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Where’s Japan’s post-colonial reckoning?

The Japanese Imperial Guard looking very smart and not at all contrite. Yoshikazu Tsuno/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Britain and other countries that once ruled empires never tire of beating themselves up over their pasts, says Eri Hotta in UnHerd. Yet Japan gets a relatively easy ride. Around the start of the 20th century, the Land of the Rising Sun was on a “determined march to become a world player”. It acquired the island of Formosa – now Taiwan – in 1895, annexed Korea in 1910, and “eventually ruled most of Southeast Asia”. Its colonies were “rife with forced labour, sex slavery, torture and biological experiments”. During World War Two, thousands of women from China and Korea were forced to become “comfort women” – a euphemism for sex slaves – for the imperial army. So where is the “post-colonial reckoning” we are so accustomed to seeing in the West?

The main explanation is that Japan positioned itself as the “anti-colonial colonialist”, liberating states from Western imperialism. Burma had to be freed from the British; the East Indies from the Dutch; Indochina from the French. But in ousting the “predatory West”, the Japanese behaved “very much like colonial masters themselves”. The historian Grant Goodman even said the Japanese “out-colonialed” Westerners with their brutality and exploitation. Yet despite the country’s defeat in World War Two, Tokyo was never held to account. The US didn’t remove the emperor, for fear of a rebellion. A “lingering reverence” for the imperial institution made colonialism an almost taboo subject in post-war Japan. And so the delusion about its “Pan-Asianist dream” persists.