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  • While I was in Japan I got my hands on a Japanese history textbook.

  • But this isn't an ordinary Japanese textbook.

  • It's a very political one, and if you look inside you'll see a version of history that

  • is very different from the one the world knows.

  • An example is the Nanking Massacre, the 1938 event in which Japanese troops murdered tens

  • of thousands of Chinese civilians.

  • To the world this this massacre is considered one of the most infamous war crimes commited

  • by the Japanese during their takeover of Asia, but in this textbook it basically gets no attention

  • It's referred to as the "Nanking Incident" and the only attention it gets in this book

  • is basically disputing the facts.

  • There's no mention of the hundreds of thousands of Korean women who were forcibly brought

  • over to serve in brothels on the front lines of the Japanese wars.

  • They're these comfort women that are a huge part of Japanese history,

  • but they don't show up in this book.

  • When I was in Tokyo for a Borders story, I actually visited the people who publish and

  • write this book.

  • It's this group of old Japanese men who are part of this lobbying society that basically

  • try to push a different historical narrative into Japanese schools,

  • and they've been quite successful.

  • This textbook publishing society is one of many expressions of a rising Nationalism in Japan

  • This is Makoto Sakurai.

  • He's the public face for the Japan First Party.

  • This group launched just a month after another rightwing faction across the Pacific Ocean

  • took power of the White House, proclaiming a like-minded message.

  • "America First! America First!"

  • Within the first five minutes of Sakurai, and even through a translator, I could tell

  • that this guy would get along great with Donald Trump.

  • Sakurai's Japan First Party hasn't won any elections yet, but other Nationalists in Japan

  • have, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012.

  • He has surrounded himself with advisers and ministers from some of these fringe groups,

  • who are now influencing policy.

  • Up until now these guys, and yes most of them are guys, have been known for driving around

  • in their decked out vans preaching the restoration of Japan's pre-World War II greatness.

  • Their agenda is similar to nationalist movements in other countries: they want to restore strong

  • military, they call for the deportation of Koreans and limitation to the little immigration

  • that Japan even has.

  • I chased after these guys and filmed them for an afternoon, watching them spar with

  • the Tokyo police.

  • This yearning for a return to some ill-defined golden age is the basis of many far right

  • Nationalist movements around the globe

  • The main historical fixation of these Nationalists is the 1860's, when Japan underwent a massive

  • transformation, giving the Emperor lots of power which he used to rapidly educate the

  • people, grow the economy, and develop a massive military.

  • Japan became an economic and military powerhouse in just a few years and over the following

  • decades, they did what powerful countries did back then: they started expanding, committing

  • horrific atrocities like mass genocide in the process.

  • By the mid-1900s, this aggressive expansion brought Japan into a natural alignment with

  • Hitler's Germany, who was doing the same thing in Europe.

  • And then, at the height of the Japanese empire...

  • The bomb was exploded above the city and in the towering mushroom, Japan could read its doom

  • The U.S. and Allied powers won the war.

  • They came in, dismantled Japan's military, and wrote them a new constitution that ensured

  • they'd never get so powerful again.

  • To the Nationalists, this was the moment that everything was lost.

  • Japan was brought to its knees, stripped of the pride and national values thousands of

  • years in the making, emasculated by these western powers who were now occupying their country

  • In Tokyo there's this huge controversial shrine called Yasukuni.

  • It's where all the people who died in the wars under the emperor are memorialized, including

  • all those who died in World War II.

  • After Japan lost the war, a huge trial was held.

  • Thousands were convicted of war crimes and thrown into jail and even some were hanged.

  • And what's tricky about this very beautiful shrine that I'm walking through, is that over

  • a thousand of those war criminals are enshrined here, and are prayed to every day.

  • But a lot of Japanese people have a different narrative about what happened after the war.

  • According to this narrative, the tribunals after World War II were not an impartial exercise

  • in justice, but rather an emotional backlash against the atrocities that had just occurred

  • during the war.

  • So, the fact that they're here in Yasukuni doesn't bug a lot of these people.

  • In fact, they revere them and they worship them for their sacrifice to the emperor.

  • All of the symbolism and the memorials point to a glorification of the imperial period,

  • not necessarily an apology for it.

  • The shrine is at the symbolic heart of the Nationalist narrative, censoring any mention

  • of atrocities and glorifying the imperial age as worthy of restoration.

  • Upon leaving the shrine, I come across a rightwing group that was visiting the shrine to pay

  • tribute to the spirits.

  • So it's tempting to draw parallels with what's happening in Japan with Nationalism and what

  • we see happening in the U.S. and Europe, with figures like Donald Trump.

  • But while that parallel works for a little bit, it breaks down really quickly, and the

  • differentiating factor that is the most important for understanding the difference is a word

  • that we've heard a lot lately.

  • "Populism"

  • Many of these movements in the U.S. and in Europe have been led by outsiders, populists

  • who want to dismantle the establishment.

  • in Japan that's not the case; people like Shinzo Abe are

  • through and through establishment politicians.

  • There isn't a disruptive figure who's coming in from the outside and winning elections.

  • While the rise of rightwing nationalism is similar between Japan and the United States

  • and the West, it's still fundamentally quite different and it appears that the rise of

  • a Japanese Donald Trump is still a ways off.

While I was in Japan I got my hands on a Japanese history textbook.

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Japan's rising right-wing nationalism

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    Samuel posted on 2018/02/20
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