Cennamology Chief Editor
Let's face it, America is not the most universally beloved country in the world. We may be numero uno in many other areas, but there are also a variety of reasons why many countries in the world do not like us. They may view us as imperialist, stupid, taking excess of our fair share of wealth and resources, etc.
However, one country that certainly does not hate us in Japan - which is one of the most pro-American countries in the world. America's approval rating in Japan is 85 percent according to Pew Research. In return, America views Japan very favorably as well - with 81 percent of Americans saying they have a positive view of Japan, also according to Pew Research.
This is interesting because if any country in the world has a reason to despise America, it is Japan. America did to Japan what many consider is the most extreme and inhumane act a country can commit in a war. Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In perspective, 70 years is not a very long time, especially in an international relations standpoint.
I had the privilege of studying abroad in Japan for two and a half weeks this winter, and it will surely be an experience I will never forget. In fact, I absolutely cannot wait to go back someday. I will be surprised if I ever go to a foreign country and be as welcomed by the people as me and my group were in Japan.
One of the most beautiful, memorable, and heartwarming experiences that I had in Japan was at a barbeque in the tiny, rural Japanese mountainside town of Chikatsuyu. At the barbeque, we shared our cultures with each other by singing songs and sharing poems. The highlight of the night was when we sang the Star Spangled Banner for them. While we were singing, many of the local people joined in and sang along, and many of those people were alive during World War II and either served or remember what is was like to live in fear during the war.
For our Japanese hosts to join in and sing the national anthem of a country they once feared was, to me, a very beautiful lesson in forgiveness. As I said, if any country has a reason to hate us it is Japan, and dropping not one, but two atomic bombs is certainly not something most countries would forgive another for in a short amount of time. Japan is not most countries.
Having men and women who were alive to witness two atomic bombs and the aftermath of the explosions in their country and then, just decades later, sing the national anthem of the country that dropped those bombs on them and sing it with smiles on their faces, is one of the most forgiving acts one country's people can do for another's. Countries that America has done very little harm to in the past hold much more apathy towards Americans than Japan does. Not just the people of Chikatsuyu, but of all the cities and towns that my group and I encountered on the trip showed no resentment towards outsiders who are from the country that once destroyed their families, homes, and landmarks, and we showed no resentment towards them. The willingness to forgive and hold no hard feelings towards Americans about the past is a very valuable lesson people in every country, not just me, should learn.
This 70 year turnaround in American-Japanese relations is truly historic between formally warring countries and will by cited by future generations as an international model for forgiveness and post-war reconciliation. (Nowadays, when tension does arise between America and Japan, it usually has to do with the Japanese whaling and dolphin hunting industries, which is something I plan to talk about in a future post).
But what makes this forgiveness historic has to do with more than just Pearl Harbor and Fat Man and Little Boy. It also has to do with culture. Culturally, the Japanese are a very trusting people and their culture is noticeably much more trusting than American culture tends to be. For example, in Chikatsuyu, the cultural center shop operated on an “honor system,” where one would write down what he or she purchased and put the yen in a box. This center and many others like it were often left unattended. Something like this would never happen in America. A culture that trusts people to shop in an unattended store and not leave without paying is a very trusting culture. A culture that puts that much trust into people is more likely to embrace the spirit of forgiveness. The Japanese trust America now, and I believe that is a major reason why they are able to put the past behind.
What about America? It is clear that the Japanese have forgiven us, but it is also evident that we have forgiven them for the terrible things their country did to us as well during World War II. I think many Americans, even the older generations who were alive during the war, do feel a sense of regret when looking at pictures of Hiroshima for years after the bomb was dropped and realize that even though they may think it was the right decision to drop the bomb, the Japanese suffering ultimately exceeded the suffering of America after the war. While trust is a trait of the Japanese culture, sympathy and compassion are rampant in American culture. When injustice happens in the world, we feel like we have a duty to stop it. Helping out countries in need is seen as a responsibility of the U.S. by many, and Japan was one of those countries in the post-war world. The decisions America made during the war are debated to this day, and they will continue to be debated for generations to come.
With doses of trust, sympathy, compassion, as well as Western economic and cultural systems, the United States and Japan were able to transition from bitter enemies to the best of friends. American and Japanese popular culture are also quite integrated, with Pokémon and Miyazaki being very popular in America and Taylor Swift and Disney being very popular in Japan, just to name a few examples. In some ways, Japan and the United States were destined to be friends forever, but that was only possible with forgiveness.