Memories of My Late Father and Japan–China Relations

|China

It has come to the end of the year at last for 2007, and while looking back on this year in the established custom, it was a year in which many different matters come to mind.

In these times, and this year also, several notices began to arrive saying “Due to mourning, no New Year’s greetings please”, and today is the time when I feel that for quite some time this has been the era in which the parental generation of we the baby-boomer generation is giving up the ghost.

Recently, quite by chance, I picked up and read straight through “A Relation of the Sino–Japanese War to the Young Generation”, published by Shinshoban, in the form of an interview with Mr. Keiichi Ito (the Naoki-Prize-winning author born in 1917), and I ended up thinking about my father who went to his final resting place in March this year, aged 92.

He was a little different to Mr. Ito in terms of age, and in my father’s case, he participated twice in the Sino–Japanese War: in the Mukden Incident and the Japan–China Incident [1937–1941]. That he passed away with my hardly ever hearing him talk of what his feelings were taking part in the war and what he felt about today’s Japan–China relations is now something that I can only regret.

Belonging to the baby-boomer generation, and amid the atmosphere of the period of opposition to the then Vietnam War from my high school years until university, I majored in Chinese—rebelling against my father, and criticizing him as a militarist; toward me to this day, in life my father may not have ventured the attempt to tell me a great many things.

In his twilight years, the collection of writings remain from the birthday parties at the center for the care of the aged at which my father was cared for, but when I read them he had talked a lot about the wartime period to the young employees who looked after him, and apparently espoused the preciousness of peace, and while I expect that he could probably say things easily to other people which he couldn’t say to his own flesh and blood, there is also the communication problem between parents and children of recent years, and I feel heartbroken again.

It just so happens that this year saw the milestone year of the 35th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, and with the visit to Japan of Premier Wen Jiabao in April of this year, after the visit to China last year of Prime Minister Abe, Japan–China relations have taken a dramatic turn for the better, and the relationship is becoming one where both sides are singing in ringing tones of “a relationship of strategic complimentarity”. Furthermore, this year is also the 70th anniversary of the start of the Sino–Japanese War.

For Japan–China relations, amid the trend of the times “from confrontation to cooperation” and “from bilateral to intraregional”, it is thought that the time has come where there has to be rethinking of how Japan should associate with China in the future in a real sense—not just stopping at the increasing closeness of economic relations—with querying from the level of politicians through to the general public as individual Japanese people.

In 1982, when my mother and father came to Tokyo before my first stay in Beijing, when we had a meal at Kudan Kaikan I was told with chagrin by my father who had only gone to China in wartime that “Just think that I am grateful for the fact that you are able to live and work in Beijing in a time of peace.”

Subsequently I went on to stay twice in Beijing, and even though I invited him, my father, perhaps having a good deal of strong memories from China, never came once to China before the end.

I was reminded, however, as if it were only yesterday—after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests when I returned to Japan temporarily with my family—of his admonishing me to prepare myself mentally: “The Chinese are people that have lived vigorously through the maelstrom of war, and by reason of being wise people that observe people tenaciously and well, you should meet them with unfaltering pride as a Japanese person and great dignity.”

As in Mr. Keiichi Ito’s book, although there was the Sino–Japanese War that doesn’t mean they were waging war every day, and I also have memories of being taught that there were heartwarming episodes with simple village folk.

Speaking of simple village folk, I think that, when considering China at this time, the recently broadcast NHK “Tomohiro Sekiguchi’s Great Chinese Railway Journey” was an extremely good program.

Mr. Sekiguchi’s unaffected personality attracted favorable impressions, and my wife, who, influenced by the media reports up to that time on food safety, etc., in China had grown to dislike China, became a huge fan and watched along with me. Seeing the natural, warm interchange of the local people in the areas within the reach of China’s railways that he dropped in on, the importance of contact and interaction at the grassroots level as expected came across to the full.

The comings and goings between Japan and China at the time of the 1972 restoration of diplomatic relations between Japan and China involved about 10,000 people that year; it is thought that this year this will probably climb to nearly 5,000,000, and has attained a level 500 times of the level of that time.

As the human intercourse grows larger, however, does the understanding between Japan and China really grow deeper? There is a certain complexity when you consider how many Japanese people lived in China before the war. Here too “quality, not quantity” is being examined.

In a certain sense, with today’s deluge of information from China, we have to reflect on the fact that there are also points where we don’t readily perceive the real substance.

Today, amid the disappearing of the people of the generation who are living witnesses of war, these days I hope that—soundly perceiving the “changing China” and the “unchanging China” while calling to mind the travails of our forerunners who to date have connected Japan and China in troubled times—I will continue to do what little I can in the maintenance of a lasting relationship of friendship between Japan and China in the future.

[Translated by ERINA]