Semantics and History: Did Japan “Invade” Korea?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:20 am

Well, the obvious answer to that question is yes, but that’s not the invasion we’re talking about. Over on the Korea side, there’s a lively discussion on the case of the Japanese teacher disciplined for making her class apologize to South Korea with regard to a Tokyo councilman’s statement that “Japan never invaded Korea.” Here’s a portion of the comment I made:

On the substantive question, I have something of a mixed feeling. In a technical sense, I don’t think you can really point to any of Japan’s actions against Korea as an “invasion” in the sense of a mass military operation. That doesn’t mean that Korea wasn’t dominated militarily, that Japan didn’t use force when necessary to protect and expand its control, that colonial occupation wasn’t brutal and damaging. It does mean that we need to carefully educate our students about the “soft” (formal and informal) processes of colonial domination and control, and the realities of subaltern experience. It’s a “distinction without a difference” and while the statement may (and I’m open to disagreement, really) be technically correct, it is still objectionable because the intent of the statement clearly is to make the occupation of Korea a “blameless” non-violent process, which is a distortion of the truth.

This could be, I suppose, a useful teaching moment…. I’ll have to bring it up in my 20th century Japan course and see how my students respond. In the meantime, come on over and join the discussion. If you want some more background on the history, I recommend Konrad Lawson’s comparative historiography for starters.

[crossposted to Cliopatria]


A Welcome Find

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:24 am

One of the very interesting things I discovered doing my dissertation was the relatively meager state of scholarship on Meiji era financial institutions, particularly on the ways in which Japanese used (and avoided) new systems of savings, transfers/remittances, loans, etc. I ended up being quite impressed by the financial sophistication of supposedly unsophisticated peasant migrant laborers, and considerably more sympathetic to the assumptions of economic history as a result.

My advisor even tried to steer me in that direction: I had to do some background reading on the Yokohama Specie Bank, which played a role in early Hawai’i-Japan remittances (by establishing one of Japan’s first overseas bank branches!), and he was disappointed that the bank itself did not sufficiently fire my historical curiousity that I might take it up as a topic in itself. It is true, though, that there remain questions which I can’t answer to my own satisfaction because I don’t know enough about Meiji banking.

Well, Sharon Howard forwarded me a link to Michael Schlitz’s Histor¥ which is described both as a “weblog about Meiji financial reforms” and (quite tantalizingly) an “opensource project on Japanese financial history 1850-1917.” I’m thrilled to see this topic getting the attention it deserves and available on-line, to boot! Now, I just need time to read through his archives and make notes….


Israeli Sushi

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:44 pm

Japanese food is, as I’ve said before, one of the great contributions to world food culture. But nothing remains “pure,” even if it was in some sense pure to begin with. Our favorite sushi place here in Hilo features lots of avocado-filled futomaki, poké (marinated sashimi, basically, available in a wide variety of styles and flavors, and destined to become Hawai’i’s most distinctive contribution to world food) as a side dish and in sushi (the rice-side-out poké sushi rolled in crushed macadamia nuts is my wife’s top pick) and one of my personal favorites is the Green Bay roll, with smoked salmon, cream cheese and asparagus.

Nothing brings out creativity like food. And nothing drives creativity in food like the restaraunt market, in which responding to local tastes frequently trumps purity of spirit or style (though “purity” is often a valuable market niche as well). So it was with little surprise that I learned that Israeli sushi [gracious half-bow to Jonathan Edelstein] is moving in its own directions.


Korean History Weblog Launch

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:26 am

Today we are launching our new collaborative Korean history weblog. You can read more about the goals of the site here.

I’m going to start it out with a series of postings this week on early Western perceptions of Koreans in the late 19th century and colonial period. I’ll later post a summary of some of the work out there on Japanese perceptions of Korea during the same period for comparison.

Since a lot of postings will discuss Japanese imperialism and colonial Korea, there may be some cross-posting. Since we won’t cross-post everything however, you might want to pay the Korean history weblog a visit on occasion.



Filed under: — Brian McVeigh @ 10:43 pm

I’d like to introduce myself. I teach in the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Arizona and specialize in Japan. I lived in Japan from 1987 until 2002. I’ve published 6 books, and I’m now working on my seventh. I was trained as an anthropologist, and my research interests range from nationalism, education, gender, consumerist culture, to religion.
I’m now interested in cross-national and changing conceptions of “property,” particularly as it relates to political economy, definitions of personhood, and “self-appearance.”

I very much look forward to hearing about the views of others.


Brian J. McVeigh

Searching Google Print for Old Books on Japan

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:37 pm

Google print, which is scanning thousands of books in major research libraries, is useful when you want to scan across many English language books for terms. It only offers you a few pages, but will show you all the hits for words in given books, the pages they are on, and what pages surround them. Many books are not yet available, and you will find that some important books on East Asian history, both old and new are frustratingly missing will less common works are there. However, instead of going to the index of books you own, if it is on Google Print we have an increasingly quick alternative to consulting indexes.

For example, didn’t Sheldon Garon’s book Molding Japanese Minds mention that incident with Peru and the Maria Luz? Ah yes, searching with “sheldon garon maria luz” Google Print tells me that it is mentioned on page 91, and in a footnote on page 305. I can then login to my google account and view that page, and in many cases a few pages surrounding it.

Now, most of us know that Google has been scanning lots of books no longer protected under copyright. Thanks to this announcement, it is easier for me to get at them.

Go to Google Print and search for Japan related books, for example, with this search term:

japan date:1500-1923

You can also use other search elements to limit by author for example (eg. author:smith) or title (eg. intitle:language).

This could develop into a very useful searching tool for us in the future, since every page of these public domain books can be searched and viewed through google.

Update: See more interesting examples of old google print text searching over at Cliopatria.


“The Apprentice”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:22 am

I recently learned [29 October 2005 show, round 3] that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, recently indicted for his role in, at the very least, the coverup of the Valerie Plame Wilson leak, is a published author. Why should I care, I hear you ask? Because his book, The Apprentice is about a dramatic encounter in 1903 Japan. (You can view the book at Amazon, as well as decidedly mixed reader reviews)

The Apprentice takes place in a remote mountain inn in northernmost Japan, where a raging blizzard has brought together wayfarers who share only fear and suspicion of one another. It is the winter of 1903, the country is beset with smallpox and war is brewing with Russia.

In the flickering shadows of the crowded room, the apprentice, charged with running the inn during the owner’s absence, finds himself strongly attracted to one of the performers lodged there. His involvement with the mysterious travelers plunges him headlong into murder, passion and heart-stopping chases through the snow.

Several of the news stories which mention the book say that it got “favorable reviews” but, on the erotic bits at least, the New Yorker (which was probably the source for the Wait, Wait questions) disagrees. I can’t find any reviews which seem to be written from a good Japanese historical or literary background. Libby worked for the State Department’s East Asia desk in the early-mid 1980s, which seems to be where he got his interest in Japanese history as a backdrop for his writing.

My university library system does not, alas, have a copy, but my state public library does. I’ve put in a request, so I might be able to answer my own questions shortly. But if anyone out there who knows the period has already read it, I’d be happy to hear from them first.


Frog In the Well Index, Logo, and Buttons

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:52 pm

I have uploaded a new index page for us here at Frog in a Well. It displays our new Frog in a Well logo, based on a painting by Joseph Y. Lo, who has kindly given us permission to use a modified version of it throughout the website.

In addition, I have prepared two buttons that you are free to use when linking to us:



Additionally, stay tuned as we will soon be launching the Korean history blog here!

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