As a British person who works with a Japanese organisation, I see VJ Day as very much a positive day. Far from being a day in which I think bitterly on the brutal ways in which soldiers and civilians died on both sides, I see it as a reminder of just how far we’ve all come. Within living memory, Japan and the UK have come from being outright enemies to close allies. Thanks to the efforts towards reconciliation and reconstruction after VJ Day, I now work side-by-side with Japanese colleagues to try and further strengthen Japan-UK relations. 70 years ago, this would surely have been unthinkable.
I also celebrate the fact that the image of Japan held by British people has greatly changed. When you say the word “Japan” to young people in the UK, rather than thinking of images of kamikaze pilots or torture of PoWs, they’ll probably be thinking of anime, manga, geisha, giant robots – the culture that they can experience easily now due to the friendship between Japan and the West.
Gradually, the same thing will happen to Shinto as well. I am very much aware that to many people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, “Shinto” means “State Shinto,” the oppressive form of Emperor-worship that Japan used to justify its wartime atrocities. But today, I think more and more people (again, young people) see Shinto as a nature-based folk religion, which conjures in their minds images of peaceful shrines or strange and wonderful worlds as seen in Miyazaki movies.
The fact that the West’s view of Japan can change so much in such a short period of time fills me with such hope. Not only for the relationship between Japan and the West, but also for Japan’s relationship with China and Korea. Things are very tense between China and other East Asian countries right now, with China and Korea demonising Japan in order to deflect criticism of their own governments, while Japan continues to refuse to acknowledge certain war crimes or make a full apology, as a show of strength against its critics. There are clearly faults at both sides, and if things go too far, it could make for a very dangerous situation for the rest of the world. But what encourages me is that in the UK, a large percentage of young people studying Japanese, or taking part in Japan-related events such as cultural expos, are of Chinese, Korean or other East Asian heritage. Despite what their governments are saying, there are clearly young people in China and Korea who are fascinated by Japan and see it in a positive light.
And then there are the current issues that the West is dealing with regarding our relationship with the Middle East. At current time, we could hardly be regarded as allied with many Middle Eastern countries. But if Japan tells us anything, it is that peace between any nation is possible. I really hope that the people who come after me will be able to travel just as freely to some of the Middle East’s most war-torn states as I did as a young university student in Japan. It may seem unthinkable now – but surely a young British student travelling to Japan to study Japanese would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.
It is certainly important to remember those who have died in the war, both on the Japanese and Allied sides. But I think that we should focus equally on the future – on the young people who bring the hope of peace.