UNESCO strikes political nerve with Nanking Massacre documents

Reposted from the Japan Times article.

Written by Reiji Yoshida

October 19, 2015

A fierce battle is raging over UNESCO’s stewardship of history.

Last week, Japan — the biggest donor to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — created an international stir by threatening to suspend or reduce its financial contributions after the body accepted what China claims are historical documents about the 1937 Nanking Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, for inscription into its Memory of the World register.

What is the Memory of the World program? And why are China and Japan battling over the details of the wartime atrocity?

What is the purpose of the Memory of the World program?

UNESCO launched the program in 1992 to fully preserve, protect and make permanently accessible documentary heritage with due recognition, according to the U.N. body’s website.

UNESCO provides assistance to preserve historical materials,such as hand-written documents, photos, paintings, movies and other forms of records left across the world.

So far 348 items in various categories have been registered, including the world’s oldest existing copy of the Quran, the archives of the Dutch East India Company, the hand-written musical score of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and the original “Diary of Anne Frank.”

From Japan, five items have been registered, including documents on the Keicho Period Mission to Europe in the 17th century, materials related to the internment and repatriation of Japanese held in Siberia after the end of World War II, and historical documents archived at Toji Temple in Kyoto dated from 763 to 1711.

UNESCO helps make registered materials more accessible, for example, by creating digitized copies and catalogs that are accessible over the Internet.

How are the nominated documents screened?

The International Advisory Committee, which consists of 14 experts appointed by the director-general of UNESCO, screens the applications. Countries, municipalities, private groups or individuals are all allowed to file nomination applications.

The IAC then makes recommendations for registration that are usually endorsed by the director-general.

The 14 experts, who serve in a personal capacity, are “chosen for their authority in the field of the safeguarding of documentary heritage,” according to UNESCO’s website.

The director-general convenes IAC sessions every two years.

Japan criticized UNESCO’s screening process as opaque and biased. Why?

Japanese officials argued that the historical materials being presented are not verified as authentic by third-party historians or other countries involved in political rows over the materials.

Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over historical evidence on the weekslong massacre, in particular the number of estimated victims slaughtered after the Japanese army occupied Nanking in December 1937.

The city is now pronounced Nanjing.

The Chinese government claims that about 300,000 Chinese were massacred and numerous women raped by Imperial Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese government does not deny that its troops murdered noncombatants and looted the city, but instead claims that the number cannot be determined by historical evidence.

Despite the rhetorical dueling, Japan was not even allowed to review the documents China submitted, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last week.

“The (screening process) takes place amid concealment and secrecy,” Suga alleged at a morning news conference on Oct. 13.

Is the process unfair?

According to Koichiro Matsuura, former director-general of UNESCO, the Memory of the World program is not based on any international treaty.

Thus UNESCO does not disclose all of the materials submitted for nomination, or the minutes of the advisory committee’s deliberations. Nor does it listen to the opinions of countries potentially related to the materials nominated, the former diplomat said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

By contrast, UNESCO’S World Heritage program, which documents such cultural and natural heritage as architectural and monumental works, is based on an international convention, and the registration process involves deliberation by member countries.

In addition, the preliminary reviews of the heritage program’s advisory panel are disclosed, too, Matsuura pointed out.

“The system (used by the Memory of the World program) is still immature,” he reportedly said.

Historians note that Tokyo admits the Rape of Nanking occurred. So why is it so upset with China and UNESCO?

Japanese politicians and bureaucrats believe that China, even 70 years after the end of the war, is still trying to use Japan’s wartime misdeeds for propaganda and diplomatic purposes.

Toward that end, China has often exaggerated or even fabricated the particulars of Japan’s wartime atrocities to weaken its diplomatic position, they say.

Some nationalist politicians and intellectuals meanwhile maintain the massacre never took place, making the contentious issue even more sensitive in Japanese political circles. This has apparently encouraged the Cabinet of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take a tougher stance against UNESCO.

Mainstream Japanese historians believe the Imperial Japanese Army slaughtered numerous captured Chinese soldiers and noncombatants, based on historical materials written by the soldiers. These include records of battles written during or shortly after Japan occupied the city.

Their estimates range from 40,000 to 200,000 victims.

They also agree that no existing evidence can provide a tally of the actual number of deaths with pinpoint accuracy.


New Blog! Dave’s Japan!

Hey everybody! I just wanted to let you all know that I have arrived in Kyoto, Japan and I have gotten my new blog off the ground. It’s called Dave’s Japan. My adventure has begun and I am doing my best to document the experience with both the written word and the snap of the shutter. This photo journal will bring you all kinds of interesting stuff about my adventure in Japan, so head on over and give it a look.


Going to Kyoto!

As you may have noticed I have been absent from Dave’s Asia for quite a while now. I have had to take a hiatus from the blog in order to deal with the hectic day to day activities of real life. It was the end of the school year and schoolwork was piling up. Meanwhile, I was keeping up with my part-time job at the school library and with many social obligations. With all of that going on, and with the unapologetic laziness in which I engaged during what little downtime I actually had, I was simply unable to keep up the blog. All of this is probably of no interest to you as a reader.

However, I do have some exciting news to report. On my “about” page I mentioned that I hope to study in Japan someday. Well, that day has arrived! My application for a foreign exchange program has been accepted and at the end of the summer I will be heading to the famously beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan to study for six months at prestigious Doshisha University ( 同志社大学 – “Doushisha Daigaku”)! I am so excited to have this opportunity and I can’t wait to embark on this incredible journey!

Prestigious Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

Doshisha’s campus is right across the street from the ancient Imperial Palace complex. In this beautiful location I will be continuing to intensively study the language, while also learning about the culture and hopefully taking classes relating to regional relations/issues.

Oh nothing, just going to go study RIGHT THERE!
Oh nothing, just going to go study RIGHT THERE!

For my stay I will be starting a new blog, documenting my experiences in and around Kyoto. My goals are to cover 100 miles walking the streets of Kyoto, and to travel to a few other cities in Japan, including Osaka, Tokyo, and Sapporo.

I intend to keep up this blog, though the posts will likely be fewer, and there will probably many overlaps and links between the two.

Again, I can’t wait to get started on what I know will be an amazing, life-changing adventure! 楽しみにしています!(tanoshimi ni shiteimasu! – “I’m looking forward to it!”)

The Link’s: March 16 – 29, 2015

Two weeks of news folks, and it’s heavy stuff. I hope you find it all as interesting as I did.

Miss Universe Japan 2015, Ariana Miyamoto.

Big news for the world order as 3 major European powers and US allies—Germany, France, and Italy—have declared that they will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This global banking institution is viewed by the US as a direct rival to the World Bank and the other Bretton Woods institutions set up at the end of World War II, and could “reshape the global balance of power”. The United States has lobbied its allies not to join. South Korea is expected to join, but Japan, the US’s closest ally in Asia, is not.

Meanwhile, China and Japan held their first high-level security talks in four years. The talks come as tensions have risen over recent territorial disputes and disagreements over Japan’s acknowledgement (or lack thereof ) of past war aggressions.

An op/ed in the Japan Times points out the stark contrast in racial politics in Japan citing the fact that the performance of a controversial pop group who appears in blackface (an act repulsive to many Westerners, especially Americans) almost made it onto television, while in the same week the nation’s top beauty pageant crowned a half-black woman as the new Miss Universe Japan. The author’s main point, set within the context of the newsworthy Miss Universe Japan outcome, was to examine the fact that the pulling of the blackface performance was not considered “news” by the nation’s media, and was thus not deeply examined as to why it may be considered inappropriate in today’s media marketplace.

This article in the Washington Post examines the astounding rate of China’s cement consumption, a figure so high that it “stunned Bill Gates,” who wrote about this phenomenon in his blog. According to the article China’s cement consumption in the 3 years between 2010 and 2012 was about 140 percent of U.S. consumption for the entire 20th century! The article goes over the reasons for this astonishing rate of cement consumption, citing China’s massive building boom and rapid urbanization. China is urbanizing at a much faster rate than the US did in the 20th century. “In 2009, China had 221 cities with more than a million people in them, compared with only 35 in Europe” (and only 9 in the US as of 2013 ), and the Pearl River Delta megalopolis had 42 million inhabitants in 2010 (up to 80 million in as of 2014 ). “By some estimates, half of China’s infrastructure has been built since 2000,” but the article points out that often quality is sacrificed when it comes to this rapid building and the environment often suffers as well. As a counterpoint the article also mentions that this building boom has led to great economic growth and reduction of poverty.

Shanghai’s Pudong Financial District in 1987 and 2013.

Debate ensues over a plan to build a massive sea-wall to protect Japan’s coastline from devastation by future tsunamis. The government plans to construct 440 concrete walls along 230 miles of coastline in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, the areas hit hardest by the tsunami in 2011. The £5billion plan ($7.4billion, ¥886billion) has garnered opposition among local residents.

And finally, this piece in the Japan Times discusses the rigid methods of Japan’s post-war education system—whereby students spend their young lives vigorously studying for hellish entrance exams—and how Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, is planning to reform this system and bring in a more Western approach to examinations. The article also contrasts Shimomura’s reform goals with his conservative stance on Japan’s war-memory, a hotly debated issue in current regional politics.

The Week’s Links: March 9 – 15, 2015

The Ninja Council members in their ninja outfits
Japan’s new “ninja council,” set up to boost tourism. Those are some pretty sweet ninja costumes, but I’m pretty sure homeboy in the middle there is wearing a Dracula cape, lol.

Japan seeks to boost tourism by forming a “ninja council.” The council, made up of mayors and governors from all over the country, wants to use the image of one of Japan’s most famous, and sneaky, icons to encourage tourism to the country.

The famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station, Tokyo.
The famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station, Tokyo.

Tokyo University unveils a new statue commemorating the 80th anniversary of the passing of the world’s most famously loyal canine, Hachiko, and the 90th anniversary of the death of his owner, Dr. Hidesaburo Ueno. Hachiko was memorialized in 1934 with a bronze statue placed in front of Shibuya station, where the loyal pup would go every night to wait for his owner, Dr. Ueno, for almost ten years after Ueno’s death. The statue is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and tourist attractions. The new statue at Tokyo University depicts a fictionalized reunion of the two after all these years.

If you’re studying Japanese and looking for some apps to supplement your study then check this out. GaijinPot reviews 8 Japanese language study apps for iPhone and Android, including quiz/game apps, grammar tools, and dictionaries. I can tell you right now that I DO NOT LIKE ANKI, but that’s just me. I use the dictionary app called “Japanese” religiously. Can’t live without it.

Finally, this week marked the four-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The damage to the effected communities was so severe that many areas have not fully recovered, and efforts are still being made to support the people and to rebuild. One campaign was run by Yahoo! Japan. On 3/11, the day of the anniversary, if you went to Yahoo! Japan and searched “3.11” the company would donate ¥10 to recovery efforts. That’s  ¥10 per search! In total the campaign raised ¥25M (about US$206,000).

Search “3.11” and help Japan!!

Hello everyone,

Today is March 11, the four-year anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan in 2011. Yahoo! Japan is running a campaign to help the survivors of that terrible disaster. All you have to do is go to yahoo.co.jp and search “3.11” and Yahoo! Japan will make a donation of 10 yen per search. The search has to be done during March 11 in the Japan timezone. I was a little late hearing about this campaign, and late getting this post up, but it is still only about 2pm in Japan, so there’s still time to contribute.

The Week’s Links: March 1 – 7, 2015

Insanity! The United States’ ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was stabbed in the face with a 10-inch knife while giving a speech in Seoul on Wednesday. The attacker was opposed to the annual joint US-SK military drills that began this week. SK president Park Geun-hye says the attack was “an attack on the South Korea-U.S. alliance” itself.

Awful and unsettling news out of Kanagawa prefecture in Japan this week as a gang of teens modeling themselves after ISIS murders a young boy and terrorizes the community.

Some more light-hearted news as we wish a happy birthday to the world’s oldest living person, Misao Okawa, who turned 117 years old on Thursday.

And finally, writer Mark Guthrie describes his experience joining in the festivities of the Konomiya Naked Festival in Aichi prefecture. It sounds like a pretty wild time, getting naked, drunk on sake, freezing your ass off, and more or less joining a moshpit of 9000 other naked, drunk dudes in this yearly ritual of cleansing at the Konomiya Shrine.

Participants in the Konomiya Naked Festival, Hadaka Matsuri, Kanagawa, Aichi, Japan.