Semantics and History: Did Japan “Invade” Korea?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:20 am

Well, the obvious answer to that question is yes, but that’s not the invasion we’re talking about. Over on the Korea side, there’s a lively discussion on the case of the Japanese teacher disciplined for making her class apologize to South Korea with regard to a Tokyo councilman’s statement that “Japan never invaded Korea.” Here’s a portion of the comment I made:

On the substantive question, I have something of a mixed feeling. In a technical sense, I don’t think you can really point to any of Japan’s actions against Korea as an “invasion” in the sense of a mass military operation. That doesn’t mean that Korea wasn’t dominated militarily, that Japan didn’t use force when necessary to protect and expand its control, that colonial occupation wasn’t brutal and damaging. It does mean that we need to carefully educate our students about the “soft” (formal and informal) processes of colonial domination and control, and the realities of subaltern experience. It’s a “distinction without a difference” and while the statement may (and I’m open to disagreement, really) be technically correct, it is still objectionable because the intent of the statement clearly is to make the occupation of Korea a “blameless” non-violent process, which is a distortion of the truth.

This could be, I suppose, a useful teaching moment…. I’ll have to bring it up in my 20th century Japan course and see how my students respond. In the meantime, come on over and join the discussion. If you want some more background on the history, I recommend Konrad Lawson’s comparative historiography for starters.

[crossposted to Cliopatria]


Hitler Watch: Koizumi

Is Koizuimi Junichiro another Hitler? One former LDP’er thinks so, and Chinese academician Feng Zhaokui agrees [via]:

Feng’s Fear History
They both occurred after a country, defeated on the battlefield, took steps to wipe away national humiliation and rise again Hitler was elected, sort of, fourteen years after the end of WWI, in part on the strength of embittered veterans; Koizumi was re-elected sixty years after the end of WWII, after nearly ever veteran of that war has passed on
In both situations, a country shamed in military defeat felt persecuted, giving rise to politics of emotions, especially with regard to neighboring countries; I don’t have any idea what this means with regard to Japan, except that people still bring up WWII on a pretty regular basis, which is embarrasing. I guess that must be it.
In both situations, this “public pathos” was tapped to become an essential element in the political contest for votes, in the suppression of rational politics, and in the push toward a hawkish road; When was the last time you saw an election in which an appeal to “rational politics” succeeded? Seriously, though, Japan’s desire to rationalize its relations with its neighbors (in other words, to dominate them economically, instead of feeling guilty) was an element in this election, though far from a central one.
In both situations, a banner of reform was flown and the “ultra-appeal” of a party head was used to encourage voters to elect them; that party leader was a crafty, masterful actor during the electoral process; By that standard, there ought to be a lot more Hitlers running around
Both situations used the dissolution of parliament to give the ruling party an overwhelming majority of seats; This one made me laugh out loud: parliamentary systems always have to dissolve to have elections, even scheduled ones. When you have an election, often somebody wins. And the LDP has had bigger majorities than it does now
They both want to revise the constitution to give their leadership and their successors more power, and to normalize the military by resurrect the nation’s army. Japan’s military doesn’t need “resurrect”ion: it’s already one of the most powerful on the planet, in technical terms, and one of the best-funded. Hitler’s power came through emergency decrees and something a bit more drastic than constitutional “revision.” Koizumi is, so far, sticking to the usual amendment process, and is well aware of the likelihood of failure in the referendum approval stage. Plenty of countries have endured stronger executives than Japan’s current Prime Ministers without going fascist.

He missed the part about the Great Depression and the recent stagnation…. [crossposted]


Who’s On Top?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:44 am

This came across the H-Japan wires, and I was intrigued by both the project itself and the immense time-wasting potential of listmaking, so I wrote to Ms. Kim and got some clarifications, and now I’m ready to putter furiously….

From: “Linda J. Kim” [l_jkim at yahoo dot com]
Dear Japanese History Professors,

As some of you may know, I am a graduate student researching Japanese elites during the 19th century (and eventually the 20th century). I am requesting nominations of who you think belong in this top ten list of influential political leaders [from her e-mail: "We are using C. Wright Mill's concept of the power elite, which comprises corporate, miitary, and political leaders"; I may go ahead and throw in a cultural figure or two, if they had substantial influence] during the periods of:

  • 1840-1860
  • 1860-1880
  • 1880-1900
  • 1900-1920

I recognize these are crude time periods and some of you may be experts in Tokugawa versus Meiji Japan, or there may be overlapping leaders across time periods. That’s okay. I would be grateful if you can fill in any of the periods that you are familiar with. Of course, I’d be happy to share the results with all interested parties.


Linda Kim
University of California, Riverside
Department of Sociology
Institute for Research on World-Systems

Here’s my nominations, mostly off the top of my head. If I was a really good blogger, I’d include links with all these names to something like their wikipedia entries, but I’ve blown enough of a Friday on this already, and none of these folks is obscure.

  • 1840-1860: Well, part of the problem in this era is the lack of coherent leadership. There’s the short-lived Shogunal leadership (Ii Naosuke, Abe Masahiro), and the rising mid-level elites (Okubo, Saigo). Aside from that, I’m not sure who I’d really pick as outstanding. Yoshida Shoin?
  • 1860-1880: Although this violates the normal 1868 boundary, the rising stars of the Bakumatsu cover this ground pretty well. Okubo Toshimichi, Saigo Takamori and Kido Takayoshi, of course are all leading figures and all die just before the end of this period. I’d probably include Fukuzawa Yukichi due to the influence of his writing and cultural leadership. A conventional list would probably include Shibusawa Eiichi as an economic leader, too, though perhaps his heyday is later? Iwakura Tomomi. Other names would come from the second-tier Bakumatsu/Meiji leadership: Okuma Shigenobu, Ito Hirobumi, Itagaki Taisuke, Mutsu Munemitsu. The eternal debate: to include the Emperor or not?
  • 1880-1900: This is, perhaps, the most stable of these eras, even though it crosses the Constitutional divide. Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo and the Meiji Emperor have to top the list. Okuma Shigenobu gets high marks as an opposition rabble-rouser. Mori Arinori, Matsukata Masayoshi, Inoue Kaoru, Saigo Tsugumichi. There ought to be a business leader or two in here, but those names never stuck with me very well.
  • 1900-1920: Yamagata Aritomo and Matsukata Masayoshi; Saionji Kinmochi, Hara Takashi and Katsura Taro. I think Ito Hirobumi should make the top ten, even though he dies half-way through, but it depends on who else is near the top. Culturally speaking, Natsume Soseki. Nogi Maresuke is popular and makes an impact when he dies, but is he a top-ten leader? What am I missing here?

Obviously, the floor is open for discussion. (and later I will allow myself the luxury of looking at a textbook to see what I missed) This is part of a World History project including “US, Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and China” so almost everyone gets to play!


Yasukuni and Japanese Flags

Rod Wilson and I visited Yasukuni on August 15 to check out the right-wing festivities, which was a pretty…interesting…experience. It was everything you’d expect with the ridiculously nationalistic speeches all day, right-wingers wearing all manner of Japanese military uniforms, jack-booted young wannabe fascists with shaved heads, and the black noise vans everywhere. There was even a choir of elementary school children singing gunka. Rod in particular got some nice photographs because he also went in the morning when the crowds were the largest. Unfortunately we both missed the speech by Ishihara Shintaro, but we did see a speech by an old woman who kept talking about the need to remember the sacrifices of Japanese soldiers and the “onshirazu” of Japanese today. At the climax of the speech, she dramatically revealed that that she wasn’t Japanese as we had thought all along but actually a native Taiwanese, and then wrapped up with an anecdote about how kind and gentlemanly the Japanese soldiers were to her as a young girl in wartime Taiwan, before concluding with a thundering declaration in English saying “Americans go home! Stay out of Japan! Not your Business!” to the roar of the enthralled crowd. Konrad would doubtlessly have enjoyed the chance to hear the speech – apparently some World War II collaborators are alive, well, and still collaborating.

On a related note, Rod and I were pondering how to refer in Japanese to the flag with the radiating rays of sun used by the Japanese navy during the war. We’d heard it referred to in English variously as the “naval ensign” or the more evocative “sunburst flag”, but we weren’t sure about what it’s called in Japanese. We both sort of half-remembered the term “Nisshouki” (日章旗), but it turns out that that is just the official name of the regular Japanese flag more commonly known as the “hinomaru” (日乃丸). Well, we did a little research and found out that the “sunburst” flag is called the “Kyojitsuki” (旭日旗) in Japanese, which makes sense. But the question still remains, what are the best terms to use to distinguish these two flags in English? The best translation for 旭日旗 would probably be “rising sun flag”, but that is problematic because the regular flag is commonly called the “rising sun flag” in English publications and even on EDICT, leaving only “naval ensign” or “sunburst flag” for the Kyojitsuki. Perhaps it would be better to come up with a more accurate translation of hinomaru/nisshouki? “Sun circle flag” perhaps? “Sun disc flag”? “Sun emblem flag”?


Kotaji on Korea (& Japan)

Filed under: — tak @ 9:56 am

I wanted to quickly mention two fascinating posts by Kotaji in the last two weeks that may be of interest to readers here.

First, he refers to an article in OhMyNews about a village near Kyoto composed of those of Korean descent who are resisting the destruction of their neighborhood. Kotaji picks up on the dissonance between the way the South Korean media has covered this story and the villagers who are squatting in defiance.

Second, he reports on a talk at Yonsei University given by Pak Noja . A part of the lecture (transcript here in Korean) focuses on the links between North Korea and the legacy left by Japanese imperialism, and Kotaji has graciously translated a few paragraphs into English. Here is Pak’s main point:

So, when General Kim Il-sung was constructing a nation state, he brought in considerable parts of the apparatus of state control and repression that were taken from the mechanisms of administration of the Japanese imperialists, the very people he had been struggling against up until then. In other words, it is hard to get rid of the sense that the state created by the nationalists in some way inherited a great deal from the imperialist state.


New Museum to Focus on Sexual Slavery

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:17 pm

The Japan Times reports that there is to be a new museum, opening next month, which will focus on wartime sexual slavery. The museum is called “The Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace” (Anyone have links to Japanese news reports on this?) and will display materials and videos related to the issue in time for the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.

This comes on the heels of the latest embarrassing contribution to the controversy by 中山成彬 (Nakayama, Nariaki). He is the current Minister of Education and famous for a number of disturbing statements and his support for the removal of discussion of the issue in Japanese textbooks. In his most recent speech on the issue to make news, he spent some nine minutes reading out an email he received from a female Japanese graduate student studying in Canada. It seems that he wanted to emphasize that she agrees that the word now commonly used for comfort women, or 従軍慰安婦 didn’t exist at the time. Even the minister is not stupid enough to deny that there were comfort women at all, but to claim that this term didn’t exist is perhaps somehow supposed to support his crusade against teaching about sexual slavery during the war. You can find articles on this in the Japanese media online: Asahi, Yomiuri, Sankei.

Notice the different emphases in each article reporting on this. Asahi includes, and is the only one of the three newspapers to include this somewhat disturbing quote from the email:


The student apparently wants the comfort women, and thus presumably also the sexual slaves (意に反して売春させられた) among them, to take pride in their work providing “comfort” for the unsettled hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield. Yomiuri notes her denial that the term now common existed at the time and adds this quote:


I am not entirely clear on how exactly having some other name for massive institutionalized prostitution which included sexual slavery will somehow create a less evil image. True to form, Sankei dwells on this issue a little more, including the aforementioned quote and adding a few more, including:


Here Sankei is adding her thoughts on the reaction of China and Korea, playing the history card to serve their own national interests, and criticizing Japanese politicians who refuse to be defiant. Providing some additional context, Sankei adds that Nakayama said in June that he was glad that comfort women had been removed from the textbooks since the word didn’t exist at the time. While I’m not sure what terms were or were not used during the war, note the connection being made between a squabble about the term – and discussion in textbooks of the important issue to which this term refers (according to various reports, the issue has made a mass disappearance from many if not all the major textbooks that are coming out this year).

Sex, Lies, and Okinawa

Filed under: — tak @ 10:03 am

For anyone interested in Okinawa and the history of journalism in Japan, David Jacobson over at Japan Media Review has recently reported on a new lawsuit by a journalist who 30 years ago was slammed for uncovering a “secret pact” between the U.S. and Japan.

Disgraced Journalist Seeks to Revisit 30-year-old Scandal
More than 30 years later, a Japanese court is reconsidering an epoch-making media scandal that raised the question of whether unethical conduct by a reporter in obtaining the news should outweigh the significance of the facts he uncovered, no matter how earthshaking they might be.

The first oral hearing took place Tuesday in a suit brought by disgraced Mainichi Shimbun political reporter Takichi Nishiyama. Nishiyama, now 73, sued the government in April, claiming that it had destroyed his reputation. He seeks a government apology and 33 million yen (roughly $300,000) in damages.

The case concerns Nishiyama’s reporting on the negotiations between the United States and Japan over the reversion of the southernmost islands in the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa, to Japanese sovereignty (For a detailed chronology, see Wikipedia’s entry). Nishiyama uncovered documents in 1971 that revealed that Japan had secretly made a pact with the U.S. to absorb $4 million of the cost of returning Okinawa – which had been a U.S. protectorate since World War II – to Japan.

However, it was later learned that Nishiyama had obtained the documents through an affair with a married Foreign Ministry secretary. Both the secretary and Nishiyama were arrested, she for revealing state secrets and he for abetting her efforts. Each was convicted, though he appealed his case as far as the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction.


Akihito as the Sovereign of Japan?

Filed under: — tak @ 10:19 pm

Asahi Shinbun reports that the LDP has accepted plans to push for changing the name “Self-Defense Force”(「自衛隊」) to “Self-Defense Military” (「自衛軍」). This is a bit alarming and I am sure that, if not already, there will be harsh criticism from Japan’s neighbors in the coming days.

But what made me shiver in reading this news was not so much Japan inching toward militarization, which had already been happening for a while now, but rather an effort by the LDP to (re)instate the emperor as the “sovereign” of the Japanese state. According to this Asahi article in Japanese, the commision almost approved a proposal to transform him into a mere symbolic figure to someone who would actually represent Japan in diplomatic settings.


When I read this, I could not believe my eyes. Is this really happening? What year is this?????


The word that I translated as “sovereign” here is genshu (元首). (Wikipedia translates it as either “head of state” or “sovereign”). It is a word that comes from the pre-war constitution, The Great Japanese Imperial Constitution, which was promulgated in 1889 and revised during the Allied occupation (1945-51). [The image shows the first page of the original constitution, taken from here.]

In the old pre-war constitution, the fourth article stipulates that the emperor is the genshu of Japan. This comes right after an article that declares the emperor to be divine.

So it has really come to this? Can someone wake me up from this nightmare? Are they soon going to start hailing Akihito as, indeed, a god?


Post-Anpo Apostasy

Filed under: — tak @ 11:32 pm

During my search for a short article on Anpo (the anti U.S.-Japan Security Treaty movement in 1960), Konrad mentioned that he would be interested in hearing about leftist intellectuals who recanted their radical politics after the defeat of the movement.

I was looking at a chapter in Yoshikuni Igarashi’s Bodies of Memory titled “From the Anti-Security Treaty Movement to the Tokyo Olympics: Transforming the Body, the Metropolis, and Memory,” as a possible article to use in class.

This article mentions Shimizu Ikutaro, whom Igarashi describes as “an intellectual who was deeply committed to the anti-treaty movement.” He was a loud voice in the movement for sure, and Igarashi explores the issues of memory and the body in Shimizu’s discussion of Zengakuren (the radical wing of the student movement) and the physical nature of their tactics during Anpo.

Shimizu is, I believe, known as an anpo intellectual who recanted. Here, on a website run by Professor Okubo Takaji of Waseda University, are some essays about Shimizu, in Japanese.

And here is what Harry Harootunian, in “Beyond Containment: The Postwar Genealogy of Fascism and TOSAKA Jun’s Prewar Critique of Liberalism” (printed online here), has to say about Shimizu and why he repudiated the left after Anpo:

SHIMIZU condemned [prewar leftist] intellectuals who later recalled their experience of conversion as testimonials of bad faith, since neither were their commitments as strong as they wished later witnesses to believe nor were the speculative modes of the Japanese people illuminated by conversion so intensely antimodern. Here, SHIMIZU was apparently speaking the from personal experience of his own conversion. His late writings, “Doubting the Postwar” and “Auguste COMTE” (published in the 1970s) rejected the category of the “postwar,” which he equated with all of those efforts to repeat the Enlightenment that common sense had already “denied.” What SHIMIZU meant by common sense might have conceivably revealed only an instance of his own bad faith and how he had successfully changed with the seasons. Yet, he explained that intellectuals in Japan were exceedingly short on common sense, that is, a knowledge common to a wide number of people [...]

Here Harootunian draws our attention to the way Shimizu sees Enlightenment thought as fomenting a kind of political activism that is antithetical to the people. But focusing on the undifferentiated — what Harootunian calls a “classless” — image of “the people” led to Shimizu’s denunciation of Marxism and the Japanese left:

Intellectuals are blinded from the common sense of the masses and are not able to approach them. But he, SHIMIZU declared, had escaped this blindness, this Enlightenment contagion that had plunged Japan into darkness, because he had been able to manage an identity with the masses. When the conception of common sense was linked to his idea of presentism (the curse of shared values, political and public cultures, all those interpretative strategies confidently based upon a putative average), he had merely found a way to justify the way things are by appealing to a fixed fund of experience/knowledge which seemingly had remained the same since the beginning of the race.

Here Harootunian depicts Shimizu as an intellectual lured by “presentism,” a kind of culturalist chauvinism that develops when a refusal of Western thinking (in this case Enlightenment) is projected to imagine “the people” as a “race” untouched by the evil ways of industrial capitalism. At least that is what Harootunian here is arguing.

I have never read Shimizu so I don’t know what to make of this passage, but I’m not 100% convinced of the argument that presentist thought is more likely to lead to an essentialist and transhistorical position. But in contrast to Tosaka Jun, I guess it sort of makes sense why Shimizu recanted.

Are there others who recanted after Anpo? Now I’m curious too.


Hinomaru Mystery

Filed under: — tak @ 11:08 am

Over at H-Japan, there’s a discussion about the Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag. I was intrigued and clicked over to Wikipedia.

I knew that the sun represented Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess in Japanese mythology, but did not know that this sun-as-red-circle design was on folding fans in the Genpei Wars. I am guessing that Wikipedia is referring to the Battle of Yashima, famous for a warrior on a horse knocking a fan off of a ship’s mast in some awesome display of archery skill. I did not realize (or chose to forget) that it was a fan with a hinomaru. Maybe there were other scenes with the flag but I’ve never read the Heike Monogatari in full. [You medievalists out there, help!]

I also visited the the Japanese Wikipedia. This entry mentions that the Hinomaru had been used by Satsuma vessels, but then was later used as a sign of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Boshin War(1868-9)! Supposedly the restorationists used a flag with the imperial Chrysanthemum crest.

I did not know all of this, and I’m surprised that the Hinomaru was used by Tokugawa Loyalists. Does this suggest that the red circle was not always associated with the imperial throne? I don’t know. Anyone know what the politics was of using the Hinomaru around the Meiji Restoration and how it came to be a symbol of Japan? Or any prior use of the flag? Or any bizarre trivia?

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