Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Thanks to Risako Sakai for sharing this article from yesterday’s Okinawa Times (17 Jan 2021) on Twitter:

There has been some progress in recent years in having universities and other institutions in Japan gradually begin to repatriate human remains (bones, etc.) in anthropology research collections back to Ainu communities; the Ainu situation still has its problems, with many universities having extremely poor records, poor management of the collections, and being very passive, half-hearted, and slow (if not outright resistant) to conduct proper investigations into the provenance of their collections or to begin the repatriation process at all; prior to Covid turning out world around, I witnessed protests outside the gates to University of Tokyo on exactly this point. Further, while some number of items have been returned to individual Ainu groups in Ainu Moshir (Ainu homelands, Japanese: Hokkaido), many have now been returned to the new National Ainu Museum Upopoy (opened in July 2020). Also known as 民族共生象徴空間 (roughly transated, “Ethnic Groups Coexistence Symbolic Space”), a name which makes me roll my eyes and want to throw up, Upopoy has come under considerable criticism for being very much a national project, run by the state as part of some effort to pretend to show the state cares about the Ainu people, while not actually giving them the power to tell their own story, not sufficiently asking for or properly responding to Ainu people’s requests or desires for what they want from the national government (and from the museum), and so forth. It is my understanding, and please correct me if I am wrong, that the national government and/or the Museum is (mis)representing the Museum as in some sense belonging to the Ainu people, and that therefore remains placed in the collective memorial structure 慰霊施設 are considered “repatriated.” This is in contrast to, for example, the National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, DC, which I’m sure has its problems and its criticisms as well, but which is at least run through extensive involvement of Native American staff, curators, input from Native American Nations who actually agree to and/or recognize objects in the museum as counting as being “repatriated”, and so forth.

But, to get to the point, whatever progress is gradually being made with Ainu remains, the Ryukyuan peoples are still not officially recognized as indigenous peoples by the Japanese state, and efforts to get universities to repatriate remains stolen from Ryukyuan gravesites are seeing more foot-dragging, more obstacles and difficulties, and little progress. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, even as I read bits and pieces here and there about the Ainu case, I didn’t really think about Ryukyuan remains that might also exist in such university collections, that were also excavated (tomb-robbed); I especially didn’t think that there would be remains explicitly identified as relatives of the royal family, robbed from known and named tombs, still in university collections today.

In any case, here is my rough translation of the Okinawa Times article above:

Repatriation of Ryukyuan Remains Not Progressing ー Japan Failing to Keep Up with World Trends


The use or return of human remains taken from gravesites in Okinawa and Hokkaido for anthropological research purposes is becoming a problem. In a lawsuit calling for the return of [the remains of] Ryukyu royal family descendants held by Kyoto University, the university has not made sufficiently clear the conservation status or details of how/when they were collected [i.e. provenance] of these remains. Lack of transparency and … [?] of the management [of these objects] is emblematic of the state of Japan amidst global trends towards continuing returns to indigenous peoples.

Anthropological Research Kyoto University Collects

In the field of Anthropology, which spread from Western Europe, research also continues to progress in Japan, and in the 19-20th centuries, human remains were collected all over the country. Whereas excavation of shellmounds predominated in the mainland, in Okinawa and Hokkaido, which were de facto colonized by the Japanese government, there was also grave robbing of gravesites which were the sites of reverence and worship.

The remains which are under contention in the Kyoto District Court were collected in 1929 by Kyoto Imperial University Assistant Professor Kanaseki Takeo from the Mumujana gravesite in Nakijin village [in the northern part of Okinawa Island]. The university, based on writings by Kanaseki indicating he had the approval of the Okinawa prefectural government and police at that time, emphasizes that “the proper paperwork/procedures were followed, so it was not a crime.”

However, a survey performed by Doshisha University professor Itagaki Ryūta suggests there is a strong possibility that most of the remains were collected on Amami Ōshima and Okinawa in 1933, by lecturer Miyake Muneyoshi, at the direction of Kyoto Imperial University professor Kiyono Kenji. The numbers assigned to his Ryukyuan remains match those of 25 out of the 26 items under dispute. Kyoto University has explained that “Miyake and Kanaseki had a close friendly relationship, so it can be thought that Miyake, too, would have gone through the proper procedures in the same fashion,” but they have not found detailed records of the collection of these items.

The plaintiff, Ryūkoku University professor Matsushima Yasukatsu, is indignant that “there is no registration ledger for these remains, so even Kyoto University cannot clearly say who collected them. This is evidence that their management is sloppy and that they have not sincerely investigated the details.”
In recent years, through the advancement of DNA analysis techniques, the information that can be gleaned from bone has expanded, and research into the origins of the Japanese people is flourishing again. The Anthropological Society of Nippon in 2019 submitted a written request expressing the principle that “ancient human remains are cultural properties belonging to the people of the nation which have academic value. They must be conserved and made available for research.”

The Anthropological Society of Nippon, Japanese Archaeological Association, and others that same year, regarding the Ainu people who are recognized by the state as an indigenous people, also formulated a proposal (or draft) of guiding ethical principles demanding that human remains for which there is a possibility that they were looted without agreement [from the Ainu people] not be used for research. Prof. Matsushima argues “it’s a double standard; it’s discrimination against Ryukyuans.”

Overseas, a movement for conducting thorough investigations and returning remains to indigenous or formerly colonized peoples is growing. Kyoto University’s collection also includes remains collected in Taiwan and Korea, but their conservation status is unclear. Prof. Itagaki pointed out that “compared to overseas it is a remarkably passive stance. Kyoto University must be transparent, immediately conduct investigations, and discuss the methods for repatriating the remains, etc., in earnest.”


(inset box, left) Repatriation Problem
In the late 19th century, scholarship measuring the size and shapes of skulls in order to learn the state of development [process, advancement] or superiority or inferiority of different races spread, and the remains of people from various ethnic groups were collected. In a Ministry of Education survey, twelve universities in 2018 held more than 1500 items of Ainu human remains. Trials have resulted in objects being repatriated to Ainu groups in the regions they were taken from, or being placed in a memorial structure at the Ethnic Groups Coexistence Symbolic Space (Upopoy). Surveys of the conservation status or [possibility of] repatriation for remains collected in Okinawa, Amami Ōshima, etc. are not progressing.

Glad to have learned about this. My thanks again to Sakai-san for re-tweeting about this. I have yet to read anything else about it, so I won’t go on and on speculating or commenting further, but will just leave this here for now.

Read Full Post »

It’s easy to think of things in black and white, and to paint things with a broad brush of imperialism, colonialism, racism, militarism (take your pick). But dig just a tiny bit under the surface, and you’ll find that reality is rarely that simple. Is the solution really so obvious, simple to achieve, and definitively the right thing to do? Is it truly the case that the only obstacles to that solution are bad people, villains? Or are the obstacles at least partially logistical, practical, and due to the complexity of the situation? Are there really only two sides?

Sometimes it takes far more courage than it should have to, to simply be willing and able to say that things are more complicated than a simple full-throated defense of one side (and an equally full-throated condemnation of the other) would have you believe. And it is precisely that courageous stance that Akemi Johnson takes in her book Night in the American Village (The New Press, 2019). As she writes:

I was tired of hearing these crude dichotomies, wielded for political use. The pure, innocent victim and the slut who asked for it. The faultless activist and the rabid protestor. The demonic American soldier and his savior counterpart. They’re all caricatures, and if we’re using them to understand the larger political, sociohistorical situation – the U.S. military in Okinawa, and by extension the U.S.-Japan security alliance and America’s system of overseas basing – we’re not getting anywhere. Dichotomies like these disempower and silence the real people involved with the bases, the full cast of characters who often inhabit ambiguous spaces. (13-14)

I had the pleasure of meeting Akemi in 2017, while I was in Okinawa for my dissertation research, and she, I presume, finishing up work for this book. I waited eagerly for the book, and as soon as it came out, I dove right in; Johnson’s narrative style makes it, for sure, a page-turner, though due entirely to my own distractions and faults, my hopes and intentions of devoting myself to it and finishing it quickly did not pan out. Still, better late than never to draft and post a few thoughts, I figure.

A road construction sign along the highway in Nago. Photo my own, Dec 2016.

Over the course of years of fieldwork, Johnson spoke with, and lived among, Okinawan women with a wide range of relationships with the US military bases, and she relates their stories in a way that brings to life the complex, nuanced, realities of life in Okinawa. Each chapter focuses on a different woman, in most cases given by a pseudonym, using their experience as a window into, or jumping-off point for, discussing a different aspect or different side of life in Okinawa. The women range from military wives, on-base workers, and young Okinawan “amejo” girls at clubs + bars disparaged for seeking relationships with American men to devoted anti-base protesters; from exotic dancers, English teachers, and foreign workers to multiracial students. Relating all of these stories through a focus on women brings, of course, a feminist perspective to the entire subject, and we do see discussion of issues of sexual assault, the intersections between military culture and toxic masculinity, interracial & international marriages, sex work, and other issues one might expect in a “feminist” or “gendered” approach. But centering women also serves to de-Other them, implicitly showing that by virtue of women being people (imagine that) all issues, by virtue of being issues that involve and affect people, are thus issues that involve and affect women. Johnson masterfully weaves these themes together in a way that makes the entire book read not like a Women’s Studies / Feminist book that happens to be about Okinawa, but rather an Okinawa book – a book about politics and society – that happens to relate its stories and arguments through a focus on some people (women) much more so than others (men), naturalizing and centering women’s experiences and concerns as human experiences and concerns.

The book is thoroughly researched and extensively footnoted (well, endnotes, but “footnoted” sounds better), but at the same time reads engagingly, at times narratively, less like much academic writing (including my own) and more like, well, exactly the sort of non-fiction “trade” book that it is. Sections of artfully phrased, compelling writing about the situation in a grand scope are interspersed with ones relating elements of the life of an individual woman living on Okinawa.

For foreign host communities, American bases provide jobs but also eat up land and spew American soldiers, American families, and American culture; they fill the air with jets, the roads with tanks, and the ground with toxic waste. The United States is the only country in the world to have this worldwide network of bases, and yet they remain largely outside the American consciousness. Americans unconnected to the military don’t often think of them. (6)

Arisa had grown up to marry one of the men behind the fence. She was in her early thirties now, a beautiful woman with bright eyes and freckles. Her husband Brian had retired from the military and worked as an on-base contractor, granting the family SOFA status and access to the base. That day, she was headed with their one-year-old son to an international festival, where Brian was performing with his dojo. The festival was off base on Gate 2 Street, but Arisa was using the base as a shortcut. Driving around it would have taken much longer. (91)

Night in the American Village provides us with the kind of personal, emotional, human sense of the situation that is so often missing from academic writing and thus so refreshing to find in literature and art. But Johnson does not skimp on hard-hitting, important, and interesting facts. I learned more about the US Occupation of Okinawa, and the facts and figures of the situation today, than I think I ever have elsewhere. Though the themes and information are scattered throughout the book, making it difficult to think of assigning students (or friends, or relatives) any one chapter, the volume as a whole is probably the best introduction to the complexities and realities of race, nation, economy, and the US base situation in Okinawa today that I have read.

A restaurant/bar directly across the street from the fences of Camp Foster Marine Corps base. Photo my own, Nov 2016.

One theme I found particularly compelling, which pops up here and there throughout the book but particularly in Chapter Eight (“Miyo”), is that of biracial or multiracial (or, as is commonly said in Japanese, “hafu“) identity, the place of multiracial people within Okinawa, and the character of Okinawa (not unlike Hawaiʻi) as a place where cultural & ethnic identities mix enough that Johnson (someone of mixed Japanese/white background) should write that she felt more comfortable in Okinawa than in mainland Japan. I found particularly compelling the way that Johnson illustrates the complexity here as well – tensions and issues of “race,” “ethnicity,” or “identity” are not so simply a matter of Black and White, American and Okinawan, Okinawan and Japanese, “half” and “full.” It’s also the multiracial folks who speak English and those who don’t; those who by virtue of their family members’ jobs have access to base (and the experience of that very different cultural space) and those who don’t; the influences of mainland/mainstream American and Japanese discourses upon multiracial kids’ ideas about what sort of appearances or features are beautiful, or normal, or desirable; American and Japanese notions of Blackness; and so on and so forth. The complexities of the pros and cons to special schools for mixed-race kids that provide a conducive environment among other kids with whom they share the experience of being mixed-race (and mixed culture, and so forth), shielding them from the bullying or harassment they might suffer in mainstream public schools, plus the opportunity to have American-style, partial American content, and/or English-language instruction, but then also the question of whether separating students out in this way makes it more difficult both for them and for their mainstream public school counterparts (who are mostly of “full” for lack of a better word Okinawan or Japanese ethnic background) to engage with one another and get along once the mixed-race students are forced into mainstream public high schools, and of course after they graduate and go out into society as adults.

Johnson’s line that “to me, Miyo [a young woman of mixed Okinawan/African-American background] belonged here, to this whole island” (180) stood out particularly strongly for me. I am not mixed-race myself, but after living in Hawaiʻi and Okinawa for some time, I think I have some sense of what she is talking about. She goes on to talk about how being of mixed-race on Okinawa isn’t entirely different from being Okinawan more generally, insofar as all Okinawans – those of mixed-race and those not – all struggle with being seen as Japanese enough, and with the various ways in which their “Japanese but not Japanese [enough]” status or identity manifests itself. While the conversation around mixed-race people so often centers on belonging to multiple communities, and/or feelings of insufficient belonging or insufficient “fitting in” with any of those communities, and while that is of course very much true for mixed-race people on Okinawa as well, I think it also rings very true that being mixed-race is so typical in Okinawa (as it is in Hawaiʻi) that it results in an identity that in some ways perhaps helps one feel like they belong fully to that place, perhaps even more fully than someone of solely Okinawan or, especially, Japanese background. When mixed-race, or (Japanese but not Japanese) Okinawan, people are the majority, then being mixed-race doesn’t make you stand out, different, an outcast, only partially or imperfectly belonging – your mixed identity is fully matching with the mixed identity of the society you live in. Indeed, while white privilege certainly rears its head in Okinawa as it does almost everywhere in the world, at the same time, Johnson writes that in Okinawa, many White kids feel it’s the half-Okinawan kids who are the cool ones, for their ability to feel comfortable and fit in both on- and off-base, and their ability to navigate both worlds. One hafu woman said that she used to wear brown contacts to hide her blue eyes, so she could look more Okinawan (182). There is a privilege to being Okinawan, as well; and we can see a similar phenomenon in Hawaiʻi, too, where the White (haole) majority may on average be more wealthy, more well-placed and influential in local politics and business, and “privileged” otherwise in many of the typical meanings of the word, but where they will at the same time always be outsiders amongst the Asian/Pacific Islander (most of whom are mixed-race) majority.

Barbed wire blocking access to Umungusuku, the historical site of the kingdom’s chief storehouse. Base fences block many Okinawans from accessing their ancestral graves, the former sites of their ancestral villages and the associated sacred spaces, and indeed land their family once owned or still does. Photo my own, Aug 9, 2013.

The imperialist and colonialist treatment of Okinawa, and the negative impacts of the ongoing US military presence there, are real, and the impacts are profound, serious, severe. From the wide-ranging assimilation efforts following the unilateral annexation of the islands by the Empire of Japan in 1879; to the willful neglect of Okinawa’s economic development in the decades following; to Tokyo allowing, or even encouraging, extensive death and destruction to be visited upon Okinawa and its people in 1945 in the hopes that in sacrificing Okinawa in this manner, mainland Japan, the “real” “Japan,” might be spared the same; to 27 years of US occupation; to nearly 50 years now since the end of the Occupation, years filled with plane crashes, sexual assaults, murders, environmental damage, noise pollution, and in 2020, the spread of Covid-19 by American servicemembers into an Okinawan civilian population that had had zero known positive test cases for weeks on end. And on top of all of this, the utter falsehoods which too many in the military believe, and teach to one another, about anti-base protesters being shills paid by the Chinese Communist Party; or that they’re allied with mainland Japanese right-wing ultra-nationalists; the kinds of lies that, through denying the validity and seriousness of the protest, makes it even more difficult to ever reach a solution. All of these problems are real, and profoundly seriously impactful, and I am now and expect I will always remain deeply sympathetic towards the Okinawan people in their fight for justice and equality, for cultural revival and pride, and for reconciling with an extremely difficult past and attempting to build a brighter future.

But that alone is not the end of the story. When I visited Okinawa for the first time, way back in 2008, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of anti-American sentiment. I had certainly experienced plenty of it at SOAS, which is a story for another time, and I had never yet been to Hawaiʻi; had no experience yet with navigating that somewhat similar situation. Anxious about being associated with any sort of stereotype of the bad American, whenever people asked me outright where I come from, or if I’m American, I answered that “I am American, but I’m opposed to the bases.” To my surprise, though, people very often responded with something along the lines of, “oh, it’s not that simple. You can’t just be ‘opposed to the bases.’ They cause a lot of problems, yes, but a lot of us work on base. We rely on the bases for jobs, and for the economy. You can’t just say ‘get rid of the bases.’ And, besides, after so many decades, we’re a little Americanized. It’s part of what Okinawa is today. So, it’s more complicated than that.” Now, granted, there are all kinds of factors – this was said to me most often by older men, so perhaps it’s not perfectly reflective of what most Okinawans, old and young, men and women, would all have to say.

Driving past the gates to, I’m guessing, Camp Schwab, near Henoko Bay. I’ve never been inside any of the bases on the island. Photo my own, Dec 2016.

It’s exactly that complexity, that nuance, that diversity of opinions, experiences, and perspectives, that Akemi Johnson so adeptly and engagingly brings to life in Night in the American Village – far more masterfully than I can in my summary of it. Johnson devotes multiple chapters to the perspectives of, and issues pertaining to, activists. The book begins and nearly ends (but for a few pages) with discussion of the horrific rape and murder of a young Okinawan woman by a former Marine in 2016, just months before I arrived in Okinawa for my dissertation research, and explores at length the dangers of the US bases, the damage and problems they continue to cause, and the uphill battle to convince Tokyo and Washington to finally give up on building a new, way-over-budget and devastatingly environmentally destructive base in Henoko Bay.

But then she also presents stories and perspectives of women who find working or socializing with Americans a way of escaping gender inequalities or patriarchal or sexist attitudes in “regular” Okinawan or Japanese society, or simply as a practical choice for a good-paying, stable job with flexible vacation time and so forth. American women who never really asked to be involved in any of this, but have simply been deployed – or have followed along with a spouse who was deployed – to somewhere new and different, where they don’t speak the language and where they’re just trying to get by best as they can; I’m not sure if Johnson provides the numbers, but I get the impression that a very considerable portion of the US servicemembers in Okinawa have never lived outside the US before. Many may not have ever left their home state before. She presents a complicated story in which there is, to be sure, much to the idea that the fundamental culture of the military “breeds violence both at work and at home,” that military culture breeds toxic masculinity and thus domestic and sexual violence, and that the military presence is just, overall, across the board, dangerous and damaging; but, then, at the same time, marking the bases as “pollution” means that everyone associated with them is also polluted, stigmatizing everyone who works on base or has relationships on base, which both prevents them from feeling welcome in the protest movement, hardening people’s attitudes and exacerbating social/political divisions, and creates further problems among friends, families, and so forth. I very much felt when I was living in Hawaiʻi, and I can easily imagine in Okinawa too, that local community can be very tight-knit, or interconnected. Everyone knows one another. Everyone, even if they are strongly anti-base in their political attitudes, knows people who work on base or who are married to someone who does.

We are introduced too to women like the artist Ishikawa Mao who are strongly proud of being Okinawan and opposed to the bases (one of her art books is entitled 「フェンスにFuck You!」or “Fences, Fuck You!”) but who found themselves in working and socializing with Black men, and Black Panthers in particular, forming a bond with these men over their shared racial/ethnic struggles (155). And women who fight for women’s rights and women’s issues (e.g. protesting against sexual violence) as their contribution to the anti-base fight, but who are then criticized for focusing “too narrowly on women’s issues,” something many activists wrongly see as “non-political,” or the wrong kind of fight (139). Women who have set up English-language conversation groups or other activities in an effort to build bridges: not ignoring or denying the problems of the bases but trying to address them and seek solutions in a different way. And women who are simply apolitical regarding the bases because, at least as some older activists see it, they just don’t know any better; they grew up around the bases as an everyday element of what was normal, were raised by general Japanese popular attitudes to think of activism or protest as radical, extremist, and were educated in a public school curriculum set on the national (Japanese) level, with little instruction on Okinawan history.

And in the process, with these women’s experiences and perspectives as the jumping-off point, we learn so much that I had never known before about the history of the bases and of protest in Japan; the history of the bar/club/entertainment districts (and the associated world of sex work) in Okinawa; issues and complexities related to what happens when base land is “returned” to Okinawan control (most often, it’s made into strip malls and the like); complexities of Japanese attitudes and laws surrounding race, gender, sex, and sexual violence; people’s conceptions and misconceptions about media bias, the true intentions (and identities) of protesters; and a variety of other topics.

While, as I’ve said above, I remain deeply sympathetic to the suffering and struggles of the Okinawan people, to the anti-base movement, anti-colonial discourses, and efforts to raise awareness of – and reduce instances of – sexual violence, at the same time we come to appreciate that nothing is black and white. There is both good and bad on-base, and off-base; good and bad within activism and protest; good and bad within sex work. Taking people as individuals, few fully match any stereotype; we are complex beings, multi-faceted. Perhaps we should not take everyone to be wholly guilty or innocent solely based on which side of the fence they stand on. I think that reading this at this time, given what’s going on in our world right now (and most especially back home in the United States, something which of course bleeds over onto the military bases, and out of them, as well as bleeding over into civilian life here in Tokyo and throughout the world in other ways), the lesson is perhaps all the more important. If we want to solve any problem in the world – if we want to heal divisions, bring people together, find compromises and solutions – we have to first understand the true complexities and nuances of the reality of the situation, and not the strawman version painted by rhetoric within one echo chamber or another. I think this goes for problems in our own country and communities, but I think that, despite not being particularly overtly a book about (anti-)Orientalism or indigenous perspectives or the like, Night in the American Village is also a powerful read for helping us to appreciate the profound importance of not going into another community’s situation, another culture’s problems, and thinking you already know the right side to be on, or the right way to understand the entirety of the situation. “I’m an American but I’m opposed to the bases” doesn’t cut it.

The “American Village” of the book’s title. A shopping center in Chatan, just outside Camp Lester and south of the massive Kadena Air Base, that doesn’t resemble a theme park nor any sort of reproduction of American townscapes like I might have expected, but is truly just a place to shop during the day, and get drunk at night. Even if it wasn’t way too far from Naha or University of the Ryukyus for my convenience, I still wouldn’t want to spend much time there; I generally try to avoid the military folks as much as possible. Photo my own, Dec 2016.

Night in the American Village is going immediately into any syllabus (reading list) for courses I might hopefully get to teach in future on Okinawan or Japanese Studies. Maybe even for World History, if I can squeeze it in. The one difficulty, though, is that if I were to assign Night in the American Village to students, it would be difficult to select which chapter to assign. Johnson weaves such a wonderfully intricate, complex, nuanced – and yet every easy-to-read, engaging, page-turning – picture of life in Okinawa today, it is difficult to pick out any one chapter to represent the whole. I may decide to have students all read different chapters, and then present on them so as to give one another an impression of the content, without having to burden non-native English speakers with reading an entire book.

I think it is so important for students – and, indeed, for all Americans (and Japanese) – to learn about Okinawa, to learn about this place that is so rich and vibrant and fascinating, and that also continues to struggle under burdens placed there by both Washington and Tokyo and yet which so few Americans (or Japanese) know almost anything about. I think it is so important for people to learn about the effects of imperialism and militarism, what it looks like on the ground, how it affects people’s lives, their culture, their peoplehood and sense of identity, and the path of their collective history. But beyond anything specific to Okinawa alone, I think it is also so important for people to understand and appreciate complexity and nuance, and this is something I think this book shows, teaches, in such a compelling and brilliant way.

I hope that many people interested in issues of militarism and its effects on civilian communities; colonialism and post-colonialism; women’s rights; history of protest; and so forth, far beyond those with a particular interest in or connection to Japan or Okinawa, will come to read this book. It sorely belongs on more undergrad + graduate reading lists, and on more “recommended reads” displays in local and big-box bookstores.

Futenma airbase, and a section of the city of Ginowan, the Okinawan, Japanese, American, and other civilians who live just outside its gates. Photo my own, Aug 5, 2013.

Read Full Post »

I had heard good things about this film, heard it was funny. I was nervous at first, of course, because it’s a movie about Nazis, and that’s a difficult and complicated topic for me, as it is for a lot of people. But, I trust Taika Waititi (who, let’s not forget, is Jewish on his mother’s side), and Scarlett Johanssen (also Jewish), and even more than that, I’d just heard kind of general buzz, that it was a good film.

So, ultimately, I went into the film unconcerned, ready to have a good time. Within minutes of leaving the theatre at the end, I was bawling my eyes out. This was in part because Jojo loses his mother, and I’ve lost my mother, and it’s still a very raw spot for me. I think maybe it always will be. And because as the credits rolled, I for some reason started thinking about wanting to visit my grandparents’ village in Poland, and being there and what it might be like, and what it might be like to call my dad from there and surprise him that I was there… and thinking about all of that brought up some rather complex emotions.

But there was more to it, that I couldn’t quite put into words at the time; to a certain extent, I didn’t even know what I was upset about. But, a day later, having had some time to stew, and watching a lengthy and very interesting interview with Waititi about the film, I’m starting to put it together.

We are supposed to believe that Nazis, most of all, perhaps more than any other group of people in all of history, were just straight-up, irrevocably, unredeemably, bad people. We’re supposed to believe that anyone who went along with it was equally complicit, equally guilty, equally horrible. And, of course, in terms of outcomes, that’s certainly true. All of these people, who joined or otherwise supported the Nazi cause, regardless of their inner hesitations or justifications, even so they contributed to – or at the very least did not resist sufficiently against – the horrors of that time. The political system which utterly destroyed the lives of millions upon millions. And my own family among them. My grandparents survived horrors I cannot imagine myself ever braving; they lost countless friends and family to the gas chambers, to firing squads, to labor camps. They lost community, their homes and hometowns, an entire way of life. …

And I was raised to believe since childhood that if anything like that were to ever happen again, that we would do everything in our power to prevent it from happening. That we would protest, we would fight, we would resist. But I’ve always known that in such a circumstance, I’m not the guy who joins the resistance; I’m not the guy with either the brains or the brawn, or the mental/emotional fortitude or courage to survive and to fight. We all want to believe we would be heroes. But I’ve known for a long time that when the revolution comes – whether it’s fascists, communists, or something else – I’d simply be among the victims. I don’t know how to fire a gun. I don’t know how to keep hidden. I’d be caught, and I’d be killed. I hope I’d be killed, and not tortured, or put to hard labor, or whatever it may be.

But we’re getting a bit away from the point. The point is, we are supposed to believe that everyone should resist. That everyone has the equal power to resist. That everyone who doesn’t is just as fucking guilty as all the rest. And, sure, if we take the example of the countless Republicans who are still saying today that they don’t like X, Y, or Z about Trump but even so he’s doing good for the economy or whatever; people who try to distance themselves from the horrific things he’s doing… as my friend who I saw the film with helped me see quite clearly, by voting for him, by continuing to support him, by continuing to support Senators who have acquitted him, they are complicit. This blood is on their hands. They had a choice – even if they did nothing else, they had a choice to vote differently, and they have refused. They have chosen to vote for racism, sexism, for hate.

But in this film, we see children who don’t know any better. Children who have been taught to believe all these things about nationalism and Aryan supremacy and Jew-hatred and all the rest, and it’s not their fault. We’re given an image of the Hitler Jugend that really isn’t all that different from the Boy Scouts, and figures like Capt. Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), Finkel (Alfie Allen), and Frau Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who, while most certainly are not “good guys” by any stretch of the imagination, are also not quite the kind of intentionally evil, deliberately, fundamentally evil, Nazi figures we see in just about every other movie. We get the impression that they are people somehow, in one way or another, just sort of caught up in all of this. And what sense do we have about the townspeople? …. I am not saying that these various adults in Jojo’s life are necessarily sympathetic figures. We don’t really get a sense that they question or oppose the Nazi ideology all that much, if at all. I don’t think that overall as a film it’s a film that’s sympathetic to Nazi ideology. Not hardly. As Waititi has explained many a time, and as I think his performance as Hitler shows, it’s about satirizing them, about showing them for being ridiculous, absurd, and vulnerable. It’s about defanging them, making them less fearsome, and perhaps also contributing to, in the process, making them less impressive, less of an ideal model for neo-Nazis and the like today.

Actors dressed as Nazi soldiers, taking a break from filming on the streets of Dublin. June 2007. Photo my own.

But even so. Rosie says she does what she can, she does the best that she can. She’s actively part of the resistance in some way; to what extent exactly, we’re not sure. Waititi had to be sure to make her a particularly sympathetic figure; and yet, even so, she’s not some superhero. She’s just a woman doing what she can. Am I doing enough? Am I doing what I can? I know I’m certainly voicing good opinions, trying to stay on the right side of things. I’ve put a few tens of dollars – not much, I know, but something – towards the people I believe to be the best candidates. I’ve written many emails, made phone calls, sent letters. Not nearly as many as some people, but I’ve done some. And I will vote for those people I believe to be the best candidates. But I’m also going to work, and going out with friends, and trying to continue my life. I’m not ignoring protests outside my door and refusing to join them; there are no protests right outside my door to join.

If the current Left/progressive attitude is that a Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi, and that a racist is a racist, regardless of nuance or complexity or degree or level or extent; and simultaneously also that all of us, most especially white people, are complicit simply by existing, and that if we are not doing everything in our power to contribute to the overturning of this racist society – “it’s not enough to just be not racist, you have to be anti-racist” – then that means that all of us, all of us, are horrible horrible people. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I haven’t been doing enough, but also thinking what can I do? What, really, truly, on a practical right here, right now, in my actual day-to-day life, what am I actually capable of doing to help? …. And so I cried.

The general attitude in Japan is that everyone was a victim of the militarist/ultranationalist ideology. That it was foisted upon them, that they were educated into it, that for the vast majority of people it wasn’t their fault. That that was simply the times they lived in. … I know a lot of people would say that’s simply justification; excuses; an easy out. Just like white people are constantly looking for excuses, for justifications. But I’m not strong enough to face this face-on. And no one wants to ever have conversations about it – they want to just call you a racist, call you complicit, call you guilty, and leave it to you to do better. And that makes sense, of course, on a certain level .By all means. But then even so. ….

And here you have Jojo and Elsa, with no parents, trying to make their way, trying to make a living, trying to find food, in a bombed out city, surrounded by Americans who don’t speak German…. how are they going to live? And are they ultimately going to get tired of each other, or frustrated or angry, or resentful, and leave one another? And then they’ll both be even more alone, more lost, more screwed amidst this wartorn devastation….? …. And so I cried.

Read Full Post »

For some reason, growing up we never took family trips to Philadelphia even though it is only a few hours away. Boston, DC, we did, but not Philly. So, this June we finally took a short two-day peek at what Philly has to offer.

I loved the historical city center. I don’t know nearly enough about American history – or, to put it another way, US history isn’t my thing strongly enough – for me to get the most out of all the different plaques and statues of these various colonial/revolutionary era Patriots etc. But it’s still very cool that they’re there. And the architecture is just great. I’ve been away from the East Coast so long, to see that colonial/federal style architecture, all that red brick, is just great.

Independence Hall was a bit of a surprise. Though quite large from the outside (or at least appearing so, since it’s nearly connected with the old City Hall, the philosophy society bldg, etc.), it turns out it’s only two rooms on the inside. A 15 minute tour for which we waited at least half an hour. Still, pretty damn incredible to think about these being the very rooms in which such incredibly historical events took place. Everything is all set up using genuine vintage 18th c furniture (obtained from, I guess, museums, auctions, who knows where, in order to make this work) and the one object actually original to the building – the chair Washington sat in as he presided over the Constitutional Convention.

Independence Hall.

Our National Parks tour guide was unnecessarily blustery, yelling the entire tour at us, truly shouting. But I liked how he emphasized that the building has a history outside of just those particular exceptionally historical days in 1776 & 1787. It was the old State House even long before Pennsylvania was a “state,” back when it was still a colony. One of the two rooms was the main courtroom, and had a large wooden carving of the royal coat of arms hanging over the bench before rowdy revolutionaries tore it down. And he also emphasized that the dates we celebrate and revere so much were really only some of the many dates that things took place on. We celebrate July 4th, but what was the date the Constitutional Convention began? When did it end? When was the Constitution ratified? A decade earlier, on July 2, the Continental Congress met to vote on a resolution declaring independence, and the Declaration was officially read out two days later, though it wouldn’t be signed by all those now-famous figures until Aug 2.

Finally, our guide also spoke of how much disagreement and debate there was amongst the representatives of the colonies. I suppose we all know that, it’s part of the narrative we’re all taught. But rather than solely being representative of a theme of how, out of earnest debate the greatest ideas and best solutions can come forth (or however exactly the standard patriotic narrative might frame that), I was struck by the notion of just how contingent all of history is. People revere the Declaration and Construction as if they were God’s words, as if the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired geniuses, larger than life, who produced such utterly perfect documents. But what we have is only one of myriad versions that might have existed, and if any of those alternative versions had been the final one, we might be sitting here in a slightly different, or very different, United States thinking that /that/ version was so perfect, so ideal. To take just one example our guide mentioned, since I don’t know the texts and debates well enough to get into other ones, a significant number of the colonial representatives said they were hesitant to call King George a “tyrant.” That doesn’t simply mean they were wrong and Revolutionary patriotism or whatever prevailed – it means there were different views on this. And it’s only by chance that we’re sitting here today thinking how brave and how right our Founding Fathers were to go ahead and call him a tyrant, rather than sitting here and saying just as reassuredly, just as comfortably, that our Founding Fathers were so wise, so genteel, and so right in their civility to not go that far even though some blowhards or hotheads among the group wanted to.

Boldly displayed on the front of the National Museum of Jewish History, mere blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Certainly, as elegant as it may be, and as historical and fixed in stone as the language of the Constitution is, it’s got some real problems. We think of these words as excellent just as they are because we’ve had them repeated so many times, they feel like poetry, they feel like Bible verses, they feel like something that was always meant to be and couldn’t possibly be otherwise. But, in truth, they were happenstance. One draft ended up winning out over another. One editor’s phrasing ended up staying while another drafter’s suggestions did not. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”? There’s obviously tons to be said for how language changes over time, and how the need or desire for legal language to be phrased really really precisely in a particular manner is a particular product of the modern age, not to mention the particular political/cultural context of what the Founding Fathers thought about religion, their experiences and their intents…. But look at some of the speeches, letters, and laws regarding religion, written by Washington, Jefferson, and others at that time, and think about what if some of that phrasing we’re in the Constitution. What if, instead of this very general ten-word phrase, we had some other phrasing, that spelled out even more explicitly what the Founders intended regarding the separation of church and state? What if the ideas revealed in these well-known but not that well-known texts were enshrined in the highest most fundamental law of the land?

Right: “Religious Liberty,” a sculpture erected in celebration of the centennial of American independence.

The Founding Fathers were mostly concerned with religious freedom in the sense of not being discriminated against for your beliefs. That people of any various variations of Protestantism (or other religions) should be allowed to believe and worship and practice without persecution. Okay. But, still, Jefferson himself coined the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state,” and somewhere in their writings I wouldn’t be surprised if there really was some argument, stated more explicitly than just “shall make no law respecting”, that said people should not be made subject to one or another sect’s particular religious beliefs, practices, or laws. It would be hard for people of that day to really separate it entirely and say that God’s law is not man’s law or something like that, but even so, I could believe that Jefferson, Washington, Penn, or someone else would have felt that These United States should not all of them have to be subject to Quaker or Puritan or Methodist law, and that that really was a part of their understanding of religious freedom at the time. If only they’d said it more explicitly in the Constitution.

And of course, don’t even get me started on the Second Amendment. But, the point being, it’s just a document, just a text. Any number of variations of the phrasing might have been, but we just happened by chance to end up with exactly this version. So, let’s not take it as God’s given word.

The interior of Independence Hall.

Another thing which really struck me in visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell is that, especially in our exceptionally polarized current political climate, but also in general, how do National Parks sites like these navigate their political role, welcoming visitors of all stripes and conveying to them lessons or stories or meaning about our nation’s history without coming across as too grossly liberal or conservative?

This of course is a broad issue, and I’ve actually studied it a bit, looking at examples like the Smithsonian, the exhibits at Pearl Harbor, and so forth, as well as thinking about those issues as they pertain to places like the National Museum of Japanese History, and the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. But, all the more so in these times, and at sites as central as these – Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell belong to all Americans, left and right, and I just couldn’t help but wonder what the other tourists around me were thinking about all of this. A block or so away from Independence Hall is a stone with the First Amendment inscribed on it. We happened upon it at exactly the same time as another man, and we got to talking, just for a minute or so, weren’t the founders brilliant, isn’t it amazing how poetic their language was back then… But who knows how this guy was taking the message. Is he a super Patriot , the kind of guy who reveres the founding fathers as near to Gods, who thinks the United States is the one and only greatest gift of God to man on the planet, the singular shining example of freedom in the world? Is he the kind of guy who thinks the First Amendment and religious freedom is all about protecting Christians’ rights to impose their views on marriage, abortion, sexuality, etc etc upon the community & broader society? Or does this stone belong to those of us who think religious freedom also includes freedom from religion, so to speak, that Congress shall make no law imposing the views of any one establishment of religion upon all the rest of us? In a nation where half the people take Independence Hall and all the rest as symbols of exactly the sort of liberty and freedom and liberalism that might ultimately prevail against Trumpism, and the other half take it as symbols of an “America First” sort of patriotism, who’s right? Who gets to claim it and be correct in doing so? It would be easy to just say “both,” but we know that no one is really comfortable with that answer. I wonder what the park rangers, the staff, themselves think.

Read Full Post »

“Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs,” an event my friends and I had been planning since last year, finally came to fruition this past February, and I flew back to Santa Barbara very briefly (from Okinawa, where I had been pursuing my dissertation research for a six month stay) to take part. Not quite a symposium or conference, but also not simply an art exhibition, “Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs” combined an exhibit of new works by MFA student Yumiko Glover with a series of talks by Yumiko, EALCS PhD student Carl Gabrielson, EALCS Professor Sabine Frühstück, Art History PhD student A. Colin Raymond, and myself, plus video interviews of all of us, conducted and edited by YouTuber / LGBT-activist Naoya Matsushima.

Now that the website is complete, I thought it about time to finally post on the blog about this.

The event was originally conceived as something of an “experiment” in graduate-student-initiated and cross-department / interdisciplinary events, which might stand as an example in incremental moves towards (1) greater interdisciplinary collaboration within the academy, (2) greater variety in the style and character of academic events, and (3) more student-initiated events on campus. Of course, few events I’ve ever participated in have ever been nearly as radical, or impactful, as we might imagine or expect or hope for them to be, and all of them, once they are over, are simply over, but I’m still rather proud of, and happy with, what we accomplished.

Yumiko Glover, “Tomoko vs. Mr. A” (2016). Acrylic on canvas, 77″ sq. Photo my own. (Sadly, I can’t seem to find any of my photos from that week, so I’m using photos from another art show.)

Yumiko’s artwork continues to get my gears turning – not only beautiful, and masterfully executed, but also wonderfully thought-provoking, containing or suggesting references in numerous different directions, to themes of contemporary Japanese social and political issues, but also anime/manga and youth fashion aesthetics, bubble-gum-bright pop colors, hyperreality and technofuturism – they are highly contemporary works, in modern media and techniques, featuring contemporary or even futuristic subjects (schoolgirls, metropolitan skylines, subways, cellphones, the digital world) but also while subtly referencing or even re-imagining / re-creating (mitate-e) classic images from Japanese art history, such as woodblock prints by Harunobu and Utamaro.

The exhibit opened on Sunday Feb 26, and on the Tuesday, three of us (Yumiko, Colin, and myself) gave brief presentations in Prof. Helen Taschian’s ART 1A: Intro to Visual Literacy class, in addition to all five of us giving talks in a more formal panel event the following day at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) theatre. I could certainly appreciate how these talks at Prof. Taschian’s class might be seen as tangential, or incidental, to the overall project – and there have certainly been plenty of times that I, as a mere attendee to a “main event” panel discussion have not felt that the classroom visits and other activities I didn’t see constituted part of the main event – but, this time around, as a direct participant in this classroom visit, I really did feel it to be a part of the overall event, the overall experience. This has really given me a new appreciation for how it feels to be a visiting speaker, not just for one “main event” but for other things done in conjunction, and a new appreciation for appreciating the fullness of such events. Even with the talks being just tweaked slightly different versions from what we presented the following day at the formal panel discussion, the classroom visit felt quite different. A different audience, with different background and interests and perspectives. The Visual Literacy class itself provided a different context within which – building on their basic foundational knowledge of art & aesthetics acquired over just the past seven weeks of the academic quarter – we were introducing them to Yumiko’s work, to a brief sampling of Okinawan art today (my presentation), and to some issues and problems in thinking about contemporary art, through examples from contemporary Japanese art (Colin’s presentation). It felt really cool to be including a bit of Japanese, Okinawan, and Japanese/American art (or however Yumiko may identify/categorize her own art practice) into their Visual Literacy class. I don’t know how global (how US/Eurocentric or not) Prof. Taschian’s course is to begin with, but I definitely get a kick out of exposing students to non-Western examples as major examples of how we think about art, etc. American or European art – or particular standard canonical examples of non-Western art – need not be the default go-to examples. We are global citizens of a global world. Let us act like it. And talking about some of the biggest artists in Tokyo, and in Okinawa (or we might just as well have said Tahiti, Hawaii, or countless other marginalized, peripheralized places), plus works by someone like Yumiko Glover, using these and not more standard examples from a canon of Western (or non-Western) modern art, is a key element of doing that. Prof. Taschian’s class also did a walkthrough of the exhibit on the Thursday, along with a formal “critique” of Yumiko’s work by professors and grad students from the Studio Art program, and while I wasn’t able to be there for this part, this too is to my mind very much a part of the overall event, making “Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs” overall a fairly complex, extensive, event, and one I’m all the more satisfied with and proud of having been a part of.

Still, the exhibit itself (and gallery opening reception), and the panel discussion at the MCC, were the real centerpieces of the week. I am so glad to have gotten to do this in the MCC theatre. If we had gotten a classroom, that would have been fine, but doing it in the MCC made the whole thing just feel one level “higher” – classier, nicer, more properly put-together, in a sense. Yumiko talked about her artworks, how they were inspired in large part by her own identity and experiences, growing up in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture (about 63 miles from Hiroshima City), and being Japanese, seeing how Japanese popular culture, media, everyday life, and national-level politics have developed over the last several decades. Yumiko’s works are not only about hyperreality and a colorful, pop-aesthetic Tokyo-urban landscape of everyday life infused with youthful energy, referencing or built upon a backdrop history of Japanese art tradition, but the most recent batches are also increasingly engaged in political commentary, against the renewed militarism and nationalism of the Abe administration and its supporters.

Sabine Frühstück and Carl Gabrielson then talked about that recent trend of rising militarism, particularly in terms of the imag(in)ed role or place of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces within Japanese life or Japanese society, the step-by-step shift of the JSDF from total non-involvement in warzones in the 1990s to increased engagement first in postwar minesweeping efforts in the Persian Gulf overseas construction efforts in Cambodia, and then later in an active warzone (although still not with combat troops – only medics, engineers, etc. etc.) in Iraq in the early 2000s, to now, since 2015, a formal reinterpretation of the Constitution newly adopted into law, which would allow Japan to deploy full-on combat troops not only in defense of Japan (or reaction to attacks against Japanese people or property) but also in response to attacks on allies.

Carl talked in particular about the way the JSDF is marketed to the Japanese public, as protectors of an idealized clean, honest, peaceful, prosperous Japanese everyday life – a very common trope throughout Japanese media – and as protectors who do so without any explicit or overt discussion or display of violence. JSDF ads include very little, if any, depiction of weaponry or action, at all, focusing very much instead on a more quiet, soft perhaps, dignified image of people – largely unseen, unheard, in everyday Japanese life, operating somewhere at a physical remove, a distance – who work to protect Japanese life from turmoil and threats. Even the threats themselves are not only not named, they are left entirely undefined: these ads don’t so much stir up “fear” (e.g. fear of Islamic extremist terrorism) as they do, arguably, perhaps, merely emphasize the goodness of what needs to be protected.

I next shared a glimpse, a sampling, of what I’d seen of Okinawan art in the preceding six months or so. I would say my main intention was twofold: (1) to just simply share something of my experience; even those who’ve spent more time in Tokyo, who know the Tokyo and national art scene better than I do haven’t been feet-on-the-ground seeing all this stuff in Okinawa right now, in 2016-17 as it happens. And (2) to try to contribute just a bit to combatting the continued US/Eurocentrism of our understanding and vision of the art world. This is the 21st century. We are global citizens, Let’s fucking act like it. Okinawa is a part of the world, no less so than California or New York or Texas, no less so than England or France or Japan or China. No matter how small, no matter how seemingly peripheral in one way or another, it is a part of our world, a jigsaw puzzle piece that is essential to a more complete vision of the whole.

Finally, Colin talked about how we understand art and aesthetic categories. In the aftermath of minimalism and modernism reaching (arguably) their limits, the movements having been played out to their fullest possible extent, now what? In our frenetic postmodern moment, when absolutely anything can be art, what now is (and is not) “Art”? Also, as we become increasingly interconnected into the global, just because we have access to seeing more art from around the world doesn’t mean we actually understand it in cultural and political context. It may actually be easier than ever before to think we do – seeing artworks from all around the world on the internet, and at a first glance thinking we “get” it, based on preconceptions about Japan. But, in truth, as Colin explained, there is historical, cultural, and political knowledge that is essential to understanding more validly, more deeply, more truly, what an artwork is referencing or pointing to.

Matthew Limb did an excellent job as moderator, guiding us through some important themes and questions at the end of the panel.

These were accompanied by the brilliant inclusion of a series of video interviews organized by Naoya Matsushima, projected onto the wall of the gallery. While five of us gave talks in UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) theatre in a formal panel event on the Wednesday, that’s ephemeral – even more ephemeral than a one-week gallery show – and these videos, summarizing the main themes of our talks in a (hopefully) even more accessible manner than the talks themselves, brought those talks, those topics, more directly into conversation with the artworks.

It was a real pleasure to collaborate with these folks, and to have such an event under my belt, keeping me connected into fields of Art and Art History, and to get to contribute to having just a bit more Japan-related events on campus, introducing our audiences to these various aspects of Japanese & Okinawan art and politics. I look forward to hopefully many more fruitful collaborations in future.

Read Full Post »

Finally went to Takae and Henoko today. Thanks so much to Kinjô-san and Ariarakawa-san for taking me along.

These are two sites where the US military, with the support of the Japanese (national) government either are building, or have just completed, new military installations – against the will of the Okinawan people, and despite extremely extensive peaceful protest + formal political & legal efforts.

Right: A banner reading roughly “We don’t need Ospreys in the Yanbaru forest.”

Takae is a region of the sparsely populated, densely forested, northern part of Okinawa Island, called Yanbaru. The US military has controlled a significant portion of this forest for decades, using it to stage training and practices for jungle warfare (esp. during the Vietnam War). Much of the forest has been ruined by Agent Orange, something the US kept secret for years. And now, over the last few years, they’ve tripled the number of helipads in the forest, in large part to use for the experimental Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) crafts that keep crashing, and which the Okinawan protesters have particularly seized on opposing. Meanwhile, the US returned portions of the forest to public Japanese/Okinawan use, last week, as part of a distraction, and in order to make themselves look good, and to make the Okinawans look bad. “Look, we returned all this land! You should be grateful!” “Yeah, but it’s useless land, that you stole, that we never chose to give up to begin with, and which you’ve ruined with Agent Orange.” Further, some number of people who’ve lived in this neighborhood for decades, in many cases for generations, are now voluntarily leaving because they just can’t bear to live with the noise and difficulty that these brand-new helipads – built without their agreement or permission, and indeed built against their opposition! – will bring. As the US continues to expand its operations, so long as helicopters and Ospreys continue to crash in Okinawa, it’s only a matter of time before one hits a school or hospital, a residential neighborhood, or even worse, one of the dams that – between five of them – provide some 60% of the fresh water, and much of the electricity, to the island.

Part of the Takae section of the Yanbaru forest.

As for Henoko, this is a gorgeous bay, home to corals and dugongs and much other significant sea life, a beautiful bay which would be fantastic for swimming, boating, fishing, environmental tourism… and which the US has decided to fill in partially with landfill, to create two new runways, to make up for what they’ll lose by eventually returning Futenma Air Base to public (Okinawan/Japanese) control. Of course, the Okinawans don’t want a new base. They want Futenma to be dismantled, and for nothing new to be built to ruin any other part of the island; the positive of seeing Futenma dismantled shouldn’t be balanced out by inflicting further damage and burden elsewhere.

An illustration of the plans for Henoko. The orange area shows where landfill will be done, to build two runways, and a docking area for aircraft carriers. Munitions and possibly even nuclear weapons (despite Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles) will be stored in an area labeled in white, just to the northeast. The red line, meanwhile, shows the area that will be blocked off from civilian entry. Areas circled in dotted white lines are archaeological sites, and the yellow oval within the orange shows a key section of the dugong habitat. Abu, which I mention later in this post, is just off the map to the upper right, just on the opposite side of the bay. Finally, an area just north of the red area contains facilities for hosting eco-tourism, hosting tourists/visitors who would want to enjoy the bay and its wildlife, bringing valuable revenue to the area, if only the bay weren’t ruined by an expanded US military presence. (Thanks to the protesters at the Henoko tent for this information.)

It was really something to finally visit these sites I’d read so much about in the news. To see the tents, which I’d seen so many times in photographs, where protesters have set up camp, protesting day in and day out, for hundreds – indeed, thousands – of days. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t too much to see. I’m not sure what I expected – these are military bases, after all. With the exception of places like Kakazu, where a public park happens to be located on high enough ground that it does offer a pretty nice view down into the base, otherwise, why should I expect that us civilians would ever be able to get a closer view, especially of places that are so contested, so strongly protested? Of course, that said, I have heard that there are boat tours of Henoko, and I would very much like to get to do that, see it from that perspective.

In any case, to begin, we stopped at a few small sights and things on the way up to Takae. This fellow’s name is Konsuke こんすけ. He’s a Ryukyuan boar, and he lives at the Mountain and Water Livelihood Museum 山と水生活博物館 in Higashi Village.

Look at that cute face. Don’t worry – he has plenty of space to chill. As you can see on the right side of the image, his pen goes back quite a ways. And I presume he’s well-fed and looked after.

At Takae, after walking through the protesters’ main tent / camp (where I was instructed not to take photos), we walked down a small dirt path, to find this wacky set of walls and fences and enclosures, blocking protesters (or visitors like ourselves) from even getting close to the guards (in blue, in the background), or to the actual boundaries between public/private Japanese property, and US military property. Layers upon layers. I am in no way an experienced protestor or activist, nor someone with any military background (or the like) whatsoever, so I have no idea what’s normal, but there was something about this that I found just really funny.

Indeed, overall, there’s this funny imbalance or paradox, where on the one hand the authorities have deployed a level of security totally out of proportion to the actual protester presence – suggesting that they see the protesters as a very real and serious threat – while at the same time, just totally bulldozing (sometimes literally) past/over the protesters’ opposition, showing that the protesters in fact pose very little threat at all to their agenda. Things were pretty quiet at both Takae and Henoko today – I saw no more than ten or so guards (private security firm guards) at the one area of Takae we were at (plus two police vans from the Okinawa Prefectural Police), plus a totally reasonable two to five guards or so at each of the gates we passed by.. and similar numbers at Henoko. But, to have even that many, when the protesters are doing absolutely nothing but sitting quietly in a tent by the side of the road, handing out pamphlets and whatever, while anti-base banners and the like have been put up all over the area… what the hell are you guarding against? No one’s doing anything.

Just outside the protesters’ camp, they’ve posted some signs making fun of the signs that are fucking everywhere in Okinawa, saying things like “U.S. Army Facility. Unauthorized Entry Prohibited and Punishable by Japanese Law.” These tongue-in-cheek signs say, roughly, “Entry by those associated with the Police or the Okinawa Defense Bureau is Prohibited,” with the implied earlier line “Territory of the Okinawan People, [Entry … prohibited].” Totally meaningless in terms of actual legal authority, but I really appreciate the chutzpah.

We also visited the beach at Abu 安部, where an Osprey crashed just a couple weeks ago, on December 14. Click through on the photo above to see a larger version. There was nothing really to see there today, as the cleanup was already completed quite quickly, but the crash took place just immediately off the point (Abu-no-saki 安部崎) seen on the far left in the picture. This is a quiet, secluded, beautiful beach in a tiny village, which we accessed only by walking through a small entryway at the end of a quiet street. Locals examined some kind of tank they had found on the beach – not associated with the Osprey, but whether this belonged to the US military, or what it was at all I did not learn. An older man from the neighborhood, recognizing us as outsiders (though two of our party were native Okinawans), came up and engaged us in conversation, telling us about the beach and about the crash…

After visiting Takae, and stopping at Abu, our last major stop for the day was at Henoko. The protesters’ camp/tent is located right along the waterfront, and is loaded with posters, newspaper clippings, flyers, and other resources. We arrived just before four o’clock, when the protesters apparently pack up for the day, before returning at 8:00 the next morning, much as they have done for over 4,500 days now. But, still, one of them was kind enough to take the time to talk to us, and point out on the map much of the information I have shared above. I know it’s difficult to see in this photo, but the rock on the right-hand side of the photo marks where the two runways will converge – the “point” of the “V.”

I welcome clarifications or corrections, but as far as my understanding, while the helipads at Takae were completed last week, regardless of popular opposition, construction has not actually begun at Henoko just yet. The military has conducted various surveys, and maybe some kind of digging or something on the seabed, and has started dropping concrete blocks which will help serve as foundations – something like that – but, there was a Japanese court decision in March 2016 which demanded construction be halted until the situation could be reassessed, and some degree of discussions completed between the Okinawan and national (Japanese) governments. This decision was reversed by the Supreme Court of Japan quite recently, and it is my understanding that Governor Onaga is being obliged to rescind his rescinding of permission for construction to continue, starting as early as tomorrow (Dec 27).

Just a view of Okinawa’s beautiful waters, as seen from the car, somewhere along the north/eastern coast of the island.

I was on the verge of tears several times today, just talking to people, and thinking of how the US and Japanese governments, and most especially the US military, clearly don’t care one bit about the desires or best interests of the Okinawan people. They just don’t regard Okinawa as a place full of people with real hopes and desires, with rights as citizens and as human beings which deserve to be respected – let alone as indigenous people. No, they see it purely through geopolitical strategic lenses, as a Rock, or an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” on which to situate our military bases, using the land and air and water for training and so forth, regardless of who is affected by the noise and pollution, by the crime and crowding, and by the very real dangers of potential aircraft crashes, etc.

It upsets me in particular to see people protesting so vigorously, and yet peacefully, for so long, through so many avenues, and to get just totally steamrolled. People have been holding sit-ins at Henoko for over 4,500 days, and at Takae, Futenma, and other places for at least that long (though perhaps not quite as continuously). Anti-base sentiment dominates in the chief Okinawan newspapers, and it dominates in the Okinawan people’s democratic selection of anti-base candidates for mayors (of Nago and elsewhere), for governor of Okinawa, and for Okinawa’s representatives in the National Diet. It dominates on and off the university campuses, and in academia, and in regular protests before the Prefectural Government building, and elsewhere. And yet, nothing changes. The helipads were completed anyway. The Ospreys are here anyway. Futenma is still here, 20 years after Washington and Tokyo agreed to dismantle it. And Henoko is being built as a replacement, anyway, despite extensive efforts at opposition.

Sign at Henoko. “The will of the people is NO on construction of new bases.”

I of course don’t believe that governments or other authorities should simply bend to the will of whichever group shouts the loudest, on any and every issue. Indeed, there are quite a few issues where I am glad that governments, university administrations, and other bodies of authority have stood their ground despite one group yelling and shouting their fucking heads off, pretending they represent most or all of the rest of us, when they most assuredly do not. And that’s a whole conversation for another time. So, it’s complicated. I certainly don’t think that we should automatically leap to the defense of any or every group that claims to speak for all Native Hawaiians, or all Asian-Americans, especially when one well knows that there are other Native Hawaiians, or Asian-Americans, or Asians, who disagree. But, in this particular case, while I fully recognize that there are those Okinawans who hold differing political views, and while there are some very real, practical, economic considerations for how Okinawa benefits economically from the bases’ presence, even so, I really cannot help but feel that these protesters are not some small fringe – that they truly do represent the voice of the majority of the Okinawan people, and that they truly are in the right. That their voices are being ignored, and their land and water, their sovereignty, their rights as equal citizens of a democratic country, indeed their fundamental human rights themselves, are just being trampled on by top-level (inter)national agents who just think on some other level, some ‘higher’ abstract level of pushing pieces around a Risk board – people who just don’t fucking care. What is the purpose of protest, when it accomplishes so little? It seems almost like a joke. Like a sick joke. These people are here day in, day out, putting so much effort into expressing their political will, into doing something that is at the very heart of what it means to be free and democratic – at the very heart of what it is the US military claims to be defending: Freedom and Democracy. And yet, Tokyo and Washington have the nerve to fucking disrespect and ignore these people so thoroughly, so completely, on issue after issue, month after month, year after year? There is something very very wrong here, and when peaceful protest is so totally ineffective, when a people seem so utterly powerless in the face of government/military agendas, it just makes me feel so saddened, so worried, so disappointed, in the state of our world.

A view of the ocean near the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Station.

All photos my own.

Read Full Post »

11/4/16

Thanks to the Uchinanchu Taikai, I had a bus pass for unlimited free bus rides all over the island, for nearly a full week after the Taikai ended. So I decided to try to make the most use out of it (well, for one day anyway) while I still could, and went up to Katsuren gusuku – about a one hour bus ride from here, a ride which would normally have cost around 1000 yen (US$10) each way. Saved quite a bit of money.

But before actually going to the castle, I first went to the Yonashiro History Museum. Why it’s Yonashiro and not Yonagusuku is a mystery to me, but in any case, this was a tiny local history museum based in one wing of the town hall. A few years ago, archaeologists working on the grounds of Katsuren castle found a number of coins, which in recent months they determined to be, most probably, from the circa 4th century Roman Empire. That would make these the only Roman coins ever found in Japan – speaking to the incredible maritime activity and connections of pre-modern Okinawa, long before the island ever became part of any Japanese state.

From Kôhô Uruma Magazine’s November 2016 issue:

(rough translation my own; apologies for any errors)

Coins from the Roman and Ottoman Empires discovered at Katsuren Castle

About the excavated coins: In the 2013 archaeological survey conducted at Katsuren castle, ten small, round, metal coins were discovered (nine within the grounds of the castle, and one outside). The metal objects discovered in the survey were brought back [to the research center], and when they were further examined, four were determined by experts’ analysis to be circa 4th century Roman coins, and one a coin made in the 17th century Ottoman Empire. However, as analysis continues, the possibility remains for a different result [to emerge].

The dates we are currently conjecturing for the production of these coins places all five outside of the 12th to 15th centuries, the period of Katsuren’s peak prominence. Continued examination of the Katsuren site, and of ceramics and other objects excavated there, [will hopefully provide some answers as to] why these coins were found there, and how they came to Katsuren.

Other examples of similar coins being discovered in Okinawa are unknown, and it is thought likely that this is the first discovery of similar coins [i.e. from the Roman Empire] anywhere in Japan.

It is thought there is a possibility that someone related to Katsuren castle and serving as some kind of point of contact between East and West obtained the coins somewhere, and as such this is a very important find for continuing research on [the extent and form of] Katsuren’s still largely unconfirmed networks of interaction & exchange. This can be seen as a significant development not only for the fields of Okinawan history or Japanese history, but also for those of the histories of Western Asia, or of the West, and as such for World History as a whole.

Plans from here on: The remaining five coins which have not yet been thoroughly identified will be cleaned, and the designs and inscriptions on them will be examined. Further, the sites that have been excavated, and the artifacts excavated from those sites, will be carefully examined, a more thorough analysis of the composition of the objects will be undertaken, and from this we plan to better determine the time and place when/where they were made.

The History and Archaeological Surveys of Katsuren Castle

Katsuren castle was built around the 12th or 13th centuries, and flourished in the 14th and [early] 15th centuries through overseas trade. The castle fell in 1458, as the tenth lord of the castle, Amawari, was attacked by the armies of the Shuri royal government [i.e. of the unified Kingdom of Ryukyu which ruled over the whole island] and was defeated. From then through roughly the 17th century, the castle was used by the local people in some fashion, but little is known about this period in any detail.

Excavations on the grounds were begun in 1965 by the Ryukyu Government Cultural Properties Protection Agency [part of the Okinawan civil self-government under US martial Occupation], and in 1972 [following the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty] the site was named a National Historic Site. The site was named in 2000 as one of the sites included within the umbrella UNESCO World Heritage Site designation “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.” Today, the Katsuren Castle Site Maintenance Project receives funding from the Agency for Cultural Affairs [an agency within the Japanese national government], and the cultural office of the Uruma City Board of Education is overseeing archaeological excavations and restoration efforts. Excavation efforts began in earnest in 2012, with a focus on the fourth enclosure (the outermost of the castle’s four main enclosures, baileys, or enceintes, depending on one’s preferred term), and excavations of the eastern and northern portions of this area, and of the area immediately around the Nishihara Gate, were completed in 2015.

From my own notes, taken at the exhibition (if only they would have allowed us to take photos!! then I’d have the full gallery labels to look at again, and to take the time to translate them – I just didn’t have the time or patience to copy down everything by hand, on the spot):

Coin #2: seems to be from the Roman Empire, c. late 3rd century.

Coin #4: possibly from the reign of Suleiman II (r. 1687-1691) of the Ottoman Empire. The coin is labeled “Constantinople” in Arabic script, along with the date 1099 A.H. (=1687 CE).

Coin #5: seems to be a mid-4th century Roman bronze coin. Possibly inscribed “CONSTANTIVS”.

Coin #7: seems to be a coin issued on the occasion of the death of Constantine I in 337, thus making the coin’s date circa 337 to 340 CE.

Coin #8: seems to be from the period of shared/collaborative rule between Constantius Gallus and others, c. 337 to 340s or 350s CE. Researchers have noted similarities to a coin dated 347-348 CE and inscribed “CYZICVS.”

Other objects excavated from the castle site and displayed at the museum included Chinese coins from the Sui (581-618), Northern Song (907-1127), and early Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, as well as dice, hairpins, smoking pipes, elements of Japanese weapons & armor, and plenty of shards of pottery, including Chinese celadons and other luxury items from overseas.

I’m sorry that I don’t have more information… I shall certainly keep my eyes open for further news articles or the like.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this post, as I finish talking about my adventures of that day, at Katsuren castle, the surrounding neighborhood, and in Futenma/Ginowan on the way home.

Read Full Post »

The Unbelievable

By now, many of us have moved on, at least a little bit, from the raw emotion of Tuesday night, the shock, despair, anger, disbelief.

There is nothing in this post that others haven’t already been saying for days (if not weeks, months, over a year), and there is nothing here that others have not said more eloquently. And I appreciate too that some people are tired of hearing the same old reactions, the same anger and frustration, and want to move past it. In that respect, my words may seem old, like they belong to last week. Which they do, because that’s when I wrote most of this post.

But, still, I wanted to post it, because for those of you who only know me through this blog, I can imagine how my silence these last few days may easily be mistaken as an indication of silent secret support for Trump, or for any number of various positions on the political spectrum. Particularly as a white male, I think it important I make my position clear.

And my position is this: I am as dismayed, as terrified, as the rest of you. … and I would never want you to think you do not have my love and support, for whatever that is worth. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, black, brown, Asian, Native, LGBT, US-born or an immigrant, or any number of other identities, no matter how you identify in terms of ethnic or gender/sexuality identity categories, I stand on your side in the struggle to retain what rights and protections we have, and to fight for even greater equality, protection, and acceptance.

I was on the verge of tears as I talked to my Okinawan professor and classmates the other day, as I told them I was just as shocked and dismayed as they all surely must be. I truly cannot believe that this has come to be the result. And I am fearful, genuinely terrified, for what might happen in coming months and years. This is not about whining that “my side” lost. This is not about principled disagreement about normal political disagreements – over the minimum wage, or taxes, or this or that. Though you wouldn’t know it from listening to a lot of liberals, I do believe that there is a lot of room for complexity and disagreement as to how we, as a country, as a society, should balance freedom and equality, or freedom of expression and freedom from damaging or hurtful expression, how to balance the needs or interests of one group against those of another group, and so on and so forth. What is the best way to approach this policy or that policy, this issue or that issue. But this, this is a whole other thing.

I started drafting this with the intention of it being just a very short statement, by way of a preface or note at the beginning of another post, to express some kind of acknowledgement that I do feel it feels weird, out of place, to keep posting about history and art and my biking adventures and whatever, things that seem so frivolous in the light of this week’s events – but that for the moment, at least, Trump still isn’t president, and life goes on. We all have work and play, things we did before the election that we’ve yet to post about, and things we continue to do today, in order to keep earning an income, in order to keep enjoying life before things get worse… I have posts I’ve already been working on, and I want to share them. Perhaps for some it will come as a welcome distraction.

But, as I began writing that short introductory bit, it just got longer and longer, and in the end I do think it makes more sense, it feels more right, to put this up as a whole blog post unto itself. A marker, to take a pause from the usual arts & history and whatever posts – and not a silent pause – to take note of what has happened, and to add my voice to simply be heard, that I am terrified too, and worried and dismayed. I am shocked, and saddened, and this pit in my stomach has not gone away since Wednesday (elections results, Japan time), and I don’t know that it will anytime soon.

So, even as I continue to make use of my time here in Okinawa to continue my research (which I am literally and explicitly being paid to be here to do), and to take advantage of the opportunity to explore and learn and enjoy myself – whether we want to justify it as a much-needed distraction from the mental & emotional stress of thinking about what is coming, or as enjoying ourselves while we still can, or whatever other articulation may be appropriate, please don’t think I am not thoroughly terrified by all of this, and please don’t think that you don’t have my sympathy and support. But also that I write this post not with the intention of it being a political analysis or activist call; I write this with no illusions that I’m adding anything meaningful to the conversation. There is nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said, by others, on dozens of other platforms. There is nothing I can contribute to this conversation except my support and agreement and reiteration of what so many others have already said. And further, that I am not a political expert or anything, and so who the fuck am I to post a post about the election results as if my voice needs to be heard? No one needs to hear what I have to say on the matter, especially as the content of it is in no way new or original.

I was going to just write something short and put it at the top of my next post. But then I found I had written several pages… and so maybe I will just post this, rough as it is. Just to show my support, show my solidarity. To just get it out there, express my anger.

I feel weird continuing on with these posts in the aftermath of this week’s horrific election results. There is a temptation to think that because of this really quite potentially devastating historic event, we should stop everything and focus on that. And, indeed, I am truly upset, and terrified, for what this means for our country, for our world, for ourselves and friends and family and strangers as individuals. But, just because I’m not posting about that, just because I’m going forward with posting about things that suddenly seem particularly frivolous, please don’t think that I am not just as worried, terrified, saddened, disappointed, concerned, and fired up as all the rest of you. Please don’t think you don’t have my sympathy and my support, in whatever ways that I can offer it. When the shit hits the fan, I hope I will find the bravery to do the right thing.

Trump’s demagoguery, his racism, his incitements to violence, his normalization of numerous attitudes and positions that should never have been tolerated as within the acceptable bounds of common decency, have already led to countless verbal and physical attacks, much as we also saw in the aftermath of Brexit, as bigots were given the encouragement to believe that their views are not only acceptable but are actually supported by the majority of the country (they are not). I fear for what Trump – a hatemongering, temperamental, vengeful, racist, sexist, and just wholly ignorant and incompetent man – might accomplish with a Republican-controlled Congress. I fear for the potential impacts of his policies on Jews, Muslims, Native peoples, Hispanics, blacks, LGBT folks, women, and all the rest of us. And, here’s hoping that events prove me wrong, but I fear the real potential of the very worst; my grandparents suffered through Buchenwald, something the likes of which no one, NO ONE, should ever have to suffer through, and I have no doubt that there were millions in Germany, and elsewhere, who thought surely it could never get as bad as it ultimately did – that surely political institutions and the limits of Hitler’s office would stop him, or that the top-level government people around him would stop him, or that Hitler himself surely couldn’t possibly have really meant, really intended to pursue, all the horrible things his rhetoric claimed. So, maybe I’m going to extremes. But I will not blind myself to the possibility. If they start coming for people like they came for us, I want to believe that we will be able to see it coming, and to see it for what it is. And I hope I will have the wherewithal, the bravery, the intelligence, to do the right thing. For as much as I wish I might be a hero, I am only an individual, scrawny Jewish guy, more likely to be killed at the end of a bayonet on day one than to successfully take part in any sort of physical uprising against the brownshirts.

My grandparents, with my eldest uncle, in a US-run displaced persons (i.e. refugee) camp in Germany, making the most of a horrific situation, and trying to put their lives back together, after losing absolutely everything but their lives at the point of a gun, just years after a hatemonger was legally voted into power. They then came to the US seeking to escape from all of that, and to seek a better life in the land of multiculturalism, freedom, and democracy. How disgusting that we should be heading down that path ourselves, now, and how tragically ironic that we should be looking to Germany, of all places, and certain other parts of Europe, now, as a possible destination to escape to, if it should come to that (and I most sincerely hope it does not).

I fear, too, for the world. What a Trump presidency might mean for our alliances, for the world order, for peace. What it might mean for the beginning, or continuation, or exacerbation of innumerable conflicts around the world, or for the end of certain conflicts with victory for fascists, dictators, or terrorists. I fear for the prospect of nuclear war, something I think a great many of us haven’t felt was a real and present danger for at least about 25 years now. And I fear about climate change, which will not only continue to go ignored by our leaders, but will likely be exacerbated under a Trump presidency. If it wasn’t already too late to turn back the destruction of our planet, it will be very soon.

And I weep, too, for the lost opportunities of what Hillary (or, really, Bernie) might have accomplished. Even if, in some miracle scenario, Trump doesn’t accomplish any of the horrific things he or the other Republicans have been talking about for years, we still won’t be gaining any of the progress that we might have so hoped for. Progress on addressing police brutality. Ending the Dakota Access Pipeline and gaining some real progress, however, slim, towards greater awareness and redress for Native American groups. Progress towards maybe, just maybe, actually reducing the US military presence in Okinawa (ok, I know that’s kind of my pet one, and not something most people are talking about). Progress towards addressing student loan debt, the decline of support for Arts & Humanities, and the corporatization of the university. Not to mention any kind of progress towards actually putting power back in the hands of the people, and not the corporations.

These are not petty things. This is *not* just like Reagan, or Bush, or second Bush. This is not just like disliking Romney, or some other roughly reasonable Republican character. And this is not just whining about “my side” having lost. This is about true and genuine fear for what is to come. People’s lives, and indeed the stability of our country and of the whole planet, hang in the balance. People are literally going to die because of Trump’s policies – on healthcare, on women’s health & women’s rights, on police brutality – and because of his open encouragement of violence against ethnic, religious, and gender/sexual minorities. I am terrified and deeply saddened, and I am also utterly disappointed in my fellow Americans, millions and millions of whom seem to believe that this kind of man, his attitudes, his behavior, should be regarded as “normal” and “acceptable” within the political spectrum. All policies aside, the fact that the leader of our country, our face to the world, is now a man who is a serial sexual offender, a sexist, a racist, a hatemonger with authoritarian leanings, someone who represents to the world that the United States is all about self-important self-absorbed bluster, and a thorough disinterest in even trying to appreciate the nuances and complexities of domestic or foreign policy… this worries me, and frightens me, so deeply.

And I will keep my eyes and ears open for suggestions or invitations as to what to do about this. People are talking about “fighting back,” but few are offering concrete suggestions as to how to do so. People are talking about simply trying to be there for one another, to lend help and support to those most endangered by what is to come, and I will certainly try to do my best. But right now, in this very moment, today, there is little to be done. We will do what we can, when the opportunity presents itself, when the time comes. If there is truly to be a revolution or an uprising of some sort, perhaps I will find myself able to participate. If we have to flee for our lives, as so many in my grandparents’ community surely did, then god help us, we will do what we need to do at that time, and god willing we’ll be able to see the winds changing and be able to know, not too late, when that time has come. If it is to merely be a matter of writing to our senators, and signing petitions, and things like that, I will continue to do those things, in what small ways that I can, as only one individual in this massive nation. But in the meantime, please know that if you’re scared, I am with you. And that my decision to keep posting about the same sorts of things I have always posted about is not some grand political statement – I do not know what we should be doing. I do not know that it will be alright (for a whole ton of people it really very likely won’t be). And I am not advocating that we must get on with our lives. I’m not seeking to take a stand, on any particular position on that point. I’m just one guy, some fellow, just trying to navigate life, as I always have been, albeit in what will very soon become a far more uncertain and precarious situation.

My love and support to all of you.

Read Full Post »

Now, this is a complicated set of issues, and I don’t presume that I have the answers… but, it’s just something that’s been on my mind lately.
I think that something needs to be done to reform the often arbitrary, often too strict, and often quite burdensome (on the individual traveler) system we have for granting border entry permissions (or not) for ordinary, upstanding people from friendly countries (or, hell, friendly upstanding people from unfriendly countries), in this ever more global world of ours.

Ready to take you to them, but we’re not making any guarantees about being able to navigate all the hoops and technicalities to allow you to actually take advantage of those opportunities.

The last time I went to the UK, the whole time I was standing in line I thought “I’ll just tell them I’m here as a tourist.” And then, once I got up to the desk, I guess my inner honesty and/or fear of authority got the best of me, and I told them I was there for an intensive course in premodern Japanese paleography at Cambridge. I think, if I remember correctly, I did have documents on me to help corroborate my identity as a graduate student, and to corroborate that I’d been accepted for this workshop. But, even so, of course the guy behind the desk, not being a part of such circles, would of course think that I don’t look like someone who should/would know so much about Japanese, that if I did want to study that why was I coming to England and not going to Japan, and so forth.

Thankfully, he let me through. But, sometimes the truth just doesn’t fall into the neat boxes of the 99% (I’d wager) of other cases of other people stepping up to that immigration desk each day – and for entirely upright, reasonable, and harmless reasons. Living the kind of life I live – an academic, not too entirely different from the self-employed web developer linked here – I sincerely worry sometimes about getting black marks on my passport, about getting detained or deported. The last time I was in Japan, too, I told them at immigration I was there solely as a tourist, and I got through easy, no problem, for 90 days (just like we US citizens also get in the UK, if you just tell them you’re a tourist). But then I proceeded to visit libraries and archives and do research, and to also present at a conference. In essence, I was doing exactly what this woman was turned back for – trying to get into the country to present at a conference we were genuinely invited to come to present at, and then also spending a few days/weeks traveling around, visiting friends, etc.

Should we all of us always just say we’re there for tourism, even when we’re really there for research, or for a conference? Is that how the system wants it to be? That people are lying, simply so as to not get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of whether or not it’s a paid engagement, who’s paying, whether this means it’s a “business trip” or not, etc etc etc.

This is the system we asked for. We thought it wouldn’t apply to “us.” We built it to keep Them out, to keep Us safe. But how quickly that system turns and engulfs the ones we love.

This quote is from a blog post by cartoonist / graphic novelist Rachel Nabors, an account which infuriated me, and inspired me to write this post, on issues I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. I would invite you to read Nabor’s account on Medium, to get the full story, the fuller chronological narrative of her emotional experience – an experience I would never want to experience myself, and would wish others should never have to go through either. I invite you to read the whole thing, but in a nutshell, she was invited to speak at a conference. She would be totally legally able to enter the country if she simply claimed to be a tourist. Further, according to the language directly articulated on the UK government’s webpage for US citizens applying for visas, “you don’t need a visa … if you’re coming to the UK for conferences, meetings, [etc., or] … a ‘permitted paid engagement’ (you must have been invited to the UK because of your expertise.” And yet, even though she brought a formal letter of invitation, and various other forms of supporting paperwork, she was detained for hours, without phone, without conditions conducive to sleep, without good food or water or shower, and was ultimately deported, not all the way home to Portland, Oregon, but only as far as New York City. All because of some technicality in whether or not she was getting paid for this engagement, and whether the ones doing the inviting and/or the paying were located in the UK (rather than being a German organization hosting an event in the UK, or some such complicating matter). Such bullshit.

Not only that, but the immigration system was so incompetent, so poorly thought-through, so totally unprepared to accommodate her particular situation that when she asked “was there any kind of visa I could get, currently or in the future, that would let me do what I came to do?,” she was told, point-blank, “No.” Are you kidding me? Really? How can that be?

Like myself, and like the next case described below, if she had lied and pretended to be a tourist, she would have gotten right through, no problem. Is this how the system wants us to behave? To lie? I appreciate the desire of governments to control their borders, especially economically – to divide the tourists from the business travelers, the temporary travelers from the longer-stay travelers – I get it. There are valid arguments to be made for the need to have all these technicalities and categories, and to require paperwork and so forth. But, when perfectly legitimate people are falling through the cracks like this – with severe emotional, financial, and career impacts, not to mention other forms of life impacts; heaven forbid you should be denied entry to a country and as a result be unable to be there to see your mother on her deathbed before she is gone forever, or myriad variations on that sort of story – that is just not right. Something has to change.

“I don’t understand why they are doing this to us,” my cell mate repeated, “We aren’t criminals!”

And, we’re the privileged ones. My stomach turns for the other women in Nabors’ story, who, even if they weren’t “profiled” and selected out for their dark complexion and/or non-Western citizenship, even if they were selected out for “fair” “equal” reasons with Nabors, would suffer so much more so due to their socio-economic situation; their inability to afford the time or the money to be detained and their travels derailed.

Here’s another example, of an American who was supposed to come visit and do YouTube collaboration stuff in the UK, and got stuck in Paris, unable to get let into the UK, because of paperwork bullshit. Partially because immigration people don’t understand what YouTubers do – is this a business trip? is it not? Who is this YouTube guy? Is this collaboration “just visiting friends”? Or are they “business partners”? Just because he doesn’t fall into the normal boxes of “tourist” or “businessman” or whatever, now he has to deal with all of this…

Many of us are fortunate to be privileged enough that we can afford to stay in Paris for X days, or in the case of Rachel Nabors, to stay in NY for however long and book her own return flight back to Portland. But I don’t think it’s hard to imagine (a) plenty of people, plenty plenty plenty of people who do not enjoy such privilege, and (b) plenty of times, plenty of cases, when even someone of “privileged” background like myself simply don’t have enough cash on hand at that time, or whatever, and can truly get stuck. The very first time I was in Japan, I was living in Tokyo at the time, and I took a trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Matsue, and I planned it out poorly (I was only 20, a wee thing), and ran out of money. Didn’t even have money to get back from Matsue to Tokyo. And I couldn’t seem to find an ATM that would allow me to withdraw from my US-based bank account, and just to add to it all, I’d left my phone charger back in Tokyo, so my cellphone was dead too. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with immigration or airports, but, the situation is relevant. What if Rachel Nabors, regardless of her comparatively privileged socio-economic situation overall, simply didn’t have the money at that time to be able to get back to Portland from New York? What if she didn’t have anyone in New York to turn to, to help her out? What if, regardless of how much money she may have had in her bank account, she had just by chance lost her bank card, and thus couldn’t pay for anything in New York (hotel, food, flight home)? One wonders how many people end up homeless on the streets of New York for reasons like this.

I have picked on the UK in this post, because the UK (and Heathrow in particular) happens to be where I have heard the most stories of people having precisely these kinds of problems. But my point is not to criticize UK policy specifically; rather, my point is to critique immigration policy overall, in so many countries. I have no doubt that non-US-citizens encounter just as much trouble, if not more, trying to get into this country, and even as a US citizen I’ve been amazed at how much procedures I have to go through just to reenter my own country. In this ever-increasingly global world, yes, the ever-increasing movement of people increases the severity of issues you need to defend against – that miniscule percentage of people coming into the country who are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, etc.; or more mundane things of just issues of skirting visa requirements, taxes, import/export/smuggling concerns, whatever – but, at the same time, there’s still something obnoxiously paradoxical to my mind that we should have a culture, more than ever before, of travel, of gap years and study abroad and business trips and vacationing and so forth all across the world, and yet, even as it’s gotten so much easier in so many other ways (cheaper flights, multi-language services on the ground, job opportunities & speaking opportunities in other countries), on the governmental/bureaucratic level there are still so many potential pitfalls.

A young Chinese man being interrogated at Angel Island. (c. 1890-1943; date unclear). Photo on display at Museum of the Chinese in America, NYC.

I want to be clear, I understand that when most people talk about “immigration reform” they’re talking primarily about Latinos/Hispanics, and the however many millions of undocumented immigrants already currently in the US today, and what we’re going to do for them. And I totally agree. That is a very real and very serious problem, and it needs to be addressed. These people deserve a feasible avenue to citizenship, and freedom from the fear of getting deported, and so on and so forth.

But, our world is a complex and diverse place, and Latin Americans are not the only people getting into this country. Our borders & immigration policies need some very serious reform, to help all people, “privileged” and not. Yes, something absolutely has to be done to resolve the issue of the millions of Latin Americans trying to get into our country, or already here, but something also has to be done to make it easier for British, Japanese, Russians, Indians, and Turks to be able to get and keep student visas, spousal visas, work visas, whatever, so long as they’re law-abiding citizens and so forth. Not to mention Canadians! The difference between going to grad school in the US as an American, and as a Canadian, just in terms of visas and so forth, in terms of staying in the US afterwards to work, etc etc, is just mind-boggling to me.

And, speaking of more short-term situations, tourists, conference presenters, business trip people, even while millions and millions of people pass through our borders unproblematically each day, with the proper travel visas and whatnot, there are always those, however small a number, who get truly, truly screwed over by a system that fails them – either because of simple accidents on the paperwork, or because of situations that just don’t quite match the normal categories. In some very very few cases, people can truly become (or remain) stateless because of bullshit like this.

The website Stateless Voices is dedicated to awareness about statelessness – the struggles of people who have fallen between the cracks of the global system. Here’s the story of a stateless man who was formerly a Soviet citizen, but became stateless when, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of new independent states, Azerbaijan wouldn’t recognize him (and wouldn’t grant him citizenship). He was granted asylum and lives legally in the United States – totally legally. He can fly from New York to California as much as he wants; he’s a legal resident here. But, when he went to American Samoa, boom, suddenly, even though American Samoa is part of the United States, still, he had to pass through immigration to get back to the US mainland, and, without citizenship, without a normal passport, it was a no go. So now he’s stuck in American Samoa, for how long, with nowhere else to go? He lost his job, he lost his apartment in LA…

Digital artwork by Allison Atta, art student at UH Mānoa, 2010.

Not quite the same kind of story as what happens when American citizens try to get into the UK, or Japanese citizens try to get into the US, to be sure. But, even so. And I think one of the key parts of this problem is that it’s almost like an arms race or something – I don’t know the proper metaphor – in terms of border protections. Criticize the UK, and they’ll say it’s only fair given the way US Border Control treats Brits. Criticize how difficult it is for a Russian to get into the US, and the US authorities will say it’s only fair, given how Russia treats Americans. So, who’s going to change first? Who is going to create more reasonable access, and convince the rest of the countries to follow suit?

I do understand that this is one of the core issues surrounding the Brexit, at least for a lot of people. Young people who voted Remain want continued access to relatively free travel across the 27 countries of the EU, allowing them to not only vacation all across Europe, but also to study and work there, much as I too wish to have access to the same – postdoc in the UK, or Ireland, or Germany or France or Italy or Belgium or the Netherlands? Yes, please. But, the racists and the xenophobes of the Leave campaign aside – those people are the worst sort of hateful assholes, and I by no means intend to lend support to them in any way – I do think there is some reason, some rather reasonable reason, to the idea of wanting to protect your national character, your culture, your identity, and to protect access for your own people to your own institutions. Diversity is wonderful thing, a wonderful thing indeed, so long as Britain remains British. I never went to England thinking I meant to contribute in any way to making it more American, or less British – I wanted to go to Britain because it is Britain, because of the culture and the architecture and the tea, and yes even the food. And if that Britain were to fall, were to disappear, I would mourn it. Not the twee, obnoxiously provincial “Middle America”-style little Britain of Clacton-on-Sea, but the glorious Great Britain of a London that is immensely cosmopolitan, a real World City, but that is still distinctively London, and hasn’t become just another New York, just another LA, just another… wherever.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I think that something needs to be done, to protect our countries, our communities, our cultures, while also making them accessible to others – just as we want the world to be accessible to us – without placing ourselves at risk, every time we get on a plane, that our paperwork won’t quite be in order, and that we’ll get detained, deported, or worse, just because something about the particulars of our situation is just a little too particular for the law’s strict and clean categories.

I have been fortunate, personally, myself, to have never had much trouble at all, at Heathrow, or Narita, or anywhere else. I’ve been fortunate, so far, to never get detained or deported or anything. But one should not have to rely on luck simply to be able to move freely, easily, legally, around the world. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself by writing this.

… And, once again, I’m one of the lucky ones. US passport, visiting allied, friendly, first-world countries. Just imagine the shit people have to deal with when they’re Filipino or Brazilian, trying to visit the US like anyone else – whether as a tourist, or for a conference, or to visit family – or Indians, Australians, or New Zealanders, who may even have strong familial ties with the UK, but because they’re not EU citizens, have to get to the back of that other line, with the trash (i.e. us Americans).

Read Full Post »

So, here’s something interesting. Did you know there are some who argue there’s a legal basis that Taiwan (not generally internationally recognized as a sovereign state unto itself) might be under US sovereignty?

Right: The Eastern US headquarters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), on Mott St. in New York’s Chinatown, flying both the Republic of China & US flags. Photo my own.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a fantastically thought-provoking conference here at UCSB on identity, entitled “Shape Shifters: Journeys Across Terrains of Race and Identity.” I attempted to draft a blog post about all the many many thoughts this conference made me think, but I fell down a rabbit hole of the incredible complexity of this topic, which can be so fraught with personal struggles and controversy and so forth, and so I had to just give up on that. But, still, I am going through my handwritten notes of the conference to enter them into the computer, so that I’ll have it in a more legible and organized form, and so that if there’s anything in there along the lines of books or articles I should check out, or ideas I should blog about, or should enter into the Samurai-Archives Wiki or something, they’ll get done, rather than just sleeping forever more in one of the countless notebooks strewn across my life.

One such thingy came out of a talk by Prof. Dan Shao of U. Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Prof. Dan’s paper was, more broadly, about how nationality/citizenship was regarded in Taiwan under the Qing, then under the Japanese, then under the Republic of China, and how the various political shifts affected the people there. In short, the Qing implemented in 1909 (just two years before they fell) China’s first modern nationality law – the first time Chinese nationality was officially defined. It was along ethnic/ancestry lines – a jus sanguinis logic: essentially, if your father was Chinese (or if your father was stateless or unknown and your mother was Chinese), then you were Chinese. Everyone in Taiwan who didn’t flee to the mainland when the Japanese took over became Japanese imperial subjects, and then in 1945, the vast majority of them filed applications with the Republic of China (or was it the People’s Republic?) to (re)gain Chinese citizenship. Today, as I touched upon in a post last year, there are considerable debates about whether residents of Taiwan consider themselves “Chinese” or not – but this is more of a social identity, not a legal one.

Returning to the point of this post, in the process of discussing this broader topic, Prof. Dan briefly mentioned something very interesting. Since the United Nations no longer recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign state – and since a great many countries similarly do not officially recognize Taiwan – this makes international recognition of Taiwanese (i.e. Republic of China) citizenship or nationality quite complicated. I gather that a lot of countries sort of play both sides on this, hosting Taiwanese “Economic and Cultural Offices” which are not officially recognized as consulates/embassies, and accepting Taiwanese passports as legal travel documents in a sort of exception, all while officially declaring they do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. I also recently saw a fellowship application for which only residents of certain countries were eligible, with an asterisk adding in Taiwan and Palestine. But what happens when a country that doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan apprehends and seeks to extradite or deport Taiwanese criminals? In 2011, what happened was that the Philippines deported some 14 Taiwanese criminals not to Taiwan, but to Communist China. I wonder what other incidents there have been.

What’s even more interesting, and which finally really does bring us to the titular topic of this post, is that there are groups which claim that Taiwan is legally (de jure) under US sovereignty. And there are people who, on this basis, have actually filed lawsuits in US courts, seeking rights & protections under the US Constitution. Here is the plaintiffs’ argument, as I understand it: whereas the treaties which ended WWII specified that Japan cede sovereignty over Taiwan, and whereas it was not stated who sovereignty was ceded to, and whereas the United States was the occupying power, and whereas no official document in international law officially ever ended that occupation, therefore Taiwan is still under US sovereignty, and thus US responsibility.

Yet, despite the fact that all of this was based quite clearly in the language of international treaties and formal instruments of international law, the US courts stated in their decision that this was not a legal matter, but a political one. Prof. Dan explained that since international law (apparently?) doesn’t have much (or any) legal basis for establishing or recognizing the legitimacy of a state – including in particular when that legitimacy begins or ends, such as when international law recognizes the Qing Dynasty as ending and the Republic of China beginning, or, more controversially, when the People’s Republic begins, and whether the Republic of China ever ended – this is why it can be declared by the courts to be a political issue and not a legal one.

I began this blog post with the intention of simply sharing that much, and just sort of saying “isn’t that wacky?” and moving on, and hoping that maybe someone who knows better might write in the Comments to fill me in on further details about this. But, as I write it, I begin to think about and to question the whole notion.

Just about every territorial dispute in the world is based in legal arguments, based on Treaties, Hague Conventions, or other official documents of international law. The argument that the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists, under illegal occupation, is a legal argument, based in Treaties with other countries officially recognizing Hawaiʻi as a sovereign state, the lack of a Treaty with the US ceding sovereignty or territory, and US federal law which does not provide for Congress to have the power to unilaterally claim whatever territory it wishes. There are also those who argue that Japan’s abolition of the sovereign Kingdom of Ryukyu was illegal, under the Treaty of Vienna. So, pardon me for my ignorance, I am in no way a legal expert (or an expert in modern/contemporary international politics), so I fully accept that I may simply be totally mistaken about this, but, when it’s based in treaties and so forth, how is it not a legal issue?

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 15 that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” The 1930 Hague Convention on Nationality contradicts this somewhat, saying that states have the power to refuse renunciations, and the power to determine who is and is not a national of that state. Contradictory though it may be, both are legal documents (right?) – and even if they’re not, nationality is a legal status with very real and severe legal significance. So, it seems to me, it’s a little bit crazy to think that all of this is merely a political matter, with no legal basis.

In any case, Taiwan might, legally, be under US sovereignty. How about that?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »