井の中の蛙

2/9/2011

The Hicswa Court-martial: a Double Murder in Nara, 1945

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:07 pm

The US occupation of Japan after World War II was not, relatively speaking, a violent one and though the behavior of occupation troops in Japan did lead to many complaints, there is also a surprising amount of praise for them in various Japanese sources I have come across. They certainly did not live up to the propaganda images of savage American beasts that were expected to arrive in Japan after surrender.

There were, however, many cases of violence, including killings and rape.1 Censorship of the press beginning in September makes any count of these cases difficult to make. Terese Svoboda, in her book Black Glasses Like Clark Kent recounts in great detail her own difficulties in finding US national archival material related to various courts-martial from the occupation period.2

Some records can be found online though, if your library or university subscribes to the digital collections of the Law Library Microform Collection. Also, individual volumes of the Judge Advocate General’s Department Board of Review Holdings, Opinions and Reviews can be searched and purchased directly from Google Books.3

Many of these cases give us an interesting perspective on relations between US troops and the nations they occupy. One interesting case is the November, 1945 murder of two Japanese civilians in Nara. An American soldier, Private First Class Joseph E. Hicswa was accused of the murder and court-martialed in early January, 1946. Hicswa was convicted of stabbing the victims to death with a bayonet and sentenced to death “with musketry.”

I have uploaded the 24 page review of the trial and the appeal to the president for commutation of the sentence to the Frog in a Well Library:

Joseph E. Hicswa General Court Martial – Opinion of the Board of Review – Murder Trial 1946.1.8-11

His two companions report that, on the evening of the murders, Hicswa had jumped and beaten two random Japanese civilians they came across in Nara park, but claim they did not see him armed with a weapon at the time. They did not contest the fact that the approximate points where the assaults took place correspond to where the bodies of the two victims were found. They also reported that, as he walked away from his first victim, Hicswa said something along the lines of, “There is one Jap who will never walk or talk again.”4 Later, Hicswa’s bloodied clothes and a bayonet were found in a latrine pipe. The Private admitted the clothes were his, but refused to answer whether or not it was his own bayonet.5

Though barely remembered today, at the time, this case was given considerable media coverage in the US.6 The town of Wallington, NJ, population 8,946, mobilized to defend their 20 year old local boy.7 The mayor called a mass meeting on January 14, 1946 and a resolution was passed and sent to President Truman demanding clemency. 1,500 students reportedly gathered at his old high school and the principal also passed a resolution calling for the same.8 US senator Albert Hawkes became the leading politician to lead calls for a retrial. Hicswa received more sympathy when it was reported he had denied the killings in a letter to his girlfriend, saying that, while he fought with some Japanese, he had had not used a knife, “I was planning to be home Christmas to surprise you but I guess I’ll have to wait about twenty or thirty years…”9 Despite his death sentence, it appears he was already confident of a less lethal sentence. The Mayor reported he received word from the public officials of ten states they they had promised to seek the help of Congress and the War Department. Some 600 letters had been received as well as a telegram on behalf of the 45,000 New Jersey Legionnaires, all by January 17th, the mayor claimed.10

MacArthur, who ran the occupation in Japan, announced on January 18th that he would review the sentence and the acting Secretary of War Kenneth C. Royall said the case would be subject to final review in Washington D.C.11 Hicswa’s mother wrote an eloquent letter to the supreme commander, saying that her son “was torn away from his home to serve his country at the age of 18, taught to kill, had heard of many of his friends being killed, and was under the emotional strain of a delayed homecoming—all factors to which might be attributed, to some extent, the cause for such abnormal conduct as is alleged in this case.” MacArthur replied to the letter, saying that he was “moved” but that the case was out of his hands.12 Shortly after, his headquarters announced that no letters received about the case from Japanese civilians had asked for the death sentence, and a letter from “citizens of Nara Prefecture” had asked for him to be free and claimed the two victims were “no good.” One letter, it was claimed, said Hicswa should be acquitted “because the Japanese people are all guilty for disturbing the world’s peace.”13 Time wrote a sympathetic case history about the tragic “chubby-cheeked” private and Newsweek also covered the case.14

In March, Hicswa escaped from the Yokohama Army stockade but was caught less than an hour later.15 Terese Svoboda’s uncle said Hicswa was in the stockade where he served as a guard, in Tokyo, and after his escape, Stars and Stripes reported he was found in a local brothel.16 Svoboda’s uncle claimed he was asked to take the blame for the escape and plead guilty to neglect of duty.17

In May, Thomas H. Green, Major General, Judge Advocate General issued a recommendation to president Truman that Hicswa’s death sentence be commuted to 30 years of hard labor, which was apparently acted upon by President Truman. Green’s reasoning went as follows:

While the two murders committed by the accused were brutal, unprovoked and unjustified, and from a legal viewpoint were premeditated, there is nothing in the record to indicate that when accused left his quarters with two companions, on the evening preceding his departure for home, he had actually planned to take the life of two Japanese civilians of any one or to commit any other crime. The unexpected appearance of two Japanese civilians, one of whom he chased, overtook and killed, seems to have brought into existence or to have unloosed a sudden desire to kill, probably aggravated by his indulgence in strong liquor during the afternoon and early evening, a desire which seemingly persisted uncontrolled until the commission of the second homicide or was recreated when he undesignedly came in contact with the Japanese civilian who became his second victim.18

Before Hicswa was returned to the US to begin his sentence at McNeill Island, Washington, he swallowed two nails in an alleged attempt at suicide and was admitted to an Army hospital, from which he escaped.19 About a week later, he was again recaptured when found without pass or dogtags in the 8th Army headquarters area.20

What do we make of this case? Even with the court documents and the press that followed, there is not much to go on when it comes to Hicswa’s motivations. We might be tempted to say that he was driven to a murderous rage by the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield during the Pacific war. However, Hicswa first enlisted in 1943 and had no record of combat service during the war. He was assigned to Headquarters Battery for Division Artillery, 98th Infantry Division where he served as a radio operator and later as a bugler.21 In fact, he may be an example of the kind of case I have seen mentioned in many wars: soldiers who had yearned to participate in the action and kill some Japanese, only to have the war end without ever having been given the opportunity for such glory. Scheduled to return to the US the following day, did Hicswa want to make sure he could claim at least a few enemy kills from the war?

A more mundane explanation may be to link Hicswa’s drunken violence to a pattern of violence in his own family. In 1947 his father was arrested in Wallington, NJ for assault and battery. He attacked two police officers who went to his home in response to a complaint by his wife that he had become violent while drunk. After arrest, he attempted suicide.22 However, I find nothing to contradict another possibility, especially given the attempted suicide: that his father developed such behavior in the aftermath of the horrible shock of their son’s conviction for a double murder.

From the perspective of US-Japan relations though, are other points that are worthy of note. Though perhaps unsurprising for a country emerging from a “war without mercy,” completely absent from any of the US media coverage was any sympathy shown for the two Japanese civilians who were stabbed to death. Indeed, the announcement put out by MacArthur shortly after the movement for clemency gets underway goes out of its way to malign the victims through quotations from anonymous letters, as I have noted. The only place I have found their names mentioned, were in the board review opinion where the private was accused of having “with malice, aforethought, willfully, deliberately, feloniously, unlawfully, and with premeditation kill” SUGITA Yasuichi and NISHIMOTO Choji, “a human being by stabbing him with a sharp instrument.” Though I suspect this declaration of the humanity of the Japanese victims is standard legal language, it is comforting to see the Americans acknowledging it. Only a few days earlier, Japan’s emperor was busy declaring his own humanity to the people.

In the board review opinion, there is nothing mentioned about any report of a Japanese witness mentioned who escaped the first attack and called the police. Was his testimony even taken? Interestingly, a Japanese physician, KUBAI Nagamichi performed the autopsy and a Nara city lawyer and judge TAKEDA Seiko was permitted to investigate the crimes. However, a US Captain Jerome Schwartz, who was called in to examine the bodies, only made a superficial examination since because, he said, he had “no interest in the dead Jap.”23

Despite the reputation of militaries everywhere of guarding their own forces when accused of crimes against civilians, it is admirable that the sentence Hicswa was ultimately given in that first year after Japanese surrender was so long, especially in the face of huge public and political pressure for his release in the US.

In the end, though, the most interest part missing from this story is the Japanese side. Did anything get reported on this in Nara at the time? Did rumors spread? Did Kubai and Takeda leave any writings behind about their involvement in the case? Did the families of Sugita and Nishimoto take any action? What actions were taken at the government level between the US and Japan to handle the fallout from the case?

Any readers here know more?

UPDATE: In the comments Nakanoshima points to a 2008 speech in Congress by 8th District Congressman Bill Pascrell honoring WWII vet Hicswa as a “a proud American, willing to do whatever was needed to defend and protect the freedoms and liberties that make this country so grand” and makes no mention of his conviction for two murders. I haven’t contacted Pascrell and it is possible he didn’t know about this fact, but given the huge support for Hicswa in his local community, it would not be surprising if he was aware of the details of the case. If it is the same Hicswa, he has surely long since served his time for the crime, but to be honored in Congress is, at the very least, awkward.

  1. See Eiji Takemae, The Allied Occupation of Japan (New York: Continuum, 2003), 67, and Terese Svoboda, “U.S. Courts-Martial in Occupation Japan: Rape, Race, and Censorship,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 21-1-09, May 23, 2009. []
  2. Terese Svoboda, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI’s Secret from Postwar Japan (Saint Paul, Minn: Graywolf Press, 2008). []
  3. Since these are US government documents, they cannot be copyrighted and if you find such claims being made of scanned versions of them, you can and should ignore them as spurious. Keep in mind that you may be bound by terms of license agreements you enter into when you access online archives containing such documents – a devious way online collections now get around the whole copyright issue altogether. []
  4. Opinion of the Board of Review, War Department, Army Service Forces, Office of the Judge Advocate General, 98th Infantry Division Trial by G. C.M. of Private First Class Joseph E. Hicswa 171 (5). []
  5. ibid., 179 (13). []
  6. Does anyone know if there was any mention at all in the censored Japanese press of this case? Or of Japanese historians who have looked into it? []
  7. “Home town tries to save soldier condemned for killing Japanese” New York Times 1946.1.15, 15. []
  8. Doesn’t that seem like a lot of high school students for a population of around 9,000 plus surrounding villages? []
  9. “Murder in Japan denied by Soldier” New York Times 1946.1.17, 16 []
  10. “Move for Hicswa Grows” New York Times 1946.1.18, 5. See also this photograph of the Hicswa family under a “Welcome Home” sign. Getty Image 99s/36/HUTY/13630/43 #3137252. []
  11. “M’Arthur to review GI’s death sentence” New York Times 1946.1.19, 6. “Review for Hicswa Case” New York Times 1946.1.24, 4. []
  12. “M’Arthur writes to Hicswa’s mother” New York Times 1946.1.30, 4 []
  13. “Japanese plead for GI” New York Times 1946.2.1, 2 []
  14. “The Press: Case History” Time 1946.1.28. Also somewhere in the Newsweek 1946.1.28 issue, with a report on the commutation of sentence in May. []
  15. “Hickswa escapes, caught” New York Times 1946.3.4, 10. []
  16. All references I find to Hicswa during his imprisonment is in Yokohama, not in Tokyo. []
  17. Svoboda ibid., 82-84. She also writes that pressure from Hicswa’s mother’s had forced an inspection of the stockade, resulting in more lax security. []
  18. See the uploaded document above, 189 (23). See also “Hicswa Sentence is cut to 30 years” New York Times 1946.5.8, 10. []
  19. New York Times 1946.9.21, 6. []
  20. “Hicswa recaptured by army in Japan” New York Times 1946.9.29, 53. Despite his two escapes, in 1952, his prison term was cut to 25 years. “G.I.’s sentence cut to 21 years” New York Times 1952.3.18, 9. []
  21. See the uploaded file linked above, 187 (21). []
  22. “Hicswa Sr. is Seized” New York Times 1947.7.30, 23 []
  23. 174 (8) []

10/30/2010

The Red Flag Song

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:46 pm

On May 1, 1946 Oscar Olander, a former commissioner of the Michigan State police, entered Tokyo early on the morning of “Food May Day” as part of his mission to investigate the state of Japanese police in the defeated nation. On that day, over a million Japanese joined what was described as a “sea of red flags” to celebrate the day of labor but also make desperate calls for food and the address of other basic grievances.1 The red flags joined those of the American occupier as Olander writes in his diary,

8:03 we arrive back in Tokyo – we are greeted (?) by a gathering of hundreds of communists starting to celebrate May Day. They are singing a revolutionary song in Japanese to the tune of “Maryland my Maryland” as they wave their many American flags.”2

Maryland my Maryland,” the state song of Maryland, is actually sung to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius” or “O Tannenbaum.” Mark Gayn, a journalist whose diary entries can be found quoted in almost every book on early postwar Japan and Korea, identifies the song more precisely in his own May 1 entry:

…the men marched briskly, singing the “Marseillaise” and the “May Day Song,” … and the “Akahata,” or the “Red Flag” with its curiously lilting tune, The people’s flag, the red flag, wraps the bodies of our dead; Before the corpses turn cold, their blood dyes the flag…3

You can listen to the song in Japanese here.

The 赤旗の歌 is the Japanese version of Irish Jim Connell’s 1889 “The Red Flag.” When one is in the mood for a blood dripping song for an internationalist revolution, I can’t think of a more powerful song. The opening verse and chorus run:

The people’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr’d dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood dyed its ev’ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

人民の旗は深紅にして、
幾度 同胞の屍を包めり。
その死屍 冷え固まらん前に
血潮は旗を染め上げぬ。

いざ赤旗を高く揚げよ、
その旗影に我ら生きて死なん。
臆病者は怯み、裏切者は嘲るも
我らここに赤旗を閃かさん。4

In terms of cultural history, this song, that here so captures the remarkable transformation witnessed on that first postwar May Day in Japan is a good example of one that has really travelled well with international revolutionary culture (beyond the well-known anthem the Internationale). Searching on inter-tubes with Mr. Google reports that it was sung at conferences of the British labor party, by Chinese communist anti-Japanese partisans as early as 1931, and that it is a popular pick in North Korean song contest and among South Korean protesters.

The Korean version of the song, 적기가 (赤旗歌), can be heard sung at the climactic close of the 2003 movie Silmido based on the events surrounding Unit 684.

Imagine the faces of Japanese police watching the protesters that day in 1946 as they listened to the song, even as their ranks were being purged, mostly, of the Special Higher Police whose very job it was to arrest and ideally convert (転向) anyone who were poisoned with such “red” thoughts. Of course, with the “reverse course” only a year or two later, at least some of the smiles of the revolutionaries would be wiped away as the force of the US occupation turned against the Communist threat.

  1. John Dower has a great section on the May Day celebrations in his Embracing Defeat p254-67. []
  2. Oscar Olander Papers, Box 1 “Our Trip to Japan” Installment #2 p3 []
  3. Mark Gayn Japan Diary Charles E. Tuttle Company (1981), 197-8. []
  4. See full side by side J/E versions, along with a link to a recording of my absolute favorite Irish version of this song that does not sound exactly like O Tannenbaum here. []

11/16/2009

The Bow

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:21 pm

President Barack Obama shakes hands and bows with Emperor AkihitoVia my old friend Scott Eric Kaufman I learned that President Obama’s visit to Japan was drawing criticism from the American right (I also learned that President Eisenhower bowed in public to a number of heads of state) due to Obama’s bowed greeting to Emperor Akihito.

Most of the commentary (this is an excellent roundup) hinges on whether it’s inappropriate for an American Head of State to bow to another Head of State. This is, of course, why Kaufman was noting Eisenhower’s bows, none of which were, apparently, mutual; other commenters have noted Clinton’s bow fifteen years earlier, and Nixon’s bow/handshake greeting with Emperor Hirohito. Some of the criticism is nuanced enough to note that mutual bows are appropriate greetings in Japan, but suggests that Obama’s bow was inappropriately deep and therefore servile and inappropriate.

Part of the problem in discussing this is the assumption that there is a stable protocol: Japan’s modern Imperial institution is younger than the American Republic, and interactions with other heads of state have always been somewhat improvisational. Before the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor didn’t meet heads of state. For centuries, the Emperor basically met nobody who wasn’t a member of the court aristocracy or high officials of the shogunal state: there was no public protocol except for a vague tradition that required the Emperor be above the gaze of anyone, not to be looked down upon. That tradition was revived in the Imperial era, but it wasn’t much guidance in dealing with modern crowds, photography, diplomatic visits. Even Meiji’s coronation ceremony was an innovation, purged of Chinese elements and enhanced with Shinto rituals. (See Keene, ch. 18) The first head of state to visit was Hawaiian King Kalakaua, but he was actually preceeded by a visit from former President U.S. Grant who greeted the Emperor with handshakes. Every time an aristocrat or diplomat met the Emperor, protocol had to be negotiated in advance, and it shifted over time: when and how much to bow, whether handshakes would be permitted, whether foreign women could enter the Emperor’s presence with their diplomat husbands, etc. But this wasn’t yet the great age of state visits: that doesn’t come until the 20th century, and the rise of air travel.

Before the next America presidential visit with a Japanese emperor, though, WWII intervened: the Japanese Emperor was demoted from sacred and inviolable to the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people. More importantly, perhaps, Japan became a neo-colonial extension of American power for a time (when that time ends is a matter of debate, of course) so that Presidential courtesies like Nixon’s bow were harmless to American power. By the time of Clinton’s gesture, though, Japan’s economic power was a threat to American dominance (well, with the 90s recession, not really, but pundits had spent a good portion of the ’80s talking up the Japanese threat, and the impression stuck), and the Imperial transition of 1989 took away the American sense that the Emperor was someone who had been defeated and disarmed. Even Clinton’s gesture towards a bow was too much for some, apparently: the very concept of monarchy raised spectres of pre-Revolutionary attitudes, though bowing is not necessarily a subservient act when done between equals (or by a superior) in the Japanese tradition.

Obama’s bow is a very formal one — formality and hierarchy are two different things — and in the context of a handshake. It doesn’t change the nature of the US-Japan relationship as much as the election of Japan’s new non-LDP PM, as much as the rising nationalistic culture, as much as the ongoing shifts in the economic relationship between two of the largest — and most obviously struggling — economies in the world.

7/11/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Colonialism and Imperialism

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:27 pm

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

8/24/2007

Useful, Inconvenient History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:43 pm

President Bush cited John Dower regarding the potential for post-war democratization. Bush was using Dower’s Embracing Defeat to ridicule those who believe the occupation of Iraq is failing to achieve a stable or democratic result by citing those who incorrectly believed that creating a liberal democratic state in Japan after WWII was impossible. This is a fairly transparent invocation of the “Galileo Gambit,” pointing out that people have, unsurprisingly, sometimes been wrong about things they felt strongly about and that the people who were right have sometimes been in the minority.

It’s interesting to see the example of Japan coming up again, as it was very commonly cited in the run-up to the Iraq war. John Dower himself, as the article points out, wrote several articles demolishing the idea that Japan was a good analogy to Iraq in this regard.1 Dower has also argued that Iraq is like Manchuria (with the US in the role of Japan) and more likely to be a quagmire than a shining example of modernity.2 The Bush Administration immediately disavowed any endorsement of Dower’s views outside of the citation made by the President, and this kind of historical cherry picking and selective ignorance is all too typical of politicians in general.

It bolsters my complaint from yesterday, though: a better understanding of Asian history generally, and of US involvement in it, would be all to the good, but so often Asia is just a foil, out of context and interesting only insofar as it affects us.

  1. November 2002 and March 2003 []
  2. I’ve also made the Manchuria analogy, and it still stands up pretty well, I’m afraid. []

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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12/24/2006

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.

12/1/2006

Photos of Japan, 1951

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 3:47 am

One of my former students and her boyfriend have been scanning in old photos, and they happened upon some gems taken by the young man’s grandfather when he was stationed in Japan during the Korean War. I think these are some wonderful pictures, and I offer my thanks to Margaret and James for sharing them, and to James’s grandfather for taking them.

Img065 Beggars Chased By M.P.S!

This image, which was hand labeled with the caption “Beggars chased by M.P.s!” seems to show a bunch of people crossing train tracks at a station of some sort. Notice the guy lounging on the parked flatbed in the middle-left of the picture. The photographer really captured the movement of the people across the tracks, though I certainly don’t see any beggars or M.P.s! The caption seems important, though. Can we assume that Japanese people running across train tracks in 1951 pretty much must have been up to something in the imagined visual world of Occupation-era photography?

Img079 Hiroshima R.R. Station 1951-1

This image was labeled “Hiroshima R.R. Station 1951″ and is filled with all the contrasting forces of the age. Look at the different poses and sartorial styles of the two soldiers, who seem to represent two poles of the American military. Also interesting is the Japanese text visible in the photo, such as the writing on the bus, “Hiroshima Suburban Bus Company,” which in the prewar style reads from right to left; and the sign on the shop to the right of the station, which reads in the traditional style from top to bottom and right to left, “Hiroshima Noted Product (meisan) Raw Oysters.” Yum! The two people who seem to be most interested in the photographer are the little girl on the bus with the red hat and the man who is wearing a suit and walking toward the camera while reaching into his inner pocket. The fact that this is Hiroshima, too, post-atomic bomb and pre-bullet train, lends the photo extra meaning. I see a doubling here: American technology (the camera in the hands of the G.I.) constructing a representation of a city that was destroyed by American technology.

Img081 Altar Girls, Shinto Grand Shrine Of Eise, 1951

This photo, labeled “Altar Girls, Shinto Grand Shrine of Eise, 1951,” which I assume should be “Ise,” is a nicely shot picture that prefigures a lot of later explicitly exotic imagery of traditional Japan. I’m kind of surprised that a picture that looks so much like tourist and government imagery from the 80s and 90s would have been taken so early. I guess I should have known that G.I.s on furlough from Korea would make the grand pilgrimage like everyone else? It is a very masculine framing of the subject. This makes me wonder when the scopic regime of photography of traditional subjects was established in Japan. It also makes me wonder who the intended viewers were for photos like these?

Img071 Jap Pearl Diver (Fresh Out Of The Water) 1951

Lastly, this photo was labeled, in the parlance of the time, “Jap Pearl Diver (Fresh out of the water) 1951,” and positively glows with the unequal sexual politics of the Occupation era. The usual binaries seem to be present here: the male, conquering West; the female, passive East; and the dry, clean professional man and the wet, sexually alluring woman.

These types of visual materials must be fairly common among the old slide collections of veterans, but I would guess that few have been collected together or made public. They seem to me like invaluable records of this fascinating historical moment. Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by that. The gaze of the G.I. photographers is particularly clearly recorded here, making these images not so much records of Japan in 1951 as artifacts of the creation of certain American identities against a newly constituted “Japan.”

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).

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