井の中の蛙

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.

8/31/2009

Soft and Fuzzy Historic Events

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:42 am

Ton-Chan DollLast time I lived in Japan, the LDP lost control of the Diet, and for a year and a half there was a Socialist Prime Minister in charge of an implausible coalition between the Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Democratic Party of Japan, which just took control of the lower house of the Diet, was formed in the aftermath of that coalition: the more liberal elements of the LDP combined with the more moderate elements of the JSP.1 This left a more conservative LDP and a more Socialist SDP, and also, as a side effect, left the LDP again in charge of the government, in coalition with the Komeito and other conservative groups. Another side effect: the bushy eyebrows and grandfatherly face of Murayama Tomiichi were immortalized in the “Ton-chan” dolls sold by the JSP; I bought one, thinking that this might be “historic.”2

You could hardly tell from the news reports coming out of Japan at the moment.3 I suppose that I’m not surprised by the lack of respect given to the mid-90s political turmoil: it was inconclusive and sloppy, not the kind of clear-cut “historic” event that makes for banner headlines. But what came out of it was an LDP that was, honestly, destined to fail: instead of representing the middle two-thirds of the Japanese political spectrum, it represented a heavily right-oriented one-third, while the DPJ took a big chunk of what was left. Essentially, the LDP split, probably the natural end to a party that was a coalition to begin with, formed out of a Cold War fear that Japan’s leftist parties might put aside their differences long enough to win control of the Diet. While it took a few elections, and another decade of disappointing economic stagnation, the left wing of the former LDP has overtaken the right wing of the former LDP, and a former member of the LDP is going to be Prime Minister.4

Is this “historic“? Well, it depends, of course. If the DP turns out to be more or less just like the LDP, then it’s no more historic than Pepsi™ overtaking Coca-Cola™. If the DP turns out to be a genuinely center-left party which reduces international entanglements while successfully fostering economic development, it could actually be a revival of the Yoshida Doctrine. That might actually be interesting, especially since it could mean a shift away from the normalization discourses we’ve been hearing so much of. I guess it’s a bit too soon to write the new narrative.

  1. This is a rough approximation. The faction politics of the LDP did not neatly divide along ideological lines, but some sense of policy alignment was starting to become clearer when the split happened []
  2. Actually, I bought two: one for me and one for my parents. []
  3. I want to thank Adam Richards for his tireless political blogging during this election, possibly the best reportage in English this time around. []
  4. I don’t think anyone’s going to make plush toys out of Hatoyama Yukio, though he’d make a credible daruma. []

8/7/2009

Adjusting to the new narrative

My China-side colleague, Alan Baumler, noted that China seems to have supplanted Japan as the go-to model for economic development. This has, he says, required him to alter his own attitude towards Chinese history, which never really had much of a triumphal arc before. He says, though

Well, the Japan people seem to have adjusted to going from an Asian Anomaly to a model for humanity and back, so I guess we can.

My response was

Actually, Japan’s gone 180 degrees and has become a negative example for demographic, financial and rights development. Between the “aging Japan”, “Lost Decade” and rising tide of neo-nationalism….. we need a new narrative, too.

The last few times I’ve taught my Japan course that comes up to the present, I’ve used Bumiller’s book, but that one comes just at the beginning of the economic stagnation, and is now approaching 20 years old. I haven’t seen much that I’d like to use to replace it, either literature or ethnography. There’s Japan After Japan, but it seems like the kind of stuff I’d have to spend more time explaining and excusing than making good use of. I’m tempted to shift in the direction of global diaspora or something on the globalization of Japanese culture, but both of those seem a bit like avoiding the question.

What’s the new narrative? Have the economic slowdown, normalization, and globalization affected the way you present the post-war arc, or are the last two decades a distinct period?

8/3/2009

Cultural and Physical History Mystery

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:02 am

Okinawa boats taken by T. Egami, 1898 Michelle Damian, who I met at ASPAC, has a new post up in her project journal with an intriguing mystery:

One type of vessel that has intrigued me is the massive yakatabune, boats used for pleasure gatherings on the river. They have a solid superstructure with heavy supporting posts and cross timbers, usually decorated with lanterns bearing the names of the restaurants that had dispatched them, and are often shown with smaller craft alongside used to ferry patrons or cook the food. … What is unusual, though, is the notch at the tip of the stempost. These vessels almost always have an extra protrusion at the end.

If the mystery ended there I could chalk it up to simply the convention for the yakatabune – perhaps just aesthetic, perhaps for whatever reason just an additional visual cue to the boat’s purpose. On a model of a similar ship in Tokyo’s maritime museum (Fune no Kagakukan), though, the stempost is apparently made of two separate pieces of wood scarfed together with a notch exactly like the tip of the stemposts in the prints. It is as though the boats shown in the prints had removed that extra piece of wood, leaving the uneven notch exposed. … If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions to help solve this mystery, I would be most grateful to hear them!

modern-yakatabune

Go to her project journal for the proper illustrations (the ones here are just some that I found on Flickr) and more detail.

My theory? I think the stem, because of its size, was removable. So when it might block the view of patrons, as in a fireworks-viewing trip, it was taken off the vessel, but when it was a pleasure cruise in which the patrons were more focused on the activity inside, it was left on for elegance.

7/29/2009

Imperial Visits and Attitudes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:57 am

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Yamaguchi Prefecture immigration memorial -FullCentennial And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.

x-posted.

  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising. []
  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki []
  3. see also []

7/23/2009

Online Image Resources: Pedagogy and Geeky Fun

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:03 pm

One of my projects this summer has to do with the use of images in history classes: I’m trying to improve my teaching, and perhaps help others, by scanning pictures1 and identifying online sources for good images, as well as trying to figure out ways to do more with the images in the classroom. There’s been some great discussion of powerpoint and images in the classroom at Edge of the American West over the last week, the upshot of which is that images don’t really help all that much, unless you use them well. Not a surprising result, but the fact is that I use images sparingly in the classroom (and have never used powerpoint) because my training — and natural talents, I think — is heavily textual. I love a good map or chart, and I do use art in class both for cultural history and as historical documentation, but not enough. It’s not about “appealing to visual learners” as much as it is my belief that visual and physical materials are going to be increasingly important in historical analysis, both as sources and as forms of presentation. This isn’t cutting edge theory, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s by way of preface for some of the stuff I hope to be posting here2 over the next few months: images from my collection, and discussions of what they might mean, historically and pedagogically; other resources for visual materials and commentary on potential uses; links to other discussions of visual analysis; that sort of thing.

So, here’s my first collection of links:
(more…)

  1. both from books, which has copyright limitations, and from my own collection of slides and digital pictures, which doesn’t (at least for me, which is what matters!) []
  2. and at the other Frog blogs []

7/16/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Japan’s Political Present and Future

Fauna of Soka - Squirrel standingMy copanelists on Saturday were political scientists, and it was a good update for me on what what’s going on with Japan in the last ten years or so. “Normalization” is the name of the game: Japan’s political spectrum and international relations are starting to look a lot less like Yoshida’s vision and a lot more like a pretty normal regional power.
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7/11/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Colonialism and Imperialism

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:27 pm

Soka - Night Ikeda LibraryThere were quite a few papers at ASPAC this year which addressed Japan’s colonial and imperial relationships: my own discussion of migration as an aspect of modernity notes that imperialism — which is clearly a component of modernity, one way or the other — depends heavily on migration for its success.1 The ones I want to highlight were about Korea, Okinawa and Hokkaido.
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  1. I’ll talk more about my own paper at some point, perhaps. For now I’ll just say that one of the great things about a generalist conference like ASPAC is that, even though my paper was the misfit on a panel of post-cold-war political science projects, the audience was diverse enough in interests and specialities that I got some nice comments anyway, especially after. []

7/3/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Art and Ecology in Japan

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:23 pm

Birds of Soka - HummingbirdIt’s possible that my favorite single panel at ASPAC this year was the first one I attended on Friday: three papers linking art and reality. In all three cases, it’s clear that an understanding of the reality behind the art creates a deeper understanding of social and cultural process. It’s easy to assume that literature and visual arts are clues to historical eras, but no evidence stands alone: putting the visual and textual evidence in the context of archaeological, ecological and other data is critical to making good use of it.

Ian Tullis’ paper described a kind of ecological niche approach to literary tropes: he was discussing the lesser cuckoo (hototogisu), a bird whose call is mostly associated with memory and summer in the fifth month. Tullis described the actual ecological niche of the cuckoo — whose habit of brood parasitism (placing its eggs in another bird’s nest; in Japan it’s usually the warbler [uguisu]) is the origin of the term “cuckold” — to explain the origins of its appearance in Japanese poetry. In contrast to the conventional image of Japanese, especially Japanese poets, as attentive to nature, Tullis pointed out that there was only one substantive reference in the Manyoshu to the cuckoo’s parasitic ways. The niche in which the cuckoo appears narrows over time, and this is true of almost all the birds, flowers and other phenomena of Japanese poetry: each term occupies narrower niches as the poetic tradition ossifies; still, the cuckoo’s association with memory meant that it was sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative association, more flexible than many other birds.1

Joseph Sorensen, who delivered the second paper, had the dubious honor of taking my 20th century Japan class at UC Berkeley in 1993 and is now a premodern literary scholar.2 His paper was on a fascinating literary dead-end: an attempt in 1295 by a group of Ise shrine priest-poets to produce a cycle of poetry identifying and celebrating new “famous places” [meisho] which could be added to the poetic landscape. As Sorensen pointed out, the idea of “new” famous places is an oxymoron, since meisho were, by definition, time-honored. But they tried, producing 160 poems on ten sites, including bridges, toll barriers, villages noted as travel stops — Sorensen noted the “incipient tourism” of the project, and that’s a theme that clearly has legs in Japanese literature — but the manuscript was never widely circulated and there’s no evidence that these shin meisho were ever used by other poets.

The last paper was Michelle Damian‘s discussion of the boats in woodblock prints. She’s done some fascinating work combining archaeology on existing boats, anthropological investigations of traditional practice and, of course, the use of visual texts as historical sources. She discussed the difficulty of using art — which is often stylized and where artists sometimes emphasize things that highlight their skills — as a source, and some of the common errors and adjustments artists make. Often they’re accurate, and when they’re not it’s usually an artist-specific stylistic error. She’s found some fascinating details in the prints which reflect actual shipbuilding and use: my favorite is the use of retired boats for a pontoon bridge; perhaps the most intriguing is the lack of docks and piers in most pictures, especially at river crossings. The link above is to her project journal, which is as close as you can get to liveblogging a thesis project that I’ve seen, and has some great illustrations from her collection.

It was a great start to the conference.

  1. “Ossifies” is my term, not Tullis’, and reflects my belief that the Japanese poetic tradition repeatedly squanders its successful creative developments by valorizing thick context over innovation. []
  2. He didn’t say that I’d driven him to premodern studies…. []

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