I attended a lecture by writer/journalist Ian Buruma last week but haven't had time to write about it until now. His talk was ostensibly on nationalism in Asia, but the focus was really on Japan. There was a little bit about China, and a brief mention or two of Korea.
Buruma reiterated what is pretty much the standard story about Japan--Japanese identity was lost after World War II and during the American occupation. The Japanese left supported the pacifist constitution, he said, because they believed Japan was like an alcoholic who had to swear off drinking forever. The right, on the other hand, argued that Japan had done nothing to be ashamed of, and those who said otherwise were victims of occupation propaganda. History, the right said, was being (re-)written by the victors.
Buruma says that there's been a recent upswing of nationalism in Japan, which he evidences by Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Jinja, textbook reforms, and that other usual suspect, right-wing manga artist Kobayashi Yoshinori.
Like I said, pretty standard stuff so far, but what I thought was interesting was that he claimed nationalism has become mainstream due to a collapse of the left, which up until the 1980s kept the far right in check.
The part of the talk concerning China was mainly about the recent anti-Japan demonstrations there. While he admitted that the Chinese do have a legitimate grievance and the Japanese have not fully faced up to their actions during the war, neither is in the extreme the other makes it out to be. The Chinese know little about the various Japanese apologies for wartime conduct, and that the textbooks and the shrine visits are separate issues not worth the protests. The protests, he said, were "instrumentalized" by the government to deflect attention from homegrown problems.
I didn't have time to stick around and ask questions (hinshi bunkai awaited), but what I wanted to ask was, Why is it that both the Japanese left and the Japanese right agree that the soul of Japan is defined by its behavior during WWII? Important? Yes. 100%? No. Even if we take the war as the end of a process which began with the Meiji Restoration, isn't that still but a drop in the historical bucket? I know Japanese nationalists have created some kind of revisionist "Yamato spirit" and bushi propaganda during the war--hasn't anyone on the left or otherwise tried to rehabilitate those cultural images?
The other problem I had (have) is this view of China. It may be accurate to some extent, but I think it is perfectly plausible that a great number of Chinese like their system the way it is and like to see "troublemakers" (dissidents) get into trouble, etc. I mean, look at neocons in the States who would tell you anyone who criticizes the war or the president is unpatriotic. People like that would also certainly have strong anti-Japanese feelings but I wouldn't say they are only due to the fact that they've been manipulated. We can't assume that deep inside all Chinese wish they lived in the USA or the UK and would cherish "freedom" and "democracy." I don't think it's ncessarily the case that they were all stirred up to begin with and were "venting" by demonstrating against Japan.
As I have said, I am more of a Sinologist than Japanophile. I would like to hear opinions about the limited scope of Japanese debate on its own identity from people more informed than myself.