What If

Jonathan Dresner, our most active member here at Frog in a Well has an interesting posting at Cliopatria on the 1000 top OCLC library books by purchase. Dresner looks at the placing of history books in general, and has this to say about Japan related (or at least sounding like they are) books:

Only one Japanese author made the list, “Murasaki Shikibu” for Tale of Genji (#668); but Japan was also the subject of Sullivan and Gilbert’s Mikado (#878), Hersey’s Hiroshima (#333) and Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (#883) (no, it isn’t, I know that).

I haven’t gone through the whole list myself so I can’t say whether there are other entries, but if so, what do we think about this?

For those of us who study Japanese history or the region in general, what 4 books which are set in Japan, are on Japan or about the region might we wish had made the list? Almost all the candidates that immediately come to mind which had a big impact on my own interest in Japan I have since come to feel might be problematic or are too academic to be interesting to the average library patron. I will say, however, that Hersey’s Hiroshima left a profound imprint on me and I’m fairly comfortable with its inclusion.

Faith and Foreign Policy

There is lots of talk about the importance of faith and the use of religious or crusader vocabulary in the US president’s justification of his foreign policy. While reading Louise Young’s Japan’s Total Empire I came across a rather unexpected parallel to this in 1932, when the Japanese delegate to the League of Nations, Matsuoka Yôsuke responded to the Lytton Commission’s report on the Manchurian Incident.

…Humanity crucified Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago. And today? Can any of you assure me that the so-called world opinion can make no mistake? We Japanese feel that we are now put on trial. Some of the people in Europe and America may wish even to crucify Japan in the twentieth century. Gentlemen, Japan stands ready to be crucified! But we do believe, and firmly believe, that in a very few years, world opinion will be changed and that we also shall be understood by the world as Jesus of Nazareth was.1

1. Found in Young p. 154. Original apparently from Japanese Delegation to the League of Nations. The Manchurian Question: Japan’s Case in the Sino-Japanese Dispute as Presented before the League of Nations. Geneva: League of Nations, 1933. p. 166.

A New Constitution for Japan?

I love constitutions. They’re great texts for teaching, they are fantastic touchstones for discussion and, of course, they are crucial to the definition of sovereignty, rights and government function. The first thing I did with the first scanner we ever bought was to scan and OCR the text of the Meiji and 1947 constitutions, (and submit them to Project Gutenberg, here and here) and the only upper-level undergraduate seminar I’ve ever had the chance to teach was about the 1947 constitution.

So I take it pretty seriously when Japanese politicians begin talking about altering the Japanese constitution. Not Article 9, the renunciation of war now honored almost entirely in the breach, but about the fundamental document itself. Yakushiji Katsuyuki, in Sekai [via the Saaler translation in Japan Focus] suggests that the LDP is moving towards a dramatic and fundamental revision of the Japanese constitution.

I think he overstates the role of the Koizumi government specifically; these changes have been in the air since Nakasone, who made fundamental shifts towards international engagement and power-flexing, and cultural conservativism, as part of the Reagan Coalition of the 1980s. I don’t think the LDP has been as adrift as the economy, in other words. But the “Planning Document” he describes is quite dramatic, an open rejection of the US-authored 1947 constitution.

In particular, Yakushiji points at the statism of the revision, and quotes from the document:

Until now, discussions about the Constitution have conspicuously and exclusively emphasized the desire of citizens to limit state power. In the future, when we turn to revising the Constitution, any revisions should not focus solely on limiting the power of the state, but should rather set out the respective responsibilities of the public and private [spheres], in order to protect and enhance both the interests of the people and the national interest (kokueki). It is important to appreciate the significance [of the Constitution] as a set of rules defining the roles of both the state and the people in creating a common society (kyosei shakai).

This strikes me as a remarkable shift, from minshushugi [democracy; popular sovereignty] even beyond a Yoshino Sakuzō-style minponshugi [government based on the views and good of the people], towards or beyond Minobe Tatsukichi-esque “organ theory” [people are one “organ” of the nation, essential but not sovereign]. Both of these represent liberal views within the context of pre-WWII Japan, rejected by the Imperialist politics of the 1930s, but only Yoshino’s approaches our modern understanding of democracy. There are even shades of kokutai thinking in the draft document which calls for a new constitution

based on healthy common sense, embodying features such as the values peculiar to our country (i.e. our national character [kunigara]) and the morality the Japanese originally followed — values which are rooted in [our] history, tradition and culture, but which have been forgotten during the period in which the present Constitution has been enacted and during the occupation by SCAP.

Some of the “peculiar” values which need to be written back into the constitution are inequality of the sexes, reestablishment of state-sponsored religion, and open embrace of military power. Yakushiji does not cite anything with regard to the role of the Emperor, or dramatic revision to the form of government.

Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Diet, followed by a simple majority of a national referendum. There is precedent for that process to be not just a clause-by-clause change but a full-text replacement: that’s how the current constitution replaced the Meiji constitution. So it is entirely possible for the LDP to envision a truly radical revision of the constitution, in theory. As Yakushiji points out, it’s highly unlikely that any revision would be just as described, but it’s also worth noting when the leading party sets out a radical agenda.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

Iris Chang’s Death

Iris Chang is dead, apparently by her own hand as a result of depression. Her work on the Nanjing Massacre brought her fame and attention, of all kinds. She was reviled by some, respected and loved by others. Though her approach to sources and numbers has been criticized (I think attempts to maximize or minimize atrocities numerically is reductionistic at best, more polemical than historical), her work drew attention to Japanese wartime atrocities in a way which previous scholarship had not and which was, in my opinion, largely positive. She was clearly an energetic researcher and writer, she was willing and able to engage the public through her writing and her public appearances, and was a positive force for History, Asian Studies, scholarship in general. [Note: Second thoughts here]

Her work in The Rape of Nanking has been criticized for being polemical, one-sided, shoddy. In fact, that’s more or less a consensus among even American historians who work on Nanjing-related issues. As this article by David Askew makes clear, Chang’s position is more or less the same as the “mythical” position taken by Chinese sources. (Warning to fellow historians: Askew’s article is extremely good historiographical writing, the kind that is hard to stop reading after you start. It’s long, but it’s a great ride.) Chang, however, found some incredibly rich documents never before studied by any historian or journalist, for which alone she gets the historian’s silver star with clusters.

You can judge a person by their adversaries, some say. I was pretty neutral on Chang’s work when it came out — The title seemed overwrought, and the reporting certainly was, and the massacre itself wasn’t really news to me as an historian, though I’m always pleased…. ok, usually pleased, to have Japanese history featured, and gritty wartime studies aren’t my thing, mostly — until I got a mailing (I think the whole AAS membership did, actually) from the other side. It was translated excerpts from a Japanese historian named Tanaka Masaaki, one of the hardest of what Askew calls the “Illusion School” of “myth-making” massacre deniers. It was a study in holocaust denial techniques: highly selective use of evidence, narrow definitions of terms, distortion of contradictory evidence and ad hominem attacks. It was chilling, and when combined with the consistent use of minimizing language in Japanese textbooks, it led me to believe that…. well, that the discussion isn’t over.

[crossposted at Cliopatria]

Farewell, Soseki

I’m going to miss Natsume Soseki. I know, he’s been dead for a long time (are there any plans in the works for centennial editions or celebrations, because the hundredth anniversary of his greatest works, as well as his death, are coming up), and I’m not going to stop referencing or using his writings in my modern history classes. But one of the things I could always tell my students, if they doubted the importance of this particular novelist, is that he was featured on the ¥1000 note. No longer.

He’s being replaced by Noguchi Hideyo, discoverer of the syphilis bacterium. This is a good choice, I suppose: promotion of science and all that. Looking for images for currency, I stumbled across this article on photocatalytic substances and their use in evironmental rejuvenation and eco-friendly construction, and this article on natto-based water-absorbing resins. I spent two summers translating and cataloging Japanese technical writing, so I’m used to a certain overstatement in these kinds of articles, but there’s something very, very intriguing about the work being done here. It’s something of a truism among environmental activists that environmentally-friendly technology is its own economic reward, reducing costs and stimulating demand, but it can be hard to find really good examples when everyone points at the solar cells and says “why aren’t they cheaper yet”? I think Japan’s long-term economic importance in the world will be sustained by such technological creativity — melding scientific and economic and social innovation — and that’s worth noting. It’s also worth noting that he did the work that made him famous in the United States

Inazo, the educator and writer who worked so hard to introduce Japanese culture to the world in the early 20th century, is losing his place on the ¥5000, as well. I have more mixed feelings about that: though Nitobe is described in Hunter’s Concise Dictionary as “a strong opponent of militarism and nationalism.. an internationalist, Christian and liberal,” my strongest association with him is the cultural essentialism which he promoted through books like Bushidō: the Soul of Japan. That is a strain of Japanese culture commentary which provided great support to the militarists and nationalists over the course of the 20th century, and which still plagues us today in a variety of forms (including overwrought undergraduate essays on the samurai, which I’m plowing through now).

Nitobe is being replaced by Higuchi Ichiyo, about whom I know almost nothing. I’ll admit it: the woman being described as one of the first and most important feminist novelists in Meiji Japan I know nothing about. I know some of the work of Enchi Fumiko and Ariyoshi Sawako and Tawara Machi…. but not Higuchi. I guess I’ve got some reading to do. Still, she is the first modern woman to appear on Japan’s currency, and it’s nice to see a novelist still holding a place, though the ¥5000 is something of a ghetto in terms of daily use.

The reverse of the bills is changing as well: you can see them here. Mt. Fuji is moving from the ¥5000 to the ¥1000, and picking up some cherry blossoms. The cranes (I liked the cranes) are not moving the other way, though: the ¥5000 now features “Kakitsubata, or rabbit-ear irises, drawn by Korin Ogata.”

The ¥10000 bill will retain Fukuzawa Yukichi, which makes me very happy, though it will also be modified slightly to include the anti-forgery features of the other new bills.

And in a sign of how long I’ve been out of Japan, I hadn’t realized that they introduced a ¥2000 bill in 2000, featuring the Tale of Genji and its author “Murasaki Shikibu.” I do remember the phase-out of the ¥500 bill, and I still think that the transition to a coin for that denomination is a model of what the US government should do with its $1 and $5 paper denominations. Even I’ve mostly given up on the Sacajawea dollar, but that’s partly because I’m on an island where it’s harder to get them, but the cost savings in shifting to coinage would be considerable.

Back Online

After some four days of not knowing if anything would be restored, I’m happy to say Froginawell.net, which has been down since the morning of November 1st, is now up and running again. I have switched to a new host and hope that I will have better luck, support, and reliability from my new hosting company. My apologies for any inconvenience caused to our readers and my fellow authors.

Why I love classical literature

From Yoshida Kenkō’s Tsurezuregusa, aka Essays in Idleness (Stephen Carter translation in McCullough’s Classical Japanese Prose, p. 416)

Today you had planned to do one thing, but something else comes up and takes the whole day. The person you are waiting for is detained, but someone you hadn’t expected shows up instead. Something you had confidence in goes awry, but something you had no hope for works out. The task you worried over comes off without trouble, but the task you thought would be easy proves to be difficult. As the days go by, what happens bears no resemblance to what you had anticipated. It’s that way for any year; it’s the same for a lifetime.

But just as you start to think that things never turn out as planned, something does and you feel more at a loss than ever. The only way we can be sure of things is to realize the truth: that all is uncertainty.

Ah, there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?

自己紹介: Thomas Ekholm

My name is Thomas Ekholm and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Göteborg (Gothenburg) University, Sweden. I have a masters degree in Japanese and equivalent of a kandidate in history at Lund University, Sweden. Due to the university rules I was not able get a degree in both Japanese and History as they are within the same faculty. At first I planned to study up to Master level in history, but the chance of starting these Ph.D. studies made me change my mind.

My research is centered around the missionaries and tea during late 16th and early 17th century. What I want to find out is political connections (if any) between the Jesuit missionaries and the chanoyusha (which some refer as to tea masters).

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Capital and Water: The Role of Rivers in Tokyo City Planning, 1880s-1940s

One of our weblog’s authors, Roderick Wilson, is giving a talk this Friday in Tokyo at the Modern Japanese History Workshop. Since Rod is one of us, I just want to put in an extra plug for his talk here and wish him the best of luck. Below is the blurb found in the H-Japan posting about his upcoming event:

For many years now, Tokyo has been much maligned for its lack of greenery and waterside spaces. Typically, blame is cast on the influence of industry and a succession of Kafkaesque bureaucrats and city planners during the city s rapid industrialization from the 1890s onward. But, while the city indeed industrialized, society changed, and the environment suffered, Tokyo also remained a city of canals and rivers through the 1950s. And, these waterways teemed with barges, lighters, and rafts–more than twenty thousand of them in 1920–hauling the fuel and food that fed the city s factories and people. Thus, it was because of, rather than in spite of, the interests of industry and commerce that successive generations of city planners both retained and maintained the city s vast network of waterways.

At November’s Modern Japanese History Workshop, I will present my ongoing research about how Tokyo s city planners sought to harness and control the city’s waterways for economic growth. This work is part of a chapter in my larger dissertation project entitled Riverwork: A Social and Environmental History of Tokyo’s Sumida River, 1850s-1950s, where I show how industrialization produced new social and environmental relations along the city s waterways. Moreover, by showing how Tokyo has always been both more and less than the capital city of Japan–a metonymical place for all things national, I use the history of Tokyo and its rivers to show how the city worked as a nexus amidst several layers of cultural, social, and economic networks–local, regional, national, imperial and international. Specifically, in November s presentation, I will use this approach to show how transnational ideas and technologies about urban planning and civil engineering were institutionalized at a national level and applied locally with dramatic consequences for the entire Kanto region.

I hope we can hear more about Rod’s research in the future. You can find directions to the talk in the original announcement.

Halting Speeches

I will continue to post the odd passage I find here and there during my reading that I find particularly memorable. In Andrew Gordon‘s Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan there is an interesting section where he lists phrases from 15 speeches (out of 22 total) made at one rally of the Sôdômei’s Electric and Machine Worker’s Union that were halted by the police who attended. The final phrases show nicely what kinds of words specifically brought action:

1. Capitalists are…[halted]
2. We workers first must destroy…[halted]
3. The only course is to build the road to freedom with our own strength…[halted]
4. We have absolutely no freedom. At dawn I had a dream. I was advancing down the road to freedom carrying a sword, when I fell into a deep crevice. This is a crevice that captures those who speak the truth…[halted]
5. It is just too irrational for members of our own class [i.e., the police] to stand above us and repress us…[halted]
6. As Lenin said, “Those who do not work will not eat…[halted]
7. To discover how, and with what, to destroy this system is our objective…[halted]
8. In order to live we must finally destroy the present system…[halted]
9. Together with all of you, I will devote all my strength to the destruction of everything…[halted]
10. We must destroy capitalism…[halted]
11. In order to live we must attack capitalism at its roots; we must entirely destroy the existing social order…[halted]
12. One after another the speakers have been unjustly halted…[halted]
13. We must struggle against those who oppose us…[halted]
14. For example, a revolution…[halted]
15. The labor movement must move to end the plunder of capitalists…[halted] (136)

The phrases translated from a 1921 report cited in Gordon’s footnotes. Gordon has noted in italics the final words in the original Japanese phrasing of each speech.

Minamata Justice

Japan’s Supreme Court ordered the government to pay compensation to additional victims of one of the most egregious and troubling cases of environmental injustice: Minamata Bay mercury poisoning. The actual pollution happened in the 1950s, and the relationship between environmental mercury and neurological and mutagenic damage was recognized almost immediately. Minamata Bay residents became increasingly organized and radicalized in the 1960s, as the government and the responsible company put off their claims and refused to deal substantively with the issue. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Minamata movement was one of the linchpin issues in the growing environmental movement in Japan, a movement that was blunted by the government’s adoption of rigorous clean-air laws in the mid-70s. But the failure to address Minamata directly led to the filing of a lawsuits for responsibility and compensation in the 1980s. A settlement in the mid-90s failed to address the issue of government responsibility (in an echo of Japan’s ongoing “comfort women” problem) and left out some victims who had not been so designated in an earlier round of bureaucratic management (an echo of Japan’s continuing problem with non-citizen [i.e. Korean forced labor] and late-classified hibakusha [atomic bomb victims]). In typically slow fashion, the case has finally been addressed by the highest court.

In Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens we encounter the Four Horsemen (on motorcycles, real Hell’s Angels) of the Apocalypse: War, Death, Famine and …. well, Plague gave up when vaccinations and sulfa drugs started taking the fun out of disease (and missed out on some real fun), but he was replaced by Pollution, who takes immense pride in the much more pervasive and permanent damage done by heavy inorganics like arsenic and mercury….. Did I mention that it’s a comedy?

This case has gone on so long, that it’s history: Tim George, a gentleman historian and fine scholar, did his Ph.D. dissertation and first book on the Minamata activists. This is not unusual in the Japanese courts: it took almost thirty years for Ienaga’s textbook case to make it through the courts, and the cases involving Tanaka Kakuei were eventually dismissed due to the fact that he had died in the interim. This ruling is interesting, as the justices were quite direct and damning in their statement that the government should have known and should have acted much earlier than it did. I don’t think they’re done prosecuting the Aum Shinri Kyo (Tokyo Subway Gas Attack) cases yet, and that was almost ten years ago now.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

Online Glossary of Japanese Historical Terms

The presentation I attended on the Japan Memory Project which I covered in my last posting also discussed another part of their institute’s online efforts. Wakabayashi Haruko introduced us to their Online Glossary of Japanese Historical Terms which allows researches to search a database of (currently) about 21,000 pre-modern historical terms. The contents of the database itself is made up the glossary entries found in many English language (and later apparently other languages will be included) works on pre-modern Japanese history. For example, if you search for the term 天皇 the glossary will show you how seven different works, including the Cambridge History, have translated and romanized the word.

You can also enter whole passages, perhaps copied and pasted into their search box. However, their search algorithm does a poor job of separating the words as the algorithm is based on modern Japanese rather than classical. Although an audience member was hard on them for this, the truth is that such algorithms for even modern Japanese and Chinese are still full of errors. According to one Chinese language professor I heard present at a recent conference in New York, the careers of many bright programmers are dedicated to solving the difficult question of how to accurately divide words in texts without spacing.

UPDATE: The glossary seems to have moved links. The new home can be accessed via here: Access to the Japanese Historical Terms Glossary and other databases

The Japan Memory Project

Three visiting scholars (Sakakibara Sayoko, Roy Ron, and Wakabayashi Haruko) from the University of Tokyo’s Historiographical Institute gave a talk this week at Harvard about their massive Japan Memory Project. The project consists of a collection of online databases of mostly pre-modern primary sources, including the 『大日本資料』 and 『大日本故文書』as well as many other important collections of historical documents.

Many of these sources have been digitized through the project and their indexes can be searched online. Also, many of the documents, maps and other visual sources can be viewed and downloaded directly from their site, but depending on the database, may only be available to scholars visiting the institute.
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Self Intro: Kim Youngsoo

現在東京大学 総合文化研究科 地域文化研究に所属しています。今年は修士2年目なので、12月までは忙しいと思います。その後本格的に参加しようと思います。

Why did the Mongols Attack Hakata Bay Twice?

I’ve been doing Japanese history for fifteen years, now, and Chinese history for a decade, and I’ve never figured out why the Mongols, after their first attack failed, would make landfall at the exact same spot where they made landfall before and the Japanese had been building fortifications for over half a decade. Didn’t they have any advance intelligence? Was the cross-strait navigation really that difficult that no other option existed? Did the Koreans not care if the Mongols succeeded, and steer them into the waiting Japanese defenders? (OK, I know that’s not terribly likely, as thousands of Koreans were forced into service in the invasions as well.) This has always troubled me. Successive typhoons, the kamikaze, don’t bother me because freak natural occurences are beyond our ken or control. Inexplicably dumb human behavior troubles me.