井の中の蛙

10/8/2005

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.

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