The Nazi symbols that are still present (and cause a stir) in Japan

Just opened, the Unfair bar has closed its doors in the trendy Minami area of ​​Osaka, Japan.

“We sincerely apologize for the lack of knowledge and awareness,” Host x Host, the company responsible for the nightclub, said in a statement published on October 11.

“We have caused the discomfort of many people. We will take into account the comments and we will work so that this type of thing does not happen again,” added the text.

With “this type of thing”, the document refers to the fact that the new bar chose the nazi swastika like logo (printed even on the bottles) and to adorn the military-style uniforms that serve as official attire for the club’s male staff.

“Ignorance and stupidity”wrote on Twitter the filmmaker Miki Dezaki, director of the documentary Shusenjo (2018), which addresses the history of “women of withground, as the sex slaves recruited by the Japanese military during World War II (1939-1945) are known.

After an avalanche of criticism on the internet, the club’s administrators closed the official website and published their apologies.

According to the anthropologist Aleksandra Jaworowicz-Zimny, a doctor from the University of Hokkaido (Japan) and current professor at the Nicolaus Copernicus University (in his native Poland), the presence of Nazi symbols in the Asian archipelago today is due more to a “lack of historical sensitivity” than to an ideological or political alignment.

Cosplay or Nazi role play

“Many Japanese know that the Nazis committed war crimes, butits knowledge is limited. Visually, they recognize the black uniforms of the SS [Schutzstaffel, la organización militar nazi], especially with the red armband, but not all Wehrmacht uniforms [las fuerzas armadas alemanas bajo el mando de Adolf Hitler] they are an alarm signal for them “, explains the Pole.

Author of a study on the cosplay Nazi, which refers to wearing Third Reich-related garb and imitation of period poses for public performances at festivals such as Japan’s Comic Market, Jaworowicz-Zimny ​​believes that followers of this trend does not even reach 50.

Although it clarifies that it is difficult to specify the scope of the phenomenon.

According to her, it is as if the historical burden of Nazism is beyond the range of identification of the Japanese.

“Japanese society does not have the Holocaust Recorded in their collective memory like Europeans and Americans. He does not have grandparents who were tortured or murdered by the Nazis, or monuments that commemorate Nazi crimes in each city, “he details.

Thus, the history of Nazism is much more distant from them, than they know only from books and pop culture, with films such as Hollywood. Inglourious Bastards (“Inglorious bastards” or “Inglorious bastards”, 2009) or games like Wolfenstein.

“If the historical context is not taken into account, the image is seen as mere aesthetics by many Japanese “, insists the anthropologist, who cannot imagine the opening of a pub with icons of this type in Poland, a country that was occupied by the Nazis and where one of the greatest symbols of the Holocaust was installed, the concentration camp from Auschwitz.

From Halloween to “My Fight”

It is not the first time that Nazi symbols have been identified (and vehemently criticized) in Japan.

On Halloween 2016, for example, the pop group Keyakizaka46 took the stage of a concert in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, with black capes similar to those of the SS authorities.

The record company Sony Music apologized and, like the Osaka bar, claimed “lack of knowledge” to justify the incident.

Jaworowicz-Zimny ​​sees the episode as an example of the trend nazi chic, and not exactly from cosplay.

It is a broader and more present phenomenon not only in Japan, and it consists of the use of the image for its aesthetic appeal or capacity to scandalize, rather than for its sympathy with Nazi ideology or the imitation of gestures of the time. like the salute with the raised arm.

In Japan, historian Takumi Sato of Kyoto University also identifies a subculture called cul nazi, which refers to the consumption of images related to the Nazi ideology in the postwar period.

But there are different representations of the German military in Japan, according to academic Matthew Penney in the study “Rising Sun, Iron Cross,” published by the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo.

This includes from the idealization of Nazi figures as noble heroes in certain manga to more complex perspectives, such as that of the series Adolf by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), featuring three men during World War II: Adolf Kamil, son of Jews; Adolf Kauffmann, son of a Nazi with a Japanese; and Adolf Hitler.

In 2008, the manifesto My fight(“My struggle”), written by Hitler, was adapted into the manga. In 2017, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe authorized the use of the autobiography in Japanese schools.

Most recently, in 2019, the anime Attack the titansit became the target of criticism for allegedly containing imperialist and fascist messages.

In 2021, it was the turn of Tokyo Revengers, an anime released from the manga by Ken Wakui, which features the Buddhist swastika manji as a symbol of the youth band that stars in the series.

An example of the “Nazi chic” trend.

What to remember

Smaller It is not a Nazi symbol. It is the icon to point out the Buddhist temples on the maps of Japan where there are more than 45 million adherents and 75,000 temples, shrines and other Buddhist organizations.

Temple of Buddhist Asakusa Kannon en Tokyo
Temple of Buddhist Asakusa Kannon, en Tokyo

However, outside of Japan, the swastika became synonymous with fascism after anti-Semitic nationalists appropriated it to spread the idea among Germans that they belonged to an ancient, Aryan, and higher lineage; the specific emblem of the Third Reich is the black swastika within a white circle and with a red background.

In Germany, the symbol was banned after the war.

Symbols, after all, have a history

“In Europe there are young people who carry the flag of the rising sun as an expression of interest in Japan. In China or Korea, the brand is recognized as a symbol of Japanese imperialism. It is possible that Europeans do not associate the image and do not realize how controversial its use is, “acknowledges the anthropologist Jaworowicz-Zimny.

In 2020, as Japan prepared to host the Olympic Games (postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic), South Korean activists and politicians lobbied for the host of the games not to exhibit the flag of the rising sun, similar to the national flag but with red rays.

A man holds the Rising Sun flag among others wearing Imperial Army and Navy uniforms during an event on August 15, 2020 in Tokyo to mark the 75th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

In the 19th century it was used in Japan’s imperialist incursion by occupying China and Korea, and in World War II it became a standard for the Navy.

“A solid historical education including stories from other parts of the world is key to educating and raising awareness about the war memories of others, and both the media and universities have a lot of work to do in this area, not only in Japan “, reflects the Polish researcher .

“There are those who prefer to remember certain moments in history and forget others”, says historian Mario Marcello Neto, author of the article “Between the atomic bomb and war crimes: denialism and Japanese historiography in perspective” and of the thesis “The brightness of a thousand suns: history, memory and forgetfulness of the atomic bomb in the United States and Japan”, presented at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil.

What you want to forget

“What happens is that many times they prefer not to talk about war crimes, as if it were a hornet’s nest that nobody wants to touch. It is still a taboo subject, “he says.

According to Neto, a member of the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory in Entertainment and Media at the Federal University of Pelotas, in Brazil, over time Japanese historiography has less emphasized Japan’s alignment with the Nazis and has emphasized the memory of the archipelago. as a target of the atomic bomb dropped by the United States.

Under this argument, minimize the memory of war crimes (the Nanking massacre, the cannibalism of the troops, forced labor, torture, among others) would allow a certain tolerance with authoritarian ideas and images until today.

Neto cites examples of this tolerance, such as the founding of a neo-Nazi party by Kazunari Yamada in 1982, and the Yasukuni Jinja, a temple that today receives visitors interested in the monument to Hideki Tojo, Japanese prime minister at the time. of the war, and others remembered as “martyrs unjustly accused by the allies”: France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the USSR.

“Obviously there are exceptions, but generally speaking, in Japan there was much more persecution of the student and communist movements than an in-depth critique of what was fascism and World War II. With the amnesty, the Japanese empire never responded, nor recognized what it did, “he says.

The archipelago has already had famous discussions about the teaching of the history of the Second World War, such as those carried out by Sabur? Ienaga, the historian censored in the 1950s for publishing books with a critical analysis of the country’s role in the conflict.

Or by Fujioka Nobukatsu, an author who openly defended the elimination of accounts of crimes committed in textbooks and who favored a “positive” image of Japan.

“You can only understand how it is possible that a Nazi-style bar will open in 2021 in the face of this historical context. It is extremely symbolic of oblivion.”


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