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July 8th, 2008
Japan's About-Face
Video: Full Episode

Japan’s About-Face is a remarkable window into the shifting role of the military in post-war Japanese society. WIDE ANGLE has acquired unprecedented access to the National Defense Academy, Japan’s “West Point.” We follow Defense Academy cadets preparing for a future that may involve overseas deployment, and meet with a group of peace activists — some of them atom bomb survivors — on a grueling two month, 750-mile protest march from Hiroshima to Tokyo.

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  • Dan

    I knew very little of Japan’s National Defense forces before this episode. I knew about their constitution’s restrictions for the creation and maintaining of an army, but in a changing world, it seems Japan’s efforts to remain a pacifist nation may soon change. Unfortunately, it’s Japan making an “about face” and not other nations.

  • Konrad E. Hayashi, MD, MPH & TM

    I have lived in and, when I was in the US miltary, served on a ship based out of Japan.
    I worry that the full, unvarnished history of Japan’s military involvement may not be taught in the Self Defense Academy.
    When I last toured the excellent exhibits at the Yasukuni Museum of Military History in Tokyo, it was evident that the “Rape of Nanking” was minimized in presentation to “The Nanking Incident”. Other exhibits implied that militarism was responsive to aggressive actions by other countries, many of whom had their own sordid histories of colonialist exploitation – the French, British and Dutch in Indochina, the US in the Philippines, etc.
    It is important that accurate lessons of history be passed on to JSDF classes, as well as the rest of Japan, so the peace-loving Japan of today remain that way.
    K. E. Hayashi, MD, MPH & TM
    Captain (Ret), United States Navy

  • Samuel Gilbert

    The comment from Konrad E. Hayashi about teaching the “true” history to cadets and to the general public are quite interesting.

    I am under the impression that no matter which country does something that is latter frown upon nationally or internationally, that country will try to downplay or modify the official account of what actually happened. Nobody likes to be pointed out as a bad example.

    However, when the actual facts are sufficiently distorted, they can be used to manipulate the opinion of people. It’s gets dangerous when used by extremists.

    On an other note, what actually amazes my is the amount of money that is being spent by countries for military purposes or self defense. I would not be surprised to see that the ratio of military spending over gross domestic product has gone up for many countries in recent years. I find it unfortunate that so much money is spent, for example, to defend the sources of petroleum instead of being invested in research for commercially viable alternative energy sources.

    Although I recognize the need for an efficient structured force that respond quickly in case of disaster and to act as a deterrent, such as the written role of the SDF, I do not like the idea of having more powerful military forces. It’s much more likely that when the powers governing those forces have a conflict, they will send them out into battle.

  • Jenny

    People all over the world are craving for love, truth and peace. But a government tends to elaborate lies and make up stories for a party’s or individual interest and ambitions, so people in each country are isolated from others and may even hate and kill people from other countries they never met. What a sad human history!

    I am always thinking what lies and stories motivated Janpanese soldiers to kill women and babies during WII. Because a normal person can never do that. I doubt there is a way that China and Japan could establish trust when facing such complex history and current situations.

  • Rusty

    Very well done story. I thought it would be interesting to include this link to an article that coincides with the topic of your film. It deals with the last words of General Yamashita Tomoyuki, nicknamed “The Tiger of Malay”. He gave this talk on Japan’s future and Peace one hour and forty minutes before the Allies executed him on December 7th, 1945 for war crimes. He is enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. His last words on a peaceful Japan are very interesting when juxtaposed to this thought provoking film. Here is the link:

  • Robbie

    Interesting look at how far Japan has come since the post-WWII era. The U.S. Army has an interestingn look at the occupation and demilitarization of Japan after WWII at

  • Mark Lopiccola

    Man, how the mighty have fallen… Long gone are the days of the Samurai and forces of Tojo. The Japanese seem to be in a more shamed… disposition… (not sure this is the correct word), than the Germans are. Too bad, for strong allies in the East are hard to come by.

  • Anja FLower

    Mr. Lopiccola, it confuses me that you should mention the samurai and Tojo in the same terms. The samurai class were known historically for being fierce isolationists throughout the more recent years of Japanese history, and became symbols of isolationism and anti-Westernization sentiment during the Westernization period. The samurai were highly trained individual hand-to-hand fighters, and deeply disliked the introduction of a Western-style Japanese military. Tojo, by contrast, was a primary leader of Japanese imperialism – the very opposite of the stance for which the samurai were noted in the era before they were disbanded entirely. As much as he and his compatriots may have professed adherence to bushido, his attitude to military and national issues was so deeply different than that for which the samurai class was known as to be almost opposite. He was leading a completely Western-style army, one in which the individual soldier was essentially disposable and, unless of high rank, was an unknown, unremarkable character in a sea of unknown, unremarkable characters. Japanese soldiers were not trained to for many years to be great, valorous warriors and to meet other great warriors head-to-head; they were pushed through boot camp and sent out to the front with a rifle or machine gun to fight until they died.

    Also, the idea that Tojo and his ilk were mighty heroes, let alone that a strongly militaristic Japan would have somehow ended up allies with the US, is not only silly but ignorant and dangerous. Japan has historically been allies with the US specifically because it was weak, and needed protection. In pushing for Japan to militarize, the US is in the long run pushing for Japan to minimize and eventually end the strong entwinement of the US military in Japan. Were Japan to defend itself with little or no help from us, many of our bases in Japan would end up getting shut down, and our presence in Asia would be significantly diminished. Think, for example, of the threat this would present vis-a-vis North Korea.

    And since when was Tojo some kind of hero? Have you forgotten that he was executed for war crimes? “Mighty” is not the word I would use to describe the Imperial Japanese military during WWII – “barbaric” would be a better fit.

  • Deth

    I don’t like the Japanese change Article 9 of their constitution. I also don’t like that the Japanese have the latest military technology. The SDF should be demilitarized down to sticks and stones. Though they have the right to self-preservation, they do not have to fight with M16 and M60 tanks. Swords are more than enough to defend against anyone, including Muslim extremists.

  • walter ko

    This is a good education program in checking the new generation of Japanese SDF. The Japanese politicians know what they are doing in changing Article 9 of their constitution.

    Why China, Korea, US and Philippines are alarmed by such move?

    Why the monks walk to oppose in this documentary?

    Why Japanese government try hard in defending their role in Comfort Women against US Congressman Mike Honda in his Resolution condemning human right violation?

    Did Japanese Government apologize as Germans did for their war crimes in WW II – killing, raping, burning, bombing, military sex slaves, slave labors, germ/chemical warfare against civilians with survivors still suffering after 60 years, chemical bombs left behind killing people today, military notes, live experiment on American POWs in Manchuria, China?

    How can we trust this economic giant with a chicken heart to shoulder the moral obligation to show remorse with attrition for their WW II crime against humanity?

    Every year, government officials visit Yasukuni Shrine to pay tribute to executed Class A war criminals of Tokyo Trial in an attempt to resurrect militarism. They systemically undercover their aggressive history of WW II by white-washing, distorting and even denying this brutal and barbaric history.

    Can we trust this commonly titled ” Japanese devils” so-called by Chinese victims in WW II to be the next member of United Nations Security Council?

    Will the real Japanese Bushido Samurai please stand up?

    Walter Ko,
    Coordinator, St Louis Alliance for Preserving the Truth of Sino-Japanese War
    Board member, Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition, USA

  • jagarujimbo

    Japan is a cool place. Different as any other culture, but cool nonetheless.

    The staunch attitude in regard to pacifism is ingrained from the defeat from WWII and the subsequent control and influence in military matters from the US. Japan as a soverign nation has the right and duty to defend its citizens and intrests just as any other nation.

    This role has been delegated to and directed by the US since the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan. The country as it is now is not the country as it was. Nevertheless, Japan must deal with the consequences of an agressionist past. PaOther countries do not forget or forgive as easily as Japanese history schoolbooks do.

    It is my opinion that the current generation of Japanese are not so isolationist or xenophobic as those before. Japan is no longer a singular empire but, a player among a great world of players. I beleive that the mojority of Japanese folks realize this (thank you, Internet!)

    Japan deserves to have a reasonable (what does that word ever mean) and deployable military force and it should be willing to deal with all the serious responsabilities and consequences that accompany it. The responsabilities and consequences are great. People with intrest and power are watching. Maybe a little more space to assert one’s self is appropriate here. Or maybe not. Let’s see…

    Just a few thoughts. Nothing here written in stone.

  • mattyP

    Very interesting documentary.

    Ideally, all nations ought to adopt a pacifist constitution outlawing war for ever.

    Realistically, nations must have the right and capability to defend themselves.

    Right now, Japan is dependent on the United States for its defense. No nation ought to be expected to remain in such a vulnerable state.

    It would take a series of very unfortunate turns in events for Japan to become an aggressive military power as they were in the first half of the 20th century. If the world comes to that, you can expect that all assumptions we hold now would be over turned.

  • Joon Soo Kim

    I am a Korean American. And although I know my views may be biased due to the horific past conditions regarding Korea and Japan’s history I would like to express some views that I believe are extremely important. The Japanese men and women who expressed such fear from the encroaching threats from North Korea and China have I believe some legitimate reasons in having this fear. But lets be poignant and showcase the historical facts. If you were to rediscover the history of Korea, you would happen to know that prior to the annexation of Korea in 1910 by the imperialist Japanese government, it had always been a target of Japanese aggression. In fact a war in the end of the 16th century, which was followed by a similar invasion in the 17th century by the Manchurains, led to a historical decline of Korea, which sadly it was never able to recover from. The sheer amount of aggressive acts by Japan’s militaristic forces prior to even the annexation were so pervasive it profoundly affected my nations psyche regarding foreign relations. Korea at the turn of the 20th century was a very backwards nation. It was scientifically and militarily farther behind Japan and China, its two historic neighbors. And still the rulers of Korea’s Joseon dynasty refused to open up the country to foreign trade. In fact this feeling was so obvious that foreigners reffered to Korea as the Hermit Kingdom. The lack of foreign trade, which quite luckily helped Japan on the other hand develop into a militaristic and industrial power by the beginning of the 20th century, led to Korea being exploited by its two more powerful neighbors to the east and west. But who can we blame for the unwillingness of Korea’s monarchs to open up the country to foreign trade? Well the answer should be plain and clear, Japan and China. If people were to look at the history of Korea, which quite obviously is not taught in world History classes, for it had little impact on the course of world affairs, one cannot help but imagine if Korea had not been invaded by foreign armies for much of its ancient history maybe Korea would have welcomed the help of European nations in modernizing its backwards society. So if the citizens of Japan are alarmed at the amount of hatred North Korea has for Japan they should first read the course of Korean-Japanese historical relations before going around with a face full of shock regarding why North Koreans should hate their nation so much. The feeling of anti-Japanese sentiment is not limited to just the northern part of the Korean penninsula, in reality it is not just limited to Korea or even Asia itself. Before even considering changing Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, the people of Japan should first revisit the history of their nation. Just like the cadet from the SDF who spent a year in Korea and was suprised at the disparing differences between the Korean and Japanese versions of history, they should have a desire like the cadet in discovering the truth. And while I may admit some truths might be exaggerated, others such as the treatment of Korean indenpendence fighters at the hands of the Japanese military are so shocking that some individuals might consider them to be bloated but they are in fact the sad reality of history. I urge the Japanese public to be not as apathetic as their past generations. Discover the truth. Discover why certain nations hate what your country has to stand for, especially in regards to your military history. Then maybe the Japanese public and the world can begin to understand the delicacy of East Asian Politics and begin to forge better relations between North/South Korea, Japan, and China. For we all know if a war were to erupt in this region the world as we know it would be gone forever.

  • John

    I like other viewers were unaware of Japan’s constitution. I found this episode informative. I personally feel Japan has a delicate balance with the defense beliefs. It isn’t very appropriate for the United States to be pushing for their constitution to be amended. After all, it is the United States that influenced the change they have today. Because Japan is with peace, they have a more balanced economy. As the episode stated: “The global super power balance is shifting throughout the world”. It is a global arms race once again. No country wants to caught off guard.

  • John

    I also wanted to comment on the hatred most of these posts have against a nation involved in war over 60 years ago. Most people alive today did not live or serve in the time of that war (ww2). It is rather bias to judge a nation by their past crimes rather assuming they are the same nation they were over 60 years ago.

    Not to mention the multiple country’s today that have committed mostly similar horrible acts against other country’s (not mentioned names). How we say ones right and the other is not.

    As for the arming for sake of defense: In the U.S. constitution it is our right to bear arms. Who is to say to us it is not. Every nation has a right to defend it self within reason.

    It is this sort of bias remarks that gives us the reputation we have today. We should be looking beyond the past and into the future.

  • Arya

    Japan like any other nation has a right to defend itself or its interests if threatened.

    I am certain they will move forward with the lessons they have learned in the past, but hope they remember that a civilian controlled military is quite a different beast than a military controlled by an Emporer.

  • elias

    i am International Affairs major in UGA and I am taking East Asian Study. I have read and learn what Article 9 means. But this detail and first hand look made me understand more about the feelings of the controversial subject. Very fine job done to present this documentary in clear and understandable way.

  • Gerald

    This was a very objective documentary that shed light on an issue that hardly gets any play outside of Japan.

    I am a little conflicted on the issue of Japan’s about face. On the one hand, I can clearly understand why some in Japan do not want to leave their defense to foreign nations as this dependence on others clearly undermines their sovereignty. If I were a Japanese citizen, this issue would boil down to 2 words “North Korea”. No truly strong, sovereign nation would tolerate a militarily belligerent nation as their neighbor. Would we tolerate a militarily belligerent Canada, Mexico or Cuba? Of course not. Then why should the Japanese tolerate North Korea?

    On the other hand though, forgetting the lessons of history would be a catastrophic mistake, especially given the new emerging geopolitical reality that faces Japan today. The rise of China and India in the region, and the reemergence of Russia greatly complicate the issue. In this situation a newly minted militaristic Japan (a la 1930s) could light the fuse to the powder keg that already exists in the area as the aforementioned powers vie for dominance of that half of the world.

    In an ideal world, I would like to see a militarily strong Japan whose military is completely subservient to its elected civilian leadership. From my understanding of 1930s Japan, the military was ultimately not controlled by the civilian leadership, and in some ways, actually controlled itself as an entity separate from the civilian govt. A strong Japan is in our strategic interest. It will lessen China’s singular focus on us as they will have to dedicate more of their resources to countering Japan, which will give us more breathing room to focus on achieving our strategic global goals.

  • Charles

    I don’t think Japan’s neighbors, nor I, are comfortable with Japan becoming a normal country (allowed to field a military to defend itself- though she is doing it anyway under an ever larger definition of self defense) without first Japan coming clean with it’s own history of aggression.

    Japan has white-washed, lied, and denied its past war crimes. She has yet to fully accept the pain she has caused her neighbors. Through these denials, Japan instead asks “What’s all the fuss? Grow out of it.”

    In the current state of affairs, the only result of Japan’s About Face on the military is an arms race in Northeast Asia. The South Koreans, never mind the hungry North Koreans, will not stand by as Japan (and China) re-arms.

    It’s in US interest for the Article 9 to stand and let Japan stand down. But then, Bush and Cheny needed allies in our Iraqi adventures so….

  • Dana

    I was just in Hokkaido, Japan in February. I passed a military base with a friend and saw the vehicles they were transporting their soldiers in and i could not believe it. These vehicles are of the WWII era.

    And in reading some of these comments; all nations have committed atrocities during war. No nation can pat itself on the back for being the ‘good guy’. War is war and it’s brutal. It’s that simple. No one plays by the rules even though the rules exist. At least the samurai were noble and dedicated their lives to training to fight and die with honor. Might be a bit glorified but for anyone who has studied martial arts, they would know the life and death situation in combat with a sword or hand to hand. Guns are for wimps.

  • Sourav Basu

    I never knew that Japan’s constitution barred it from having a military. A very informative presentation! Japan and the world have come a long way from the WWII and things are changing. As discussed, there is a shift of power around the globe and it is very true.

    Japan has surely learned from its past ventures and I pray that the SDF is primarily used as a peace-keeping mission throughout the world as envisioned.

  • Michael

    It is true that Japan today is not the Japan 60 years ago and the WW2 generation is dying out. So we should move on and let the Japanese re-arm itself?

    Not so fast.

    Japanese goverment has yet to fully account for the war crimes of Nanjing genocide and obduction of women for millitary prostitution plus many more. The current textbooks formally approved by the goverment does not acknowlege any war crimes. The sitting prime ministers all pay respect at the Shinto shrine where the convicted war criminals are still honored. Imagine if German chancellors did the same at a memoral for Hitler. As a contrast. Germany as a nation has done much more to admit to and atone for the crimes of the past. If the Japanese want to move on then let’s make sure that they properly account for the history first.

    But then again, didn’t the US congress just got around to appologise for slavery this year?

  • Stan Marsh

    I love some of the comments from Americans about teh Japanese rewritting of history in the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and Yamato Museum in Kure :DD

    I believe it was Curtis LeMay that said if America had not won WWII he would be facing trial as a War Criminal.

    “Curtis LeMay, War Criminal or American Hero?”

  • Leo

    Japan is a great place with an amazing culture.

    The people there are respectful as you have seen in the video. Upon arriving in the Army people arent treated as maggots but treated politely, one bows to his superiors or to a person that has more expericen to show his respect.
    This is how Japan as a Nation Works today.

    Japan in it’s Majority will never want to wage war on anyone ever again. They have learned from the mistakes of the past.

    What Really worries me is America that has waged countless small and big wars about superficial reasons with the excuse of Homeland Defence.

    At the moment Japan is Defending their Homeland without the need of going abroad in Foreign Countries to do so. The essence of Defending your land is to do it IN YOUR LAND.
    So i repeat, my Main concern is America. Japanese people are way too polite start a war.

  • Ido

    This so called “alliance” between America and Japan worries me. Will it force someday the Japanese SDF out of their defense purposes and create some kind of scandal over using the SDF as an official armed and offensive force?

    Other than that concern, the idea behind the article 9 is an interesting thing. It’s a nice way to remain neutral while doing what is important to the country to defend itself.

    Has there been any changes to the so-said general law to deploy the SDF at will?

    Pretty in

  • Benny

    I agree with what the previous post by Leo.
    A “Defence” force is needed, there is no doubt about that. America’s “with us , or against us” point of view, to me is sickening. In Australia we have the “Australian Defence Force” on offensive missions side by side with the US. Fabrication and propaganda will always make the majority of Australian’s feel we are doing the right thing to protect our future.
    Power countries just use us as pawns in their “superiority struggles”.in ending, Japan, to me….the most beautiful country in the world, does need to protect it’s self. But by enguaging in other countries wars, it will breed enemys that it would never have had previously.
    Great documentry =)

  • Richard

    Am I the only one who thinks that Aaron Brown does a really bad job? “The joy of this series for us is also the challenge of this series. Not simply good journalism, but good story telling, too. Story-telling that draws you into the journey we take each week. The story of this film takes you on just that sort of a journey. Imagine joining an army that isn’t allowed to call itself an army. Being given a gun you’re not supposed to shoot. That’s Japan. Since its defeat in World War II, Japan’s constitution has prohibited the existence of a military.” Not only is the above quote incorrect (Japan has had a military since 1950), it is also POOR story-telling. Instead of telling us a story, Brown starts bragging about how good of a job this series does in telling a story. We’re supposed to be the judge of that, not Aaron Brown. This long-winded introduction is pointless and distracting, and it’s how he introduces every episode. I miss Daljit Dhaliwal and the episodes that Wide Angle produced then.

  • Gregg

    Here’s an interesting blog about a CIC agent that help capture Tojo

  • Lance

    Any chance this episode will be put on dvd?

  • feltzr

    Some of Wide Angle’s episodes are available on DVD here:

    Lamentably, it does not appear that Japan’s About Face is currently on DVD.

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