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Japanese Culture is global culture

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:38 am Print

A lot of elements of Japanese culture have become part of the great global mash-up, especially food culture and pop culture. But none, I think, will have the endurance of the little poem that could, the haiku.

Via Miriam Burstein, who's usually more inclined to blog in script than in verse, comes word of an Academic Haiku Contest: summarize your research in a mere seventeen syllables! Unfortunately, the contest is ending shortly, but if anyone can dash off haiku, I image that our readers can. My own contribution was bilingual:

Yamaguchi no
Hawai deimin ga
Obon kaeri

I suppose you’d like it in English? Let’s see if I can translate it and maintain the Haiku form:

Obon dances bring
Yamaguchi emigrants
back from Hawai’i

[Obon is the a Japanese festival honoring ancestors, a time when families come together. Yamaguchi prefecture was a significant source of Japanese migration to Hawai’i]
"International Labor Migrants Return to Meiji-Era Yamaguchi and Hiroshima: Economic and Social Effects," under review.

My entry may actually have come too late to count, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun over here. Update: In comments, Jim Gibbon says that there's a few hours left, until 8pm EST (that's 3pm, HST), so let's show 'em what we've got!

Weekend Update: Voting is open through Monday. He's divided them into four categories so you can actually vote for four favorites! (OK, I've voted. Oddly, perhaps, I didn't vote for my own haiku in the Social Science division. It's the most technically correct haiku [the only one with a seasonal reference], but there was one I liked more. Go figure.)


Autobiographical Essays by Donald Keene

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:43 am Print
Yomiuri newspaper published a long series of autobiographical essays by Donald Keene which I somehow missed until today. Professor Keene is one of the most important Western scholars of Japanese literature of the past century and is still very active. Appropriately enough, his most recent work, published by Columbia University Press in 2006, is entitled Frog in the Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793-1841 (BF). From the historian's point of view, Keene's own life and experiences are themselves of great interest. He served the US military as a Japanese translator and interpreter in World War II before resuming his academic studies after the war. Letters by Keene, Otis Cary and others published various as War Wasted Letters, Eyewitness to History, and From a Ruined Empire give us a fascinating look into the early postwar realities of Japan and East Asia. In these essays in Yomiuri Keene shares many more of his stories from his earliest childhood to his thoughts about old age. I believe the essays were serialized in Japanese in the print version of Yomiuri (「私と20世紀のクロニクル」) but I can't seem to find the full originals (Commentators in the Japanese blogosphere abound), so perhaps they are destined for publication in book form. You can find a full listing of the 49 essays in English here: Chronicles of My Life in the 20th Century Below I have excerpted a few of the passages in the articles that I read through this evening and found especially interesting... In one article we learn that he had his first encounter with Chinese characters through a fellow Chinese student at Harvard named Lee. Keene notes his fascination with the Tale of Genji, which he read in translation but notes that his friend Lee, who by now was teaching him Chinese over lunch in a Chinese restaurant near Columbia University (Despite the time leap, I can't get an image of him sitting in Ollies, the Chinese restaurant now across from the entrance of Columbia on 116th and Broadway, out of my head), was no fan of Japan:
Until this time I had thought of Japan mainly as a menacing militaristic country. I had been charmed by Hiroshige, but Japan was for me not the land of beauty but the invader of China. Lee was bitterly anti-Japanese. When we went to the New York World's Fair we visited the various foreign pavilions, but he absolutely refused to enter the Japanese pavilion. I sympathized with him and his country, but this did not prevent me from enjoying "The Tale of Genji." No, "enjoy" is not the right word; I turned to it as a refuge from all I hated in the world around me.
In another essay Keene talks about how, together with his friend Inomata, he learned of the outbreak of war:
On December 7, 1941 I went hiking with Inomata on Staten Island. When the ferry returned to the southern tip of Manhattan Island, a man was selling newspapers with the headline "Japs Attack U.S. Hawaii, Philippines bombed by Airmen." I laughed at the headline. The newspaper, the only one published on Sunday afternoon, often had sensational headlines in order to attract customers. Inomata and I separated, he for Greenwich Village, I for Brooklyn. When I got back home I discovered that the newspaper, for once, had not exaggerated. Realizing how upset Inomata would be by the news, I wanted to find and reassure him. I searched everywhere in Greenwich Village without success. He later told me that, fearing violence against Japanese, he had spent the night in an all-night cinema where he remained undetected.
In the same article Keene reports what happened to one of his professors, Tsunoda Ryusaku:
I went as usual to Tsunoda sensei's classroom, but he did not appear. He had been interned as an enemy alien. At his trial, some weeks later, he was accused of taking long walks without a dog, proof that he was a spy. The judge dismissed the case and Tsunoda sensei returned to Columbia where he spent the war teaching as usual.
He talks about his decision to join the Navy and continue his language studies under military instruction:
Not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor I heard a radio commentator declare that only 50 Americans knew Japanese. I wondered if, on the basis of my summer in the mountains, I was one of the 50. The commentator was misinformed. Not fifty but hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans knew Japanese and some had been educated in Japan. The best I could do, with the help of two dictionaries, was to read a simple newspaper article. I could not utter one sentence in Japanese, and did not understand Japanese when it was spoken. I was painfully aware, of course, of these limitations. That is why, when I learned of the Navy Japanese Language School, I wrote to the Navy Department asking to be admitted. A letter came from Washington soon afterwards requesting me to appear for an interview. I don't recall what I was asked during the interview, but a few weeks later I received a notice stating that I should report to the University of California for induction into the language school.
In another installment we learn about his secretive translation work on captured Japanese documents in the military and efforts to make it more entertaining:
For the first few days we were excited to think that our secret work was going to help end the war, but the documents were so unmistakeably without value that the euphoria did not last long. The documents had been picked up on Guadalcanal, an island in the South Pacific where a long battle took place between the Japanese, who had seized the island, and the Americans who eventually succeeded in taking it back. By this time the fighting on Guadalcanal had ended and the Japanese there had been killed, but we went on translating routine reports on platoons that no longer existed or on the number of sheets of paper and bottles of ink in their possession. Translating such materials was so tedious that we tried making it more interesting by rendering the Japanese documents into old-fashioned English or into the language of popular fiction. The lieutenant, who knew Japanese, sometimes read over our translations. He would then summon us and point out our errors in a rage, translating our English into Navy language.
I was particularly moved when he discusses the diaries of dead Japanese soldiers he comes across:
One day I noticed a large wooden box containing captured documents. The documents gave off a faint, unpleasant odor. I was told that the little notebooks were diaries taken from the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers or found floating in the sea. The odor came from the bloodstains. I felt squeamish about touching the little books but, carefully selecting one that seemed free of bloodstains, I began to translate it. At first I had trouble reading the handwriting, but the diaries, unlike the printed or mimeographed documents I previously had translated, were at times almost unbearably moving, recording the suffering of a soldier in his last days. ... Sometimes the last page of a Japanese soldier's diary contained a message in English, asking the American who found the diary to return it to his family after the war. I hid such diaries, though it was forbidden, intending to return the diaries to the diarist's family, but my desk was searched and the diaries were confiscated. This was a great disappointment. The first Japanese I ever really knew were the writers of the diaries, though they were all dead by the time I met them.
In addition to translating captured documents Keene also frequently interacted with and interviewed Japanese and Korean POWs. He talks about his first prisoner on Okinawa:
Soon we had our first prisoners, an Army lieutenant and a Navy ensign. The Army officer was quite cheerful, ready to exchange jokes with his captors. After the war I had a letter from him in which he styled himself "Prisoner Number One." The Navy officer, much younger, was morose. I guessed that he was ashamed to have been taken alive. He seemed reluctant to respond to simple questions, but a few days later he asked me if I would talk with him as one student to another, not as enemies. I agreed. He asked whether there was any reason why he should remain alive. This was not the first time a prisoner had asked me this question. Although I was barely twenty-three and knew little of the world apart from books, I answered the question with confidence, urging the prisoner to stay alive and work for the new Japan.
Unlike some of his fellow translators, Keene did not go straight to Japan with its surrender but served with the Marines in Qingdao, where he had a number of unpleasant experiences he talks about in an article about his time in early postwar China:
My worst experience was investigating war crimes. One day, while talking with a Korean, I happened to mention the name of a Japanese naval officer with whom I was friendly. The Korean said with an ironic smile, "Yes, he's a nice man who eats human liver and boasts of it." I asked him in astonishment what he meant, and this led to an investigation of how Chinese, accused of various crimes, had been executed. The accused, without trial, were tied to stakes and used for bayonet practice. It was hoped that this would harden young recruits. Sometimes, I was told, a Japanese soldier cut the liver from the corpses. I had not been trained in criminal investigation and the work was distasteful especially because it involved people I knew. I asked to be allowed to return to America. I was told that if I continued my work on war crimes another month I would be given a week in Peking, but I refused. I regret now I did not see Peking. It was before the brutal modernization of the city.
I haven't read through all the postwar articles, but I found both his article on his friendship with Mishima, and reflecting on aging to be interesting as well. Keene is familiar to most students of Japan here in the West, who often find that their course reading of Japanese literature in translation is by him, but he is also widely known and loved in Japan, which perhaps explains the fact that a search on the title of the series turns web pages by many Japanese who have clearly eagerly followed each installment as it emerged.


Discover Nikkei

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 8:42 pm Print
I've been working on a project with the Japanese American National Museum for my seminar "Japanophilia," and have gotten to know their amazing website Discover Nikkei. As Japanese studies expands beyond its traditional boundaries, resources like this one become increasingly valuable to teachers and students. The buzzword in recent years is, of course, transnational, and I can't think of a better place to begin exploring what that means than this site. Five sections serve as doorways into a huge array of content. The first tab, "What is Nikkei?" asks many of the questions that visitors are likely to have in mind, but the site doesn't presume to answer them, which opens up the possibility that students can answer them themselves as they make use of the available resources. "Community Forum" contains articles and an extensive bulletin board, with posts in English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese, which all visitors can register to access. "Real People" contains video interviews with Japanese Americans, ranging from Issei storytellers to Sansei entrepreneurs like Eric Nakamura, co-founder of Giant Robot. "Nikkei Resources" is an impressive Wiki with information on just about every Japan- and JA-related topic you can think of, including war brides, lesson plans, Japanese food, manga, and Nikkei Veterans. The last section, "Make History," is in some ways the most exciting, because it allows users to upload content, create collections of data, "curate" online exhibitions, and in various other ways become knowledge producers and historians. The students in my seminar are going to be researching gardens and nurseries in the L.A. area that exhibit Japanese design or that are the result of JA activities. Eventually, this content will be uploaded to the "Make History" section of the website, probably under the "Nikkei Album" subsection, where we will be able to curate our photographs and analysis into a mini-exhibition that will connect to a JANM exhibition planned for the summer.


アジア歴史情報センター (JACAR)

Filed under: — kuniko @ 11:34 am Print
長い間ご無沙汰していましたが、皆様お元気ですか? Sorry for my long absence. The site looks good and fun.Thanks, Konrad! I would just like to inform that Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR, アジア歴史情報センター) is coming to hold a workshop on March 20 (Tuesday) at the Knafel center at Harvard. Detail/logistics is being worked out right now and I would like to hear from potential audiences' interests and suggestions. Let me know. As you may know JACAR offers a database of over 850,000 documents in 12 million digital images drawn from the Japan's National Archives, the Diplomatic Archives, and the Institute of Self Diffense Archives, and is growing fast. An essential resource for Modern East Asian History. JACAR's chief project administrator Mr. Shohei Muta will lead the workshop/s and looking forward to hearing from your feedbacks, questions, suggestions. P.S. The day before, on March 19, we are planning for a hans-on workshop for JapanKnowledge, another indispensable Japan research tool. The site is adding Shogakukan's Nihon Kokugo jiten 「日本国語辞典」, 13 volumes of Japan's version of the OED.


Some Japan News

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:05 am Print

Japanese Culture Minister offended though whether it was by the quality of the sushi or by the fact that it shared the menu with Korean food is unclear. Japanese culinary supremicism is not a new theme (nor is the fact-fudging about "Japanese tastes" necessary to support it), but what is interesting is that in Europe, where regions can claim the exlusive right to certain culinary labels, Japanese complaints about authenticity are clearly being taken much more seriously than they will here. I don't care what they say: poke macnut sushi is a step forward.

It wasn't history, so it didn't make the carnival, but Adam Richard's roundup of Anglophone information on Japan is a fantastic collection ranging from think tanks to podcasts. My next contemporary Japan class is going to have to make use of this, I think.

In spite of new evidence regarding Japanese war crimes, a Japanese director is planning a Nanjing Massacre Denial production (is there anything more tiresome than the prospect of a widely announced documentary project produced by a hard-core partisan on a subject the results of which are known in advance and easily rebuttable?) in response to the widely acclaimed pro-fact documentary. Naturally, China is disturbed. This comes in the midst of remarkably ambitious attempts to reach common understanding, though with caveats. It's important work, though.


Asian History Carnival #11

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:33 am Print

Ando Momofuku Memorial: PhD Comics
Dave at Peking Duck has more.

There was one, and only one, usable submission through

The Bizarre Jokester presents The Niihau Incident posted at Amazingly Bizarre

The rest of it was Kung-fu, vitamin spam and Feng-shui. I'm partially to blame, of course: Having failed to twist enough arms to produce a host, I put off announcing and begging for posts too long. As a result, I'm forced to do this more or less myself, with the stuff that I would have forwarded to whoever volunteered.... Needless to say, if I miss anything interesting, by all means nominate them. And, of course, if you're interested in hosting, even in the distant future (which, in blogging terms, is six months or more), let me know. NOW, please.

This section is based on stuff I submitted to the last History Carnival, with significant supplements from the previous six weeks and some things I missed:

I did a little bad history takedown on some Mongol/Iraq analogizing. I still haven't figured out why the generally progressive and anti-statist Japan Focus ran this piece. I also did a late report from the AHA on some Islamic history panels that my friend Sepoy was kind enough to host at his blog. (Brian Ulrich is on the Sunni-Shia split patrol as well, an elegant and complicated history.)

Owen Miller, at the Korea blog, asks some hard questions (he's good at that), and catching some really bad rhetoric

Alan Baumler and I have gotten into the habit of posting syllabi at the beginning of the semester

The Year of the Pig has gotten some attention at our China blog (I draw your attention to the comments section, as well).

Unfortunately, this only takes us back two weeks, whereas the last AHC was almost eight weeks ago. So, being a good historian, it's time to dig backwards.

My AHA blogging also included a first-day panel on sports and nationalism

Bucky Sheftall did a great post on the history of Blood Typology: Not only is it, as my friend Orac would say, a load of woo, it's a load of woo with a troubling history.

I love it when bloggers collaborate: Jottings from the Granite Studio and The Useless Tree did some good thinking about Xunzi, especially as a teaching exercise. And I'm always in favor of the history of historians.

It can be disconcerting to discover that someone with a similar name to yourself is one of the most famous defectors to North Korea. Thanks, Adamu. Joe, at MutantFrogTravelogue, found in the newly available Time Magazine archives a detailed feature on Japan in 1970, which is going to make it into the reading list for my next 20c course.

The MutantFrog himself copied a timeline of Japanese-resident Koreans from a South Korea-associated middle-school textbook. While it is ROK-related, I'm a bit surprised that DPRK history doesn't at least make a token appearance beyond the beginning and end of the Korean war. Speaking of the internationalization of Korean history, the China-Korea history wars continue, and the Japan-Korea conflicts have spilled over into US school testing, but there was a time when Japanese and Korean anarchists worked closely.

Natalie Bennett notes a Times Online story about "ghost marriages" in China, including the -- rare, I hope -- depth of depravity to which some people have gone to satisfy their relatives in the afterlife. The "demographic time bomb" issue has been pretty prominent in my China course, but this is a twist I really didn't expect. She also noted the exclusion of Starbucks from the Forbidden City, though Lisa says that it wasn't a big deal.

The award-winning Alan Baumler's been doing some material culture blogging, too: a thoughtful post on antiques and a nice discussion of the Luoyang Shovel, designed for graverobbers and beloved by archaeologists.

Michael, in Xinjiang reports on a cannabis-totin' shaman mummy. My students are gonna love this....

Richard, in Taipei, reports critically on the Chinese documentary about the Rape of Nanjing.

Bill Benzon, in Tokugawa Blogging: Best of 2006, recalls his pleasure at reading Eiko Ekegami's Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture

Ikegami argues that individuals who were assigned different stations by the Tokugawa shogunate would temporarily “escape” that structure in the pursuit of poetry, flower arranging, the tea ceremony, theatre, painting, and so forth. Samurai, merchants, farmers, and others were thus able to meet and interact as equals in these aesthetic activities. Over the centuries, these informal institutions forged a civil society “that generated an image of aesthetic Japan as if it had been a natural description of the geographical identity called Japan” (375)

Art and architecture at the Marmot's Hole: Yongsan's colonial era architecture and the architect Kim Swoo-geun. And at wood s lot, a tribute to photographer Sze Tsung Leong, chronicler of urban change.

On a lighter note, 100wordminimum watched a terribly bilingual historical pun treated like gospel on a Japanese quiz show. Year of the Pig, indeed.

Errors, omissions and bad style are par for the course: if you don't like it, volunteer and show me up next time. [Update: I now have volunteers for March and April -- many thanks! -- but the rest of the year is wide open!]

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