There are numerous publications about historical awareness.
Among these, our book is notable because it is compiled collaboratively by authors specializing in the history of Japanese foreign policy, rather than being written by specialists in historical awareness.
What does this focus achieve?
It allows us to place historical awareness on a broad historical canvas. Rather than discussing historical awareness as an isolated issue, we can relate it to the diplomatic issues of the time, focusing on how these issues were affected by the presence of historical contentions, the weight of such contentions, and the relationships between them. In so doing, we can derive conclusions about how a given generation of Japanese people internalized historical issues, and how such internalization shaped Japan’s approach to foreign relations. In short, this book is a history of historical awareness.
We do acknowledge, however, that there have already been some outstanding works along these lines, not least of which is Sumio Hatana’s History and the State in Postwar Japan (Chuko, 2011; English translation by Christopher Szpilman).
Another feature of this book is that we begin our discussion with the history of historical awareness in pre-war Japan. Historical awareness in postwar Japan is characterized by an awareness of self as perpetrator, victim, and loser. However, the history of this historical awareness goes back further than 1945. Pre-war historical awareness began as the collective memory of the tumultuous transition from the end of the Tokugawa shogunate era to the Meiji Restoration, which led to the Boshin War (1868–69), as well as the collective memory of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the Russo-Japan War (1904–05). Generally, pre-war historical awareness was an awareness of self as victor.
Living as a victor is surprisingly difficult. In the years following the conflict, the victor must work hard to maintain its dominant position and avoid a risky rematch. Ironically, in Japan’s case these efforts drew the country further into the Asian continent and increased international tensions. Eventually, the Second Sino-Japanese War erupted in 1937 and, in 1941, Japan commenced war with the United States, which ultimately led to the collapse of its empire.
The book’s insights on Japan’s pre-war historical awareness help clarify the nature of Japan’s postwar historical awareness. These insights will also help readers to better understand the circumstances of China, Russia, and South Korea, which now live as victors.
Another advantage of this book lies in its multiple authorship, which enables a multiplicity of perspectives around a common theme. The book begins with a prologue outlining the two key periods (pre-war and postwar). This is followed by a number of contributions on different periods of Japan’s postwar history. Also discussed is Okinawa’s own historical awareness. The present situation is addressed by Japan’s foremost academics in a lively symposium style, and a range of possible interpretations is presented. Finally, the book includes a chapter introducing further reading material for those readers who want to learn more on the topic. As the prologue proclaims, this book is a treasure trove of information.
As a final note, notwithstanding the diversity of perspectives it offers, the book maintains one common stance, or credo, throughout: do not rush toward a resolution. Historical contentions will not be resolved overnight. Historical awareness is but a part of the broad process of foreign relations. That said, when historical contentions flare up with neighboring countries, mutual confidence is lost and countries criticize one another, creating a vicious cycle that will ultimately damage diplomatic relations as a whole. Conversely, even such a great and complex issue as this can be improved by a small constructive action, if that action sparks a positive cycle. Thus, the ultimate aim of this book is to seek out the wisdom we need in order to inhibit such a vicious cycle and make way for a positive cycle in its place.
(Written by Kaoru Iokibe, Professor of Graduate Schools for Law and Politics / 2019)