This evening, I did the final part of what ended up being a 3-part lesson on holidays with one of my students. The end of the lesson took an unexpected and somewhat unpleasant turn when the student misunderstood the meaning of the word "sentimental".
The lesson is one that I made myself and is meant to give students practice in explaining their own culture. We go through the entire year and the student tells me the holidays and what they're meant to celebrate and how they are celebrated. I also use this as an opportunity to discuss how "holiday" is used to mean "day-off" by the Japanese and those who use British English whereas it means a special day of celebration to most Americans. Additionally, I introduce what a "national holiday" is and have the students tell me which of their holidays are national ones.
At the end of the lesson, I asked my student which holiday she felt the most sentimental about. I figured that she'd choose New Year's Eve or day but she said August 15th because it was the "end of World War II." Since she wasn't even alive during the war (she's in her early 40's), I asked her why it affected her so deeply. She said that, for Japanese people, this was the most deeply affecting date in their history and went on to say the atomic bomb was the worst thing ever in the history of man.
She also said that there are still many people in Japan who suffer physical defects or problems because of the bomb. I expressed some doubt that, after 63 years, this could actually be the case but I can't say I know the long-term genetic effects from exposure to fall-out so long ago. However, I can say that I wouldn't trust Japanese scientists not to exaggerate such claims. Japanese doctors lie all the time and the Japanese government covers up, ignores and misinforms about illnesses as well (as is evidenced by Chisso corporation's feet-dragging on Minamata disease and the government taking 12 years to reach a conclusion about it).
I never raise the topic of World War II with students because the Japanese are taught only about the part which portrays them as victims. They aren't taught about allying themselves with Hitler, the occupation of China, or Pearl Harbor. Essentially, they are taught only to view it from the viewpoint of the harm they suffered and not Japan's instigation of the harm done to them. While my student gave a cursory acknowledgement of this, I could tell that she was only doing so in a pre-emptory attempt at waylaying any arguments she felt I might make.
I don't want to argue this with students because I'm pretty sure that few people from any culture are capable of objectively discussing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In general, you have the revisionists who factor in their current dislike of America when assessing the situation, the Japanese who only see their own suffering, and Americans who give a pat justification. Few people even attempt to put themselves inside the World War II era zeitgeist. This is essential when viewing any event in history and is responsible for some of the most short-sighted conclusions in the study of history. Few consider the political and economic context of the events. Even fewer consider the respective cultures that were involved.
In general, everyone is interested in asserting a personal agenda and a Japanese person and an American are absolutely the worst two people to be talking about World War II. That's the reason I never bring it up and I wished the student hadn't brought it up because, despite the fact that I refrained greatly from arguing, she was visibly upset by the end of the lesson. The only thing I did point out to her was that the Japanese education system didn't teach a complete history (which is true and she said so) and that I felt the main reason the Japanese focused on the bombs as the most integral part of the war was that it signalled their loss whereas the allied powers tend to focus on the events that sparked the war as the integral moments (because this is what dragged them into a horrible war that they didn't want to be a part of).
In the end, I learned that she thought "sentimental" meant something she felt deeply sad about and that was why she gave that answer. She also said she had a former American teacher who seemed to really like to talk about World War II. I assured her that I never discuss it with students because it's too likely to be upsetting. I didn't say that I also feel that one needs to discuss such a topic in one's native language because there is a lot of subtle talk if you want to really have an intelligent discussion and that I think no two people who are together because money is a part of their relationship should discuss such a volatile topic. But, I thought it.