井の中の蛙

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 []

7/16/2009

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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6/1/2009

Tomb Near Artifacts that Date to Himiko’s Purported Reign Dates Identified

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:55 pm

Am I the only person who had a bad reaction to the Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found headlines I’ve been seeing?

The article says

Archaeologists had previously claimed that the tomb, built in the traditional keyhole-shape design, was built in the fourth century and therefore too modern for Queen Himiko.

But a team led by Professor Hideki Harunari has discovered new clay artefacts close to the site, which radiocarbon dating indicates were made between 240AD and 260AD. According to records from the Chinese court, with which the Yamatai kingdom had links, Queen Himiko died around 250 AD.

The evidence seems quite circumstantial to me, from the oddly specific radio-carbon dating to the fact that they haven’t studied the tomb itself, to the treatment of Himiko and Yamatai as unequivocally Nara-centered.

I was just commenting on Jonathan Jarrett’s article about rehdroxylation rate dating that it would be nice to have better dating technology, as a safeguard against wishful thinking and distortions of the archaeological record.

2/5/2009

Sumo and tradition

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:59 pm

The NYTimes Lede blog [thanks, Mom!] linked Michael Phelps’ marijuana scandal to a scandal in Japanese sumo1 which has resulted in four retirements.

They almost got it right: they note that Sumo wrestlers are supposed to maintain “monkish” discipline, and there’s some real truth to that.2 They also made a classic error: I actually left a comment, which I almost never do at the Times:

“Shinichi Suzukawa” is not his “real name” but his birth name. Sumo wrestlers take on a new name when they enter the sport, and many will take on another when they reach high rank. After they retire, they give up their fighting name and take on a new name, often one based on their stable or coach’s name.

The Japanese tradition is much more flexible than the Western tradition in regard to names.

The name thing and the “monkish discipline” are clear reminders that Sumo, though it’s been a part of the entertainment world for a long time, has its origins in Shinto ritual. The accoutrement of the referrees are drawn directly from priestly garb; the throwing of salt and stamping rituals for purification, etc.

There was a pretty substantial period — most of the Tokugawa era, really — where Sumo seems to have been somewhat divorced of these practices (though ukiyoe of bouts show the presiding referees clearly in traditional garb), and sumo wrestlers were more like free agents and daimyo retainers, but when the modern sport is formulated in the Meiji and Taisho eras, it is clearly resacralized, almost certainly as a result of the state-sponsored resurgence of Shinto and the desire to connect it to a reimagined family-state tradition.

The name changes, then, are also part of this religious tradition: the tradition of taking a new name when taking religious orders is well-known in Buddhism; the tradition of taking on a new name for a new stage in life, and the pseudo-kinship relationship between a stablemaster and his wrestlers also play a role.

  1. yeah, MutantFrog got there first! []
  2. Though also some exoticism, clearly. All athletes are supposed to forego some pleasures in order to maintain high levels of physical training. []

12/1/2008

December 2008 History Carnival

Roman female sarcophagus muses right side The History Carnival

“In retrospect, historians are usually right.”Der Spiegel interviewer (11-11-08).

This has been a lively month for history blogging, for some obvious reasons — the election, the economic turmoil — and despite the mid-semester doldrums that often strike this time of year. I will, because I can’t leave well enough alone, be decorating this carnival with images from my collection.1

Hot Topics

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  1. collected shamelessly for educational purposes from museums (the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City), parks (Fort Scott, Kansas) and private collections (Waikoloa Hilton, Hawai’i). Fair use applies: if you find any of this useful, feel free to use it as appropriate, giving credit where credit is due. []

11/12/2008

Another Disappointment

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:34 pm

I always get a little nervous when a world history textbook cites details about Japanese history which I’ve never heard of before. I’m still mostly enjoying teaching with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The World: A Global History, but I’m also still having some trouble with the Asian material.1 Imagine my surprise when I turned to the chapter on “Global Politics in the Twentieth Century” and it opened with this anecdote:

In the Manchuria of the 1920s and 1930s, the brothels in the city of Harbin were not merely, or even primarily, places of vice, but resembled clubs, where the regular clients became friends and met each other. The Russian journalist Aleksandr Pernikoff frequented Tayama’s, which was Japanese owned and flew the Japanese flag. At the time, Manchuria was part of the sovereign territory of China, but Tayama’s displayed signs of the gradually increasing level of Japanese infiltration. The Chinese government—run by the nationalist, republican party known as the Guomindang (gwoh-meen-dohng)— rightly suspected Japan of plotting to seize Manchuria, detach it from China, and turn it into part of the Japanese Empire.

Ron Loftus has an essay at his website which supports the brothel/secret agent contentions.2 I’m not terribly familiar with the literature on the secret societies and espionage, I admit, but my impression has been that the secret societies were a sideshow, more a symptom of the expansive nationalism of the early 20th century than a driving force.3 The text continues:
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  1. I’m also not entirely happy with the “one topic over the whole world for a century” structure in the 20th century. It worked OK in the earlier segments, but the 19th century was a gallop and the 20th is pedal-to-the-metal. Yikes. []
  2. The authorship of the essay is actually a bit unclear, and there is a bibliography, but no citations. The sources listed range from the fairly authoritative (Yuki Tanaka) to the very unfamiliar but with somewhat lurid titles. []
  3. In fairness, as a social historian, I’m naturally deeply suspicious of conspiracy theories, and prefer to look at long-term structural causes. []

9/1/2008

Migration, Nationalism, Empire

Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s recent Japan Focus article, “Migrants, Subjects, Citizens: Comparative Perspectives on Nationality in the Prewar Japanese Empire” is an ambitious attempt to integrate identity, legal and strategic issues related to the problem of citizenship in the context of migrations within and between empires.1 The primary comparative material is to British examples, and students of “empire” as a category will find both familiar and new material to work with. Japan itself had such complicated migratory patterns that it really is a whole class of “comparative” study in itself. Morris-Suzuki pretty much covers the whole gamut: Japanese emigration to Hawai’i, N. America, S. America and Asia; Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese migration under Japanese imperium to places within Japan and within the empire.2

What makes the article particularly interesting, aside from the valiant attempt to clarify the various legal contortions of Imperial citizenship3 , is that it parallels some of the arguments I made in January (and June) — that Japanese attitudes towards emigration and immigration are structured by nationalistic and imperialistic narratives which obscure important aspects and which lay the foundation for current problems with immigrant assimilation. Morris-Suzuki is taking a more legal and strategic approach, noting the various places in which the end of Japan’s Empire left former colonial subjects stranded without citizenship, and the political and diplomatic problems, some of which are still unresolved, and seemingly unresolvable.

Some of these problems clearly should have been solved by the US and allies after WWII: full repatriation of Korean subjects in the Japanese home islands, Sakhalin and Manchuria, for example, would have been entirely appropriate. Or would it? Part of me thinks that the diversity represented by Koreans in Japan should have been a good thing for leavening, a bit, Japan’s self-definition as homogenous, but clearly, if it was supposed to accomplish something with regard to multi-cultural understanding, it’s a gloriously failed experiment. The paper almost invites counter-factual speculation: if the lines had been drawn differently, would there have been a significantly different result? Could Japan, in the early 20th century, have developed a version of Imperial Nationalism which wasn’t racialist, or a citizenship system which wasn’t patriarchal and instrumentalist?4

  1. It also contains a citation to one of my own publications, which is always fun, but it’s on a minor point, and her main discussion of material related to my article comes from other sources. Oh, well. []
  2. She does talk about the integration of Okinawans to some extent, but leaves out their anomalous status after WWII. Not a complaint or a criticism, though it does raise fascinating questions. There’s just not enough room in the world to cover everything. []
  3. and in this regard, Japan’s koseki family registration system seems to be arguably simpler and more reasonable than several of the British attempts to both authorize and limit the mobility of colonial subjects []
  4. there was an article in one of my regular journals recently — AHR, JAS, JJS — which argued that Japan’s Imperium forced it to adopt a more flexible definition of multicultural national identity, but I can’t remember which one and the move has obliterated any organization I had in my journals. I wasn’t terribly convinced at the time, and a large part of my reservation had to do specifically with what Morris-Suzuki highlights: the rhetoric of integration was one-sided and the legal status of colonial subjects was never considered a subject for rectification. []

4/21/2008

How do you say “Fast of the First Born” in Japanese?

I was thinking about whether to even attempt a contribution to the latest symposium on the role of historical animosities — and their appeasement — in present political tensions when a holiday happened: Passover, the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. On the first evening, we celebrate the Seder — literally “order” — a process of remembrance and celebration. But there are elements of sadness: in the midst of telling the story, we spill wine from our cups in honor of the plague-suffering of the Egyptians. Before the Seder even begins, first-born Jews refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise, in remembrance of the first-born Egyptians slain in the final plague. It’s an odd practice, historically, nearly unprecedented: a deliberate rehumanization of “the enemy” enshrined at the heart of what is, arguably, the most centrally Jewish celebration of the ritual year.

I’m not entirely sure that it helps, since there never was an historical reconiciliation between the ancient Israelites and the Pharonic Egyptians.1 But I think it is an important “Zeroth” condition to add to Valérie Rosoux’s Four Conditions:
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  1. Then there’s the question of the historicity of the biblical narrative…. []

2/1/2008

AHA 2008: a very limited perspective

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:31 pm

It was a very busy conference for me, but my meetings didn’t leave me a lot of time for panels.1 None, in fact, except for our own, which was great fun. I did get to do some social stuff, including the Cliopatria/IHE dinner, a visit with the Progressive Historian himself and an evening with a college friend that ended up at a used bookstore (see below).

I did think our panel was quite fun, though a bit limited by the absence of Nathanael Robinson (and his paper). That said, though, I think Alan Baumler and Rebecca Goetz did an excellent job squaring the circle of our presentations, a job that would have been complicated by another thesis. One of the members of the audience was a British grad student who’s doing microhistory in the same regions I studied in Yamaguchi: it was a pleasant, but shocking, experience to realize that I’m not going to be the only person who knows something about this.

My own paper is an outgrowth of thinking about ways to connect the history of Japanese emigration with contemporary Japanese immigration issues. The return migration of Nikkei from Brazil, the Philipines, North America, etc., is a striking case: Japan permits easy remigration of these groups because they are expected to be culturally assimilable in a way that Chinese, Korean or Philippine immigrants wouldn’t be, but the assimilation which has taken place over three or four generations has made that considerably more difficult. Why, then, didn’t Japanese authorities (or the Japanese people in general) realize that assimilation would create culturally distinct Nikkei? My theory is that pre-’45 nationalism obscured the normal patterns of assimilation which take place in multi-generational immigrant communities: certainly, out-migration to Hawai’i and the Philippines was thought of like colonial frontier settlement more than as the transfer of population to a new host culture. Histories of emigration and studies of Nikkei communities by Japanese scholars continued to obscure assimilation by focusing on the way in which traditional values and recreated traditional institutions bolstered the overseas community, taking their successes as evidence of innate Japanese qualities — perseverence, education2, cohesion. This is particularly stark when compared with English language histories of immigration, which emphasize assimilation as the very foundation of success in the new host culture, and emphasize efforts at modernization and entrepreneurship.

Manan Ahmed’s paper was much more interesting, a historiography of the tension between conquerers as national heroes and heroic resisters as local icons. The local counternarrative of resistance got very elaborate, as entertaining stories of weaker figures wrecking vengeance on powerful ones often are. Ultimately, as he described it, the heroic invader — heroic from the standpoint of constructing a unified national narrative, anyway — is dehistoricized and turned into an inoffensive (and uninspiring, I’d guess) “unifier” while local resistance is effectively erased from the national narrative.3 In other words, and I don’t remember who said it this way, but someone did, the life is drained out of the biography until the hero becomes “nice.”

I do remember Alan Baumler’s comments drawing the papers together by highlighting their biographical and genealogical aspects, the way in which pre-national figures can be integrated into national self-narratives as ancestors and the way in which shared ancestry can bridge other modern/national divides. The idea that values are inherited through blood is a powerful common error with which we regularly contend. I was just lecturing this week on nationalism, and the way in which it is based on an historical fiction which obscures margins, minorities and migration.4 There was some discussion — initiated by Rebecca, if memory serves — about the way in which many nations cleanse their histories by a similar sort of biographical emasculation or justify invasions and other atrocities by a sort of victors’ hagiography.5

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  1. In spite of which, I’m in the running for latest conference blogging []
  2. There’s a whole research program yet to be undertaken with regard to educational values. The standing assumption, based on the high educational achievements of Nisei, is that there was something inherent in traditional Japanese culture which valued education, which is patently untrue for the rural laborers who make up a large portion of the immigrant population. The successor thesis — that the Meiji emphasis on education and “self-help” was the key factor — assumes a rapid transmission of these ideas from city to country which is a bit hard to accept. The basic question of literacy rates among immigrants versus their sending communities isn’t really clear yet, and a fair examination of the other questions really hasn’t been done. []
  3. note some of the similarities to Hiraku Shimoda’s argument []
  4. I didn’t use the alliteration in class, but I’m going to have to remember it for next time []
  5. I was reminded, though I didn’t get a chance to mention it, of the Enola Gay controversy []

7/23/2007

The Rice Bowl and the Bomb

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:35 pm

Japan Focus and the NYTimes seem to be in sync at the moment, with a spate of pieces on resurgent nationalism and Japanese war memory.1 Say what you like about the NYTimes, but it gets good people to comment on things sometimes. MIT’s Richard J. Samuels is the featured scholar in this discussion of remilitarization and Hiroshima City University’s Yuki Tanaka is the premier talking head in this video documentary about the rearmament debates.2
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  1. If I keep this up, I’m going to have to start putting “War and Memory” on my c.v.: it seems like all anyone writes about nowadays with regard to Japan. []
  2. The video is pretty good, for 20 minutes, but a few things struck me as odd. The first segment seems rather cliched, both musically and visually. In the second segment a group of Waseda students is discussing rearmament, and the one who expresses the clearest pro-nuclear position has a distinctly un-Japanese name (I’m guessing resident Korean Japanese, but it’s impossible to tell for sure). And Mr. Taniguchi from the Foreign Ministry seems to be expressing a pretty clear and partisan opinion, more so than I would have expected from a bureaucrat. []

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