Japan Since Pearl Harbor: How a Nation Changed Its Views


By: Mark Loproto

At the time, it was a necessary action to solidify expansion through Asia and the Pacific. With the United States standing as a potential threat and roadblock, Japan would be without the means to achieve the very broad goals that it had in mind. With the US implementing trade embargoes, there seemed to be only one option: strike first and hinder the Americans’ ability to interfere further. How have opinions in Japan since Pearl Harbor evolved?

Immediately After the Attack

When word of the success of the attack on Pearl Harbor reached Japanese officials, it was a jubilant occasion. Propaganda about the Japanese “victory” over the United States spread throughout the nation, boosting morale, causing jumps on the Tokyo stock exchange, and celebrations among the military forces.

After the attack, Japan was very pleased with its actions, feeling it had made great headway in its goals for World War II. However, as history critic Masayasu Hosaka points out in his essay “Pearl Harbor: The True Nature of the Blunder,” while Japan celebrated the attack, it was entering into the war with no clear vision. With vague goals and no plan on how to end the conflict it had just involved itself in, the attack on Pearl Harbor may not have been the grand success originally thought.

While there was some dissent about whether a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was the proper move, overall the nation was behind the move. When Japan was forced to sign a treaty of surrender after being defeated by the Allied forces, that all changed. It became clear that, by attacking the United States first, Japan had signed its own defeat; this may be why, as the years pass, Japan’s mantra about the surprise attack shifted to “Forget Pearl Harbor.”

Today

Japan since Pearl Harbor

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe place wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial

By the time of President Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 2016 for the 75th anniversary of the attack, the national view on Pearl Harbor had changed drastically. Such a shift can be seen in the January 2016 issue of Rekishi-tu, a conservative Japanese magazine, which ran a piece claiming the United States had goaded Japan into attacking. What was once seen as a brilliant idea by Japanese military strategists was now being portrayed as an American manipulation, definitely not a stance one takes when they’re proud of their country’s actions.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is not a revered event in Japanese history, and unlike in the United States, where the event is discussed and studied at length, the 1941 attack is often overlooked in Japan. There has also been a huge shift in relations with the United States, as Japan sees the nation—once one of its greatest enemies—as a close ally.

The attack on Pearl Harbor may have once been celebrated by the Japanese, but it was a celebration that ended almost four years later with their defeat in the Pacific Theater. Today, millions of tourists from Japan travel to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects for the fallen sailors, demonstrating that among other feelings about the attack, guilt is still prominent.

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