Wartime memories still haunt East Asia

This week, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II led to reflection in the international press about Japan’s past and its role in the modern world. The words of prime minister were closely scrutinised. Japan’s spending power was emphasised by another multi-billion dollar takeover, this time in the insurance industry.  And Toyota intrigued the world by showing off a skateboard that flies like a hovercraft.

Should Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologise for Japan’s “aggression” in WWII? That’s been the focus of intense debate in the media, with the Financial Times producing an excellent analysis of how the war in Asia continues to shape the relationship between Japan, China and the Koreas.

Critics say Japan has found it difficult to clearly distance itself from its wartime past.  After the war, Japan’s charter banned it from holding the capacity for military aggression. The media has been questioning whether that promise was broken when Japan’s lower house of Parliament recently passed legislation that will allow it to send soldiers on combat missions overseas for the first time since the war.  The New York Times points out that while it was the United States that imposed the pacifist constitution in the first place, America has urged Japan to take on a more muscular military role.

Japan’s economic muscle was displayed with the takeover of the American life insurance company Symetra by Sumitomo for nearly four billion dollars, one of several huge deals by Japanese insurance companies in America this year.  Tokio Marine Holdings and Dai-ichi Life Insurance have also spent billions. It is not just Japanese companies that have been spending lavishly: so has the government, encouraged by Mr Abe’s plan to stimulate economic growth. That comes at a price: the government’s debt hit a record high of ¥1.057 quadrillion at the end of June, up by some ¥3.87 trillion from the end of March, according to the Finance Ministry.

Finally, an amazing skate board that can fly through the air without wheels like a hovercraft was revealed by Lexus.  Millions of people watched the video and shared it with friends. Lexus’ owner Toyota does not plan to manufacture the hoverboard and sell it commercially and the prototype only works on special tracks. Nevertheless, it was a delightful image of innovation by Japan’s biggest company in a week when much of the media were examining the country’s troubled past.