Source: (2010) East Asia. 27: 145-164.

War reconciliation and cultures of memory themes continue to receive high attention but despite the long list of newly released books praising Germany which has been thought to be more prone to experience guilt and from it ensuing war responsibility for its past than the Japanese nation in the aftermath of World War Two, the long shadows of the past are still prevailing in both countries. Even if Germany scores better then Japan from a comparative perspective this does not mean that Germany has internally resolved the problems related to its past once and for all. Yet, the slave labor compensation legislation in Germany which was meant to definitely settle the accounts with the past has shown that lasting war reconciliation is possible. The unwillingness of Japanese Government officials to admit past wrongdoings, to apologize for coerced war prostitution and to refuse to compensate former slave laborers has put Japan on the frontline of international criticism. The claim that Japan as a nation has not learned from history is critically re-assessed against the backdrop of bottom up NGO reconciliation activities and lawmaker efforts to enact legislation aimed at resolving the comfort women issue. In contrast to conventional explanations it is argued that different circumstances, influenced by distinct historical and political factors in each country, resulted in different approaches. In Germany the social protest movements led to the institutional birth of the Green Party. The Greens initiated the reconciliation process for former slave laborers and changed the political landscape from the bottom. In Japan the social protest movements did not succeed to settle as a novel political force. Thoughtlessness, ignorance, conspiracy of silence, “double victimization” stigma, “negative pacifism” and the reluctance to address the war guilt issue prevented a public discussion. It is then sought to answer the question: Why do people repress or deny past wrongdoings despite knowing the facts? It is looked at how consecutive generations in Germany and Japan have coped with guilt and shame feelings in different ways. The article concludes that war reconciliation similar to restorative justice is an ongoing, never-ending process. The emotional part of reconciliation which goes far beyond words of apology, judicial punishment or monetary compensation and does not necessarily lead always to positive outcomes is given particular attention. Ways of civil society bottom-up reconciliation in Germany and Japan are explored. (Author's abstract).