While the Japanese government, under pressure from the Bush administration, continues to step up militarization and threaten other nations in the region, Japanese people have increasingly taken the stage to express a desire for peaceful relations with their neighbors.

Honda Tatsutaro, a former Japanese soldier who fought in the war against China in the 1930s, recently toured China to apologize for atrocities that he had been forced to commit during the war.

After kneeling on China’s famous Marco Polo Bridge, Tatsutaro told the Chinese People’s Daily, “During Japan’s war of aggression against China, I committed crimes against the Chinese. For the past 60 years I have been suffering from a strong uneasiness caused by a sense of guilt. Kneeling down, in that sense, is the best way to express my feeling.”

Tatsutaro noted the Chinese willingness to forgive, saying, “When I told them the fact that I have killed Chinese prisoners of war, they graciously accepted my apology.”

The people of each nation should “put themselves in the other party’s shoes,” and trust and understanding between the youth of the two countries would guarantee a peaceful future, Tatsutaro said.

Another former Japanese soldier, Shima Antan, expressed his regret by donating a painting to a Chinese museum commemorating the resistance of the Chinese people to Japanese militarism. His painting, which depicts the atrocities known as the Rape of Nanjing, was begun in 1975 and drew threats from right-wing elements in Japan.

After the Japanese defeat, Antan spent years in Soviet and Chinese labor and detention camps. “I should have been executed,” he told the People’s Daily, “but they sent me back. From that day forward, I decided to atone for my sin. … I want to warn those who are leading [Japan] down the same road to stop and think.”

Japanese Prime Minister Juinichi Koizumi, despite widespread protests, has repeatedly visited the Yakasuni Shrine, which honors 14 Japanese Class-A war criminals who played major roles in Japan’s aggression against China.

In a recent poll in the mainstream Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, 48 percent of those who responded said they disapproved of Koizumi’s hostile stance on China, and only 35 percent agreed with it. Further, 49 percent said he should stop visiting the shrine, compared with 39 percent who said he should continue.