Japanese Colonialism, American Imperialism

Claire Hong

After being stuck with only themselves and the internet for over a year, many people during quarantine passed their time through newfound hobbies, hoping to keep themselves entertained for another day. A common pastime that seems to have sprouted over the past year is watching Japanese animations or movies, also known as anime.
Along with this boom in watching anime has come the increasing interest and popularity of Japanese culture overall, which has boosted numerous content on different platforms where people show off their numerous products inspired by Japanese culture or items. Oftentimes, the content creators themselves are not Japanese or Asian at all, and simply find a deep fascination with the aesthetics of Japanese culture. This is further encouraged by Japan’s goal of creating a welcoming and fun image of their country, which has evidently been a success with the lack of awareness of Japan’s darker actions.
Teaching about the darker aspects of your country’s actions helps spread awareness and acknowledges the sufferings your country has caused, which further allows the country to develop in a different, and possibly better, direction. Many countries struggle with acknowledging and teaching aspects of their history, with Japan being one of them.
Historically, Japan has been notorious for its violent ways of colonization, especially highlighted in the period of 1910-1945 where Japan held Korea under their rule, aiming to completely eradicate Korean culture, language, and history. Japanese brutality and war crimes killed an estimated 3 to 14 million from massacres, human experimentation, starvation, and forced labor. During and around World War II, Japanese soldiers were known for killing, looting, and raping non-combatants. The government also denies involvement in abducting women to serve as “comfort women”, or sex slaves. Japan still has shrines honoring Japanese that died during the war, including those that were convicted of “Class A” war crimes, which has aroused unease, similar to the controversy surrounding confederate statues in the United States.
Japan still fails to even recognize they committed these atrocities, coming up with desperate excuses; they claimed the Americans brainwashed the Japanese into believing they committed these crimes, that the Nanjing Massacre that killed 50,000–300,000 was a fabrication, and even saying the “comfort women” were prostitutes or from the Japanese Army brothel. Unfortunately, Japanese textbooks barely cover this or not at all, as they continue to censor their wrongdoings and those who have been forever impacted because of them.
This heavily relates back to the ancient idea of “Bushido”, or “the way of the warrior”, where samurai often lived by this code, similar to the European concept of chivalry. The Bushido stressed a combination of sincerity, frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honor until their death. A samurai’s dedication to bushido was so strong that if they felt they would rather carry out “seppuku”, or a specific suicide ritual, than, live a life of dishonor. Seppuku being disembowelment, where the samurai would drag a shot blade in the stomach, and then use the blade to cut left to right and slice open the belly.
This refusal of acknowledgment and education has seeped into American perception of Japan and Japanese culture. Anime and being “kawaii” has become the face of Japan to many foreigners, and Junior John Henry says, “People want to keep the perception of Japan as a “cute” or “wholesome” place, so they might downplay or overlook certain things”. This is incredibly similar to the failure to educate the younger and older, generations about American misdoings in the American school system, or failure to actively talk about it within society.
Junior Noah Gilman-Morgan says, “They probably don’t acknowledge it for the same reason the U.S. doesn’t acknowledge its imperialism; because it makes them look bad. So many people in America aren’t aware of Japan’s history because it doesn’t directly affect them”. This relates back to Japanese pride in their country, fear that acknowledging their wrongdoings would harm their reputation. A similar situation often arises with a nation’s past actions, where people are willing to overlook or remain ignorant on issues because it simply doesn’t affect them directly.