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David McNeill: Hiroshima history is far from sacred

Tokyo Notebook

During the first fortnight of August as the Tokyo summer gets into its sticky stride, its citizens gear up for a string of painful Second World War anniversaries, climaxing on the 15th – the date the nation surrendered.

Fresh controversy invariably flares over how to remember the conflict: as a shameful stain, or a futile but honourable attempt to resist foreign aggressors.

The true spiritual home of revisionist debate is Yasukuni, a Shinto temple in the heart of Tokyo that enshrines the nation's war dead. For many, it is a monument to Japan's undigested militarism – the shrine is host every year to nationalist speeches praising the war as a glorious episode that helped free Asia from white colonialism. This year, however, the controversy is set to move to Hiroshima.

Rarely have the nationalists dared to make those claims in the city that writer Ian Buruma calls "the centre of Japanese victimhood" – until now. But on Thursday, the 64th anniversary of Hiroshima's incineration by a US nuclear bomb, the former general Toshio Tamogami will break that unspoken rule by giving a speech called, "Casting doubt on the peace of Hiroshima".

Nobody but Tamogami knows what it contains, but it is likely to make headlines around the world: last year he admitted he might have used nuclear weapons against the US had he been a general in 1945.

Tamogami was sacked from his post as Air Self-Defense Force chief last October for saying that Japan was a benevolent imperial power in Asia and was sucked into the war by the US and China. He has since become a hero to the revisionist right, championing their cause that the war was just, and that the West's racism and cruelty climaxed in Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945.

Many are hoping to stop him before he can pick afresh at those wounds. "It's not too late yet," said Naoto Amaki, a former Japanese ambassador to Lebanon over the weekend. "The government, intellectuals, citizens, supporters of the Constitution, proper rightists who love the country, everybody should join hands by going beyond their positions to postpone Mr Tamogami's speech...for the sake of Japan."

The jury's in

The facts in the case appear clear M'lud: two Tokyoites fought for months before one plunged a hunting knife into his 66-year-old neighbour. The defendant, Katsuyoshi Fujii, has admitted the charge.

For the first time in Japan's judicial history, however, citizens, not judges, will decide his sentence. After years of fretful discussion about Japan's lay judge system, the first trial kicks off today at Tokyo District Court. Lawyers have been told to sit up, stop mumbling and use slides to help explain the case to six ordinary folk. Such is the interest in the experiment that state broadcaster NHK will cover the entire four-day proceedings.