当日本人在转变 – Japanese transitions – English

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In March 2003, while doing an interview in Bagdad, I saw a number of elderly Japanese people at the hotel where international reporters were staying. That was strange, because the US army was bombing the city just then, so it was not very likely that they were tourists, and anyway, even in normal times, choosing Iraq as a destination would not be a usual choice.

Only when I went up to talk to them did I discover that they’d come as human shields, and were all opposing the war. Everyday, in turns, they went to some of Bagdad’s most important facilities, like power plants, hospitals, schools, etc., to protest against US bombings and protest against the war.

In modern warfare, bombing is very accurate, unless the intelligence is wrong, and non-military facilities are marked as military. For that reason, the places they pick to be human shields are also relatively safe, like the hotel where reporters gather, which was the safest place at the time for all of us – one thing was certain: US bombs would not take this place as a target.

In spite of this, I was still very surprised by their action, and that is mainly because human shields are mostly Europeans and Americans, but I had a stereotypical idea of the Japanese, and I always felt that their personal and international politics were very distant, and that this kind of behaviour was the fact of small minority group, but not associated with the rest of the country, even less with elderly Japanese people.

After the fall of Saddam, I met a young Japanese man who could speak Chinese on the city square. We started to talk, and I found out he used to be an exchange student at Fudan University. After the war started, he went to Jordan, and became a volunteer for a church, waiting for an opportunity to get into Bagdad. Now, he came to the City square every day with other Church volunteers, and collected letters for the people of Bagdad. At that time, communications were interrupted, but the people inside the city were eager to communicate with people outside, and those outside were also anxious to get news of those inside, so the work of the volunteers was to send the letters that they collected from people inside.

For me, this was a very surprising thing again, and made me start to think that I shouldn’t rely on preconceived ideas when thinking about Japanese people.

One of my old colleagues is from Beijing, but migrated to Japan, and married a Japanese woman. Every time we talk about the Nanjing Massacre, this old colleagues starts disputing with everyone one around the table: he keeps insisting that he doesn’t believe in it, he doesn’t believe that the Nanjing Massacre took place. His reason is very simple: go to Japan and look at the Japanese. And in the end, whatever you say won’t convince him otherwise.

In fact, I really understand his way of thinking: every time I’ve been to Japan, after seeing the Japanese order, and feeling the extreme politeness of the Japanese, I can’t really imagine that only a few decades ago, when Japan was ruled by militarism, the Japanese could be so cruel. However, the facts are the facts, and even if Japanese society has changed, through the joint efforts of Japanese government, society and the Japanese themselves, Japan finally bid farewell to militarism, Japanese values have integrated modern civilisation, Japanese people are not the same as they used to be, and they won’t collapse into madness in the name of patriotism, but history is there, and no matter how good things are today, you cannot deny the evils of the past.

Some time ago, I interviewed a few Japanese workers and comfort women慰安妇, 原来当年最早帮助这些人群像日本政府和企业提出索赔的,正是几个日本人。一名一直和日本律师一起帮助这些人群的中国律师认为,these Japanese people also do that for national interest, they want to appear as responsible in front of the international community, show a Japan that complies with international rules and repects human rights, a Japan which is not just an economic power – that is not a problem.

On the program, I talked about this with a resident of the Diaoyu, and he was very disdainful: “The Japanese help us to make themselves feel better, not because they really want to help us.” I suddenly didn’t know how to respond, because exposing your counterpart as having a villain’s heart in a gentleman’s chest is not very politically correct, especially in the present context, this could be regarded as pro-Japanese, not patriotic.

The radical opponents to Japan make me think of right-wingers in Japan, because they have similar ways of thinking. Every time I interview Chinese leaders visiting Japan, there will always be peripheral activity around the hotel, and there will always be a few right-wing organisation trucks, and there will be right-wing rallies next to the hotel. The most thrilling time was at the Waseda University Gate, we were several Hong Kong media shooting live, when several right-wingers stood up in front of us and starting abusing us, and hindering our work, until the police came. In order to avoid the situation deteriorating, the police advised us to leave. Through this close contact, I was able to observe an interesting phenomenon: among these right-wingers, there were many Chinese people, and those expressing the most intense emotions all had Taiwanese accents, and were no longer in the prime of youth.

In 2011, for the 70th anniversary of the Pacific war, the Japanese television station NHK called out to Japanese people for war testimonies, and when asked whether they would be willing to die for their country, young people all rejected the proposition in unison. Among their rejection was this sentence: “If a country wants people to die for it, then let it just die itself.” Then, this began to spread on the Chinese web.

Because of the militarist past, many people agree with the attitude of the young Japanese, but if young people from China confidently gave the same reply, would it not be considered politically incorrect? And I even wonder whether we would hear such a voice?

For that reason, whether it’s the Diaoyu or the Dokdo 独岛, not many Japanese people care. But does their lack of care show lack of patriotism? In Japan at least, this is not a right standard, 即便有球星抱怨以下,也只是一种声音而已。But on the surface at least, they’re more concerned about what’s happening next to them, and there are far more protests demanding a stop to nuclear development than there are right wing rallies.

The type of people determine the type of society; Japanese people are changing – what about the Chinese? Unfortunately, if you look at Chinese people from a distance, you only see distorted, heinous faces on the TV screen, which can only leave people stunned. Fortunately, when you’re in the middle of it, you can see these people holding a sign in the middle of the crowd, high schools students from Guangzhou who will clean up the mess afterwards: these are the future of China.

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Source : My1510, 25 September 2012

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]