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April 26, 2005

Jigyaku shikan

History textbooks are about much more than history. Describing Japanese expressions of remorse as "jigyaku shikan", grandly translated as "masochistic historiography", is an expression of frustration that so many seem not to have accepted, or to believe, their contrition. It does not help that the term is most closely associated with Fujioka Nobukatsu, a professor of history who argues the war, or rather wars, started by imperial Japan "was aggression but it was also defensive action." It seems to me that so long as there are prominent folks arguing Japan was justified in its attempt to establish a "co-prosperity sphere" that what we are going to have is a failure to communicate. Timothy W. Ryback argues Japan could learn from its former Axis ally.

In 1970, Willy Brandt made an historic visit to Poland where he fell to his knees before a monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. His "knee fall" appeared to be as spontaneous and heartfelt as it was the most powerful man in Germany pulled to the ground by the weight of German guilt. The image seared itself into public memory: a single picture worth a single word. With Brandt's gesture, a new symbolic word entered the German political vocabulary, Kniefall.

Ryback claims the same gesture would not have the same meaning to the Japanese or to the peoples brutalized by Japanese fascism in the '30s and '40s. But some equivalent to Kniefall is apparently in order. That said, C. Buddha offers a useful additional, if slightly frank, suggestion regarding mainland China's own historical representation.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 26, 2005 08:47 AM

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