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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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New Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Emblem Causes Controversy

Bitter memories

(Photo : JGSDF) New emblem of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

The new, more warrior-like emblem of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) meant to typify the spirit of Japan's "proactive pacifism" is instead being linked by critics to the terror inflicted by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in World War II.

At the center of this controversy is an unsheathed "katana," the iconic Japanese sword used only by samurai, crossed with its "saya" or scabbard at the center of the new emblem.

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Rising above the katana and its saya is the red sun long a symbol of Japan. Below is a golden cherry blossom, the traditional symbol of the JGSDF.

The emblem was made public last May. The government said the new emblem is meant to symbolize the "proactive pacifism" advocated by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said the JGSDF.

Critics of the new emblem, however, argue the unsheathed katana is insensitive to Japan's Asian neighbors invaded by the IJA in the Pacific War. The katana, which was only wielded by officers of the IJA, is linked by many older Asians to Japanese brutality.

It was used to behead or hack to death tens of thousands of persons during the war, including captured enemy soldiers and innocent civilians alike.

Some concerned Japanese have begun petitions demanding the emblem be removed because it will trigger major opposition in Japan and abroad. A petition to change the emblem on the online site change.org has seen 22,000 signatures since June.

"A military sword is a symbol that will conjure up images of the plunder and threats carried out by the Imperial Japanese Army," said Yoko Shinohara, leader of a citizens group based in Tokigawa, Saitama Prefecture. "I do not believe it is appropriate as an emblem of the SDF."

In its defense, the JGSDF said the sword was included because it is a traditional Japanese symbol of the warrior.

"The emblems of the armies of foreign nations often use guns and bayonets," said a JGSDF officer. "We thought it would be appropriate for the GSDF from the standpoint of displaying a sense of Japanese-ness."

The emblem will be included on medals and plaques the JGSDF exchanges with the militaries of other nations when the GSDF is engaged in United Nations peacekeeping operations or joint international exercises.

JGSDF is the de facto ground army of Japan. It has a strength of some 150,000 active personnel grouped into five armies. 

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