Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso's remarks regarding how the Nazis circumvented Germany's Weimar Constitution did not really attract much attention in the domestic news until the foreign media picked up on the story. One of the most vocal reactions was to come from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which bluntly asked Aso, "Which 'techniques' of the Nazis can we learn from?"
The Wiesenthal Center, reports Tokyo Shimbun (Aug 3), represents 400,000 member families with branches in Vienna, New York, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, Paris, Buenos Aires and Jerusalem. It's something of an old hand at contending with Japanese politicians, publishers and even rock groups over issues regarded as being either anti-semitic or offensive to Jews.
The most celebrated of these was a 10-page article in the February 1995 issue of Marco Polo, a glossy monthly magazine published by Bungei Shunju, which cast skepticism on the veracity of the Holocaust, claiming "There were no Nazi gas chambers." Condemning the story as "Akin to publicly claiming no atomic bomb was ever dropped on Hiroshima," the center called on foreign and Japanese companies to pull their advertisements from the magazine. They complied, and within one week, the harried publisher recalled all unsold copies and announced it would suspend publication. At a news conference, Bungei Shunju's president apologized for the magazine's failure to "accept the historical facts."
Before the Aso flap, the Wiesenthal Center has had other confrontations with Japanese politicians. In 2001, it criticized former Education Minister Atsuko Toyama for downplaying Japan's wartime military aggression in high school textbooks. The following year it lambasted a remark by former senior vice minister for Health, Labor and Welfare Yoshio Kimura, who in a speech warned his audience against "self-serving, money-grubbing ghouls like Jews who were targeting the health care market." Kimura retracted his remarks following the protest.
In 2005, the Wiesenthal Center requested convenience store chains to refrain from sales of a "mook" (book in magazine-style format) titled "How to Get Rich by Following the Teachings of Successful Jews," claiming that such lowbrow works were likely to "impart stereotypical views of Jews among young Japanese."
The Wiesenthal Center has been particularly sensitive about Nazism, including commercial uses of Nazi imagery. In 2010, it appealed to the Don Quixote discount store chain to halt sales of a party costume resembling a Nazi SS uniform, complete with a swastika armband. (The chain complied.)
The same year, it also protested to Unilever regarding an ad campaign for Pond's cosmetic cream featuring models clad in SS regalia -- complete with a "Totenkopf" (death's head) badge used by the SS. And in 2011, it protested the rock group Kishidan, which recorded a music video while dressed in Nazi uniforms. The group's agency subsequently issued an apology and announced their SS get-up had been discarded.
Keio University Professor Isao Hada, one of Japan's top scholars of Jewish affairs, noted that Jewish history is generally mixed in with general world history, so that with the exception of those who opt for it as an elective subject, Japanese beyond high school have no opportunity to study the topic. This, he said, is why the Japanese view of Jews is "incorrect."
As for Aso, "He said the one thing that he should not have said," remarked Hada, who added, "Whatever Aso's true intention, the fact remains that he actually said it. So it deserves criticism."
Akira Kogishi, professor emeritus of German Literature at Kyoto University, remarked angrily, "Much to the shame of Japanese, the kind of comment like Aso's would never have been made by someone who was even slightly familiar with Jewish history. In the same way Japanese were hit by the atomic bombs, the Jews, from Hitler's becoming chancellor in 1933, were engulfed in a terrible catastrophe that led to mass murder at places like Auschwitz. This is not a problem that should be left solely for the likes of Mr Aso to comment about; all Japanese need to take another look at Jewish history."© Japan Today