Grading Finished; Blogging Resumes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:45 am

She really has no conviction to her writing. It seemed merely argumentative and she was just trying to prove her points through facts. That’s alright to me but why write in the first place then if you don’t have any real excitement to it? I think that she does not make any real strong opinions, but rather forms opinions based on the excerpts from her source material.

Yes, this is my students’ writing. Apparently we need more passion in our scholarship, and less evidence. And the semicolon in the first sentence of the following takes normal empty waffling to a whole new transcendant level:

Society is based on differences and similarities; this is what makes the past history unique. Throughout history many people depict these differences. Some empires may be fighters while others are communicators. Domination, learning, and success are what set these apart from each other and what joins them together. Asian and Roman empires built strong states, and dominant leaders that rose up to defind the country and people. Civilization in the early ages shaped society to what it is today with its culture, trade, and power.

Seriously, though, there’s been lots of interesting stuff coming across my desk that I didn’t have to grade recently. Just today, PMJS informed me that the folks at Bowdoin, led by Tom Conlan, have made the Heiji Monogatari Emaki available, in the same lovely detail and interactive utility as the Mongol Invasion Scrolls they published last year. Just in time for my Early Japan class next semester!

For those of you who didn’t get enough Pearl Harbor stuff earlier in the month, here’s some belated Pearl Harbor anniversary blogging:

Also via Eric Muller, an article about the Densho Project, an innovative oral history and archive centered on the WWII evacuation and detention. The glossary and discussion of terminology and euphemism is worth the price of admission (It’s free; that’s an expression) alone.

On the other end of that war, more debates about atomic bombs, this time featuring Howard Zinn (and Gar Alperovitz) v. D. M. Giangreco. Also, details about the MacArthur-Hirohito meeting.

There may be some historiographical hope in the news, though: Chinese and Japanese historians meeting, and making progress, and the museum at Yasukuni Shrine altering its presentation slightly in the direction of balance and realism. However, as if the Japanese school system didn’t have enough problems, now they’re responsible for patriotism.


“D-Mat” and the whole “blood type/temperament” thing…

Filed under: — M.G. Sheftall @ 7:30 pm

Wondering if anyone else on FIAW has seen this article by David Picker in the NYT about Matsuzaka Daisuke’s blood type…

I don’t think Picker has gotten the straight dope about the origins of the Japanese blood-type obsession — and (surprise, surprise) I suspect the usual cosmetic smokescreens regarding Japan’s militarist past on the part of whoever the “buffer” (someone alert van Wolferen!) was who was feeding Picker his J-cultural background info.

Anyway, after hearing from my students here in Japan about the wonders of blood-typing practically since the day I stepped off the jumbo jet, I have long been interested in the origins of the whole blood-type-as-personality-indicator deal. From what I have been able to gather so far, this was NOT the brainchild of some 1971 journalist, as Picker attests, but rather, and as is the case with so much of what is glossed over today both for domestic and foreign consumption as quaint, innocuous, quirkily regimented aspects of Japanese society (e.g., “radio calisthenics”, morning 朝礼 motivational speeches at schools and workplaces, 回覧板 neighborhood association circulars, etc.), I strongly suspect it has its origins in Japanese militarism/mobilization programs of the early Showa Period.

Here’s the “real deal”, as far as I have been able to ascertain: in the 1930s, the Army Ministry tasked a university researcher (Kyoto, IIRC) to develop a quick method that could be carried out at draft induction centers to determine which conscripts would be most suitable for assignment to infantry units. The university prof, for some reason, latched onto blood type difference as promising data in this regard. Eugenics, of course, was very much in the air at the time — it being the era of the Nazis and cranial calipers and Social Darwinism and similar creepy, exploitation-legitimizing research. Moreover, as is typical of military bureaucracies everywhere, the Japanese were planning their next war on the expectation that it would be similar — if not identical — to the last, i.e., in this case, a combat environment along the lines of the Western Front in 1914-18 (which Japanese exchange officers had observed and had the you-know-what scared out of them — this experience was also very much the impetus for Yamagata Aritomo and Tanaka Giichi’s initial “総動員” {general mobilization} planning, of course) putting similar psychological stresses on its combatants. In other words, what they were looking for were recruits with the kind of thick-skinned, somewhat passive personality that would enable them to endure long months of immobility in trenches under enemy artillery barrages without turning into nerve-wrecked shellshock cases, and who could best be expected to unquestioningly follow orders to charge into sweeping machine gun fire. The professor determined that people with “O” type blood — whom the doctor characterized as being distinctly “cattle-like” in temperament — would make the best infantrymen for the next expected trenches/gas/machine gun war.

Not exactly the samurai sword-swinging swashbuckling “Type O” “warrior” of Picker’s imagery, is it? But then again, I have a hard time imagining “D-Mat” patiently hunkering down in a trench under an artillery barge without running to the nearest field phone to call his agent…

Anyway, the “science” of it all was — and is — pretty bogus, but several million Japanese Army conscripts brought the basic concept home with them after their service, and it has become a fixture in the national imagination ever since (as well as in former Japanese colony Korea).

This may explain why the blood-type-reading genre is relatively unknown outside of these two countries. Moreover, it has been my observation that most Americans, at least, don’t even know their blood type unless they are: 1) regular blood donors; or 2) are military veterans with vague recollections of an A, AB, B or O stamped onto their dogtags.

By the way, according to the old Imperial Army categorizations, as a nervous, obsessive/compulsive “Type A”, I would have been assigned — for my own good and that of others around me — far from the “sound of the guns” . So much for my childhood dreams of martial glory…(sigh)…

Announcement: East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:21 am

The Frog in a Well project is expanding. While we hope our three bilingual collaborative weblogs dedicated to the study of East Asian history will continue to develop and add more contributors, I would like to announce a new project that we are hosting here, the East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki, or EALA:

The East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

This wiki will serve as a central collection site for information about archives, libraries, museums, etc. in East Asia that are of potential interest for anyone doing research on or in East Asia. It will also include sections dedicated to other kinds of resources but its primary focus it to provide researchers with a good starting place and reference for information on sites they may be visiting. While many archives have websites, my experience has been that they vary significantly in quality, convenience, organization, and speed of access. Also, visitors to archives can often provide extremely useful information to future visitors that may not be of the kind you are likely to read on the archive’s official homepage. The two most important aspects of each archive entry will be: 1) Basic reference information that will help a researcher plan ahead for their visit and easily find links to more details 2) Provide a place where researchers may record their personal experiences in the archive. As a wiki, anyone will be able to edit the individual entries, update information that might be out of date, and record their own experiences.

The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki was originally founded in 2003 and originally hosted in a similar form at Chinajapan.org. It was inspired by the Chinese archives website at UCSD which hosts a range of useful, if somewhat outdated information for students and scholars wanting to do research in the archives of China.

I hope that other students and scholars of East Asia will share some of their experiences and, as they conduct their own research will consider updating information available. You may read more about the site here, and there are numerous help files on how to edit and create pages on the site here. The wiki has links to a blank archive form (PDF, Word, and wiki formatted text) for convenient note taking on your visit. I have posted a few entries from my time in Japan, which I added to the original site in 2003-4. To get an idea of what kind of information entries can include, see for example the entries for International Library of Children’s Literature, the Ōya Sōichi Library, and the Yokohama Archives of History.

While it is off to a slow start, I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce the Frog in a Well Library, or the 文庫, where we will host various primary documents related to the history of East Asia: The Frog in a Well Library


AHC #10 is up

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:04 am

Gracchi at Westminster Wisdom has put together a fantastic 10th AHC. The material ranges from the Russian Near East to Japan, Mongolia to India, and closes out the year with a very strong finish.

It’s not too soon, though, to start thinking about next year! AHC will take a short break (I don’t think anyone wants to do a 1/1 edition!) and come back rested and ready on February 2nd. Host volunteers for that, and future, editions welcome. As we’ve seen before, you don’t have to be a specialist to be a good host, so don’t be shy!


Pearl Harbor and the longue duree

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:41 am

In honor of the 65th anniversary, HNN has a Pearl Harbor extravaganza this week. There’s a little recap, and the obligatory zombie error smackdown, which are fine. The article by George Feifer, though, is considerably more challenging: he argues that Pearl Harbor is a direct result of Perry’s opening of Japan.

Think about that one a minute. The argument, roughly, goes like this: by forcing Japan to recognize its technological and cultural inferiority, by humiliating the nation, the US put Japan on a path of competitive militarization and power expansion directed at mirroring and surpassing specifically US power, which ultimately resulted in the clash of empires which never coincides with anything convenient in the academic calendar. He even argues, echoing Ishiwara Kanji, that the US shouldn’t have been surprised, given how the US-Japan relationship begins, by the result.

I don’t find that argument any more convincing than the ones which argue a straight line between Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are some interesting assertions — not much in the way of evidence, but it’s a short piece — about the military commanders involved, Ishiwara Kanji and Yamamoto Isoroku, but it’s a long way from poetic justice to historical causality. You can’t draw straight lines across broad fields of contingencies. To fixate on the US-Japan relationship, to the exclusion of Japan’s other unsatisfactory international relationships, to fixate on Perry as the cause to the exclusion of basic facts of geography in an age of geo-politics, to distill a complex of policy and principle down to a simplistic vengeance “served cold”, may make for a satisfying narrative, but doesn’t — it seems to me — adhere to any of the principles of good historical logic which we’re supposed to model for our students and leaders.

Feifer is actually doing more than just arguing a long causal chain; he’s also drawing parallels between the opening of Japan and the US intervention in Iraq: misleading public statements about goals (“The shipwrecked-sailors issue was the weapons-of-mass-destruction boondoggle of its day”), cultural supremacism, imperialistic zeal (he compares Commodore Perry with Vice President Cheney, which really puts the “conservative” back in “neo-con”) and the role of coal as the oil of the 19th century. You could find those four elements — really only three: supremacism, imperialism and resource security — in lots of 19th and 20th century interventions. He ends with the portentous lines: “The galled people with the punctured conviction of their own superiority took special pleasure in the sinking of four ships on Battleship Row: the number with which Perry first menaced them. Shouldn’t that prompt thought about the unintended consequences of using force?” The implication here is that even if our adventurism in Iraq turns out well inthe short or medium term, it’s likely to come back to bite us eventually. While I’m sympathetic to this argument in some forms (and I know how hard it is to find a good closing line, too), its overreaching: ultimately there are no uses of force which don’t have possible unintended consequences.

If the Americans hadn’t gotten Japan to sign treaties, others would have — Russians, British — and it would have been no less humiliating. If the Americans hadn’t colonized the Pacific, the Spanish and Dutch and British would still have been there. If the Russians hadn’t been agressive in northeast Asia… well, they wouldn’t have been Russians, and then we’re talking way-out counterfactuals. Japan had a lot of reason to feel threatened, a lot of nations looking down at them, and its success made conflict over resources and territory very likely. Single lines don’t connect all these dots.


The Trials and Tribulations of Teaching

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 6:14 pm

A friend who teaches American and sometimes Asian history courses sent me the following enquiry, which she received via email from one of her American history students. I am happy to say that I have never received a student message this inane or inarticulate, though the fundamental confusion about the geography of the world and the chronology of our recent past is somewhat familiar.

Now, I have a question pertaining to the history of World War 2. I was wondering why we dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. because we didnt do it until 1945 and Pearl Harbor was in 1941. Also, we had already gotten back at them on April 18, 1942 in Tokyo right? First it was Hiroshima on August 6th and then three days later we dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, correect? My other question is if Japan is a seperate country from North Korea and I know its seperate from China, but do they speak Chinese. Last night I was watching Pearl Harbor and in it they said to remember these words, I can’t say them, but they were in Chinese. I thought it was the Japanese we were mad at in Tokyo. I am a little confused about this please help.Thanks, XXXXXXXXXX

Of course the general ignorance of this message is frustrating, but what really bothers me is the lack of formality. I have talked with colleagues about this, and many disagree. Email is the students’ natural medium, they say, and they are not used to writing in the style of a letter as I would prefer: “Dear Professor So-and-So.” Still, it rankles me when I get emails from students that begin, “Hey, I was wondering . . .” Related to the lack of formality is the absence of care regarding spelling and grammatical errors. We all send emails (or publish blog entries) without spell-checking, but the above message is just egregious.


Thanksgiving Vacation and Homework

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:17 am


Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I went over to the Waikoloa Hilton. My son loves the boats and trams, and there’s nothing like watching dolphins play. The pools are great and the food, though pricey, is good.

But the fun part, for me, is their immense collection of Asian and Pacific art. Most of it is arranged along a mile-long “Museum Walkway,” and one evening after my son was asleep, I went out and walked the mile with my digital camera. Conditions were not ideal: a lot of the collection is under glass, and the hallway is narrow enough that larger pieces were sometimes hard to fit in the viewfield; as a result there’s a lot more pictures at an angle than I’d like. I went back the next day to see if I could get better non-flash shots, but the oddities of light and shadow on glass actually made it harder to get most things. Short of convincing the hotel to let me shoot a catalog for them, this is the best I’m gonna get.

I was pondering how best to archive and share these pictures, and I finally decided to set up a Flickr account (I had to upgrade, since I’ve got about a gigabyte’s worth of material and that would take about 50 months to upload on the free account). I haven’t gone through the whole collection yet, but you can see a nice sample of about a dozen pictures here. The collection ranges from South Pacific to Asia, with a bunch of Western stuff thrown in for good measure; eventually my goal is to have the whole collection uploaded and sorted into sets. If anyone sees something here that they want more of, let me know and I can start there….

Also, in the category of sharing great collections of images, if you aren’t on H-Asia you might not have seen this: “The Section of Japanese Studies of the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna is pleased to announce the opening of the internet database: UKIYO’E CARICATURES 1842-1905” There’s a lot more than just caricatures, and the images aren’t very heavily annotated (though they did transcribe the texts, which is a nice touch), but it’s worth noting.

Update: I’ve been rooting around Flickr — well, OK, I just plugged “Japan” into their group search box — and came up with a whole bunch of Japan-related collections: Japanese Archaeology, Japanese 20th Century, Buddhism in Japan, the very mixed Japan-Hawai’i Connection, and the deliberately mixed Japan: Old and New. Timesink!


Photos of Japan, 1951

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 3:47 am

One of my former students and her boyfriend have been scanning in old photos, and they happened upon some gems taken by the young man’s grandfather when he was stationed in Japan during the Korean War. I think these are some wonderful pictures, and I offer my thanks to Margaret and James for sharing them, and to James’s grandfather for taking them.

Img065 Beggars Chased By M.P.S!

This image, which was hand labeled with the caption “Beggars chased by M.P.s!” seems to show a bunch of people crossing train tracks at a station of some sort. Notice the guy lounging on the parked flatbed in the middle-left of the picture. The photographer really captured the movement of the people across the tracks, though I certainly don’t see any beggars or M.P.s! The caption seems important, though. Can we assume that Japanese people running across train tracks in 1951 pretty much must have been up to something in the imagined visual world of Occupation-era photography?

Img079 Hiroshima R.R. Station 1951-1

This image was labeled “Hiroshima R.R. Station 1951″ and is filled with all the contrasting forces of the age. Look at the different poses and sartorial styles of the two soldiers, who seem to represent two poles of the American military. Also interesting is the Japanese text visible in the photo, such as the writing on the bus, “Hiroshima Suburban Bus Company,” which in the prewar style reads from right to left; and the sign on the shop to the right of the station, which reads in the traditional style from top to bottom and right to left, “Hiroshima Noted Product (meisan) Raw Oysters.” Yum! The two people who seem to be most interested in the photographer are the little girl on the bus with the red hat and the man who is wearing a suit and walking toward the camera while reaching into his inner pocket. The fact that this is Hiroshima, too, post-atomic bomb and pre-bullet train, lends the photo extra meaning. I see a doubling here: American technology (the camera in the hands of the G.I.) constructing a representation of a city that was destroyed by American technology.

Img081 Altar Girls, Shinto Grand Shrine Of Eise, 1951

This photo, labeled “Altar Girls, Shinto Grand Shrine of Eise, 1951,” which I assume should be “Ise,” is a nicely shot picture that prefigures a lot of later explicitly exotic imagery of traditional Japan. I’m kind of surprised that a picture that looks so much like tourist and government imagery from the 80s and 90s would have been taken so early. I guess I should have known that G.I.s on furlough from Korea would make the grand pilgrimage like everyone else? It is a very masculine framing of the subject. This makes me wonder when the scopic regime of photography of traditional subjects was established in Japan. It also makes me wonder who the intended viewers were for photos like these?

Img071 Jap Pearl Diver (Fresh Out Of The Water) 1951

Lastly, this photo was labeled, in the parlance of the time, “Jap Pearl Diver (Fresh out of the water) 1951,” and positively glows with the unequal sexual politics of the Occupation era. The usual binaries seem to be present here: the male, conquering West; the female, passive East; and the dry, clean professional man and the wet, sexually alluring woman.

These types of visual materials must be fairly common among the old slide collections of veterans, but I would guess that few have been collected together or made public. They seem to me like invaluable records of this fascinating historical moment. Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by that. The gaze of the G.I. photographers is particularly clearly recorded here, making these images not so much records of Japan in 1951 as artifacts of the creation of certain American identities against a newly constituted “Japan.”

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