Yasukuni and Japanese Flags

Rod Wilson and I visited Yasukuni on August 15 to check out the right-wing festivities, which was a pretty…interesting…experience. It was everything you’d expect with the ridiculously nationalistic speeches all day, right-wingers wearing all manner of Japanese military uniforms, jack-booted young wannabe fascists with shaved heads, and the black noise vans everywhere. There was even a choir of elementary school children singing gunka. Rod in particular got some nice photographs because he also went in the morning when the crowds were the largest. Unfortunately we both missed the speech by Ishihara Shintaro, but we did see a speech by an old woman who kept talking about the need to remember the sacrifices of Japanese soldiers and the “onshirazu” of Japanese today. At the climax of the speech, she dramatically revealed that that she wasn’t Japanese as we had thought all along but actually a native Taiwanese, and then wrapped up with an anecdote about how kind and gentlemanly the Japanese soldiers were to her as a young girl in wartime Taiwan, before concluding with a thundering declaration in English saying “Americans go home! Stay out of Japan! Not your Business!” to the roar of the enthralled crowd. Konrad would doubtlessly have enjoyed the chance to hear the speech – apparently some World War II collaborators are alive, well, and still collaborating.

On a related note, Rod and I were pondering how to refer in Japanese to the flag with the radiating rays of sun used by the Japanese navy during the war. We’d heard it referred to in English variously as the “naval ensign” or the more evocative “sunburst flag”, but we weren’t sure about what it’s called in Japanese. We both sort of half-remembered the term “Nisshouki” (日章旗), but it turns out that that is just the official name of the regular Japanese flag more commonly known as the “hinomaru” (日乃丸). Well, we did a little research and found out that the “sunburst” flag is called the “Kyojitsuki” (旭日旗) in Japanese, which makes sense. But the question still remains, what are the best terms to use to distinguish these two flags in English? The best translation for 旭日旗 would probably be “rising sun flag”, but that is problematic because the regular flag is commonly called the “rising sun flag” in English publications and even on EDICT, leaving only “naval ensign” or “sunburst flag” for the Kyojitsuki. Perhaps it would be better to come up with a more accurate translation of hinomaru/nisshouki? “Sun circle flag” perhaps? “Sun disc flag”? “Sun emblem flag”?


Kotaji on Korea (& Japan)

Filed under: — tak @ 9:56 am

I wanted to quickly mention two fascinating posts by Kotaji in the last two weeks that may be of interest to readers here.

First, he refers to an article in OhMyNews about a village near Kyoto composed of those of Korean descent who are resisting the destruction of their neighborhood. Kotaji picks up on the dissonance between the way the South Korean media has covered this story and the villagers who are squatting in defiance.

Second, he reports on a talk at Yonsei University given by Pak Noja . A part of the lecture (transcript here in Korean) focuses on the links between North Korea and the legacy left by Japanese imperialism, and Kotaji has graciously translated a few paragraphs into English. Here is Pak’s main point:

So, when General Kim Il-sung was constructing a nation state, he brought in considerable parts of the apparatus of state control and repression that were taken from the mechanisms of administration of the Japanese imperialists, the very people he had been struggling against up until then. In other words, it is hard to get rid of the sense that the state created by the nationalists in some way inherited a great deal from the imperialist state.


Speaking of Japanese Korean relations….

I know as well as anyone that the blogosphere is a self-selected and decidedly non-standard sample of any population (except, of course, bloggers). But, apropos our vigorous discussion of Jared Diamond on Japanese origins, comes an analysis suggesting a rising tide of anti-Korean patriotism among Japanese bloggers. [via Kirk Larsen] At the risk of sounding snippy, apparently several decades of research on the common origins of Koreans and Japanese, popularized in the best English-language venues, has made little difference…


One Day On the Way to the Palace…

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:34 am

Yiku CoffinJonathan Dresner just brought up the recent funeral of Yi Ku here in Seoul, where I’m spending the summer. Yi Ku is an interesting individual who, like so many of the last royal family members of the Qing dynasty and Korean royal family became closely connected to the Japanese imperial family and the fate of the Japanese empire. Yi’s mother was the Japanese princess Nashimoto Masako (Yi Pang-ja), a cousin of the current Japanese emperor Akihito’s mother. You can see a little chart to see how this connects with Korea’s famous last king Kojong.

The funeral was apparently attended by the Japanese Ambassador (Urabe Toshinao) and even a representative of the Japanese Imperial family, Nashimoto Takano. His ex-wife Julia Mullock, who Yi may have been pressured into divorcing by family members when she didn’t produce an heir was not invited and was apparently across the street when the funeral took place at Cheongdeok palace. There may be a movie about her life coming out at some point.

It just so happened that, completely oblivious to this whole thing, I stumbled into the crowds in front of Cheongdeok palace as the funeral for Yi Ku was wrapping up and they were carrying the coffin out. I was there to go on a tour of the palace grounds with a friend. It was a kind of strange scene, actually. The crowd seemed very curious but I didn’t see much outpouring of emotion. Even the performance of many of those dressed up in Joseon period costumes was less than inspiring and they seemed to slouch and be less than enthused about participating in this funeral. I suspect that the ambivalent emotions surrounding a royal family so tainted by its connections to the Japanese imperial family and the fact that family members such as Yi Ku were often born, raised, or made Japan their home may have a lot to do with this.

We bought tickets for the tour but the entrance where the tour meets was packed with yellow-clad and pink-feathered women and costumed men with various banners. I asked the lady at the ticket booth if she was sure there was a tour being given in the middle of all this and that I could just walk through this entrance but she assured me everything was fine. Eventually, after much swimming through the crowd, we joined some 30 other foreigners at the main gate, even as the procession was continuing to pour out. Our tour guide gathered us together and again making our way through the crowd we went in through the back door. She mentioned the funeral only twice during the tour, to tell us that a royal family member had died and that “it was all over now.” She seemed to be relieved and our tour was business as usual in all other respects. Our tour passed by the site of the reception on the lawn outside one of the palace buildings, where the crew was still packing up seats and taking down signs guiding foreign dignitaries to their respective sections. Yi Ku’s portrait was leaning up against a palace wall. I posted a few pictures of the funeral scene for viewing here. If you are interested, I have also posted some pictures of the beautiful palace grounds where the funeral was held (and Yi Ku lived for a number of years in the 60s and 70s) here.

Last Prince

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:51 am

The last surviving heir of the Korean Yi dynasty has died. [hat tip to Jerry West] Born in 1931 in Japan to the former Crown Prince of Korea, Yi Ku also died in Japan, the country he apparently considered his home. He had an architecture degree from MIT, an American wife, no children, and his funeral in Seoul was attended by thousands of Koreans and several members of the Japanese royal family.


Summer Reading Notes: Turnbull

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:57 am

After our discussion of the 1590s wars, I did pick up Stephen Turnbull’s Samurai Invasion: Japan’s Korean War, 1592-1598. The book is a great read, and there’s some fantastic detail in it. Like so much military history, there’s a sense in which it’s a story in search of a thesis, but the detailed research, sources and strong (and pretty balanced) background make it worth the time. I was particularly struck by the way in which the Chinese-Japanese negotiations between the major phases of the war excluded Korean representatives, foreshadowing the 19-20c “New Imperialism.” In both the earlier and later instances, Korea was not really a passive subject or empty space, but it’s remarkable how consistently it is treated as such. I was pleased to know that most of what I’ve been teaching about the wars was correct (Talmud says that an error in teaching [Torah, of course] is tantamount to an intentional sin), and next time I go over this in class I have a whole wealth of new material to work with. One of my long-term aims, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is developing a curriculum of balanced and integrated Korea-Japan history, and this is an excellent and accessible example of pretty good work in that vein. Yeah, I’ve got some concerns, and people who know the period better than I might have others, but I think this’ll stand up for a while.

I picked up another of Turnbull’s books, because it was in the library catalog and because I get asked about this all the time: Ninja: the True Story of Japan’s Secret Warrior Cult. I have my doubts, which were not assuaged by the first page [italicized comments are mine, of course]:

For the purpose of definition I shall take the view that the study of ninja is the legitimate study of all aspects of unconventional Japanese warfare [this may be a legitimate object of study, but you have to demonstrate the equivalence of ninja to “unconventional,” as defined by normative and often ahistorical samurai texts, warfare before you assume it], from intelligence gathering to assassination, and from guerrilla warfare to night raiding, and in view of the large number of words used for the practitioners of such operations [which might be a clue to the need for a less overarching analysis], I shall use the term ‘ninja’ except where the context is inappropriate [as defined by the author himself].

Naturally, the rest of the book might relieve me of my skepticism, but the blatantly self-serving nature of these definitions is quite off-putting.

Part of what Turnbull is doing, and this is something I’ve seen others attempt, is trying to explain the factual origins of a myth at the same time that he is debunking [aspects of] it. This is a tough act: the two strains of argument really do strain at each other, and maintaining a credible balance and tension between the two requires that the sources for both be very strong (and be handled evenly and rigorously). That’s rarely the case, though the quality of Samurai Invasion gives me some glimmer of hope. Just a glimmer, though.

I’ve got to get through this soon, because I really want to get back to reading Young [whose concept of "Total Empire" dovetails quite nicely with my research on Japanese government involvement and monitoring of emigration] and Botsman [which came back from Library Reserves yesterday].


1590s Military Technology Gaps

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:59 am

I recently ran across two separate references to the Hideyoshi invasions of Korea, both of which credited Hideyoshi’s initial success to firearms. That didn’t ring true for a few reasons, the first of which is that I’m a professional Japanese historian and didn’t remember ever seeing that sort of assertion before. My impression was that the initial Japanese success was a result of having a large number of battle-hardened veterans against a nation which hadn’t seen large-scale combat in over a century. The ability of the Ming to throw the Japanese back when they committed enough troops (and really, not that many, though the Koreans were committing a great deal more) seemed to me to argue against a significant technological differential.

I’ve sent a query to H-Japan, and the first reply I got back deepened my confusion. Andrew Dyche of UBC reminded me of the “Turtle Boats” which Korea used to such great effect against Japan’s military and supply ships. In that respect, at least, the technological advantage was in the wrong direction. I’m not a military historian by trade, but this doesn’t look good.

A bit of google work (all my relevant books are at the office, and it’s summer, so I don’t get in much) led me to this article about why Europe colonized the world. It has some interesting details about the reported effectiveness of both firearms and turtle boats, but also relies heavily on pretty old sources (which explains why, for example, Japan after 1636 supposedly only traded with the Portuguese instead of the Dutch, Chinese and Koreans). Interesting, but not dispositive, and certainly not the original source of the idea. Nor are these sites, though they are typical of the genre. All of them seem to indicate that Ming military technology balanced the war (and the Turtle boats tipped it in the other direction).

I suppose I’m going to need to go in and look this up, but if anyone knows of a good monograph on the subject of the 1590s wars I’d be grateful.


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.


It’s final’s week: Discuss

Via HNN’s Breaking News, a New York Times quickie:

JAPAN: HOLIDAY FOR HIROHITO Japanese lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to honor Emperor Hirohito by renaming a national holiday to be celebrated in his honor starting in 2007. Showa Day, as it will be called, will be held on Hirohito’s birthday, April 29, which is now a holiday called Green Day. Hirohito, whose rule lasted from 1926 until his death in 1989, is regarded by most Asians and some Japanese as a symbol of Japanese militarism and aggression in Asia, and he is still a revered figure for Japanese nationalists. But most Japanese now associate him with the postwar years of the Showa era, during which Japan rebuilt itself and became the world’s No. 2 economy. Two previous attempts to rename the holiday, in 2000 and 2002, were shelved in consideration of Asian sensitivities, but growing nationalism allowed the law’s enactment this time. The holiday had been known as Emperor’s Day before Hirohito’s death, but was changed to Green Day to avoid an Asian reaction and to honor the emperor’s interest in nature. Norimitsu Onishi (NYT)

Is this like renaming “President’s Day” something like “19th Century America Day?” “Progressive Era Day?” Or just “Carpetbaggers’ Day”? It’s already a celebration in honor of the Showa Emperor: it was his birthday, and it became an environmental holiday after his death in honor of his scholarly interests. Why didn’t they rename the other ones “Meiji Day” and “Taisho Day” while they’re at it?

Also at the New York Times, a discussion of early 20th century dramatists including Kishida Kunio.


Nationalistic Internationalism

Prehistory: You could almost write Japan’s entire modern history as the drive for respect from the rest of the world. Starting with the unequal treaties of the mid 19th century, and the Meiji era drive to modernize and industrialize — fukoku kyōhei [Rich Country, Strong Military] was the equation — culminating in Japan’s evolution into a regional power and full-bore Imperialist state. Japan was a member of the Allies in WWI and participated in the Versailles conferences, which allowed them to shut out Korean and Chinese representatives, and then became an active participant in the Wilsonian diplomacy — known as “Shidehara Diplomacy” in Japan, after the man who served as Foreign minister and Ambassador to the US for most of that period — of the 1920s, signing several arms control treaties and the Kellog-Briand Pact and participating in the League of Nations.

Though Japan was a respected regional power, some in Japan felt that the arms control treaties were intended at least partially to contain Japan’s power at the second-tier. This was compounded to some degree by growing American anti-Asian sentiment and legislation, which reinforced the sense that Japan needed to be stronger and more respected in order to be treated fairly in the world. This, along with a myriad of other factors, led Japan into Manchurian occupation, an attempt at brute force nationbuilding which caused more problems than it solved. Among other things, the condemnation of the Manchukuo puppet regime by the League of Nations led Japan to leave the League and join up with other expansionist pariah states — Italy and Germany — which were on the outs with Wilsonianism. Japanese rhetoric in response to the League’s condemnation was harsh — and correct — when it pointed out that Western nations had long histories of conquest and atrocities, but that was OK because they were White.

Present: Japan’s attempt to unify Asia against Western Imperialism, in support of Japanese wealth and power, under the rubric of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere still resonates in Asia today. Whether it’s protests over Japan’s textbooks (Note: China’s current riots need to be seen in the light of two trends: official support and consent for anti-Japanese historicism; rising rates of domestic disorder in China, mostly ethnic and economic) or official visits to the enshrined war dead (and pro-war museum) at Yasukuni, court decisions against former sexual conscription victims, or just reluctance to sign on to “Yen Bloc” plans, Japan’s leadership in Asia has been undercut since the war. Nowhere else in the world is historiography so central to political and international affairs: nobody denies Japan’s economic power, but nearly all of Asia believes that Japan’s ongoing official refusal to acknowledge past atrocities means that Japan lacks the capacity for moral leadership.

Japan’s role in the world continues to be limited by WWII in other ways. In the aftermath of the war, Japan was disarmed not just literally, but figuratively: the US-written constitution includes the famous Article IX, repudiating war and weaponry as tools of international problem-solving. Japanese leaders, particularly PM YOSHIDA Shigeru, premised post-war Japan’s national policy on non-militarization, non-entanglement, economic growth policies. Among other things, it makes it very difficult for Japanese troops to participate in UN peacekeeping missions; though they do regularly join relief aid (Africa, Iraq) and monitoring groups (Golan Heights), they go very lightly armed and rely on other UN forces and their own post-war reputation for non-violent generosity for protection.

That hasn’t stopped Japan from being an actor on the world stage. Japan is the second-largest economy in the world, and has been sharing the wealth with underdeveloped nations for several decades now, making Japan the world’s largest development donor in absolute terms. The US nearly got caught flatfooted, for example, when Japan’s government announced a post-Tsunami Indonesian aid package a full order of magnitude larger than our own. And Japan gave the US so much money in support of the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait — because they couldn’t send military forces — that we nearly turned a profit. Of course, Japan’s economic strength means that economic decisions made in Japan echo around the developed world as well. And in a less official capacity, being members of the only nation to experience atomic bombs as a weapon of war has given Japanese peace activists a status in the world second to none. One of Japan’s few Nobel Prizes was the Peace award to Prime Minister SATO Eisaku, for his anti-Nuclear “Three Principles”: that Japan will not develop or possess nuclear weapons, or allow them in Japanese controlled territory.

Nor has it stopped Japan from being a significant force in Asian and Pacific affairs. On the plus side is cultural and economic influence in South Korea, economic aid to North Korea, investment and education in China, development assistance in the South Pacific; still, all of that, it could be argued, rebounds to Japan’s benefit at least as much as it costs. There are territorial disputes as well, mostly over worthless-looking rock islands of immense strategic and economic importance — Sakhalin and Kuriles (Russia, with whom Japan still does not have an official post-WWII treaty of peace); Tokdo/Takeshima (Korea); Senkaku/Daiyou (China, Korea, Vietnam, etc. I’ve long argued that this was the most likely — after North Korea — flash point for a regional conflict) — disputes which seem to be heating up significantly in recent weeks in no small part because of Japanese actions.

Roots of the Future: The present campaign to get Japan on the UN Security Council is the culmination of two decades of diplomatic efforts, going back to the groundbreaking work of PM NAKASONE Yasuhiro, who turned Yoshida’s non-entanglement policies on their head. Nakasone’s kokusaika [internationalization] campaign seemed unfocused to some, but it really consisted of three crucial components: national pride in economic and cultural achievements, present and past (Nakasone was the first post-war PM to visit Yasukuni); international action both economic and political (Nakasone was an aggressive negotiator and worked hard to present distinctively Japanese views at meetings like G-7 and in the UN, plus his relationship with Reagan, Thatcher, etc); expanding Japan’s capacity to understand and influence the world through expanded foreign language and overseas study (this aspect always seemed kind of squishy and multiculturalist, but it was really integral to an expansion of Japanese power in the world). The campaign has been largely independent, though at times there were coordinated efforts with Germany, and has consisted in no small part of leveraging Japan’s ODA in places like Africa into UN support.

The present campaign is a very clever one: by including India and Brazil as Security Council candidates, it looks less like a resurgence of the reformed Axis Powers and more like a “Southernization” (to abuse a term), a legitimation of the success of 20th century decolonization and economic globalization. Moreover, including India makes it harder for China to maintain its traditional rejection of Japanese power. Article IX is still a sticky point: maintaining it makes it easier for Japan’s former and present competitors to deal with Japan without fear (not entirely without fear: Japan has one of the best-equipped militaries in the world, though it lacks significant force projection capacity), while it hobbles Japan’s ability to play a security role (which, since they’re looking for a seat on the Security Council, is significant); moreover, the majority of the Japanese population supports retaining the article as is (a bare majority now, whereas before Gulf War I it was an overwhelming one) and Japanese political leadership have been able to slip in more and more militarized activity under UN rubrics over the last decade (it’s highly unlikely that the Japanese courts would step in, being very, very conservative with regard to challenging legislative action).

Japan has been a peaceful, responsible, democratic society for over a half-century, and it is an economic superpower. But it has significant historical and ongoing tensions with its neighbors, one of which already sits on the Security Council and has a pretty good claim to being the natural representative of East Asia. On the other hand, it has good relations with the rest of the Security Council membership, and the example of the 1920s-30s suggests to some that trying to “keep Japan in its place” could well produce a nationalistic backlash in Japan that would exacerbate tensions.

[Thanks, Sepoy for suggesting this! Crossposted to Cliopatria]

Addendum: Konrad Lawson has compiled a very impressive list — with texts and commentaries — of Japan’s leaders attempts to apologize to Korea without entirely losing the support of Japan’s nationalistic elements. It complicates somewhat the question of how comprehensive “apology” and “historical recognition” needs to be to satisfy Japan’s critics.

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