I think most Japanese people think the Pacific War was a folly, in which the military was out of control and must not be repeated . Elder people tell us how hard life was under the war. Shortages of many things, military controlled education, hunger, fear of death. Ex-soldiers experienced pain beyond description. Their stories make us (post-war generations) believe the war is the most horrible act a human-being can participate in or condone.
Let's see the Japanese words we use now whose origins are from the old Japanese military. These words are considered to have a negative image. "Doing something like the old Japanese Army" means a reckless act without scientific and logical thinking. Due to the fact, that the old Japanese Army soldiers were educated by a self-sacrificing mind but with poor weapons and a thoughtless war plan, many of them (about two million) became victims who were killed by not only enemies but also starvation and disease. "Announcement from the old Japanese Army Headquarters" means a censored and untrue official announcement. In the Pacific War era, the Japanese Army Headquarters kept reporting war plan success to citizens. In fact, the Japanese army lost most of the area. These examples show that Japanese people think that the Pacific War was stupid.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Pearl Harbor
Japanese people have special feelings that Japan is the only nation attacked by Atomic bombs. They think A and H-bombs are absolutely evil because they are an indiscriminate use of force and an utterly inhuman killing machine. Japanese people feel a mission to educate the evils of the A & H bombs all over the world. If you don't want to break a friendly relationship with Japanese people, you may not want to talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs as peacemakers. Japanese people cannot accept such thought, without memory of the victims. Personally, I understand that US people have such intellectual thoughts, but I have been shocked to see a scene at the Smithsonian National Air Force Museum. The boy made a V-sign with a smile in front of the plane, Enola Gay. I saw the scene as an innocent boy who made a smile in front of 250,000 victims.
On the other hand, Japanese people feel little pangs of conscience about the Pearl Harbor attack. All Japanese know the attack was a sudden offensive and the US was very angry with that. Contrary for the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think it was an unfair attack intellectually, but I feel that the Japanese don't talk about the unfairness of Pearl Harbor or admit its atrocity.
After the 90s
Maybe you find points in the above sentences. Yes, people tend to talk about their own damage, but not making damage to others. The Japanese Army created tremendous damage to Asian countries. For three decades, some Asian countries made comments that the war (invasion to Asia) part of the Japanese history textbook were inappropriate and insufficient. Like so, it is a controversial subject on how the Japanese government educates students to understand the Asian-attacker-side of Japan.
After the 90s, a movement broke out. It is "The society of making the New History Textbook". They said: The current Japanese history textbooks are over emphasizing Japan's masochistic Asian-attacker side. Therefore, we make a new textbook, which describes Japan's good side as Asian-modernizer and releaser from western countries colonization. The Pacific War was inevitable under US pressure. To know these cases makes students feel proud of Japan.
I think such a movement has relationship to Japan's huge recession through the 90s and some Japanese feel losing their pride. Under such conditions, people tend to want "national pride". In 1999, when a member of this society released a book of Japanese history, the book became a bestseller. But The New Textbook was selected by under 1% of all schools. This case means many people want "national pride" after the 90s but most schools recognize the New Textbook as inappropriate for history education.
I think the Pacific War and Asian-invasion by Japan were an utterly stupid act with a view from a now standard of values.
What way should Japan have gone? I can't reply a proper answer for that question. When I can answer that, I will have evaluated the war appropriately. I need to study the true history.
-How do Japanese think about the Pearl Harbor attack?
-Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?
-The Great Tokyo Air Raid - More Victims than the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb
-Which was the best era in Japan? An interview with my grandparents who were born in the early 20th century