Photo/IllutrationMore than 20,000 people join in the first "boshi yocho"(Punish tyrannical China) national rally held in Tokyo's Shiba park on Sept. 2, 1937. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In the summer of 1937, news of an armed clash between Japan and China at Lugou (Marco Polo) Bridge spread rapidly throughout Japan.

A tanka poem, penned by Michio Hibino, captured a scene in his town that represented an abrupt break from routine: "His barbershop completely empty of customers after the incident/ The Chinese proprietor turns on the radio at the news hour."

The Chinese man's barbershop was a familiar neighborhood fixture. But all of a sudden, news of this "jihen" (incident)--as the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War was referred to initially--caused all patrons to avoid it like the plague.

It appears that in the social climate of that time, the Japanese public felt deeply reluctant about associating with Chinese citizens in their communities.

I wonder how many people today are familiar with the expression "boshi yocho." A slogan adopted by the wartime Japanese government, it means, "Punish tyrannical China."

Precisely because Japan's justification for starting this war was tenuous at best, I imagine the government needed this jingoistic slogan.

The Asahi Shimbun not only went along with it, but also supported it completely.

"Kyoshitsu no Kodomotachi" (Children in the classroom), by Hiroshi Hasegawa, contains this wartime composition written by a schoolboy: "I felt glad that I was not born in evil China. I truly hate China's Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling." (Chiang was the Chinese leader at the time and Soong was his wife.)

Another child recalled the moment he heard of the fall of the capital city of Nanjing on the radio: "I said, 'Serves them right.' My mother also said, 'Serves them right.' "

Denouncing the enemy as an evil nation that deserves punishment, governments and mass media fan the public's hostility, and that hostility fuels the war effort.

That was how it went in our nation during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War that ensued.

Today, can we say with total confidence that such behavior already belongs entirely to the past?

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.