TCS Daily


The Showa War?

By Trenton Truitt - September 8, 2006 12:00 AM

Ever heard of the Showa War? If not don't worry - you're not alone. In fact most people outside Japan have probably never heard of it either. Yet this is the name that has been chosen by Japan's most widely read newspaper, The Yomiuri Shimbun (which has a daily circulation of about 10 million), to describe the Second World War. In all future editions of the paper the war, and the conflicts leading up to it, will be called The Showa War, after the Emperor of the time.

This announcement is troublesome on several levels.

First, it's troubling in light of concerns, particularly from fellow Asian nations including China and South Korea, about Japanese nationalism. These concerns were compounded by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine on the most controversial day he could have chosen -- August 15th, marking Japan's surrender in the Second World War.

Added to this are the comments and attitude of Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary and frontrunner to be Koizumi's successor. He has previously taken an even more aggressive approach to the Yasukuni issue (though he has tried to avoid discussing it during the leadership contest), stating that Japan would not back down on the issue and promising to continue visits to the notorious place of worship.

By renaming World War II, Japan could be seen as refocusing the impact of the war just on the Japanese nation. This could clearly be considered an affront to the other countries affected by the war, and could seem to diminish Japan's aggressive tactics and war time position. Indeed incidents from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the Rape of Nanking may be trivialized if Japan seems to be trying to rewrite its role in the war. If Japan is to move properly, albeit with a hefty stain on its conscience, it needs to avoid giving the impression that it is trying to gloss over past actions.

Another problem, this time with semantics, shows how badly thought out the rebranding is. The word Showa comes from the name given in death to Emperor Hirohito. But the English translation for Showa is 'enlightened peace.' This means that the war will now literally be called the war of enlightened peace. Such a name for an emperor that many argue was a nationalist who could have stopped the war had he chosen to take a stand, seems a little inappropriate anyway. Clearly, Japan was not enlightened or peaceful during the war, and to use such a name is both ridiculous and wrong.

Sadly, it is moments like this when the world takes notice of the Land of the Rising Sun. Still lobbying for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and seeking to rewrite its constitution, including provisions for a Japanese military, Japan must watch its step.

The country has come a long way in the last 60 years and has played an important role in trying to ensure stability in the world. It has accepted defeat gracefully (including the constant occupation of its land by American Forces). Also, the series of articles that inspired the name change in the Yomiuri does accept a large portion of blame for wartime leaders. So it is a shame that what could have been a useful exercise investigating responsibility has been spoiled with this miscalculated renaming.

But some of Japan's leaders don't seem to want to accept the importance of the message their country is sending. They seem to view actions like renaming a war or visiting a controversial shrine as simple gestures, with no ill intent. Yet these so called gestures carry a symbolic weight which cannot be denied and which do nothing to help Japan find redemption in the eyes of the world. A country renowned for its delicacy and subtlety surely must be aware of the message it is sending. And it is crucial that it is sending the right messages if the rest of the world is to ever completely trust Japan again.

Trenton Truitt is a freelance writer living in Yokohama.

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2 Comments

Showa War
While I think the newspaper and the prime minister's actions are lamentable I do not think it is very troubling. Japan is a dying country and this is their reaction; trying to reclaim past "glory".

As long as China and North Korea remain threats Japan will remain a strong ally to the US.

One small quibble...
According to the article: "The word Showa comes from the name given in death to Emperor Hirohito". In fact, in Japan at least, this "Emperor" was referred to as "Emperor Showa" during the entire period of his reign.

Generally only non-Japanese sources would have ever referred to "Emperor Hirohito". "Showa" was the Imperial calendar designation for the period in common use then and now.

That said, the name "Showa Senso" ("????") is disturbing for all the reasons the author notes.

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