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Tsushima 対馬 is a really interesting place. Halfway between Korea and Japan, it was ruled for hundreds of years by the Sо̄ samurai house 宗家, retainers to the various successive shogunates *and* by the late 16th c. if not earlier, vassals to the kings of Joseon 朝鮮 (Korea) as well. Unlike the Shimazu house 島津家 of Kagoshima 鹿児島, who conquered the kingdom of Lūchū (Ryūkyū) 琉球 and then treated it in some respects as a vassal state, including by bringing Luchuan embassies to Edo as part of their retainer band and/or simultaneously as representatives of a foreign kingdom under the Shimazu’s sway, by contrast, the Sо̄ did roughly the reverse. Though certainly powerfully protective of their special status as intermediaries with Korea, they were retainers or vassals to both the Tokugawa shoguns and the Korean kings, and so they escorted Korean embassies to Edo less as a display of power than as a fulfillment of obligations of service.

A Korean embassy procession (18th-19thc), as depicted in Tsushima nikki 対馬日記 (replica), on display at the Tsushima Chôsen Tsûshinshi History Museum. Photo my own.

Though the island had been ruled by samurai houses for centuries upon centuries, if I recall correctly, I believe that Joseon officials, scholars, poets, etc. regularly wrote of the island as being fundamentally Korean territory, stolen from Silla or Paekche. And come the late 19th century, Tsushima, like Ryukyu, Ezo (Hokkaido), and several other locations, became a contentious borderland, with Russians and others testing the shogunate to see if it would defend the idea of Tsushima being fully Japanese territory; the Sо̄, understandably, were out of their depth against this threat and begged the shogun to strip them of their fief – that is, for the shogunate to take over Tsushima and deal with the issue themselves.

A view of Tsushima from the jetfoil ferry, just after leaving Izuhara port. Photo my own.

A location like this… I’ve always thought about how the Sо̄ – and their retainers, and others from the island – might perhaps feel a strong sense of ownership and/or belonging to this island, and a conceptual or cultural distance from mainland Japan. I guess in a way it’s a bit hard to put into words what I mean; and, to be honest, the idea I’m trying to get at could honestly go for a wide range of other domains (regions, prefectures), and not only in Japan but in almost any country. Still – I always imagined a sort of feeling of difference when thinking about places like Tsushima, Kagoshima, Matsumae, though again it could apply just as easily to almost anywhere else. This idea of one’s domain as one’s own, distinct, separate territory – “home” – as contrasted with the feel, the vibe, not to mention the climate (and flora and fauna and so forth) of Edo or Kyoto. Coming to Tsushima feels like I’m visiting a particular family’s personal domain, in a way that visiting Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, does not.

That said, how does it actually feel? Well, Tsushima is a massive island, and since I had only 24 hours on the island, and no Japanese driver’s license, I stayed in a rather small, walkable, central downtown part of Izuhara 厳原 – the main port city, home to the current modern City Hall and to the former castle seat of the Sо̄ house. So, I can’t say what the rest of the island feels like. But, just from walking around town, visiting temples, shrines, castle ruins, etc., I have to say, I’m actually surprised to feel like it doesn’t feel all that different from some … for lack of a better word, generic, mainstream, mainland Japanese feeling.

Looking out over Izuhara
A view of a section of Izuhara Town. Photo my own.

When I visited Kagoshima, or islands in the Inland Sea (Hiroshima prefecture), each of those two places felt very distinct. Felt like I was really experiencing the vibe of a different side of Japan, a different region. And Amami О̄shima and Okinawa of course all the more so. Going from Tokyo to Yokohama, Kamakura, Kyoto, Osaka, each of these also had their own distinctive feel. Izuhara… surprisingly… doesn’t. Or, didn’t, to me, in my personal and very limited one-day experience of the island. I dunno. Felt, really, not all that different from other parts of Kyushu or slightly rural / small-town mainland Japan that I’ve been to. Not precisely the same as Wakayama or Utsunomiya or Hikone, of course, but shades of difference rather than a more fully distinct, unique, Tsushima vibe.

Nevertheless, of course, I am very glad and excited to have visited there.

Trying to remember what other towns it sort of reminds me of. The walk from the port terminal into town reminded me of some slightly more rural parts of mainland Kagoshima I’ve been to, and parts of Naze or Kasari-chо̄ on Amami, where you’re walking in an area that really is meant for cars, and you’re wondering how much farther it’ll be before you get to a more properly walkable area with a denser collection of shops, etc. But, on Tsushima, I knew from Google Maps that it would be only a 10 minute walk. And then, bam, there it was – a main street with a large supermarket, post office, banks, a real “city center” sort of feel – like being in Fukuoka City, or any random part of Tokyo, just, smaller. Confined to a much smaller area.

Walking out past that area, it starts to feel like a lot of former castle-towns, or former post-station towns, that I’ve been to. A mix of traditional and modern architecture, dense but not super dense. Hard to know the right way to put it into words. Kind of quaint and touristy in some small sections, and very ordinary urban in some other sections, and then just quiet and “I don’t think there’s anything really to see farther out this way.”

Buke yashiki neighborhood streets
One of the old samurai residential streets in Izuhara; remnants of stone walls, and (original?) wooden gates give the neighborhood some quaint, traditional vibes. Photo my own.

While not being able to drive out further on the island is a bummer, the historical center (I shouldn’t call it “touristy”; I’ve seen literally *one* touristy shop selling souvenirs, postcards; that’s it) is thankfully very walkable. I was nervous about the timing, since I couldn’t get a jetfoil ferry over there from Hakata any earlier than one which arrives on Tsushima at 12:45pm; and I couldn’t get one back that leaves any later than 13:25pm. So I literally had just an afternoon, and a morning – nothing even approaching two days on the island, even though I stayed overnight. But, nevertheless, I was able to walk from the port to the center of town in about 10 mins; from there to the new Museum, the only slightly older Korean Embassies Museum 朝鮮通信使資料館, and the Banshо̄-in temple in about 10-15 mins; from there to Chо̄ju-in temple, where the famous Tsushima foreign relations official Amenomori Hо̄shū 雨森芳洲 is buried, in another 15 mins or so… And, my “hotel” for the night was also only about 5-10 min walk from the center of town. I actually rented a room at one of the town’s historic temples, and in terms of how new and nice the room felt, and the amenities and so forth, it was certainly as nice as any hotel I’ve stayed in.

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The entrance to Temple Stay Seizanji – a beautiful guesthouse as clean, newly remodeled, well-apportioned as any hotel. Photo my own.

One point, for anyone thinking of visiting – while the city center is not by any means devoid of banks, a post office, one singular FamilyMart, a Docomo store (where I was able to rent a portable cellphone charger), and so forth, and while all of these are with very easy 5-10 walk from the center of town, I realized very quickly that, unlike in Kyoto or Tokyo or other places, you can’t just walk and expect to run into them. In big cities, I will usually just head to a given temple, museum, or other site, and expect that I will reliably hit a convenience store or at least a vending machine along the way. Not so in Izuhara. Going from the main tourist info center to the Museum, to Banshо̄-in, you will encounter zero cafes, zero convenience stores, zero ATMs, I’m not even sure there are any soda vending machines (until you get to Banshо̄-in), unless you intentionally go and walk 5 mins in the opposite direction, deeper into the real center of town, to get to those destinations.

But, back to talking about the sights:

Hyakugani Steps
Hyakugangi 百雁木 stairs up to the Sо̄ family graves at Banshо̄-in. Photo my own.

Visiting the Sо̄ family temple of Banshо̄-in and getting to see the graves of each of the successive heads of the family, and many of their wives and children, was very cool. It’s something like this that I think makes me feel especially strongly that feeling of this being their domain. And while the fact that lords’ wives and children (and the lords themselves, especially when they were children) typically spent an extremely significant portion of their lives in Edo and not “home” in the domain complicates this, nevertheless, there is this feeling that Tsushima is where the ancestors’ graves are, where the family “home” castle and home domain is. The mountains, the rivers, the docks, the particular temples and shrines and town streets that are “home” to someone from Tsushima. Of course, there’s the complicating factor again of the question of just how often a lord – or any other particular individual of any status – actually walked those streets, or visited those ports, or those temples or shrines. But, let’s not get ourselves distracted. It’s the feeling that comes with knowing, and seeing, those ancestral graves here, on Tsushima, in/atop the earth of this island, at Banshо̄-in and not at some temple in Kyoto – the Banshо̄-in, the Banshо̄-in temple that means so much to the Sо̄ family and which most people not from Tsushima would never have heard of. The Kaneishi castle which was home to so many generations of Sо̄ family heads, their wives and other relatives, their retainers and officials and their staffs… The Kaneishi castle that felt like home to so many – and like an intimidating, impressive, center of power to so many others – and which, again, was utterly unknown to so many more.

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Restored main gate of Kaneishi castle (left), and the new Tsushima Museum (right). Photo my own.

Today, there is even less of that castle than I might have expected. The main gate has been restored, and looks very cool and iconic. But beyond it, there is (unless I missed something?) more or less nothing to be seen. At Fukuoka castle, at least, there are stone walls and moats, and one can walk around and see signs denoting what buildings used to stand where, and what portion of the castle grounds you’re now in. Not so much at Kaneishi.

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The Tsushima Museum. Photo my own.

What there is, however, is the brand new Tsushima Museum 対馬博物館, which opened literally less than a month ago – April 30, 2022. I had heard about it, somehow, and – not as if I was going to zoom over there anyway, in the middle of a pandemic, and amidst various other trips that I did end up making over the past several years – I waited and watched, and paid attention, so that I could be sure that when (if) I ever did go to Tsushima, it would be after they opened.

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One of a number of tables, seating areas at the Tsushima Museum. Not sure if this is just totally open for free use by the public, but some other similar areas are. If I by chance lived in town, I can imagine coming here and using it as just a cool place to sit and work. If they allow food/drink. Photo my own.

It’s a gorgeous, impressive, building. Looks great inside and out, I feel. A distinctive, dark, style – this was definitely a choice – but I think it works. Sleek, looks and feels very new. Feels to me like a cool, very compelling place to want to have meetings, or just to spend time. If there were a café or something, I’d definitely see it as a place to just go and enjoy the atmosphere, to either sit and read/work or to talk with friends… there are several spaces in the building with chairs and tables in beautiful nooks that could be great for this, if only there were a café serving food and beverages.

The permanent exhibits galleries were, as might be expected, very sleek, new, very contemporary-feeling. As much as I wish I were more expert at gallery design, I don’t really quite have the eye for what exactly to note, what exactly was or wasn’t innovative or up-to-date reflective of the newest trends. But it certainly felt sleek and new to me.

I am so glad the Museum allowed photos in the permanent galleries. I did buy a catalog, but even so, so happy to have been able to take and keep all these photos, remind myself not just of the items but of the views and spaces and experience of walking through it. And to be able to share these images with you.

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First gallery: Prehistory

Several of the galleries featured “open storage” style displays, which allow visitors to not just look at a very few items selected out to be highlighted, but rather a larger number of items, all at once. For prehistoric and other archaeologically excavated artifacts, I think this is particularly wonderful, as it gives a sense of the number/volume of items discovered, the wealth of finds, as well as the variety.

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The exhibits begin, as we might expect, with the earliest periods of prehistory. I was surprised to read that, even though much evidence has been found of human settlement on “mainland” Kyushu, and in Korea, i.e. both north and south of Tsushima, going back tens of thousands of years – including some of the oldest pottery in the world, dating back roughly 10,000 years ago – no such evidence has been found on Tsushima: nothing older than about 7300 years ago. A really interesting question and mystery; surely if people found their way from the continent (Korea) to the Japanese islands so many tens of thousands of years ago, you would think they would have settled Tsushima as well. And we must remember, this is a span of tens of thousands of years we’re talking about – even if the island wasn’t settled 10,000 years ago, or if it was and then the settlement died out, why wouldn’t new people come and settle there (again) ten or a hundred or a thousand years later? Tons of time, tons of opportunities for settlements to happen – and from what little I understand, I can only presume that they did – and yet, for some reason, no evidence has yet been found. I loved the way they represented this with an empty display case, rather than with no display case at all (and just solely text).

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The galleries also included a small number of videos and animation screens, and a few hands-on activities, such as getting to lift and sense the weight of an ancient (Kofun era) sword or printing your own real and imposter seals, helping make the exhibits feel, if not “innovative,” then still certainly fresh, cool, contemporary. It may be difficult to tell from these static, flat, photos, but the aesthetic mood or atmosphere in the galleries was actually very cool. It looks dark in the photos, perhaps, but it was certainly well-lit enough to make your way around, and to see everything well enough; while some museums are rather well-lit, and some dark enough (for conservation reasons) that you can’t really see the works properly, at the Tsushima Museum, the darkness functioned (for me at least) to give everything just a bit of a sense of mystery and a sort of air of impressiveness, while still being well-lit enough that you could make your way through the galleries and see the works clearly enough very easily. I quite liked the choice.

A 1469 temple bell, made in Japan with Korean stylistic features. Nationally-designated Important Cultural Property. Photos my own.

One item that was particularly interesting was this 1469 bronze temple bell. It was beautifully situated, with spotlights that really centered it and drew attention to it, and to a small bronze Buddha in the same room, making the two very clearly highlights of the exhibit. I would never have known or realized on my own, but as the gallery labels explain, this bell shows a combination of features of Japanese and Korean bells; and the labels further explain, or point out, a number of the differences in those features. Made me think back to the fact that some of the most famous historic bells in Ryukyu were made in Korea, and to want to take another look at them to see what features I can notice.

After seeing this, I then saw the famous Bridge of All Nations Bell 万国津梁鐘 on display at the Tokyo National Museum – cast in 1458, right around the same time as many of Okinawa’s most famous bells, and hung for centuries at Shuri castle, but I don’t think I ever realized before that it’s actually of Japanese, not Korean, manufacture. Brought up this photo of the gallery label from the Tsushima Museum, and was able to look at what features mark it as Japanese-style. Very interesting to be able to do. I’m certainly going to try to keep it in mind the next time I’m at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and have the chance to see some of those bells.

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Next, there was a wonderful small section talking about the use of fake seals to help allow for a greater volume of trade. This was a major element of roughly c. 14th-16th century trade in East Asia, as regional governments – China, Korea, Japan – implemented various sorts of policies around legitimate, authorized, traders having to have the proper seals, or sealed documents, to mark them as being authorized traders and not smugglers, brigands, pirates. And so, with trade being at times so narrowly limited, and localities such as Tsushima relying heavily on trade to survive or prosper, there ended up being a lot of fake seals in use.

The actual seals on display at the Tsushima Museum were all replicas, but since the Kyushu National Museum doesn’t allow photos in their galleries, this was the closest I could get to being able to photograph the seals and gallery label content about them, and I really appreciated it.

The exhibits then moved on to also display a number of documents faked by Tsushima domain in the early years of the 1600s, during what has come to be known as the Yanagawa Incident. Eager to secure rapprochement and re-initiate friendly relations between Japan and Korea (or, that is, between the Joseon royal court and the Tokugawa shogunate, with the Sо̄ house as intermediaries) in the aftermath of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s devastating invasions of Korea in the 1590s, the Sо̄ forged a number of letters pretending to be from the shogun to the king of Korea, or vice versa. I need to read up about this more, learn more precisely the ins and outs of what happened, but in the end, if I remember correctly, Sо̄ house retainer Yanagawa Shigeoki was severely punished, but the Sо̄ were able to make like it was all his fault, done under their noses, something like that, and so they were able to keep their domain. Would have been hard for the Tokugawa to oust them, anyway, since it was the Sо̄ and the Sо̄ alone who had hundreds of years of experience and good faith in effecting relations with the Korean court. I’m not sure what role Korea might have played in actively petitioning the Tokugawa to allow the Sо̄ to stay – or not – but it’s a really interesting incident. And here we got to see on display not just some of the forged documents, but also a diagram – a sort of floor map or seating chart – showing how notable figures were arranged for the formal meeting in 1635 between Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, Sо̄ Yoshinari (lord of Tsushima), and Yanagawa Shigeoki, at the Shogun’s castle in Edo, to address this issue.

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Seating chart for 1635 audience, at the Grand Audience Hall of Edo castle, granted by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu to Sо̄ Yoshinari and Yanagawa Shigeoki (among others) to address the falsification of documents incident. Photo my own.
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A video animation of a Korean embassy procession, and several procession scrolls on display in the Early Modern gallery. Photo my own.

This last gallery in the permanent exhibits – which I didn’t realize was the last gallery, already – was dedicated to the early modern history of the island, i.e. the history of Tsushima domain, and consisted chiefly of (1) a few beautiful displays of Korean embassy procession scrolls and discussion of the role of Tsushima in effecting Korean-Japanese relations in that period, and (2) an open storage style display of pottery and other artifacts found at the former site of the Sо̄ clan castles and mansions, and elsewhere.

I feel bad to be negative, and perhaps if I were a specialist in particular other periods or aspects of the history I might, actually, have felt the same way about those sections, but as an early modernist, I have to admit I was disappointed at how small, and brief, the early modern section felt. Thinking about the Kagoshima Prefectural Museum (Reimeikan) or the Fukuoka City Museum, the volume and density of information presented at those museums about those domains’ early modern history, from domain governance and economics to demography and social organization to local culture (prominent artists, poets, writers) to a chronology or brief biographies of each of the successive lords, to discussions of notable incidents in the history… By contrast, the Tsushima Museum felt like there was so much more they could (should) cover. Felt beautifully designed, impressive, enjoyable, but just too brief.

Documents of the Sô Clan (Sôke monjo) 宗家文書

Still, just before leaving the galleries, there was one more display that was particularly interesting, describing the Sо̄ke monjo 宗家文書, or “Documents of the Sо̄ House” – an incredible array of over 100,000 original historical documents (and other materials?) pertaining to the history of the island, and in particular to the history of the Sо̄ house, its governance of the island, and so forth. These documents are today divided up between about six different archives, with about 80,000 items now held at the Museum on Tsushima, in a newly-established (or newly rehoused, at least) Nagasaki Prefectural Research Center for History of Tsushima, about 28,000 held in Seoul, and the remainder held at the Kyushu National Museum or at various institutes & museums in Tokyo. As with other similar document collections, historians are doing tedious but fascinating, incredible, vital work at gradually transcribing and publishing these texts, reading through them and making new discoveries that deepen our understanding of not just local Tsushima history, but the history of Korea-Japan relations, the history of domain-shogunate relations, samurai culture, and so forth throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

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Leaving the galleries, one is then directed to a series of small displays about individual events or aspects of Tsushima’s modern history, including the abolition of the domain and incorporation of the island into Nagasaki prefecture in 1872; the Battle of Tsushima in 1905; the wedding in 1931 of Sо̄ Takeyuki to Deokhye, the daughter of the last kind of Joseon – which is actually really interesting, and something I did not realized had happened; and the beginning of reenactments of the Korean embassies in 1980.

And then the special exhibits gallery – a beautiful small exhibit, and if I lived here or were able to visit more frequently, I’d be genuinely and eagerly excited to see what themes they might cover in future; I’m sure many of them will be quite exciting. But it’s so small! I’m not sure the current (first) special exhibit has more than 15 or maybe 20 items in it. I’m hoping that maybe they have a second or even third special exhibits gallery that could accommodate a larger exhibit, but just isn’t being used for this one. I do think, if I remember correctly, there were some signs or closed-off doors, suggesting there is more space that just wasn’t being used at the time.

The remainder of the building is a gorgeous, impressive, airy space, with much of it given over to a massive lobby and to a number of small meeting rooms, lounges, and so forth, plus of course research offices, storage, and so forth. As a visitor, I cannot help but to think it a shame that so much of this space is taken up by this grand atrium, and not by more exhibition space. But, then, what do I know?

Not sure what to say in conclusion, except that it really is a beautiful museum, and it was a pleasure to get to visit and explore Izuhara, and to finally see for myself first-hand a little bit of a taste of what this particular corner of Japan – this island situated between Japan and Korea, separated from the “mainland” islands, with its own fascinating distinct history – looks and feels like. I wish it might be easier, and cheaper, to be able to go visit again. I suppose I will keep my eyes on what temporary exhibits they’re doing in future, and try to take that as an impetus for when might be the right time to try visiting again. I hope I get to do so someday.

Boats in Izuhara

There are, of course, constantly new news articles about various aspects of the ongoing military base issue in Okinawa, and I cannot take the time (or energy) to read them all. In fact, I’ll be honest, I rarely read any of them at all.

But the image in this article (originally from the Ryukyu Shimpo, reposted by Yahoo News) happened to catch my eye, for some of the phrasing on the sign. The middle line, which was the first to catch my eye, reads 「日米のやりたい放題を許さない!」(Nichibei no yaritai hо̄dai wo yurusanai!), or roughly “We do not permit” or “We will not forgive,” “Japan and the United States doing what they want as much as they want.” Perhaps if I followed the protests more closely, I might be more familiar with this phrasing, but in my personal experience, I think this was the first time I’ve seen this, and I just love the phrasing. I’m not sure that my translation quite captures it, but in Japanese it feels rather compact and to the point to me – hо̄dai 放題 means “as much as you want” or “as much as you can,” and is a phrase we see all the time, e.g. at restaurants advertising a flat price for “all you can eat” (食べ放題, tabehо̄dai) or “all you can drink” (飲み放題, nomihо̄dai). But here it’s やりたい放題 yaritai hо̄dai, “all you can want to do,” which I think captures the apparent attitude of the Japanese gov’t and American military pretty well. This is of course seen in the now 25+ year long refusal to close the Futenma Air Station, and insistence on building a new base in Henoko Bay, despite extensive local protest, as well as decades of the military’s endangerment of the Okinawan people and their land through the transport and storage on Okinawa of sarin and other chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and experimental aircraft, and through the countless never-ending cases of physical and sexual violence and other crimes committed by servicemembers. If the military is protecting Okinawa in some grand geopolitical or regional security sense, is it really doing enough to protect the Okinawan people locally, on the ground, from itself? … We see this, too, in the secrecy and denials surrounding the number of Covid cases on-base in Okinawa over the past several years, when new daily Covid cases among the civilian population were in the single or very low double digits each day for months at a time, and then on multiple occasions exploded due to outbreaks on-base when then spread into the population; and we see it paralleled as well in the Red Hill fuel leaks, in which military jet fuel was leaking into the main watershed for the City of Honolulu, on and off, from time to time, over the course of the last 80 years, and even after the military finally declassified it, they then continued to downplay it, distract, deny, and delay taking the necessary responsible actions.

In any case, I did have to look up the first big word in red on this protest sign, which reads ガッティンナラン (gattin naran). My Okinawan is sorely rusty, and was never more than a very beginner level to begin with, but if I’m understanding correctly, it basically just means “there is no consent!”

The words in black, 日本「復帰」50年 (Nihon fukki gojūnen) translate to “Fifty years since Japanese ‘reversion.'” I can’t be sure if these brackets are intentionally being used the way we would use quotes in English, to sort of question the veracity or meaning of the word “reversion,” but I would imagine we can take it that way. This year, 2022, does in fact represent the 50th anniversary of the end of the US Occupation of Okinawa and the “reversion” of Okinawa to being a part of Japan, in the sense of being ruled by a civilian government, elected officials in municipal, prefectural, and national government just like all other parts of Japan. I am not expert at the precise ins and outs of just how much support there was in Okinawa for which eventualities, and under what assumptions. But my general impression is that, yes, there was a lot of popular support in Okinawa for “reversion,” for a few key reasons: (1) who wouldn’t want the end of a military occupation, rule by a foreign military under essentially martial law? (2) the belief that the end of the Occupation would bring a very significant reduction, if not total removal, of the US military presence in the islands, and (3) looking at how comparatively democratic and economically prosperous Japan was becoming at the time, Okinawans wanted a part of that. At least, this is the basic story I’ve heard. Someday maybe I’ll read more deeply and gain a more nuanced, complicated, understanding of the whole thing – postwar is not my period of expertise. But, even if a majority of the Okinawan people did want reversion, the fine details were worked out entirely by Tokyo and Washington, without Okinawan leadership at the negotiating table. Ultimately, reversion took place when and how Tokyo and Washington agreed it would, and Okinawa had to simply go along with it – and go along with, in particular, the US military presence not being reduced very much, if at all. (I think it may have grown considerably, in fact, though I may be confusing that with a slightly different time period.) Further, I imagine that at least some Okinawans today question the notion of “reversion” as a notion that erases the history of Ryukyuan independence and sovereignty, and of Japanese (and American) imperialism and colonialism. I am reminded again of a pamphlet I was very lucky to get my hands on in the Okinawa Prefectural Library, entitled “Japan is Not Our Fatherland” (Yamazato Eikichi, 1969).

The final line on this sign, in blue, reads 命どぅ宝 (nuchi du takara, “life is a treasure”), and then the name of the organization, 琉球の自己決定権の会 (Ryūkyū no jiko ketteiken no kai). I am not sure if the group has an official English translation of their name, but I’d venture to call it something like “The Association for the Ryukyuan Right of Self-Determination.” I must admit, I’m not sure I’d come across the Japanese word for “right of self-determination” before. So, they’re not pulling any punches. Admittedly, they haven’t included any words pointing to indigeneity, but they’ve come right up as far as that line, with the term “rights of self-determination.”

…….

A very rough translation of the news article itself:

Prior to welcoming (meeting) the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, a rally (held by the Nuchi du Takara! Association for Ryukyuan Rights of Self-Determination) took place on the 3rd in Yogi Park, holding signs saying “Gattin naran! Japan reversion 50 years! We won’t forgive Japan and the US doing as they wish as much as they want!” Speakers expressed voices such as that the continued US military base burden and movements toward the strengthening of Japan Self-Defense Forces bases since after reversion perpetuate a situation completely opposite to the desires expressed by the Reversion Movement for a peaceful Okinawa devoid of bases. And they appealed for the establishment of rights of self-determination, for Okinawa to decide its own future.

Yogi Park sits next to the Naha Civic Hall* where the Reversion Ceremony took place on the day of reversion, fifty years ago. Anti-reversion protests took place in the park that day; it was the very center of the reversion [and anti-reversion] movement. Amid intermittent rain, those attending the rally held up umbrellas and turned their ears to what the eight speakers were emphasizing. Yonamine Yoshio pointed out that even though the burden of the military bases, and sacrifices for maintaining the US-Japan Security Treaty order/system are concentrated in Okinawa, the people of Okinawa are not able/ready to be aware of this truth. He argued that since the reversion movement itself was based in assimilation to Japan, the contradiction has become difficult to see. Yokota Chiyoko (93) recalled that when she was living on Saipan during the war, people were unable to secure safe water, and many children died. Touching upon the pollution of the water supply caused by PFAS chemicals that is, incident by incident, becoming public knowledge in Okinawa, she criticized that even fifty years after reversion, even the situation of the dangers of drinking water continues. Following the rally, participants marched down Himeyuri Avenue.


沖縄の日本復帰から50周年を迎えるのを前に「ガッティンナラン! 日本『復帰』50年! 日米のやりたい放題を許さない!」と題した集会(命どぅ宝!琉球の自己決定権の会主催)が3日、那覇市の与儀公園で催された。登壇者らは復帰後も続く米軍基地負担や自衛隊基地増強の動きに、基地のない平和な沖縄を願った復帰運動とは「真逆の状況に置かれている」(主催団体の与那嶺義雄共同代表)などと声を上げ、沖縄の前途は沖縄で決める自己決定権の確立を訴えた。  与儀公園は復帰当日に記念式典が行われた那覇市民会館に隣接し、当時復帰に抗議する「5・15抗議県民総決起大会」が行われるなど、復帰運動の拠点となった場所だ。時折雨が降る中、来場者らは傘を差して登壇者8人の主張に耳を傾けた。  与那嶺氏は日米安全保障体制維持のための基地負担と犠牲が沖縄に集中しているにもかかわらず、「その事実を県民が自覚できていない」と指摘。復帰運動自体が日本への同化を基調としていたために「矛盾が見えづらくなっている」と問題視した。  横田チヨ子さん(93)は、太平洋戦争当時に暮らしたサイパンでは、安全な水を確保できず多くの子どもが亡くなったと振り返った。県内で次々明るみになる有機フッ素化合物(PFAS)による水質汚染に触れ「復帰50年たっても飲み水さえ危ない状況が続いている」と批判した。参加者らはその後、ひめゆり通りをデモ行進した。

….

*This Naha Civic Hall (那覇市民会館, Naha shimin kaikan) is, I believe, either currently slated for demolition or has already been demolished. I don’t know anything about whether there are or were plans to keep it intact until, or renovate it or replace it in time for, the anniversary of Reversion on May 15, 2022, but the last I saw it, it was surrounded by high construction fences and looked entirely derelict and abandoned. Not that it ever looked like it was in good shape to begin with, ever since my first time coming across it in 2013 or 2016 or so. I wonder what the plans are for it, in fact. If it has been, or will be demolished, then what might be built in its place. I guess we’ll see. Hideous building, in any case.

The King’s Dream

I saw a rather interesting one-man play the other day, which I thought I’d like to share about.

I guess I’ll say from the opening that I don’t know what exactly I have to say – I only saw the play once, and don’t have any images or recording from it to go back over it again, and I didn’t take all that many notes during the show. But it was an interesting performance, about an interesting topic, and so I figured I should write and post something , at least, before it all fades from my memory entirely.

The show itself was interesting, but I guess maybe I’ll start with the content, the subject matter.

The King’s Dream is a one-man show about Elias Abraham Rosenberg, an Ashkenazi Jew from San Francisco who became a trusted advisor to King David Kalākaua of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Surprising? Not so surprising? Little is known about Rosenberg, as you might expect, and I wonder if interest in him might be restricted to an incredibly niche audience – namely, Jews living in Hawaiʻi. Or might he be of some broader interest? I guess you’ll have to tell me.

Photo my own. Taken at Temple Emanu-el, Honolulu, Dec 2011.

Though, I’d imagine, that even if only as a point of trivia, as a matter of a weird, interesting, surprising thing, you might be surprised to hear that a Torah scroll and a silver yad (a special ritual pointer used when reading Torah so you don’t touch it with your filthy fingers) gifted to the king by Rosenberg still survive, and are today displayed at Temple Emanu-el, the only dedicated-built synagogue in the islands. I wonder how many other Torah scrolls in the world have a royal crest affixed to their cloth coverings.

The play itself was, as I suppose many one-man shows are, a bit more a matter of narrative storytelling than “acting.” Which isn’t to impugn the talents of Dr. Michael Schuster, who created and performed the piece, but just as a matter of description.

The play opens, first, with a medley of pieces played beautifully by violinist Rachel Saul, leading from traditional Jewish songs (a Yiddish klezmer dance, and the Hebrew prayer Etz Chaim) into Sweet Lei Lahua (written by King Kalākaua himself) and a Kalākaua March written in his honor, and then back to another Jewish song (Simon tov) – a striking but beautiful combination.

Schuster first comes out, playing the role of an unnamed narrator, perhaps meant to be Schuster himself. He introduces his own background somewhat, showing photos of his grandparents or great-grandparents, talking about the time and place they lived in, and if I remember correctly, that they, like Rosenberg’s parents, similarly fled persecution or violence in Ukraine or Russia. Showing images and talking about them, or using images as visual embellishments to the verbal storytelling, would be the prominent mode in this performance. Schuster is, after all, a scholar of Asian storytelling and puppetry, and an experienced puppeteer and storyteller himself – this is his mode.

He then goes on to recount the biblical tale of the Patriarch Joseph, who was taken to Egypt, imprisoned, became a sort of soothsayer or advisor to Pharaoh, interpreting the monarch’s dreams. Rosenberg would end up following a somewhat similar path.

Schuster later changes clothes several times, taking on the identity of Rosenberg and reading from a small book said to be Rosenberg’s diary, putting on a Yiddish accent to evoke the culture which Rosenberg was from. I wonder what a 19th century Jew from San Francisco, the son of Yiddish-speaking immigrants, might have actually sounded like. Well, in any case, it worked for me – evoked a certain era and culture beautifully. And the costume as well, with a flat cap, vest, and a certain style of shirt and trousers… matched a particular image of the 19th c. Ashkenazi peddler type beautifully.

In any case, both in this Tale of Joseph section, and as he later moved into telling Rosenberg’s story, Schuster made use of a beautiful and intricate wooden cabinet, which at first appeared to be a set piece, a lectern like one would find on the bimah, the stage at an Ashkenazi-style synagogue, from which a rabbi would lead services and from which individuals would read from the Torah. However, doors or panels on the front of the cabinet are opened to reveal beautiful pictures of scenes from the story being told, and then fold back or aside to make way for further doors to be opened again, revealing new sets of images, again and again, in a marvel of woodworking and design that, alone, was really quite impressive and marvelous. The program tells us this was designed and built by Schuster and Troy Walden, and was inspired by the Rajastani tradition of kavad storytelling. Beautiful.

Schuster uses this and several other sets of images to tell his story, reminding me of the Japanese kami shibai (“paper theatre play”) tradition, though I am sure that many cultures have equivalents.

I’m a little unclear on just how much of the play was based directly on what’s known, and what may have been a bit fictionalized to fill in the gaps. I am particularly skeptical that Schuster had a copy of Rosenberg’s actual diary, as the unnamed narrator of the play claims, and frankly I wouldn’t know if such a diary even exists at all. But, then again, if it does, I’d presume it very well might be found in the Hawaii State Archives or the Bishop Museum (which hosts one large portion of the royal family’s collections), and that Schuster therefore very well may have been able to access and read it. Even if it’s written partially, or largely, in Yiddish or Hebrew, I wouldn’t be surprised if Schuster has the language skills to read it.

In any case, I apologize for not taking the time to go read up and confirm or check the details, as to just what might be the truth of Rosenberg’s life and what might have been invented or embellished for the play, but, in a nutshell, here’s what I remember from Schuster’s narrative: Rosenberg’s father fled pogroms (violent antisemitic mobs or riots) in Ukraine to move to the US, and then some decades later, Rosenberg was living in San Francisco when he ran afoul of the police. Whether he was actually guilty or not, and of what, I’m unclear, but Wikipedia tells us he may have been illegally selling lottery tickets. In any case, he fled San Francisco in order to avoid getting arrested or imprisoned, and made his way to Honolulu.

How exactly he attracted the attention of the King, I’m afraid I didn’t quite follow. Somehow, I missed that part of the story. But, somehow, he did. Kalākaua was a deeply religious Christian man, raised in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church like other Moʻi or Aliʻi Nui (“high chiefs,” i.e. kings) before him, and was also a powerful promoter of the revival of ancient Hawaiian knowledge and traditions, including hula, mele (chants), and oral mythohistories such as the Kumulipo. So I would not be at all surprised that Rosenberg’s knowledge of Torah and Talmud, of Jewish theology and philosophy, and so forth, and the Hebrew chants, songs, and prayers, and Jewish ritual practices Rosenberg would have been able to demonstrate, could have been of great interest to the king. Kalākaua was a highly educated, talented, and culturally experienced man, as well – he was the first monarch of any country to circumnavigate the globe, visiting a great many countries; I am not sure how many languages he spoke, but he composed music, wrote and published the Kumulipo, oversaw the construction of a grand palace combining Western and Hawaiian stylistic elements (and equipped with phones and electric lighting before most other royal or presidential residences in the world) as well as designing a grand coronation ceremony for himself which did similarly in order to impress upon the Western powers that Hawaiʻi was a modern and sovereign nation, to be treated with respect and as a member of the family of nations; he also commissioned a now-famous statue of Kamehameha I, and made efforts to negotiate a grand Pan-Asia-Pacific Alliance, which, if the Empire of Japan had joined, well, who knows what might have happened in terms of repelling Western imperialism in at least some parts of the world (much of the Pacific had already been colonized by that point).

But I suppose I’m getting off-topic. In any case, I’m not really sure what to say about precisely which stories or lessons or topics or discussions Rosenberg discussed with Kalākaua, but, again, we are led to believe that his knowledge of the Bible, of Jewish values and philosophy, of perspectives and attitudes about G-d, interpretations of Scripture, and so forth were of great interest to, and were greatly appreciated by, the king. Rosenberg was at some point named kahuna kilokilo, a term which Wikipedia suggests might be translated as soothsayer, or even prophet.

Was Rosenberg indeed some kind of great scholar or sage? Who knows. Was he a mystic or otherwise in possession of some kind of particular spiritual powers or supernatural vision? Unlikely. Was he some sort of shyster, con artist, or charlatan? Well, as someone intrigued by this story of surely the most prominent Jew in Hawaiian history, I would like to think not; I would like to think more highly of him, that he’s someone worth at least some degree of looking back upon as a good person, an impressive person. But, who knows?

As it happened, Rosenberg left Hawaiʻi in 1887 just weeks before the so-called Bayonet Constitution was forced upon the kingdom, stripping the king and the Native Hawaiian nobility (the aliʻi) of much of their power and granting considerable power to prominent haoles – sugar plantation owners and others, many of them officially royal subjects (i.e. Hawaiian citizens) but essentially Americans. This was a major step in the dismantling of the kingdom, following various other stages inflicted upon the kingdom in decades prior, beginning with the introduction and rapid expansion of Christianity; the royalty themselves overturning various ancient kapu (taboos) and sacred practices and ordering the destruction of kiʻi (statues of the gods) and heiau (temples); the implementation of earlier Constitutions which granted greater political power and land rights to haoles and diminished the power of the Hawaiian people to have control over their own lands, society, economy, and destiny; and so forth. Following this Bayonet Constitution, the kingdom would be more completely occupied and placed under haole control in the 1890s, with the support of US Marines, and then unilaterally declared annexed by Congress in 1898, an act which of course has no legal basis in US or international law. Congress might as well declare England or Japan to be US territory – doesn’t make it so. It has been well-established since that the overthrow, annexation, whatever we want to call it, was illegal then and remains illegal now; Congress itself declared in an official Apology Resolution in 1993 that “the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum,” though, of course, apology or no apology, Hawaiʻi remains occupied today.

In any case, I wonder what Rosenberg saw or knew of these coming developments when he left in June 1887, just before the Bayonet Constitution was imposed. If he was close with the Moʻi, then surely he had considerable knowledge of political developments and crises; how close might he have been with the haole community, and with these prominent traitors, to have been in on their plans or intentions?

According to the play, he left when he did because he had heard that somehow circumstances had changed in San Francisco and that he would be able to return and be reunited with his wife and children without being sought after by the police. Wikipedia says it was because of his own bad health and/or because of the political unrest in Hawaiʻi. Either way, he was hospitalized soon after returning to San Francisco and died just a few weeks later. Schuster showed photos of his grave, which is in a cemetery affiliated with Congregation Sherith Israel of SF; I’d be curious to visit it myself someday, perhaps the next time I find myself in San Francisco.

Michael Schuster as E. Abraham Rosenberg, from the program to the play.

Wikipedia tells us that Rosenberg was perhaps born around 1810, which would have made him around 75-76 years old when he first left California for Hawaiʻi to begin with, returning roughly a year later and dying around the age of 76-77. From what tiny bit I ever knew of him before – basically nothing except for having seen the Torah scroll and yad on display and reading/hearing that he’d been some kind of adviser to the king – I never imagined him so old. I don’t know if I thought he was in his 30s or 40s, or in his 50s or 60s when he was in Hawaiʻi, but just given the length of the sea journey, and the diseases and so forth of the time, it just didn’t occur to me that he might be that old. Kalākaua was born in 1836, making him about 50 years old when he first met Rosenberg – very much fully a mature, capable, experienced, adult, but nevertheless young enough to see a 75-year-old man as a sage-like figure, an elder, from whom he might learn. But Kalākaua himself died in San Francisco just a few years later, in Jan 1891, of disease, at only the age of 54. His predecessor as king, Lunalilo, died of tuberculosis in 1874, at the age of only 39. So, I think we have good reason to have not initially imagined that Rosenberg would be 75 already before ever first traveling to Hawaiʻi.

Schuster concluded the performance with some of this epilogue, describing what happened to the kingdom after Rosenberg’s departure. The play overall was, indeed, a rather enjoyable, and unique, experience, and I’m so glad I caught it during my brief time in Hawaiʻi. I hope that it was recorded in some fashion; even if the recording is never made widely available, it would be wonderful just to know that this distinctive event, performed only twice for very small audiences, was captured, recorded, in some fashion, and won’t be simply lost to time.

I of course take a particular interest in this sort of thing because I am myself Jewish. And it is because of my own Jewish background that I also take a particular interest in the histories of the Shanghai and Kaifeng Jews, and of the various Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Romaniote* communities with their fascinatingly diverse cultures and (sadly, in most cases tragic) histories all across the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, the Arab world, Iran, and beyond.

But I would think this sort of thing hopefully of at least some interest to others as well – as I said at the beginning of this post, an unexpected, surprisingly, interconnection of different peoples, different threads of history. We learn from the story of Elias Abraham Rosenberg that Hawaiian history is not 100% a story devoid of any prominent Jewish actors, and that Jewish history does not take place solely in Europe, the United States, and Israel/Palestine. Kalākaua traveled the world, meeting with the Meiji Emperor and proposing the marriage of his niece Kaʻiulani to one of the imperial princes of Japan, though that never ended up taking place. Kaʻiulani herself traveled in 1893 to Washington DC in an effort to convince Pres. Cleveland to halt or reverse the dismantling of the kingdom, and her aunts, Queen Kapiʻolani and then Crown Princess (later ruling Queen) Liliʻuokalani attended Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in London in 1887. Jews occupied prominent positions in the Ottoman and Persian courts, and Sephardic Jews from the Caribbean were among the first Jews to ever settle in what is now the United States – before any Ashkenazi Jews came over from Europe. I’ve seen Torah scrolls from China written on silk instead of deer hide, and a rubbing from a 15th c. Chinese stele from a Kaifeng synagogue. Cultural exchange and interesting, unexpected, intersections and interactions are everywhere across history. You never know what you might come across.


*Sephardic Jews are descended from those expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Settling in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, and North Africa, they maintained a variety of Judeo-Spanish languages, such as Ladino, down to the present day while incorporating numerous cultural influences of the places where they settled, as well as influencing those cultures.

Mizrahi is, to my knowledge, a relatively recent new term, encapsulating the Jewish communities of the Arab world and Persia, descended not from the Sephardim, from Spain, but from Jewish communities which have lived in the Middle East since before Islam. Not in any way thieves or appropriators, let alone colonizers, of Middle Eastern foods and culture, they are – as a group, if not in the case of every last family – descendants of the peoples who lived in those lands since long prior to the Arab invasions.

Romaniote Jews, a group which I myself only learned of a few years ago, are Greek Jews, also descended not from the Sephardim, from those who left Spain, but from the Greek Jews who’d been there since the Roman Empire, if not earlier. A number of the Apostles in the Christian Scriptures were Greek Jews, who spoke + wrote in Greek. Where do you think they came from, if not from this sort of origin? Certainly not from Poland and Lithuania.

Given all the much-merited focus over the course of this past year on the incredible lies being peddled by Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer and the ways in which ultrarightwing ethnonationalist liars (history deniers) work with figures like him to attempt to strengthen their positions and to validate their bullshit, I suppose this is old news in a sense, and the very same Okinawa Times article I discuss here may have made the rounds on Twitter already, I’m not sure.

But, I was just curious to see what the Okinawa Times had to say about Ramseyer’s racist lies, so I went and dug up this roughly 9-month-old news article in the microfilm. I am not sure to what extent the Times has reported on Ramseyer otherwise, but this was the one article I happened upon.

The first half of this short article largely just summarizes what’s said in this excerpt from one of his (unpublished?) English-lang papers which he apparently presented (at some venue?) in Jan 2020. The paper in full (entitled “A Monitoring Theory of the Underclass: With Examples from Outcastes, Koreans, and Okinawans in Japan”) can be found here: http://chwe.net/irle/ramseyer_monitoring_theory.pdf. Much thanks to Prof. Michael Chwe for making this, and so much else of crucial relevance to these “history wars” issues, available.

I have not yet read the paper in full, and I don’t know if I care to, but from the excerpt reprinted in the Times, we can already see some very standard rightwing mischaracterizations of the Futenma issue and some rather racist suggestions about Okinawan capabilities and society. This is textbook orientalism and colonialism.


First, of course, there is the racist notion that Okinawans are somehow fundamentally less capable, blaming their poverty and various societal problems on some “dysfunctional” failing of the Okinawan people themselves, as if it’s inherent in their race, genetics, or culture, with zero mention of their colonization and neglect by Japan, the negative impact of the military bases, etc. Again, I admit I haven’t read the full paper, but even so, the argument suggested here is appalling.


And within this very same article, he explicitly states

“I avoid the well-known ethnic disputes in the U.S. and elsewhere deliberately but reluctantly — for the simple reason that the hyper-polarization within the academy has made candid discussion of ethnic politics extraordinarily hard. Perhaps otherwise unfamiliar examples will permit freer discussion” (p2)

in other words essentially saying that he uses the Japan case to say things he would never get away with saying about ethnic minorities in the US. My thanks to Timothy Amos, Maren Ehlers, et al for highlighting this, in their discussion of his equally horrid “scholarship” on the burakumin – descendants of Japanese former outcastes. Others who are more thoroughly expert in Race & Ethnicity Studies can speak to the fuller trajectories & implications of these racist discourses better than I can, but the parallels are blatantly obvious between what Ramseyer says about minorities in Japan and what many on the right-wing regularly say about minorities in the US.


Continuing on in the quoted excerpt at the top of the Okinawa Times article, Ramseyer then goes on to speak about the agreement between Washington and Tokyo to relocate the Futenma base as if the Okinawans agreed to it, or as if they didn’t have to in order for it to be perfectly righteous and appropriate. As if security policy should operate purely on the national level, and local sentiment (or local interests, needs, well-being) simply need not enter into it. Or, as if the Okinawan people are in his eyes essentially children, who cannot be and should not be trusted to understand what’s best for them, or to make decisions for themselves; children for whom the national government should make decisions on their behalf. Basically, it smacks of paternalistic logic. Daddy knows best.

One wonders whether Ramseyer himself can’t conceive of the notion of questioning this, if he just takes his readers to be that stupid, or if it’s all part of a highly calculated, intelligent, effort to mislead. Not to get off-topic, but I have to admit, this is the sort of question I’ve been thinking about a lot these past five years or so, not just with Trump but with a lot of the most prominent Republicans in what Chris Hayes has appropriately called “the troll caucus.” People speak of Hanlon’s razor: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” But, there’s a part of me that just really wants to know, needs to know: are Trump, Cruz, Gaetz, Greene, Jordan, Graham, McConnell, this stupid? Or are they “crazy like a fox,” as the saying goes, and are not stupid but are simply this genuinely malicious? One cannot help but wonder the same about Ramseyer.

Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I can’t help but imagine an attitude of, sort of, “because it’s legal, therefore it’s right.” As if it’s just genuinely inconceivable that there’s anything wrong with the agreement, or worth questioning or criticizing about it. And as if the people opposing this are going against their own best interests – don’t know what’s good for them.

Ramseyer accuses Okinawan political elites, construction firms and other business elites, the owners of the land under the military bases to whom the US pays [grossly low rates of] rent, and others of being in cahoots with one another, duping the wider Okinawan population, and drumming up political tension and opposition in order to line their pockets. Focusing on this intentional mischaracterization of elites as fanning the flames of what he calls “fringe-left … anti-American” protest for their own corrupt self-interest, he completely ignores any valid arguments against the bases, and indeed actively works to invalidate them, to present them as worthy of being dismissed entirely. As the Times article states explicitly, 「根拠は示していない」- he does not describe (at all) the core reasons for the anti-base protests. And, I would add, that by omitting any discussion of the real problems caused by the bases, Ramseyer and his ilk are able to imply – or to at least leave open to readers own imaginations – that the protests have no reasonable basis whatsoever; that there are no problems at all, or none worth considering.


This tracks closely with false conspiratorial assertions by Robert Eldridge and others that all the protestors are in some fashion CCP plants or supporters, and that the protests are “anti-American hate speech” and are part of efforts to undermine the US, Japan, and the US-Japan alliance – always coupled with denying any validity to Okinawans’ actual complaints, painting them as plants of a fringe agenda, and dismissing entirely the idea that this actually represents Okinawan public sentiment. This is of course not the only protest movement in the world that the rightwing seeks to invalidate by erroneously characterizing them as communists, Chinese agents, and/or fundamentally anti-American, instead of recognizing them as expressing the actual voice of actual citizens. Like Ramseyer, Eldridge also has a pattern of painting local Okinawan politicians as corrupt or inept, and as therefore not properly representing and/or not acting in the best interests of the Okinawan people, working to undermine sympathy or solidarity for the Okinawans’ circumstances.


Returning to the excerpt, Ramseyer also reiterates an argument I’ve seen before, suggesting that it is primarily the fault of the protests that the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko has been so delayed, as if it is the protestors’ fault – and not that of Washington and Tokyo – that Futenma still has not been closed. Completely ignoring that the US has had plenty of opportunity in the past 25 years to agree to close Futenma *and* cancel the construction at Henoko, which is exactly what the protestors, for the most part, have been asking for. The willful blindness, the profound determination to not even argue against but to simply ignore outright various alternative views and possibilities, would be astonishing if we hadn’t seen it all before, far too many times.


Okinawans have made clear, not only in protest, but in countless newspaper articles and opinion pieces, referendums and elections, and by other means that they want no new military facilities built in Okinawa.


By completely ignoring this possibility, presenting the closing of Futenma as inextricably tied to the construction taking place at Henoko, and thus the opposition to Henoko as inherently equal to obstructing the dismantling of Futenma, Ramseyer and others are able to push forward their racist characterization of the protestors as irrational and self-destructive. It is this take that allows Ramseyer and others to mischaracterize the entire thing as being part of some kind of corrupt, self-interested schemes by political & business elites, to the detriment of progress on something that would be good for the Okinawan people. 


I am genuinely curious as to where this take originates. Is Ramseyer echoing Eldridge? Is Eldridge simply rendering into English what Japanese ultrarightwingers have said? Or are the right-wingers relying on Eldridge or others to have invented this spin to begin with?  I’m tempted to wonder whether it originates within the US military, but that opens a whole other can of worms, as to questioning to what extent such attitudes are or are not circulated within the military, and believed and acted upon, or not, at what levels, to what extent… The colonialist and paternalistic statements of Kevin Maher (former US consul general in Okinawa, former director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, who “abruptly left his post” in 2011 after calling Okinawans “lazy” and “masters of extortion”), beginning with the idea that “We cannot sacrifice the lives of young Marines for the sake of local politics” – in other words, that military objectives and logistical operating norms supersede “petty” concerns about the well-being or desires of the members of the colonized native populace – is probably indicative of something, and could be the topic of an entire blog post of its own.

But, again, that’s a morass I’d rather not get involved in. Probably best to just move on. 

Finally moving on into the second half of this newspaper article, the Times reporter points out an important inaccuracy – a misrepresentation – by Ramseyer regarding the history of the Futenma base. In a section of the paper not excerpted here, Ramseyer asserts that “The Japanese military had bought (n.b.: not rented, bought) the land for the base [at Futenma] and started work on it in 1942. The war ended before it could finish, so the U.S. completed construction shortly thereafter.” I suppose that the implication here is to suggest that the initial selection of Futenma as the site for an airbase should be pinned not on the US but on Japan, and that it’s all totally legal and above board, again, appealing to the fallacy that “legal makes moral.”

The newspaper article explains this is simply not true – that the base had its start in the US military requisitioning lands by force during the Battle of Okinawa, and that the Japanese military played no part in this. Now, I’ll admit, I do not know this history in detail down to such particular points, and a few quick cursory Google searches have not brought up anything I’d consider definitive – so, in the interests of academic integrity or whatever we want to call it [something Ramseyer is blatantly devoid of], I’m admitting that I’m not coming here with proper sources backing up the newspaper. But, for whatever it’s worth, this short, well-cited, ArcGIS StoryMap presentation about the history of the base indicates clearly that

the United States … started construction on an airfield … previously … home to 14 village sections. … Okinawans were forced into … camps while their lands were seized for the airfield, and the existing village’s municipal office, post office, and schools were razed. The United States military … has often insisted that Futenma was built on empty land.

Tess Kelley, “World’s Most Dangerous Base: The History of Futenma Air Station,” 24 April 2021.

So, on empty land, or by razing villages. Not by commandeering an existing Japanese airfield. I am unsurprised to discover that Ramseyer’s untruths extend not only to mischaracterizing the demands of protestors, the true reasons behind their political opposition, the fundamental character of the Okinawan people and their elected leaders, the first-person testimony of comfort women, and so forth, but also historical facts otherwise.

In response to a request for comment from the Okinawa Times, Ramseyer reportedly replied simply that “this paper is not published.” When the Times attempted to confirm whether this means the paper is not yet ready for publication, or whether it has been taken down (withdrawn) in some fashion, Ramseyer did not respond. Harvard University also did not respond to inquiries.

The Times article then touches briefly upon the more infamous matter of Ramseyer’s dangerously denialist article on the Korean “comfort women,” published Feb 2021, which has emboldened ultrarightwing ethnonationalist history deniers and spurred unbelievable torrents of online and offline harassment against scholars who have worked to set the record straight. As the Times article explains, researchers have pointed out that regarding this issue as well, Ramseyer has arbitrarily (恣意的に、i.e. cherry-picked) pulled from inaccurate sources (不正確な資料). A rigorous, thorough, professional critique of his “comfort women” article – his misuse of sources, his misleading assumptions and arguments – can be found here.

Perhaps someday I’ll take the time to read his unpublished paper on Okinawans, Burakumin, and Zainichi Koreans, so that I can help to bring to light (just a tiny bit more, in my own small way) the kinds of grossly misleading lies and blatantly racist, orientalist, colonialist, and paternalistic attitudes that continue to be ferried around in right-wing (and, more broadly, law and policy) circles, and the kind of profoundly irresponsible and unprofessional scholarship that apparently Harvard Law School is seemingly happy to have represent it. One can only wonder how many more Ramseyers there are, in equally secure (tenured) positions of authority, not only using their positions to promote dangerous, extremist political agendas and to wreak havoc on popular understandings of the truth, but also in the process, simply by occupying those positions, denying opportunities for other scholars to attain job security, financial stability, and the ability to potentially use such a position (teaching, publishing, etc.) for good.

The Kids Are Alright

Very gradually working through the backlog of blog posts I drafted months ago and never finished with. This one is from this past August, not that I think it makes a difference.

This NY Post article entitled “Gen Z is made of zombies — less educated, more depressed, without values” popped up the other day on my Google Android News Alerts or whatever it’s called – I don’t actively follow or read the NY Post – and I was just so struck by it. Not by any means the most egregious example of conservative ‘news’ or anything like that, but just, struck me as indicative. It’s so important, I think, to understand the narratives or worldviews that others live according to. To understand what traditional worldviews or narratives are, how they’re articulated, what precisely their reasoning and values are, so that we can understand the world we live in, how it was built, what it is exactly that people are still fighting for today, and why they believe what they believe.

Again, this is by no means the most egregious example of such things – goodness knows we have an endless supply of that sort of thing today. But even so, to look at something so seemingly mundane, and realize that for so many people, this is marketed as objective truth. This is the basic, white bread, reality in which they live, and depending on what they read or watch, they see no counter-narrative. The fear-mongering, and the sort of self-blindness, the narrow-minded refusal to even consider – to even allow yourself to be aware of – counter-arguments or other ways of thinking, is just… really something.

Now, I know that half of you reading this would be able to articulate things far better, would have a lot more to say, more critically, more insightfully, so I guess I’ll apologize ahead of time for my fumbly, imperfect attempt to recognize and address everything that’s going on here. But let’s get started.

First off, the headline: “Gen Z is made of zombies — less educated, more depressed, without values”

Immediately, I have to wonder what he’s talking about. Speaking of education, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been in the classroom, but I’ll certainly be the first to admit, there are vast bodies of knowledge that young people (I’m thinking of first-year starting college students) aren’t aware of. From popular culture that’s a just a bit too old for them to whichever canonical big-name literary authors they didn’t cover (or don’t remember) from high school, to aspects of basic geography, to the difference between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, to a whole array of skills having to do with reading and writing and research and basic grammar & spelling, there’s a lot they don’t know. So, I’ll certainly grant that. But “less educated” than older generations? I have a strong guess of what he means by that, but for the moment we’ll put a pin in it and just say I think it’s a fair bet that a great many NY Post readers – and I’m not picking on them specifically, but let’s just say a very significant portion of those older generations they’re talking about – also don’t know half these things. They’re not masters of geography, history, math, science, literary history, themselves.

More depressed? Well, there’s a lot to be depressed about. Stagnant wages and skyrocketing cost of living. Tuition and student loans. Endless GOP efforts to destroy reproductive freedoms and numerous other types of freedoms. Police brutality and institutionalized racism. The already dreadful impacts of climate change. Gun violence. There’s a lot to be depressed about.

But perhaps more to the point, more people are being recognized and treated. It’s doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more mental illness than there used to be – it means people who were previously forced to suck it up and deal, people who were forced to live with horrific mental and emotional difficulties, to struggle through life, are finally being given the recognition, sympathy, and treatment they deserve. The willful ignorance, the blindness, on this is just unbelievable to me. I don’t understand why stoicism, struggle, “suck it up,” and so forth is such a powerful value in our society. Why hold onto this? Why make it your hill to die on (your hill that you walked up uphill both ways, in the snow)? One could easily list countless examples of medical advances and other technologies that make life easier. If you don’t want people treated for depression do you also not want them treated for physical ailments and disabilities? If you want people to learn to be tough, and to tough it out, and that struggle makes people strong, then what are you yourself doing driving a car instead of walking, sitting around in your cushy house with central air and numerous other amenities instead of toughing it out like your parents and grandparents did, and working a nice white collar job in an air-conditioned office with an ergonomic chair instead of killing yourself in a coal mine? Medical and technological advances, and societal changes (incl. acceptance of difference, etc) make life easier for people. Make it better. Why don’t you want that?

And we come to “lacking values.” We can already guess what values he means, but to me it’s just such an astonishing statement. I know I’m speaking from a very biased sliver of Gen Z, of whose opinions and perspectives I am exposed to, primarily in my role as a classroom teacher and as someone who spends way too much time on TikTok and Reddit – I have no doubt that millions of Gen Zers think quite differently, and that my limited experience is not necessarily the most representative sample. But even so, from what I see online, the idea of these kids “lacking values” is just absurd to me. They care about climate change and the environment. They care about sexism and misogyny and gender inequalities. They care about racial and ethnic disparities and matters of intersectional privilege. They care about the impacts of neo-colonialist and neoliberal “values” or ideologies upon our world. They care about freedom of religion, and freedom from religion. They believe that all people are equally human, equally deserving of respect and rights and freedoms, regardless of their gender, sexuality, disability, or ethnicity. They believe that there is no one way to be a valid family. They believe that people have inherent worth beyond the economic value of their labor, and that access to a basic minimum of quality of life – access to water, food, clean air, shelter, health care – should not be dependent on whether you can work for it, whether you can afford it. They believe that no full-time job should pay so little that one cannot live off of it.

You may disagree with their political perspectives, but to say they don’t have values requires a very intentionally narrow definition of what does and doesn’t constitute “values.”

….

And we haven’t even gotten into the article yet. Well, here we go.

“When he shows pictures of celebrities like Kendall Jenner or Miley Cyrus to his students on a screen, they immediately recognize them. But faced with photos of policymakers like Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, the children stare blankly. “

Yeah? And? Classic example of conservative handwringing and fear-mongering. That’s just the reality of the society we live in. I’m a couple of decades older than these kids, and I think when I was their age I cared less, and knew less, understood less, about news or politics than they do. These days, I do read enough and watch enough to know Pelosi and Schumer from Greene and Gaetz. But, so what? That’s partially just from being kids, and it’s partially just a natural part of the world we live in. I promise, you could ask most adults, most Boomers, and they’ll also know plenty of celebrities better than they know politicians. And if they happen to be someone who does know these politicians, watch them squirm and be utterly clueless when it comes to foreign politicians. Or politicians from a different state than theirs. Or whatever. The expectation that people need to know politicians is such a narrow criterion… out of all the fields of knowledge in the world, this is the *one* you really want to focus in on, alone? I don’t deny it’s important, of course. But….

““We need to brace ourselves for what lies ahead. I write this book as an alarm bell . . . a project born out of worry, concern and frustration.” “

Frankly, I have nothing but hope. Not to say that all old people are conservative or that all young people are progressive, not by any means. But we are gradually – far too slowly, but even so – gradually moving towards a world where more people believe more strongly in the urgency of addressing climate change, where more people believe more strongly, on a fundamental level, in the importance of reproductive health; the validity of non-cis gender identities; the importance of easier, more affordable, access to quality health care. These shifts may be an alarm bell for old money, for corporate interests, for deep-seated pearl-clutching Christian fundamentalists and white supremacists, for certain particular institutions, but if you’re concerned about the collapse of society, I think you need to think about what exactly you mean by “society.” One very particular set of visions of what America is, or should be. And, yes, maybe those visions, those versions of America, are under threat. But is that really such a bad thing? I think people need to get over themselves, get over their panic attacks and realize that the United States isn’t going anywhere. American quality of life isn’t going anywhere – if anything, people are trying desperately to fight to be allowed to make it better. The only things being threatened and attacked are institutions and norms that are holding us back from a freer, better, more equitable, society, with better quality of life.

 “barren of the behavior, values and hopes from which human beings have traditionally found higher meaning . . . or even simple contentment.””

I can’t guarantee what he means by this, but it reminds me of the way that transphobes talk about “learning to be happy as the gender [sex] you were born as [assigned at birth].” Instead of thinking outside the box, thinking critically, being open to the idea that anyone should be free to live as they wish – instead of thinking about what we could do to open up that door, to stop restricting ourselves and others in such nonsensical arbitrary ways (what you can and can’t wear, or how you can or can’t be, because you’re a man or a woman) – instead, they say “you just can’t.” Suck it up and deal.

Why? For what purpose? To what end? Why is there such a valorization of suffering, of self-restriction? Why is there not just a willingness but an outright insistence on allowing the world to be such shit, refusing to believe that we can even try to want to make it better?

Rather than believing that we should engage in understanding the wider world and how to fix it, how to make it better, instead Farley wants us to focus on creating, inventing, contentment where it doesn’t exist. Finding a way to be okay even when things are not. Suppressing or denying mental health issues, non-cishet gender identity or sexuality, or whatever it may be that’s bringing you difficulty. Find reassurance in church, family, or community, and learn not to address it, not to fix it, not to make it better, but to deal with it.

I am not an out-and-out atheist, and I hesitate to get involved in a conversation about critiquing or criticizing religion. I myself still believe strongly in, and practice to a certain extent, Jewish practices – not just secular but also religious – as part of my culture, my heritage; as something that connects me to identity and tradition; something that gives live richness and texture, and that brings me comfort, community, spirituality, and a connection to my roots.

But, as much as I hesitate to get into deeper, more extensive conversations about religion, I cannot help but feel like to at least some extent, in the specific context of what Farley is talking about here, religion is a way of helping you to invent or to believe in meaning that’s, for lack of a better word, out of left-field. It’s bringing you contentment not by believing in actual hope in the world, but by shutting yourself off from seeing or engaging with the wrongs and problems and difficulties in the world.

“teachers once helped students become their “best selves” by putting the focus on curriculums, lesson plans and test scores”

Is that really your best self? Rote learning of a standard curriculum? Don’t get me wrong, by all means, a thorough working knowledge of math and science, history and civics, and so forth, are vital skills for any person to have to go out and be a successful and educated adult out in society. By all means, it would be ideal if the vast majority of members of society, regardless of their occupation, had enough math ability to handle the various things that come up in their everyday lives, enough understanding of science to believe and understand what they read in the papers and to be able to deal with basic domestic or otherwise in-person everyday tasks, to take care of yourself, children, and pets on some basic level, to envision what would or would not make sense to do in the kitchen or in the garage, all sorts of things like that. (Not to mention, having enough familiarity with the basics of science to make rational decisions about mask-wearing, vaccines, and so forth, and to understand why we should trust scientists. But that’s a whole other can of worms.)

Whether Farley himself is this blind, this ignorant, or whether he’s intentionally trying to mislead or something, I don’t know. But, the idea that such a standardized curriculum is truly helping students become their best selves is just unfathomable for me. What are we, children of the corn? Think about all the negative stereotypes Americans, especially conservative Americans, have about Chinese or Japanese children being raised as robots, rote memorization, and so forth. Are you so blind to the ways that American education is just the same, or would be just the same if that’s where you really want to place your emphasis?

“that’s given way to trying to “understand” young people through programs emphasizing suicide and depression awareness”

Yes, yes it is. God forbid we should try to actually understand people, engage with our children and our students as human beings who have thoughts and feelings, who have a diversity of perspectives and experiences. God forbid we should take mental health seriously, as actual illnesses that should be acknowledged and addressed. God forbid we should listen to people and allow them to voice their own creative insights and innovative ideas, to contribute their perspectives or ideas, rather than just ramming a standard curriculum down their throats.

God forbid we should allow students to believe that freedom of expression is allowed and celebrated in our country. That we should be free to explore and experiment and express ourselves as we wish. God forbid we should allow students to dress as they wish, to explore and forge their identities as they wish, rather than feeling like there’s something wrong with us for simply wanting to be kind instead of stoic, or tough instead of relenting, for simply wanting to be graceful instead of strong, or handsome instead of pretty, for wanting to wear makeup and dresses or for wanting to not be pressured or obliged to do so.

God forbid we should allow students to believe that the infinite differences between us – in how we feel emotions, how we have different pain tolerances or differing levels of bodily strength; different tolerances for cold or heat or illness, or whatever else it may be – are okay, are natural, are human. That we’re all equally human, all equally deserving of sympathy and support, and that there is no need to force ourselves to suffer and struggle just to live up to some false notion of “normal.” God forbid we should take people seriously when they say that traumatic experiences have had real mental and emotional impacts on them, that they deserve sympathy and understanding for the ways they’ve been hurt, and for the ways that certain experiences “trigger” hurtful, damaging, emotional or mental reactions for them.

The lack of sympathy for others, the bold, outright, refusal to even entertain the notion of sympathy, is just unbelievable to me. Suck it up and deal. Suppress it. Push it down. Deny it. Be strong.

There are those who are just clueless, and enforce this damaging bullshit on the rest of us. Whether we’re talking about mental health, or things like toxic masculinity. But then there are also those who are secretly suffering, who are so messed up inside themselves, so hurt, and who don’t believe that they’re allowed to deal with it in a healthy way – who they themselves have been taught they have to be strong, to deny it, to suppress it. It makes me so sad, and so angry, that this is the world we have to live in. So many men who are the worst offenders at imposing their toxicity on others, and if you could only get them to break down and be open, you’d find that so many of them hate themselves, or hate society, for not allowing them to show emotion, to show weakness, not allowing themselves to show vulnerability. Not allowing themselves to show kindness, softness, gracefulness; men would be embarrassed to say so but to go through your entire life always thinking you could never be pretty, never be cute. That there are so many simple, basic, stupid things that you can never be allowed to experience – from heels to skirts to makeup to ponytails – just because you were born a guy. Far from the most major serious issues in our society, I know, and far from how serious the problems are that women face everyday at the hands of men, I know. But real, nevertheless, and so emotionally destructive. It eats away at you.

“Religion has been replaced by “a mass culture of ‘banality, conformity, and self-indulgence,’ “

If religion isn’t conformity, I don’t know what is. And, quite frankly, I may be extrapolating here, but I’d wager the religious, family, community-centered life Farley is imagining, is pretty fucking banal and self-indulgent too. Frankly, it gives me anxiety just thinking about it. Pressuring people, forcing people, to have to live according to a particular vision of what family and community should look like. What ideal American married life should look like. Talk about banal. But also, everything we’ve been talking about up until now has been about conformity. About ignoring people’s individual identities, their individual mental or emotional individuality, to instead teach them a standard curriculum, raise them in a standard religion, fence them in to a standard set of family values and structures… if that’s not conformity, I don’t know what is.

I’ll admit, I don’t think he’s 100% wrong. I’m sure there are elements here of social interaction – interacting with other people and not just with devices; people feeling more distant and less well-socialized and more lonely and depressed because the patterns of our social interactions have changed – there are things here that are real problems. And by all means, I am sure that having a loving supportive family, good connection with community, etc., are valuable and positive. I was extremely lucky to grow up in what I feel was an excellent family environment; parents who really cared about how I was doing in school, who were always home in the evenings and provided dinner and who talked to me and my brother over dinner; a family that took us out into the city, or elsewhere, to go to the beach or the park, to museums, theatre, and concerts. Family that loved us and supported us in all sorts of ways. And having community through the synagogue that I’m sure provided really good things for me growing up that I can’t quite name or put my finger on. And I can easily envision that if we knew our neighbors better, if we had a stronger sense of community right there in the neighborhood, yeah, I can easily imagine the positive advantages of that. The incredible group dynamics, the incredible interconnection, that one experiences at summer camp, on-campus small liberal arts colleges undergrad experiences, 3-week summer intensive paleography workshops, these sorts of things, as compared to what I have now, living in a big city, by myself, surrounded by kind, well-meaning, strangers but strangers nevertheless, seeing friends maybe once every few weeks… yeah, I can easily imagine the advantages of a stronger community environment for children, for families, for adult life in general. So, Farley and his ilk aren’t 100% wrong there.

Farley ends, of course, with a needlessly patriotic call to blind nationalism.

“I never hear young people professing love for their country,” Adams writes. “I used to. But not lately. That is when I really think teachers have a front row seat for America’s decline.”

What is this love for country supposed to be based upon? I mean, my grandparents / great-grandparents on each respective side of the family came to the US escaping persecution, and they found in their new lives in the US greater freedoms, greater safety and security, greater opportunities, and in the end, greater well-being if not outright prosperity. I don’t know the details at all, but my great-grandparents on my mom’s side came from Russia. Whether they were fleeing outright antisemitic violence, or just simply poverty, lack of opportunity, something like that, I’m not sure, but they did quite well for themselves in the US. My grandparents on my father’s side – my father’s parents – survived one of the worst manmade horrors in recent memory, one of the worst crimes against humanity in all of modern history. And when asked where they would like to be settled after the refugee camps closed – I have the documents – they explicitly answered “there is nothing for me anymore in Poland.” There is nothing left. And so they came to the US, and while my grandfather and grandmother worked their hands to the bone, working 80-100 hours a week or who knows what it was, barely managing to put food on the table to raise five boys, just a generation later, several of those boys did quite well for themselves, truly comfortable lifestyle, and more than comfortable enough to support the remaining brothers. Working white collar jobs – not cushy, not easy, still grueling and exhausting and time-consuming in their own ways, but still – owning a home, owning a car or two, going on vacations, paying for their kids to go to college, not being utterly devastated by medical bills, retiring on a handsome pension. And one of their grandkids, me, well, I don’t own any homes or make anywhere near $100,000 a year, or have almost any money saved in the bank, but I’ve had the privilege of traveling the world and have earned a PhD and am living a comfortable enough life like my grandparents couldn’t have imagined. Free of the kind of poverty they experienced, free of the degree or type of antisemitic violence they experienced. When we look at life in Russia or Poland today, or in a great many other countries around the world, there is a lot to be happy about, about living in the US.

And I do worry sometimes that many of my fellow progressives don’t see that or don’t believe that. Is it just that they’re not voicing it? That they do believe in it but they’re just not saying so? Perhaps. I do think that critical views of American policy, domestic and foreign, can get taken too far. People act as though the US is the worst country in the world, the most violent, the most unequal, the most exploitative, the most racist, when it’s certainly not. There’s a lack of balance, a lack of proper perspective, there.

But even so, what is the obsession with love of country? Again, why? To what end? I’d much rather have children who are worldly and cosmopolitan, who are intelligent and knowledgeable, who are emotionally and mentally healthy, who are creative and innovative, who are physically healthy, monetarily comfortable, and free to live their lives as they choose, than I care about having children who revere the flag, or “love America,” whatever the hell that means, or who hold Jefferson, Washington, or whoever else up on some imaginary pedestal… for what?

,,,,

I don’t know what to say by way of a conclusion to this, except to say that the divides in our country are perhaps greater than they’ve ever been – or, at least, those divides are on display in a way they’ve never been before, more widely shown and known. And articles like this show us clearly just what it is that a lot of people in the country are thinking; their perspectives, their concerns. It’s important to know what others think, to try to have some grasp of what it is they want to push, and what we need to be pushing back against. What the thinking is behind some of their positions, and what the emotion is. Where are there spaces for mutual understanding, for compromise, or even for agreement?

I think that people on both sides like to paint the other side as ingenuine, as just out for power, as using any tactic they can just to “win.” But people have real reasons for believing what they do, for supporting what they do, and for having the concerns and worries that they do. I may disagree with a lot of these people, often rather vehemently, and my stomach may turn and my head grow faint with anxiety about what happens if they manage to get their way – but understanding what’s out there, understanding just what it is they’re arguing for, and why, is crucial I think (rather than dismissing it out of hand as just power-hungry nonsense, or as just “evil”) for understanding where we are as a nation, as a society, and how to try to move forward.

As frightening and worrying as all of this is, however – as indication of what many millions of our fellow Americans do think and believe, and as an indication of the kinds of rhetoric they consume, e.g. through trusting the NY Post over other papers as their chief source for how think about things – at the same time, I am hopeful. Because, as I have said already, granted I don’t really know just what the breakdown is in what percentage of Gen Z is where on the left-right political spectrum, but fingers crossed, it feels like overall we’ll be moving in a good direction with them. It’s an uphill battle – they’ve got an even harder fight I think than my generation did (and still does; I’m not that old!); on numerous things, it really feels like we’ve fallen significantly backwards in recent years rather than make continued progress (however slowly). But then again, perhaps there is some truth to the saying that “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Eventually we have to reach a point where climate change denial, transphobia, certain other things reach their last gasp, however vocal that last gasp may be, and we really can move forward.

On that one BBC Interview

I’m sorry to be behind the times and bringing back up that horrible BBC interview everyone was talking about a few weeks ago. The one where she called for trans women to be lynched. Perhaps the best thing to do is to just forget about it, let it be, not stir things up again. But, I can’t just leave it. So, this is just a bunch of unpolished thoughts… I am sure there are things I’m overlooking, not thinking through quite enough; things I’m not wording quite as well as I should. But I hope you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and just allow this to be a first draft, a just rough collection of thoughts – not something that needs to be perfect. My sincere apologies if unintentionally offend, or if I misinterpret or misrepresent anything.
But, yeah. This isn’t the final word on anything. Just some thoughts in the moment. Just a blog post, which I scribbled down at the time, so to speak, then sat on, and am now hitting Publish on.

I’m not going to name their name, or repost their disgusting content. I couldn’t even if I wanted to: looks like the BBC has altered the article, taken down the most offensive parts. So I can’t even go back to double-check what exactly was said anyway; I mean, I’m sure the original is saved somewhere, if I just hunted a bit more deeply – someone’s probably posted screenshots somewhere. But I hope you won’t mind if I don’t bother. This isn’t really about this hateful asshole anyway. It’s so much broader than that.

In any case, the gist of it was to deny that trans women are women, and to essentially call for the murder of all trans women. Calling for something to be done so that no man dare call themselves a woman, or dress or behave like a woman again; calling for specific individual famous/prominent trans women to be lynched, calling them pedos and child molesters, and calling for them to “stand up as the men you all know they are and hold them accountable in their shame.” And calling for the army, the marines, someone, to come in and protect … who exactly, it’s unclear, though we can certainly fill in the blanks – protect women, protect white women, protect society, from these supposed monsters. Not the first time we’ve heard that bullshit. Not the first time my heart has pounded and my head gone light reading such incredibly hateful words. And yet, still, it boggles my mind, how people can be so blind, so willfully, deliberately, hatefully ignorant. How people can claim to be feminists, to be so powerfully opposed to toxic masculinity, and to then turn around and tell men to be ashamed for daring to step out of masculinity? For daring to go against masculinity? What.

I think this kind of rhetoric shows how women like her see men to begin with – not just trans women, but all men – not as sympathetic fellow human beings first and foremost, but as threats, as perverts, before anything else. It shows that they never really saw toxic masculinity as the problem, or as something that could be reformed – they see it as inextricably linked with maleness, and men as irredeemable. And yet, if they see men as predators and a threat and irredeemable, then why push men to be men, to try to force men into adhering to traditional gender roles and having to be happy about it? They hate men, they see men as oppressors and sexists and misogynists and predators and all these things, but then at the same time they want to reinforce traditional masculine gender roles? Huh?

It’s really terribly illogical, and inconsistent. So many of these TERFs see themselves as feminists – it’s right in the name. And many of them speak openly and explicitly about supporting the elimination of sexism, the elimination of barriers against what you can and can’t wear or do. But then they turn right back around and reinforce the sexual (gender) binary, the idea that biological features (i.e. sex) determines your gender role and identity, and that men and women must forever be separated and different. It’s irrational. Nonsensical. And yet so many people believe in it, spout it, fight for it so strongly.

If you truly believe in the abolition of sexism, the abolition of inequality between the sexes – if you truly do see other people as human beings first and foremost, and especially if you’re a true feminist, then you should understand why gender roles are stupid and restrictive. If you believe that a woman should be able to do anything a man can do – wear pants, have pockets, ride a bicycle; vote; be strong, be a leader, be assertive – then where is the failing of the logic that it must surely go the other way around as well? That men should also be allowed to do anything a woman can do, e.g. wear dresses or heels or makeup, be soft, be graceful, etc. I feel bad to name stereotypes; it’s so hard to discuss this without falling into a trap of naming stereotypically “feminine” things that reveal just how messed up our stereotypes are to begin with. But, understanding that some people want to be tough and some want to be pretty, some want to be sporty and some want to be artsy – if you really understand this, then understanding why some people would rather not be a man (or would rather not be a woman) isn’t difficult. It’s just one step farther. 

But it’s precisely this belief that men and women are entirely different, entirely opposed, types of beings, that seems to be at the core of these people’s rage. (And, incidentally, it’s not just women; I’ve seen cis gay men scream terf shit right alongside them.)

As if we are made of different stuff. As if we are different species. We’re not.

And I think that fundamentally, it comes from an attitude that women should be allowed everything that men have, but men shouldn’t be allowed that same flexibility, that same openness. That men are not human, or not equally human, but that we are fundamentally, to our core, made of something inferior. Like a cancer to be cut out of humanity.

It reveals, I think, a fundamental lack of caring – they don’t care about men, period. They don’t care about our feelings or our desires or our wellbeing. They don’t care about our troubles. And that, I think, is really one part of what makes this so disturbing, so saddening, so frustrating for me. All I ask is that you see my humanity. I am not a threat first and foremost. I am not a pervert or a danger or an inept toxic asshole. I am a human being, and all I want is to be permitted some of the same things that women already have: to be permitted to not be stuck in a box of what men can and can’t do or can and can’t be. To be allowed, like women are, to be sympathetic, to be vulnerable. To take interest in and care for my appearance, without having to feel ashamed for doing so. This is precisely an example of how cis women – women who probably consider themselves feminist – play right into the very same toxic masculinity that they claim to be so opposed to. Telling trans women, gender-nonconforming men, amab nonbinary folks, men in general, to “be a man.” That men are not only not allowed to do X, or to be Y, but that wanting to do/be those things is horrid, immoral, despicable, shameful.

Even just in the short clips I read – I am not going to seek out the rest of the piece – she uses the word “shame” numerous times. Shaming us for not being man enough – for not being a man in the right ways. Shame is right at the very core of toxic masculinity. Shame is what makes us feel less than, makes us feel broken, makes us feel wrong. Shame is what forces us into these horrid boxes in which we are so ashamed to even be caught walking a certain way, talking a certain way, gesturing a certain way – let alone, god forbid, wearing pink – lest we be seen as “gay,” a “wuss,” or whatever. And somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if L.C. is precisely the very same kind of person who would then turn it around and shove it in our faces, shaming us for daring to want to break free from the mold, but then when we instead toe the line and adhere to that mold, turning right around and laughing about fragile masculinity, saying “is your masculinity so weak that you’re afraid to be seen as effeminate in even the smallest way?” It’s completely self-contradictory.


I am not a stereotype. I am not your idea of a man, I am not anyone’s idea of a man, as some type, some archetype, some characterization. I am a full human being, with emotions and desires, with feelings that can be hurt. I am a person who has no interest in devoting his entire life to playing some role, of acting the good father, the good husband, as if in a movie. I am a full human being, and I want to explore interests and hobbies, fashion and personal expression and personal style. I genuinely don’t even know who people like this want us to be – what kind of man does she want me to be? A traditional manly man, who doesn’t dare show any hint of femininity? But, then, isn’t the manly man, the toxic man, precisely the predator, the asshole, the sexist, that feminism is always fighting against? She writes with fire and brimstone as if men desperately need to be put in our place, but I am thoroughly, genuinely, unclear as to what that place is in her mind – unless it’s six feet deep.

The idea that women can be anything they want to be, anyone they want to be, but that men still have to be… something, some box, some set of standards and norms about the right way to be a man, hurts. It’s painfully restrictive. And yet so many women really don’t seem to care; don’t seem to care about men one bit. I can’t be sure what the author of this hateful screed thinks, but some women seem to think that men’s value is only in who we are to the women in our lives – as if we exist just to be a good boyfriend, a good husband, a good father; or that we exist to be a threat to women, a danger to women, a disappointment to women, an obstacle to women – rather than being *people* ourselves, with our own feelings, desires, strengths, struggles.

I hope it’s clear enough from the above, but just in case it’s not, I’d like to spell it out, lest anyone get confused: I am not a toxic rightwing MRA. I am not anti-feminist. Not by any means. I support gender equality, for people of all genders. I support trans rights, and the idea that we all should be allowed to be who we want to be, the way we feel is right for ourselves – to live our best lives, or to live our truth as some people say. I consider myself a feminist, or I would, except too many women (and nonbinary folks) have told me I can’t, I shouldn’t, I’m not allowed, I’m not welcome. Well, screw you too. But that’s not going to stop me from believing in gender equality and feminist goals and ideals.

I will never understand this form of supposed feminism that insists so hard on the fundamental separation of the sexes, on keeping gender tightly fixed to sex, and on adhering to bullshit notions of men and women as fundamentally alien to one another, to be kept separate at all costs. Separate but equal is not true equality. You can’t achieve gender equality by putting the men in their place, keeping us separated. True gender equality comes from the abolition of restrictive gender roles and stereotypes, the elimination of pressures to have to be this kind of person or that kind of person, to have this kind of personality or that, to dress this way but not that way, all based just on certain happenstances of your biology.

Visiting Kagoshima Again

Sakurajima, as seen from the highway bus on the way from the airport into the city.

Nov 10, 2021

It’s been a long time since I’ve left the Kantô (the area around Tokyo/Chiba/Saitama), and I decided that with the Reimeikan Kagoshima Prefectural Museum holding a special exhibit on the Amami Islands, and the main gate of Kagoshima castle having been recently restored (in 2019), these are fine excuses to visit Kagoshima again.

This was my third time there, and so it’s certainly a place with which I have some familiarity; I’ve walked the main stretch between Kagoshima Chūō 鹿児島中央駅 (the most main, central, train station in the city, immediately surrounded by multiple shopping centers) and Tenmonkan 天文館 (the chief, central, shopping arcade sort of neighborhood) numerous times, ridden the shiden 市電 streetcars numerous times and have a fair sense of the station names and the route… I won’t say that Kagoshima feels like home in the way that Tokyo or Naha do, but, definitely a bit of familiarity.

Shiden streetcar near Tenmonkan.

But on this visit I found myself thinking in particular about what it might be like to live there and whether I would like living there. Certainly, I can imagine the value of being there for a longer period, six months to a year or whatever it may be, to get to delve more deeply into local collections (Kagoshima Prefectural Library, Kagoshima University Library, etc.)… The opportunity to use Kagoshima City as a base from which to visit all sorts of other cities and towns (and islands!) that sometimes feel a bit too overwhelming, too complicated, to think about traveling to when it’s as part of a broader X days Kagoshima trip.

To put it more concretely, I was visiting Kagoshima for just three days this time, and I decided that trying to organize for myself which days I’ll spend in Kagoshima City, vs. how long it takes to get to Sendai or Hioki or Ibusuki, and how much it costs to get to those cities (almost nothing) vs. how much time and money it takes to get to even just Tanegashima (16400 yen, or about $145 US roundtrip), and how it just somehow feels like too much to fly from Tokyo to Kagoshima and then also coordinate and pay for additional flights to Amami or Kikai or Yoron or Okinoerabu… it makes my head spin. But if I lived in Kagoshima, I could do one of these day trips on one weekend, and another on another weekend, space it out, focus on doing just one of them at a time…

The newly rebuilt castle gate, now the largest castle gate in Japan.

Anyway. The museum was great, the new castle gate looks amazing. I had a fine time visiting Miyama (Naeshirogawa) for my one little day trip excursion. But for some reason, this particular trip, I was surprised at how sort of unexciting the city as a whole felt. I am sorry to say so; I do feel bad for it. … I do think that if I were to live there, I could potentially very much enjoy a more local, resident, sort of mode of engaging with the city. Discover cool cafes, figure out my favorite restaurants, get connected to what’s happening in the city – concerts, theatre, etc. I think it could be a pretty cool city to get to know. And especially because I do have such an interest in the local history, I can imagine it could potentially be quite interesting (1) seeing multiple exhibits and events over the course of the year, at the City Art Museum and elsewhere, getting a deeper, more textured impression of the city’s history and culture rather than just the one-time dipping in helicopter approach, and (2) getting a better feel, for real, on the ground, of the vibe of the city itself, as a place I’ve actually lived.

But that said, again, I feel sorry to say it, but somehow the city just didn’t feel that exciting to me this time. Maybe just because it’s my third trip and it doesn’t feel so new. I loved the view of Sakurajima out my window, and one of these days I will have to make the trek out to actually visit the island, if only to see the old torii buried in rock from lava flows a hundred years ago. I love the streetcars and always will. What they do for the visual feel of the city, the feel of the streets, is just wonderful. And I do feel this strange attraction, or compulsion, towards Kagoshima Chūō, but when it actually comes down to it, actually walking around in the shopping centers at Kagoshima Chūō, or the shōtengai shopping arcade streets of Tenmonkan, I am sorry to say I actually got bored pretty quickly. Most of the shops at Kagoshima Chūō are the same sorts of shops you’d find at any large shopping center in Tokyo, or in other major cities, and I just didn’t feel compelled to want to, or need to, do any shopping for exactly the same brands, the same stores, the same sorts of things I could find back home. Of course, vintage and secondhand is much more random and mixed and who knows what I would have found if I’d taken the time to look a bit harder in some of those stores, but even so, meh. And Tenmonkan, which on my first trip felt so exciting and new, a whole neighborhood of intertwining avenues of covered market shopping streets evoking the history of a whole century of shops and fashions coming and going, people shopping and otherwise living, bustling, through these very same streets from the 1920s to the 1950s-60s to the 80s-90s to today, as things change around them bit by bit, changing with the times… But while Tenmonkan is home to a number of very new cafes in that particularly 2000s-2010s style we might associate with gentrification or avocado toast or whatever, most of it is just so ordinary. Maybe I’ve been living in Tokyo for too long – that Japan as a whole has lost its sparkle. Because I see a Maruzen bookstore, or a Mos Burger fast food joint, or the rows and rows of no-name mom & pop clothing shops, and none of it feels special or exciting or interesting anymore.

At Chinjukan, one of the chief historical pottery centers in Miyama (Naeshirogawa). The lineage of Chinjukan pottery masters trace their ancestry back to Koreans who came to Japan following Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea in the 1590s.

Kagoshima Chūō feels to me like the Hachiko of Kagoshima. I could be wrong; I have no idea what the young people actually feel about that. But it has a certain kind of energy to it. It feels like a place that’s just cool and fun to be at. The main stairs leading up into the station have one area to the side with seats built into the steps, where people are fully allowed to, actually encouraged to, sit and hang out. And right next to that is a little open plaza, a hiroba 広場, with fake (I’m pretty sure) grass, some benches, a couple of food trucks, where I am sure they have periodic fairs or the like, different pop-up events all the time. There’s two or three large shopping centers directly attached to the station, with bakeries and cafes and restaurants, a large electronics store in the back, a movie theater, a large ferris wheel on the roof … somehow or other it just feels like the place to be. And, on Halloween night, I did indeed see lots of young people in their Halloween costumes – most of them just dressed as sexy maids, but I guess more to the cute side than the over-the-top racy risqué type we might see in the States – seemingly, as far as I could tell, just walking around hanging out in the mall with their friends. I walked around too, for a little bit, but, again, somehow that energy just wasn’t there – to be excited at what shops I might find, or anything like that. It was all very much the same kinds of shops I could find anywhere else. Which is fine. Should be fine. But… if I lived here, would I get bored super quick? Would it start to feel super provincial super quick? Or would I grow to love the city, to enjoy its different ins and outs? Certainly Naha is much smaller than Tokyo, too, and more provincial in a sense in terms of its relatively few major shopping centers, its relatively few major excitement districts. For a particular brand of enjoyment, there’s pretty much just Kokusai-dori, and that’s it. And yet Kokusai-dori, Heiwa-dori, and the sort of broader area immediately around that makes me feel like I really could get so much out of living there. Becoming a regular at various places, getting to know shop owners, getting to know old shops and new shops…. And, weird as it may be, during my six months at Ryudai, I really did grow to love the Naha Main Place shopping mall in a certain way. It feels like home, like “my” mall in a certain sense. Kagoshima doesn’t.

The AMU Plaza Kagoshima shopping center attached to Kagoshima Chūō Station.

But, more importantly, thinking about Kagoshima as a city brought me to thinking more broadly about two themes:

(1) The ways in which contemporary urban design – I’ll have to look again at what Prof Alan Lew exactly calls this – creates spaces that you really do want to be in, to spend time in. Spaces that are enjoyable to be in. But then, they are ultimately spaces that are deeply commercial. So, just like with Kagoshima Chūō, where it feels welcoming and fun and somehow appealing and exciting, with the open plaza and the ferris wheel and just… it’s a bit hard to put into words just why it feels like a fun place to be but it really does, except that then you get there and there’s pretty much nothing to do but shopping. And just like that, Miyashita Park in Shibuya is much the same. They’ve built this whole complex with light, airy, welcoming sort of energy, lots of outdoor benches to just sit and relax, attractive architecture that makes just walking around feel enjoyable… And on the roof, a rooftop park with grass, a beach volleyball court, and other facilities for just hanging out and relaxing and enjoying as if it were a public park. But then, outside of that public park aspect, it is all just shopping, and most of it fairly upscale shopping. So, you’re excited to get there and check it out, and there very genuinely is something attractive, appealing, about it as a new center for wanting to be, wanting to hang out. But then you either buy things or you do nothing. …

This sort of urban planning feels on the one hand a wonderful, very positive thing, as it is actively creating spaces where people might actually want to be – beautiful, airy, green, not like the pure functionalism of certain past decades, and not privileging cars or certain other considerations over walkable, bikeable, spaces with trees and benches and grass and so forth… But then it also has this rather insidious side, of realizing that in many cases it’s not really about trying to create a pleasant space for people as a good thing in and of itself, as something that designers are doing for the city, for the people, in order to improve quality of life as an end in and of itself, but rather that people are designing and building these spaces to get you to want to come and spend money. And I hate it.

(2) The other thing that this trip to Kagoshima got me thinking about is Kagoshima as a sort of touchpoint for thinking about monuments, national and local history narratives. What should we be proud of? What should we take pride in? Which figures should get statues, and why?

I have to thank Thomas Monaghan for spurring these thoughts, because he pointed out that Zusho Shozaemon, a samurai official in service to Kagoshima domain who is very much memorialized all over the city and beyond – I’ve visited his grave, but there are also multiple statues of him around the city, numerous depictions of him or documents or items related to him on display in the museum, historical markers erected at the site of his former house – he’s celebrated as a hero for Kagoshima in large part because of his economic reforms which rescued the domain’s finances, rescuing them from incredible debt and bringing revenues back in again and so forth. And I suppose also celebrated for his loyalty or whatever the right word is, in that at the end of his career, he commit suicide in recognition of and apology for his administrative failures. I’m blanking on the words right now, but there’s something very noble in Japanese culture for someone who takes responsibility in such a way, literally to the point of killing himself as absolution.

And yet, one of the very key elements to Zusho’s scheme for reviving the domain’s finances rested on the colonialist exploitation of the Amami Islands. Little different from plantation schemes halfway around the world which Zusho himself may or may not have known about, he forced the people of the Amamis to grow only sugar, and to grow as much of it as possible, and to sell it all to the domain at artificially low pre-set rates… they were forbidden, I believe, from carrying any coin and could buy food and other necessities largely (solely?) only from official domain merchants, purchased in sugar cane at artificially high, set, prices. And so forth. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but suffice to say, the more you read about Amami history, the more Zusho seems less like any kind of hero and more like a Cecil Rhodes or King Leopold type. Not quite as horrifically cruel as Leopold – few are – and not involving any outright slavery, like the American slave trade. But even so. Zusho begins to resemble precisely the kind of figure whose statues, arguably, perhaps, deserve to be torn right down.

Which begins the ball rolling. Who are all these other statues of? Largely, “heroes” of the Meiji Restoration or the Meiji state. And, alright, I do think there’s plenty to be proud of in contributing to the building of a modern nation-state, implementing “modern” forms of banking, industry, public education, and so on and so forth. I’m not placing blanket value judgements on modernity as good and premodernity as bad, or the Meiji state as “enlightened” and pulling Japan out of a “benighted” “dark ages”, or the Meiji state as fundamentally good, let alone democratic, or the Tokugawa shogunate as horrifically cruel, despotic. I’m not trying to support or reproduce those narratives, not at all, but just to say that on the surface, there are things to be seen as good things, things to celebrate, without having to get too deeply into it. A disproportionate number of the most prominent figures of that time – Founding Fathers, if we might want to use that term – were from Kagoshima. People who oversaw the implementation of modern forms of government, public education, etc., people who oversaw the construction of nationwide train lines, the electrification of at least some parts of the country, a modern postal service, all this sort of thing. So, good, celebrate them.

But how many of these same men were militarists and imperialists (both in the meaning of supporting Empire, i.e. imperial expansion into other lands, in the meaning of what we would see today as frighteningly rightwing nationalistic devotion to the Emperor)… and in what ways does lionizing them directly intertwine with nationalistic celebration of Imperial Japan – papering over the negative aspects while celebrating the very same people who oversaw not just the positive nation-building stuff but also the imperialist, authoritarian, colonialist, racist, patriarchal, stuff too?

At some point, one wonders if we should support the idea of tearing it all down. Or to put it another way, one wonders if we should be markedly critical of all of it – to see pretty much all of Kagoshima’s local pride as deeply flawed, tainted, and suggest in our armchair sort of way that it’s all bad, it should all be torn down.

And replaced with what? What should Kagoshima people be proud of? I personally think the newly restored gate is incredible. It’s beautiful, it’s impressive, and I see no problem at all with feeling pride of being from a city where you might see such a cool building every day as you walk to work or whathaveyou. Just so long as we don’t think too deeply about samurai lords lording over other people, the authoritarian aspects of the very nature of samurai rule. The ways in which the lords of Kagoshima invaded, subjugated, and then exploited both the Amamis and the Ryukyu Kingdom… and the fact that they became (or, more accurately, remained) lords of Kagoshima chiefly through bloody, vicious, brutal, warfare. Literally killing their enemies by the thousands, in brutal bloody battles, and claiming (or, really, retaining) lordship through sheer force of arms, and through commanding the loyalty of others. Which is, of course, the story behind nearly every monarchy in the world, so whether that makes it a good thing or not, excusable or not, I don’t know.

But, what to replace it with? Some would say heroes of the labor movement or something like that. But as much as I do support labor movements, and agree with the value of unions and stuff, (1) it’s dreadfully mundane. These very 20th century, ordinary everyman kind of figures. Mundane as hell. Honestly, I’d much rather have statues of cool samurai lords and national founding fathers than of some 1960s union leader in a suit and tie and briefcase, or with a construction helmet and jeans and boots. (2) We’re not Communists. Some of you may be, and you do you, but statues of farmers and factory workers is not my vibe. Tearing down all romantic heroes, all national or local cultural flavor to replace it with “the people”…. I just don’t know…

If we were to replace all the nationalistic and problematic stuff – all the samurai stuff, and the Meiji imperialist stuff – with some new, more progressive, focus for what Kagoshima should take pride in, then what might we suggest that this still distinctive of Kagoshima, that is still something to be proud of, that doesn’t feel ordinary, and doesn’t feel provincial?

To be sure, Kagoshima has plenty to be proud of in terms of music and art. I don’t know specifically which prominent jazz or enka or rock musicians came from Kagoshima, but I’m sure there could be something there. And Kagoshima certainly has its own history of both traditional Kanô school painting, and of Kagoshima people being among the first, or among the most prominent, to adopt and introduce European oil painting and modern art in other ways into Japan in the late 19th century…. so that’s something. But I still don’t think we need a giant statue of Kuroda Seiki in the central city plaza…

Anyway. Just a few rambling thoughts. Back in Tokyo now, and back to work.

I’m quite a few weeks late on this, obviously. And, frankly, I’m not sure that I have that much to say. But I just wanted to share a collection of videos I found, mainly from TikTok, highlighting different indigenous individuals and peoples represented at the 2021 (oops, I mean 2020) Tokyo Olympics, especially since many – whatever their relationship with and feelings towards their country may be – are obliged to represent that country, flying its flag, receiving medals to that country’s national anthem, rather than more overtly representing their own people.

So, first, a video from Connor, a Native American (Lumbee) TikToker from Lenapehoking (Lenape lands), talking about the Ainu, one of the indigenous peoples of the land now controlled by Japan, who were originally planned to have a bit more representation in the 2020 Olympics, but got less airtime in the postponed 2021 version of the Opening & Closing Ceremonies:

Uchinanchu (Okinawan) artist Dane Nakama expands on the above video to talk about the other major indigenous people of what is today controlled by Japan – namely, the Ryukyuan peoples:

Connor also posted a number of other videos during the Games, including this one about Carissa Moore, a Native Hawaiian surfer who won a gold medal in surfing, the first time surfing was included in the Olympics. I saw a bit of controversy on social media during the Games, about the whitewashing or appropriation or colonization of surfing… I’m glad a Wahine Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian woman) won gold, dominating the sport pioneered by her ancestors, a “sport” that’s not just a sport but has deep cultural and spiritual meaning.

It is a shame that she was not (as far as I’m aware) permitted to display the Hawaiian flag in any way, let alone of course to be awarded her gold medal under the Hawaiian flag or Hawaiian national anthem rather than those of the United States, which continues to illegally occupy the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Connor also talks about Pita Taufatofua, the tae kwon do competitor from Tonga who was also that country’s flagbearer in the 2016, 2018, and 2020 games, attracting much attention for his bared, oiled, muscular upper body. As Connor explains in this video, in 2016 Taufatofua was told he couldn’t wear his traditional taʻovala wrap-skirt, but he did it anyway; I love the way Connor talks about this, talking about how Native communities and individuals are often encouraged to hide their culture, and how inspiring and powerful it is to see people proudly display their culture in this way.

@connorbeardox

I think I’m going to do some content highlighting Indigenous ppl at the #olympics 🥰 #olympicspirit #tokyoolympics #tonga #indigenous #firstnations

♬ Sunset – Chillthemusic

Connor also highlighted Patty Mills, an Australian Aborigine / Torres Strait Islander who was the first Native person to be flagbearer for Australia at the Olympics. He also plays in the NBA, on the San Antonio Spurs. I know next to nothing about basketball fandom – I wonder how well-known it is among NBA fans that he’s Australian Aborigine. Here’s your regular reminder that not all Black people are descended from slaves, or from otherwise relatively recent immigrants from Africa. Aboriginal folks from Australia, Torres Straits Islanders, Melanesians from places like Fiji and New Caledonia share many of the features we typical associate with Africans or African-Americans. Diversity means not only recognizing Black Lives, but the incredible diversity within, and beyond, Black Lives.

@connorbeardox

got some more content coming soon about Indigenous ppl at the #olympics 🥰 #tokyoolympics #olympicspirit #aboriginal #indigenous #firstnations #fyp

♬ Triangle – Clutch

The Australian women’s football (soccer) team also honored and recognized Aboriginal peoples by posing with an Aboriginal flag and linking arms in a show of solidarity. I won’t pretend to know the history beyond the most minimal surface level, but Australia has a pretty heinous history of racist and colonialist policies, persecution, and so forth, in addition to the broader fact of the country as a White settler colony; and many of these racist attitudes and policies, sadly, remain in place today, as they do to one extent or another in many other parts of the world (e.g. the US, Canada).

Thanks to my friend Dr. Yuan-Yu Kuan, I also learned of a few heartwarming moments of representation by athletes from Taiwanese aboriginal backgrounds.

In this brief clip, boxer Chen Nien-chin, from the Pangcah/Amis people, shouts “I am a child of Pangcah” at the cameras in his native language. As Kuan points out, one of the few times a Taiwanese aboriginal language has likely ever been spoken (or, more to the point, broadcast on camera) during any Olympics Games.

His shout, “O Wawa no Pangcah” (“I am a child of Pangcah,” or 我是邦查(阿美族)之子!in Chinese) comes around 1m35s in this video:

Finally, the Bulareyaung Dance Company recorded and posted this video of them watching the Olympics awards ceremonies from home in Taiwan. Amis weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun took gold. Taiwan is, of course, barred from even representing itself at the Olympcis as a full proper country, with its proper national flag and national anthem, to begin with, because the government of the People’s Republic of China are all dicks and refuse to acknowledge Taiwanese autonomy and sovereignty even now, more than 70 years later. So, rather than celebrating the fake “Chinese Taipei Olympics team” flag and anthem that’s officially shown/played at the awards ceremony, this Dance Company sings over it a traditional Amis song. I don’t know the language or the song, or to be honest do I know that much about the people, but as someone with a special place in my heart for Hawaiian and Okinawan music, and for indigenous cultures more broadly, it really warms my heart and puts a smile on my face to hear it.

I’m sure these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to indigenous representation at the Olympics. But these are the stories I saw.

These Olympics were, of course, more controversial than most. Here in Tokyo, a great many people were staunchly opposed to, and critical of, the city / the country going forward with holding the Olympics despite the raging Covid pandemic, and the government’s incompetence in getting the vaccines rolled-out more widely more quickly. Of course, many people are opposed to or critical of the Olympics anyway, for a variety of other very valid reasons. And I don’t challenge or deny those people’s valid opposition and criticism.

But I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for displays of international coming-together, of cultural pride, of global diversity. This is something I feel we don’t see enough of, and something we need more of in this world. People coming together, regardless of country, race, ethnicity, religion, interacting together across these divides, building or showing friendships, learning about and celebrating one another even if only for a moment, and just showing and celebrating the incredible diversity of our world. A diversity that goes beyond nation, that extends to indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities as well.

I apologize to leave on a negative note, but especially with me composing this post on Sept 6, the anniversary of the Munich massacre, I think it relevant and important to note that these 2021 Olympics were the first time that the terrorist violence that took place at the 1972 Olympics – in which 11 Israelis and one German police officer were killed – were formally commemorated in such a central, public, manner.

There are still far too many groups and governments in the world today who deny the peoplehood of other people, who deny their identities, their history, their indigeneity to their ancestral homelands, and who seek to deny them their rights to freedom, equality, safety & wellbeing, and self-determination as a people. Many peoples continue to fight courageously and persistently to gain, regain, or retain those rights. But there remain far too many who are powerfully determined to block them, oppress and persecute them, to claim their land as their own, and even to massacre them. I hope that someday we can see peace.

Shlepped myself out to Chiba last month, to the National Museum of Japanese History (Rekihaku) to see their new temporary special exhibit, Umi no teikoku: Ryukyu 海の帝国:琉球 , which focuses on “medieval” Ryukyu from the perspective of Amami, Miyako, and Yaeyama. These are the island groups to the north and south of Okinawa Island, each with their own distinctive histories and culture, that were forcibly brought under the sway of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15-16th centuries, where notions of being “colonized” by Okinawa can still today be heard, in contrast to notions of unity or solidarity as fellow Ryukyuans.

This is fantastic. It’s rare enough to see whole special exhibits dedicated to Ryukyuan history, and as wonderful and special as it would have been to do a Shuri-centered or Okinawa-centered exhibit (both in general, and in the wake of the fire at Shuri gusuku in 2019), it’s really something to see them do a show based on perspectives from outside of Okinawa Island. I have to wonder, when was the last time that any of the most major museums in the greater Tokyo area did a show focusing specifically on these “outer” parts of the Ryukyus? And, not only that, but as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, there a several current trends in Ryukyu Studies for reassessment of the Ryukyu Kingdom as an “empire,” reassessment of just how unified even Okinawa Island really was prior to the 15th or 16th century, and an increased focus on these outer islands and the differing perspective they can offer. So, as I’m sure the curators are well aware and did quite intentionally, this exhibit comes at an extremely timely time, in terms of its relation to current trends in scholarship. I know for myself, having enjoyed the privilege of visiting Okinawa quite a number of times but largely remaining centered in Naha, and outside of my trip to Amami last year, having never been to any of the other islands, I learned so much from visiting Amami, and sorely want to visit some of the Miyakos and Yaeyamas. Beautiful, fascinating, culturally rich places, and places which will surely provide new perspectives, new insights, on Okinawa.

Just walking into the gallery was a pleasure. I’m not sure whether I feel I should compare it to the feeling of seeing the Royal Hawaiian Featherwork exhibit at LACMA back in 2016, when the gallery was filled with special guests from Hawaiʻi, and it just felt like I was back in the Honolulu Museum or something; amidst a community. But there was maybe an inkling of a similar feeling that day last month, as I stepped into a space that made me feel as though I were transported to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, or the Amami Museum. Made me feel like I was in a wholly different cultural space, learning about the local histories of a place far from Tokyo or Chiba, and seeing artifacts and topics discussed that would be exactly what’s expected from a (beautifully newly redone) local history museum, yet transported, transposed, to this national museum and made available, visible, to people in the metropole.

Furusutubaru ruins フルスト原遺跡 on Ishigaki Island.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief section of maps showing Japanese and European awareness of Ryukyu in the region, the very next section introduced us to the history of medieval settlements in the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands. Now, I suppose I should take a moment to mention, I’m using “medieval” here only as a standard translation or equivalent for the Japanese term chūsei 中世, used to refer to the period between (in Japan) roughly 1185 to 1600. As it happens, there’s a discussion on the Premodern Japanese Studies (PMJS) mailing list right now about these periodizations and what we should call them and questions of just what was “medieval” about this period – of course, applying Japanese periods to islands with minimal Japanese contact yet at this point is even more iffy. But, for simplicity, I’m sticking with it. The exhibit uses the word 中世, as does the 2019 book Ryūkyū no chūsei 琉球の中世, which represents some of the newest scholarship on the subject, so I’ll just stick with it too.

In any case, apparently many of the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands feature the remains of chūsei-era settlements encircled with stone walls (石垣を積み上げた集落) in forms unlike anything seen on Okinawa Island. Archaeological excavations at these sites have uncovered large amounts of Chinese pottery, porcelains, and coins, and something about the relative absence of these same styles of porcelains from other islands or from mainland Japan at the same time strongly suggests to scholars that there must have been some kind of direct trade/interchange between the islands and mainland China at this time – i.e. these porcelains and pottery were not coming in via trade with Japan. The Japanese describes these materials as 白磁 and 青磁, literally “white porcelain” and “blue porcelain,” and to be frank I was a bit confused because these were most certainly not the “blue and white porcelain” we are most familiar with seeing – white porcelain decorated with bold cobalt blue designs. Now that I’m home and writing this up, I googled and found that 白磁 refers to a plainer white porcelain (without cobalt blue designs) and 青磁 to celadon, which is like a lightbulb moment – makes a lot of sense, since when we read about medieval Ryukyu or Japan in English, we hear a lot about celadons. In any case, shards and scraps of such porcelains were overwhelmingly the most numerous artifacts in the exhibit. The exhibit notes that it’s unclear exactly what the islanders traded in exchange for these Chinese goods, but Korean castaway accounts record indigo dyeing in the Yaeyamas, and it’s believed that textiles, lumber, and grain are likely candidates.

These settlements mostly seem to have appeared around the 13-14th centuries, enjoyed their peak in the 14-15th centuries, and declined and disappeared in the 16th. I didn’t read every word of every label, and I’m not taking the time to check again in the catalog (which I bought for a surprisingly reasonable 1300 yen), but I’m pretty sure the exhibit didn’t talk explicitly at all about the ethnic (for lack of a better word) origins or character of these people.

In his 2019 book Maritime Ryukyu, Gregory Smits argues (based on the work of Okinawan and Japanese scholars too) that most of the big-name figures in medieval Ryukyu history, including in Miyako and Yaeyama, were likely not “indigenous” islanders in the sense of being some completely different ethnic group from the Japanese, but rather were likely wakō sea lords, likely of Japanese descent, who had come into the islands and established themselves there only a generation or two or three earlier. Overall, he suggests that “the Ryukyuan people,” such as they are understood today, are descended primarily from a number of successive waves of migrations into the islands from Japan in the 11th-15th centuries, completely displacing or absorbing the non-Japonic (Austronesian? Filipino?) indigenous peoples who may have been there previously. Scholars such as Mark Hudson, similarly, suggest that while up until a certain point the islands were inhabited by Austronesian or perhaps pre-Austronesian peoples2 with stark cultural differences from the Japonic peoples of the northern and central Ryukyus, isolated to a certain extent by the Kerama Gap – a large span of ocean between Okinawa and Miyako in which there are no islands – the indigenous languages spoken on all the southern islands in early modern and modern times are all related to one another and to Japanese – they are not Austronesian languages.

Given the implications for popular and scholarly understandings of just who the peoples of these southern islands are today, and who they were centuries ago – indigenous Ryukyuans? indigenous peoples distinct from the Okinawans who invaded them? descendants of Japanese migrants? – I was a bit disappointed, and frankly confused, that unless I missed it, I don’t think the exhibit actually talked about who it was that occupied these 13th-16th century (pre-Ryukyu Kingdom) settlements at all. Still, it was fascinating to learn about these, and to learn the names of specific ones; many of these stone-walled ruins later became sacred sites, which islanders respect as associated with their distant ancestors, performing ceremonies or ritual acts of respect or honor, apparently in ways (traditions) unrelated to Okinawan religion. Very interesting. And now that I know the names of these sites (incl. Furusutobaru on Ishigaki, Komi harbor on Iriomote, and Mishuku & Mashuku mura on Hateruma), I can add them to my list of places to hopefully visit someday.

Model of Yoron gusuku. Property of Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Image from this Asahi shinbun article, because god forbid Rekihaku should make any effort to grant visitors permission to take photos of things in Rekihaku’s own collection, or to secure permission from other museums for visitors to take photos of what’s not even a precious historical artifact but only a model.

The exhibit continued by then jumping from the Miyakos and Yaeyamas in the south to the Amami Islands to the north of Okinawa. We got to see a nice model/diorama of Yoron gusuku, which I had not known about. And which I now wish I’d snuck a photo of, since the image in the catalog is terrible. Not that I would have had a chance to see this gusuku on my 45 min layover or whatever it was on Yoron last year, but, well, one more place to know about to try to visit in future. The northernmost of the large-scale Okinawan-style gusuku fortresses (i.e. akin to Zakimi, Nakagusuku, Katsuren, and Nakijin on Okinawa Island), Yoron gusuku apparently still has some significant remaining ruins of stone walls, occupying two or three levels stepping up along the side of a cliff, in the southwestern portion of Yoron Island, facing Okinawa (the next island to the south). According to the exhibit, legend says it was built by Okinawan-based rulers (i.e. the kingdom of either Hokuzan or Chūzan) in the 15th-16th centuries, but archaeological evidence suggests it was built earlier. This is just my amateur opinion, but if a fortress is facing towards Okinawa, seems to me more likely it was built as a watchtower and defense against the Okinawans than being built by them, no? In any case, perhaps this is just one more example of (1) Okinawa-centered narratives, and (2) speaking more globally, narratives which presuppose that the most dominant culture in a region must have built X, because surely the local indigenous people couldn’t have done so. … Of course, that said, it’s also quite possible that “local indigenous people” had less to do with this than, again, sea lords (brigands/smugglers) of some sort.

Moving on, the exhibit talks briefly about the early history of Kikaigashima (Kikai Island), saying that the ki in the name of the island was originally written with the characters 貴 (ki, precious, valuable) or 喜 (ki, rejoice, take pleasure in), because of its association with the shimmering, precious, turbo (turban) shells (J: yakо̄gai 夜光貝) which were a highly-prized and widely traded luxury good in the region in ancient times. Kikai and the surrounding islands were apparently regarded even in ancient times by the Dazaifu (the branch headquarters in Kyushu of the imperial government in Kansai) as being in some way part of the territory of the Yamato state (i.e. “Japan”) – as it’s phrased in the gallery labels, 「南九州の領主、内の世界とし自分たちの所領として確保」. Still, that said, the earliest record of an island by the name of Kikaijima is an entry from the Nihon kiryaku 日本紀略 corresponding to the year 998, in which Dazaifu orders the capture of “nanban” 南蛮 – southern barbarians – from Kikai. Based on a document from the previous year called Shōyūki 小右記, scholars apparently understand that “Nanban” here refers to Amami Islanders (even though the same term is much more familiar to most of us in Japanese Studies as a term referring in the 16-17th centuries to Europeans).

By the late 12th century, Kikai became a place for the Heian court or the Kamakura shogunate to exile people. It then became common to replace the “esteemed” 貴 or 喜 in the name of the island with the character 鬼 (ki, demon), making it Kikaigashima 鬼界ヶ島 – the Demon World Island. There were a number of prominent historical figures exiled there over time – one of the most famous being the monk Shunkan, who got in trouble for plotting against Taira no Kiyomori (top samurai puppetmaster of the imperial court at the time) in the 1177 Shishigatani Incident, and whose grave can still be found on Kikai today. I sorely regret not visiting when I had the chance a year ago, when I was on Amami; if I’d planned my time better, or had just one more day, I could have taken a little boat over to Kikai, poked around the sites, and come back all in one day. I think. Maybe.

1306 shobunjо̄ associated with Chikama Tokiie. Reproduction owned by National Museum of Japanese History. Image taken from somewhere on the internet because, again, god forbid the museum should allow photos of an object in their own collection, which isn’t even an original artifact but is merely a reproduction.

In any case, the exhibit then jumped ahead a few centuries to show a series of documents indicating the progression of which of the northernmost Ryukyu Islands were regarded as included within Japanese – really, Satsuma province – spheres of authority or conceptions of outright territory, and how this changed over time.

The first is a shobunjо̄ 処分状 – a document dividing up [territory] – associated with Chikama Tokiie 千竃時家, a gokenin (houseman?) for the Kamakura shogunate, c. 1306. Originally from Owari province (Nagoya), he was appointed jitôdai (steward?) of Kawanabe district in Satsuma province (basically, somewhere in the western fork of that southernmost part of Kyushu, south of Kagoshima castle-town). This was really interesting to see, for two reasons. Firstly, according to the interpretative information on the gallery labels (I couldn’t read through the document on my own), the document somehow shows an awareness or acknowledgement at the time that Kawanabe district or Satsuma province collected revenues and resources (収益と資産) from the islands of Kikai, О̄shima, Erabu, Tokunoshima, Yakushima, and “the seven islands” (a reference to the Tokaras), but did not control / administer (支配) those islands. So, that’s really interesting. I’d have to read up more – I’m only learning a lot of this for the first time – but it would definitely be interesting to learn a little more extensively just how territory or the bounds or extent of “Japan” was imagined or regarded at this time. The second piece of this that was really interesting was that the document then divides up those revenues or resources among the members of Tokiie’s family – *including his wife and daughters*. I suppose I did know on some level that elite women had quite a bit more social rights and privileges in earlier periods, e.g. pertaining to inheriting headship of a family, owning land, calling for their own divorce. But, again, this is way outside my field and period of specialty, so… it’s interesting to see how women may have been included in this, with seemingly some sort of rights to actually be granted, or to claim, a share of the family’s revenues or inheritance or whatever it may be. If anyone reading this knows gender politics in medieval Japan better, please do let me know your thoughts or knowledge on this.

The next was a document from 1227, associated with Fujiwara Yoritsune, which documents the transfer (譲与) to Shimazu Tadahisa (d. 1227) of the position of jito (steward) overseeing the twelve islands (the five Kuchi islands 口五島 and the seven islands 七島).1 A document from 1363 in which Shimazu Sadahisa describes the territory he is granting to his heir Morohisa acknowledges the “twelve islands plus the five islands” (which islands? beats me) as being attached to 付随 Kawanabe district. So, basically, we’re seeing Shimazu claims to territory – or to rights to revenue, or something – gradually increasing. From these documents alone, of course, it seems arbitrary and one-sided, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true; but we don’t have the in-between information, or, at least I didn’t happen to notice such information in the gallery labels.

The exhibit devoted quite a bit more space than I would have expected to developments on Okinawa Island. I suppose that this is likely due to either my misinterpreting the theme – it’s “empire of the sea: medieval [Ryukyu] as seen from Amami, Miyako, and Yaeyama,” i.e. an exhibit focusing on the “empire” and not solely on those “outer” island groups. Or it could also be in part because of a lack of artifacts, documents, or content to share if they had focused more exclusively on those islands; also, given how infrequently the museum does special exhibits on Ryukyu, perhaps they also felt they just had stuff they wanted to share.

The Engaku-ji bell as pictured in the exhibition catalogue. Because, again, no photos allowed in the gallery for god knows what reason.

One particularly striking item, which I was surprised to learn about, was a bell from Engaku-ji 円覚寺 – the Zen Buddhist temple located just below Shuri gusuku – which includes in its inscription the phrase Shо̄ Shin teiо̄ 尚真帝王, using the character 「帝」for “emperor.” What. Wow. While I’m beginning to be convinced that Ryukyu functioned like an empire in certain ways, in terms of the way the center extended its power over the peripheries, etc., I had always fallen back on the argument that Ryukyu very explicitly had a “king” 国王 whose legitimacy was invested in him by the Emperor 皇帝 in Beijing, thus making him a “king” of a “kingdom,” and not an “emperor” of an “empire.” But, if Shо̄ Shin is explicitly calling himself teiо̄ 帝王, then that complicates things a bit. Hmm. Food for thought.

The exhibit continued in the back corner of the first gallery, where we were treated to a brief overview of early developments on Okinawa Island itself. Migrations from Kyushu and elsewhere around the 11th century spurred the introduction or expansion of agriculture and a shift away from more exclusively hunter-gatherer / fishing lifestyles; in connection with this, many settlements began to move inland from the coast, i.e. towards agricultural land and not only grouped up on the coast where fishing and other maritime activities could be the sole / primary source of survival. This was when we began to see post-construction homes and storehouses, it seems.

Then, in the 14th century or so, gusuku. Though most gusuku today are known most famously or most iconically for their winding stone walls, it makes sense that the earliest gusuku (like early medieval fortresses in Japan) began with wooden fences and the like, before stone walls became a prominent feature in later decades/centuries. The exhibit devotes a little space to highlighting the Mekarubaru settlement as an example of one site from this time. Dating to roughly the 12th-13th century, digs at Mekarubaru have uncovered great amounts of Chinese pottery and porcelain, an indication of the interconnectedness of even these slightly less-central settlements into region-wide trade networks. Sadly, the site of Mekarubaru (near Ameku, in what is today northern Naha City) was largely destroyed during the establishment of US military bases on the island in the late 1940s or later. Sadly, a very common story in Okinawa and around the world. (Interesting to see how when one Googles “US military babylon,” the first three results are an article from the UK-based Guardian entitled “Babylon wrecked by war: US-led forces leave a trail of destruction and contamination in architectural site of world importance,” and two from US-based news agencies, with much softer, hedgier, headlines: “U.S. troops accused of damaging Babylon’s ancient wonder” and “U.S. admits military damaged Babylon ruins.”)

Model / diorama of Naha harbor. To the right we see the two fortresses of Mii gusuku 三重城 and Yarazamui gusuku 屋良座森城, which guarded the entrance to the harbor. On the left, Umungusuku 御物城 hanging out in the middle of the water – this was iirc a relatively general storehouse, while the one near the bottom left corner of this image is Iо̄gusuku 硫黄城, the sulfur storehouse.

Finally, the last section of the exhibit focused on how goods (tribute or taxes) from the various islands were brought into Naha harbor, and where they were stored. There were a couple of gorgeous models of the harbor, with each fortress and warehouse labeled, which I sorely wish I had snuck photos of, since I didn’t realize they weren’t going to be depicted well in the catalog, and since I have never seen these on display at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum (which owns them). I am not really properly expert at the urban history of Naha, but I’ve spent enough time in the city – including walking around to as many historical sites as I can – that I have a pretty good sense of the basic geography. As a result, as someone who does have some sense of the geography, I found it particularly interesting and meaningful to see on these models and on maps/diagrams just where each of these different sites had been located. The Iо̄ gusuku 硫黄城 warehouse for sulfur (iо̄ 硫黄) from Iо̄torishima, which I’d already known vaguely of, was in the area of the city known as Watanji 渡地, and what I didn’t know is that another warehouse was quite nearby – known as the Miyako-gusuku 宮古城, it held goods shipped in from the Miyakos.

Finally finally, we saw a few of the original handwritten notebooks of Ifa Fuyū 伊波普猷, “father of Okinawan Studies.” Like those of Kamakura Yoshitarо̄, these are just beautiful. I wonder if I could get a chance to see them in person; they’re held at the Hо̄sei University Okinawan Studies Center, here in Tokyo, which is certainly easily accessible. But, I always get nervous requesting to see items that I don’t actually have a serious research reason to see… and especially things like these. I mean, it’s funny – they’re 20th century items; a lot younger/newer than most of the original historical documents I handle. Newer, in fact, than most of the hand-copied manuscript copies that are just sitting on the shelves at my own Institute. But, even though, they’re fragile and precious… One thing I do think I’ll be able to get access to, though, is a set of illustrations or paintings which are held by my own Institute and which I had no idea about, depicting shrines, temples, and various other locations in Naha.

I’m not sure I have anything to say to wrap this up… It was fantastic to see an exhibit focusing on Amami, Miyako, and Yaeyama, and to learn more about these “outer” islands of the archipelago. The Ryukyus are marginal enough in Japanese history (and all the more so in world history) – to get to learn about these fascinating different islands, deepening my understanding and appreciation for the rich diversity that exists within Ryukyuan or Japanese or East Asian history, was just great. It’s a shame the exhibit wasn’t larger, and didn’t allow photos. To be honest, it felt like sort of a start, a gesture in the direction of that there might be a fuller exhibit at some point… but it is most definitely a start.

The exhibit is still open until May 9. National Museum of Japanese History 国立歴史民俗博物館, a short walk from Keisei Sakura station [1 hr from Ueno; 20 mins from Narita Airport, by local train], in Chiba.

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1 The seven islands here again refers to the Tokara Islands. The five Kuchi islands, I’m assuming includes Kuchinoshima and Kuchinoerabushima, but which other three I’m not sure.

2 The idea that the peoples of Sakishima prior to Japonic migrations were Austronesian means they were descendants of people who came into the Yaeyamas and Miyakos from Taiwan; it means they would have been ethnically or culturally related to the indigenous groups of Taiwan today, and a bit more distantly but nevertheless related to Micronesians and Polynesians who settled the Pacific. “Pre-Austronesians” here means they may have been descended from peoples pushed out of Taiwan when those Austronesian (today “indigenous” or “aboriginal”) groups gained dominance.

Thoughts on Life in Tokyo

Takeshita-dôri in Harajuku. Back to a manageable, pleasant level of crowds. This is more like what it was when I came to Tokyo the first time in 2003; in recent years, it’s gotten so packed-solid crowded with tourists that it’s become an area to avoid. But during Covid, ironically,
it can be enjoyed again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve kept up with this blog in any way. So, starting to catch up a little. Here’s a post I wrote way back in October, but it’s basically still true today.

I’ve been in Tokyo for more than a year now. Almost a year and a half. I can’t believe it. The longest stretch I’ve ever spent outside the US.

Of course, this is like my eighth time or something being in Tokyo, so it’s not the same as almost any other city…

But what does the city feel like after being here for so long? In some respects it feels too ordinary, like I’ve gotten used to it and it’s lost a sense of adventure to some (albeit only partial) extent. But at the same time, I do still very much feel like someone still finding their feet. Like someone who’s still visiting, or who hasn’t necessarily gained a deeper, stronger familiarity with the city than a year ago. Granted, I think a lot of this has to do with the Covid situation. Here in Tokyo, we’ve never had a real serious lockdown, and we still don’t now. Even during those weeks/months when I was more seriously trying to avoid public transportation and to avoid sit-down restaurants, etc., even at those times I still went for walks, experienced the city in a sense. I wonder how my familiarity with the city, my feeling of living here, might be different if this pandemic never happened, and if I might have spent more of this past year and a half more actively hanging out with friends, going out to restaurants and museums and so forth in a more lively fashion; then again, we’re researchers and full-time workers, and so forth, and even in non-Covid times it probably would have been a lot of just day-in day-out regular workdays.

In any case, with the pandemic or without, on some level I suppose I have gotten more familiar with, more used to the city, but that said, it feels more ordinary, not less. I might have expected that gaining the cultural capital of being so familiar with Tokyo would feel cool, amazing, empowering, but instead it just feels ordinary. 

The imperial palace moat at Ichigaya. An area deeply nostalgic for me from my very first time in Japan.
I never tire of seeing the trains running right along the water.

Sure, I can go visit anywhere in the city and find my way around no problem, but I could do that before. And I’m not too unfamiliar with various archives, etc., even having some sense, some image in my mind of what’s nearby in each neighborhood. I can walk around in certain neighborhoods – certainly not the whole city! but certain areas – and just sort of know what’s around the next corner, or where to find a bathroom nearby or whether there’s a good café I know nearby. 

And I don’t think my language skills have gotten all that much better in the one year I’ve been here. I’ll blame it on the pandemic, that I’ve been spending so much time isolated away. And I do plan on taking sanshin classes and/or Uchināguchi classes once we can, and I very much hope that that might be a good angle for improving my Japanese by meeting and interacting with Japanese classmates. But in the meantime, I dunno, it’s just a weird feeling to think about being here for a full year, and what my relationship with the city has become.

Akamon, the famous red gate of University of Tokyo’s main campus.