National Museum of Japanese History On-Line

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:23 pm

I don’t think anyone else here has posted this before, but Japan’s National History Museum has a fantastic website. [via Sharon Howard via BilbiOdyssey]

Some of the images need better labelling, particularly the samples in the permanent exhibition pages, but if you know what you’re looking at, it’s great stuff.


My Tradition’s Bigger Than Your Tradition

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:30 pm

In an argument about Japanese-American draft-resistor internees during WWII, Eric Muller wrote

in my book I argue that vocal and visible protest of government orders are more distinctive facets of American popular culture than of Japanese popular culture. (I do not suggest that protest is absent from Japanese tradition, or that compliance is absent from American tradition; I simply maintain that as a comparative matter, vocal public protest has a stronger American lineage than Japanese.)

Do you [ed.: Ken Masugi] see this as true?

If you think it false, would you share with us prominent examples of the protest tradition in Japanese culture that match the Boston Tea Party, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” the National Woman’s Party, lunch counter protests and civil rights sit-ins, the Stonewall riots, the Wounded Knee protest, etc. etc. etc.

To be honest, I’m on Eric Muller’s side of this debate, but this passage rankled somewhat. Perhaps it’s my background in social history, my early exposure to Mikiso Hane (even before I found out that my wife knew him) or just my contrarian, blogger-nature, but I can’t just let it stand.

First, there’s the comparative history aspect: I can’t think of any other national history that has such a distinguished tradition of civil political protest: perhaps the English? The French get too revolutionary too easily. Ghandian India, or pre-1990 South Africa perhaps? In the last twenty years or so, the ubiquity of marches and demonstrations has taken some of the edge off, though if you limit the field to “events critiquing one’s own rulers” then you’ve a much smaller data set. Whether it rises to the level of a “tradition” in that exceptionalist American self-congratulatory sense is another question: I’m not sure that Muller’s list couldn’t be dismissed as “prominent examples” in contrast to a fairly conservative and gradualist tradition only recently challenged by strong civil rights movements.

There are, as Muller concedes “prominent examples of dissent in Japanese history.” Some would argue that there’s more than that: from the peasant uprisings of the Tokugawa era to the rice riots of 1919, demo against the Security Treaty, the lawsuits of Minamata, individual acts of self-destruction, literary and cultural satire, and speaker trucks, I think that there is a reasonably strong strain of public self-criticism and scolding, particularly given an environment of repression which (at most times in the last century and a half) goes well beyond that which has existed in the US, even during its colonial era.

What do you think?

Non Sequitur: Sumo Wrestlers in New York [registration required]. Wait, actually, it’s S.U.M.O., and the organizers swear it’s unscripted….


Asian History Carnival #1

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:51 am
Map of Asia, 1784

Welcome to the first Asian History Carnival! The deadline for submissions was 10/10, which just happened, this year, to fall on the holiday of Columbus Day (observed in Hawai’i as “Discover’s Day“). Columbus, as we all know, never made it to Asia, in no small part because he was relying on the geographically unsound writings of Marco Polo. In honor of this conjunction, I’ve composed a haiku, and because this is a blog carnival, there are links:

Marco Polo wrote
a bad book about China;
Columbus read it.

In honor of the tradition of Marco Polo, we will take our virtual journey from West to East. And we won’t be terribly picky about geography. Since this is the first AHC, I’m also going to take considerable liberties to introduce certain particularly good Asian history bloggers (who might host future editions?).

Middle East
Our first stop is a 3rd century Syrian …. what? (it’s a quiz, I don’t want to ruin the surprise)

Central Asia
The honor of the first submission to the first AHC went to J. Otto Pohl, proprietor of the Carnival of Diasporas, with his History of Cotton in Uzbekistan.

Sepoy is one of my favorite bloggers, so it’s hard for me to pick from his œuvre. There’s the posts on drugs and games, Madrasas and Pehlwani, rebel warriors and, my personal favorites, on language. His facility for erudite procrastination makes him one of my favorite writers.

http://www.2bangkok.com/ is running a series of historic photos of Bangkok, like this collection of 1920s images from a Japanese documentary.

Alan Baumler has a great facility with images and with complicated historical and cultural issues.

Natalie Bennett did a very nice review of the Chinese women’s language Nushu, much easier reading than most of the academic treatments I’ve fallen asleep over.

Andrew Meyer, who has one of the coolest blog names I know, attempted meta-history, which got a little conversation going. He didn’t go quite as deep as to deny the existence of China, but it was still interesting.

The Angry Chinese Blogger seems to focus on controversies, like the lawsuit regarding the hundred-head race, textbooks and the degradation of the Great Wall in the face of development.

Owen Miller writes quite a bit on Korean history: for his “best foot forward” he offered to share his old book collection, in this case mid-20c Korean materials with fascinating histories. Miller also recommended Antti Leppanen’s Finnish language (but with lots of English links) Korean History course blog.

Konrad Lawson did some very nice work in Korean history a while back (and more to come, I’m sure): among my favorites were his discussions of the language and reality of slavery and an old geography text.

Todd Crowell, whose blogging is really just an offshoot of his fine reportage, notes the end of almost four decades of Narita protests.

Imperialism is a running theme in blogging about Japanese history, for obvious reasons. Jane Pickard used Kenkoku Kinen no Hi to talk about imperialism and anti-emperor sentiment in her family. Joi Ito used his impressively deep family history to talk about Japan’s new National ID system. Mutant Frog (no, they’re not a heretical offshoot of our group, really!) noticed that the Kodansha publishing house had an imperialistic background. And in the cultural imperalism category, KokuRyu noted both some successes and some problems in Japanese archaeology.

Without question the most controversial post on Frog in a Well so far has been Tak’s Jared Diamond piece. Konrad Lawson’s been plumbing the depths of historical memory, in the form of nostalgia and movies.

Finally, some of my own meanderings. A question about 1590s warfare led to Stephen Turnbull’s history of the Japanese invasions of Korea, which led me to read Turnbull’s Ninja.

Special thanks to Konrad Lawson, Natalie Bennett, J. Otto Pohl, Manan Ahmed and Owen Miller. All errors of fact, spelling, interpretation or tone are entirely my fault. Probably.

Wanna waste some time? Simon World’s Asian Blogroll is your one-stop shop.

The position of host is open! If you’re an Asian history blogger, you can volunteer to host the 12/12 edition! Or, just write some good history between now and then, and share it with all of us. Contact me.

Some Differing Approaches

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:55 am

I have been reading through a collection of books about the road to Japan’s annexation of Korea, mostly somewhat dry political history for my tastes. It is orals year for me so there will be a lot of postings related to readings in preparation for my modern Japan and modern Korea field (when also relevant to Japanese history) exams next Spring.

Today, after re-reading Peter Duus The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910 and taking some better notes, I wanted to do quick re-reads on this period in two other big narrative sweeps of Korean history: Carter J. Eckert, Ki-baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and Edward W. Wagner eds. Korea Old and New: A History and Bruce Cumings Korea’s Place in the Sun. I then compared some notes with other books I read last year.

The complicated political history of the decades leading up to Japan’s annexation of Korea can tax the memory (I’ll post some notes on this at some point with people/timeline reference) and patience but at least the English language scholarship on this is quite limited, as far as I can tell. In contrast, disagreements and writing about Japanese imperialism in Korea has provoked some of the most bitter fights between Japanese and Korean scholars, even those who are eager to cooperate and don’t represent extreme wings in scholarship on either side.

I was interested, though not really surprised, to see that the differences on some of these touchy issues surrounding the 1905 Protectorate treaty etc. across the Pacific, seep into English language scholarship on the topic. Since many of these texts can find their way onto university history course materials, it is not without relevance for those teaching modern East Asian or Japan/Korea courses. These differences have a lot to do with which sources get used by the scholars in question, of course, and these usually trace back to previous Korean or Japanese secondary works on the issue. To show what I mean, below I’ll explore a few differences by comparing various accounts on a few specific events. I’ll use Young Ick Lew’s chapters in Korea Old and New as the starting point, since his claims come out the most concise and strongly worded.


Enryo shinaide….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:00 pm

Last call: The inaugural Carnival of Asian History Blogging will go up tomorrow! Send me [dresner at hawaii dot edu] your best, your friends’ best, your blog-buddies’ best Asian history blogging.


Russo-Japanese War Re-visited

Filed under: — tak @ 11:47 am

I fortuitously caught the last twenty minutes or so of a panel discussion titled “The Meaning of the Russo-Japanese War Today” on NHK Kyoiku Television (channel 3 in Tokyo). This panel discussion inaugurated a three-day conference titled “East Asia and the World in the 20th Century and the Russo-Japanese War,” which was organized the Japanese Association of Modern East Asian History and held at Senshu University in Tokyo. The conference schedule is posted here in Japanese.

Discussants included:

  • Ikei Masaru (Keio Daigaku)
  • Matsumoto Ken’ichi (Reitaku Daigaku)
  • Oohama Tetsuya (Hokkai Gakuen Daigaku)
  • Narita Ryuichi (Nihon Joshi Daigaku)

The program squeezed a three-hour session into a 70-minute television slot, so I would imagine they had to leave out some of the discussion. Plus I was able to only catch the last twenty minutes, so most likely I missed much of it. But here are some of the points raised:

  • Narita noted that scholars need to be more critical of the idea that the Russo-Japanese war became a symbol of hope for anti-colonial movements around the world. I always thought that the war was celebrated because it was the first time that a “non-Western” nation defeated a “Western” country in a modern military conflict. Yet Narita’s injunction makes me question this very notion, and I now wonder if this widespread celebration over the Russo-Japanese War by anti-colonial movements is a myth concocted by Japanese militarists in the 1930s to legitimize Japan’s own imperialist project.
  • Matsumoto, after saying that “globalism” (which I took to mean “globalization”) is similar but perhaps more dangerous than was the idea of an “East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” then joked that perhaps the best translation of “globalism” was “hakko ichiu,” a wartime slogan meaning roughly “eight corners of the world under one roof.” I thought that was clever but also a bit misleading.
  • There was a general discussion about the production of “national culture” (「国民文化」 was the word used) and whether it was a discursive object produced by the nation-state. I was not sure why this “invented tradition” issue was being debated at that point in the panel discussion, but it seemed to have to do with the general move away from interpreting the Russo-Japanese war as a “clash of civilization” and towards an interpretation that takes cognizance of the “cultural” aspects of the war. Unfortunately I probably missed too much to figure out what these “cultural” aspects were.

I wish I had caught the earlier half of the program. In particular I was interested in hearing about how the Russo-Japanese war is related to contemporary issues, such as the Yasukuni Shrine problem. I wonder if any readers of this blog caught the entire show, or perhaps even attended the conference.

Powered by WordPress