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.


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.


Social Management

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:45 am

Sheldon Garon’s delightful book Molding Japanese Minds outlines how the Japanese state has entered the everyday life of its citizens. He focuses on what he calls “social management” (xiv) and notes that many Americans would be “astounded” by the degree of this state activity. However, Garon is very careful, even in his epilogue, not to come out too strongly either for or against such involvement. Many of the more harmless and innocuous involvements contribute, as education and public health do, in a minor way to the betterment of the community.

I think it is certainly fair to say that there is far less state involvement in daily life in the US, especially when it comes to the kinds of examples that Garon takes for the Japanese case. I also admit being astounded at various experiences I had during different stays in Japan when, for example, local police vehicles drove around the neighborhood and blasted recordings suggesting that parents make sure their children go straight home after school, or 17:00 songs or community loudspeakers proclaiming that it is now time to go home and have dinner.

However, I was reminded of Garon’s book when I found myself staring at the “Small Step #11″ advertisement on a bathroom wall today. It suggested that I could make a small step towards healthier living by not eating meals larger in size than a box, portrayed on the advertisement, about the size of my fist. When I looked to see who sponsored this advertisement (thinking perhaps some fast food chain was hinting that they had a meal just the right size for me), I was surprised to see that this was paid for by none other than the United States Department of Health & Human Services.

I think this is at least one recent example of “social management” by the state here in the US. Pay a visit to the Smallstep.gov where they offer the full list of “small steps” we can take to getting healthy, or register at this government site for access to their “activity tracker” (their privacy statement is here, in which they promise not to tell anyone about your “activities” unless some law or statute, like the Patriot act, forces them to). There is a press release about this program here and the program also appears to be connected to Healthierus.gov. The arguments for the program suggest that it is essentially a response to disease, in this case that of obesity in the US.


Early Modern Numeracy

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:33 pm

Reading Hanley’s Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture with my class (which is quite interestingly divided on the success of its argument, but we’re just getting started), I was struck by my own lack of knowledge about Tokugawa era numeracy. We’ve got a pretty good handle on literacy, by class and period, but not its mathematical equivalent.

It comes up in her second chapter, on living space: the minka [commoner house] architecture which spread in the late 17th-early 18th century “required a considerable amount of calculation” (30), which presumably was available (otherwise the houses couldn’t have been built). I’ve always assumed that numeracy was pretty widespread among the urban population — merchants and artisans and anyone else involved in substantial business dealings — and that even farmers need pretty strong math skills to keep track of productivity, inputs and markets. I have also read things which suggest relatively low rates of numeracy among samurai — considering arithmetic something done by “lowly merchants” — but that is counterintuitive: household budgeting based on an annual stipend must have required some fiscal planning.

Perhaps part of my problem is that I don’t have a good idea of how a non-numerate person would function, in a modern or early modern environment. Once markets and money are involved, basic numeracy seems to be a sine qua non for daily life function. It is true that there are still plenty of non-market actors in the early, even mid-Tokugawa, so there should be some numeracy shifts to track.

But it’s going to be harder than literacy, because it can leave fewer traces. Is anyone working on this question? Rough ideas welcome.


Historiographical Triangulation

This could be good, or it could be awful. Or it might be a good first draft, but the effort certainly seems worth noting (emphasis added):

A middle school history textbook jointly written by scholars, teachers and historians of China, Japan and South Korea will be published in May, according to the Asahi Shimbun on Saturday.

The committee has been engaged in compiling the work since 2002 with the aim of establishing a jointly recognized interpretation of history among the three nations and prepare solutions for conflict over the past rather than engage in criticism.

“It is the first time the three countries have worked together on an account of history. It is not an exclusive description of history from a nationalist point of view, but a description for future coexistence that views history with an open mind and respects the opinion of each nation,” the committee said.

About 200 people, including teachers, scholars and civic group members, from China, South Korea and Japan participated in the work, holding a series of domestic and international conferences on the subject.

The textbook will deal with the 18th-20th century, when the Northeast Asian regions witnessed many ups and downs, including the rise of Japanese imperialism and World War II.

In its modern history of the three nations, the textbook details Japan’s colonial rule and resistance against it. The textbook will also present pieces by several scholars of the three nations, providing students with the chance to look into the opinions of each.

Because this project arose out of “an East Asia peace forum on history in Nanjing, China” I suspect more earnestness than precision. Because this is a journalistic description, I won’t take the apparent emphasis on Japanese colonialism to be the only focus of the book, though the existence of widely variant nationalistic narratives of the late 19th-early 20th century certainly justifies both the attempt to write this history as a committee and the need to provide the one-perspective essays which seem to me to dramatically complicate the reading for middle-schoolers.

Actually, I could imagine all kinds of ways in which collaborative history could result in heavily distorted narratives: an anti-communist narrative, for example (drawing on Taiwanese rather than mainland Chinese scholars), or a Marxist interpretation (perhaps less likely with South Korean participation: I don’t know whether South Korean academia shares Japan’s tendency towards oddly doctrinaire scholarship, but there are certainly leftists who could have been part of the process). It doesn’t sound like that’s what they’ve produced, though I would be very interested to see how they handled non-Asian involvement in Northeast Asian affairs.

I can’t tell if there’s an English-language version planned. Anyone want to sponsor a translation, or join a group translation project?

[Via HNN; Crossposted at Cliopatria]


Japanese Universities in World Context

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:21 am

Tomorrow’s Professor just forwarded a list of the top 500 universities in the world. As the introduction says

Attempting to rank universities world-wide is no easy task [which is why very few organizations have tried to do it] and it is easy enough to take exception to the various criteria used. That said, here is a list of the top 500 universities in the world by rank as determined in a study from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. A much more detailed description of the criteria used, rankings by geographic area, FAQ’s and the questionnaire itself can be found at: http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2004/2004Main.htm

Here are the Japanese institutions which made the list, and their rankings

  • 14, Tokyo Univ
  • 21, Kyoto Univ
  • 54, Osaka Univ
  • 69, Tohoku Univ
  • 97, Nagoya Univ
  • 101-152, Hokkaido Univ, Kyushu Univ, Tokyo Inst Tech, Tsukuba Univ
  • 202-301, Hiroshima Univ, Keio Univ, Kobe Univ, Okayama Univ
  • 302-403, Chiba Univ, Gifu Univ, Gunma Univ, Kanazawa Univ, Nagasaki Univ, Nihon Univ, Niigata Univ, Tokyo Med & Dent Univ, Tokyo Metropolitan Univ, Tokyo Univ Agr & Tech, Univ Tokushima, Waseda Univ, Yamaguchi Univ
  • 404-502, Ehime Univ, Himeji Inst Tech, Jichi Med Sch, Juntendo Univ, Kagoshima Univ, Kumamoto Univ, Nara Inst Sci & Tech, Osaka City Univ, Shinshu Univ, Univ Osaka Prefecture

Keio and Waseda came much further down the list than I expected (the methodology is heavily weighted towards natural science and against social/humanistic studies), though I was gratified to see my research host Yamaguchi U [currently searching for an English instructor] on the list, not to mention Nagoya, my first Japanese hometown.

Side note: why don’t most Japanese universities have official university logo apparel? I know, sweats and T-shirts aren’t all that popular in Japan, and the major ones do (I always loved Keio’s crossed fountain pen nibs). But we had to take a photocopy of the Yamaguchi university logo to a print-shop so we would have T-shirts to trade with our family and friends. The only way to get logo stuff, it seemed, was to belong to one of the clubs, each of which had its own official seal and signs.

On a per capita basis, this is a very good showing; on a GDP basis, it’s just about right, or a bit underperforming (You can see the breakdown by country here). Though not all higher education is created equal, and there are significant pathologies present in Japanese higher-ed, it still bodes well, I think, as a rough measure of the likelihood that Japan will continue to be a strongly productive and innovative economy. The particularly strong showing of technical schools certainly suggests that to me.

One historical note: most of the universities on this list were the product of the US Occupation education reforms, particularly the insistence on public universities in every prefecture. Who would have guessed that in sixty years Japan would fill 1/15th of the world’s best list?

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