Disturbing Comic BooksBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
We’ve all heard it before. The prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi goes to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to honor and pray for the 2.5 million Japanese who died during the war, including the war criminals. Insulted Korean and Chinese officials condemn the visit, canceling diplomatic engagements and threatening Japan with isolation. Japanese officials have removed references to colonialism and invasion during the war anniversaries as well as references to comfort women from high school textbooks, causing not only mass protests from Korea to Australia but increased anti-Japanese sentiments, like the building of war museums in countries such as China. It’s like a never-ending saga just like relations between Taiwan and China or Cuba and United States, where battles are played out not militarily but symbolically. Antagonistic feelings run high but never cross a certain boundary.
Recently though, something in the New York Times hinted to me that that boundary has started to give way. In an article entitled, ‘Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan’, Norimitsu Onishi wrote about the rise, albeit quietly, of a new set of comic books in Japan.
For the untrained eye, one would have glanced over such books, believing they were just another series in the growing manga phenomena. That would have been true until one came upon the striking title, ‘Hating the Korean Wave’. Inside its pages are statements made by the characters such as, “There is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of.”
In another book, ‘Introduction to China,’ the Chinese are portrayed as cannibals and prostitutes whose principles, thoughts, literature, art, science and institutions were, according to a character in the book, “not attractive.” The books are deliberately hateful, cruel and historically dismissive. On the topic of war atrocities in Nanking, which its characters consider as Chinese fabrications there were insinuations that the infamous Imperial Army’s Unit 731 were “formed to defend the Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.”
Onishi says sales of ‘Hating the Korean Wave’ were astronomical, shocking even the publishers: 360,000 copies sold, apparently making these books bestsellers in the last four months.
It’s disturbing to see such a blatantly offensive book do so well in sales. Such feelings between Japan and their former colony were always there, long before the 20th century but were instigated particularly by recent events such as Korea’s advance during the World Cup 2002 and the “Korean Wave,” which had hit the shores of Japan at full force displacing much of Japanese pop culture in many sectors of Asia. Not surprisingly, its sales seem to reflect the growing envy the Japanese have upon the rise of Korea and China on the world stage.
Now, it’s one thing to defend one’s ideals and institutions from another’s accusations, which is generally what the government of Japan has been doing. But a direct attack – almost hatred – against other nationalities? What is the Japanese government doing about this open display of animosity from a certain segment of its media?
Accordingly to Onishi, nothing. There was little criticism leveled by any public officials, intellectuals or news media on those involved. Amazing!
Well, actually Onishi says there was one comment about the comics by a leading Japanese conservative group who suggested the books expressed issues, “extremely rationally, without losing its balance.” I’m guessing they believe a book in which China is portrayed as the “world’s prostitution power,” accounting for 10 percent of the GDP, all of this without evidence, is completely inoffensive. Again, I’m speechless.
As Filipinos, though we aren’t – yet— the direct target of these discriminatory remarks, we must be keenly aware of these disturbing events to our north. It was exactly these kinds of feelings of superiority to their fellow Asians during the late 19th and early-mid 20th that led the Japanese to their quest for an empire with our lowly archipelago ending up as part of their master plan. And unlike the apologetic Germans who after World War II became vehement advocates of peace (even firmly fighting against Bush during the Iraqi invasion), the Japanese continued to stay in relative isolation, denying much of the atrocities they carried out during World War II, believing the war wasn’t aggression on their part but was purely defensive.
Unfortunately, even with all this going on, the Philippines, like Hong Kong, generally has been mum about commenting on Japan’s hostilities during the war, neglecting to mention even their former invader’s name during their 60th anniversary ceremonies of WWII. This was done for purely economic reasons of course (can’t anger a country that produces our favorite SUV’s: the Montero and 4-runner), but what would it take for us to finally realize the seriousness of this situation?
Military buildups? Invasion? A comic book about us? I hope it doesn’t come to that.
See this article,"Disturbing Comic Books" in Philippine News. Click here.