井の中の蛙

9/27/2009

Hiroshima +50 (and +40)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:39 pm

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 8 - closeI haven’t participated in that many “historic” events, but I’m now old enough that my early pictures qualify as historic documents, at least. Here’s another sample of my Japan pictures: maybe not an historic event in itself, but a major anniversary commemoration of one.

I spent both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima bombing in Japan. (Also the 39th, but who cares?) We didn’t do anything to mark the 40th — we were too busy getting ready to come back to the US, where I was going to start college — but I do remember getting a haircut that day. A haircut isn’t really memorable most of the time, but our barber, just down the street from our ‘mansion,’ also gave old-fashioned shaves. Now I didn’t have much historical consciousness as a 17-year old, but a decade anniversary of an event like the world’s first atomic bombing, in the country where it happened, is something that you notice. So there I was, laying back in the chair on the anniversary of the day my country atom-bombed my barber’s country, and he’s standing over me with a straight-razor. I don’t miss shaving, but there’s nothing like a good straight-razor shave.

On the 50th anniversary, we were living in Yamaguchi, so we decided to take the train to Hiroshima for the commemoration. We’d been to Hiroshima before, with visiting relatives, so we’d seen the museums and the park. But it was different that day:
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9/19/2009

Hirohito’s last birthday

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:14 pm

Tenno 1988 - Emperor Wave enhancedI’m almost done, I suppose, with the first phase of my image digitization and pedagogy project, namely scanning a significant chunk of my Japan slides and prints. I’ve completely gone through the slides I had pulled for classroom use when I started teaching, supplemented with some from my complete collection; I still have dozens of boxes of slides to go through from my first year in Japan (1984-85), and I’m sure there are some surprises.1 I’ve gone through most of my prints as well — pictures from my junior year at Keio International Center (1987-88) and my graduate research year in Yamaguchi (1994-1995) — and extracted most of the interesting stuff, and I’m mostly done scanning them. I’m taking a bit of a break from my collection once that’s done, and focusing on scanning the book images which I’ve been using in class — I had a huge collection of slides made by the photography department in my first year or two of teaching — but I probably can’t upload those en masse, for copyright reasons.2

Most of my pictures, to be honest, are pretty typical tourist pictures — with the caveat that we very, very rarely posed for “we are here” shots — but my father taught me that it’s a lot cheaper to take lots of pictures than to go back, so I did get quite a few decent architectural shots, and some good cultural ones. Fairly static stuff, but much of it will be useful in my Japanese history courses; I’ve set a fairly broad Creative Commons license on the pictures, so that they can be used by other teachers.3 There are a few times, though, when I captured something which legitimately might be considered a unique historical moment.

During Golden Week of my year at Keio, a few friends and I decided to go to the Emperor’s Birthday Audience, when crowds can enter the Imperial Palace grounds and get to see an appearance of the monarch, plus family:
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  1. For example, when I looked through my Atsuta Matsuri pictures, I discovered that I’d taken a bunch of pictures of the Aichi Prefecture Police Band and Bugle Corps. I’m not surprised that the police have a band — many military and paramilitary organizations need marching music — but the cheerleader-like Bugle Corps women seem, well, cheerleader-like. []
  2. Unless someone wants to argue that the enhancements I’m doing in Photoshop — contrast, lightness, etc — transform the image sufficiently that it’s a new creation to which I am the rightful copyright holder….. No? I didn’t think so. That said, once I’ve amassed a solid collection, I’d be happy to share them via CD-ROM with anyone who’s got a legitimate teaching need. That’s legal. []
  3. I’ve already shared my Atsuta Shrine pictures, and some cultural illustrations. And my Early Japan class is about to hit Kamakura. []

9/9/2009

HNN, NYT Post Competing Japan Election Analysis

HNN has posted an extended version of the Soft and Fuzzy history I posted a few days ago. What I’ve added, for the general readership, is more background on the LDP:

The survival of the LDP as the dominant party in Japan for so many post-war decades was a combination of historical luck, savvy leadership, and the cooptation of successful minor party issues. The collapse of the LDP was a combination of historical misfortune, a leadership vacuum, and the realignment of minor parties to create a viable alternative.

The rise and fall of the Yoshida Doctrine and the factional nature of the ’55 System LDP are at the center of the argument.

Meanwhile, the NYT has a Philip Underwood piece explaining how “In Japan, by contrast, failure traditionally carries a deeper stigma, an enduring shame that limits the appetite for risk, in the view of many of the nation’s cultural observers. This makes the Japanese far less comfortable with choices that increase the prospect of failure, even if they promise greater potential gains.” Ugh.

9/4/2009

Recipe for a New Japan? A Dash of Venus

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:09 am

The recent victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the Lower House, just two years after its surprise victory in the Upper House, is only slightly less exciting than the news that the new First Lady of Japan has traveled, in an out-of-body experience, to the planet Venus. This unusual turn of affairs, predicted by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, C. S. Lewis, Frederick Pohl, Isaac Asimov, and Paul Anderson, will not, we can only hope, influence Japan’s foreign affairs in the years ahead. Critics allege that Hatoyama Miyuki’s claim is nothing more than a stunt in which she hopes to attain the high-standing of American political wives like Nancy Reagan, who of course is a devout believer in Astrology, or even former president Jimmy Carter, who saw a UFO while Governor of Georgia (pdf). At the very least she is as “interesting” a figure in politics as Carla Bruni or Sarah Palin. And we shouldn’t let her oddities distract us from the very real and significant participation of women politicians in the DPJ strategy of attacking LDP strongholds. In the end, 54 women won seats in the Lower House.

The DPJ emerged from the late-night 1998 union, no doubt fueled by many Suntory whiskies, of the Democratic Reform Party, the New Fraternity Party, the Democratic Party, and the Good Governance Party. (Why didn’t they go with the much more compelling English name “The Good Fraternity Party”? Now that’s a name American politicians could understand.)

The leader of the DPJ in its period of frenetic activity between 2006 and May of 2009  was Ozawa Ichiro. Elected to the presidency of his party as a reformer, Ozawa was in fact first elected to office as a member of the LDP in 1969. His mentor was Tanaka Kakuei, who became Prime Minister in 1972 on a wave of overwhelming popularity but then was implicated in numerous scandals within a year of taking office. Ozawa survived this crisis and became LDP Secretary General in 1989. As recently as 1999, he was still closely aligned with the leaders of the LDP. This experience proved valuable. More than any member of the DPJ, Ozawa can be credited with the party’s rise, and although he stepped down in May because of allegations of scandal (surprise!), he was a central figure in the election strategy that knocked the LDP out of power for just the second time since the 50s, and will likely assume the new post of Secretary General.

The current leader of the DPJ and the new Prime Minister of Japan (as well as the lucky husband of one of the few women to visit Venus. Venus! Imagine!) is Hatoyama Yukio. Following in the proud, reformist tradition established by Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Hatoyama has awesome hair. Like many graduates of Stanford University (Ph.D. 1976), Hatoyama comes from humble origins: his great-grandfather was Speaker of the House and President of Waseda University; his grandfather was Prime Minister; his father was Foreign Minister; and his mother is considered to be one of the most influential political donors in Japan. (The family even has an English-language scholarly monograph dedicated to them; it’s available on KINDLE!) Hatoyama was only with the LDP for seven years from 1986 to 1993, giving him slightly better credentials as a reformist than Ozawa.

The DPJ has a lot to do. Their new Prime Minister, nicknamed “the Alien” by parliamentary colleagues for his protruding eyes and Stanford-like behavior, needs to answer the question: If women are from Venus, are men in fact from Mars? Will the DPJ adopt an increasingly belligerent tone toward North Korea, Japan’s most urgent international threat? Will Hatoyama champion environmental issues despite American recalcitrance? Will the new government revisit the issue of Article 9 in the constitution or spend its valuable political capital on continuing economic recovery instead? And will Japan establish a consulate on the second planet from the sun in the near future?

People inside and outside of Japan are genuinely excited to see if the DPJ will successfully reform the nation’s political system, shaped by decades of one-party dominance and widespread corruption. Or will the rule of Hatoyama, like the brief period of coalition rule in the 1990s, be nothing but a fleeting, out-of-body experience?

(Thanks to my former student Mathew Mikuni, a Diplomacy and World Affairs and Asian Studies double major who, in a marvelous 2009 senior thesis, taught me everything I know about the DPJ. Except for the inaccurate, snarky, and hypothetical stuff.)

9/2/2009

World War Wannabee: Russo-Japanese War?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:05 pm

Brett Holman notes a new contender in the “really First World War” sweepstakes — the Seven Years War and Napoleonic Wars being leading early contenders — namely The Russo-Japanese War. John Steinberg, editor of the two-volume The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero offers ten points of comparison that he seems to consder hallmarks of a world war:

1. Like World War I, the origins of the Russo-Japanese War were rooted in imperialistic competition between world powers

2. As in August 1914, when the Russo-Japanese conflict began, it was fought in a neutral country(s) (China and Korea)

3. In the midst of the conflict and in the area where combat occurred, governmental structures broke down and the emergency was greeted with a response by non-governmental agencies such as the Red Cross

4. The conflict was marked by the use of sophisticated, complicated, and (above all else) lethal industrial weapons such as machine guns, rapid fire infantry assault weapons, rapid fire artillery, mines, and torpedoes. These were accompanied by the logistical infrastructure needed to keep ammunition and other essential supplies flowing to modern fielded armies

5. The natural product of the War’s deadly battlefields — mass casualties — required levels of aid which no medical corps of the period had the ability to help. The sheer numbers of men in need of aid overwhelmed these units.

6. The duration of battles at the beginning of the War lasted two or three days (The Yalu and Nanshan) and were contained to relatively small areas. By the end of the war the battles of Liaoyang and Mukden lasted weeks and featured battlefields that extended for kilometers. [NB: In terms of duration and brutality, the six to seven-month siege of Port Arthur foreshadowed what later happened at Verdun in 1916.]

7. The cost of fighting such a technologically demanding war required the formation of international syndicates of bankers simply to derive the credit needed for both the Japanese and Russians to keep purchasing and producing weapons and munitions.

8. Like WWI, the Russo-Japanese War was widely reported on and represented in all forms of visual presentations, from photographs to wood block prints.

9. Like Versailles, the Treaty of Portsmouth occurred only after one belligerent (Japan) ran out of men, materials and credit, and the Russians found themselves in the midst of a Revolution. Perhaps more to the point, the treaty itself resolved little beyond ending hostilities and, worse, created circumstances that fueled grievances that culminated in future conflict.

10. When the war concluded and the peace was signed the strengthening of the pan-Asian movement continued to fuel animosities that further destabilized the world.

My immediate reaction, like Brett, is that this is list of similarities, which is interesting, but that they are aspects of modern warfare rather than a description of the kind of global cataclysmic or transformative event that would justify the “world war” moniker. You could say that it was a sort of regional prototype for the war, but you could say that about just about any conflict after the Franco-Prussian war, including the Spanish-American war (which probably ought to go on the “World War Wannabee” list, as a bi-oceanic, imperial conflict); one of Steinberg’s co-bloggers notes that the Russo-Turkish war fits all those criteria, but that still doesn’t qualify it as a “World War,” just a nasty imperialistic conflict.

Most of these points are weak comparisons, I think, but arguable: the idea (point 2) that the natural battleground for a World War is neutral nations’ territories, for example, ignores the difference between truly “neutral” and “in the sphere of influence”/colony which really defines the initial (and for the R-J war, only) battlegrounds of imperialist wars. The last point perplexes me thoroughly: while there certainly is an upsurge in anti-Japanese (and generally anti-Imperial) nationalism in China and Korea after the R-J War, to describe this as “pan-Asian sentiment” seems wrong. If he’s arguing that Japan’s success leads to an upsurge of pan-Asianism in Japan, that’s more reasonable, but to describe it as a “movement” and to place the blame for Asia’s early 20th century destabilization on that rather than continued imperialistic pressures (for which pan-Asianism was a fig leaf of rationalization, nothing more) is overblown.

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