War Guilt and Japanese Apology Culture

Open Access
Brown, Gregory Scott
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jessamyn Reich Abel, Thesis Supervisor
  • Catherine Wanner, Honors Advisor
  • Japan
  • Germany
  • Apology
  • Apology Culture
  • Reparation
  • World War II
Through a comparative study of Japan and Germany I will explain the political and historical factors that contributed to divergent modern day reputations related to the apologetic actions of both states. While the wartime atrocities committed by Japanese and Germans vary greatly in their scale, these two examples will be compared in order to explore the use of apology as a diplomatic tool for reestablishing and improving diplomatic relations. This analysis juxtaposes the postwar apologetic addresses given by official government leaders of each state and the Emperor of Japan, in order to highlight not only the historical truth, but as to uncover the way in which each state sought to atone for war guilt. The juxtaposition will shed light on the effects of apologetic addresses on a nation’s potential acceptance or denial of atrocities. This paper focuses on the post-war period and the efforts made in both Japan and Germany since the war to remedy the past, and the extent to which it was seen as necessary to do so. This will involve a chronological study of reparations and public speeches year by year following the conclusion of World War II. This study will reveal a correlation between the timing of the apologetic addresses since the date of the war and its perceived legitimacy. Rhetoric and speaker will be analyzed, as they are important factors in the perceived sincerity of a diplomatic address. I will find a critical period in which apology is deemed to be no longer effective or acceptable by both the offender and victim. Further focus will be given to so-called radicals within each nation as to show the interaction of official apologetic addresses and expressions of denial. Apologies and remorseful addresses are analyzed based upon rhetoric, context (time, speaker and place) and perceived level of self-contradiction, as well as their reception by a domestic and international audience. While there are individuals in both Japan and Germany who deny wartime atrocities, the Japanese addresses differ significantly with those of the Germans in the aforementioned criteria. I will counter the notion that Japan has not substantially apologized for wartime atrocities and explain why and how an international notion of their insincerity persists. Conclusions are then drawn based upon the similarities and differences of each apologetic address. This thesis concludes with generalizations regarding the effectiveness of international and domestic apologetic addresses throughout time and compares conclusions from the German and Japanese cases with those of other foreign nations urged by the international community to atone, through public addresses, for past war guilt.