From Anne Frank to Hello Kitty

tags: World War II, Japan



Norihiro Kato is a literary scholar and a professor at Waseda University. This article was translated by Michael Emmerich from the Japanese.

TOKYO — In late February, officials from city libraries contacted the police after discovering that hundreds of copies of “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” had been defaced. Media reports included an awful picture: a torn photograph of the girl smiling in a mutilated book. No culprit has been identified, but the rash of vandalism seemed to begin around the time, in January, that a member of the ultranationalist group Zaitokukai marched in a rally with a Nazi flag over his shoulders.

The invocation of Nazi symbols by Japanese right-wingers is a new phenomenon. During the Cold War they focused their hatred on the U.S.S.R. and communism; now, they have shifted their attention to China, South Korea and, increasingly, the United States. Brandishing the flag of Japan’s wartime ally is a roundabout way for right-wingers to laud Japan’s imperialist past. Presumably, the defacement of those copies of Anne Frank’s diary was an expression of the same sentiment.

In my view, it was also a symptom of something broader. Over the past few decades, Japan has developed a mechanism to avoid facing up to its wartime history: It has neutralized issues that are too painful to deal with by rendering them purely aesthetic, and harmless — by making them “cute.” But that strategy no longer seems to be working....




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