Modern Japan in Anglophone Historical Fiction

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:25 pm

ASPAC 2013
Jonathan Dresner
Pittsburg State University

“But writers of fiction do not stumble onto locales or times: they choose them and they use them to serve their narrative and aesthetic ends.” — Jonathan Dresner

“…flaws typical of the genre: a carefully set but very selective milieu; characters cobbled together from cultural and psychosocial fragments; wildly unlikely encounters and inappropriate behavior. … I don’t ever use historical fiction in my teaching, and I rarely read it (especially in my own field!).” — Jonathan Dresner

Roughly Chronologically:

  • Gai-jin (James Clavell, 1993): 1862-1863
  • The Apprentice (Lewis Libby, 1996): 1903
  • The Teahouse Fire (Ellis Avery, 2006): Bakumatsu and Meiji.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden, 1997): subject born in 1920, lived until after WWII.



Twitterstorian Anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:56 pm

Telephones - late 1800s-1930sAs an historian, I consider anniversaries irrelevant. However, as a social function, naturally, they matter a great deal, and the internet itself moves so quickly at times that it’s worth looking back regularly to maintain perspective. Twitter itself, for example, is less than five years old, and I’ve been using it for about two years. About a year two years1 ago, our erstwhile colleague Katrina Gulliver began cataloging historians on twitter under the title Twitterstorians, and now has a list of a few hundred participants, ranging from personal accounts to institutional ones to historical recreation and quotation lists.

Like any social media, a lot of what happens on twitter appears to be fluff and nonsense, even a lot of what comes from the accounts of bona fide historians. I consider twitter to be a kind of semi-professional discussion: not a private, personal space,2 nor a professional project,3 but a space for informal discussions on political, cultural, historical and educational matters (with the ocassional foray into fluff and nonsense, for fun). I do have some local colleagues on twitter, and there are a few other Japanese historians4 as well as a pretty good collection of non-historian Japan-interested folks.

  1. What a shameful mistake for an historian! []
  2. I use facebook for that, where I limit my contacts to family, close friends and long-time acquaintances. No, I don’t assume it’s secret (which is what most people mean by ‘private’ but that it’s out of easy reach, and personal rather than professional) []
  3. Like this blog, or my course blogs []
  4. not a complete list. Morgan Pitelka has an account, though he doesn’t say much. I’m sure there are more, too. There always are. []


Feeling Like an Empire: Colonial Radicalization

What makes Louise Young’s Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism such a fascinating, troubling work is that she details the way in which the Manchurian experience, and the strategic vulnerability of the Manchurian adventure, rebound into the politics and culture of Japan itself. It reverses, in a way, the traditional narratives of colonialism which see influence flowing from the metropole to the periphery rather than the other way around. And as consciousness of Manchuria became increasingly central to Japanese political and cultural identity, Japanese politics became increasingly radical: nationalist, racialist, expansionist, militarist; in a word, imperialist. Not that Japan wasn’t an empire before that — Taiwan, Korea, Liaodong, and a large swath of the South Pacific attest to Japan’s willingness to take control of other peoples — or that the cultural elements weren’t in place. But under the influence of the ongoing crisis in Manchuria, a crisis experienced by many who travelled there, worked there, and seen and heard through music, movies and other outlets, liberal alternatives like internationalism became unpalatable, even unacceptable. If you’re tied to the usual nation-bound histories of culture and politics, and the one-way influence of the standard metropole-periphery model, this is a paradigm-shifting piece of scholarship. As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said, “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”

I thought of Young’s work when I read this NYT profile of David Yerushalmi, one of the architects and driving forces behind the anti-Shariah movement in the United States. Yerushalmi’s radically political and hostile view of Islam have become common-place opinions in certain segments of the US political spectrum — primarily Republican, Tea Party, Buchananite Isolationist, Dominionist and similar groups — and have been put into legislative form in Oklahoma, as well as as other states. Especially in the context of US involvement in the Middle East, the specific focus of the xenophobia against the very kinds of people who are the target of US policy, the anxiety about subversion by global networks of muslims based on the statements and actions of a radicalized few, really does remind me of the Japanese turn in the 1920s and 1930s against communism, socialism and anarchism, against the Korean and Chinese activists, and their Japanese allies, who were the strongest proponents of those theories.

What really fascinated me about the profile, though, was Yerushalmi’s background. Or rather, a combination of his background and the way in which the article glided over the interesting bits.

His interest in Islamic law began with the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, when he was living in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

At the time, Mr. Yerushalmi, a native of South Florida, divided his energies between a commercial litigation practice in the United States and a conservative research institute based in Jerusalem, where he worked to promote free-market reform in Israel.

After moving to Brooklyn the following year, Mr. Yerushalmi said he began studying Arabic and Shariah under two Islamic scholars, whom he declined to name.

He is an American Hasidic Jew — literally the third thing we learn about him after his name and age — and lawyer, hostile to the secular socialist roots of Israel1 who suddenly became troubled by the nature of Islam after the 9/11 attacks.

Maybe. But I don’t think that it’s coincidental that Yerushalmi was an American living in Israel — a state often described as an agent of American power in the Middle East2 and in particular living in an areas which is easily (and I think fairly) described as an Israeli colonial territory. I think it’s more likely that the experience of living in occupied territory radicalized him, hardened his views on Islam. He was engaged in a struggle at the frontier of civilization, in his own mind, when members of a group he already percieved as the enemy struck at his homeland, to which he returned to share his hard-won perspective on the issues. And because of the shock of that attack, compounded by the ongoing challenge of war overseas and economic troubles, he found people receptive to his message of a subversive force at work in the world, an existential conflict.

Being an empire means having peripheries, and those peripheries are going to have troubles, in no small part because of their relationship with the metropole. But mistaking the tensions of the periphery for an existential crisis is the kind of lack of perspective which signals weak leadership, a distorted public sphere, and a high probability of escalating sunken cost fallacies driving policy.

  1. Note that the “conservative research institute” isn’t named, begging the question of whose definition of “conservative” the reporter is using in this description. []
  2. though I think “stalking horse” or “scapegoat” might be more precise []


The Kempeitai studies Anthropology

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:15 pm

Our friends at Savage Minds often post on issues related to anthropologists at war. Today I came across an example of an anthropologist at war in a 1942 diary by Takeuchi Tatsuji. Together with pan-asianist ideologue and postwar socialist politician Rōyama Masamichi, Takeuchi traveled to Japanese occupied Philippines and conducted a study of the archipelago for the Japanese military administration.1

In his Manila diary, there is the following passage in the entry for January 19, 1943 when he visited Allied detainees in Fort Santiago:

Professor H. Otley Beyer, a famous American anthropologist at the University of the Philippines, was released three hours after capture and was given a research room to continue his work. He has been giving a regular series of lectures on Philippine peoples to members of the Kempeitai [Japanese military police]. In addition to Professor Beyer, about fifteen American internees at the University of Santo Tomas are giving lessons in English conversation to Kempeitai members. They seem to be happy to get out of the camp as a diversion.”2

Though I’m not familiar with him, Otley Beyer (1883-1966) looks like he published a great deal on the philippines. There are 28 entries by him in the Harvard library system here, all on the Philippines. However, I don’t see any that look like a memoir or diary from his time during the war.

Exploring his wartime interactions with the Japanese and lecturing the Japanese military police, or the Kempeitai, which was the core institution of brutal repression during the occupation, might be an interesting paper for someone who has access to his papers in Australia.

One place to start would be:

Otley Beyer collection – at the Australian national library. See more here. A finding aid to the collection can be found here, including several boxes from his World War II papers.

  1. Part of the report and some of the diary entries can be found translated in Masamichi Rōyama and Takeuchi Tatsuji, The Philippine Polity: A Japanese View (New Haven: Yale University, Southeast Asia Studies; [distributor: the Cellar Book Shop, Detroit, 1967). At the time of publication in the 1960s, Takeuchi was a professor at Kansai Gakuin University, where had taught since 1932. He got his PhD in political science at Chicago. In addition to his trip to the Philippines, he was an advisor to the Burmese occupation government. ibid., 209. []
  2. ibid., 225-6. []


Shipping Designators for Japanese Cities

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:13 pm

There are two creative processes that I find particular mysterious. Coming up with the names for musical bands…and shipping designators.

Here for example, is a short list of some of the shipping designators for Japan during the US occupation:1

Yokohama = EVIL
Tokyo = BULL
Osaka = CLUB
Nagasaki = HARD
Kobe = HACK
Sasebo = CARL
Shimonoseki = KIDS
Gunzan = OWLS

Anyone have ideas on how they come up with these names?2

UPDATE: Here is the longer list from the original document:

Shipping Designators Japan

  1. A shipping designator is a short address. Defined as follows by militaryterms.net shipping designator — A code word assigned to a particular overseas base, port, or area for specific use as an address on shipments to the overseas location concerned. The code word is usually four letters and may be followed by a number to indicate a particular addressee.” []
  2. These are taken from Robert Eichelberger Papers. Series 1 Part 1 Reel 18 Box 49 Administrative Orders 1945-6 (4 vols). Headquarters Eight Army 25 Sept 1945 (Administrative Order 17 to accompany Field Order 32) 8. []


Goto Shimpei’s Meta Theory on Modern Empire

Filed under: — sayaka @ 10:32 am

I feel that, from what I have read so far, Goto Shimpei is everyone’s favorite colonial policy-maker. He learned ‘scientific’ colonial governance from Western examples; his management of colonial affairs made the Japanese rule in Taiwan self-sustainable; he made a basis for Japan’s rule of Manchuria. Compared to Hara Kei, another ‘everyone’s favorite’ in the history of Japanese colonialism, who believed in the extension of home rule (内地延長主義), Goto was much closer to contemporary Western colonizers in that he regarded colonies as completely separate entities from the home country. The fact that these two figures who had almost opposite ruling philosophies are praised in the same way shows the difficulty of determining what exactly “good governance” means in colonial rule.

Anyway, I happened to read Goto’s 日本植民政策一班 (Japanese colonial policies), which was written based on his lecture given in 1914. I was curious of how he thought about the role of modern empire. He says;

19世紀において起こりました、国民主義なるものは… 強者には無上の好武器であるが、弱者には却って身を殺すの凶器であったと云ふことは明らかであります…この国民主義の興隆と共にその弱い国は無理往生的に同化を強いられるという形成に相成ったのが、欧羅巴列国生存競争の結果であります。その国民主義に加えるに帝国主義を以てすることになりました。

(rough translation) It is clear that nationalism, which arose in the nineteenth century,… was an excellent weapon for the strong, but for the weak, it was rather a self-destructive weapon… Together with this rise of nationalism, those weak countries were forced to assimilate. This is a result of the competition for survival among European powers. They added imperialism to this nationalism.

Assuming that the common narrative that today’s historians give that the era of nationalism took over the era of imperialism is somewhat right (at least chronologically), Goto’s reverse perception is quite fascinating. Partly this is because he was trying to analyze World War I, which manifested the coexistence of nationalism and imperialism. But I suspect this was a common mindset for the Japanese leaders. They, including Goto, probably felt that “first comes nation, and that becomes empire” from their experience. This was absolutely not the case for most of the European empires. But for Japan, with a strong orientation for “nation” building, “empire” was a powerful version of the “nation.” This might sound a little too banal as a point for Japan specialists, but from a comparative viewpoint, this is quite anomalous.


Self-Introduction: Kate McDonald

Filed under: — kate @ 11:48 am

Hi everybody. My name is Kate McDonald, and I’m the newest contributor to Frog in a Well. I’m currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Japanese History at the University of California, San Diego. My research focuses on travel and tourism in East Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, specifically Japanese and foreign travel to Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. I am also interested in the histories of mobility and technology.

Thanks to Konrad for inviting me to join the group. I look forward to our discussions!


Blogging and Events

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:26 pm

I am in Portland, at ASPAC 2010, and having my usual conference fun. It’s a pretty full schedule, so I’m not going to try to blog during, but I’ll get some blogging in after, and mostly here because I’m mostly doing Japan panels this year. However, I am experimenting with using laptop and iPad as notetaking devices1 — I’ve always used paper before — and PSU has good wireless service, so I’m also posting notes on twitter as time and attention allow. If you’re on twitter and have a question about anything I’ve tweeted, feel free to contact me that way.

Also, I’ll be hosting the July History Carnival at my World History teaching blog (have to give it something to do over the summer!), so send me history-related posts via comment here, via email (jonathan@froginawell.net), through the History Carnival submission page, or via twitter (through @jondresner or using the #hc89 tag).

  1. I haven’t decided which one I like better. I’m more used to the laptop, of course, but the iPad has a huge advantage in portability and battery life. The fact that it’s slightly harder to use, both in terms of typing and multitasking, seems to make the iPad a bit better for concentrating on what’s happening, oddly enough. I’m going to keep switching between them as the conference goes on, to see if I come to any firmer conclusions, and also to get more practice on the iPad, which is a new tool/toy. []


AAS Love – Self Promotion Edition

It’s a good week for me and the Association for Asian Studies. I just got my Journal of Asian Studies in the mail. Not only did I get the journal, but the cover image is my photograph of firefighters at the 1985 Atsuta Festival. There’s an article that goes with it, Mary Alice Haddad on the democratization of volunteer fire departments, which is quite interesting1, including the fact that there are almost 900 thousand volunteer firefighters in Japan, which makes it one of the larger civic traditions.

In addition, the very first review in the Japan section is Jeffrey Lesser’s review of Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents and Uncertain Futures, Edited by Nobuko Adachi, in which I have a chapter. He doesn’t mention my chapter in the review2, but he does praise the book generally, and the review includes discussion of another work — Toake Endoh, Exporting Japan — which apparently addresses a familiar argument about the relationship between colonial and migration policy in useful detail.

To make it a perfect week, I’d have to be going to the AAS Meeting in Philadelphia. Well, I am! I’ll be presenting a paper on Friday afternoon joined by some very interesting folks:

Session 106: National Borders and Memory Borders: The Prewar Japanese Diaspora and Postwar Memories of the “Homeland”
Hometown pride and “safe” international history in rural western Japan, Martin Dusinberre
Diaspora Memory: Selective Histories of Japanese Emigration, Jonathan Dresner
Lost Homeland: Colonial Memories of Manchuria in Okinawa after World War II, Shinzo Araragi
Beyond Conflicted Memories of the “Second Hometown”: a homecoming tour of Japanese repatriates to the Philippines , Mariko Iijima

Many thanks to Martin, in particular, for organizing the panel.

Naturally, I’ll be blogging and tweeting the conference, as much as I can.

Now, who else will be there, and when can we have a blogger meetup?

  1. I didn’t know that when I gave permission to use the picture, of course, but I figured Wasserstrom, et al., knew what they were doing []
  2. none of the reviews I’ve seen have, actually. It’s not entirely surprising, since my chapter is a little odd-man-out, looking at diaspora from the perspective of the Japanese government’s anxieties about the cultural illiteracy of emigrants, instead of from a particular diaspora community. []


History Carnival #84: After the Tweeting is Done

The History CarnivalI’m very pleased to be hosting my 6th History Carnival, and I thought it would be fun to extend the carnival into a new medium this time: I’ve spent the whole day Tweeting the carnival at my twitter feed. Sharon Howard created a dynamic archive of the carnival, which can also be found by using the hashtag #HC84. I still haven’t entirely fallen in love with Twitter — 140 characters is very, very short — but I’m enjoying the flow of information it facilitates, and the way microblogging’s supplemented my regular history blog reading and writing. It exists in a very productive gray space between professional and informal communication.

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