J-Town Logo Is Like Nazi Swastika? I Disagree
In this column that I’ve been writing for the past 15 years or so, I’ve generally tried to stay clear of controversial issues, be they political, religious or racial, and on the several occasions that I have raised such issues, I as a professional “scribe” have always strived to be as objective as possible, however modest my track record may be. I therefore must take issue with a point Mr Yusuke Tanaka makes in his article in the Japanese-language section of the August 2015 issue of this magazine.
Below is my translation of two paragraphs near the end of Mr Tanaka’s column Sōkai ichizoku under the headline “Japantown and the Rebirth of Asahi Team.”
“The Japanese people’s appreciation of history seems to have become far removed from that of the world. This “Japantown” logo may be one of its products. The wild enthusiasm for the Asahi team in the pre-war years was a phenomenon born out of racial discrimination and nationalism that had swallowed up the Nikkei society.”
“Seventy years since the war ended, if one were to remain unaware of the ill feeling the Asahi flag may generate in the same way the Nazi swastika does when one talks about ‘our Asahi team’ vis-à-vis the Canadian society , it might be taken as an assertion of a distorted view of history.”
On this point, I believe it is not even necessary to engage Mr Tanaka in a complicated political discussion. Quite seriously, may I suggest that he take time to go out into the streets of Toronto or Vancouver, stop passers-by, show them the Japantown logo in question and ask; “Does this remind you of the Nazi swastika?” If someone should already know about the Asahi team and reply “yes,” he or she would most likely be a minority among those of Korean or Chinese origin, or possibly among Nikkei or Japanese people.
Among Canadians in general, or even among just B.C. residents, it seems only a small minority even know about the Asahi team and its legacy. Although the team has been mentioned in newspaper articles from time to time, those among my non-Nikkei friends and acquaintances who , upon hearing the name “Asahis,” would respond “Oh yes, the Asahis” have numbered maybe two or three over recent years in my experience. Just who among this small number would think of the Nazi swastika when they see the logo in question? I leave the answer to our Canadian readers’ common sense.
Mr Tanaka asserts that the Japanese people’s appreciation of history has become “far removed from that of the world.” Allow me to examine this from the standpoint of one who has been following situations in various countries as a journalist, editor and columnist over the past 50 years or so. The places I’ve lived and worked in include Britain, Italy, France, the U.S. (Washington DC and San Francisco) and Tokyo as well as Vancouver where I’ve lived for the past 17 years. As an occupational habit, I’ve been checking over the decades the newspapers, magazines and electronic media of various nations (nowadays primarily via the internet).
First of all, I assume that those who take issue with “the Japanese people’s appreciation of history” are mainly the media and the intelligentsia of China and South Korea in general, and a fraction of the media and intelligentsia of Japan, North America and Europe. How about the other countries?
Singapore is thriving as Southeast Asia’s global business centre. For three years from ’42 to Japan’s defeat in ’45, It was governed by Japan’s occupational force which called it “Shōnantō.” After a post-war period as a British colony, she became independent in ’65, withdrawing from the Malaysian Federation. Personally, I worked for an English-language newspaper therefrom ’81 t0 ’85, after which I joined the government’s Economic Development Board as a PR officer. From ’92 to ’97 I edited the Japanese edition of Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine and Myanmar Airways’ inflight magazine (in Englsih). My wife is Singaporean (now Canadian citizen) so that our son and daughter are half-Singaporeans. I still visit the country at least every two or three years, each time enjoying the kind hospitality of my brother-in-law, who is also a journalist. With friends from Singapore visiting us now and then and with access to the internet, I remain up to date on the situation there.
The country’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, addressing a summit conference on regional security held there back in May, said that “Japan should appreciate history in its proper context.” But at the same time he said “we should put the past behind us and strive for co-existence and co-prosperity, and that Singapore and Japan today enjoyed good relations.” The statement from the present leader of a nation once occupied by Japan for three years carries some weight. Some Japanese commentators accused him of having become a “running dog of China,” but given the steady growth of Japanese multi-national companies’ capital investment there, the image of Japanese people being hard-working and trustworthy seems to have taken hold by now. Incidentally, the pejorative word “Jap” that one used to hear from time to time back in the ‘80s is nowadays hardly ever heard.
One of my wife’s uncles Mr A, an Indian Singaporean, was drafted by the Japanese Army during the Shōnantō years to serve in a motor vehicle maintenance unit. When he was interviewed by Singapore’s English-language newspaper about his experience at the time of Japan’s surrender, he said “We were happy that the days of hardship under occupation were over and the British were coming back.” But he once told me, a Japanese, during a party that “The Japanese officer in command told us “Don’t lose your self-respect as fully qualified maintenance men. You no longer have to kowtow to the British.”
Next Myanmar (formerly Burma). I handled the launch of Myanmar Airway’s quarterly English-language inflight magazine and edited several issues over a three-year-period in the early 90s. I was able to visit the capital Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and other parts twice to cover key events, in the process making new local friends. Also, because my sister used to work for the U.N. in Yangon, I’ve come to know and feel an affection for the country and its people. twice in the early 90s.
As the “Nation of Burma” and the ”Burma Independence Army” set up around 1943 with Japanese backing eventually evolved into the post-war movement for independence from Britain, the ageing military top brass still harbor pro-Japanese sentiments. At parades, military bands still play some WWII Japanese tunes. Incidentally, the Myanmar government in 1981 conferred the nation’s highest honor, the Aung Sang Tagon Award, on seven former Japanese soldiers who contributed to the country’s independence.
The Philippines is another country Japan occupied during WWII. I used to visit there from time to time when I was living in Tokyo and Singapore, partly because a close friend, whom I’ve known for over 40 years since my days working in Rome , lives in Manila. He told me his now-deceased father, who used to be a top golfer in his youth, once played with General Tomoyuki Yamashita (a.k. a. the “Tiger of Malaya”). As is well known, there have been many exchanges between the Philippines and Japan over the past 50 years after WWII. When the country suffered heavy damages from a violent typhoon two years ago, the men and women of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces took part in rescue and recovery operations alongside U.S. forces, their efforts receiving high accolades.
More recently, with China steadily building runways and bases on islands over which the Philippines claims territorial rights, the Philippines’ navy has been conducting joint patrols with Japanese Martime Self-Defence Forces in the disputed area. And Vietnam, which also claims territorial rights over the islands, is so wary of China that she has asked Japan for military assistance.
Taiwan, Myanmar and Indonesia, where some 2,000 former Imperial Army soldiers took part in her war of independence, are generally pro-Japanese. In Malaysia and Thailand, where Japanese multi-nationals have been operating for decades, as well as in Vietnam, where the number of Japanese multinationals setting up operations is steadily growing, people of the present generation seem either not particularly interested in Japanese people or generally friendly toward them. It seemed that way in southern Thailand we visited last year.
Australia last year asked Japan for military assistance (submarine technology) from Japan after having declared Japan’s wartime invasion past history. India and Japan have lately been strengthening cooperation including joint patrols by the Indian Navy and the latter’s Maritime Self-Defence Force.
I have only given a cursory overview due to space limitations, but in conclusion, I am frankly doubtful, inasmuch as I respect Mr Tanaka’s opinion, as to how many of the myriad views of the peoples and intelligentsia of the many nations today it reflects.
It would be useful, also, if Mr Tanaka in the future could provide at least an English language summary of his comments, i so that we can all share his ideas. I believe the role of this magazine has always been to carry the same information in both English and Japanese as much as possible for all the readers to share.