Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Book of Revelations

I had a long discussion with an intelligent young(ish) Japanese woman that I consider a decent conversation partner. I told her that all my experiences in Japan and with the Japanese people had lead me to one unanswerable question:

How is it possible that such an ancient and peaceable society committed such awful crimes in World War II?

Yes, there are the typical answers like "Militarism, Western Influence, a need for new markets/colonialist ideology", but these answers don't take into account that this country was founded on Buddhism and Shintoism, two belief systems that stress harmony and peace above all else. The very monument to Japan's pursuit of peace, Todaiji Temple, was built in the 6th century and was and is Japan's most prized treasure.

What I find in Japan is a complete paradox. In a country where being in harmony and peace with others are considered the essence of being "Japanese", I simply cannot imagine this country actually committed the atrocities at Nanking, or slaughtered Filipinos by the tens of thousands in the streets of Manilla.

Her answer to my question was that the Japanese had considered Hirohito a deity, and that he was the embodiment of the long 'Sun' line of rulers. Since the Yamato days, the Sun line is a takeoff on the idea of sun worship that Shintoism had embraced, being of an animist bent. To obey the Sun king, was to obey God (Constantine used sun worship in the imagery of Christianity, as did King Louis XIV, "The Sun King"). The idea of incorporating sun worship is evident even in the Buddhist Temples where the images and statues of the Daibatsu, the Boddhisatvas, and the Buddha of compassion have sun rays coming from them. Not surprisingly, the old battle flag of Japan was a red sun with flaming sunrays coming from it.

The manipulation of religion and deferral to authority doesn't really cut it for me.

There has to be something more that compels the individual and the nation to use defenceless human beings for live bayonet practice on the riverbanks of Nanking.

I think that I am view these acts with incredulousness because I have developed such a positive view of the Japanese as a benevolent and kind people. I cannot rectify my own views of the Japanese with the actions they took in the early 20th century.

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