Our Idiosyncratic Beliefs | July Study Piece Part 2: The “Orientals”

An Introduction

With an insight on major themes of the detachment of public opinion through a psychological lens, we now take a look at the same motifs prevalent on the Eastern Front of World War II, specifically Japan. In the general time span of half a century, Japan has undergone a physical, spiritual, and cultural metamorphosis. From the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the country has since somewhat apologized for all of its actions during WWII and has maintained healthy economic and political relations with nations around the world. However, there are still tense undertones between the citizens of neighboring Asian countries and Japan. Their role in WWII has been downplayed or even denied; juxtaposed with the consistent badgering of Germany to pay reparations and make amends, some feel that Japan has gotten off easy, considering their role in WWII is arguably comparable to the likes of Hitler and the Holocaust. The interpretation and misinterpretation of histories, ideals, and communications on the Eastern Front of WWII blur the line of “righteous” and “evil” for not only the Japanese people but the general public perception, causing a mass polarization of nationalism and borderline supremacy.

Japanese Supremacy, “Land of the Rising Sun”
In the earliest time periods, the Japanese called themselves “wakoku”, or “Wa”, as designated by the Chinese [1]. The Wa tribe developed soon after the Chinese, gaining much of their influence from the neighboring Chinese and Korean (Paekche) cultures. The name, “Nihon” (Land of the Rising Sun), was first seen in Chinese transcripts designating Japan’s place east of China; however, the Japanese liked it so much that they requested to be known as Japan/Nihon/Nippon, Land of the Rising Sun. Around 500 AD, Buddhism was spread from India to China to Korea, and consequently, Japan, who based their religion on this influence. Their early expansion and development as a civilization came after they infused their government and politics with a conglomeration of Confucian ideals and Bushido philosophy (see Nanking Massacre, Topping Off China’s “Century of Humiliation”) [2]. The growth of Japan was now unstoppable.
So how did Japan, a country that started off running on borrowed culture, become the international superpower that it did by the 20th century, rampaging and conquering lands of Manchuria and Korea? Confidence from the Russo-Japanese War (1905) could be a factor. The Great White Fleet (1906) negotiating Japan into industrialization and westernization could also be a factor. However, in Hitler’s works such as Mein Kampf (1925) [3] and the Political Testament of Adolf Hitler (1945) [4], Hitler elaborates on what it means to be Ehrenarier, the “Honorary Aryan”. Hitler’s idea of the “Honorary Aryan” did not simply imply the “blonde-hair, blue-eyes” stereotype. To be Aryan meant to have pride in one’s race. It was in the blood. Hitler regarded both the Chinese and Japanese as held in high respects, and this, too, could have prompted the Japanese to embrace the title of “superior race” (albeit, Hitler still referred to the Japanese as Kulturträger in Mein Kampf, “culture carriers”, and recognized Western influence as the driving factor for Japan’s expansion). The only defining factor separating the Chinese and Japanese was their purpose in life.

“We (Japanese) were taught that we were a superior race
— since we lived only for the sake of a human god — our
Emperor. But the Chinese were not. So we held nothing
But contempt for them… the Imperial Army was consumed
With a prejudice so intense that the killing became easy.”
— Shiro Azuma, former Japanese soldier, (CNN 1998) [5]

As mentioned previously, the basis on which Japan was founded on religiously and politically came from other Asian cultures. The pedestal that the Western world held the Japanese at originated from (debatably) friendly negotiations between U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and his gigantic, shining, threatening naval ships behind him. And so, how could an entire country be mass mobilized to believe that they are superior to those that assisted their development as a nation?

Nanking Massacre, Topping Off China’s “Century of Humiliation”
From the first Opium War (1842) to the end of WWII (1945), China has been at the mercy of the hands of various nations such as Britain, the US, France, Germany, Japan, and others (officially called the Eight-Nation Alliance by the time the Boxer Rebellion rolled around). After the Russo-Japanese War led Russia and Japan to fight for regions of Northern China (Manchuria) and Korea to conquer, tensions between China and Japan began to rise, culminating in the Sino-Japanese Wars. China was ultimately at a disadvantage, as they were undergoing a domestic divide between Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists led by Mao Zedong, leaving the Japanese with the opportunity to attack in 1937.
In 1937, Japanese troops were led to invade China, led by three generals:

“Nakajima has been described as a cruel violent man, a specialist in thought control, intimidation, and torture. Matsui was a Buddhist from a scholarly family. Yanagawa was a serious man who focused on the importance of military discipline and control. Their forces had reached the outskirts of Nanking by December. On December 7, General Matsui, of a generally weak constitution, grew very ill on the field and was replaced by Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, a member of the royal family, who brought the authority of the emperor’s crown to the front line in Nanking. On December 9 the Japanese launched a massive attack on Nanking.” [6]

From the gruesome events that followed, there are multiple accounts of horrendous rapes, disembowelments, and murders plaguing Nanking. Definitively, what is the difference between the events that occurred in Nanking alone and those that occurred during the Holocaust? And why, if they are both such gruesome crimes against humanity, has Japan not been shamed as much as Germany has? Is it because of the fragile political and economic relations that other nations need to have with a powerful Japan? Or is it because of the philosophy that each event was politically governed by? And why does that mere difference make it okay for the general public to hold one event to a higher memorial than another?
The Western Front and Hitler’s governing political philosophy was indeed Nazism. The general public opinion was raised on anti-Nazi propaganda; the usage of Social Darwinism to dictate a nation was absolutely wrong and needed to be stopped (see July Study Piece Part 3). However, Japanese political sentiment was arguably based on the honorable Bushido philosophy.

“It argues a sad defect of information concerning the Far East, when so erudite a scholar as Dr. George Miller did not hesitate to affirm that chivalry, or any other similar institution, has never existed either among the nations of antiquity or among the modern Orientals. Such ignorance, however, is amply excusable, as the third edition of the good Doctor’s work appeared the same year that Commodore Perry was knocking at the portals of our exclusivism.”
-Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan [7]

In Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe details the loyal and benevolent spirit of the Bushido. The Eight Virtues are:

      1. Rectitude or Justice
      2. Courage, the Spirit of Daring and Bearing
      3. Benevolence, the Feeling of Distress
      4. Politeness
      5. Veracity or Truthfulness
      6. Honor
      7. The Duty of Loyalty
      8. Self-Control

The key to being a good soldier, leader, and strategist is to keep these virtues in mind for they dictate how one treat others. However, an individual mustn’t forget that as a descendant of the loyal Japanese samurai, one must serve his master well above all else. Recall the three generals leading troops into Nanking. General Matsui, the most benevolent and scholarly of them all, had given an order for his troops to invade Nanking with the utmost moral dignity to earn the Chinese people’s respect as their new rulers. He demanded the Eight Virtues to be enforced; however, he fell sick only to be replaced by Prince Asaka, one of royal blood. Thus, in dutifully serving Japan’s one “human god”—the Emperor—by adopting Prince Asaka as their master, ruthlessness, and bloodshed had fully taken its place in Nanking. Loyalty and obedience of the Japanese samurai took precedent, before all else… and just like that, the honorable Bushido code had, arguably, gravely and widely contributed to the Japanese soldiers’ mindset to wreak havoc in China.

An Interjection from LtDemonLord, “No Conceptual Scapegoats”
For one, the Japanese army had little means to provide for themselves once they’ve made landfall and resorted to pillaging the locals. The conflict that ensued automatically brought Chinese civilians and Japanese soldiers into direct contact, often resulting in murders of households and the “taking” of women. The death toll from the murders were then joined by ranks of the starving as the survivors faced empty food stores and ruined fields. The fact that the army at the time were made up of mostly civilians themselves (Japan being a country with a relatively small population) who are fed a propaganda-rich diet of self-righteousness and disdain for China’s resistance to their rule meant that they were far more willing to treat the Chinese as less than living beings than their more well-educated and well-trained counterparts in the navy and air force (as evidenced with their treatment of the Russian POW during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) although cultural changes could have also been the reason). Another reason for their brutality may also have resulted from the unexpectedly strong resistance they faced as they advanced further inland. Their generals, who believed that their campaign would be quick and the Chinese would surrender, grew increasingly frustrated as the war dragged on and their campaign in Nanking may have been the direct result of an attempt to frighten and subjugate the Chinese citizens into surrendering as many of the officers either “failed” to keep discipline or actively encouraged their men to act out their base desires. Keep in mind that this sort of senseless violence wasn’t the first time the Japanese had forced onto the people they’ve tried to conquer — in fact, Koreans who were colonised by the Japanese earlier in the century experienced the same dismissal of human rights and lack of humane treatment.
Among a people who you were destined to conquer and with divine judgement on your side, crushing those in the way of your Manifest Destiny becomes nothing.

Hirohito, Tojo, or the Japanese Common Man?, “A Diffusion of Responsibility”
The ruling figure of World War II was none other than Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s longest-ruling emperor. However, Hirohito’s role in the vicious actions of Japan during World War II is largely debated among historians. Some say he had absolute control over the events that Japan executed, but others say that his Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo, was the true villain. Indeed, although Tojo was powerful, he could never amount to a ruling dictatorship like Hitler or Stalin. Thus, although both played a part, Hirohito and Tojo only worked to polarize each other’s corruption but never amounting to full power as others have succeeded to do so on the Western Front. For the most part, Hirohito and Tojo were only so successful in obtaining what they desired because of the mass indoctrination occurring decades before in the education system. Emperor Hirohito’s status as Divine Emperor and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s accomplishments as a militarist spurred the Japanese concept of being the “superior race”.

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 9.15.39 PMRiseofAsiaLeaf

         (The Advertiser, Aug 12, 1929)                               (“Rise of Asia”, 1943)

Even prior to the beginnings of WWII, Japanese education largely revolved around their “superior race” teachings. Those sentiments only grew stronger, however, with Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. Education then shifted to indoctrinate young students into becoming “children of the Emperor”, creating a mass production of young minds believing that they are a race of celestial divinity and immortality [8]. They were to remain loyal to the Emperor, to bring honor to their country, and to succeed in fulfilling “superior race” status. This certain upbringing, a common one for the Japanese citizen, proliferated progressively, forcing an entire nation into a “mob-mentality” type of society. Their whole beliefs centered on the idea to take back Asia from the Westernized civilizations (disregarding two-thirds of the Axis Powers as westernized), to lead the other Orientals into independence—under Japanese rule. Obviously, to post-WWII society, the idea sounds almost presumptuous. However, at the time (and even now in present-day Japanese society, see The Country Holds No Liability, “国家無答責”), it made perfect sense to the loyal and obedient Japanese citizens who were indoctrinated into believing that they worshipped divine blood, the Emperor, and for that, their blood also held some divinity.


(Churchill and Roosevelt: “Their true character is that of devils and beasts.”)

The Country Holds No Liability, “国家無答責”
Throughout the years following, it can be observed time and time again that Japan refuses to issue a full, heartfelt apology concerning their role in World War II [9].

Not only World War II, the country cannot even seem to acknowledge its wrongful acts against its fellow Asian countries [10]. After the addition of the “Comfort Women” statue release in San Francisco, Osaka had cut ties with its sister city, claiming that the citizens feel as though they are being criticized for the controversial past of their nation [11]. Many Japanese have since believed that their role in WWII was not as extreme as depicted, or even, fully nonexistent.
This can be illustrated with denial of the Nanking Massacre ever occurring [12]. The Japanese believe that there is no official proof or record that the events in Nanking were so gruesome [13], and yet, even though they admitted to invading Nanking, they claimed it was a bloodless invasion. One website is full of photos that show peace and laughter between the Chinese citizens and the Japanese soldiers, and there is even a section on how the soldiers were not, in fact, violent due to General Matsui’s orders. However, the website fails to mention anything about General Matsui’s illness and consequently his replacement, Prince Asaka [14]. On another website, obtained pictures of the event displays the public horror of rapes, decapitations, and murders, contrary to the popular belief that “no documented proof exists” [15].
Here is an example of the muddled truth during what really happened at Nanking. The following is a famous photograph known as, “Shanghai Baby”.


(“Shanghai Baby”, 1938)

Japanese historian, Mr. Shudo Higashinakano, is convinced that the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication. He appears on a Japanese show to prove that every single horrific photo is edited by the Propaganda Department of the China National Party on July 1938. Higashinakano claims that the “Shanghai Baby” was taken by a Chinese photographer named H.S. Wong (王小亭) who worked for the Documentary Film Team of the Propaganda Department and that the baby was actually placed there for dramatic effect.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 11.13.19 PM.png

(unknown, 1938)

Here you can see someone picking up the Shanghai Baby. Higashinakano believes that this is the man who placed the baby in the scene, but according to another source,

“Moments later, an adult male, presumably the child’s father, arrived on scene. Emergency responders tended to the youngster as best they could before the man and child disappeared into the crowd. Wong never learned the infant’s name or fate.” [16]

Is this man working for the Chinese National Party? Or is he the Shanghai Baby’s father? The issue with this distortion of truth is that we may never get an answer… And that is the problem.



A Conclusion
With Japan’s strong connections and pride in their own country and government, the nation has made itself liable to distort the truth of its own past. In an even broader context, the online resources provided to a curious inquisitor like myself make it hard to understand what really happened at Nanking. Both sides appear to be extremely biased with no nations intervening with their own narrative of what went down. The Chinese government-funded Youtube channel uploading “extremely rare footage” of the events of Nanking filmed by an American pastor, the former Japanese soldiers admitting to the crimes while others are placing the blame on Chinese soldiers, and the power shift between Hirohito, Tojo, and the indoctrinated Japanese people… In an era where our idiosyncratic beliefs allow us to selectively put certain history behind us, one can only imagine what truly occurred to drive the Land of the Rising Sun to be in the dark about its past… and what our own governments are leading ourselves to believe.

Additional Video:

Sources Cited


[1] Spacey, John. “Why Japan Is Called Land Of The Rising Sun.” Japan Talk, Japan Talk, 27 Aug. 2012, http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/why-japan-is-called-land-of-the-rising-sun.

[2] Watanabe, Akira, and G. Cameron Hurst. “The Meiji Restoration.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2018, http://www.britannica.com/place/Japan/History.

[3] Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. 1925.

[4] Hitler, Adolf. The Political Testament of Adolf Hitler. 1945.

[5] Kamimura, Marina. “A Japanese Veteran Attempts to Make Peace with Haunting Memories.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Aug. 1998, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9808/16/japan.war.crimes/.
[6] Cook, Karen. The Rape of Nanking: Analyzing Events From a Sociological Perspective. Stanford University, web.stanford.edu/~kcook/history.html.
[7] Nitobe, Inazo. Bushido: The Soul of Japan. 1900.
[8] Friedman, Herbert A. “JAPANESE PSYOP DURING WWII.” Psychological Operations (PSYOP), Psywarrior, http://www.psywarrior.com/JapanPSYOPWW2.html.
[9] McCurry, Justin. “Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Stops Short of New Apology in War Anniversary Speech.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Aug. 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/14/shinzo-abe-japan-no-new-apology-second-world-war-anniversary-speech.
[10] Baird, J. Kevin. “War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: Unraveling the Persecution of Achmad Mochtar | The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 1 Jan. 2016, apjjf.org/2016/01/4-Baird.html.
[11] Fortin, Jacey. “’Comfort Women’ Statue in San Francisco Leads a Japanese City to Cut Ties.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/world/asia/comfort-women-statue.html.
[12] “Japan Hotelier’s Nanjing Massacre Denial Angers China.” BBC News, BBC, 19 Jan. 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38673407.
[13] “Nanjing Survivor Sues Japanese Authors.” BBC News, BBC, 29 Nov. 2000, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1047188.stm.
“‘The Shanghai Baby’ – The True Story Behind One of History’s Most Dramatic Photos.” Military History Now, 8 Nov. 2017, militaryhistorynow.com/2016/04/15/the-shanghai-baby-the-true-story-behind-one-of-historys-most-dramatic-photos/.
[14] Kubo, Arimasa. “The So-Called Nanking Massacre Was a Fabrication.” Remnant, http://www2.biglobe.ne.jp/~remnant/nankingm.htm
[15] Cook, Karen. The Rape of Nanking: Analyzing Events From a Sociological Perspective. Stanford University, web.stanford.edu/~kcook/.
[16]  “‘The Shanghai Baby’ – The True Story Behind One of History’s Most Dramatic Photos.” Military History Now, 8 Nov. 2017, militaryhistorynow.com/2016/04/15/the-shanghai-baby-the-true-story-behind-one-of-historys-most-dramatic-photos/.
Additional Readings:
Japanese Imperialistic Effects on Korea: Black Flower by Young-ha Kim (fiction)

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