井の中の蛙

3/22/2010

AAS Love – Self Promotion Edition

It’s a good week for me and the Association for Asian Studies. I just got my Journal of Asian Studies in the mail. Not only did I get the journal, but the cover image is my photograph of firefighters at the 1985 Atsuta Festival. There’s an article that goes with it, Mary Alice Haddad on the democratization of volunteer fire departments, which is quite interesting1, including the fact that there are almost 900 thousand volunteer firefighters in Japan, which makes it one of the larger civic traditions.

In addition, the very first review in the Japan section is Jeffrey Lesser’s review of Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents and Uncertain Futures, Edited by Nobuko Adachi, in which I have a chapter. He doesn’t mention my chapter in the review2, but he does praise the book generally, and the review includes discussion of another work — Toake Endoh, Exporting Japan — which apparently addresses a familiar argument about the relationship between colonial and migration policy in useful detail.

To make it a perfect week, I’d have to be going to the AAS Meeting in Philadelphia. Well, I am! I’ll be presenting a paper on Friday afternoon joined by some very interesting folks:

Session 106: National Borders and Memory Borders: The Prewar Japanese Diaspora and Postwar Memories of the “Homeland”
Hometown pride and “safe” international history in rural western Japan, Martin Dusinberre
Diaspora Memory: Selective Histories of Japanese Emigration, Jonathan Dresner
Lost Homeland: Colonial Memories of Manchuria in Okinawa after World War II, Shinzo Araragi
Beyond Conflicted Memories of the “Second Hometown”: a homecoming tour of Japanese repatriates to the Philippines , Mariko Iijima

Many thanks to Martin, in particular, for organizing the panel.

Naturally, I’ll be blogging and tweeting the conference, as much as I can.

Now, who else will be there, and when can we have a blogger meetup?

  1. I didn’t know that when I gave permission to use the picture, of course, but I figured Wasserstrom, et al., knew what they were doing []
  2. none of the reviews I’ve seen have, actually. It’s not entirely surprising, since my chapter is a little odd-man-out, looking at diaspora from the perspective of the Japanese government’s anxieties about the cultural illiteracy of emigrants, instead of from a particular diaspora community. []

9/27/2009

Hiroshima +50 (and +40)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:39 pm

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 8 - closeI haven’t participated in that many “historic” events, but I’m now old enough that my early pictures qualify as historic documents, at least. Here’s another sample of my Japan pictures: maybe not an historic event in itself, but a major anniversary commemoration of one.

I spent both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima bombing in Japan. (Also the 39th, but who cares?) We didn’t do anything to mark the 40th — we were too busy getting ready to come back to the US, where I was going to start college — but I do remember getting a haircut that day. A haircut isn’t really memorable most of the time, but our barber, just down the street from our ‘mansion,’ also gave old-fashioned shaves. Now I didn’t have much historical consciousness as a 17-year old, but a decade anniversary of an event like the world’s first atomic bombing, in the country where it happened, is something that you notice. So there I was, laying back in the chair on the anniversary of the day my country atom-bombed my barber’s country, and he’s standing over me with a straight-razor. I don’t miss shaving, but there’s nothing like a good straight-razor shave.

On the 50th anniversary, we were living in Yamaguchi, so we decided to take the train to Hiroshima for the commemoration. We’d been to Hiroshima before, with visiting relatives, so we’d seen the museums and the park. But it was different that day:
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9/19/2009

Hirohito’s last birthday

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:14 pm

Tenno 1988 - Emperor Wave enhancedI’m almost done, I suppose, with the first phase of my image digitization and pedagogy project, namely scanning a significant chunk of my Japan slides and prints. I’ve completely gone through the slides I had pulled for classroom use when I started teaching, supplemented with some from my complete collection; I still have dozens of boxes of slides to go through from my first year in Japan (1984-85), and I’m sure there are some surprises.1 I’ve gone through most of my prints as well — pictures from my junior year at Keio International Center (1987-88) and my graduate research year in Yamaguchi (1994-1995) — and extracted most of the interesting stuff, and I’m mostly done scanning them. I’m taking a bit of a break from my collection once that’s done, and focusing on scanning the book images which I’ve been using in class — I had a huge collection of slides made by the photography department in my first year or two of teaching — but I probably can’t upload those en masse, for copyright reasons.2

Most of my pictures, to be honest, are pretty typical tourist pictures — with the caveat that we very, very rarely posed for “we are here” shots — but my father taught me that it’s a lot cheaper to take lots of pictures than to go back, so I did get quite a few decent architectural shots, and some good cultural ones. Fairly static stuff, but much of it will be useful in my Japanese history courses; I’ve set a fairly broad Creative Commons license on the pictures, so that they can be used by other teachers.3 There are a few times, though, when I captured something which legitimately might be considered a unique historical moment.

During Golden Week of my year at Keio, a few friends and I decided to go to the Emperor’s Birthday Audience, when crowds can enter the Imperial Palace grounds and get to see an appearance of the monarch, plus family:
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  1. For example, when I looked through my Atsuta Matsuri pictures, I discovered that I’d taken a bunch of pictures of the Aichi Prefecture Police Band and Bugle Corps. I’m not surprised that the police have a band — many military and paramilitary organizations need marching music — but the cheerleader-like Bugle Corps women seem, well, cheerleader-like. []
  2. Unless someone wants to argue that the enhancements I’m doing in Photoshop — contrast, lightness, etc — transform the image sufficiently that it’s a new creation to which I am the rightful copyright holder….. No? I didn’t think so. That said, once I’ve amassed a solid collection, I’d be happy to share them via CD-ROM with anyone who’s got a legitimate teaching need. That’s legal. []
  3. I’ve already shared my Atsuta Shrine pictures, and some cultural illustrations. And my Early Japan class is about to hit Kamakura. []

8/3/2009

Cultural and Physical History Mystery

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:02 am

Okinawa boats taken by T. Egami, 1898 Michelle Damian, who I met at ASPAC, has a new post up in her project journal with an intriguing mystery:

One type of vessel that has intrigued me is the massive yakatabune, boats used for pleasure gatherings on the river. They have a solid superstructure with heavy supporting posts and cross timbers, usually decorated with lanterns bearing the names of the restaurants that had dispatched them, and are often shown with smaller craft alongside used to ferry patrons or cook the food. … What is unusual, though, is the notch at the tip of the stempost. These vessels almost always have an extra protrusion at the end.

If the mystery ended there I could chalk it up to simply the convention for the yakatabune – perhaps just aesthetic, perhaps for whatever reason just an additional visual cue to the boat’s purpose. On a model of a similar ship in Tokyo’s maritime museum (Fune no Kagakukan), though, the stempost is apparently made of two separate pieces of wood scarfed together with a notch exactly like the tip of the stemposts in the prints. It is as though the boats shown in the prints had removed that extra piece of wood, leaving the uneven notch exposed. … If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions to help solve this mystery, I would be most grateful to hear them!

modern-yakatabune

Go to her project journal for the proper illustrations (the ones here are just some that I found on Flickr) and more detail.

My theory? I think the stem, because of its size, was removable. So when it might block the view of patrons, as in a fireworks-viewing trip, it was taken off the vessel, but when it was a pleasure cruise in which the patrons were more focused on the activity inside, it was left on for elegance.

5/14/2008

Archival Incidents, or What is it with Pictures?

Sean Malloy has withdrawn the pictures once touted as “newly discovered” photographs of Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing. Over the last few days, after the pictures were reported by HNN, the Huffington Post, and Wired, among others, members of the Japanese studies community took a closer look and began to doubt. I saw it unfold at H-Japan: questions about the clothing worn by the people standing in the photos, injuries that didn’t match the atomic bombing, topography issues. Most of all, there were similarities to other known pictures from the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the anti-Korean/anti-leftist massacres which followed: the injuries, topography and clothing are more consistent with that disaster/atrocity. How the pictures acquired the Hiroshima story is still a mystery though, as one commenter pointed out, there’s a three day gap between the bombing and the first known pictures which we’d dearly love to fill.

By a curious coincidence, I (and a lot of other innocent scholars of Asia, I warrant) got an email from an ironically named Japanese group1 whose sole purpose is to deny the realities of Japanese WWII atrocities, and one of their highlight publications is an attempt to debunk as many Nanjing Massacre photographs as possible. Daqing Yang, one of the premier scholars on the Nanjing Massacre has written

Even photographic evidence, as many of them have come to realize, can be fraught with danger if its origins cannot be ascertained. When a conservative Japanese daily newspaper made a news story out of a wartime photograph used with the wrong caption in Kasahara’s book, he offered a swift public apology for his negligence and replaced the photograph.94 One of Kasahara’s historian colleagues has included a cautionary note about the use of photographic evidence in a college textbook on historical sources, using the Rape of Nanjing as an example.95

A few days back, peacay wrote me to get clarification on a satirical map found in the ‘Block Prints of the Chinese Revolution’ collection at Princeton. The problem with it, what was confusing peacay, is that the map seemed to be too broad and didn’t say much about the 1911 Revolution. The archival commentary wasn’t helpful, being a general statement about the whole collection. So, I got a good look at it and reported back that it was actually a Japanese-drawn (that much peacay already knew, which is why I got the call) WWI satire, dated late 1914, and the sum total of Chinese commentary was to depict China as a Mandarin pig, anxiously looking at a rain gauge. (peacay has a nice detail shot of it) The rest of the collection seems to actually be from Shanghai and relate to the 1911 revolution (at least, I assume Alan would have said something!). I don’t know that Princeton is going to withdraw the out-of-place image — they’ve already got a disclaimer on the collection saying that they don’t endorse any of the sentiments contained therein — but I expect that their in-house cataloging is more detailed and accurate. I hope so, but that’s no protection for researchers who aren’t in New Jersey.

This is going to come up more and more: as archives and collections become more public, the likelihood of discovering errors (or worse, propogating them in our research) is going to increase. As others have noted, I’m sure, historians are rarely trained specifically in the critical use of visual evidence, photographic or artistic. I’ve seen some grossly overinterpreted and casually thoughtless uses of visual materials.2 Nor are many archivists, though we rely heavily on their record-keeping and expertise. But it’s getting harder and harder to excuse this kind of carelessness, while our training is not at all keeping up with the materials we’re expected to use.

  1. I’ll tell you if you really want, but I don’t want to give them any more publicity than they deserve []
  2. I used a world history textbook once which both: a. presented a photograph of modern African folk dancers in a chapter on pre-1500 African history, the only instance in which a modern photo was used as evidence in a pre-modern context; b. and claimed that the solemn expressions on native Americans in a mid-19c picture were evidence of their social and cultural plight instead of the long exposures of contemporary technology []

6/19/2007

Vagaries of Honolulu

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:01 am
Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

One of the things I always look forward to when I go to Honlulu is visiting the Okonomiyaki restaurant in the International Marketplace — there just aren’t many places in the US where you can get it, and it’s one of my favorite Japanese foods — but this trip was so quick and conference-intensive that I didn’t really have time. So I thought that I’d missed my chance, but when I got to the Ala Moana mall food court I discovered that Honolulu has two Okonomiyaki places.
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5/2/2007

What’s New?

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

3/3/2007

Girls’ Day 2007, Hilo

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:45 pm

The Hawai’i Japanese Center had an open house today for Girls’ Day, and I brought my camera. I didn’t make my 5-year old sit through the boring speeches, but once they were over we all had fun wandering the exhibits (actually, when you do it with a 5-year old, you’re not “wandering” but “examining in great but sometimes random detail”) and eating mochi and brownies.
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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.”

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