Event: Tokyo DIJ Presentation

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:20 am

Passing on this announcement of the February DIJ presentation:

DIJ History & Humanities Study Group 
Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 18:30 
at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ), Tokyo 

This month’s speaker will be
Chris Winkler (University of Munich)
who will give a presentation on 

“Japan’s Conservatives and the Quest for Constitutional Reform”

Everybody is welcome to attend, but registration at backhaus at dijtokyo.org would be helpful. 


Constitutional Reform had been in the news for more than a decade since the early  1990s. Many thought the discourse about the issue would eventually culminate in the  realization of Constitutional Reform under the government of Shinzo Abe. With Abe  resigning as PM in summer 2007 after a mere year in office, his pet project quickly  vanished from magazine front pages and talk shows, though. 

Instead of focusing on these recent events, my paper examines the issue of  Constitutional Reform as a symbol for Japan’s conservatives since the early 1980s.  After looking at conservatism and how it has manifested itself in postwar Japan, I  would like to try and explain what a revised Constitution stands for in the eyes of  Japanese conservatives. Therefore, this research is not limited to the analysis of  constitutional reform drafts, but also connects these drafts to a wider framework of  conservative criticism targeting postwar Japan as well as conservative visions of a  future Japan. 

Chris Winkler is a doctoral candidate at the University of Munich’s Department of  Japanese Studies. He is currently a visiting research fellow at Keio University.

German Institute for Japanese Studies
Jochi Kioizaka Bldg, 7-1 Kioicho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0094 
Tel. +81-(0)3-3222-5077
Fax. +81-(0)3-3222-5420



2007: Japan Top Ten Year in Review

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 7:44 pm

OK, fellow bloggers and Japan-watchers, I’d like to propose that we participate in the mass hysteria that is the year-end-review list. What media stories from or about Japan deserve our attention this year?Here are my top 10, organized roughly in chronological order (for lack of a more meaningful schema):

1. Ando Momofuku (1910-2007, also Go Pek-hok), inventor of Instant Ramen, died January 7, 2007. His origins in occupied Taiwan, entrepreneurial rise in Taibei and later Osaka, and of course the growth of his business from a local salt producer to national noodle maker to international tycoon is a perfect metaphor for the history of Japan in the 20th century.

2. Matsuzaka Daisuke started training with the Boston Red Sox in February, 2007. His six-year, fifty-two million dollar contract with the team that would go on to easily win the World Series (with significant participation from Matsuzaka) is a sign of the huge growth in value of top-flight Japanese players who choose to switch to U.S. baseball.

3. The Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan’s pseudo-scientific cover program for ongoing commercial whaling, called off whaling for the 2007 season in late March because of a fire on the Nisshin Maru. This issue seems to never go away.

4. Matsuoka Toshikatsu, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Abe cabinet, committed suicide on May 28, 2007 amidst a financial scandal. Looking back, this was perhaps a small sign of the imminent collapse of the Abe administration.

5. On the same day, Mori Riyo was crowned Miss Universe, inspiring new scrutiny of the beauty pageant industry in Japan and a new representative abroad. Particularly fascinating was Mori’s claim that she has “a samurai soul.”

6. On July 16, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake off the coast of Niigata prompted worry about and international attention to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. The plant, which can contribute up to 6% of Japan’s electrical energy, was shut down to allow safety inspections, which are ongoing.

7. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo resigned on September 12, 2007. The son of Abe Shintaro and the youngest postwar Prime Minister, Abe had come under increasing pressure from a divided Diet as well as strong criticism after poor election results, and himself seemed to suffer from worsening health. His administration lasted for less than a year.

8. Multiple members of Kigenkai, a religious cult, were arrested for murder after the beating death of a female member in September. Kigenkai, which was founded in 1970 and claims to be a traditional Shinto organization, produces Kigensui, a purified water that the sect claims can cure illness and disease.

9. English conversation school Nova filed for bankruptcy on October 26, letting go of more than 4,000 teachers and leaving hundreds of thousands of paid students without lessons. Some commentators cited Nova’s huge spending on marketing and advertising as the root cause; others pointed to the government’s cuts to vocational education funding in 2003.

10. As of November 20, all foreigners entering or living in Japan were required to undergo fingerprinting. This will, logically, prevent terrorism.


Asian History Carnival #6

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:26 am

The 6th Asian History Carnival will be hosted at Frog in a Well – Korea on August 8th! We are looking for good posts on Asian history posted around the internet in the past month or two. For more details, check out the Asian History Carnival homepage.

Please nominate postings for the carnival here. If you use del.icio.us to tag your links, another way you can nominate postings is to simply tag them “ahcarnival” (http://del.icio.us/tag/ahcarnival/) and I’ll look through the tagged postings when the time comes. The deadline for nominations is August 7th.


Japanese diaspora

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 10:10 pm

This past weekend I was a discussant at a graduate student conference at UCLA, sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies. The title (a bit wordy for my taste but interesting nonetheless) was “Transculturation and National Signifiers:’Japan’ In, After, and Via Diaspora and Return,” and included papers on hot topics like the Japanese diaspora in Latin America; literary production among the Issei; and Japanese ethnic identities, agency, and politics in “traditional” cultural practices such as tea, martial arts, and music in global contexts. I also notice that there is a conference at UCLA this weekend on a somewhat similar topic, titled “LA as offshore Japan: Transnational Networks and Cultural Entrepreneurship across the Pacific Rim.” (more…)

To Stab a Historian

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:30 am

I have been compiling notes and comparing various narratives of modern Japanese history in preparation for my orals. It is easy to lose touch with the bigger picture when reading lots of books that focus on one issue, period, or question.

I wrote a little about the dearth of information on North Korea in the Enyclopedia of World History (somewhat clunky online version here) over at Frog in a Well – Korea. The book is something of a massive timeline for reference and I just finished going through the Japanese history entries in the work.

In the just over three pages for the postwar period there were a few items that were not included which I saw in most other narratives and timelines of the period. 1) There was no mention of Japan’s entry into the United Nations in 1956. 2) There was no mention of end of the Allied occupation in 1952 (Though there is mention of the peace treaty going into effect). 3) There was no mention of the “Nixon Shocks” of July (US abandonment of the gold standard with its resulting impact on the exchange rate with Japan) and August (Nixon announces a visit to China), 1971. Although they are not events which had Japanese actors involved, they had a strong impact on Japan and always gets at least a mention. I suspect that most Japanese also see the shocks, along with the return of Okinawa and the shock of the oil embargos, as defining moments of the early 1970s.

These were the only items that you find in most works which were missing. There was, however, one event which I had heard about but I have never seen mentioned in other timelines or in surveys of modern Japan:

1964, March 24. U.S. ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer was stabbed by an allegedly deranged young Japanese.

I wondered why this would have made the cut with such limited space? Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I think the stabbing of the US ambassador is a trivial affair. Reischauer is not only an incredibly important historian in our field but was also an important player in US-Japan relations. I am also very grateful for a generous summer fellowship the Reischauer institute awarded me last year.

I then looked at the list of editors for earlier editions and noticed that both John K. Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer are listed. It would seem reasonable to assume Reischauer made the call to include mention of his own stabbing.

In fact, the 1964 stabbing incident must have left a particularly strong impression on Reischauer as its aftermath would continue to affect his health throughout the remainder of his life. An old biography of Reischauer has this description of the event which adds a little context:

On March 24, 1964, as he was leaving his office, Reischauer was attacked and stabbed by a mentally disturbed Japanese youth. He could have gone to a United States Army hospital, but chose instead to go to a Japanese hospital. Unfortunately, a blood transfusion he received there was tainted with hepatitis virus. He suffered irreversible liver damage and felt the ill-effects for the rest of his life. Reischauer was in Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii until July 1 rehabilitating a partially paralyzed leg and recovering from hepatitis. The incident elicited a flood of visits, mail, and gifts from Japanese well-wishers. Upon release from the hospital, he resumed full duties in the Tokyo embassy.

Not only was he stabbed, but was given a tainted blood transfusion! But there is more. In LaFeber’s The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History we find this added detail:

“…[President] Johnson wanted far more [support for U.S. policies on Vietnam and China] from Japan. [Dean] Rusk blamed Reischauer for being too pro-Japanese, for not educating Japan about the great danger, for assuming that the two nations were converging in their interests while, in reality, the Japanese were going off on their own. As Reischauer lay in serious condition after he was stabbed in 1964, neither Johnson nor Rusk sent him a personal note. In mid-1966, Reischauer was finally replaced by the hawkish U. Alexis Johnson.1

1. LaFeber, Walter The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 343.


Symposium Commemorating the Completion of the Occupation Period Magazine Article Database

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:40 am

The Prange Archive online magazine article database for the occupation period was an absolutely essential tool for me in my most recent research project. If you are in Tokyo in April, you might want to attend some of these great looking talks, which includes a speech discussing the database by the project’s founder, 山本武利, and one panel with 鶴見俊輔 as commentator:

■占領期雑誌記事情報データベース完成記念 講演会・シンポジウム■





 コメンテーター 鶴見俊輔




Open Thread: Election Results

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:25 pm

Lots of folks are pretty sure that the success of Koizumi’s rejuvenated LDP in yesterday’s elections [here’s a good summary] means something. What? It seems to me impossible to know what it means in a policy sense, but it clearly marks a step in the evolution of party politics and campaigning… a step away from past verities, but not necessarily towards anything easily recognizable or categorizable.

For myself, the privatization of the Postal Savings and Insurance system would mark the end of something historically interesting. The Postal Savings system was a fundamental institution in the Meiji modernization, enabling reliable low-cost long-distance transactions (including remittances from overseas, which is where my research comes in) and accumulating small deposits into a pool of capital that was agressively used for investment in railroads and other heavy industrial development. The great success of what is now the largest financial institution in the world is part of what forced me to recognize that the “rational actor” theory of economics which I had disdained for so long did in fact have its moments: the speed with which Japanese peasants adopted newer and more reliable banking institutions (and avoided less reliable ones) was a remarkable demonstration of fiscal sophistication and self-interest at work.


New Kamikaze Play

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 9:28 pm

This month a play about kamikaze pilots has been running at the El Portal Forum Theatre in Los Angeles, and has received outstanding reviews. Titled “Ten Thousand Years,” (presumably after 万歳), the play is by veteran Hollywood screenwriter John Ridley and looks at the everyday lives of members of the “Thunder Gods” squadron of ohka flying bomb pilots. They play’s objective is to portray the pilots as human beings with fears and doubts about their impending mission, rather than the stoic, brainwashed automatons so often found in Hollywood depictions.

Although I haven’t seen the play myself, my family watched it today, and they loved it. From what they say, it seems to be fairly historically accurate (at least in their judgment). LA Times Reviewer David Nichols also gave a rave review, declaring, “‘Ten Thousand Years’ could make a remarkable film someday, once its pertinent appeal has flown across the theatrical stratosphere.” (LAT, 2/11/05).

Hopefully this intriguing play will make its way to other parts of the country soon!

The play’s LA-area website is currently at www.10k.theatremania.com.


Stumbling to Glory

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:55 am

When an antiquated and undemocratic regime falls quickly, those who follow it often do so with little firm idea what they want or how they will achieve it. Slogans — “progress,” “prosperity,” “catching up with the rest of the world,” “freedom” — and a sense that there are places in the world where life is better — though those societies threaten the sovereignty of a nation in flux, while they inspire its inchoate leadership — are all the plan that really exists. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that there are many plans, for there are many individuals, each with a distinct (and sometimes small) constituency, who wish to speak to and for the nation. The old regime collapsed quickly but not entirely cleanly (some loyalists will fight on for months; anti-reform insurgencies and assassinations will continue sporadically for a decade), and there are social and legal and cultural obstacles to development, including clan leaders, hereditary classes, and a complete lack of traditions of democracy , civil discourse or universal rights.

Sound familiar? It should: Japan, 1868. From these unlikely beginnings arose one of the most powerful and important nations of the 20th century.

One of the great challenges of the historian is to remember, and recapture, the lack of inevitability of events. One of my favorite books, because it really was the first one in which I felt that uncertainty reconstructed and revealed, is Michio Umegaki’s After the Restoration: The Beginning of Japan’s Modern State. One of my great regrets about my undergraduate career is that I did not realize my interest in pursuing history seriously until it was too late for me to take any courses with Prof. Umegaki; we’ve never met, though our paths have certainly crossed. Umegaki describes the beginnings of the Meiji (1868-1912) state as a series of shifting coalitions, informal working arrangements, rapidly shifting ideas and priorities, policies promulgated by working groups which surprised half the leadership, and generally uncertain steps towards viable governance.

This contrasts sharply with the more conventional backwards looking view of the early Meiji state, which takes in the immensely successful first decade or so and sees in it all the necessary components of development: comprehensive social, legal, administrative, military and economic reforms, which were only shallowly applied at first but which were nonetheless the template for Japan’s seemingly meteoric rise to regional power status.

That the Meiji reforms were successful is largely incontrovertible (though we argue about long-term side effects and who should get credit). But that success was not always carefully planned, was rarely coordinated or forseeable. In fact, there are quite a few missteps, and shifts in policy along the way, as well as reforms that succeed in spite of, rather than because of, central (and centralizing) reforms.

There were foreigners, even some Japanese, who doubted Japan’s ability to manage its own affairs: Japan was subject to the odious “unequal treaty” system until the 20th century, for example. There were domestic and international observers who found Japan’s new leaders cliquish, unrepresentative, unrealistic, ineffective, disunified, oligarchic, and otherwise objectionable. But in spite of their missteps, and in spite of their uncertainties, they did succeed.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]


Hanshin Jishin 10th anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 pm

White Peril and Far Outliers have notes about the decade-ago disaster. We were in Yamaguchi when it happened: woke me out of a sound sleep from 200 miles away. I immediately, of course, turned on the TV for the earthquake announcements, and didn’t go back to bed for a long time. Some memories and thoughts:

  • There was, coincidentally, a blood donation drive scheduled on the campus of Yamaguchi University the next day. We’d given blood in Japan a time or two before that, I think (the cards are around somewhere: I rarely throw that stuff away). Anyway, I figured we’d go by the mobile station and, if the lines were too bad we’d just give up. No line. We got in, went from station to station (they actually weigh you, if they think you might be borderline) and got stuck and bled with little delay. I know there are Confucian and other traditional issues about blood donations, but given Japan’s bad history with imported blood products I really expected a stronger response.
  • We also participated in a charity concert a month or so later. My wife is a fine musician, and is capable of coaching even a neophyte like me into producing some passable harmonica and harmony backup. It was an all-day production, with dozens of local acts. Woody did one of her own songs (“Miriam’s song” I think, a rousing prayer of praise to the universe), John Denver’s “Country Roads” (very popular among our Japanese friends, particularly with our “Almost heaven, Yamaguchi” modifications) and Stuart Stott’s “Music in my mother’s house” (fantastic nostalgia piece, well worthy of enka-ization). We did a joint piece with a local folksinger as well — I think it was John Lennon’s “Imagine” (I checked with Woody: she also sang Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”, and the song we sang with the local guy was Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Before the concert, since she was the featured performer, I coached her on the proper offering of condolences… then I did a translation into English. You had to be there.). Not sure how much we contributed to the effort, but it certainly was a change from the school choruses and music clubs that filled most of the program.
  • A few months later, the Jewish group in Iwakuni (mostly Americans associated with the Marine Air Station) raised some money among itself to bring relief goods to the Jewish community in Kobe. We got there on a Friday night in a rented van, and joined in for services and were treated to a fantastic Shabbat dinner by the locals. The Kobe Jewish community is mostly a remnant of WWII refugees, though there is a pretty strong Israeli component, too. The synagogue is Sephardic Orthodox (separate seating for women, the whole bit), and this Ashkenazi Liberal had some trouble keeping up. The building had suffered some structural strains, and a Ten Commandments tablet had been cracked. Otherwise they were doing pretty well. Wandering around Kobe was sobering: well outside the fire zone, there were frequent recently-cleared empty lots in the middle of busy city blocks, raw reminders. Though it could have been worse, of course, but for Japan’s strong seismic construction codes.

We haven’t been back to Japan since ’94, and I wasn’t terribly familiar with Kobe before that. I’d be very curious to hear from people with experience on both sides of the divide how the tragedy has affected people, institutions, architecture, geography.

update: here is an earthquake survivor’s recounting of the long-term personal costs

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress