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Bamboo v. Lonesome

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:25 pm Print

Japan Focus has a "three-fer" this week on the Korean-Japanese dispute over a rock. Well, technically "islets" but it's just rocks about big enough for a large playground: What the Koreans call Tokdo (Lonesome Island) and the Japanese, less literally, call Takeshima (Bamboo Island) , has been a matter of territorial dispute for years, mostly because of the attendant fishing rights that come with the extension of territory. There's a nice short introduction with maps and two articles from the Japanese press. Both countries have issued competing commemorative stamps (both of which sold out in record time), activists in both countries are calling for boycotts, and diplomatic relations are at a recent low, even as the countries are moving towards NAFTA-style integration.

As Takahashi reports, Japan claimed the islands in 1905, around the time that it forced Korea to become a Japanese protectorate (annexation would come in 1910), and though Korea proclaimed the islands reclaimed after liberation in WWII, the specifics of control of the islands have been left unresolved by mutual agreement in every agreement signed between the two countries since; a temporary agreement in 1999 for joint control remains technically in force. The matter has been heating up since the early 1980s, with South Korea taking the strongest practical steps (declaring the islands a national park, for example) but rogue Japanese elements actually trying to occupy the rocks have kept the matter actively disputed.

Tokyo U Emeritus Historian WADA Haruki has been actively working for closer relations, including normalization of relations with North Korea, in East Asia for years, and points out that it is difficult to imagine this region stabilizing without settling the three major territorial disputes Japan is involved in. Takeshima/Tokdo, Daiyou/Senkaku (Japan v. China, Vietnam, Australia, Taiwan, etc) and Kurile/Sakhalin dispute with Russia. The first two have economic consequences: fertile fishing ground in the first case, and potentially valuable natural gas reserves in the second; the third one is more about honor and diplomatic technicalities than anything else.

Non Sequitur: According to a recent poll

...a generational divide emerges when Americans are asked whether they approve of the United States' decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. Six in 10 Americans 65 and older approve of the use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, while six in 10 from 18 to 29 disapprove. Albert Kauzmann, a 57-year-old resident of Norcross, Ga., said using the bomb in 1945 ``was the best way they had of ending'' World War II. Overall, 47 percent of those surveyed approved of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while 46 percent disapproved, according to the poll of 1,000 conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs from March 21-23 with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
I want to note that, if my math is correct, the 29-65 year olds were dead even on the question, and given the margin of error reported even the generational divide itself could be less than reported. No word on whether this represents a change from the past, whether people change their minds about these things as they grow older, or what we should do about it. The rest of the poll is about contemporary nuclear weapons issues, and is quite interesting for the disconnect between policy and popular preference....

[crossposted at Cliopatria]


Stealing 9.99 ryō

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:23 am Print
In his new book on Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan, Daniel Botsman mentions that it became customary in the Edo period to report the theft of goods or money which exceeded 10 ryō in value as being worth nine ryō two bun and three shu. Apparently, this grew out of a growing public realization that the One Hundred Articles, a set of unpublished legal guidelines for punishment compiled under the direction of the eighth shogun, Yoshimune (1684-1751), recommended a death penalty for theft of amounts greater than 10 ryō while lesser amounts were punished with a combination of flogging and tatooing. "This practice could not have continued without the acknowledgment and support of Bakufu officials, who routinely recorded this obviously fictional figure in their official reports." (46, he cites Hiramatsu Yoshirō's Edo no tsumi to batsu 86-7 for this) The legal articles themselves are supposed to be "secret" and official copies only available to higher Bakufu officials, but it looks as though unofficial copies were circulated widely among bureaucrats and Botsman cites one study by a Takahashi Satoshi in which a wealthy peasant named Gin'emon was able to secure a private copy of the laws at a "legal inn" (kuji yado) in Edo where he was staying to represent his village in a murder case. (34) Together, these snippets are interesting for two reasons. On the one hand it loosens up a bit our perception of a completely mysterious legal regime administering the lives of people who had to depend on the grotesque examples of previously punished criminals described on signposts for their legal knowledge. Secondly, not only do we see examples of serious information leakage, but a fascinating example of how reports of crime were tailored precisely to limit punishments.


Renaissance Japan

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:33 am Print

Epochal analogies are some of the trickiest traps in our historical discourse. Whether it's the Medieval v. Feudal snake pit or the quicksand of finely grained modernities, generalizing historical processes from one society to another is one of the most common, and most often failed, attempts to systematize that qualitative epistemology we call history. But we don't give up: first because we need a shorthand to talk about processes, and the analogies, however flawed at deep definitional levels, give us a foundation to communicate with each other; second, because in our heart of hearts we historians believe that there must be rhyme and reason to the course of humanity, and only by the insistent dialectic of thesis and data will we reveal those rhythms and patterns. All of which is just my way of saying that I'd like to pass on a historical analogy from my teaching and I don't want anyone taking it too seriously, but I don't want it dismissed out of hand, either.

Most historians are familiar with the basic history of the European Renaissance and Reformation: humanistic scholarship (religious, not secular, yet), combined with new socio-economic realities (mercantile urbanites) and technologies (good 'ol Gutenberg) created a new milieu in which individual faith and action trumped institutionalized ritual or traditional social bonds. The political and intellectual fallout from the schisms and conflicts included a new understanding of the roles of governments and the rights of individuals and the importance of secular studies that leads to the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment. Yeah, it's the World Civ midterm short essay answer (instructor's edition, at least), but it's actually pretty fundamental to the transition (terribly useful undefined term, that) from late medieval to early modern.

Japan presents a very different set of stages, particularly religiously and intellectually. Though we use the language of political and economic stages (Classical, Medieval, Early Modern, Modern), nobody assumes that social, intellectual, artistic or religious aspects equate. Culture, in other words, is too distinct to fit into analogies with other societies, whereas political and economic activity is sufficiently universal to be the object of meaningful cross-cultural analysis. For example, "Reformation" is not a generalizable process or stage. My teacher, Hal Bolitho, used that term to refer to Japan's 13th-14th century religious transformation, and I use it in my teaching as well (when I have students whom I think know enough about the history to find it useful) but the comparison only works on a very shallow and narrow theological level (I'm quite sure that Bolitho knew this as well; this isn't a criticism of him).

It is true that both the Protestant Reformation and the spread of populist devotional Buddhisms in Japan (Shin, Jodo, Nichiren) feature the transition from esoteric and institutional ritual to individual faith and congregational practice. After that the comparison breaks down. Populist devotional Buddhism wasn't seen as a challenge to esoteric Buddhism, but an extension of it into new populations; there were no religious wars or widespread sectarian violence; printing and literacy were not at issue in Japan, where simple mantras and hymns were used to bypass the literacy problem; etc.

Most crucially, I believe, the religious transformation of Japan is not preceded by any kind of humanist moment, and Japan's intellectual life remains fixed in universalist transcendent (mostly Confucian and Buddhist) modes much more comparable to medieval Roman Catholicism than to Renaissance humanism. So, while that may answer the question of whether a Reformation is possible without a Renaissance, it still leaves Japan in the lurch on the most important intellectual shift since Aristotle. It is in the realm of history that humanism is most evident: whether history is driven by human agency or divine providence. It was in history that the social science of the European Renaissance began, and it is in the realm of history that we can see the stirrings of humanism in Japan.

That moment comes, I believe, in the Edo period (1600-1868), particularly in the scholarship of Rai San'yō (1780-1832), one of the most underappreciated intellectuals in Japanese history. Rai San'yō's Nihon gaishi [An Unofficial Japanese History] was read by most of the major figures of the anti-bakufu movement and leaders of the post-Restoration (1868) Meiji government. I've done some work on Rai before: my interest in him dates back to a paper I wrote for Bolitho in the early years of my graduate career. The paper was about Nagasaki as a destination for cultural travelers, particularly the effect of visiting the city on Rai San'yō and the artist Shiba Kokan: Shiba hasn't interested me much since then, Rai remains a fascination; probably because I'm an historian, not an artist. It's worth noting that my citations on that paper (1992) related to Shiba are about half and half English and Japanese, while the citations on Rai were entirely to Japanese language scholarship and sources. Not much has changed: Rai's work is not cited in Harootunian's chapter on Tokugawa culture in the Cambridge series, but is cited in Jansen's chapter on the bakumatsu/Restoration politics. One possible direction for study, in my view, comes out of my earlier research as well: Rai's visit to Nagasaki left him convinced that Japan needed to be more aware of the world (he wrote a long poem in honor of Napoleon, and became interested in western technology, though not to the extent of becoming a Dutch Studies scholar) and his advocacy of political reform was tinged with the sense that the world was both hostile and unavoidable. Rai's influence might help explain the transition in bakumatsu (1853-1868) politics from "Expel the Barbarians" (jōi) dominance to Sakuma Shōzan's "Eastern Ethics; Western Technology" formulation (which got him killed by the jōi types). I have, tucked away in my "someday" box, a copy of the Nihon gaishi "translated" by one of his descendants into modern Japanese (the original is in classical Chinese; Jansen notes that a translation of the work into vernacular Japanese was the way most bakumatsu partisans read it), which I'd like to use (it's only cheating if I stop there) as a rough guide for a full-bore study of his work. Unless someone beats me to it by doing a translation and analysis: there are often hints on PMJS and EMJ of people doing it, but so far nothing.

Rai represents, more to the point of this post, the culmination of a series of advances in historical writing and thinking over the 17th and 18th centuries. Though it would be easy to dismiss his work as "Confucian" -- because it was -- that obscures the dramatic evolutions that Tokugawa Confucianism had undergone by that time, and also the specific genius of Rai's work.

The two dominant and relevant strains of Tokugawa era thought are the Ancient Studies (kogaku) school, epitomized by Ogyū Sorai (1666-1728), and the National Studies (kokugaku) school, founded by Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801). Starting from a universalist, transcendent and rigid (though not official orthodoxy) Zheng-Zhu base (as transmitted through the intensely philosophical Korean Confucian tradition), these two schools deconstructed (and reconstructed) Confucianism in such a way as to create a space for Rai San'yō to insert distinctly Japanese priorities and, more importantly, Japanese agency.

The Ancient Studies school rehistoricized Confucianism, making The Way into something contingent and timebound, subject to critical study. Ironically, from my perspective, Ogyū does this by deifying the sages of old, turning them into paragons beyond human aspiration; but this frees him (and everyone else) from trying too hard to emulate the sages or fixating on the teachings of later commenters like Zhu Xi. Instead of taking the teachings as universally grounded truth, he focused on understanding their teachings in context. Ogyū argues for an emphasis on compassion in human affairs, for reorganization of political affairs on more rational lines (he proposes centralization of power under the Shogun, but then he was working for the Shogun at the time), and a rather un-confucian separation of public and private virtue. Philology and political science, in roughly equal measure: Ogyū and his colleague/interlocutor Arai Hakuseki both were polymaths well worthy of the name "Renaissance Man" with interests that ranged into natural science and anthropology as well as ethics and linguistics.

The National Studies school takes a further step towards historicization: Motoori Norinaga argues that the Confucian sages were indeed human, timebound and that their distance and historical contingency makes them poor models for Japanese to emulate. Writing on Japan's masterpiece The Tale of Genji he wrote "All judgments of good and evil differ depending on the relevant Way. They also differ depending on time, place, and circumstance." (Shirane, EMJL, 619) He turns to the mytho-historical origins and histories of early Japan, arguing that the gods and emperors who established Japan's enduring (if attenuated) Imperial polity were the source of wisdom and right thinking most relevant to Japan, and that the early literature of Japanese closest to those origins contained the purest expressions of Japanese character and thought. He devoted himself to the reconstruction of lost orthographies and grammars, developed a distinctly Japanese poetics. His disciples, including Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843), took his sources and ideas to develop a new theocratic politics centered on the divinity of the Emperor, and these ideas would become deeply influential in the "modern" period.

Rai San'yō's Nihon gaishi has to be understood in this context. The focus of the twenty-two chapter work (three thick volumes, with annotations, in Japan's modern bunkobon paperback format) is the military clans, daimyo houses and coalitions that were the motive force of Japan's history from the 1100s to his day. But behind these dynamic actors is the (deeply Confucian) ethical foundation of the divine Imperial institution, and it is the implementation of Confucian virtues in samurai governments which forms the metric of success for Rai. It is, in a sense, an Enlightenment history, featuring progressively better and better governments but with remaining flaws in principle and practice that require continued reform. It also shares with some of the enlightenment histories -- and Confucian histories -- an ambivalence towards individuals as historical actors, but it is very clear that his history gave comfort and inspiration to those who felt that individual action was necessary and effective to continue the "march of progress." This is where I feel the strongest connection to the Renaissance social scientists, men like Machiavelli who wrote detailed analyses of social and political phenomena with the aim of finding the keys to desirable outcomes. Rai's work, though it retains the moralism of Confucian historiography (as Renaissance humanism retained the moralism of Christianity), does not contain its historical mechanisms, for no other Confucian history so clearly places human agency at the center of events and allows that outcomes are the result of human actions rather than Heaven-ordained.

I may be overstating the case somewhat, because Rai's work is difficult to access and under-studied. Certainly the activism of the bakumatsu period owes as much to the political crisis and to the influence of Wang Yangming's (Ōyomei, in Japanese) intuitive Confucianism as to the studied analysis of pre-bakumatsu scholars. But it is implausible to assume that a work widely read and cited by the activists would be irrelevant to their activism. It would be too much, far too much, to claim the Meiji Restoration as some sort of humanist revolution (there's a whole other literature to be written on the "humanistic tradition" in Japan, most of which I probably wouldn't want to read myself), but at the same time it would be absurd to claim that an increasingly humanistic and widely read historiographic body of work played no role in those dramas.


National Diet Library Web site

Filed under: — kuniko @ 4:55 pm Print
The National Diet Library (NDL) site 国立国会図書館 offers essential resources for research on Japan including the NDL-OPAC (National bibliography) and Journal index 雑誌記事索引 (1949-present) as well as Lending/copying services for both institutions and individuals. (Now they even allow credit cards for payment!) Since some of you may not be familiar with it, so let me take this opportunity to share a little more about this amazing resource. The NDL’s Electronic Library Collection 近代デジタルライブラリー has continued to grow. It now has some 55,000 volumes of monographs published in Meiji period. Although the Yenching library has the complete Meiji monograph collection available on microfilm (some 120,000 volumes), increasingly we can skip viewing microfilm thanks to this growing digital collection. 日本の国会・世界の議会 The Diet & Parliament section offer a wealth of Modern political history sources including the 国会会議録 since the first postwar Diet session in 1947, the 日本法令索引 since 1884, 閣議決定等文献リスト及び本文 1927-1963, and my favorite 近現代日本政治関係人物文献目録 with 44,000 references. The NDL’s Parliamentary Documents room 憲政資料室 has in-depth resources on modern Japanese political history, and is making a selection of its contents contents viewable digitally here. The problem with the NDL web site is its organization. Parliamentary documents are kept in the ”Nippon in the World” section which is a part of the “Gallery”. “Nippon in the World” has three sections: Scenic Mementos of Japan, Japan at the Vienna Expo 1873, and Parliamentary Documents. There is no logic in grouping them, but they all offer rich and unique information in image and texts. The NDL site map, which reflects NDL bureaucracy but isn't a ‘universal’ organization of knowledge that we might be familiar with, does not help much in finding things. Anyway, my point is that NDL’s digital resources on the web are growing and it’s worth exploring from time to time. There are many hidden gems on the NDL web site. P.S. I created a web resource guide for Japanese studies two years ago and it is accessible at the Yenching library web site. I am planning to update this soon. I would appreciate your comments/suggestions for my next guide.


The Gateless Gate Online

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:04 am Print
Here is the gateway to The Gateless Gate. Sorry, I couldn't resist. But it's a real treasure of a document, and a very nicely done site. Granted, much of what I understand about Zen, insofar as anyone can say with any meaning that they understand Zen, comes from Ioanna Salajan and Paul Reps (There are, I assure you, worse sources....), and I'm more of a Daoist than Zen in basic attitude (I'm a Liberal Jew, which gives you this). And, oddly enough in the same H-Japan digest, my old friends at the UIowa Center for Asian and Pacific Studies have put the papers for this panel on using digitized sources in research on Asian Buddhism up for public viewing here.


Self-Intro: Kuniko Yamada McVey

Filed under: — kuniko @ 12:22 pm Print
はじめまして。イェンチン図書館の日本語資料担当ライブライアン、マクヴェイ山田久仁子です。「井の中の蛙」の一員になれて光栄です。どうぞよろしく。 Hello, Japan scholars. I have been a librarian for the Japanese Collection at the Harvard-Yenching Library for five and a half years. I was a librarian at the Documantation Center on Contemporary Japan (DCJ) at Harvard for ten years before coming to Yenching. Before working at the DCJ and before a short interval of two years as a bookbinding student in Boston, I worked at the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature 日本近代文学館 in Tokyo for seven years. I guess some of you guys were born at a time when I was putting up literay exhibitions in Japan. I encountered following phrase "Shall I at least set my land in order?" by T.S. Eliot while writing my senior thesis at ICU. I liked it and adapted as my motto. In the following year I entered the world of libraries and have resided there for most of the time since. Now I feel we librarians can no longer stay in this orderly world and need to explore this rich and chaotic information universe both physical and virtual. Being one of the "Librarians without borders" is my goal now. I hope I can learn a lot from you at the same time I offer something useful to you for your research. FYI: I recently discovered the "Kanban jissoku Nihon chizu" (官板実測日本地図) printed in the Bakumatsu period, based on Ino-zu, in our library's basement. Although our copy is missing one (Ezo) of four sheets that cover all Japan, including Ryukyu and Karahuto, they are beautiful. If you are interested in taking a look, let me know. They are not cataloged in the collection.


The Frog in a Well – Japan Librarian

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:36 pm Print
I have an exciting piece of news to share. I am pleased to announce that we have a new and distinguished addition to our list of authors at Frog in a Well - Japan. Kuniko Yamada McVey, the librarian for the Japanese collection at the Harvard-Yenching library has agreed to join us on here as our resident librarian! Let us all make her feel welcome!


Introduction: Craig Colbeck

Filed under: — craig @ 2:16 am Print
Greetings. I am the last third of Harvard’s current first-year cohort, which gives me the distinct pleasure of calling Nick and Konrad my close friends. All of my interests are currently in flux, making a coherent self-introduction difficult. Incoherency, on the other hand, has virtues. I study twentieth-century Japan and Korea. My undergraduate work described the modernization and Japanization of karate—a thoroughly enjoyable project to which I will someday return. Not doubt my work will be indebted to Dennis when I do. Korea is new to me; I only started studying its history and language in this academic year, meaning that all is still struggle. As of yesterday, I have a new research topic: toilets. I have yet to decide which aspect interests me most: the environmental impacts of modern sewage systems; washiki toire as an invented tradition; bodies, genders, and disciplines (in the space where Panopticism and its cloistered twin meet); sanitation and hygiene; consumerism and technology. No doubt these will be blended in a short time. Who knows where this conduit will lead? There is nothing to do but dive in.

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