Hawaiian Kanji

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:48 am

No, I’m not going to show you some cartoon of a spam musubi or a “remove your shoes” sign. This is, apparently, serious stuff: Educators working with the Hawaiian language revitalization and immersion movements have begun to use Kanji — and Japanese language generally — as a teaching tool for the Hawaiian language.

In spite of the fact that this press release came from my own institution, I actually know nothing about this. It’s wild stuff, but it has some very interesting pedagogical and cultural and linguistic foundations. There is a PDF from ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (‘APL) which has a great deal of detail and examples, including the one mentioned in the press release.

The core of the program is that both Hawaiian and Japanese are, phonetically speaking, syllabic languages, and that there are a lot of Japanese in Hawai’i, including relatives and ancestors of students in the Hawaiian program. The teachers who designed the program, aside from instilling respect, understanding and aloha in their students, wanted to use the ideographic characters to emphasize the syllabic nature of Hawaiian, as opposed to the alphabetic system of Roman letters. After assigning basic characters to each of the forty-five syllables of the Hawaiian language, they went on to teach the students more kanji by meaning, as well as conventional Japanese language instruction.1

I have to admit, it seems like a terribly roundabout way of handling the languages.

There’s an interesting historical side note to this, though. As I wrote in my dissertation2:

Hawaiian King Kalakaua visited Japan in 1881 and made three proposals which, although they were rejected, endeared the Hawaiian monarch to the Japanese authorities. The offer to revise their treaty to eliminate extra-territoriality was rejected so as not to interfere with similar negotiations with the Great Powers. An impulsive offer by King Kalakaua for a marriage alliance between his niece and an Imperial Prince (ages six and fifteen years, respectively) was turned down after a show of due consideration. Finally, a “Union and Federation of Asian Nations and Sovereigns” which would have given Japan a platform to demonstrate leadership and build prestige in the Pacific was rejected as endangering the generally good relationship between Japan and the United States, which had particularly strong interests in Hawai’i.

Hawai’i and Japan might have had a much closer relationship, and there might have been even more Japanese influence on the islands than there already is. There is also considerably more influence the other way than most people realize. There is an extensive Hula halau (school/team) network in Japan, whose members regularly visit Hawai’i to study with local teachers and immerse themselves in the culture.3 The Japanese government has even promoted the Hawaiian shirt (in its Okinawan form, officially) as a cool answer to the problem of work attire, and there are still lots and lots of Japanese who come to Hawai’i for honeymoons and vacations who could do some good for the economy and ecology of both countries by stocking up.

Sheer geography and the history of Japanese migration to Hawai’i has created an interesting — and definitely under-studied — relationship. One that could be shaped anew by a really creative reimagining of language pedagogy. Or it could be a complete dead end.

  1. as the press release points out, one of the criticisms of the Hawaiian immersion program is that it seems somewhat limited, in terms of economic potential after graduation. Japanese, of course, is the road to riches. At least that’s what it says in the big print. []
  2. p. 20. The citation is to Hilary Conroy’s The Japanese Frontier in Hawai’i, pp. 50-52 []
  3. one of the best Hula dancers and Hawaiian singers I’ve seen recently was a Japanese woman who teaches Hula in Japan []


Seidensticker’s Passing

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:35 am

I’m not one of those Japan scholars who came to the field as a Japanophile1 , and my preferred literary reading tends to speculative fiction, humorous verse and historical adventures. I’m almost certainly the wrong person to comment on Edward Seidensticker’s passing, but I’ll do until someone better comes along.

If you’ve studied Japanese history, literature, culture or society, the odds are extremely good that you’ve read something translated by Seidensticker. I’ve assigned his works before, particularly Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain and the abridged Tale of Genji. I’ve read a lot of the other Kawabata and Tanizaki he translated, and it always seemed to me that he was a sympathetic and faithful translator, but a final judgement would have to come from people who know the original works and the process of literary translation more intimately than myself.

I have to admit that I’ve never read Seidensticker’s memoir, so I can’t tell you much more about his life, etc. I can say, though, that his work is one of the great foundation stones of my own career. Not that I drew on his scholarship or ever met the man, but his accessible translations were fodder for hundreds of thousands of students, and the interest they raised sustained the growth of Japanese Studies.2

  1. nor as a Japanophobe. Just curious, really. []
  2. There’s an interesting argument to be had, perhaps, over whether cultural or economic factors are more important in area studies. I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other except to note that they promote very different kinds of scholarship and that we have usually had in Japanese studies a reasonably good balance. []


Useful, Inconvenient History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:43 pm

President Bush cited John Dower regarding the potential for post-war democratization. Bush was using Dower’s Embracing Defeat to ridicule those who believe the occupation of Iraq is failing to achieve a stable or democratic result by citing those who incorrectly believed that creating a liberal democratic state in Japan after WWII was impossible. This is a fairly transparent invocation of the “Galileo Gambit,” pointing out that people have, unsurprisingly, sometimes been wrong about things they felt strongly about and that the people who were right have sometimes been in the minority.

It’s interesting to see the example of Japan coming up again, as it was very commonly cited in the run-up to the Iraq war. John Dower himself, as the article points out, wrote several articles demolishing the idea that Japan was a good analogy to Iraq in this regard.1 Dower has also argued that Iraq is like Manchuria (with the US in the role of Japan) and more likely to be a quagmire than a shining example of modernity.2 The Bush Administration immediately disavowed any endorsement of Dower’s views outside of the citation made by the President, and this kind of historical cherry picking and selective ignorance is all too typical of politicians in general.

It bolsters my complaint from yesterday, though: a better understanding of Asian history generally, and of US involvement in it, would be all to the good, but so often Asia is just a foil, out of context and interesting only insofar as it affects us.

  1. November 2002 and March 2003 []
  2. I’ve also made the Manchuria analogy, and it still stands up pretty well, I’m afraid. []


Asia as a Marginal Category

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:18 pm

Here we go again.

The American Historical Association has proposed new rules for adding and eliminating membership categories, those “areas of scholarly interest” which allow university presses and conference panel organizers to find us when they need us. The last time they tried to eliminate “psychohistory” they got slammed, and these procedures are a response to that, an attempt to assuage feelings of persecution by creating a “fair procedure.” The process for adding a category is only slightly absurd: ten members in good standing have to sign a petition and, after verifying the good standing of the signatories, the association “staff” will make a recommendation to the Council (our highest muckety-mucks, the ones we vote for) regarding the inclusion of the category in the taxonomy of professional historians.1 The procedure for eliminating a category is a very impersonal one, by contrast: when the number of members picking a category drops below five for several years in a row, and warning people in Perspectives doesn’t change that, then “subject to Council’s final approval, that category will be deleted or consolidated.”

The categories are already a bit odd, frankly: revision wouldn’t be a bad idea. Take my own taxonomic position:

First area of scholarly interest: 258 Meiji Restoration, 1868-1912 (Japan)
Second area of scholarly interest: 710 Demography, Population, and Social Life
Third area of scholarly interest: 250 Japan

The first thing, of course, is that 1868-1912 isn’t the Meiji Restoration, but the Meiji era, and there isn’t a “19c” category to cover the growing scholarship on the transition. Second is that “Demography” is one of many choices I could have made to cover my study of Japanese labor migration to Hawai’i, including

705 – Asian American
726 – Labor
759 – Diaspora Studies
760 – Immigration
711 – Diplomatic/International

I actually was expecting to find a “transnational” category: “708 – Comparative” doesn’t quite cover it, and very little of what I do qualifes as “diplomatic history.” Third, of course, is that you’re only allowed to pick three categories, so my interest in Japanese colonial migration would have to be expressed in one of the following:

259 – Taisho and Early Showa Japan, 1912-1941
260 – Rise of Militarism and World War II (Japan)
275 – Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

There’s no category for “imperialism” or “colonialism” generally.2 Moreover, picking one of those would mean that I’d have no way to indicate “Japan” generally as something I’m interested in: clearly some form of nesting tree structure would make more sense than completely discreet categories.

Taxonomy Categories Vulnerable to Consolidation or Elimination, 2007OK, now let’s take a look at the categories which would be vulnerable to elimination under this system (their list is on the right). Twelve of the twenty-two categories (only seventeen of them are immediately endangered) are Asian, and four are African. Two are Byzantine and there’s Numismatics and Psychohistory (again).

They say that “This is not intended to make a statement about the relative merits of a particular subject or area of inquiry, just to assure that the taxonomy offers a proper reflection of the broad contours of the Association’s membership.” That sounds good, but I have another reading of this, one which goes beyond the grossly outdated database functions the AHA is using to keep track of us. I think that this list indicates that the AHA is failing to actually attract and keep as members those scholars who teach outside of the core Western fields. It’s certainly not done all that well attracting Asianists to the national meeting, though I think they’ve done better lately with the American Historical Review. Nor has the AHA, for all its talk about public history and expanding the definitions of historical practice, attracted archaelogists or other scholars of physical culture. How could numismatics, one of the earliest fields tieing archaeology and history together, be on the cutting block? How could a dozen Asian fields, most of them pretty healthy as scholarly endeavors, be out of the AHA, if the AHA were really working to represent and to serve the entire historical community? Asian studies is not a secondary field, but the study of the bulk of humanity and of some of the most interesting history. When will the American Academy start treating it as such?

  1. Do I have a better idea? Yes: allow people who pick “599 – Other” to include a short description (I would expect the database could handle a couple of dozen extra characters) and staff could monitor those. When a number of “others” listing something similar reached a certain level, then the Council could consider acting. This would also have the benefit of allowing people whose taxonomies have lapsed to continue listing themselves under their old categories []
  2. My neologism “Colonialogy” hasn’t caught on yet, but we might be able to correct that []


Update on Honnôji

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 5:03 pm

Professor Matthew Stavros of the University of Sydney (seen in the third photo below) wrote in response to my post on the discovery of roof tiles from Honnôji at an excavation site in Kyoto. Matthew, who is a specialist in medieval Kyoto and has participated in archaeological digs in the city, reports that archaeologists have been excavating this site, which they were almost certain was Honnôji, for some time, but lacked definitive proof. The significance of this recent find is that the roof tiles are marked with a symbol that was only used at Honnôji.

Matthew kindly provided some images from the excavation which illustrate something of the excavation process and results (after the break).



Asian History Carnival #16

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:24 pm

Welcome to the 16th Asian History Carnival. When you find interesting and original weblog postings related to Asian history, consider tagging them at del.icio.us or other popular tagging sites as “ahcarnival” or submitting the link here. Also, contact Jonathan Dresner (jonathan at froginawell dot net) or myself (frog at froginawell dot net) if you would like to volunteer to host the next carnival at your own weblog. Now, to the carnival…


Nobunaga’s death spot, Honnôji, discovered

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 4:08 pm

Those of you who are, like me, interested in that brief era in the late 16th and early 17th centuries known as the Momoyama period (or the Azuchi-Momoyama period for sticklers) will be interested to know that archaeologists in Kyoto have discovered the first solid proof of the location of Honnôji Temple. Honnôji was of course the site of Akechi Mitsuhide’s treasonous assault on the warlord Oda Nobunaga on Tenshô 10/6/2 (or June 21st, 1582 to most of us). Mitsuhide took advantage of the relative lack of guards, henchmen, and major vassals in the vicinity to launch a major attack which resulted in the incineration of the temple and the death of Nobunaga, known to many today as the first of the three “Great Unifiers” of the late sixteenth century. According to the Asahi Shimbun, archaeologists working over the past month have discovered roof tiles and stone walls from the temple, some marked with distinctive designs used only by Honnôji.

I wish I was in Kyoto now so I could visit the site! This is one of the most famous events in Japanese history, so the discovery of material remnants of the conflict (often referred to in Japanese as the “Honnôji incident”) is significant.


Akutagawa the Pacifist

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:00 pm

Japan Focus has expanded its mission one more time, this time to include new literary translations! They’ve published a Jay Rubin translation of an Akutagawa Ryonosuke story, The Story of a Head That Fell Off (“Kubi ga ochita hanashi”), which they describe as an “anti-war satire” and put in the context of a large body of untranslated Akutagawa anti-war satires

“Shogun” (The General, 1924), a well-known portrait of a victorious general resembling Nogi Maresuke (1849-1912), the “hero” of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, is a bitter satire of a man responsible for the death of thousands. “The Story of a Head That Fell Off,” set against the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, is an intense cry against the absurdity of war that unfortunately remains as relevant in our barbaric twenty-first century as it was in Akutagawa’s day.

In one brief, startling piece on the political misuse of history, “Kin-shogun” (General Kim, 1922), he incorporated Korean legend into a tale concerning Hideyoshi’s 1598 invasion of Korea.

I admit that most of the Japanese literature I’ve read was translated; I only delve into untranslated literary texts very rarely, but I do try to pay attention to what’s said about literature in other contexts. I’m more than a little surprised that Akutagawa’s anti-war stance never came to my attention before, but perhaps the fact that Akutagawa died in 1927 kept him from becoming a victim of the changing political situation post-1931 and therefore kept his politics a bit under the radar. Also, satire, particularly historical satire, can be very tricky to translate, especially for a general readership which is unfamiliar with the issues, context or style. And literary studies often specifically exclude political history, focusing on aesthetic and “cultural” elements, textual things that avoid the questions of audience and less subtle intentions.

It’s also a bit disconcerting, because Akutagawa is one of the few early 20c authors with which our students have the slightest chance of being familiar, through the famous movie version — and linguistic appropriation of the title to mean a situation of varying accounts — of “Rashomon” (and “In a Grove”, which is actually the story with the varying perspectives).1 It would be nice to have been better informed, and I wonder if my ignorance was common among my colleagues and readers, or if I just missed something obvious along the way.

The story’s pretty good, I’d say. It does have some of that familiar Akutagawa grotesquerie, which allows the characters to go a bit beyond normal polite conversation.

  1. Yeah, I took a look at the Wikipedia article on Akutagawa. It focuses quite exclusively on his more literary endeavors and views, and mentions none of the stories discussed in this article. []

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