"Proper understanding of history starts from facing up to the past."
- Excerpt from the back cover of the 815 magazine, a monthly publication of the 815 Japan-China Friendship Association.
During an interview at Kumagaya in Japan's Saitama Prefecture earlier this month, members of the 815 Japan-China Friendship Association shared their opinions on the Japanese Prime Minister's controversial visit to Yasukuni Shrine with People's Daily's correspondents in Japan.
The 815 Japan-China Friendship Association, formerly known as Japan-China Friendship Veterans' Association, was founded by a group of Japanese veterans who had taken part in Japan's invasion of China, said Nobuo Okimatsu, representative director of the association.
"They had been through this very painful experience themselves, and they believed that Japan needs to face up to the history, repent, and repair its relationships with its neighboring countries, especially with China, which suffered the most during the war. That's why they set up this organization," 89 year old Okimatsu recalled.
As a protest against Japanese right wing force's extremism, the association holds talks every month to discuss political matters. "Although there are only a few hundred of us, the event is very meaningful," Okimatsu said. "I hope more people will join, so that we can curb the reactionary right wing more effectively," he added.
Permanent director of the association Masashi Ochiai condemned Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine as "an extremely misguided action": "His behavior has not only hurt the feelings of the people from the victim countries, but also drawn criticism from countries like the US, Russia, and the European Union," Ochiai remarked. He warned that if Abe cannot view history with the proper perspective, and if he continues such willful misconduct, Japan will find itself isolated by the international community under his leadership. "The ‘renewal of Japan' which is so often referred to by Prime Minister Abe entails bringing the country back to the pre-war era, which could subject the Japanese people to another disaster," he said.
Fujio Kato, another permanent director of the association protested bitterly against Abe's visit to the shrine, calling it a "very bad idea": "Any normal person would have known that a homage to the shrine would be met with strong condemnation from countries like China and Korea, and a prime minister should never do anything that could hurt the interests of his own country," said Kato.
Kato, who had been a high school teacher before retirement, said he used to employ different teaching methods to help his students understand the real history of Japan.
Permanent director Hiroshi Akiyama believes that the Japanese people should be more vocal about their opposition to Abe's Yasukuni visit. "When the Abe administration forced through parliament the Specific Secrets Protection Act December 6 last year, heedless of public opposition, a large number of people took to the street to protest and the approval rating of the cabinet dropped sharply," said Akiyama. "Now we need to do the same, and the media should cover it more intensively to let Abe know how wrong he was and how much the Japanese public disapprove of his behavior."
"If hundreds of thousands of Japanese people took to the street to demonstrate against Abe's visit, he would probably have a better appreciation of the consequences of his behavior," Ochiai agreed.