井の中の蛙

9/17/2007

Diasporic Remnants

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:22 am

I’m always interested in interesting tales and connections regarding the Japanese diaspora. Here’s a couple that I’ve run across: New research on Japanese settlers in Korea; Jorge Luis Borges, the great surrealist, married a Nikkei Argentinian woman late in life; Japanese post-WWII settlers in the Dominican Republic abandoned by both governments. I love being part — a small part, but nonetheless — of the diaspora studies movement. We’re complicating the history of the world, chronicling the wonderful diversity of seemingly simple things. [continued...]

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5/2/2007

What’s New?

  • The University of Hawai’i at Manoa Center for Japanese Studies has a new collection of Occupation-era photographs. I’m struck by two things in particular: the persistence of traditional production, agriculture and fishing methods; the repatriated soldiers, who seem quite happy to be home.
  • Nothing new here: Japanese textbooks omit Japanese atrocities1 , draw fire from China, Koreas.2 However, it’s worth noting that this was from Andrew Bell, writing at the official blog of the American Historical Association. It’s nice to see Asian history getting some note, though it would be even nicer if it wasn’t the same-old, same-old. For a really fresh take on the textbook/nationalism question, I highly recommend Ian Condry’s article about alternative media and non-nationalistic historical visions in Japan.
  • Kevin Murphy noted the appearance of a new report on WWII “comfort women” and US collusion in the Occupation era “comfort stations” for US GIs. This got more attention than usual because it coincided with PM Abe’s visit to the US. Interestingly, he did apologize (repeatedly), and President Bush accepted him at his word. However, apologies have no legal weight, it seems, and the “apology fund” attempt to privatize absolution failed miserably. (Non-sexual slave laborers also denied compensation, so at least they’re consistent). You can find the whole Congressional Research Service report here.
  • In the “read it or not, you’re going to have to have an opinion” category, comes an announcement of a new broadside volley in the Atomic Bomb historiography, a bold attempt edited by Robert James Maddox to present the full array pro-bomb arguments against “revisionists.” Gar Alperovitz and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa are named as particular targets of these essays. The press release (that’s all it is, so don’t expect a balanced review) contains not the slightest hint that an honest scholar could doubt the ineffable wisdom of history as it happened, a Panglossian view with a real edge.
  • Speaking of broadsides, Vietnam War revisionist (here it’s a good thing) Mark Moyar couldn’t find a job and the usual arguments about politicization in the academy are offered by the usual suspects. Note, however: he’s applied for “more than 150″ jobs in “over five years.” US history positions routinely attract 80-150 applications; I don’t know how many jobs my Americanist colleagues usually apply to in a job search year, but even in my little Asian history corner of the market I’ve had years in which I made 20 applications. He sounds like a strong candidate almost anywhere (and it sounds like he’s made the short list a fair number of times), but I’ve seen plenty of searches from both sides and the process is never a simple head-to-head c.v. weigh-off: This is what makes it hard for candidates, I admit, but it also means that it’s awfully hard to conclude anything, even from a lot of rejections. He’s teaching at a better school than I am now, and suing a top-tier program, to boot.
  • There is a high liklihood that almost two hundred Japanese Christian martyrs of the pre-seclusion era will be beatified later this year. I haven’t been able to find a press report online with more details: every report I’ve seen echoes this one in highlighting the “pacifist samurai” angle.
  • Takamatsuzuka tomb restoration work begins
  • Collaboration doesn’t pay? The South Korean government is going to seize assets owned by the descendants of collaborators going back to members of the cabinet which signed the annexation treaty in 1910. I can see this going one of three ways: it gets tied up in court and never goes any further; a very high bar is set for the definition of “collaboration”, leading to generations of debate about the historicity and utility of such definitions, not to mention considerable acrimony regarding boderline cases; a vague definition of collaboration results in a flood of cases, lawsuits, historical geneological and pseudo-historical disputes, charges of favoritism, deeper corruption and the release of massive quantities of new and interesting historical materials into the public sphere.
  1. see also this, this []
  2. At the same time, China and Korea are moving ahead with joint historical projects with Japan []

3/26/2007

Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]
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11/5/2006

Empire in Sonny Chiba’s Shōrinji Kempō

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:44 am

I just watched an old 1975 movie with Sonny Chiba in it called Shōrinji Kempō 少林寺拳法 (the English title, inexplicably is “The Killing Machine”) which is a sensationalized action movie version of the life of Sō Dōshin, the founder of the martial art and religious group Shōrinji Kempō.

I think that this obscure movie must have made it onto my Netflix list last year when I was roommates with fellow Frog contributor Craig and shared a Netflix subscription with him. Craig studies Karate and modernity and is the author of one of the most commented postings here at Frog in a Well.

Watching bad movies can actually be quite educational. This movie interested me for two reasons: 1) it is a mid-70s movie portraying Japan in the immediate aftermath of war and 2) there are a number of references to war, empire, and minorities such as Koreans in Japan which I found interesting. Allow me to share some of these points.

You are Japanese!The first two scenes of the movie take place in mainland China, during the war. Sō Dōshin, played by Sonny Chiba, is spying on some Chinese soldiers who are planning a dastardly ambush of Japanese troops. The Chinese commander, who must have been played by a Japanese actor, spoke in such horrible Chinese I doubt any Chinese viewer of the movie could have made out anything he said, except perhaps the completely flat-toned “Neee shooo reeeebenren ma” [Are you Japanese?] he says, discovering the presence of the spy in the audience of his tactical planning meeting. Sō kills everyone with a grabbed machine gun and flees back to the Japanese lines.

No, no, we have surrendered?Sō informs his commanding officer that their troops must take a detour only to be met with his weeping fellow soldiers’ announcement that Japan has surrendered. This so traumatizes Sō that he proceeds to machine gun everything around him, with fellow Japanese soldiers diving for cover. He concludes in the narration, “The Japanese Empire may have been defeated but I am not defeated.” He returns to Japan to run a gang of street urchins and cook porridge in his occupied home country.

Let's all get alongSō’s next battle is on a train in Japan during his return. Korean gangsters, dressed in black leather jackets and sunglasses have kicked some poor train passengers out of their seats. They cry, “Your nation is defeated!” Sō, dressed in Chinese looking garb, soon sends them sprawling. As he helps them to their feet he tells the now humbled Koreans:

日本に住む気なら仲良くしようじゃないか

“If you want to live in Japan, let’s all get along, eh?”

A few scenes later he rescues a woman who is being beaten up by prostitutes in a slum for working on their turf. In thanks for being saved and being given a free meal she offers herself to Sō on a pile of rubble. He rejects her and chides her for giving up her purity and turning to prostitution. She explains that her body has already been ravaged countless times by Russian soldiers in Manchuria so she has nothing left to lose. He assures her that she is still the person she always was and that,

いやなことも忘れるよ

“You can forget the horrible things, too.”

You can forget the horrible things tooHere something interesting happens. Though the focus of the scene is the tragic story of a Japanese women raped by Russian soldiers and the horrible poverty of the early postwar period, the director makes a move that immediately connects the fortunes of this one Japanese woman, to that of the Japanese nation as a whole. Just as Sō says, “You can forget the horrible things, too,” the camera slowly moves from the image of the face of the crying woman to the image of a tattered Japanese flag laying in a muddy puddle behind her.

Sō soon finds himself fighting the gangs in the black market and beating up and crippling two American occupation soldiers who run over one of his boys in the market (the little brother of the woman above). He is arrested but a kind police officer lets him escape. When talking to the police officer Sō admits he is a trouble maker but adds a line flashing back to his days in China. Now instead of spying on the Chinese we learn that he was their noble defender:

虐げられた中国の民衆をみるとついカッとなって、よく軍ともめたもんです。

“When I saw the abused people of China I would lose my temper and often got into trouble with the military.”

It is after his escape from prison custody that he goes to Tadotsu in Shikoku where he founds Shōrinji Kempō. There is footage of the complex (as of 1975) in the beginning of the movie and it appears the movie was made with some cooperation from the organization. I think I recognized some of the buildings from a visit I made to their complex when I wandered around Tadotsu for a day on a trip Shikoku a few years ago. Here in Tadotsu the movie switches to a more classic gangster match up with Sō and his boys representing the virtuous “defenders of the people” versus the evil gangsters allied with the corrupt police and occupation authorities. There is also a single anti-Communist comment by one of Sō’s people but I can’t find the scene again as I am writing this.

In a scene reminiscent of the Edo period sword school challenges two Judō fighters come in and disrupt one of the increasingly attended training sessions to challenge Sō to a fight. Among their threats we find these lines:

少林というのは藤八拳の親戚かね。戦争に負けたからといって支那の武術までありがたがるごとなか。

“Shōrin, that is something like Tōhachiken isn’t it? Just because we lost the war, doesn’t mean we have look up to China’s martial arts. [Kyūshū dialect]“

Sō soon humbles these two representatives of the more traditional Japanese martial art and they flee the premises.

Koreans need to bring a bat and a ball to playThere is one more mention of Koreans in the movie. One of Sō’s friends and former prison companions is looking for his wife, who believes that he died in Burma during the war. He finds her alive and remarried to a Korean in Takamatsu. Before meeting her, he meets his son, who he has never met before and doesn’t know. The character asks the boy why he isn’t playing baseball with the other children, and he says he has no glove. Besides, he says,

朝鮮人の子はバットとボールももってなきゃだめたって

“They said Korean children can’t join in unless they have a bat and a ball, too.”

Picture 7Sō’s friend then meets his long lost wife and learns that she has married a Korean after the war. In an interesting statement which at once reveals the stereotype of Koreans as unscrupulous types, but vindicates the husband on a personal level, she describes the difficulty with her new marriage:

朝鮮人らしいな...

...曲がったことが嫌いで貧乏しています。

“Old Husband: So I understand your husband is Korean?
Wife: …He hates crooked ways so we are living in poverty.”

Picture 8The movie ends after a boring series of battles with local gangsters. The closing scenes presents us with a sweeping shot, found in many of these martial arts movies, of hundreds of Shōrinji Kempō practitioners practicing outdoors. We are told that, “Strength [used] without Justice is [simply] Violence, Justice without Strength is Powerless.”

I have requested the only book by Sō Dōshin I found in our library here from our depository, which is a 1970s Korean translation of one of his philosophical guides to Shōrinji Kempō. I’m curious if the martial art ever caught on in Korea or in its alleged original home of China.

I’m deeply skeptical, as I think we always should be, of most everything you can find online about the real Sō’s childhood life in Manchuria in either Japanese or English. It would be interested to know, however, if he indeed ended up spending some of his childhood, after his grandfather died, with one of the founders of the Amur River society (aka Black Dragon Society) and if, as some sites claim, he was just a military cartographer during the Sino-Japanese war or he was in fact active in military intelligence (the two are by no means contradictory). It would also be interesting know how Henan’s Shaolin temple passed the wartime occupation period (seems as though much of it was burnt to the ground by a warlord in the 20s) and the extent of connections between some of the societies associated with these martial arts and the Japanese occupying troops and officers. Most of what I found on Sō online was found on websites of Shōrinji Kempō practitioners.

There are two interesting discursive levels at work here though. One is the portrayal of China, Chinese, and Koreans in occupation Japan in the 1970s movie. The second is the importance of Empire and the Wartime experience in the origin stories and narratives of some of the most popular martial arts (Kyokushin karate, Aikido, and Shōrinji Kempō being the best examples I think).

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]

1/8/2006

Frog In A Well Project wins Best Group History Blog

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:59 pm

Cliopatria Award: Best Group Blog 2005

The Cliopatria Awards for best history blogging have been announced and the three Frog in a Well blogs have been selected the Best Group Blog

“After much thought, the judges chose the Frog in a Well project as a whole, rather than singling out any one of its constituent parts: not only do they feature overlapping personnel and a considerable degree of shared identity and purpose, all have been characterized by diverse contributors, strong historical content and consistently high quality writing. Both individually and as a whole, they represent a great achievement and a model to inspire and challenge in the future.”

Thanks, both to the judges and to all the bloggers who have made this such a great project to be part of. Special thanks, of course, to the creator and technical master (and a damn fine blogger) Konrad Lawson.

I’m really looking forward to the next year of Asian history blogging here!

11/26/2005

Semantics and History: Did Japan “Invade” Korea?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:20 am

Well, the obvious answer to that question is yes, but that’s not the invasion we’re talking about. Over on the Korea side, there’s a lively discussion on the case of the Japanese teacher disciplined for making her class apologize to South Korea with regard to a Tokyo councilman’s statement that “Japan never invaded Korea.” Here’s a portion of the comment I made:

On the substantive question, I have something of a mixed feeling. In a technical sense, I don’t think you can really point to any of Japan’s actions against Korea as an “invasion” in the sense of a mass military operation. That doesn’t mean that Korea wasn’t dominated militarily, that Japan didn’t use force when necessary to protect and expand its control, that colonial occupation wasn’t brutal and damaging. It does mean that we need to carefully educate our students about the “soft” (formal and informal) processes of colonial domination and control, and the realities of subaltern experience. It’s a “distinction without a difference” and while the statement may (and I’m open to disagreement, really) be technically correct, it is still objectionable because the intent of the statement clearly is to make the occupation of Korea a “blameless” non-violent process, which is a distortion of the truth.

This could be, I suppose, a useful teaching moment…. I’ll have to bring it up in my 20th century Japan course and see how my students respond. In the meantime, come on over and join the discussion. If you want some more background on the history, I recommend Konrad Lawson’s comparative historiography for starters.

[crossposted to Cliopatria]

11/7/2005

Korean History Weblog Launch

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:26 am

Today we are launching our new collaborative Korean history weblog. You can read more about the goals of the site here.

I’m going to start it out with a series of postings this week on early Western perceptions of Koreans in the late 19th century and colonial period. I’ll later post a summary of some of the work out there on Japanese perceptions of Korea during the same period for comparison.

Since a lot of postings will discuss Japanese imperialism and colonial Korea, there may be some cross-posting. Since we won’t cross-post everything however, you might want to pay the Korean history weblog a visit on occasion.

10/11/2005

Some Differing Approaches

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:55 am

I have been reading through a collection of books about the road to Japan’s annexation of Korea, mostly somewhat dry political history for my tastes. It is orals year for me so there will be a lot of postings related to readings in preparation for my modern Japan and modern Korea field (when also relevant to Japanese history) exams next Spring.

Today, after re-reading Peter Duus The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910 and taking some better notes, I wanted to do quick re-reads on this period in two other big narrative sweeps of Korean history: Carter J. Eckert, Ki-baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and Edward W. Wagner eds. Korea Old and New: A History and Bruce Cumings Korea’s Place in the Sun. I then compared some notes with other books I read last year.

The complicated political history of the decades leading up to Japan’s annexation of Korea can tax the memory (I’ll post some notes on this at some point with people/timeline reference) and patience but at least the English language scholarship on this is quite limited, as far as I can tell. In contrast, disagreements and writing about Japanese imperialism in Korea has provoked some of the most bitter fights between Japanese and Korean scholars, even those who are eager to cooperate and don’t represent extreme wings in scholarship on either side.

I was interested, though not really surprised, to see that the differences on some of these touchy issues surrounding the 1905 Protectorate treaty etc. across the Pacific, seep into English language scholarship on the topic. Since many of these texts can find their way onto university history course materials, it is not without relevance for those teaching modern East Asian or Japan/Korea courses. These differences have a lot to do with which sources get used by the scholars in question, of course, and these usually trace back to previous Korean or Japanese secondary works on the issue. To show what I mean, below I’ll explore a few differences by comparing various accounts on a few specific events. I’ll use Young Ick Lew’s chapters in Korea Old and New as the starting point, since his claims come out the most concise and strongly worded.
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9/22/2005

Poem of Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Filed under: — Thomas Ekholm @ 3:39 am

Last time I was in Japan I went through a lot of bookshelves looking for relevant litterature for my research. At the library of Gifu university they have a lot of books that belongs to old universities and such and these books are not a part of the library computer system. Thus, one has to look through the books in person, which I really like. There are many books which are older and most has not been touched by anyone during the last 20 years or so. Among these books there is a book called ”戦国時代和歌集” published 1943 (First two kanji in older style but my computer cant write them). In this book, as the title so says, there are a lot of poems from the sengoku era with authors such as Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi to name a few.

Amongst the poems there was one which Toyotomi Hideyoshi has written in 1592,
日の本に
また唐国も
手に入れて
ゆたなる世の
春に合うかな
(not sure were the last to sentences really cut though)

From the context of the intended invasion of China- which stopped in Korea and therefore has been labeled “war in korea”- this poem shows his ambitions.

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