Conference Blogging: ASPAC 2009 at Soka University

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:06 pm

Soka - Peace Lake Founders HallASPAC was at Soka University of America this year. It’s in the hills above Laguna Beach, just down the road from Irvine, on the edge of a nature reserve. The campus is new — they opened in 2001 — and compact, with shiny new buildings and real ambition. Being a hilltop campus, there’s a lot of stairs; being in southern California, and near a nature preserve, there’s some lovely flora and fauna on campus, and I think I’ve solidified my reputation among my conference colleagues as “the camera guy.” Like so many American colleges, Soka U. has a religious foundation to its community and pedagogy, but is open to non-Soka Gakkai students and faculty1 and has a secular, transformative mission.

Soka - PrinciplesSoka Gakkai tends to be something of a sideshow for Japan specialists — a Nichiren sect with a political wing, it’s the largest single religious institution in Japan but usually gets folded in with the rest of the Buddhist traditions; the political aspects of it get subsumed by the LDP’s continuing dominance — but it has a global reputation for peace, environmental and educational projects which goes well beyond their numbers. One of the papers I heard on Sunday was a discussion of the role of foreign language study in Soka Gakkai pedagogy.2 Soka founder Makiguchi Tsunesaburo was an adherent of John Dewey’s liberal humanism and Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment philosophy before he became a Nichiren Buddhist, making it a thoroughly global new religion.3 The engraving on the left reads

  1. I can’t speak for the student body, but the Soka faculty who’ve dealt with the ASPAC board aren’t SG adherents []
  2. The paper was arguing that Soka theory leads to a more advanced and effective language teaching system, but most of it sounded an awful lot like the dialogues, N+1 and immersion methods I encountered in the ’80s. The Makiguchi stuff was fascinating, though. []
  3. No, I’m still not sure how you combine Kant, Dewey and Nichiren in a consistent theological fashion. The tensions between nationalism and internationalism, enlightenment ecumenicism and Lotus Sutra exclusivism, just to name a few, seem substantial. My personal experience with SG members in Japan suggests that it propogates as a sort of Prosperity Gospel, but that doesn’t actually simplify anything. []


Before the miniseries, there was….

Shogun Game cover I’m not sure when my family got this game, but I remember playing with it in the late 70s. Though Shogun is described as a “digital” game, there’s no electronics involved: magnets in the board turn the dial in each piece until a number shows in the window; that number is how far the piece can move next time. The pseudo-random element takes some of the strategy out of the game1 and so it moves pretty quickly. Below you can see a rare early checkmate — most games involve a lot of piece exchanges before checkmate is on the table — that my 7 year-old managed to pull of in his third game. The numbers swinging around in the pieces is quite enchanting, especially for kids.

Shogun Game Max MateThe game seems to have been invented by a Japanese, but I’m not sure it was ever marketed in Japan. Clavell’s Shogun came out a year or so before this game did, so it’s likely that the title would have been attached to anything with a hint of Japaneseness about it.

The association of ‘Japan’ with ‘digital’ is interesting; the use of ‘digital’ itself is an interesting cultural moment, the transition from ‘transistor’ to ‘digital.’ It’s got to be early in the analog v. digital wars, and the term is clearly being misused, as this is a patently analog game. Like “Shogun,” “digital” is a marketing device intended to invoke emotional responses rather than being descriptive.

  1. especially if you play a cutthroat version which doesn’t allow players to test moves before making them []


The (Ongoing) Economic Crisis

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 4:49 pm

One of my students is doing a summer research project on the Japanese financial crisis of the 1990s and we just looked at Jon Woronoff’s book The Japanese Economic Crisis (1992) which was originally published as Japan, the Coming Economic Crisis (1979). Woronoff, who was at one point a correspondent for the journal “Asian Business” and still writes about East Asian economies, was apparently widely panned at the time for being a Japanophobe or maybe just a hater in general, but I was very struck by how many of the issues he raises–banking problems, too much reliance on exports and protectionism, widening social inequalities, insecurity for the elderly, the massive generation gap of the late 20th century, collapse of the company loyalty ethic–became widely acknowledged and commented-upon social and economic problems after the collapse of the bubble. Didn’t he turn out to be right about a lot of things? Has he gotten any credit? This is not my field. My understanding of postwar economic issues is thin (Is MITI a college at M.I.T?). But the many ways in which Japan’s response to its crisis of two decades ago resonate with both the global and Japanese situation today make this feel worth revisiting.


Tomb Near Artifacts that Date to Himiko’s Purported Reign Dates Identified

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:55 pm

Am I the only person who had a bad reaction to the Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found headlines I’ve been seeing?

The article says

Archaeologists had previously claimed that the tomb, built in the traditional keyhole-shape design, was built in the fourth century and therefore too modern for Queen Himiko.

But a team led by Professor Hideki Harunari has discovered new clay artefacts close to the site, which radiocarbon dating indicates were made between 240AD and 260AD. According to records from the Chinese court, with which the Yamatai kingdom had links, Queen Himiko died around 250 AD.

The evidence seems quite circumstantial to me, from the oddly specific radio-carbon dating to the fact that they haven’t studied the tomb itself, to the treatment of Himiko and Yamatai as unequivocally Nara-centered.

I was just commenting on Jonathan Jarrett’s article about rehdroxylation rate dating that it would be nice to have better dating technology, as a safeguard against wishful thinking and distortions of the archaeological record.

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