Archive for the ‘Japanese News’ Category

Banner at Shôkoshûseikan in Kagoshima, summer 2014, advertising the campaign to get these sites named World Heritage Sites.

Well, after considerable controversy and opposition, Japan’s proposal for a whole series of sites in Kyushu and Yamaguchi prefecture to be named UNESCO World Heritage Sites has been approved. Congratulations to those municipalities, prefectures, and individual sites, and my condolences on the loss of Nadeshiko Japan in the women’s World Cup soccer match thing. I was rooting for you as soon as I found out you made it into the finals, which was about an hour before the game ended.

Frankly, I think this is one of Japan’s better World Heritage proposals. I think at one point they were trying to get “Warrior City” Kamakura named to the list – sorry, but while Kamakura may be really significant to Japanese history, I’m not sure there’s any call for it to be called “World Heritage.”1 By contrast, these Meiji period sites are perhaps among the greatest candidates in Japan for “World Heritage” significance – they represent the sites at the core of Japan’s modernization, industrialization, and Westernization at the end of the 19th century. Japan was the very first non-Western country to Westernize (for certain definitions of “Western”), and did so at a supremely impressive pace and degree of success.

The controversy, of course, is that Meiji industrialization is directly tied to Meiji imperialism, and to Shôwa militarism and imperialism. Many of the late 19th century sites on the list are exactly the same sites which in the 20th century were major centers of Japan’s war engine, some of them operated in part by forced labor of abducted Koreans. Japan’s wartime history is not something to be celebrated (though, worryingly, I think a lot of people in the Japanese government think otherwise), and least of all Japan’s exploitation of others, e.g. through forced labor. In the end, a compromise was reached, the terms of which were seemingly that Japan got to have its Meiji sites so long as a whole bunch of Korean sites got named World Heritage Sites as well, and so long as the plaques and other information associated with the Japanese historical sites make clear the negative things that happened there. I’m certainly not going to argue that these Korean sites aren’t worthy – Paekche was of great historical significance for Korea and for Japan, and these ancient sites look absolutely stunning in the photos; congrats to them on receiving some extra attention, and extra provisions for their protection. I hope to visit them someday. But, the politics are all too plain. The jostling between countries to have the most World Heritage Sites continues.

The Shôkoshûseikan in Kagoshima. One of Japan’s first ever industrial factories, and today a museum of Satsuma history.

From what little I know of the controversy, I don’t understand why Japan didn’t simply focus on a smaller number of sites that were more prominently or more exclusively associated with Bakumatsu/Meiji, and not with 20th century developments. The Shimazu villa compound at Iso, for example, was home to the first hydroelectric dam in Japan, the first steamship (built based on Western books, with no Western experts present in person), the first gaslamps, and so forth, and is closely associated with the first modern cotton mill in Japan, the Shûseikan – Japan’s first modern factory, complete with reverberating furnaces, blast furnaces, a smithy, a foundry, and a glass workshop.

But, instead, they decided to include, and to continue to insist upon, controversial sites like the coal mines at Gunkanjima (Hashima Island, Nagasaki), which were run in large part, in the early 20th century, by Korean and Chinese forced labor workers taken from Japan’s colonies / conquered territories, all of them working for Mitsubishi, one of the most major corporations at the time producing war materiel. What kind of politics was involved that this site had to remain on the list and be fought for, rather than just being dropped? Was it just stubbornness against backing down to Korean complaints? Was it pressure from local Nagasaki government? Was it the political influence of Mitsubishi? Whatever the case, it seems clear that politics, once again, comes before any semblance of an effort at objective choice of sites based on the expertise of historians & art historians.

The Iso ijinkan, or Foreign Engineers’ Residence at Iso, in Kagoshima.

Well, whatever. While the news and even the UNESCO webpage itself continue to only give vague and confusing information, are we not surprised that Wikipedia already has its shit together, just one day after the announcement. Ladies, gentlemen, and those who identify otherwise, here are your new Japanese World Heritage Sites:

In Hagi (Yamaguchi prefecture):
*The Hagi Reverberatory Furnace
*The Ebisu-ga-hana Shipyard
*Ôitayama tatara iron smelting works
*Shôkason-juku Academy (run by Yoshida Shôin)
*Hagi castle town (pretty cool; glad they snuck that in there, though it’s clearly more about being a castletown than about the industrialization period)

In Shimonoseki (Yamaguchi prefecture):
*Mutsurejima lighthouse
*Maeda Battery (assoc. with the 1863-1864 Shimonoseki War against ships from France, England, US, and Netherlands)

In Kagoshima:
*The Shûseikan and surrounding areas, including:
**Shûseikan Machine Factory (erected 1865, long before anything with forced labor)
**The Iso Ijinkan (Foreign Engineers’ Residence, 1867-1869)
**Gion-no-su Battery (coastal defense batteries used to fight off the British in 1863)
**Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshino Leat
**Charcoal Kiln
**Reverberatory Furnace at Iso

In Saga:
*The Mietsu naval facility

In Kamaishi (Iwate prefecture, all the way up north):
*Hashino iron mining and smelting site

In Nagasaki:
*Kosuge ship repair dock
*Hokkei well shaft & Takashima coal mine
*Hashima coal mine (Gunkanjima)
*The former house of Scottish merchant & modernization advisor Thomas Blake Glover, oldest Western-style house in Japan
*Mitsubishi’s Nagasaki shipyard

In Fukuoka Prefecture:
*Miyanohara Pit & Miike Coal Mine (largest coal mine in Japan since early 18th c.)
*Miike coal mine associated port and railway
*Misumi West Port
*Yawata steel works in Kitakyushu
*Onga River pumping station

I’m certainly more eager to visit some of these sites than others. I’m much more into arts & culture side of things – e.g. the Hagi castle town, and Glover’s Western-style house – than the ugly, dirty, steel and concrete industrial sites, e.g. coal mines and such. But, that said, I did thoroughly enjoy visiting the few I have already seen – those in Kagoshima – and am glad to see those sites recognized. Looking forward to future trips to Shimonoseki, Hagi, Nagasaki, and South Korea’s many World Heritage Sites as well.

You can read more about the Kyushu-Yamaguchi sites at their official English website.

1) Though, actually, on second thought, the Daibutsu is super majorly iconic, and many of the Zen temples represent a majorly important historical moment in the spread and development of Zen, and in the role of Zen monks as foreign relations advisors and diplomats.

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Somehow I didn’t hear about this until just now, and didn’t catch it when I watched Kôhaku myself, but apparently the Southern All-Stars’ performance of their song “Peace and Hi-Lite” at the annual New Year’s Kôhaku Uta Gassen event (broadcast on NHK, and watched by about 35-42% of Japanese households) earned the ire of many right-wingers.

This is the same band which wrote & performs “Heiwa no Ryûka” (“Ryukyuan song of Peace”) about which I’ve blogged over on my tumblr. It’s a pretty boldly political song, asking “who decided that this land is at peace?,” and then going on to speak of Okinawa under the American “umbrella,” of the way Okinawa’s people were abandoned, or forsaken, and how the wounds of the past have still not yet been allowed to heal (or, that Okinawa and its people have not yet been allowed to recover)… I wish they might have sung this at Kôhaku, especially right now as protesters against the military base they are building continue to be harassed and arrested at Henoko. But, I don’t think we can reasonably expect that such a thing would happen at a show like Kôhaku, which is so much about coming together as a country, to remember the previous year and look towards a positive future… such a political song would never play at an equivalently mainstream patriotic event in the US, either, would it?

Of course, the Japanese relationship with political satire (and the resulting relative lack of it in Japan e.g. as compared to the Daily Show, The Onion, and countless other satire venues in the US), goes far beyond that.

In any case, in the Southern All-Stars’ first Kôhaku appearance in 31 years, leader Kuwata Keisuke started by appearing with a stick-on Hitler mustache. Some have said it was more meant to reference a comedian, Cha Kato, and I hope it wasn’t meant as a direct intimation of comparison of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Hitler, as that really is going too far, or is just misplaced, when it comes to just about anyone alive today. But, still, I think anything that draws attention to the fact that Abe’s policy positions & rhetoric smell of the authoritarianism and damaging ultra-nationalism of the 1930s, are more than deserved. Tell it like it is. Japan is seeing more protests today than our stereotypical imagining of the oh-so compliant (that’s not the word I’m looking for; what is it?) Japanese would ever have it – and for damn good reason. Get people mobilized, get people talking. Abe and his people need to go.

I won’t rehash any further the details of the event and right-wing reactions to it. You can read more about it at Global Voices Online, Japan Times, and the Asahi Shimbun (all in English).

What I will do, though, since no one else is doing it, is provide a translation of the lyrics. First, of “Peace and Hi-Lite,” the song they performed at Kôhaku this year:

I happened to look at the news today
The neighbors are angry
Even now no matter what dialogues we have
The various contentions don’t change

Textbooks run out of time
Before reading modern history
Even though that’s what we want to know most
Why does it turn out like this?

Let’s plant the seedlings of hope
Let’s raise love above ground
Until the flowers of peace bloom in the future … Blue [Melancholy/Depression]
Is it a pipe dream? Is it a fairytale?
To wish for one another’s happiness, etc.

Wouldn’t it be good to come together and help one another
check our history?
Raising a heavy fist
Won’t open hearts

A world ruled by an emperor without any clothes
Waging disputes
By convenient explanations ([claiming] a just cause) is … Insane
We should have learned by experience [being disgusted by] the 20th century, right?
This is just the flaring up of old sputtering embers

There are various considerations, though
Understand one another’s good points!

Let’s plant the seedlings of hope
Let’s raise love above ground
Being born into this beautiful world (hometown)
A sad past and foolish actions too
Why do people forget these things?

Don’t hesitate to love.

And, the lyrics to Heiwa no Ryûka (video above), an even more explicitly, directly, political song, about the Battle of Okinawa, and the continuing US military presence there today:

Who decided
That this land is at peace?
Even as people’s tears have not dried

Under America’s umbrella
We saw a dream
At the end of the war in which the people were forsaken

The blue moon is crying.
There are things which cannot be forgotten.

Let’s plant & grow love, for this island
For the people whose wounds have not healed
In order to it pass down

Who decided
That this land is at peace?
As atonement for one’s filthy self

Why do you refuse
To live like people?
You soldiers gathered next door.

The blue moon is crying.
There is a past which is not yet over.

Let’s plant & grow love, for this island
For the people who don’t forget the song
Until the day when someday the flower blooms

Thanks to J-Lyric.net for the Japanese lyrics. Translations are my own; my apologies for any mistakes or awkwardness in the translation.

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Click to embiggen.

Last Friday, the Ryūkyū Shimpō published an article by Aragaki Tsuyoshi on the 160th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Amity between the United States and the Kingdom of Ryūkyū. Much thanks to Fija Byron for sharing it on his blog; ippee nifee deebiru, Fija shinshii. Here is my rough translation; my apologies for any mistakes or imprecise translations. Links are my own.


Today, 160 years since the signing of the US-Ryūkyū Treaty of Amity

The Overthrow of Ryūkyū was Illegal under International Law

Still Today, Investigation into a Return to Sovereignty is Possible

Regarding the forced annexation of the Ryūkyū Kingdom by the Japanese government in 1879, an event known as the “Ryūkyū shobun,” scholars of international law have expressed an opinion that, as Ryūkyū had treaties of amity with the United States and two other countries, this annexation clearly was illegal under international law. Based on the fact of the treaties, the researchers point out that “Ryūkyū was independent under international law, and was not a part of Japan.” That soldiers and police surrounded Shuri Castle and captured the king, Shō Tai, as part of the “establishment of Okinawa prefecture,” constituted the act of “coercion of the representative of [another] State,” which was prohibited under the conventions of international law of the time. Taking the 51st article of the Treaty of Vienna, which codifed customary law, as a basis, they expressed the perspective that a demand could be made to retroactively acknowledge that sovereignty equals the guarantee of rights of self-determination.

[According to the wording provided on the Organization of American States’ website, article 51 of the 1969 Treaty of Vienna states, “The expression of a State’s consent to be bound by a treaty which has been procured by the coercion of its representative through acts or threats directed against him shall be without any legal effect.”]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not Deny

In response to the opinion offered by these researchers touching upon international law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated “regarding the meaning of the ‘Ryūkyū shobun,’ there are many opinions. There is not recognition of an established definition. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is difficult to say anything definite,” not denying the researchers’ assertions. They answered the Ryūkyū Shimpō’s question in writing.
This July 11 marks 160 years since the signing of the US-Ryūkyū Treaty of Amity in July 1854. Ryūkyū signed similar treaties with France in 1854, and with Holland in 1859. The opinion that, touching upon these three treaties, the Ryūkyū Shobun was clearly in violation of international law, could become something used to support a re-energized debate over self-determination in Okinawa.

The researchers who expressed this opinion were Prof. Uemura Hideaki of Keisen University, and Prof. Abe Kōki of Kanagawa University, chair of the International Human Rights Law Association. They responded for this article.
Prof. Uemura points out “the Ryūkyū Shobun was in violation of article 51 of the Treaty of Vienna.” He emphasized that after depriving Okinawa of its sovereignty, the colonialist rule over Okinawa, the land war between Japan and the United States that the local people got caught up in, the annexation by the United States, the problem of US military bases even after the reversion to Japanese control, as well as responsibility for many other various infringements or violations of rights, the Japanese and American governments can be pressed, questioned, based on Article 51.

Furthermore, considering the meaning of the word “amity” [friendship] in the US-Ryūkyū Treaty of Amity, “we can also question the responsibility of the United States for silently permitting the Japanese government’s illegal annexation of Ryūkyū, demand an apology, and demand the establishment of a US-Ryūkyū committee aimed at resolving the military bases issue,” he said.

In fact, an official apology was already issued in 1993 by President Clinton and the US Congress at that time, acknowledging the illegality under international law of the US takeover of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi one hundred years earlier, in 1893, after Native Hawaiians pursued that issue based on the fact that the Hawaiian Kingdom had signed treaties with the United States and several European powers.

Abe pointed out that “there is a possibility that Japan annexed Ryūkyū unjustly, without a basis in legality under international law.”

In truth, I have no idea whether this is the first time that someone has made such an argument; that is to say, I have no idea how significant this news is. To be sure, I am doubtful that anything much will come of it, especially since the argument, in my humble opinion, seems quite weak. I am in no way an expert in law, let alone international law, but for what it’s worth, it seems to me that a 1969 Treaty claiming to codify customary law of the vague recent (or not quite so recent) past is really nothing like pointing to treaties or laws of the time, as explicitly codified at the time. For example, in the case of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, it is my understanding, though this may be incorrect, that very explicitly at that time, it was already established in US law that the US could not annex foreign territory unilaterally by an act of Congress, but required a treaty or some other arrangement in which the foreign territory, in this case Hawaiʻi, formally surrendered its sovereignty. And furthermore, that there might be something in the US Constitution (though I don’t know which Article or section specifically) which might explicitly render what was done to Hawaiʻi illegal. In any case, the point is, pointing to a 1969 Treaty makes for a weaker argument than pointing to the letter of the law as it explicitly stood in 1879.

Besides, given the numerable complex and very real obstacles to a return to sovereignty, just on a very practical level, not to mention that polls continue to show that the majority of people living in Okinawa support remaining part of Japan, I imagine it quite unlikely this really marks the beginning of any real significant change. Even so, I’m excited to see this published simply because it adds to the visibility of the issue, and might possibly stimulate revived or expanded discussion. Or, at the very least, if absolutely nothing else, it gets people thinking for a moment about history that goes further back than just a few decades ago.

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NHK reported yesterday that a survey by the Bunkachô (Agency for Cultural Affairs) has confirmed the locations of over 10,000 Important Cultural Properties, but in the process discovered that at least one National Treasure and at least 108 Important Cultural Properties have gone missing. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re stolen, or truly “lost” to the ages, but simply that at the moment, the Agency does not know their location. Some of these may in fact have been stolen, while others may have been sold; in some cases, the private individual owner simply moved to another house, or another city, and in other cases, the owner has passed away, and the Agency simply was not (apparently) keeping up with what happened to the objects in these cases.

The NHK report tells us that the Agency’s survey of the 10,524 National Treasures + Important Cultural Properties continues. A pamphlet the Agency has available online lists 866 National Treasures + 10,430 Important Cultural Properties that are not buildings or structures, so I’m not sure exactly how the numbers add up to 10,524, but, I just thought I’d share that number, put it out there anyway. The report does say that there are 238 objects remaining to be surveyed (including 12 National Treasures). If anyone knows how to make these numbers work out together, or notices a mistake in my understanding of what’s being said here, please let me know.

In any case, the National Treasure which has gone missing is a tanto, a short sword, forged by the swordsmith Kunimitsu. The Tokyo man who owned the sword passed away 18 years ago, and it is unclear what happened to the sword at that time. The survey tells of 24 other cases where the owner passed away, and his or her property was dispersed in some way. Thirty-three Important Cultural Properties seem to have been stolen. The agency lost track of 31 other objects when the owners moved, while another three objects have been sold, and the situation of another 17 objects remains unclear.

The Agency is sending out information to art dealers in the hopes of learning the whereabouts of the missing objects, and is also from next year asking owners of Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures to report back to the Agency once a year (by way of postage-paid postcards) on the whereabouts of their collections. Local Boards of Education will also be requested to perform surveys, once every four years, of the registered objects in their local districts.

Link to the NHK report, with video.

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*The Japan News reports today that “Okinawa Governor Nakaima is ‘set’ to approve Henoko plan.” What this means is that the controversial Futenma Air Base in Ginowan will be closed (eventually; by 2022 or so), and that a new airfield will be built at Henoko, an eastern-facing point a bit further north on the island. This runs counter, I think, to popular expectation, and to what Nakaima has repeatedly stated his position to be – the most popular opinion, I believe, amongst Okinawan citizens, is that the base should be closed entirely, or relocated outside of Okinawa prefecture, not simply relocated on the island. Many have opposed the Henoko plan, too, because of the damage the new base will cause to dugong habitats. Whether this is merely a convenient excuse, or whether people are truly, genuinely, passionate about the dugongs, is unclear; in truth, it’s probably a combination of the two.

Right: Flyers posted by students at the University of the Ryukyus, explicitly opposing new base construction at Henoko. August 2013.
Now, I don’t follow politics that closely, so I don’t know that much about attitudes towards Nakaima – whether people expected this, or whether this comes as a shock, or what. I appreciate that I’m in the dark largely because I simply choose not to take the time to read more about all of this; even so, I’m sure there are elements of the negotiations that are simply not publicly known. What precisely was said in meetings or discussions between Nakaima and Tokyo? What options were presented and considered, and why did Nakaima made the decision he did, in the end? What does he, or Okinawa, gain by doing this, and what more might they have lost if they hadn’t? Is Nakaima doing this in the best interests of the Okinawan people, or is he selling them out for his own political benefit (somehow)? What exactly does it mean to say there’s “pressure” from Tokyo? How precisely is this pressure imposed?

Whatever the story is, for what it’s worth coming from a non-expert such as myself, I’m not surprised. I love to think that the Okinawan politicians are truly standing up for the Okinawan people, and for what those people want, against pressures from Tokyo, in a romantic, gloriously rebellious “standing up for your rights” and “standing up to bullies” sort of way. But, at the end of the day, politicians are politicians, and in Japan as in the US, to hope for proper big changes is to hope for too much. It doesn’t matter what the people want – if there’s one thing we can rely on our politicians to do, it is to give in to corporate, military, and party interests, to compromise, and to betray their constituents. Will Okinawa ever be free of US military bases? Is that too much to hope for? On the plus side, if there is a plus side to any of this nonsense, it’s that the deeply unpopular new base at Henoko is not actually an entirely new base, but merely a small expansion to a base that already exists – Camp Schwab. How this never came up in previous articles I came across, I don’t know, but it seems pretty clear from the map in the Japan News article.

Futenma Air Base, immediately adjacent to civilian buildings in Ginowan City; as seen from Kakazu Park, August 2013.

Map from The Japan Times. All photos my own.

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Caroline Kennedy, the new ambassador of the United States to Japan, traveled to the Imperial Palace this past Tuesday to formally present her credentials to the Emperor.

What I find incredibly interesting is the manner in which she traveled to the palace. In a horse-drawn carriage that looks like it could be straight out of the Meiji period, complete with horsemen and footmen in gloriously anachronistic dress. Is this typical? Is this standard? Have all US ambassadors, or all ambassadors from any country, to Japan, traveled to offer their credentials in this same manner?

It’s an Imperial carriage, as indicated by the gold chrysanthemum crest on the sides; Kennedy, like Ulysses S. Grant more than 130 years ago, is being received and welcomed like royalty. So, that’s certainly interesting, and I’m sure there’s something to be said for Japanese attitudes towards JFK and the Kennedy family. I’d love to see that something said, explained out, by someone more thoroughly familiar with the subject. Maybe comparisons to Grant’s visit in 1879, or descriptions of the history & tradition of the ceremony surrounding previous ambassadors’ presentations of their credentials. Instead, I am somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see that, of the admittedly few news articles I have read on the event, none make even the vaguest attempt to address the history of this practice, or its symbolism or significance. What political/diplomatic symbolic message is Japan sending to its citizens, to the world, to Ms. Kennedy, by having her ride in this sort of carriage? What does it mean, what does it signify, indicate, or represent, that this is done in this style, in this manner, rather than any other form? What message does it send that this ritual is draped so extensive in the aesthetics and forms not of any other period, but specifically of the Meiji (or perhaps Taishô) period?

I love ritual and performance, tradition and culture, and I love that they’re not doing this in an utterly post-war late 20th century sort of way. Black Towncar, everyone in suits, whatever. Boring. And, I absolutely understand why they wouldn’t have Ms. Kennedy ride in, for example, a more traditional Japanese palanquin. Not only does that send totally the wrong message about Japan’s modernity, but, there is no way that a palanquin ride is comfortable. Not to mention that any kind of palanquin, sedan chair, or rickshaw would be just asking for accusations of Orientalism on Ms. Kennedy’s part, and rightfully so, as it would so easily resemble and be compared to images of Western women (and men) riding around 19th century Japan, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, etc., in such conveyances. Thankfully, those involved seem to recognize the discursive dangers inherent in such an option and have avoided them.

Image from the Daily Mail. (c) AFP / Getty Images.

However, Meiji was a period when Japan was doing its best to emulate the Western powers, in a wide variety of ways, in order to prove itself modern, including the adoption of European diplomatic/political protocols and elite/aristocratic material culture. “Look at us, we’ve got horse-drawn carriages! And floofy hats! And these cool waistcoats! Look at us, being modern! Just like you!” Except that today, these protocols appear a full 100 years out of date. Or at least they do to an American eye; I guess I can’t really speak to what a Brit might think, given the period style of much of the ritual & ceremony that goes on over there. Are we still not past that feeling of a need to prove ourselves “modern”?

Furthermore, by recalling Meiji, this recalls a period which, for all its many positive and laudable attributes, was also a period characterized by political structures and culture which directly laid the groundwork for the ultra-nationalist, imperialist, militarist, and expansionist politics & culture of the 1930s-1945.

Of course, such associations are only one possible interpretation. I am merely playing around with some of the possible connections that might be drawn. … I have no doubt that all in all this was simply meant in order to add an additional layer of pomp and circumstance, of aristocratic tradition, and, for all the potential suggestions of absurdity, or of negative connotations, there are some wonderful resonances with, again, for example, the visit of Gen. Grant, drawing a wonderful link to the past, and recalling a time when the material culture of politics & diplomacy was considerably less blah.

Image from NBC News. (c) Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AFP – Getty Images

I eagerly look forward to a more scholarly in-depth analysis, perhaps from an art historian. Japan Focus?

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Video by YouTube user <dandomina, linked from the POST article discussed below.

POST, a blog / podcast series associated with MoMA, recently featured a podcast by Prof. David Novak, professor in the Music department here at UCSB, in which he talks about recent anti-nuclear protests in Japan. As an ethnomusicologist, Novak focuses on the music employed at the protest events, and in association with the sentiment of the movement, an approach I think is quite interesting and refreshing – to focus on a live event, a contemporary, current, ongoing set of protest marches and demonstrations, but to focus on the music performed or played at those demonstrations, which may not be by big-name artists and may not even be formally published at all.

In the aftermath of the 3/11 disasters, all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down. I believe only one or two are active today. As the only country to have ever been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan of course has a unique relationship with nuclear energy. And so, perhaps it comes as no surprise that as the Fukushima crisis continues, with no end in sight, people would turn against nuclear power, seeing it as too dangerous, too risky, especially in a country that is the site of a significant proportion of all earthquake activity in the world each year. That said, though, despite Japan’s reputation for cutting-edge technology and environmentalism, since the shutdown of the nuclear plants, Japan has been getting 85% of its energy from fossil fuels – and not from clean, renewable, “green” sources of energy. So, I’m not sure the solution, the answer, is so clear-cut. In the meantime, though, how has Japan managed to get through this past summer, A/C units blaring, with all but one or two nuclear plants shut down, and yet without blackouts or energy supply problems? CNN Money / Fortune magazine suggests it was simply by cutting back – more efficient use of electricity, and more efficient equipment (lightbulbs being just a start), has made a profound impact.

Regardless of where one stands on the energy issue, or how one feels about the ongoing situation at Fukushima and how it has been handled, Novak points out another very remarkable aspect of all of this: that Japan is today seeing larger, more widespread, and more active protests than it has in some time. I really don’t know very much about it, but, stereotypically, we generally associate the Japanese with not standing up or speaking out individually against the status quo, or against societal consensus. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” is said so often in association with Japan it’s cliché; but I think there’s some truth to it – there are the famous examples of Minamata disease, along with several other cases of industrial pollution, in which individuals were ashamed to speak out about their own personal, individual, suffering, and were indeed strongly pressured to not say anything against the companies, government policies, and legal decisions that were polluting their water and destroying their lives, placing emphasis instead on the prosperity and growth of the nation, and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater whole. The most famous, and likely largest, most extensive, set of protests in post-war Japan was in the 1960s, when student protests combined with protests against the Vietnam War, and against the renewal of ANPO, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. The campuses of a number of universities, including the University of Tokyo, were taken over by the students, as campuses were here in the US, and it was a really big deal. But have we seen such a thing since then? And is what we’re seeing today truly that much bigger than anything else since? Do the protests we’re seeing today represent a true shift in the political involvement of the Japanese public (especially young people)? If so, it’s remarkable.

Image from JapanCrush.com.

But it’s not only the anti-nuclear movement which is seeing strong activity these days. Protests against hate speech have been growing as well in recent months, along with the anti-foreigner / anti-immigration that spurred them.

This recent Japan Today article is quite brief, but describes a “rally” 2000 strong, held in Shinjuku (in Tokyo) last week, protesting against racism and hate. A large protest was also held in Osaka, back in July. Though opposed by worryingly bold and explicit anti-foreigner protests, with messages such as “all foreigners are criminals,” it is heartening, encouraging, to see that thousands of Japanese are turning out with messages like “You are the shame of this country!” and “You’re the ones who need to go home!” This, after a controversy surrounding an ESL teacher trying to teach his students about racism in Japan involved discussions that, supposedly, in Japan, it is widely believed that racism is chiefly or exclusively an American problem, and that racism doesn’t exist in Japan. It would be patronizing to suggest that this is truly the first time that anyone in Japan has really come to understand what racism and hate speech are, and that they exist in Japan – but, it’s encouraging to see that the idea seems to be spreading, and gaining traction. Only time will tell where this leads, how it develops.

Photo my own, taken Aug 6, 2013, near the gates to Futenma.

Meanwhile, Okinawa of course continues to be a separate story unto itself. The ANPO demonstrations are surely the most famous protests in the history of post-war Japan as it was taught to me, as a student, educated in the United States and United Kingdom. That education included almost nothing at all about Okinawa. So, where does the Koza Riot fit into this narrative of the history of protest in modern Japan? Where do the ongoing protests against the US military presence in Okinawa – and against the current base at Futenma, the proposed base at Henoko, and the Ospreys in particular – fit?

I don’t follow the Japanese news all that closely on a day-to-day basis, but a recent article in the Number 1 Shimbun (“Number One Newspaper”, published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan), suggests that “What happens in Okinawa… [stays in Okinawa].” Or, to put it more explicitly, as Jon Mitchell does in this article, “the mainland press … consistently turns a blind eye to the iniquities suffered by residents of Japan’s poorest and most militarized prefecture.” He opens the article with the surprising information that in September 2012, protesters blocked the gates to the Marines’ air base at Futenma, preventing anyone from going in or out, and successfully closing the base – for the first and only time since the end of the US Occupation in 1972 – for a full 22 hours. And yet, few heard about it. Why is that?

It can be easy to ascribe the lack of attention to Okinawa’s situation to an imperialist agenda or colonialist bias (if we wish to use such strong terms), and/or to pressure from Washington, or the like, in broad terms. But Mitchell clarifies for us here, spelling out a series of reasons or factors, in a somewhat more detailed and specific fashion.

I link to many articles on this blog, but, and I hope I say this rarely enough for it to carry some weight – this is a particularly good one. I definitely recommend reading the entirety of Mitchell’s short article. I’ll certainly be keeping it, to potentially assign as readings for students if I ever get to teach Okinawan history, and for whatever other purposes.

He notes, firstly, that mainland Japanese reporters typically rely too heavily on press releases and other information from government sources (including the Japan Self-Defense Forces), and that mainland Japanese reporters tend to be well “handled” by American officials. Mitchell also describes how Okinawan reporters – or their direct mentors – made their careers handling these subjects during the pre-reversion period, at a time when Japan and Okinawa were much more distant and disconnected, in terms of their political status, travel access, etc. This is not simply to say that Okinawan reporters are “closer” to the issue, more familiar with it, plainly by being Okinawan, or even that it is more personal for them because their Okinawan, but rather that it’s a step beyond that, to say that by virtue of their direct experience handling this particular issue, Okinawan reporters are more experienced at asking harsh, biting questions, at pushing past barricades, and in otherwise interacting with or dealing with the US military and with this specific set of circumstances. This is, of course, a compelling argument, and I don’t doubt that it enters into it to some extent, but, given that it has now been more than 40 years since reversion, I’m not sure we should quite let the mainland reporters off the hook so easily. Mainland reporters today specializing in security issues, or reporters working the Okinawa desk for a national, Tokyo- or Osaka-based newspaper, have also been specializing in these issues for years; how is it they have not developed the same skills, experience, or approach?

Posters posted by students at the University of the Ryukyus (Ryûdai), one of the more politically active/activist student bodies in Japan. The one on the right reads, roughly, “Opposing the Abenomics which worsens the great poverty of students and workers! Tear down the Abe administration!” The one on the left reads, roughly, “Let’s stop the revision* of the Constitution! STOP! Opposing Osprey deployment and Henoko military base construction!” (*The normal word for ‘revision’, 改良, means roughly “to make better,” but here they’ve written 改悪, “to make worse.”)

Perhaps they see Okinawan issues more as regional issues… Of course, in my mind, I see them as major issues, and lump them in with Fukushima and other things that are prominent issues in Japan. But, I guess, when one steps back a moment and thinks about it, do any major national papers in the US give very much attention to Hawaii, at all? The big news in Hawaii right now is a spill, or more accurately, a leak, of 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu harbor on Sept 9, which many fear could devastate the local ecosystem to such an extent it might take decades to recover. For Hawaii, this is a really big deal; and, as something which is occurring within the United States, one would think it might merit national attention. Yet, while I haven’t exactly scoured any genuinely representative sample of national news sources, the New York Times, at least, seems to have devoted no more than a paragraph to the incident. So, I’m sure the feeling of Okinawa as being only of regional concern plays a large role; but, then, are Fukushima, or the recovery in Tôhoku, merely of regional concern?

Mitchell ends his article by citing the example of Nishiyama Takichi, whose reputation was destroyed by “the powers-that-be” after he reported on payments made by the Japanese government to the US in connection to the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. It would seem that shame for stepping out of line, fear of being the nail that will be hammered down, and pressure to not rock the boat, i.e. to not challenge the mainstream consensus, is still quite a strong force in Japan after all.

It remains to be seen how these three sets of issues, these three categories of protests, will develop. Perhaps they’ll grow. Perhaps some kind of actual societal shift or policy change will be effected. Only time will tell.

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