Hiroshima Memo: Building trust between Japan and China through person-to-person exchange

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

I recently received a booklet which contained this passage from a second-language learner of English: “We can't deny many issues left over the past remains controversial. Due to some historical reasons, many Chinese keep great misunderstandings of Japan and I guess so do the Japanese.”

This passage is from a report written by Tingting Chen, 20, a third-year student of history at Peking University, on her visit to Japan. Ms. Chen came to Japan in early July for one month as part of a fellowship program offered annually by a Nagoya-based company for the past 24 years. Along with four students from the United States taking part in the same program, she visited a variety of places in Japan, including the cities of Hiroshima and Kyoto, to engage in exchange activities with the Japanese people across a range of fields.

I recall the time I spent with the program participants, sharing our views for about two hours at the headquarters of the Chugoku Shimbun in late July. With aspirations of becoming a journalist, Ms. Chen showed a special interest in our newspaper's coverage of issues involving peace and the atomic bombing, including the past aggression committed by Japan. As our time together was limited, I felt that some of my explanations were insufficient. Afterward, I sent her copies of feature articles that Chugoku Shimbun reporters had written about the reality of Japanese aggression in Asia.

She responded to me by email in this way: “I’m writing to tell you how I appreciate all the materials you have sent to me, which are certainly valuable to deepen my understanding. There is one saying in the book that can primely describe my feeling, which was based on the recognition I have learned from the mass media: ‘Why does the nation of aggression talk about its suffering alone?’ However, the tour to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum really changed my mind.”

In the booklet, she also wrote: “To be honest, I felt quite complicated when I recognized how brutal consequences the nuclear attack had brought to Hiroshima, where also stood as the main military base of Japan during several wars against China. While the tour to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park not only weighed down our hearts, but also aroused the intense desire for freedom from war. I think the key matter now is that it is significant for Japanese, Americans and Chinese to step up a new stage. We want to make our own history.”

With Japan and China at an impasse over territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands, and divided by differences in our political systems, more than a brief span of time is needed to improve relations between the two nations. However, as far as economics is concerned, Japan and China have become deeply entwined.

The popular Japanese music group “SMAP” stirred excitement among a large number of young people in China when they performed in Beijing on September 16. Ms. Chen, an open-minded young woman, brimming with curiosity, has a keen interest in Japanese culture, such as Japanese music, animation, and the tea ceremony. Like Yang Xiaoping, I believe Ms. Chen will be another young Chinese citizen helping to forge new ties between Japan and China. Mr. Yang, 30, is a Chinese graduate student at Hiroshima University and he serves as a Peace Volunteer at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Mr. Yang also organized a peace exchange to China in which he escorted a dozen of his fellow Peace Volunteers on a trip to his homeland.

Reaching that “new stage” Ms. Chen mentioned is not impossible if person-to-person exchange between the Japanese and the Chinese can be made more active in such fields as culture, economics, tourism, and sports at the same time a relationship of mutual trust is nurtured by squarely facing the history of the war's inhumanity. In particular, I have high hopes for the initiatives pursued by young people who will play a central role in building a new history for the future.

(Originally published on September 19, 2011)