Junior high journalism in Japan’s English language press
Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2007
THE JAPAN TIMES is running an article on its website by Michael Dunn about the Tokyo National Museum’s exhibit of items related to the Tokugawa shogunate. It is probably an excellent presentation, and if I were in Tokyo I would make a point of paying a visit.
The exhibition, called Legacy of the Tokugawa, is divided into two sections. One contains the shogunate hardware, if you will–weapons, armor, helmets, and other military equipment. The other focuses on the software: items related to culture and the arts.
While the exhibit seems outstanding, the article describing it is less than satisfactory. Mr. Dunn apparently tried to do some history homework, but there are doubts about the accuracy of his claim that Tokugawa Ieyasu died from the aftereffects of wounds suffered during the siege of Osaka Castle.
This information apparently comes from a book published in 2006 called Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns. This is a revised edition of the original translations and memoirs of Isaac Titsingh, edited by Timon Screech. Titsingh was in charge of the Dutch trading mission at Dejima from 1779 to 1784, more than 150 years after Ieyasu’s death. He claimed to have mastered Japanese in two years.
In the linked review of the book, C.B. Liddell says that Titsingh’s historical accounts have been superceded by more recent research. (Another complication is that Liddell has his own eccentric ideas about Japan, and usually writes about the arts. Is there any country anywhere more ill-served by foreign observers than Japan?)
It is suspicious that this theory on Ieyasu’s death is the only one mentioned in Wikipedia, a source I would not rely on if I were writing something for publication. In addition, modern Japanese sources, who have studied the matter in much greater detail, are not certain how Ieyasu died. (A previous theory of food poisoning from tempura seems to be out of favor, and other theories include stomach cancer and venereal disease.)
Further, Mr. Dunn does the exhibit no justice by conveying the information in the sort of prose one sees in reviews of classic rock music on Amazon.com. (Writers should bury the word “haunting” until they can come up with a better single-word synomym for “lingers in the memory”.)
The real problem, however, lies in the last sentence:
Looking at politics today — and what passes for democracy — there are surely some who would see merit in reinstating them.
By them, he means the shoguns, who were military dictators.
Some questions come to mind after reading this sentence.
Why does Mr. Dunn presume that people reading an article about an exhibit on the Tokugawas care what he thinks about contemporary Japanese politics?
Does he really believe that Japan has a bogus democracy? There are millions of people in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, not to mention more than a billion in China, who would be thrilled to have “what passes for democracy” in Japan.
If he suspects some Japanese would see merit in reinstating a military dictatorship, why does he not present evidence that such people exist? If such people do exist, where is the evidence that suggests their numbers are significant enough to merit mention in an article about a museum exhibition?
Must people be subjected to the irrelevant figments of an immature imagination every time they pick up the newspaper?
Weren’t there any adults at the editors’ desk at the Japan Times to redline this journalistic juvenalia?
Meanwhile, newspaper readership in the United States continues to plummet like a rock. A recent report states that the circulation of the New York Times fell nearly 5% in the past six months alone.
And that brings us to the final question:
Can’t these people put two and two together?