Thoughts for the VJ Day 70th Anniversary

ObonOffering

Obon offering to departed spirits. By Flickr.com user “Blue Lotus” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluelotus/220805096/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Japan in the Second World War. It also happened to be O-bon, the Japanese Buddhist festival of remembering the dead.

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion

2 responses to “Thoughts for the VJ Day 70th Anniversary

  1. EmilyAnn Frances

    As a goodwill ambassador and to further your own personal growth I recommend:

    Learning about the role of the miko in Shinto.
    Studying the English translations published by Sophia Univeristy of The Engi Shiki and the Izumo Fudoki.
    Study the differences between the Ise and Izumo traditions. In my own personal studies I was drawn to Izumo because of the connection to O Kuni Nushi no Kami and the Kuni no Kami. Ise is more focused on the Heavenly deities.
    Read up on Altaic Shamanism which some think has links to Shinto.
    Compare Shinto with the shamanistic practices of the indigenous Ainu.
    There is an older book in English, published by Llewellyn, “In the Shadow of the Shaman”. This is a good introduction to Shamanism in general.

    I will think of other titles or books that might help you.

    In the early 1990s I took courses on feminine spirituality. At the time, in New York City, the thinking favored Jungian archetypes. Female=lunar and Male=Solar. There was little acceptance for cultures with a reversed assignment. In fact, when I brought up Shinto, many classmates dismissed it as a topic of conversation. I found, even within this community, a desire to conform to rigid definitions from the past. I’m glad to see you and others being more open minded.

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