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

はじめまして、ヨンスと申します。
皆さんは英語で書かれていますが、私は主に日本語でたまに英語で書くと思います。もし韓国に関することでしたら、韓国語でも書くつもりです。
簡単に自己紹介をします。
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。
個人的な関心は明治期前後においての西洋との接触です。接触がもたらす変化っていうことですね。そういうわけで、横浜に興味を持って、いろいろ調べようとしてます。主に横浜開港資料館で史料を集めています。現在は横浜の衛生について調べているところです。これからは横浜のことだけではなくて、上海などの租借地も含めて研究したいと思っています。
まだいろいろ足りないですが、よろしくお願いします。

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.

Translation Prize and Gatekeeper Issues

A colleague of mine, Prof. Larry Rogers, just won the 2004 Keene Center translation award for his book of translations of modern stories about Tokyo neighborhoods. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment substantively (though I want to look at it as a possible text for next year’s 20th century Japan course), but colleagues who have read it praised it highly, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

I’d almost forgotten such prizes exist, though, and that got me thinking. We live in a world of unprecedented transparency: it’s almost as easy to follow Japanese news in English as in Japanese, for example, and rough machine translation of Western languages is now so commonplace that it’s a free function of Google. I know language skills are still important — the realization three years ago that we had a desperate need for Arabic, Persian, Farsi, and other Central Asian and Middle Eastern languages still hangs over us — and translators (some of my best friends….) still make a pretty good living, apparently.

There are still gatekeepers, and I’m one of them, but it seems like our role is shifting from producing information to interpreting it. I know that it has never been purely one or the other: any really good historical research on Japan is still going to include materials which have never really been addressed in English before (really great historical research includes materials never dealt with in Japanese, either), and the quality of primary source translations is still one of the hallmarks of excellent scholarship. Translation, even paid technical translation, is still a kind of interpretation, and there is always a selective principle involved.

Perhaps what I’m experiencing is the widening of the gate: the gatekeepers still exist — may always exist — but there are many more of us. Our individual authority is greatly diminished by the success of our scholarly predecessors and parallel migrations of people, hobbies, money, goods and services. This is a very good thing: one of the reasons I went into this field was to rectify the paucity of understanding of Japanese history (and contemporary issues, though I’m less interested in those as I’ve become more an historian than a Japan-hand). The job is not done, not by a long, long shot, but the resources available are much richer and denser and higher quality than existed when I started this journey two decades ago.

Think about it: Columbia University has an academic unit named after one of the great translators and interpreters of Japan, a pioneer in the field but someone who is still publishing. The award this year went to a scholar from a fourth-tier school (my own, thank you very much), when thirty years ago fourth-tier schools hardly had Asianists, much less really good Japanese literary scholars. That reminds me of a talk I heard over the summer by AAS President Mary Elizabeth Berry:

Berry’s talk was not the traditional AAS President’s address, erudite and scholarly. It was a rallying cry for Asian studies scholars to envision an academy in which Asian studies faculty’s share of the total resources was roughly proportional to the scale and importance of Asia in the world. She drew stark contrasts with European (particularly French and British) studies, but was careful to point out that we should try to avoid making it a fight over shrinking resources, but a redirection and expansion of the curriculum in more meaningful directions. We have, she argued, gone from nearly nothing to our present state — kind of marginal, but at least represented — in three decades or so, and we should consider the next stage — transition to properly proportional representation — a multi-decade process. We also need to make Asia more of a mainstream subject: whereas now European studies are considered essential background for any well-rounded scholar, Asian studies are an extra. But it’s impossible to do meaningful comparative, or even narrowly analytical work, if your only models are European/American.

We do need high quality translations, and prizes to highlight the work we do. We have come so far, but we are still so far from where we ought to be. We are still gatekeepers, and that is part of the problem: the gate is still there, still relatively narrow.

Temporary Suspension of “The Country is Burning”

A comic series tracking the life of a bureaucrat in early Showa Japan has been suspended because of its September 16th and 22nd editions that contained descriptions of Japanese soldiers massacring civilians in Nanjing, China. The comic, which is by Hiroshi Motomiya (本宮ひろ志) is called “The Country is Burning” (国が燃える) and is published in the “Weekly Young Jump” magazine (「週刊ヤングジャンプ」). The Japan Times reports that 37 members of local assemblies protested because “the massacre was presented as if it really happened.” However, both that article and mention of this in an Asahi article seem to indicate that the comic was suspended because of a problematic photograph. The magazine is looking into the use of “inappropriate materials” (「不適切な資料を引用していた」). You can track this in the Japanese media via Google’s news service.

Many Japanese, even those who are not enthralled by the delusions of a few revisionist historians who reject the existence of a massacre outright, wonder why the Nanjing massacre issue is still so full of energy and emotion, especially among the Chinese. I think part of the answer is that, as Joshua Fogel has said in a historiographical work on the massacre, “Of all [the] massive, man-made atrocities, only in the case of the Nanjing Massacre has a whole school – actually, several – developed that completely denies or significantly downplays it.” (p. 4) The local assembly members above are a good example, as are the authors in a recent Bungei Shunjū article I have written about. Fortunately, there are historians in Japan and elsewhere who are making it more and more difficult to play these games, thanks in part to the oral testimonies of former soliders. I wrote about and translated a few quotes from one such recent work on 102 former soldiers in Nanjing which is available in Japanese and I recently saw it in Chinese translation at a bookstore in Beijing.

A Parliamentarian’s Weapon of Choice

I am afraid that most of my postings for the foreseeable future will be snippets from the basic readings on modern Japanese history that are taking up much of my time in this first year of my PhD. Today I’m reading an old classic by Peter Duus, Party Rivalry and Political Change in Taishô Japan. In his description of the rise of party discipline in the 1920s Duus dispels any impression that the Diet had become a place for civil exchanges:

By the 1920’s fights and physical violence became a normal part of Diet debates…The nameplates of the Diet members, originally movable, were nailed to the desks, because they made handy and exceedingly damaging implements of offense. (18)

Japanese Pride and Influence

If you’ve studied Japan for even a few years, it becomes clear that Japanese are very sensitive about Nobel prizes. They haven’t won a lot of them, it seems, and it bothers them; many of “their” winners were actually working outside of Japan, which also bothers them.

I don’t know if it will help or hurt Japan’s self-image, but a Japanese was recently honored by the Ig Nobel prize committee (honoring those who have “done things that first make people LAUGH, then make them THINK.”) with the 2004 Ig Nobel PEACE award: “Daisuke Inoue of Hyogo, Japan, for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”

By the way, Japan won an Ig Nobel in Chemistry in 2003, for a metallurgical study of a bronze statue that does not attract pigeons and in 1999 for a spray which, when applied to men’s underwear, illuminates signs of infidelity. Japan won another Peace citation in 2002 for the invention of the Bow-Lingual dog bark translator. In 1997, Japanese shared a biology prize for gum-chewer brainwave studies, and were sole winners of the Economics prize for the invention of the Tamagotchi virtual pet. The list goes on; in fact, I think Japan might be one of the most frequently cited non-anglophone countries, though I’m not actually going to tally it up to find out.

Yes, it’s intended as satire (though Mr. Inoue did attend the ceremony this year, and you’d be surprised how many honorees do) but it points out two interesting things. First, honors and prizes are only rough measures of anything. Second, Japan’s effect on the world is not only noteworthy, but has been noted.

Joint Press Conference Predictions: Little Asia

It’s not a debate, in any meaningful sense of the word, unless they break the rules. It’s a joint press conference, and the only thing that makes it interesting is that they will be in the same room and might react to each other (within prescribed limits). But it’s great political theater, and there are a lot of people who really do seem to care about how the candidates perform (and that is the right word) under these conditions, conditions which are relevant only to past and future debate-like appearances.

That said, I have a few predictions about how the Thursday debate, on Foreign Policy, will go.

  • Japan will be mentioned, at most, twice: once as a member of the coalition of the willing (bribed, not bullied), and once in regard to the Six-Party North Korean nuclear crisis negotiations.
  • China, the largest country in the world, will be mentioned only in connection with North Korea. They won’t talk about (mostly because they won’t be asked about) their rapid industrial growth or consumer growth (and rapidly rising demand for oil), our import-export imbalance, their strategic position, Taiwan (ok, there’s about a 1/5 chance Taiwan could come up), internal ethnic tensions, rising nationalism, or the recent shift in power from (rather US-friendly) Jiang Zemin to (Euro-friendly) Hu Jintao. Our China and Taiwan policies have had exactly one noteworthy shift since Nixon-Kissinger — dropping human rights issues because they weren’t listening anyway — and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon unless China does something dramatic.
  • India, the second largest country in the world, might be mentioned in connection with its tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir and nuclear weapons, but otherwise we’ll have to wait until they talk about the economy, when outsourcing will come up.
  • South Korea will get the usual mention if North Korea comes up, as well as a mention if military force redistribution is raised.
  • North Korea will almost certainly be discussed, which will make Kim Jong Il very happy, particularly as neither of them seem inclined to say (or do) anything concrete. I doubt Kerry will contrast North Korea and Iraq policy but it would be fun to see how the spin on that played out if he did.
  • Vietnam….. boy, I hope not.
  • South and East Asia will not get any other substantive mentions.
  • A few other Asia-related topics they won’t talk about:
    • HIV/AIDS (except perhaps with regard to promises to Africa that were not kept), either Thai successes or the coming explosion in China and India
    • SARS and the threat of new communicable diseases
    • immigration policy (that’ll be a domestic issue, if at all, and mostly Mexico)

I’d love to be wrong. [crossposted at Cliopatria]

Post-event update: Aside from a mention of Koizumi’s upcoming Iraqi Donors’ Conference, I was pretty much on the money. Oh, well.

Self-Introduction: Luck and Curiousity

My name is Jonathan Dresner, and I consider myself a very lucky man. I had no particular interest in Japan or history in High School, until I spent a year in Nagoya. I then became interested in Japan, but still wasn’t interested in history: after finishing up a degree in Japanese language, I decided, in an act which seems in retrospect incomprehensibly uninformed, to take up the study of history as a way to answer my questions about contemporary Japanese society. I had never liked history in high school, didn’t care for it much in college. I did have an interesting teacher during my junior year at the Keio International Center, a classical Japanese Marxist who was less impressed with the Great Buddhas than he was interested in the number of people who died producing them.

Still, I applied to graduate schools in history, and after turning down Hawai’i’s East-West Center as “too far from home” I decided to go to Harvard. I had no idea what I was doing. Now I admit that I’d always been a nerd, but graduate school was nerd heaven: spending all of my time studying the things I was interested in, with lots of other people interested in the same things! Though I didn’t entirely realize it at the time, since I had so little training in history, studying with Albert Craig, Hal Bolitho and Akira Iriye (and later, Andy Gordon) was a real treat. My initial idea was to study the early development of Japanese views of foreigners, particularly Jews, by studying journalism and education as the pathways of the formation of non-elite opinions.

Another stroke of luck: a failed relationship. Seriously: an offhand comment by my advisor, Albert Craig, in reference to my grad-school girlfriend led me to realize that I could study Japanese emigration as a concrete example of information gathering, processing and decision-making by non-elites with regard to foreigners and overseas conditions. At that point my perspective shifted from a cultural/intellectual historian to something more like a social historian. I also followed her to Berkeley for two years, which was a dumb thing to do for a relationship that wasn’t that healthy, but which allowed me to study in a very different department with very different methods, and to work with Andrew Barshay, Irwin Scheiner and especially Mary Elizabeth Berry, as well as soaking up a great deal of Asian American studies (in which field I’ve done most of my book reviewing).

Somewhere between Berkeley and Harvard and Yamaguchi, I realized that the sources I needed for my cultural/anthropological study didn’t exist. I also realized that the answer to my initial questions were actually pretty easy and pretty clearly laid out in existing scholarship. But I did archival research in Yamaguchi, where, in another stroke of luck, the Prefectural History Compilation office was in the process of working on their Modern Sources collection. So I would go into the office, and they would give me an index of the sources they’d catalogued, and I’d pick out the ones I wanted…. Aside from the writer’s block, graduate school was great. Only took me twelve years, start to finish. In the end, my research was about local history, global migration, economics and politics, big businesses and former peasants, and there are about three different directions I want to take this research. More about that another time.

Some of that time was also spent teaching, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I really, really like doing that, too. Talk about luck. Teaching has required that I become much more of a generalist than my graduate courses and reading prepared me for. In the process, though, I’ve realized that I’m not just interested in Japan, but in history as a discipline, in world history as a field of study in itself, and in history education. I’ve always taught as a generalist: 1/3 of my teaching has been either Western Civilization or World History surveys, and Japan-related courses have never been more than 1/3 of my teaching. I love the broad view, the sweep of world history, the comparative exercises, the interactions and cross-fertilization: this is part of why I am a member of the group weblog Cliopatria, part of the History News Network project. My initial impulse to get into history was to understand the present, and I still believe that history is the field which most successfully integrates all the social sciences and, though it remains more art than science, best explains who and where we are today.

As much fun as I’m having as a generalist, I also want to be — need to be, professionally and personally — a specialist. So, I’m here.

Self Intro: Rod Wilson

I am a graduate student in East Asian history at Stanford University and since the fall of 2003 a research student with the Architecture Department at Hosei University in Tokyo. My dissertation research is focused on the environmental and social history of Tokyo’s Sumida River from the 1850s to the 1950s.

On this blog I imagine most of my postings will relate to Tokyo, its history, and its environment as well as to the perennially fascinating and frustrating debates about Japan’s role in the Asia Pacific War. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

The China History Group Blog

This is the new China history group blog at FrogInAWell.net. I’m in the process of putting together a great group of students/scholars of China’s history for this blog and will make an announcement on the other FrogInAWell blogs and on the domain’s home page. Come back in spring of 2005.

UPDATE: The China history group blog will be launching this month, June 2005! Stay tuned for more info!