Behind Japanese textbooks censorship there is a sophisticated group of specialists in historical studies called nihonjinron or “theories about the Japanese.” They defend the existence of a distinctive Japanese concept of what should be considered public or private from the point of view of the Japanese people, including sensitive information such as the Nanking Massacre. They also believe that there is a defining Japanese character, different and superior to that of the other races because it can be directly traced back to Amatersu, the Japanese sun-goddess. The central concept of this philosophy is minzoku, “the people,” the same idea that was used by the nationalist movements of Central Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. According to this discourse, the Japanese “Volk” was unified in the past by the Yamato-minzoku or “Yamato people,” a pure race that was not yet polluted by the negative influences of Korea and China (Budhism and Confucianism), countries that had corrupted the inferior minorities of Japan –the Ainu in the North and the Ryukyuans in the south. The idea of a unified Japan, however, was a myth created in the nineteenth century to legitimize the centralization of the island known today as Japan. As Tessa Morris-Suzuki explains, “Japan as we know it today was formed in the mid-nineteenth century, when the country known as ‘Nihon’ [Japan] imposed its political power over two neighboring countries, the Kingdom of the Ryûkyûs to the south and the land of the Ainu to the north.” This is how Japanese imperialism was born: from the feudal regime that dominated Japan during the nineteenth century, the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1868) which gave Japan more political unity, and from the restoration of the Emperor as the head of the State in 1867, when the 15th shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu transferred his power and properties to him. This new period will be known as the Meiji Era and can be compared to the French Revolution –Meiji means, in Japanese, “enlightened rule.”
The Tokugawa shogunate was characterized by the exclusion of foreign influences and an increase in social order. There was a shift in the duties of the samurais who, with no warfare to divert their energies and knowledge, became aristocratic bureaucrats –some of whom grew fond of torture. During this period, centralization and inclusion originated a new movement called kokugaku or “national study.” The kokugakusha or “nationalist scholars” advocated a pure scholarship free from any foreign influence and longed for a lost golden age. Ultimately, their philosophy was responsible for the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate, because the ancient Japanese classics revealed that the Emperor, descendant of the gods, was the only legitimate ruler of the world. With this new “enlightened rule,” the government introduced the eugenic doctrines articulated by the kokugakusha, which included the fukko Shintô and the fukko ishin. The mission of the fukko was, as its name suggests in Japanese, “to restore the old” in order to create a “new era” or ishin rooted in the traditional values of the Shinto religion, the pure belief system of the “Yamato people.” The “old” was the Emperor, the Yamato clan roots of the Japanese people, and the creed of those who believed the gods had created Japan first, and then the world. Their mission, then, was to restore the purity and position of the original Japan, center of the known world, and to recover the land that had been lost centuries ago. If you have read Christopher B. Krebs’s book, A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich, you know where this is going.
British historian Ivan Morris has pointed out that Japanese insularity was decisive to define these ideas of distinctiveness and messianism:
Based on the racial theories advocated by the kokugakusha during the nineteenth century, the Japanese intelligentsia tried to legitimize their control of the northern Ainu and the southern Ryukyuans first, and of China, Korea and the rest of Asia later. It is in this very context that we should read the National Eugenic Law enacted in 1948, which made Japan one of the first countries to legalize sterilization and induced abortion for those suffering from hereditary illnesses or psychological disorders in their families. This was not a legislative imposition on the Japanese population, but a public recognition of the nationalistic ethos that had developed during the nineteenth century. For example, speaking of modern Japanese marriage customs, Edwards states:
“No source of ‘contamination’ or ‘pollution’ must be discovered. There may be mibun no koto (a matter of birth). The family register containing details of such things as previous divorces in the family, early deaths, illegitimacy, a tendency to infertility, is scrutinized. Ketto (blood or stock) must not be contaminated by marriage with burakumin (formerly official, now unofficial outcasts [Ainu, Ryukyuans, or descendants of Chinese or Koreans]) which would led to a complete break with the non-burakumin family. Hendry reports a case of a father committing suicide because his daughter married a burakumin with a police record. Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido are avoided as marriage partners. Foreigners are also regarded as sources of contamination. Such contamination can also be affected by a family’s incidence of diseases feared hereditary, leprosy, epilepsy, neurosis and other mental illnesses. […] Recently, it has been reported that a reason for AIDS victims being driven overseas to die in secrecy is the concern that other family members retain their marriage eligibility.”
The education system still echoes these policies:
“Almost from birth, Japanese children fight for footholds in the slippery pyramid of education, striving to reach the tip, which is admission to Todai, or Tokyo University. There are cram elementary schools to get into the right high school, where kids study from 9:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M.; cram preparatory kindergartens to ensure admission into the right elementary school; even exclusive maternity wards that guarantee babies a ticket into the right nursery school.”
So, how about the samurai ethos? The romantic idea of knightly samurais should be rejected: Meiji Japan at the end of the nineteenth century was a military oligarchy that denied soldiers the right to leave a corrupt general –a basic right for the samurai. The samurai ethos was rooted on Buddhist and Confucian philosophy, two systems rejected by the nationalist because they originated in China. Likewise, women, daughters and wives were disposable objects with no human value –again, something alien to the Confucian tradition. Neo-Confucianism had influenced Japan through the Shushigaku school, but it was distorted, like a bonsai, “supporting the tradition of honor while simultaneously attempting to transmute and convert the spirit of honor into other forms, or directions that would better serve the purposes of the state” (this is why this distortion is called by Japanese scholarship “the bonsai approach”). The Tokugawa shogunate reversed and distorted the hierarchical elements of Confucianism, belittling them to avoid personal development. The new hierarchy of values created during the Tokugawa survives today, for example, in working and professional relationships, where the sovereign-vassal dichotomy has been substituted by the director-employer relationship. As Edwards explains it:
“The fundamental idea, whether Confucian or neo-Confucian in Japan, is that of a deliberate tradition containing the forces of individualism. The source concepts from which honour code has evolved and been adjusted within Japanese society can be stated briefly”.
An example of this would be the Confucian tradition of “separation of sexes” (nan nü zhi bie), according to which men and women have different duties in society –but not better duties–. This was adjusted in Japan through the idea of the damson johi (“respect men, despise women”), which served as an excellent excuse to justify misogyny up to this day. For instance, menstruating women in ancient times were banned from the villages, and families could sell their daughters to bordellos if they were in economic distress, so the children could provide for their parents. Even today, in Japanese wedding rituals the wife is called gudai, which is translated as “stupid wife.” The word originated in classical Chinese, where gu is a modest way to refer to yourself as “this stupid me.” Thus, gusai was not meant to disdain the wife, but the husband!
Treatment of Korean and Chinese women was just an extension of the way Japanese women were treated during this period. It should not be believed that statutory rape and prostitution are something common to all wars, as Lu Chuan pretends. They were part of the nineteenth century mindset of the Japanese nationalist. For example, during Russian occupation in Europe, Rabe wrote “it’s reported that two girls, aged 17 and 19, were raped three to four times.” (27.4). This is, of course, horrible. But it is less than anecdotic when we compare it with the following description of Rabe’s friend, Nanking surgeon Robert O. Wilson:
“One of the worst scenes Wilson saw in Nanking—a scene he would remember for the rest of his life—was a massive gang rape of teenage girls in the street. A group of young women between the ages of fifteen and eighteen were lined up by the Japanese and then raped in the dirt, one after another, by an entire regiment. Some hemorrhaged and died, while others killed themselves shortly afterwards”.
Women humiliation is not a thing of the past. Modern television and Japanese media still portray a highly instrumentalized vision of the female body, as it can be seen in the Adult Video industry, which usually shows degrading and abusive practices, including staged incest and pedophilia.
After the war most women were rewarded with oblivion or death. Women were disposed of just like corpses and incriminating official documents. In Burma many prostitutes were herded into caves and then dynamited, and in Japan many war prostitutes were sent to leper institutions to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
During WW2 many Japanese soldiers took pornographic pictures as “rape souvenirs” (Source: Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanjing; James Yin et al., The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs, Innovative Pub., Chicago, 1997, p. 152).
Left: Cover for the Adult Video movie Shiina Yuzu: Houkago warikiri baito 24 (Shiina Yuzu: Part time job after class, Vol. 24, 2010), where Shiina Yuzu acts as “kogal” (college girl). Right: Cover for the AV compilation Momoi Nozomi no seiyoku (The sexual desires of Momoi Nozomi, 2003). Momoi Nozomi was known as “big white breasts baby face” (dougan no irojiro bikyonyuu).
Left: “Tako to amame no zu” or “Illustration of the fisherman’s wife and the octopus,” by the ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1814), origin of the modern hentai genre. Right: Maruo Suehiro, Warau kyuuketsuki (The smiling vampire, 2000), a modern representation of ero-guro (erotic and grotesque), which can be traced back to the gruesome taste of the nineteenth century Japanese bourgeoisie.
Left: “Mazohyst of decadence” by Dir-en-Grey (Osaka, December 18, 1999), an example of ero-guro aesthetics in Japanese music, with a woman carrying an aborted foetus through the public. Right: A “variety program” featuring woman humiliation in Japanese television. The members of the “Takeshi Army” (Takeshi Gundan, disciples of the well-known actor Takeshi Kitano) have to undress a girl by spinning a wheel that will fray her clothes.
Although China may have many reasons for complaint, Japanese war crimes were not limited to China, not even to foreign countries. They were part of a philosophical system that, even today, still permeates many parts of Asia –including China. To forget the real causes of the conflict, and the real reasons behind the gruesome tactics of the Japanese Army, is as dangerous as to portray oneself as an innocent victim. Because in the end, innocent victims will also start to believe they are morally superior to anyone else. This is why no censor cared about the historical accuracy and the Hobbesian depiction of human nature of City of Life and Death.
“That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: ‘these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb—would he not be good?’ there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal, except perhaps that the birds of prey might view it a little ironically and say: ‘we don’t dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them: nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb.”
Nietzsche,Genealogy of Morals, 1:13.