Japan: Emperor may visit Pearl Harbor in July

Posted by: Ian Rowley on March 2, 2009

Before becoming Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner wasted no time warning Japan that the Obama Administration would not welcome any attempts by Tokyo to weaken the yen. “It’s very important for the U.S. and for the global economy that our major trading partners operate with a flexible exchange rate system, in which market forces determine the value of exchange rates,” he said after he was asked about the possibility that Japan may intervene to weaken the yen on Jan. 22. Yet, that tough talking aside, the Japan-US relationship seems to be holding up. Indeed, despite the financial crisis and the increased importance of U.S.-China relations, there has been plenty of cozying up between Tokyo and Washington of late.

On Feb. 17, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Japan her first port of call on a tour a visit to Asia. A week later, Taro Aso, Japan’s deeply unpopular Prime Minister, became the first foreign leader to visit President Obama at the White House. And now, according to reports in Japan today, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko may visit to Pearl Harbor in July following a visit to Canada.

The latter is certainly intriguing. If it happens, the symbolic move would see the Emperor do something no sitting Japanese prime minister has done, although dovish House of Representatives leader Yohei Kono visited in December. It would also show the lengths Japan’s government is going to maintain bilateral relations with the new U.S. administration. With North Korea as unpredictable as ever, that’s something Tokyo sees a vital despite China overtaking the U.S. as its largest trading partner.

For all that, one wonders how much Japan would gain from an imperial visit to Hawaii. While a welcome gesture in many ways, it also risks opening old wounds—and not just in the U.S. The imperial couple reportedly considered a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1994, but it never happened amid concerns at home. Japan’s small but vocal right-wing groups are unlikely to welcome the visit.

Perhaps more important, there is also China, Korea and other Asian neighbors to consider. While anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S. is fairly muted these days, in China trouble still flares from time to time. In 2005, for instance, 10,000 protesters in Beijing clashed with riot police and nearly stormed the Japanese Embassy. Protesters accused Tokyo of whitewashing wartime atrocities, such as the 1937 massacre of civilians at Nanjing, in new editions of school history books. The next day, demonstrators in the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen trashed Japanese storefronts and called for boycotts of goods.

If Emperor and Empress are headed for Pearl Harbor, pressure may grow for the similar visits in Asia. That would create a tricky situation. In Japan, with some justification, people complain that the Emperor could apologize a hundred times and it would never be enough for some Asian neighbors, adding that that anti-Japanese sentiment often stems from governments adept at using nationalism for domestic political gain.

Yet, while the Emperor has made numerous statements of remorse about Japan’s wartime activities in Asia, and visited the U.S. territory of Saipan in 2005, praying for the Japanese, Korean, American and local lives lost, doing nothing risks reinforcing criticisms that Tokyo has never really appeared truly contrite. That’s certainly the view of Lee Myung Bak, Korea’s President. Last year, he called for Emperor Akihito to undertake a genuine gesture of contrition for Japan’s country’s wartime aggression in Asia. In a December interview with the Times of London, Lee said that that Emperor Akihito should follow the example of Germany’s late leader Willy Brandt, who by genuflecting in front of a monument to Polish Jews killed during World War Two, became a symbol of postwar German contrition.

Reader Comments

The Mad Hedge Fund Trader

March 3, 2009 10:58 AM

In excessively focusing on our own problems here in the US, it is easy to miss an economic collapse of Biblical proportions that is going on in Japan. Q4 GDP came out at -3.3%, and the median annualized forecast is -12%, with more dire numbers of -15% out there. This is four times the rate of decline we saw in the US. The global economic shut down is heavily concentrated in the auto industry, of which Japan is the largest exporter. My old friend IMF managing director Eisuke Sakakibara, known as “Mr. Yen”, does not see a recovery for two more years. The country has no ability to convert from an export led to a domestic demand economy in the short term. Bubbles are long in building, and long in deflating. As Vice Minister of Finance in Japan during the lost decade of the nineties, he should know.

maurice young

March 3, 2009 11:32 AM

Will Obama visit Hiroshima?

Mike

March 3, 2009 9:40 PM

What make US relationship weird to Japan is guys like Geithner that deny help when Japan needs, and forget things like Plaza Accord when Japan helped US, rising its yen against dolar.

David Lee

March 6, 2009 6:50 AM

The Japanese government has never fully admitted the atrocities commited by their military in Asia.

Apologies from a few Prime Ministers is not sincere enough. For example, Germany teach the truth of the genocide of the Jews to their young school children.

In contrast, even today, there are ministers in Japanese government who even deny their militaries atrocities.

All these have been reported by foreign reporters if one wants to know the truth.

keith

March 7, 2009 1:22 PM


japan today is not the same. Like germany, they have learned from their past mistake. I think that they are a very responsible country more so than china and russia today, name a few. They have contributed to the world in many contructive ways. I can not say the same thing to china and russia.
western countries committed atrocities in the past century too.. japan was not the only one. Chinese communist goverment killed millions of chinese in the past too... why did they only complaint about japan, not their own goverment or any western countries for that matter? who is going to complaint for tibet people? people of Darfur?

ceejay2005

May 6, 2009 8:56 PM

If you get a ticket for an afternoon tour (a wait time of 3 or more hours), then, proceed to next door to buy the ticket for the battleship. They are usually less crowded then Arizona tour. If your wait time for Arizona tour is less than 3 hours, you might want to drive down to Pearlridge Shopping Center (about 5 min away only). Eat lunch there and come back for the Arizona tour. http://www.hawaiitours.com/pearl-harbor-and-3-military-bases.pearlharbor-1.html

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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