Asian Identity: Regional Integration and Collective Memory of the Pacific War in Contemporary Japanese Society

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Author: Maciej Pletnia, Tokyo University, Japan & Jagiellonian University, Poland
Email: pletnia@gmail.com
Published: December 2014
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijas.1.1.05

Citation: Pletnia, M. (2014). Asian Identity: Regional Integration and Collective Memory of the Pacific War in Contemporary Japanese Society. IAFOR Journal of Asian Studies, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijas.1.1.05


Abstract

Ever since late 1980s possibility of strengthening intraregional integration and establishing common Asian identity have become one the reoccurring themes discussed in the region. Japan, due to its un-preceded economic success and its strong ties with Western countries, seemed like a natural leader. However, rise of China and slow decline of Japan’s power have made relations in the region much more difficult. Japan is no longer widely considered a regional leader, and its cooperation with China has recently become strained. It seems impossible to imagine further Asian integration without participation of both China and Japan. There are of course numerous factors which influence international relations between those two countries and Japan's position in the region. However, in this paper I would like to explain how collective memory of the Pacific War in contemporary Japanese society, combined with Japan’s deeply rooted conviction of being a natural leader in Asia, creates tension in the region, which is affecting any possibility of further regional integration. European Union is often brought up as a model of successful cultural and economic integration, which led to creating common cultural identity in spite of region’s tragic past experiences. Despite the numerous regional and trans-regional economic forums such as APEC, ASEAN or ASEM, situation in Asia seems to be much more complicated. What seems to be particularly important is the memory of the Pacific War in contemporary Japanese society, which manifests itself by Yasukuni controversy, Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, and discussion regarding history textbooks, among others. However, it seems that these controversies are mere manifestations of much wider phenomena, which I believe can be traced back to initial years after the end of the war. Japanese perception of its past, combined with its deeply rooted conviction of being a natural leader in Asia, creates a tension in the entire region, particularly in international relations with China and Korea. Overcoming it through cooperation and discussion with regional partners might make future integration possible. However, how to achieve such reconciliation is a question that still remains unanswered.

Keywords

collective memory, collective identity, the Pacific War, nationalism, contemporary Japan, international relations