History and Fukushima: what Japan can learn from Germany

In recent days advice for Shinzo Abe has been coming thick and fast. The Japanese Prime Minister is set to lead the country past two significant historical milestones: firstly, 11 March is the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and secondly, on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of the Second World War, Abe is due to make an important speech, eagerly awaited in Beijing and Seoul.

Tokyo, JapanJapan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) bows to Emperor Akihito (2nd R) and Empress Michiko during the national memorial service for the victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in Tokyo March 11, 2015. Wednesday marks the fourth anniversary of the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake which set off a tsunami killing nearly 20,000 and causing meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
In both cases Germany has already demonstrated a valuable model worth emulating. The above-mentioned advice has come from esteemed figures such as Angela Merkel herself and Kenzaburō Ōe, writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994 and a key figure in the Japanese anti-nuclear movement.

On the anniversary of the disaster in North East Japan, the author of “Teach Us to Outgrow our Madness”, urged his country to follow Germany’s example: Angela Merkel’s government has decided to abandon nuclear energy by 2022. A few hours earlier it was the very same Merkel, on a two-day visit to the archipelago to sign agreements for economic and commercial cooperation. The German Chancellor did not pull her punches when reminding her Japanese counterpart of her country’s pledge.

However, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has recently underlined the importance of atomic energy for Japan. By June of this year at least one reactor from the Satsuma-Sendai plant in the Southern region of Kyūshū, will be reopened.

“Japanese politicians, “said Ōe, “ are not trying to change the situation but just maintain the status quo, even after the enormous nuclear accident”.

The Fukushima accident forced hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes and devastated the region from an environmental point of view.

Just one day before the publication of the interview with Ōe, Merkel had given an interview with journalists of Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s leading dailies. Without raising her tone excessively, the German Chancellor invited the Japanese Prime Minister to reflect “honestly” on Japan’s militaristic past. Merkel’s interview raises two significant questions.

Why now and why Asahi?

Both of these decisions were not made by chance, especially the choice of the newspaper. Asahi Shimbun is known for being a liberal voice within the landscape of mainstream Japanese information, Asahi has not held back from criticising the Abe administration. Recently the newspaper was involved in a scandal that undermined its credibility and led to the withdrawal of ten or so articles written during the 1980s about the women forced to prostitute themselves for the “comfort” of the Japanese Imperial army and the publication is currently trying to revive its fortunes: Merkel would appear to be a fairy godmother for this task.

The timing of her interview is less surprising. For months now, questions have loomed over the statement that Abe will make for the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Speaking in December, the Prime Minister hinted that his address would be “oriented towards the future” and Japan’s contributions in the international sphere. This sort of selective memory loss would cover the more awkward parts of the speech, such as those relating to Tokyo’s responsibility for the conflict. This has been interpreted as an attempt to set aside, once and for all, the Murayama declaration, the official document from 1995 in which the political errors that led to the war in the Pacific were admitted along with the “enormous suffering” caused to Japan’s “Asian neighbours”. The current administration views that document with distaste and would prefer to draw a line beneath what the Japanese nationalists refer to as the “ post war complex” that prevents Japanese citizens from enjoying faith in the future as they lack the requisite sense of belonging and patriotism.

The prospect that Abe could backtrack on the Murayama declaration, a document considered a pillar of Japan’s international relations, does not please everyone. In particular, the now 91-year-old former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who gave his name to the document, has attacked his successor’s stance, stating “all Japanese Prime Ministers inherit the position and make a promise to the international community and the national politics of Japan”.

In a few months’ time Abe will make his speech. The latest to advise the premier to keep a “low profile” and not try to conceal Japan’s responsibility in the war of aggression started in 1937 with the Second Sino-Japanese War, was the president of the commission of advisers nominated to provide input for the anniversary statement. It is now up Shinzo Abe to choose whether he will accept this advice or not.

Translated by Nicholas Neiger

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