井の中の蛙

8/6/2006

Eloquent oddities

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:46 am

There aren’t a lot of good Japanese-themed quizzes out there….

You Are a Sarariiman!
Or “salaryman.” Whatever. Treadmill off, treadmill on. Most of the sleep you get is on Tokyo’s extensive subway system, since you are putting in 14 hour days. You’re a workaholic who works hard for no overtime. And vacations? Forget about it. You spend most of your trip hunting around for gifts to bring back all of your coworkers.
What’s Your Japanese Subculture?

Moving the other direction, from English to Japanese, a friend sent along this link to a collection of Jabberwocky translations. It’s been a long time since I could summon the mental energy to disagree with someone about their translation of nonsense verse, but apparently there’s a lot of views on the subject, all represented here. Quite a few of the translators appear to be relying on the Gardiner annotations, is all I’ll say, which is … a choice.

Though WWII remains unsettled between Japan and Russia, The Russo-Japanese War has finally ended for Japan and Montenegro.

Finally, in art news, three times. First, an interesting discussion of private art museums in Tokyo illustrates the power of individual collectors and non-canonical thinking. Second, though I can’t possibly get there for the exhibit, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Art of History is a lovely online experience, though I have mixed feelings about the “elegant mash-up” postmodern elements of the art itself. Some of it (including the Hirohito image) is chilling; others (e.g. Henry’s wives) are barely clever. Finally, Ansel Adams’ pictures of Japanese internment camps in the US are available online, fantastic documentation, not to mention photographs.

4/30/2006

China-Japan Historical Struggle Reaches MIT

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:41 am

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
– Maya Angelou, Inaugural Poem

I had planned to blog on a John Dower web project cited by Alan Baumler, because it’s a fantastic collection of historical images, nicely curated. Now, if you follow the the link, you get redirected to an MIT Press Office Statement that explains that the exhibit is offline while Dower and Miyagawa negotiate with members of the MIT Chinese student community who objected to an image of a Chinese being beheaded, a classic piece of Japanese propaganda, one that sets the tone for the next half century. The problem, according to the articles I’ve seen (thanks to both Manan Ahmed and Ralph Luker) was a lack of “accessible historical context” clearly warning viewers of the violent and racist content of the imagery.

Perhaps they need something like my syllabus boilerplate:

Advisory
History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. In certain contexts, this information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

I don’t see it myself: unless you happen to read Meiji Japanese and stumble across the image by accident, and are inclined to think that we need more, not less, beheadings in the world, isn’t it pretty obvious that this is old, bad, material? (the woodblock prints should be a giveaway, if nothing else) If you know anything about the history, it’s pretty obvious that it’s racist, that it leads to great tragedy, and that it’s important visual evidence. If it wasn’t obvious beforehand, then reading the attached commentary would make it pretty clear: my recollection (Alan can throw in his two cents here) is that the accompanying text was pretty clear on all these issues (Update: Alan confirms my recollection, and adds some useful thoughts, including a look at Chinese language discussions.

This raises concerns for me. Part of the value of creating an on-line exhibit is to allow the images to be used by students and teachers and researchers as evidence in their own researches. Insisting on immediate warnings and commentary (and how, technically, they’re going to make those inseparable from the image, I’m not sure, but I am nervous) will make it harder to use the material, pedagogically.

There are those who argue that nothing offensive to anyone should be published anywhere without caveats and controls; I’m not one of those. There are those who argue that “it’s only speech” excuses everything, and that we cannot have a truly free society without license to express everything, everywhere, anytime; I’m not one of those, either. There are some who say that the classroom is no place for controversy; I reject that. There are some who say that the classroom belongs to the teacher, without exception; I reject that, as well. I do think that teachers ought to be given a great deal of leeway with regard to how they present and handle sensitive topics, particularly those with track records of balanced and sophisticated scholarship, public writing and teaching, and that attacks (and it’s very clear from the MIT President’s statement that there have been some very vigorous attacks) without context and from outside the student and scholarly community which has some understanding of the issues and people, are injurious to academic freedom and accomplishment.

Even scholars are sometimes prone to put blame before understanding, but that doesn’t mean that we should privilege this. On the other hand, I have the greatest respect for John Dower as a scholar, teacher and individual: if he agrees that these images need more context, I will respect that.

I think it’s very important for scholars of Japanese history to be clear about the impact that Japan had on its neighbors and the world in its modern imperialist phase; I don’t understand attacking a scholar who is addressing precisely these issues with evidence, publications, teaching, etc.

Update: Alan Baumler found a cached version of the text, which is exceptional, and a Letter from Prof. Peter Perdue, also at MIT, defending Dower and the project. Vigorously, to say the least.

3/13/2006

Monumental Repatriation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:52 pm

A Korean stone memorial commemorating victories over Hideyoshi’s armies has been returned [via]

After decades of negotiations, the Bukgwan Victory Monument was driven through the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on its circuitous journey back home. Because communist North Korea does not have formal relations with Japan, South Korean diplomats secured its return and then turned it over to their estranged neighbor.

It marks the first time that Seoul has formally intervened on Pyongyang’s behalf to recover a cultural relic, and could set a precedent for the future.

It’s good to see a cultural icon returned, but it raises all kinds of interesting and troubling issues. First, of course, is the location of the piece

Although the stone tablet was less valuable than some other artworks, its presence at a shrine that honors the souls of 2.5 million military dead including those convicted of war crimes was particularly rankling to Korean activists. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took up the cause during a meeting last year with Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi.

“There were a lot of psychological factors with this monument. It was about an embarrassing and humiliating defeat for the Japanese, and I think they wanted it hidden away,” said Kang Kyung-hwan, director of the Cultural Heritage Administration’s international division.

Toshiaki Nambu, the head of Yasukuni Shrine, told the media that his board never contested the return of the monument. “The monument is not ours. We are only keeping it temporarily and planning to return it,” Nambu was quoted as saying

Which has to qualify as one of the most bald-faced lies ever uttered, given that Koreans have been trying to arrange repatriation for 27 years. This is not the end, though,

This is only the starting point for a national movement to recover all that they stole from us,” said Choi Seo-myeon, the scholar, now 76, who found the pilfered monument at Yasukuni after a lengthy search.Choi and his fellow Korean scholars say the Japanese were as bad as the Nazis in Europe: Imperial forces plundered treasures during an occupation that ended only with Tokyo’s surrender to the Allies in 1945.

The items range from the exquisite — celadon vases, bronze Buddhas, gold jewelry — to the macabre. Among the latter are as many as 100,000 noses and ears that Japanese samurai sliced off Koreans as trophies during a brutal 7-year war in the late 16th century. The body parts were buried in a mound in Kyoto.

When Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965, the Japanese returned more than 1,300 items. About 1,700 more have come home through private negotiations. Korean collectors have bought back some pieces on the open market, and some Japanese citizens have donated pieces. But Koreans say it is only a fraction of what remains missing.

One of the interesting questions at this point has to be whether there might be distinction, on repatriation, between items taken by governments (and their agents) by force or by seizure laws later deemed illegitimate versus those held in private hands and acquired through purchase, even under adverse economic conditions. If the latter distinction isn’t made — and the legal situation now is considerably less friendly to the export or purchase of culturally significant achaeological finds — then there will have to be a massive global repatriation out of Western museums. I’m thinking, for example, of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, which has some astounding collections based in no small part on purchases made in the 19th century, when Japan was at an extreme economic disadvantage to the West.

[Crossposted to Frog In A Well: Korea]

12/8/2005

Because we must…

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:12 pm

If it isn’t ninja, it’s geisha. Yes, the weekend following the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is the perfect time for “spectacularly unfortunate metaphors about male eels and female caves and one regrettably brief catfight in a kimono.”

I admit, I didn’t read Memoirs of a Geisha when it came out, hit the bestseller lists, etc. I haven’t read it yet, but I know I should. Not just to nitpick at the book and movie (which I won’t see this weekend, though I might over break if opportunity presents), though that might indeed be fun, but because its popularity is something which we will have to take into account when we teach for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, the New York Times review from which the above quote is taken has a pretty good synopsis of the film and background, and pretty much comes to the conclusion that it’s a film that works visually much more than narratively. The job of a movie reviewer is twofold: explain what does and doesn’t work about the movie so you know if you want to see it; be entertaining. For both, it’s hard to beat Dargis’ concluding paragraphs:

Mr. Marshall can’t rescue the film from its embarrassing screenplay or its awkward Chinese-Japanese-Hollywood culture klatch, but “Memoirs of a Geisha” is one of those bad Hollywood films that by virtue of their production values nonetheless afford a few dividends, in this case, fabulous clothes and three eminently watchable female leads. Although it’s always a pleasure to see these three in action, and there’s something undeniably exciting about the prospect of them storming the big studio gate, the casting of Ms. Gong and Ms. Zhang ends up more bittersweet than triumphant. Ms. Zhang, for one, shows none of the heartache and steel of her astonishing performance in Wong Kar-wai’s “2046.” …

Ms. Gong’s hauteur and soaring cheekbones work better for her character, a woman of acid resolve. Although there are moments when Hatsumomo comes perilously close to Dragon Lady caricature (“I will destroy you!”), the actress’s talent and dignity keep the performance from sliding into full-blown camp. But even the formidable Ms. Gong cannot surmount the ruinous decision to have her and Ms. Zhang, along with the poorly used Mr. Yakusho, deliver their lines in vaguely British-sounding English that imparts an unnatural halting quality to much of their dialogue. The. Result. Is. That. Each. Word. Of. Dialogue. Sounds. As. If. It. Were. Punctuated. By. A. Full. Stop. Which. Robs. The. Language. Of. Its. Watery. Flow. And. Breath. Of. Real. Life. Even. As. It. Also. Gives. New. Meaning. To. The. Definition. Of. The. Period. Movie.

For slightly less breathless period pieces, Sour Duck has a review of a Taisho art exhibit (but missed the complementary Meiji works), which looks like fun, and runs almost until Christmas.

9/28/2005

Searching Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:01 pm

The Humane Great Japanese Cross Medical Corps Tending to the Injured in the Russo-Japanese War
“The Humane Great Japanese Cross Medical Corps Tending to the Injured in the Russo-Japanese War” (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, like many museums today, have put images of many of their materials online. I just haven’t come to terms with how much is out there. If you go their collections page you can search for materials by keyword. For example, searching for “Russo-Japanese war” returns all kinds of beautiful works, including many not currently on display in the museum.

I especially appreciate their Image Rights page which emphasizes that if you cite the source, you are permitted to use the images for educational, personal, and non-commercial use, as per fair use. Compare that to the kinds of scare-language used by many other online photograph collections which don’t even mention or concede that such rights exist.

8/3/2005

Jazz in Japan

Filed under: — tak @ 3:43 pm

Michael Molasky, who teaches at University of Minnesota and has published on Okinawa literature (this and this), has recently released a book in Japanese on the history of jazz in postwar Japan. (I could not find an English version at Amazon so perhaps it is not appearing in English.)

The book title is 戦後日本のジャズ文化―映画・文学・アングラ, which translates as Jazz Culture in Postwar Japan: Film, Literature, and the Underground. The last phrase, angura, refers to the underground art scene that flourished in the 1960s.

According to the bio on Amazon taken from the book, the author is also a jazz pianist and plays regularly in Tokyo.

(via 作品メモランダム)

5/28/2005

Updates: Textbook and Constitutional revision

The Tri-national textbook I wrote about here has been published. The South Koreans, at least, are taking it pretty seriously [via Ralph Luker], with national distribution in the works.

The Constitutional revision question I wrote about here has expanded, apparently, to include the gender equity clauses, which are being blamed by social conservatives for “promoting egoism… collapse of family and community … a plunging marriage rate, an anemic birthrate and increasing delinquency in schools.” (OK, I followed it pretty well up to the last one: anyone who wants to explain to me the connection between gender equality and educational disorder is welcome to try)

Non Sequitur: A virtual gallery of Japanese Manhole Covers [via Ralph Luker] reveals some extraordinary public art. Now, can anyone tell me how this began, or why Japan does this and nobody else, as far as I know, does? Or is the US the only country whose underground access portal covers are boring?

History Carnival #9 is a rich collection (in spite of finals, it’s been a fine fortnight), including Craig’s essay (it’s much to substantial to be just “a post”) on Karate, which Sharon Howard graciously (and accurately, I think) calls “one of the outstanding posts of the month.” I will be talking about historians in cyberspace at ASPAC, and I’m grateful that I have so much to work with.

4/21/2005

Fukuzawa on Education; Mongol Scrolls

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:24 am

Reading over Fukuzawa’s Autobiography for class, I ran across a nice passage:

However much we studied, our work and knowldge had practically no connection with the actual means of gaining a livelihood or making a name for ourselves. Not only that, but the students of Dutch were looke upon with contempt by most men. Then why did we work so hard to learn Dutch?… we students were conscious of the fact that we were the sole possessors of the key to knowledge of the great European civilization. However much we suffered from poverty, whatever poor clothes we wore, the extent of our knowledge and the resources of our minds were beyond the reach of any prince or nobleman of the whole nation. …most of us were then actually putting all our energy into our studies without any definite assurance of the future. Yet this lack of future hope was indeed fortunate for us, for it made us [in Osaka] better students than those in Yedo. From this fact I am convinced that the students of the present day, too, do not get the best results from their education if they are to much concerned about their future. Of course, it is not very commendable to attent school without any serious purpose. But, as I say, if a student regulates his work too much with the idea of future usefulness, or of making money, then he will miss what should be the most valuable part of his education. During one’s school life, one should make the school work his chief concern.

Actually, reading it over, it strikes me as somewhat self-contradictory: he acknowledges that in Yedo such knowledge was very valuable, and that entree into European studies was a great benefit for the present and future. Oh, well.

Well, as consolation, another beautiful web resource, from Tom Conlan: The 13th century Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, in several different recreated incarnations, with a fantastic viewing interface. The site claims that it needs a “high bandwith connection” but I’m viewing it over my home modem and having a blast. If you’ve got a high-speed classroom connection, though, your Mongol Invasion lecture just got that much prettier.

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