Japanese War Memories at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:24 am

I’m not going to go though quite the same song-and-dance I did with Japanese Diaspora or South Asian studies because these issues are much more familiar to the readership here. But I did see two presentations that I wanted to share: Noriko Kawamura’s on the new sources and debates about the end of the war and just-graduated college senior Megan Jones’ fantastic project about Japan’s WWII museum/memorials.



AHA Blogging Day One: Between Naps

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:20 pm

They call it a “red eye flight” for a reason. I really hope that none of the panelists at “Unstable Bodies, Unsettled Movements: Sport, Performance and Nation in Japan” took my nodding off personally: I really did want to hear what they had to say. (If anyone went to the Historians in Public roundtable and wants to share, I’d be grateful, by the way: that was my second choice.)

Aside from hearing the panelists, I got to meet not one, but two of my fellow Frog-bloggers: Dennis Frost, who was on the panel, and Michael Wert, who was in the audience with me. Tomorrow I get to hang out with Cliopatriots (being emeritoid, myself) and find out who won the Clios for last year! I love it.


Grading Finished; Blogging Resumes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:45 am

She really has no conviction to her writing. It seemed merely argumentative and she was just trying to prove her points through facts. That’s alright to me but why write in the first place then if you don’t have any real excitement to it? I think that she does not make any real strong opinions, but rather forms opinions based on the excerpts from her source material.

Yes, this is my students’ writing. Apparently we need more passion in our scholarship, and less evidence. And the semicolon in the first sentence of the following takes normal empty waffling to a whole new transcendant level:

Society is based on differences and similarities; this is what makes the past history unique. Throughout history many people depict these differences. Some empires may be fighters while others are communicators. Domination, learning, and success are what set these apart from each other and what joins them together. Asian and Roman empires built strong states, and dominant leaders that rose up to defind the country and people. Civilization in the early ages shaped society to what it is today with its culture, trade, and power.

Seriously, though, there’s been lots of interesting stuff coming across my desk that I didn’t have to grade recently. Just today, PMJS informed me that the folks at Bowdoin, led by Tom Conlan, have made the Heiji Monogatari Emaki available, in the same lovely detail and interactive utility as the Mongol Invasion Scrolls they published last year. Just in time for my Early Japan class next semester!

For those of you who didn’t get enough Pearl Harbor stuff earlier in the month, here’s some belated Pearl Harbor anniversary blogging:

Also via Eric Muller, an article about the Densho Project, an innovative oral history and archive centered on the WWII evacuation and detention. The glossary and discussion of terminology and euphemism is worth the price of admission (It’s free; that’s an expression) alone.

On the other end of that war, more debates about atomic bombs, this time featuring Howard Zinn (and Gar Alperovitz) v. D. M. Giangreco. Also, details about the MacArthur-Hirohito meeting.

There may be some historiographical hope in the news, though: Chinese and Japanese historians meeting, and making progress, and the museum at Yasukuni Shrine altering its presentation slightly in the direction of balance and realism. However, as if the Japanese school system didn’t have enough problems, now they’re responsible for patriotism.


That 9.11 Incident

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:36 am

Of course I remember 9/11/01. You don’t forget the day when you think you’re watching a rerun of a terrible accident — how quickly they got footage, you marvel briefly — and realize that you’re actually watching an atrocity in progress. You don’t forget the day when a student’s cell phone gets a text message that a plane has crashed on the Mall in DC (one day when you don’t care about them text messaging in class, and you don’t forget the relief that it wasn’t true, either). You don’t forget the day when you watch people die on TV, while your 8-month-pregnant spouse checks insulin levels.

I really did try to have class that morning. It was my Modern Japan class, and I tried — oh, how I tried — to talk coherently about terrorism in Japanese history. Nothing wrong with current events, if you can relate it to the course material, right? I talked about the bakumatsu assassination campaigns, about the right-wing assasinations and coup attempts of the ’30s; I honestly don’t remember if I got the Great Treason Incident in there or not, what with text messages and sharing what little we knew, and all. I do remember running out of things to say and dismissing them early, and being grateful when the president of the college cancelled classes for the remainder of the day. I went back to my office, called the college chaplain to see what was going on with regard to our small but noticeable Muslim student population (Everyone was fine: Cedar Rapids has the oldest mosque west of the Mississippi river and the local Muslim community is quite well integrated and respected), and went home to my pregnant wife.

It was a shocking event, to be sure. But it wasn’t quite such a surprise. It wasn’t all that long after I’d read Tom Clancy’s excreable Debt of Honor a book whose only redeeming feature (I’ve read quite a bit of Clancy’s work, and I find it wildly inconsistent in quality, which is why there’s always hope about a new one) was the ending — yeah, I’m gonna give it away — in which a businessman/pilot steals a jetliner, talks his way into the DC air traffic patterns, and obliterates a Joint Session of Congress, Tokkotai-style. (If you want to know how the immortal Jack Ryan solves the problem, you have to read Executive Orders, which is considerably more exciting and interesting and plausible….) Obviously, anyone teaching Japanese history has had to wrestle a bit with the issue of suicide attacks — human bullets, shattered jewels, divine winds, etc. — and they had been increasingly common in the Middle East of late.

Being Jewish, I have that slightly-greater-than-average-American-interest in Middle Eastern affairs, and that slightly-greater-than-average-paranoia about violent, hostile forces. Not only wasn’t the 9/11 attack not the first large domestic terror attack, it wasn’t even the first large, Islamist, domestic terror attack on the World Trade Center. The Taliban had long since destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas (nothing like destruction of cultural property to get an historian’s attention), not to mention imposing strictures on Afghani women that would make Draco blanch. US interests had been attacked overseas, the bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina proved the reach of anti-semitic violence (recently revealed to be al-Qaeda related, even) outside of the Middle East.

What changed for me, five years ago? As an historian, very little. The market for Asianists got a bit tighter, as the market for MidEast and Islamic specialists got better. I stopped having to work so hard to explain the terror of the Cold War, the potential of sudden death and the existence of ideologically and politically hostile entities on a world-wide scale. Changes in Japan since then have been subtle, and mostly not at all linked to our own national trauma. Hardly anyone, still, has made any substantial links between Japan’s history of suicide attacks and terrorism with our current situation, but I don’t see there being all that much to say about it except to suggest that people would be less surprised if they paid attention. I remain convinced that paying attention to historical evolution and forces is one of the best ways to anticipate problems and sometimes even to find solutions. Airport security changes have rarely affected us — though our 7-month-old got randomly selected for special screening, and they really did pat him down.

Historians really don’t do anniversaries (though we try to remember our spouses and parents as appropriate). The press does, because it’s easy to count by years, or fives, or tens, or twenty-fives, or hundreds, and then they come talk to us or to people who were directly involved [via], and we get an odd sort of retrospective and update. Historians don’t care about even numbers: for us, the “Sixties” ended with the Vietnam War, and both the 18th and 19th centuries were “long” ones; every “20th century” course I’ve ever taken started in 1890. But outside of the journalistic need for a “hook” to look back, there’s nothing special about five years.

There’s nothing all that special about 9/11, either…. yet. What meaning 9/11/01 will have, its historical import, is still up in the air, no matter how much anyone claims that it must mean this or that, that things have or haven’t changed as a result. 9/11 was the largest act of terror to strike the United States, just as the Holocaust was the largest anti-semitic genocidal event, but neither of them stands alone and to focus all our attention on those events of such distinctive scale to the exclusion of myriad “smaller events” before or since is historically stunted, or dishonest. That so many people were so shocked by the event, and have yet to put it in anything like proper context or perspective, suggests to me that historians — not alone among scholars, but perhaps uniquely — have a long way to go in inculcating (recovering) our long-term vision, our sense of complexity of the world, our experience — indirect but nonetheless real — with cultural and ideological and technological change and conflict.


History Carnival #38

“For both nations and inviduals have sometimes made a virtue of neglecting history; and history has taken its revenge on them.” — H. R. Trevor-Roper “The Past and the Present: History and Sociology” (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 197.

Welcome to the September 1, 2006 edition of history carnival. I’m finally hosting a carnival with a number as high as my age! In honor of the quotes meme making the rounds, I’m going to use my personal quotation file as, um, decoration around the rich collection of material in this carnival. As usual, I’m making up categories as I go along: anyone who treats them as strict or comprehensive cataloging gets what they deserve!



Defining Japaneseness: a miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:08 pm

This report (with followups here) suggests that Japan is no longer a “classless society” but I wonder to what extent the concept of class simply to mean “income strata” is useful?

This research by Mark J. Hudson and Mami AOYAMA, drawing heavily on the work of fellow WellFrogger Brian McVeigh, shows a fascinating diversity of opinions by young Japanese about their own ethnicity, by looking at their responses to a final exam question about same…. How do you grade that?

Mariko Tamanoi’s War Orphan chapter from Japanese Diasporas (Full Disclosure: I wrote chapter three) focuses on the nexus between nationality and identity, noting, for example, that Japanese repatriation services only work with orphans who wish to take Japanese nationality after repatriation, not those who want to retain Chinese passports.


More Yasukuni News

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:42 am

In a recent posting I summarized some recent developments related to the Yasukuni shrine issue in Japan. In addition to a steady stream of articles in the Japanese media about whether or not Koizumi or the most likely future Prime Minister Abe Shinzô will be visiting the shrine, etc. there has also been several new discoveries related to the history of the shrine.

1. Yutaka Shuichi and a friend of mine, Miyaji Yu wrote an article on Asahi’s scoop related to two 1956 documents discussing government policies towards the shrine. Their article shows that as late as 1956 the central government was considering a reversion to the prewar practice of choosing who to memorialize—the postwar constitution notwithstanding. The documents help clarify, at the very least, what kinds of cooperation between the government and the shrine were being considered.

Though a lot remains unclear about the inner workings of this process at the time, the article notes that the following year, 1957 (two years after the consolidation of the right and the formation of the LDP we might note) 470,000 names were memorialized in contrast to the decade since 1945 when only twice did the number exceed 100,000.

2. This Japan Times article claims that a document obtained by the writer Yamanaka Hisashi around 1980 shows that in July of 1944 Tojo Hideki, who was executed for war crimes and later memorialized at Yasukuni in 1978, ordered that ‘only military personnel and civilian military employees whose deaths “resulted directly from military service” should be enshrined at Yasukuni.’ Those who did not die on the battlefield were not to be memorialized. Though this contributes very little to the debate, it does add to the “irony factor” of people like Tojo, who certainly did not die on the battlefield, even if they are seen as “Showa’s martyrs” being memorialized at the shrine.

3. Since the memo regarding the emperor’s opposition to the enshrinement of war criminals came out, a former Yasukuni Shrine official Baba Hisao has made some interesting comments that are quoted in this Japan Times article (Free registration required). He claims that he remembers that during the period when Yasukuni was considering the enshrinement of the war criminals, there was opposition from the Imperial Household Agency and the shrine officials were told that the Emperor would stop visiting the shrine if the war criminals were included. The article also briefly discusses the question of whether visiting the shrine can every only be interpreted as going to “mourn” or includes, as has been the practice up to the end of the war, an “honoring” of the enshrined souls of the shrine.


Shades of Mori Arinori

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 2:03 am

Recently the Japanese Diet has been debating several competing bills to revise the Fundamental Education Law of 1947.  One of the most contested issues is an effort by the LDP to make instilling patriotism an explicit goal of Japan’s national education system, as it was under the education system devised by Mori Arinori in the 19th century and in force in Japan up until the US-led education reforms following World War II.  Reportedly, the original language was even stronger, but the LDP-backed bill that finally made it out of committee and onto the Diet floor still contained the relatively strong phrasing by Japanese standards, 我が国と郷土を愛する態度を養う (“to instill an feeling of loving our country and homeland”). Critics of this clause argue that it will promote militarism and inject further tension into already heated Japan-China and Japan-Korea relations, but the LDP-backed bill seems likely to pass largely as is within the next week or so.

In related news, it was reported this week that many Japanese schools are grading students on “love of country”.  A recent survey in Saitama prefecture found that at least 45 local schools evaluated “love of country” on report cards for 6th-grade students. Under current policy, individual schools are free to decide how report cards are structured and which categories are graded. Officials have argued that the practice is not objectionable because “instilling a feeling of love for one’s country” has already been one of the Ministry of Education’s stated objectives for 6th-grade social studies students for some time.


China-Japan Historical Struggle Reaches MIT

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:41 am

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
– Maya Angelou, Inaugural Poem

I had planned to blog on a John Dower web project cited by Alan Baumler, because it’s a fantastic collection of historical images, nicely curated. Now, if you follow the the link, you get redirected to an MIT Press Office Statement that explains that the exhibit is offline while Dower and Miyagawa negotiate with members of the MIT Chinese student community who objected to an image of a Chinese being beheaded, a classic piece of Japanese propaganda, one that sets the tone for the next half century. The problem, according to the articles I’ve seen (thanks to both Manan Ahmed and Ralph Luker) was a lack of “accessible historical context” clearly warning viewers of the violent and racist content of the imagery.

Perhaps they need something like my syllabus boilerplate:

History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. In certain contexts, this information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

I don’t see it myself: unless you happen to read Meiji Japanese and stumble across the image by accident, and are inclined to think that we need more, not less, beheadings in the world, isn’t it pretty obvious that this is old, bad, material? (the woodblock prints should be a giveaway, if nothing else) If you know anything about the history, it’s pretty obvious that it’s racist, that it leads to great tragedy, and that it’s important visual evidence. If it wasn’t obvious beforehand, then reading the attached commentary would make it pretty clear: my recollection (Alan can throw in his two cents here) is that the accompanying text was pretty clear on all these issues (Update: Alan confirms my recollection, and adds some useful thoughts, including a look at Chinese language discussions.

This raises concerns for me. Part of the value of creating an on-line exhibit is to allow the images to be used by students and teachers and researchers as evidence in their own researches. Insisting on immediate warnings and commentary (and how, technically, they’re going to make those inseparable from the image, I’m not sure, but I am nervous) will make it harder to use the material, pedagogically.

There are those who argue that nothing offensive to anyone should be published anywhere without caveats and controls; I’m not one of those. There are those who argue that “it’s only speech” excuses everything, and that we cannot have a truly free society without license to express everything, everywhere, anytime; I’m not one of those, either. There are some who say that the classroom is no place for controversy; I reject that. There are some who say that the classroom belongs to the teacher, without exception; I reject that, as well. I do think that teachers ought to be given a great deal of leeway with regard to how they present and handle sensitive topics, particularly those with track records of balanced and sophisticated scholarship, public writing and teaching, and that attacks (and it’s very clear from the MIT President’s statement that there have been some very vigorous attacks) without context and from outside the student and scholarly community which has some understanding of the issues and people, are injurious to academic freedom and accomplishment.

Even scholars are sometimes prone to put blame before understanding, but that doesn’t mean that we should privilege this. On the other hand, I have the greatest respect for John Dower as a scholar, teacher and individual: if he agrees that these images need more context, I will respect that.

I think it’s very important for scholars of Japanese history to be clear about the impact that Japan had on its neighbors and the world in its modern imperialist phase; I don’t understand attacking a scholar who is addressing precisely these issues with evidence, publications, teaching, etc.

Update: Alan Baumler found a cached version of the text, which is exceptional, and a Letter from Prof. Peter Perdue, also at MIT, defending Dower and the project. Vigorously, to say the least.


Read the Bones

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:24 pm

Forensic anthropologists who got a look at the earliest known human remains found in North America think he looks Ainu rather than Native American.

Some Ainu’s facial features appear European. Their eyes may lack the Asian almond-shaped appearance, and their hair may be light and curly in color. However, this does not mean that Kennewick Man necessarily was European in origin. His features more closely resemble those of the natives of the Pacific Rim than those of Native Americans.

The details available through forensic anthropology are amazing, and this interestingly complicates the history of the Americas (and maybe the history of Japan, as well). I remember well the first time I read an archaeology paper comparing Northwestern US neolithic sites to Jomon sites….

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