Hanshin Jishin 10th anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 pm

White Peril and Far Outliers have notes about the decade-ago disaster. We were in Yamaguchi when it happened: woke me out of a sound sleep from 200 miles away. I immediately, of course, turned on the TV for the earthquake announcements, and didn’t go back to bed for a long time. Some memories and thoughts:

  • There was, coincidentally, a blood donation drive scheduled on the campus of Yamaguchi University the next day. We’d given blood in Japan a time or two before that, I think (the cards are around somewhere: I rarely throw that stuff away). Anyway, I figured we’d go by the mobile station and, if the lines were too bad we’d just give up. No line. We got in, went from station to station (they actually weigh you, if they think you might be borderline) and got stuck and bled with little delay. I know there are Confucian and other traditional issues about blood donations, but given Japan’s bad history with imported blood products I really expected a stronger response.
  • We also participated in a charity concert a month or so later. My wife is a fine musician, and is capable of coaching even a neophyte like me into producing some passable harmonica and harmony backup. It was an all-day production, with dozens of local acts. Woody did one of her own songs (“Miriam’s song” I think, a rousing prayer of praise to the universe), John Denver’s “Country Roads” (very popular among our Japanese friends, particularly with our “Almost heaven, Yamaguchi” modifications) and Stuart Stott’s “Music in my mother’s house” (fantastic nostalgia piece, well worthy of enka-ization). We did a joint piece with a local folksinger as well — I think it was John Lennon’s “Imagine” (I checked with Woody: she also sang Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”, and the song we sang with the local guy was Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Before the concert, since she was the featured performer, I coached her on the proper offering of condolences… then I did a translation into English. You had to be there.). Not sure how much we contributed to the effort, but it certainly was a change from the school choruses and music clubs that filled most of the program.
  • A few months later, the Jewish group in Iwakuni (mostly Americans associated with the Marine Air Station) raised some money among itself to bring relief goods to the Jewish community in Kobe. We got there on a Friday night in a rented van, and joined in for services and were treated to a fantastic Shabbat dinner by the locals. The Kobe Jewish community is mostly a remnant of WWII refugees, though there is a pretty strong Israeli component, too. The synagogue is Sephardic Orthodox (separate seating for women, the whole bit), and this Ashkenazi Liberal had some trouble keeping up. The building had suffered some structural strains, and a Ten Commandments tablet had been cracked. Otherwise they were doing pretty well. Wandering around Kobe was sobering: well outside the fire zone, there were frequent recently-cleared empty lots in the middle of busy city blocks, raw reminders. Though it could have been worse, of course, but for Japan’s strong seismic construction codes.

We haven’t been back to Japan since ’94, and I wasn’t terribly familiar with Kobe before that. I’d be very curious to hear from people with experience on both sides of the divide how the tragedy has affected people, institutions, architecture, geography.

update: here is an earthquake survivor’s recounting of the long-term personal costs


Japanese Universities in World Context

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:21 am

Tomorrow’s Professor just forwarded a list of the top 500 universities in the world. As the introduction says

Attempting to rank universities world-wide is no easy task [which is why very few organizations have tried to do it] and it is easy enough to take exception to the various criteria used. That said, here is a list of the top 500 universities in the world by rank as determined in a study from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. A much more detailed description of the criteria used, rankings by geographic area, FAQ’s and the questionnaire itself can be found at: http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2004/2004Main.htm

Here are the Japanese institutions which made the list, and their rankings

  • 14, Tokyo Univ
  • 21, Kyoto Univ
  • 54, Osaka Univ
  • 69, Tohoku Univ
  • 97, Nagoya Univ
  • 101-152, Hokkaido Univ, Kyushu Univ, Tokyo Inst Tech, Tsukuba Univ
  • 202-301, Hiroshima Univ, Keio Univ, Kobe Univ, Okayama Univ
  • 302-403, Chiba Univ, Gifu Univ, Gunma Univ, Kanazawa Univ, Nagasaki Univ, Nihon Univ, Niigata Univ, Tokyo Med & Dent Univ, Tokyo Metropolitan Univ, Tokyo Univ Agr & Tech, Univ Tokushima, Waseda Univ, Yamaguchi Univ
  • 404-502, Ehime Univ, Himeji Inst Tech, Jichi Med Sch, Juntendo Univ, Kagoshima Univ, Kumamoto Univ, Nara Inst Sci & Tech, Osaka City Univ, Shinshu Univ, Univ Osaka Prefecture

Keio and Waseda came much further down the list than I expected (the methodology is heavily weighted towards natural science and against social/humanistic studies), though I was gratified to see my research host Yamaguchi U [currently searching for an English instructor] on the list, not to mention Nagoya, my first Japanese hometown.

Side note: why don’t most Japanese universities have official university logo apparel? I know, sweats and T-shirts aren’t all that popular in Japan, and the major ones do (I always loved Keio’s crossed fountain pen nibs). But we had to take a photocopy of the Yamaguchi university logo to a print-shop so we would have T-shirts to trade with our family and friends. The only way to get logo stuff, it seemed, was to belong to one of the clubs, each of which had its own official seal and signs.

On a per capita basis, this is a very good showing; on a GDP basis, it’s just about right, or a bit underperforming (You can see the breakdown by country here). Though not all higher education is created equal, and there are significant pathologies present in Japanese higher-ed, it still bodes well, I think, as a rough measure of the likelihood that Japan will continue to be a strongly productive and innovative economy. The particularly strong showing of technical schools certainly suggests that to me.

One historical note: most of the universities on this list were the product of the US Occupation education reforms, particularly the insistence on public universities in every prefecture. Who would have guessed that in sixty years Japan would fill 1/15th of the world’s best list?


Japan-heavy day at the AHA

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:18 am

Some interesting Japanese history under discussion on Day Three of the AHA. Daily update here. As Konrad suggested, I’ll have some more general thoughts on being a Japanese historian at the AHA in the near future.

And here’s day four. OK, that’s over, now I can go home and teach.

Japanese Historical Maps

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:59 am

I have been going through the H-Japan messages from the last few months, trying to get caught up with my mailing list subscriptions. One wonderful website mentioned, was the the June, 2004 launch of a UC Berkeley/David Rumsey site listing a large number of Japanese historical maps (the maps themselves are not limited to maps of Japan). Here is an excerpt of the message which is more of a general announcement of their whole collection (the above link is specifically to their Japanese maps):

David Rumsey and Cartography Associates announced the launch today of Visual Collections www.davidrumsey.com/collections/, a new digital image collection portal that includes more than 300,000 works from museums, universities and private collections throughout the world. Combined, the collected works create an unparalleled online resource in the arts and humanities that is available for free, public access.

Fine art, photography, maps, architecture and other collections of culture are represented within Visual Collections, which is made possible through the contributions of dozens of institutions. At its launch, more than 30 collections are represented in Visual Collections, ranging from the fine art of Museums & the Online Archive of California (MOAC) to early maps of Scotland from the University of Edinburgh’s Charting the Nation collection.

Their Japan collection is wonderful, do give it a whirl. For Mac users accessing the site: I didn’t have much success with the Safari browser, but it works fine in Firefox.

Speaking of maps and information, Jonathan Dresner has an update over at Cliopatria from AHA.


China’s use of Japanese history

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:15 pm

Young Chinese aren’t well educated in history, and there’s little evidence of much interest. They know what the state wants them to know (“post-Communist” China still retains tight educational and publishing controls and retains a strongly Marxist-Nationalist narrative of history), and apparently the state mostly wants them to know and care about Japan’s WWII atrocities. In fact, it’s a major topic on the Chinese internet, with thousands of Chinese participating in detailed and fervent discussions of wrongs done to their grandparents/great-grandparents’ generation. [via Claire George]

Strategic? Most likely. Illegitimate? Well, yes, in the context of China’s overall historical revisionism; no, in the context of Japan’s leadership’s failure (and much of general society) to come to terms with that history in a meaningful fashion.

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