井の中の蛙

2/23/2010

Aizawa Yasushi on America

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:49 pm

In the Prefatory Remarks to Aizawa Yasushi‘s 1825 New Theses (新論) we find an interesting little gloss on the relationship of the “Divine Realm” of Japan and the Western world:

The earth lies amid the heavenly firmament, is round in shape, and has no edges. All things exist as nature dictates. Thus, our Divine Realm is at the top of the world. Though not a very large country, it reigns over the Four Quarters because its Imperial Line has never known dynastic change. The Western barbarians represent the thighs, legs, and feet of the universe. This is why they sail hither and yon, indifferent to the distances involved. Moreover, the country they call America is located at the rear end of the world, so its inhabitants are stupid and incompetent. All of this is as nature dictates.

The translation is by Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi.

12/29/2009

America’s “Lost Decade”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:41 am

Paul Krugman wrote a column in which he argued that the last decade in the US has been a waste of time, economically speaking:

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. …
It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. …
It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early …
… it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. …
So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

My mother sent me the column, and I wrote back the following comparison:

It’s almost like we had the same Lost Decade that the Japanese had in the 90s, but in a much more dramatic fashion. They had the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks; we had 9/11. They had the Hanshin Earthquake, we had Katrina; both triggered a discussion about emergency preparedness and civil society. They had a bubble burst and zero growth; we had several bubbles burst and, ultimately, zero growth.

Unfortunately, it’s very clear that Japanese leaders and citizens didn’t learn very much from the experience: it took almost another decade before a major change in leadership, and their economy remains extremely weak. Not a happy comparison.

12/10/2009

TR’s legacy for FDR: Japanese Aggression?

I really didn’t want to get into the discussion about James Bradley’s op-ed and interview because it’s finals season, and because the argument was so obviously wrong. Other historians have weighed in with a fairly negative review of the argument,1 but there’s a book behind it, so I suppose the discussion has to happen. Eric Rauchway did a reasonably good job of taking the Americanist side against Bradley; I’ve been in the comments over there, arguing, effectively, that there’s a bizarre amount of reality you have to ignore to make the connection between the Portsmouth Treat and Taft-Katsura on the one hand and the Manchurian Incident and Pearl Harbor on the other.

The presumption that Roosevelt doing something more aggressive with regard to Japan’s claims in Korea and elsewhere wouldn’t have produced the Pacific War sooner seems unlikely to me. The combination of US expansion in the Pacific (Hawaii as well as the Philippines) and anti-Japanese/anti-immigrant racism was already leading some Japanese to consider the US a likely competitor and enemy in the near future: an intransigent or pro-Russian Roosevelt would have failed to negotiate the Portsmouth treaty (against which the Japanese people rioted anyway, because there was no indemnity payment) and the US would likely have been unable to integrate Japan into the Wilsonian treaties of the ’20s, and the military would have been even more likely to move aggressively in China and the Pacific sooner than 1931.

From both sides, the US and Japanese, it’s hard to see what Roosevelt could have done differently, even assuming that he had the ahistorical inclination to do so that would have produced a better result.

There’s a satirical theme in Edge of the American West comments which routinely blames people for things that happened many, many years after or before their time. As absurd as it is, I had to point out that some people take it way too seriously. I also noted something which I’m going to have to be sure to emphasize next time I teach this, because I think it’ll clarify things for students:

Nobody intervened on the side of the Chinese, ever. Even the “Open Door policy” was pretty much a dead letter from the beginning. That’s why the Japanese thought they could get away with so much: the 21 Demands make it very clear the direction things are going to go, unless the Chinese can get their acts together quickly (which they didn’t). This is part of what made FDR’s intervention on their behalf so infuriating: it was out of character with the 19th century paradigm, and nobody had ever made a League of Nations decision the foundation of a diplomatic relationship (there was an attempt with the Italy/Ethiopia thing, but it didn’t stick).

I don’t know why people never get tired of “original sin” counterfactual arguments, but they sure don’t.

  1. There’s even a comment from D. Giangreco that I agree with, a rare event. []

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.

9/9/2009

HNN, NYT Post Competing Japan Election Analysis

HNN has posted an extended version of the Soft and Fuzzy history I posted a few days ago. What I’ve added, for the general readership, is more background on the LDP:

The survival of the LDP as the dominant party in Japan for so many post-war decades was a combination of historical luck, savvy leadership, and the cooptation of successful minor party issues. The collapse of the LDP was a combination of historical misfortune, a leadership vacuum, and the realignment of minor parties to create a viable alternative.

The rise and fall of the Yoshida Doctrine and the factional nature of the ’55 System LDP are at the center of the argument.

Meanwhile, the NYT has a Philip Underwood piece explaining how “In Japan, by contrast, failure traditionally carries a deeper stigma, an enduring shame that limits the appetite for risk, in the view of many of the nation’s cultural observers. This makes the Japanese far less comfortable with choices that increase the prospect of failure, even if they promise greater potential gains.” Ugh.

7/29/2009

Imperial Visits and Attitudes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:57 am

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Yamaguchi Prefecture immigration memorial -FullCentennial And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.

x-posted.

  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising. []
  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki []
  3. see also []

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.
(more…)

  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. []

6/7/2009

Before the miniseries, there was….

Shogun Game cover I’m not sure when my family got this game, but I remember playing with it in the late 70s. Though Shogun is described as a “digital” game, there’s no electronics involved: magnets in the board turn the dial in each piece until a number shows in the window; that number is how far the piece can move next time. The pseudo-random element takes some of the strategy out of the game1 and so it moves pretty quickly. Below you can see a rare early checkmate — most games involve a lot of piece exchanges before checkmate is on the table — that my 7 year-old managed to pull of in his third game. The numbers swinging around in the pieces is quite enchanting, especially for kids.

Shogun Game Max MateThe game seems to have been invented by a Japanese, but I’m not sure it was ever marketed in Japan. Clavell’s Shogun came out a year or so before this game did, so it’s likely that the title would have been attached to anything with a hint of Japaneseness about it.

The association of ‘Japan’ with ‘digital’ is interesting; the use of ‘digital’ itself is an interesting cultural moment, the transition from ‘transistor’ to ‘digital.’ It’s got to be early in the analog v. digital wars, and the term is clearly being misused, as this is a patently analog game. Like “Shogun,” “digital” is a marketing device intended to invoke emotional responses rather than being descriptive.

  1. especially if you play a cutthroat version which doesn’t allow players to test moves before making them []

5/28/2009

Ron Takaki has passed away

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:59 pm

AndrewMc passes on the word from AsianWeek that one of the founders of ethnic studies and real multi-ethnic immigration history has passed away. Takaki was an Americanist primarily, but as I said at PH,

Takaki’s scholarship on ethnicity and immigration were part of the generation of scholarship which cracked the “Great White Men” historiography in both US and World studies.

Certainly my own scholarship on migration would be inconceivable without scholars like him raising issues and questions.

….the next generation, and ours, building on Takaki’s foundations, which began to make the study of migration truly transnational.

I never got to meet Takaki, though I suppose I was only a handshake away from him during my Berkeley sojourn, but I benefitted immensely from the institutions he helped build and the scholarship he fostered.

3/21/2009

George O. Totten III (1922-2009)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:07 am

George O Totten III as Deity George O. Totten III passed away at the beginning of this month; I just saw the obituary on H-Japan. Though I knew Totten mostly through his scholarship on the pre-WWII Japanese left, he published widely on Korea, Korean Americans, and China as well. I did meet him two years ago in Honolulu at ASPAC: He was quite talkative, sharing stories from his career and childhood, catching up with old friends but more than happy to involve younger scholars in the conversation as well. I didn’t realize at the time the extent of his work outside of Japanese political science — that he nominated former Korean president Kim Dae Jung for his Nobel Peace Prize gives you some idea of the extent of his interests and his judgement. He was really one of the few scholars I’ve ever heard of who covered all of East Asia as well as diaspora communities. Quite a record, and an extraordinary life.

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