Written by Susumu Imaizumi*
Translated by Aki Tanaka**
There must be a reason why a Nagasaki-born student like Susumu Imaizumi feels a strong connection to the African continent, the past and present. In search of answers, he travels, he communicates, he researches, and he writes. This manuscript, developed and published during his recent travels, starts with some stories of his childhood and ancestry that reflect the tragic history of East Asia, which he fears could be repeated on the African continent. Later he calls for general awareness of how the recent change in Japanese law affects not only Japan’s neighboring countries but also his beloved continent, Africa. He believes that the only way to prevent the future suffering and involvement of innocent people is the acceptance of the past and a willingness to understand various standpoints. (This is part one of three: part two and three will be published during the course of the week.) ~A message from the translator
I was born and raised in Nagasaki, Japan, the city that proclaims itself “a city of peace.” I am a third-generation atomic bomb victim as my grandparents were exposed to radiation in the bombing of Nagasaki. My school enthusiastically provided peace education, especially during elementary school. I often experienced trauma from seeing the tragic and dreadful visuals of bombing and war. However, I started to question our peace education in Nagasaki when I learned about the memorial monument for Korean atomic bomb victims, located near the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
Sixty-nine years ago, there was a concentration camp for Chinese and Koreans in Nagasaki. These detainees, along with the Japanese population, were equally exposed to radioactive material from the atomic bomb. Their bodies were burned or blown away altogether. However, because Nagasaki was full of wounded people immediately after the bombing, non-Japanese people did not receive treatment and many died because of this discrimination.
Ethnic Korean residents still remain in Nagasaki and have lived there more or less permanently for a couple of generations. Contact with their family members was lost when the Korean peninsula was divided into North and South Korea in 1945 (Haberman, 1988). Even with Korean residents in Nagasaki, the memorial monument for their ancestors stands almost invisible and has been avoided for years, for two main reasons. Japan has not fully taken responsibility for its history of discrimination, and many ethnic Koreans had difficulty coming forward after the bombing, even for medical benefits. Many of them are still frightened of constant discrimination and prefer to remain assimilated (e.g. Hutchinson & Williams, 2006).
I learned of stories, like this one concerning the memorial monument, from my father, not from school. I know that it is difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to be compassionate and think about others when one’s own body is burning and suffering from all sorts of pain in the wake of an atomic disaster. Many things were done for survival, I am sure, and many cruel acts were probably unavoidable. However, is it permissible to close our eyes to what really happened? In order to learn what peace truly means and imagine what it could actually be in the future, isn’t it mandatory that we face the painful past?
While traveling across various African countries, I had a chance to once again take an objective view of Japan and its history, especially concerning the culture of homogeneity and its relationship with Africa. During approximately nine months, between October 31, 2013 and August 8, 2014, I visited 27 countries, including Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Ethiopia, and Egypt. In my travelogue, Africa Saruku Kikou, I noted down my personal encounters that were historically significant in each country, as well as some matters that I found interestingly relative to my birthplace. Many stories were published in the Nagasaki Newspaper and the Huffington Post.
For example, I wrote in June about how Japan and its people “indirectly” supported a system of racial discrimination in South Africa despite Japan’s positioning itself as anti-apartheid (e.g. Osada, 2002). Japanese traders received privilege as “honorary whites” from the South African government in the 1960s, and by 1987 the trade value statistics in South Africa showed Japan as one of the top traders.
I published another article that unveils the cultural and historical struggles of Boko Haram, the terrorist organization in Nigeria, while I prayed for the more than 200 abducted schoolgirls in April. I wanted readers in Japan to understand, to a certain extent, the reasons behind the terrorists’ actions. In my opinion, engendering a perspective is the only way to find solutions and move forward.
The title Boko Haram in the Arabic and Hausa languages carries the idea that “Western education should be forbidden.” Although the crimes of this group over the years are absolutely unforgivable, I am not totally oblivious to their struggles and cultural settings, due first to the history of my hometown, and second to my background as an Africanist. I often find studying and researching about Africa within the framework of western academia to be very limiting.
Although there is no need of extremism in anti-Western sentiment, I believe that African countries and Japan have similar struggles because their cultures and national achievements are constantly examined by Western values. Moreover, the people learned to examine themselves in relation to Western standards, especially through education. I believe this has led to some sort of identity predicament. In addition, recent political changes in Japan imply the country’s ever more active participation in the Western production of the international structure, unfortunately without much public consent and knowledge.
During my eight-month journey in Africa, the Japanese government passed a Special Secrecy Law under which the government can declare some defense information to be “a special secret” and not be obliged to reveal the contents to the general public or elsewhere (The Japan Times, 2014). In addition, the cabinet approved changes to Japanese pacifist measures, allowing what is now called “the right to collective self-defense.” Prime Minister Abe and the cabinet claim that this change is a “re-interpretation of the country’s constitution to allow its armed forces to help close allies like the United States and Australia, if they come under attack” (Carney, 2014, Para. 1).
When I left Japan for the African continent, I had no idea that my home country would change so drastically before my return. The changes made me feel a sense of incongruity. This out-of-place feeling reminds me of the leading character in the old Japanese tale, “Urashima Tarō,” a story of a young fisherman who lost 300 years of his life when he visited the undersea palace of Ryujin, the dragon guardian of the sea.
This edited article was written by Susumu Imaizumi, primarily for a Japanese audience. It was first published in the Huffington Post in association with the Asahi Shimbun on July 4, 2014, from a reprinted piece of Imaizumi’s personal blog and travelogue, Africa Saruku Kikou.
*Susumu Imaizumi is a columnist for the Nagasaki Newspaper and a student at Osaka University School of Foreign Studies. He is majoring in African History and Swahili. His present research is on African slavery in Nagasaki, Japan, during the Edo Period (1603-1868).
**Aki Tanaka is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Ohio University. She has a master’s degree in African Studies, focusing on anthropology.
Axelrod, A. (2007). Encyclopedia of World War II, Volume 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc.
Carney, M., et al. (2014, July 1). Japan’s cabinet approves changes to its pacifist constitution allowing for ‘collective self-defense’. Australia Network News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-01/an-japan-constitution/5564098
Haberman, C. (1988, April 29). Hapchon Journal; A different Hiroshima story: The bitter Koreans. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/29/world/hapchon-journal-a-different-hiroshima-story-the-bitter-koreans.html
Hutchinson, R., & Williams, M. Representing the Other in Modern Japanese Literature: A Critical Approach. NY: Routledge.
Imaizumi, S. (2014, July 4). Nagasaki-to-Africa-kara-kangaeru-shyudanteki-jieiken [Rethinking the Japanese government’s newly adopted “right to collective self-defense” the perspectives from Nagasaki and Africa]. The Huffington Post: In Association with the Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/susumu-imaizumi/nagasaki-africa-self-defense_b_5557489.html
Osada, M. (2002). Sanctions and Honorary Whites: Diplomatic Policies and Economic Realities in Relations between Japan and South Africa. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport, CT.
The Japan Times. (2014, July 17). Japan outlines rules on using secrecy law. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/07/17/national/japan-outlines-rules-on-state-secrets-before-info-law-takes-effect/#.U-7bnMVdWSp
 My other article features a history textbook used in Angolan educational system, which characterizes Angolan national history after independence in 1975. I describe my fascination with the fact that schools in Angola teach art history within the framework of African history, not world history or the history of the West (which is unfortunately the case in many other countries). I wrote in July about the music of the Tswana people in Botswana and how it deeply interrelates with their dance forms and theatre. There is no single hero or heroine in their arrangements. My colleagues and I became fully part of the Tswana people through the vivid presentations of their livelihood.