井の中の蛙

6/1/2011

Nisei and the POWs

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:00 pm

I just want to take a moment to share a photo that I think captures an interesting and perhaps a bit of an awkward moment. The photo is taken from a 1946 report on the “mop-up” of Japanese troops in the summer of 1945 in the Philippines.1 In it we see a, possibly staged, moment of interaction between a US Nisei (Japanese-American) soldier and Japanese POWs sometime after August 15, 1945, who are about to go out and attempt to persuade their fellow Japanese soldiers in the area to surrender.

Nisei and POWs in Luzon

I was hit by a range of emotions and thoughts when I saw this. On the one hand is the interaction of this Japanese-American, whose loyalty has always been seen as suspect by his fellow Americans, with the Japanese, who most probably see the Nisei as a traitor to his own people.

Completely separate from this interaction is the predicament of the POWs who are about to leave the camp, which was likely no pleasant hotel, but which represented a site of sufficient food and safety reached only after an extremely risky surrender. At that moment of surrender they faced the possibility of being shot either by Americans, or even more likely, their own officers or fellow soldiers. Only a few pages before this photo we read that while, “the good faith displayed by the Americans in holding their fire” (which was not by any means universal on the part of US troops) had lead to many desertions, “many Japanese soldiers were shot by their own troops as they tried to make their way to the American lines.”

Here we see these POWs about to return to the jungle where fellow soldiers were starving and dying of disease. Instead of mounting active attacks on US forces by this time, these Japanese remnants were reportedly only launching desperate nighttime raids for food on local communities. These scenes are, of course, common to almost every description of Japanese forces throughout the Pacific in the summer of 1945. As the report records, “Patrols found individuals and small groups who had apparently starved to death…prisoners of war told of acts of cannibalism,” and of active fighting between the Army and Navy over remaining food supplies.” If these POWs failed to persuade their dying comrades to surrender, would they be able to make their way out safely again? Would they be forced to remain with the others?

One thing that we might keep in mind is that the jungles and hills of Luzon of that summer were full of “Japanese” who were not from the archipelago, as the final report on casualties and POWs from July 1 to August 20 operation reveals:

Dead 20,311
Japanese Prisoners 1,254
Formosans (Taiwanese) 1,065
Koreans 77

  1. Report of the Commanding General Eigth Army on the Luzon Mop-up Operation 27 February 1946. Surplus Copy found in Widener Library, Harvard University. []

5/29/2011

Young Samurai: Way of the Dragon and the Battle of Osaka

The third installment of Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai series shifts modes mid-book, when the action moves from the original Harry Potter-esque bildungsroman mode to the tragic — Young Jack is on the side of the Toyotomi, as it turns out — Battle of Osaka.

[More Spoilers Ahead]1

The book is considerably longer than the first two installments, a common feature of end-of-series climaxes, and continues with the cultural and historical bad habits noted in the first two works.2 At least, being a climactic moment, many of the historical alterations are clarified — if not well justified. There are two substantial changes to the historical record, which explain most of the other distortions: postponing the Tokugawa dominion of Japan until after the Battle of Osaka, and transforming the banning of Christianity into xenophobic nationalism and a popular movement, rather than a geo-political calculation.3 And ninja. Lots of ninja. I’m going to focus on the historiographical oddities this time, though I reserve the right to note new contextual and literary failings.

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  1. I don’t really consider that a spoiler; it’s an actual event. Knowing how things turn out is fundamental to historical work. Though I must concede that Bradford’s willingness to mess with the timeline does raise some doubt. []
  2. The Way of the Warrior and The Way of the Sword. Also, the book jacket copy is unchanged. []
  3. Needless to say, the historical changes require substantial alterations to the characters of many historical figures. One can only hope that the bad pseudonyms shield young readers from connecting these caricatures with real people. At one point, the Miyamoto Musashi stand-in orders Jack to commit seppuku, then retracts it and calls it a “little joke.” (72) []

4/3/2011

History as it happens

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:13 am

Though I’m usually not shy about speaking historically when big events happen, I’ve been very reticent on the Tohoku disasters. As others have pointed out, this is such a multi-faceted disaster — Any movie pitch that included a massive earthquake, historic tsunami, and a nuclear power plant meltdown would be rejected as implausible (except by the SyFy channel, maybe) — that historical analogies seem to have very little utility. Still, there’s some value in having people who know what they’re talking about contributing to the general discussion.1

There’ve been some of the inevitable discussions comparing these events to the 1995 Kobe/Hanshin disaster, to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, to the 1755 Lisbon catastrophes. More obvious comparisons, like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the recent flooding in Pakistan, don’t seem to be coming into play. Maybe because Western journalists just don’t know enough about these societies to draw conclusions about them? Maybe because Japan’s status as an industrialized society makes it conceptually different to them? The Katrina/New Orleans levee disaster would also seem like an obvious comparison that I haven’t seen yet.2 Once the problem with the Fukushima nuclear power plants manifested, the discussion has ranged from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since nuclear power accidents have been rare, there is a very rough continuum of events for comparison, and it is still not clear at all what the situation is going to be. The combination of widespread tsunami destruction and nuclear dislocation which could be both widespread and nearly permanent, plus the potential economic effects of long-term power problems in Tokyo and Eastern Japan, really does constitute a nearly unique moment in human history.

In the absence of clarity, there’s been an immense stream of cultural commentary.
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  1. Presumptuous? There’s real social science to prove it! []
  2. There have also been comparisons to Godzilla and Akira, which is something that only an eminence like Bill Tsutsui could get away with. Don’t try this at home! []

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) []

12/7/2010

December 7, 1941, Pittsburg, Kansas

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:50 am

One of our graduate assistants came in recently with an old newspaper that her husband had found on a deconstruction job. Considering that it was, apparently, stored in a wall for decades, the December 7, 1941 Pittsburg Sun was in fairly good condition: brittle, but almost entirely intact and clear. I didn’t want to force the folds into a flatbed scanner – the paper clearly isn’t going to survive too much handling, and the next step is to show it to our archivist – so I took some pictures with my camera to share.

Interestingly, we got an email today indicating that the Governor has declared today a half-staff day, in honor of the anniversary, so consider this our contribution to the remembrance.
Pittsburg Sun 1941 December 7 Evening - Detail 1 - Front Page Headlines Army Arrives Pittsburg
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11/10/2010

License to Hunt Japanese

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:11 pm

John Dower’s book War Without Mercy does a great job at talking about, and showing images of the many ways that race played a role in the propaganda and deep racially coded hatred the United States and Japan had for each other. Any good history of Japan or US-Japan relations that covers the war can now hardly avoid the topic.

The wonderful online exhibit Dr. Suess Went to War also has a wonderful catalog of the kinds of images found depicting the enemy, including a whole section on Japan.

Many of the propaganda images dehumanize the enemy by portraying them as some kind of animal, monster, or insects. They go well beyond the kind of racial caricatures of the enemy that depict certain racial stereotypes in terms of exaggerated features. The latter can be found not only in propaganda images but was used even in official documents. To take one example of this I recently came across, the cover for 1945 Field Order 31 of the US 8th Army, which contained instructions for the early occupation of the Japanese islands, shows the 8th Army, represented by a large arrow, attacking the protruding ass of a Japanese soldier, depicted with standard slanted eyes and enlarged teeth.1

fieldorder.jpg

As Dower and many others have pointed out, the more dehumanizing portrayals of the enemy create an environment in which the soldier feels that the enemy race is itself a kind of disease or vermin that needs to be exterminated. Though examples abound, I recently came across a particularly elaborate example of this that I had never seen before and which I thought I would share: A “License to Hunt Japanese” issued to an American who did not fight in the Pacific War but would later serve as a US advisor in occupation Japan. The image and accompanying text simultaneously captures a number of the features found in the more disturbing propaganda images.

licenseweb copy.jpg

Full size version of the image can be seen here.2

The license, clearly designed to be a work of humor, is stamped by a fictional “Department of Jap Extermination” in the “Alaska Sanitation Commmission,” which is said to have as its motto, “Exterm the worm.” Imitating a hunting license, it declares an “open season” on the Japanese, with “no limit.”

Japanese are not the only ones mentioned or depicted in this mock hunting license. The body of the license, which refers to the Japanese as “genus bastardi” and “black-livered Japanese,” announces that “Germans taken incidental to the hunt will be counted two for one in claiming bounty. Italians will not be counted.”

UPDATE: I received an email which pointed out that the image of the soldier in the first image is a most likely a caricature of Hirohito.

  1. Robert Eichelberger Papers Box 62. Microfilm version: Japan and America, c1930-1955: the Pacific War and the occupation of Japan. Series 1 Reel 31 []
  2. I have blurred out the names on the license and I’d rather not publish the origins of the document here. Contact me if you want more information on how to find the original document. []

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. []

7/13/2010

Judge Ooka’s Sidekick, part two: The Ghost In the Tokaido Inn and In Darkness, Death

After reading the last two installments in the Hooblers’ samurai detective series, I got hold of the first two. There are still two I have not read, obviously, but based on these four, I can’t seriously recommend the series: the misinformation and errors just outweigh any value that they have as presentations of Edo life or culture.1 The authors’ notes can’t save these books, because even good information is twisted into such blazingly implausible scenarios that no real understanding could survive, and there’s no end to the errors. [Spoilers, of course, because I don't really want anyone to read these books!]
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  1. I still maintain that the last book, A Samurai Never Fears Death is decent, but it’s clearly the exception. []

7/3/2010

Judge Ooka’s Sidekick: A Samurai Never Fears Death and The Sword that Cut the Burning Grass by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:36 am

Wandering through the children’s section of our local public library with my son, I encountered a new-to-me children’s mystery series based in Tokugawa Japan. The books are by Dorothy and Thomas Hobbler, and are piggybacking on the Judge Ooka character. Unlike certain other Japan-based anglophone fictions, these feature a cast of entirely Japanese characters, though the protagonist is still young and enough of a fish-out-of-water to justify significant exposition. The “Authors Note” in the back of each book briefly lays out the historical and cultural foundations of the story, and clearly notes which elements are “completely from the imagination of the authors.” (Sword, 210) Though I noted some anachronisms and some larger issues, on the whole these were surprisingly good in both detail and theme.

The books are the adventures of Seikei, an Osaka-born merchant class boy who is adopted as the son and heir of Judge Ooka in the 1730s. That kind of adoption was relatively rare, but well within contemporary norms, and the unusual nature of class-jumping adoption is fairly well integrated into the stories. The characters are a bit flat and the issues broadly drawn, but that’s not unusual for children’s fiction; more importantly, they are some of the most genuinely and humanely Japanese characters I’ve encountered in my sojourns into this literature. [Spoilers follow, of course]
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4/10/2010

Japan as apocalyptic fulfillment

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:13 pm

I have to get to my AAS blogging, I know, but I have to share something I ran across reading — of all things — David Walsh’s HNN reports from the Organization of American Historians conference. Jared Roll, Senior Lecturer at Sussex, gave a paper on radical religiousity in the US South during the Great Depression, specifically on the proliferation of uaffiliated Pentacostal churches. Walsh reports:

Roll took pains to not that these unaffiliated Pentecostals were apocalyptic in nature, but were not as otherworldy as some historians insisted. Indeed, messianic prophets incited a kind of nationalism in rural black communities. Indeed, one premillenialist preacher claimed that Japan would lead a crusade to defeat white imperialism. He used the Book of Ezekiel to claim that Japan would drop poisonous bombs on the U.S. that would kill all American whites and apostate blacks, save for 144,000 chosen.

There is video of Roll’s talk, but unfortunately only the first ten minutes, before, apparently, he got to the good stuff!

I’d love to know when this claim was made. Given the focus of the panel, it’s presumably in the 1930s, and probably post-Manchurian Incident. I wonder if this preacher was just using Japan as a foil because of general tensions with the US or if the GEACPS rhetoric was widely enough known (and considered credible) to actually be cited in this context? Either way, it’s the first time I’ve heard Japan used as a means of apocalyptic fulfillment of any prophecy other than Nichren doctrine and a few Japanese New Religions.

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