It’s final’s week: Discuss

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

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

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

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


Stumbling to Glory

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:55 am

When an antiquated and undemocratic regime falls quickly, those who follow it often do so with little firm idea what they want or how they will achieve it. Slogans — “progress,” “prosperity,” “catching up with the rest of the world,” “freedom” — and a sense that there are places in the world where life is better — though those societies threaten the sovereignty of a nation in flux, while they inspire its inchoate leadership — are all the plan that really exists. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that there are many plans, for there are many individuals, each with a distinct (and sometimes small) constituency, who wish to speak to and for the nation. The old regime collapsed quickly but not entirely cleanly (some loyalists will fight on for months; anti-reform insurgencies and assassinations will continue sporadically for a decade), and there are social and legal and cultural obstacles to development, including clan leaders, hereditary classes, and a complete lack of traditions of democracy , civil discourse or universal rights.

Sound familiar? It should: Japan, 1868. From these unlikely beginnings arose one of the most powerful and important nations of the 20th century.

One of the great challenges of the historian is to remember, and recapture, the lack of inevitability of events. One of my favorite books, because it really was the first one in which I felt that uncertainty reconstructed and revealed, is Michio Umegaki’s After the Restoration: The Beginning of Japan’s Modern State. One of my great regrets about my undergraduate career is that I did not realize my interest in pursuing history seriously until it was too late for me to take any courses with Prof. Umegaki; we’ve never met, though our paths have certainly crossed. Umegaki describes the beginnings of the Meiji (1868-1912) state as a series of shifting coalitions, informal working arrangements, rapidly shifting ideas and priorities, policies promulgated by working groups which surprised half the leadership, and generally uncertain steps towards viable governance.

This contrasts sharply with the more conventional backwards looking view of the early Meiji state, which takes in the immensely successful first decade or so and sees in it all the necessary components of development: comprehensive social, legal, administrative, military and economic reforms, which were only shallowly applied at first but which were nonetheless the template for Japan’s seemingly meteoric rise to regional power status.

That the Meiji reforms were successful is largely incontrovertible (though we argue about long-term side effects and who should get credit). But that success was not always carefully planned, was rarely coordinated or forseeable. In fact, there are quite a few missteps, and shifts in policy along the way, as well as reforms that succeed in spite of, rather than because of, central (and centralizing) reforms.

There were foreigners, even some Japanese, who doubted Japan’s ability to manage its own affairs: Japan was subject to the odious “unequal treaty” system until the 20th century, for example. There were domestic and international observers who found Japan’s new leaders cliquish, unrepresentative, unrealistic, ineffective, disunified, oligarchic, and otherwise objectionable. But in spite of their missteps, and in spite of their uncertainties, they did succeed.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]


Japan-heavy day at the AHA

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:18 am

Some interesting Japanese history under discussion on Day Three of the AHA. Daily update here. As Konrad suggested, I’ll have some more general thoughts on being a Japanese historian at the AHA in the near future.

And here’s day four. OK, that’s over, now I can go home and teach.


A New Constitution for Japan?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:07 pm

I love constitutions. They’re great texts for teaching, they are fantastic touchstones for discussion and, of course, they are crucial to the definition of sovereignty, rights and government function. The first thing I did with the first scanner we ever bought was to scan and OCR the text of the Meiji and 1947 constitutions, (and submit them to Project Gutenberg, here and here) and the only upper-level undergraduate seminar I’ve ever had the chance to teach was about the 1947 constitution.

So I take it pretty seriously when Japanese politicians begin talking about altering the Japanese constitution. Not Article 9, the renunciation of war now honored almost entirely in the breach, but about the fundamental document itself. Yakushiji Katsuyuki, in Sekai [via the Saaler translation in Japan Focus] suggests that the LDP is moving towards a dramatic and fundamental revision of the Japanese constitution.

I think he overstates the role of the Koizumi government specifically; these changes have been in the air since Nakasone, who made fundamental shifts towards international engagement and power-flexing, and cultural conservativism, as part of the Reagan Coalition of the 1980s. I don’t think the LDP has been as adrift as the economy, in other words. But the “Planning Document” he describes is quite dramatic, an open rejection of the US-authored 1947 constitution.

In particular, Yakushiji points at the statism of the revision, and quotes from the document:

Until now, discussions about the Constitution have conspicuously and exclusively emphasized the desire of citizens to limit state power. In the future, when we turn to revising the Constitution, any revisions should not focus solely on limiting the power of the state, but should rather set out the respective responsibilities of the public and private [spheres], in order to protect and enhance both the interests of the people and the national interest (kokueki). It is important to appreciate the significance [of the Constitution] as a set of rules defining the roles of both the state and the people in creating a common society (kyosei shakai).

This strikes me as a remarkable shift, from minshushugi [democracy; popular sovereignty] even beyond a Yoshino Sakuzō-style minponshugi [government based on the views and good of the people], towards or beyond Minobe Tatsukichi-esque “organ theory” [people are one "organ" of the nation, essential but not sovereign]. Both of these represent liberal views within the context of pre-WWII Japan, rejected by the Imperialist politics of the 1930s, but only Yoshino’s approaches our modern understanding of democracy. There are even shades of kokutai thinking in the draft document which calls for a new constitution

based on healthy common sense, embodying features such as the values peculiar to our country (i.e. our national character [kunigara]) and the morality the Japanese originally followed — values which are rooted in [our] history, tradition and culture, but which have been forgotten during the period in which the present Constitution has been enacted and during the occupation by SCAP.

Some of the “peculiar” values which need to be written back into the constitution are inequality of the sexes, reestablishment of state-sponsored religion, and open embrace of military power. Yakushiji does not cite anything with regard to the role of the Emperor, or dramatic revision to the form of government.

Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Diet, followed by a simple majority of a national referendum. There is precedent for that process to be not just a clause-by-clause change but a full-text replacement: that’s how the current constitution replaced the Meiji constitution. So it is entirely possible for the LDP to envision a truly radical revision of the constitution, in theory. As Yakushiji points out, it’s highly unlikely that any revision would be just as described, but it’s also worth noting when the leading party sets out a radical agenda.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

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