tokyo, and it was sabotaged by right-wing organizations. On the day of the exhibit, they blocked the entrance of the building with more than 100 people, scaring many visitors away. One of my activist friends in Tokyo said that the “comfort women” supporters get the worst sort of death threats and attacks among the other issues. These threats, however, seem to solidify these women’s support network even firmer. The organizer of this event received a nation-wide encouragement, and from the victims’ organization in the Philippines.

Cities and MPs in action
In fact, this Mitaka City, where this exhibit was held, is one of the 11 municipalities in Japan that have submitted position statements to the central government on the wartime military sex slavery. Most of these statements criticize the Japanese Government for its inaction and insincere attitude among the growing international calls for resolution of this issue.

They also call for 1) investigation of the truths of the military sex slavery system, including the public hearing with the victims, 2)an official apology and compensation from the Japanese Government, 3)recovery of the honour and dignity of the victims, and 4)inheritance of the historical knowledge.

On the central government front, three political parties, including the leading Democratic Party, have jointly submitted the bill for legislative resolution for compensation for the total of 8 times since 2001 . Recently, a group of activists, scholars, and artists have come together to start a petition campaign for a resolution by legislation, and their goal is to collect 1.2 million signatures.
This year, we have seen other positive moves by some Members of Parliament. On May 5th, Kumiko Aihara, a Member of the House of Councillors, went to Fushun, in the Northeast China, to apologize to the victims of Pingdingshan Massacre, in which more than 3,000 Chinese civilians were slaughtered by Japanese soldiers on September 16, 1932. Aihara brought a letter of apology representing 24 Members of Parliament, and met one of the survivors of the Massacre.
Another example is that Yukihisa Fujita, a House of Councillors member who disclosed the declassified document that verified the fact that Aso Mining, the mining company owned by the family of former Prime Minister Taro Aso, was abusing 300 Allied Nations’ POWs.

From Devils to Humans – former soldiers working for peace
Fushun, where Pingdingshan Massacre happened, is a place that should not be forgotten for another reason, for the story called “Miracle of Fushun.” After the defeat in the war, over 600,000 Japanese soldiers were sent to labour camps in Siberia. Of those people, about 1,000 were sent to Fushun War Criminal Management Centre.

In Fushun, the way they were treated was completely opposite from that in Siberia. There was no labour involved, and the war criminals were treated with respect, given three Japanese-style meals a day. They were engaged in cultural activities like reading, discussion, and music. By the time the criminals were investigated, they were ready to confess their wrongdoing during the war, and one by one, some in tears, they started to talk about the atrocious acts they committed against the Chinese POWs and civilians. The former soldiers were allowed to go back to Japan in 1956, and the following year, they formed an organization called “Chugoku Kikansha Renrakukai,” or “Association of Returnees from China.” The group was called “Chukiren” for short. Their mandate was to tell people in Japan what they did in China ,and let them know how war and militaristic education could turn ordinary people into devils. In February 1957, the book called “Sanko,” the collection of those former soldier’s accounts was published. “Sanko” is the Japanese war strategy in China – “kill all, loot all, and burn all.” It quickly became a bestseller. Chukiren was dissolved in 2002, due to the aging of the members, but their causes were carried on by younger people, including those in 20’s and 30’s. The new group is called “Continuing Miracle of Fushun.”

The promise of Article 9 and its popular support
Shin-ichiro Kumagai, one of the young leaders of this new group says,

“When I think about these people’s sincere efforts after the war, I believe this is the way the post-war Japan should have been. Unfortunately we Japanese have neither developed enough sensitivity to feel other people’s pain, nor have we regained our conscience to squarely face our past mistakes and learn from them.”

This path that the members of Chukiren chose to follow, one that has never been easy, is a true embodiment of Japan’s post-war Constitution. Japanese people chose to embrace this Constitution that declares they are “resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government,” and in its Article 9, they “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” For that purpose, “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained..” This, according to Chalmers Johnson, is Japan’s declaration to its neighbouring countries that “they have no reason to fear the kind of militarism seen in Japan in 1930’s and 1940’s will be repeated again, because Japan officially, legally, abandoned the use of military might, except in the last-resort self-defense.”

This Article 9’s pledge is alive in the fact that there are over 7,000 pro-Article 9 organizations across Japan and outside of Japan, including one in Vancouver.

Why do we learn history? How are younger generations responsible?
Shuichi Kato, a prominent public intellectual, was among the 9 people who started networking the thousands of grass-roots Article 9 groups in Japan. He taught Japanese culture at universities around the world, including UBC in 1960’s. In later years of his life, he spoke extensively about the young generations’ relationship to the past war. In 2005, Kato said in the NHK radio interview,

"Young people of today's Japan are not responsible for the war crimes of their previous generations, but they have a responsibility for learning the history and examine whether the elements of the society that caused those crimes are still found in today's society or not."

In his talk, Kato pointed out four such elements – 1)information manipulation through mass media, 2)conformism, 3)national isolationism (leading to ethnocentrism), and 4)discrimination of all sorts. Those elements did underlie the Japanese soldiers’ mentality and behaviours in their neighbouring countries. All media was strictly controlled, people’s behaviours were monitored through neighbourhood associations, and Japanese people were taught to believe that they were superior to other Asian peoples. Are these elements present in the current society, not just in Japan, but in other areas, including our own, Canada? Is there racism? Is there ethnocentrism? Is there discrimination? It is easy to detect those in other people, but we also need to recognize them in ourselves, and that is the hardest but most important part. Here in Vancouver, I feel my children are fortunate to grow up with children who have parents from all over the world, including the countries that Japan was at war with, only six, seven decades ago. You learn from each other about the experience of your parents and grandparents, and the older generations can learn from the younger.

In Canada, working together for peace in Asia
For this reason, I believe Vancouver is an ideal place for creating peace and historical reconciliation in Asia, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. This past July, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko came to visit Canada. When I heard about it, the first question that came to my mind was whether Akihito was aware that visiting a city like Vancouver was equivalent to visiting China, Korea, and Philippines altogether, as the majority of city’s residents were those originally from Asia-Pacific countries and their children. Thekla Lit, who is the organizer of today’s symposium, and I decided to write an open letter together and hold a press conference. The letter would welcome the couple to Canada, let them know what we Asian Canadians are doing to bring healing and justice to the victims of war in Asia, and encourage them to do more of their efforts to pay tribute to the war dead, like they did in China, Saipan, and Okinawa.

ALPHA and Peace Philosophy Centre, two peace organizations were eventually joined by 6 other local organizations - one Japanese, three Filipino, one Korean, and one women’s. Our Press Conference was attended by 16 newspapers and TV stations, and it was reported across Japan through Kyodo News Agency.

We received many positive comments, including one from a Canadian living in Japan, “Excellent piece of work. It does put forward a lot of Canadian values and that's great.” I hope to continue such work that utilizes Canada’s diversity and multicultural environment for peace and reconciliation in Asia.

1 comment:

  1. Satoko, Thank you for posting your excellent remarks for the International Human Rights Day Student Symposium. You have successfully integrated your personal story and the meaning of your work in peace advocacy to those significant -- but not-well-known -- historic events since the 1930s. Your speech is an inspiration for your student audience and other readers here (including me) to become more informed and work for lasting peace. Congratulations!