IN ITS own commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Tokyo should acknowledge that its years of denial has added to its historical guilt. Forgetting is bad enough as, without collective remembrance, history itself would not exist. But denying reopens the festering wound. That hurts.
Japan should instead draw from Germany's acts of expiation that included an admittance of guilt and a reiteration that history must not be forgotten. In the run-up to the observation of his country's surrender on May 8, 1945, German President Joachim Gauck spoke about Germany's "immeasurable guilt", at the marking last month of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Adding to this, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "there's no drawing a line under the history" for Germans, no turning their backs on their Nazi past. Despite chilly relations over Russia's annexation of Crimea and its military role in the Ukrainian conflict, Dr Merkel travelled to Moscow to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay homage to the war dead.
The region's gaze will now be on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he makes his statement on Aug 15, the date of Japan's surrender. Will he go further than in his speech to the US Congress where he stopped short of apologising for his country's war past even as he voiced his remorse? A full-throated apology is sought by China and the Koreas which suffered the most at the hands of the Japanese during the war. As a nationalist, Mr Abe is perhaps in a strong position to offer such an apology, and to do so without negating it with visits soon after by top leaders to the Yasukuni shrine, which houses World War II criminals among the war dead and a museum that egregiously paints Japan as Asia's liberator.
But it takes two to repair a relationship. Japanese leaders might be more inclined to tender an apology if it's certain to be accepted, rather than being seized on as a mark of guilt to extract still more concessions in a never-ending cycle of recriminations. Some in the Abe camp have voiced frustrations at the repeated demands for apologies, seeing these as means to browbeat Japan into submission. Indeed, as author Thomas U. Berger has noted, with the Koreans, "there has been an unwillingness to help the Japanese find ways of reconciling when the Japanese have tried to do so". They and the Chinese could be less strident in their attacks and adopt a more measured approach to cooperate on activities such as setting standards for history textbooks or even undertaking joint commemorations, as was done in Europe. Asia would benefit from such reconciliation and willingness to move forward.