AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for November, 2009

Kamei Shizuka speaks

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 30, 2009

FOR A MAN who’s the head of a splinter party with a mere handful of Diet seats, Kamei Shizuka speaks loudly and carries a big stick in the current Democratic Party of Japan-led government. He’s driving the process to renationalize Japan Post and to enact a measure allowing small and medium-sized businesses to delay their loan repayments. This weekend, he and Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democratic Party, another junior coalition partner of equally miniscule numbers, called on/told/ordered Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio to hold off on a decision regarding the disposition of the American Futenma Base in Okinawa until next summer’s upper house election.

What sort of man is Kamei Shizuka? As he granted an interview to the weekly Shukan Gendai that appeared in their 17 October issue, we can consider the source, as it were. Here’s most of it, in English.

*****
- People from throughout the political spectrum are skeptical about the feasibility of the legislation to establish a moratorium for small businesses and others to repay debt. Can that really be achieved?

Of course it can. That goes without saying. We’ll do it. There are no obstacles or anything else in our way. My frame of mind now is that there are no obstructions and it’s clear sailing ahead.

I discussed (the moratorium) with Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio before the election, and he said, “(Let’s) do it.” If he were opposed to me doing it, he wouldn’t have named me Financial Services Minister.

The average annual income of the ordinary salaried worker has fallen by JPY 76,000 in the past year (about $US 877). Some people are having trouble paying off their mortgages. That’s why we should give them a break from their payments for the time being.

The response from the people has been terrific. As of yesterday, there were about 2,700 to 2,800 e-mails to my website. While some asked whether that policy would lead to a credit squeeze, 99% were encouraging and said, “Go ahead and do it.”

Yuai squad leader Kamei Shizuka

- That’s quite a difference from the critical tone taken by the major mass media outlets.

The newspapers and the rest do nothing but criticize because they don’t know what’s happening in the daily lives of the people. Their criticism includes questions about whether the government should intervene in private sector economic activity, but I want to tell them: Stop talking rubbish!

Take a look at the G20. Now, throughout the world, people are saying that the extremes of laissez-faire economics should be tempered, and governments are keeping a sharp watch on private-sector financial institutions. They’re even calling for oversight on the salaries of bank presidents.

I’m not saying we should go that far. But with bank presidents living high off the hog—financial institutions are supposed to fulfill the social responsibility of nurturing and protecting industry, aren’t they? This isn’t the G20, but where do they get the qualifications for those ridiculously high salaries.

- But the government itself is finding it difficult to reach a consensus within its ranks. Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa expressed a different opinion, and Otsuka Kohei, a Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office, also has his doubts.

Consensus? That’s not necessary at all. When I met directly with Fujii, he told me, “Mr. Kamei, go ahead and do it.” Even Hirano (Hirofumi, Chief Cabinet Secretary), when I asked him, “It seems as if you’ve been saying something (criticism),” he denied it, saying, “No, no.” They’ve just been taken in by the leading questions of some people in the mass media.

- So, contrary to reports, neither Finance Minister Fujii nor Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano are critical at all?

“If I say ‘No’, then the Hatoyama administration collapses”

Here’s what it boils down to, for the most part: Don’t make light of Kamei. I may not be much, but I’m still the head of a political party. No one can stop me. Fujii and Hirano have a different standing than I do. If I say “No,” then the Hatoyama administration collapses. Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Hatoyama—the three of us determine the course of this Government. No proposal will be submitted to the Cabinet if I reject it. What can the Finance Minister say?

This moratorium is also an employment measure. In my home district (Hiroshima), a lot of presidents of small businesses are foregoing their salary. Even if they take no salary at all, they’re bending over backwards and doing everything they can to employ the people who’ve worked at their company since days their parents were in charge. But you know, if conditions stay this way until yearend, they won’t be able to hang on any longer. They’ll have no choice but to lay those employees off.

SMBs and microenterprises account for most of the employment in Japan. The employees of big companies make up just a fraction of the whole. What do you think will happen if the SMBs and microenterprises have to lay off more employees? Today’s unemployment rate of 5.7% will jump to 7 or 8%. Even if Japan is turned into a vast wasteland, some of the big corporations and city banks will laugh out loud. What do they think they’re doing?

- There is some criticism that the absence of interest income will have serious repercussions on the operation of financial institutions.

At present there is JPY 12 trillion (about $US 139 billion) in funds for financial institution support. Of that…for example, JPY 100 billion in taxpayer funds was poured into the North Pacific Bank. Of this JPY 12 trillion, only JPY 200-300 billion has been used, so there’s plenty left over.

Here’s what banks are doing nowadays. When they, the lenders, get in trouble, they get tax money as relief. But when the borrowers, SMBs and individuals, get in trouble, they couldn’t care less. They say, “You can just collapse and disappear.” Any bank like that which doesn’t fulfill its social obligations isn’t qualified to be a bank.

Also, if we don’t save SMBs and micro-enterprises, it will weaken the operations of local shinkin banks and credit cooperatives. (Shinkin banks are regional cooperative financial institutions for SMBs and area residents. Companies with more than 300 employees cannot join.) The older men (oyaji, also means father), the executives of those SMBs, are important depositors at those institutions. The SMBs are the customers that receive financing. If we do nothing while those customers go bankrupt, the shinkin banks and credit cooperatives will go down with them too. Just how are they supposed to conduct business if all their customers collapse?

“If you don’t like working under me, then quit”

- Isn’t there any opposition from the bureaucrats involved?

We’ve said goodbye to the fiscal policies based on the strong eating the weak philosophy and market fundamentalism of Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and Financial Services Minister Takenaka Heizo. I’ve decided to do the opposite of what they did. I’ve told the civil servants, “If you don’t like working under me, then quit.” They’d be happier that way, too. I’ve said that to the Financial Services Agency (FSA) employees. But not one of those guys has actually brought me their resignation yet (laughs).

Policies to deal with a credit crunch should be left to the financial institutions to begin with. But the banks are frightened of the FSA’s inspections, so they don’t want to lend to SMBs and micro-enterprises. It’s a fact that even though the manual for those inspections was revised last year to make it less stringent, it didn’t rectify the credit crunch.

So that’s why I’ve said to the FSA employees, “Even though you guys are snickering and objecting that you loosened lending conditions, from the viewpoint of the financial institutions, it’s like the sweet smile of the devil. It just gives everybody the creeps. That’s how much they resent you. That’s why we’ll do the moratorium as a bill put forward by the Financial Services Agency itself.”

If the FSA itself crafts a bill telling financial institutions to institute a moratorium on loan repayment, even the director of a shinkin bank will be able to do it with peace of mind. That’s the truth. Of course, this situation developed not through the fault of individual inspectors, but the fault of Koizumi and Takenaka, who prepared the ground for that to happen.

- Some are saying that in fact, this measure has the danger of creating the reverse effect unless the financial institutions have a better understanding of it. It will exacerbate the credit crunch because they’re concerned they’ll be stuck with bad loans.

As long as I’m in the FSA, I will not let the inspectors cause a credit crunch. I’ve told the inspectors this. I’ve said, “When the bill passes, you guys have to follow-up.”

- Last October, the People’s New Party (of which you are the head) proposed such measures as the indefinite suspension of mark-to-market accounting and dispensing with capital adequacy requirements. Are you going to work to implement these in the future?

They’ve already stopped “mark-to-market” overseas. I don’t know whether it’s a global standard or what, but Japan won’t follow a standard that the rest of the world has ended. Japan’s circumstances are unique to itself. Each country is at a different stage of development and has a different way of life. We should use a yardstick that conforms to actual conditions in every country.

The yuai squad leader

- Have you had any differences of opinion with Prime Minister Hatoyama over the moratorium?

Absolutely not. I’m the squad leader for Prime Minister Hatoyama’s yuai philosophy (of fraternalism). We can’t just mouth the word yuai—we have to consider how to incorporate that spirit in policy. I’m the squad leader for putting that into practice. That’s why the moratorium emerged, as well as the reevaluation of Japan Post.

Japan Post has a capillary-like network stretching from Hokkaido to Okinawa. If we utilize that network—if we wanted it to, it could even have the function, for example, of a matchmaking service by connecting men and women in Hokkaido and Okinawa who are looking for partners. Depending on how we use it, the Japan Post network could link the hearts of all Japanese.

- Going back to when the Cabinet appointments were made, there were reports that you would be named Defense Minister, and there was a bit of turmoil.

Well, that, the major mass media outlets were just terrible. To begin with, I wasn’t internally designated as the Defense Minister at all. On the day the Cabinet was put together, I got a phone call from Mr. Hatoyama when I was surrounded by beat reporters. He told me not to announce the appointments publicly until that evening. Now, I didn’t want to mislead the reporters, so I clearly told them, I’m not the Defense Minister (as had been rumored).

Then, one reporter asked, “Is it Ichigaya? (the name of the Tokyo neighborhood where the Defense Ministry is located)” I said it wasn’t (chigau). But for some reason, the reporters misheard that as “You’re close (chikai).” They all flew out of the room and issued these bulletins saying I was named Defense Minister.

They were even worse after that. One of the reporters who wound up filing the erroneous story asked me if I couldn’t talk about it in such a way that the mistake would be understandable. He asked if I wouldn’t say that Mr. Hatoyama had sounded me out about a Cabinet position twice, and that the first time he asked about the Defense Ministry. He wanted to turn something that didn’t happen into something that did happen, as a means of self-protection and organizational defense.

That’s why the mass media has to change in the future, too. Some reporters are acting as front men for the banking industry and criticizing the moratorium. But what should really happen is that the reporters should also be giving us the benefit of their wisdom. They could offer suggestions on good policy.

Afterwords:

* Otsuka Kohei, one of those Mr. Kamei dismissed when speaking of others in the Cabinet who objected to the moratorium, was named the head of the DPJ’s Financial Countermeasure Team on 15 September 2008, when the financial crisis began after the collapse of Lehmann Bros. The team compiled a list of measures and an action plan to encourage a response from the then-ruling LDP and the Government. Some of the suggestions included issuing yen-denominated bonds (samurai bonds) when other countries asked for financial assistance, shifting from the dollar as the base currencies to a basket of currencies, and offering financial assistance as an individual country rather than going through the IMF, to enhance the Japanese presence.

* Here I go again: One of the weaknesses of a multi-party parliamentary system is that tail ends such as Mr. Kamei wag entirely too much of the dog.

* One thing to be said in Mr. Kamei’s favor, however, is that he does seem to have an idea about the income of the average salaried worker. Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio—the richest man in the Diet—was asked the same question in 2000, and answered JPY 10 million. When his guess became the butt of jokes, he said a few days later, “I don’t remember saying that. It’s about 8 million, isn’t it?”

I couldn’t find the figures for the year 2000 in a brief search, but the Yomiuri Shimbun reported in 2004 that after four straight years of increases, the average salary in the private sector was JPY 4.378 million (about $US 50,500). Yukio wasn’t even in the ballpark.

* In another example of “things they know that aren’t true”, academics and journalists of a certain stripe have for years been sounding false alarms about the lurking hordes of Japanese “right-wing nationalists” lying in wait for the chance to reconstitute the Japanese Empire whenever a likely pretext presented itself. That said more about their comic book vision of the non-left than it did about actual circumstances. Then again, what else can one expect from the source?

But it’s also another example demonstrating Hayek’s assertion that “conservatives” is an inaccurate term to describe those with libertarian/small government leanings (the real progressives) and shouldn’t be lumped in the same category. The “conservatives”, he noted, are usually culturally conservative and are all too willing to accept left-wing, big government premises. In Mr. Kamei’s case, that means renationalizing Japan Post and its banking and insurance businesses, as well as a platform of economic demagoguery standing on a foundation of public funds.

Recently, Mr. Kamei explored the possibility of enlarging his party or forming a new one with another cultural conservative, Hiranuma Takeo. (Both were thrown out of the LDP by Mr. Koizumi over the Japan Post privatization issue.) It came to naught, at least for the time being. It’s easy to identify this species in Japanese politics, by the way, from their birdcalls for creating a “true conservative” party.

Rather than marching into East Asia, Mr. Kamei’s policies are the type of which birds of that feather will likely pursue.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Will Japan’s economy go belly up?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 29, 2009

“As the Japanese certainly realize, both restoring banks and corporations to solvency and implementing significant structural change are necessary for Japan’s long-run economic health. But in the short run, comprehensive economic reform will likely impose large costs on many, for example, in the form of unemployment or bankruptcy. As a natural result, politicians, economists, businesspeople, and the general public in Japan have sharply disagreed about competing proposals for reform. In the resulting political deadlock, strong policy actions are discouraged, and cooperation among policymakers is difficult to achieve. In short, Japan’s deflation problem is real and serious; but, in my view, political constraints, rather than a lack of policy instruments, explain why its deflation has persisted for as long as it has.”
– U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

EITHER THE BUSINESS of following the movement of money for a living attracts those of a saturnine cast, or the business of following money itself makes people that way. Even in the balmiest of economic climes, they scan the skies for storm clouds while issuing dire warnings about the sooty wisps that just float overhead or dissipate before any rain falls.

In today’s economic climate, however, those who put the dismal in the dismal science are reveling in a saturnalia of pessimism so extreme it’s time for the rest of us to pay attention to the racket they’re making instead of shutting the window. It isn’t just the United States that’s causing the analysts to pour themselves another stiff drink; even the layman senses that the Americans are building another house of cards on the lot filled with the debris from last year’s collapse. What has some money watchers reaching for the bottle this time is Japan and China.

Earlier this month, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote this column in Britain’s Telegraph headlined, “It is Japan we should be worrying about, not America.”

The barman sets them up:

Japan is drifting helplessly towards a dramatic fiscal crisis. For 20 years the world’s second-largest economy has been able to borrow cheaply from a captive bond market, feeding its addiction to Keynesian deficit spending – and allowing it to push public debt beyond the point of no return.

And then pours:

Regime-change in Tokyo and the arrival of Yukio Hatoyama’s neophyte Democrats – raising $550bn (£333bn) to help fund their blitz on welfare and the “new social policy” – have concentrated the minds of investors at long last. “Markets are worried that Japan is going to hit a brick wall: the sums are gargantuan,” said Albert Edwards, a Japan-veteran at Société Générale.

Here’s the chaser:

Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), told the US Congress last week that the debt path was out of control and raised “a real risk that Japan could end up in a major default”.

Care for a double? (My emphasis)

The debt situation is irrecoverable,” said Carl Weinberg from High Frequency Economics. “I don’t see any orderly way out of this. They will not be able to fund their deficit. There will be a fiscal shutdown, a pension haircut, and bank failures that will rock the world. It is criminally negligent that rating agencies are not blowing the whistle on this.”

On second thought, make it a triple:

“This is incredibly dangerous,” said Russell Jones from the RBC Capital Markets. “The rate of deflation is shocking. The debt dynamics are horrible and there is the risk of a downward spiral.”

The author points some fingers:

Japan’s terrible errors are by now well known. It failed to jettison its mercantilist export model in time. It resisted the feminist revolution, leading to a baby strike by young women. It acquiesced in a mad investment bubble (like China now) in the 1980s, stealing growth from the future.

Some of that’s overstated. China and South Korea use the same mercantilist export model, and none of the three could have succeeded unless the U.S., among others, allowed it to succeed. Birth rates are falling throughout Europe and East Asia, so if there’s any “baby strike”, the picket lines aren’t just in Japan. (It also isn’t due to resistance to the feminist revolution, but we’ll be looking at that and the Chinese bubble in some upcoming posts.)

QE was too little, too late, and this is the lesson for the West. We must cut borrowing drastically over the next decade, and offset this with ultra-easy monetary policy.

By QE, he means quantitative easing, or the purchase of national and corporate debt instruments by the Bank of Japan. Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa is upset with the BOJ for halting their QE, by the way. The central bank’s justification was concern over rising public debt, but Mr. Fujii wants them to resume. He says there’s a limit to what fiscal measures can accomplish. He did not mention structural reforms.

Added Deputy Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

With the rate of price increases expected to be negative for a long period of time, we would like the Bank of Japan to indicate a clear stance on how it will deal with the situation.

Remember that it was fewer than two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan, then in the opposition, tried to create a political crisis by rejecting the Fukuda Administration’s BOJ appointments, claiming Finance Ministry OBs were unacceptable. Their rationale, which has merit and is employed as a general rule of thumb in other countries, is that they wanted to keep fiscal and monetary policy separate.

But opposition parties everywhere have a problem with remembering the things they used to scream about once they’re in charge.

(Incidentally, even when many in the DPJ signaled they were willing to accept some appointees with a Finance Ministry background, the idea was nixed by Big Boss Man Ozawa Ichiro. Mr. Ozawa has always been more interested in politics than in government, and in ruling rather than governing.)

The danger here is that central bank purchases of the debt securities of their own government create money, which is known as monetizing the debt. In addition to putting into circulation specially made pieces of paper with elaborate colored engravings that everyone pretends has value, the process allows politicians to overspend revenues without raising taxes or risking default. Since the Finance Ministry is agitating for tax increases, and there’s a real risk of default anyway, it would seem that Japan has painted itself into a corner. No wonder Mr. Fujii is concerned.

Credit rating downgrade

The following report came out about a week after the preceding article appeared:

Fitch Ratings warned Japan on Tuesday to keep to its borrowing target or risk a credit rating downgrade as the finance minister acknowledged the problem and tried to reassure rattled investors by saying spending had to be cut.

What’s the problem this time?

The government has said it plans to borrow 44 trillion yen ($490 billion) in the 2010/11 fiscal year starting next April, which would be on top of expected record issuance this fiscal year of more than 50 trillion yen. But Fitch Ratings said it’s hard to see how the 2010/11 goal will be achieved and borrowing much more than 44 trillion yen would spark a ratings review.

Thus:

“It’s not the sole determinant that will drive our assessment but other things being equal, then I think that would prompt us to review Japan’s current double AA-minus rating.”

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they get worse.

The Government announced that Japan was again officially in a deflationary period. Here’s a passage from a website page explaining deflation, and how the lack of Japanese action in the past was deflationary:

Banks have delayed that decision (to collect on the loans), hoping asset prices would improve. These delays were allowed by national banking regulators. Some banks make even more loans to these companies that are used to service the debt they already have. This continuing process is known as maintaining an “unrealized loss”, and until the assets are completely revalued and/or sold off (and the loss realized), it will continue to be a deflationary force in the economy.

Here’s the suggestion the Deflation page authors passed along for dealing with deflation in Japan:

Improving bankruptcy law, land transfer law, and tax law have been suggested (by the Economist magazine) as methods to speed this process and thus end the deflation.

Those are probably some of the steps Mr. Bernanke had in mind. But what did the government do?

They passed through the lower house—after only eight hours of debate—Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka’s plan to encourage a debt moratorium and have the taxpayers guarantee the loans. In other words, instead of making the banks and businesses assume the risk—which is where it belongs—they’re making taxpayers liable for it.

Maintaining unrealized losses is deflationary. Therefore, the Japanese government is implementing a measure that will exacerbate deflation during a deflationary period.

Here’s another straw for the camel’s back: The government’s loan guarantee program has already used up half of its JPY 30 trillion (US$ 340 billion) budget, and the government says it doesn’t plan to allocate any more money. But how long will they keep singing that tune if too many default on those debts? Some default is inevitable, which means the government will be throwing the taxpayers’ money away. But what the heck, it’s only fiat money anyway. That’s the term for the money of the mind created after the debt has been monetized.

Still not worried?

As the old jest goes, if you can keep your head while those about you are losing theirs, perhaps you don’t understand the situation. Now we learn the Financial Services Agency plans to revise its rules for financial institutions to exclude debts suspended by the moratorium from the bad debt classification. In other words, the Government thinks that putting the peg in a different hole will hide the debt for the three-year moratorium period. Then, like Cinderella’s pumpkin, the name changes back and the banks have to write off the bad debts.

If the banks struggle to survive while writing off this debt, there will be inevitable calls for more taxpayer money to bail them out. Where will the government find the money to pay for all that?

Wasn’t “monetizing the debt” where we came in?

Yet another problem with Mr. Kamei’s economic demagoguery is the moral hazard. Some of the businesses freed from the responsibility of repaying their debt will either be unable to restructure their finances, or, considering human nature, may not do it at all. That would mean they go bankrupt anyway in three years, while all that fiat money backing the government’s guarantees evaporates with their business.

Still more to come

The banks are also getting the shaft from another direction. As this report notes:

“The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision is expected to raise the level at which financial institutions are required to maintain their core Tier 1 capital as early as 2012. Core Tier 1 capital includes the sum of common shares and internal reserves.”

The response of the Japanese banks:

“Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan’s largest bank, is planning to issue a whopping 1 trillion yen ($11.2 billion) in new shares — the biggest-ever share sale by a Japanese financial institution. Investors are wondering if Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. might be next.”

In still more other words: They’re going to dilute their stock, which has already taken a beating since Mr. Kamei announced his moratorium scheme.

It’s well past time for some people to take Mr. Bernanke’s observations seriously and make a choice: Risk losses in the next election, or risk losing the nation’s shirt.

Which one do you think the Ozawa-led DPJ chooses?

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government | Tagged: , , | 14 Comments »

The origin of holidays and the Tenno system

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 27, 2009

IF IT ISN’T UNIQUE, the Tokyo Metropolitan District is surely one of the few governments anywhere whose two top chief executives were men of letters before becoming involved with politics. Gov. Ishihara Shintaro first captured the attention of the public by publishing a spectacularly successful novel while still a university student. Vice-Governor Inose Naoki, meanwhile, made his name as a non-fiction writer.

In connection with a new book to be published later this week, Mr. Inose has distributed online an article he wrote for the 24 November 1988 edition of the weekly Shukan Spa. The article describes how and why some of Japan’s holidays were selected when the new Constitution came into effect after the war. It also explains how and why the Japanese weren’t always the ones to select the dates of those holidays.

My quick translation of most of the article follows.

*****
The Origin of Holidays and the Tenno System

Many of Japan’s holidays have a rather complicated history. Labor Day is originally associated with the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), which is connected to the Tenno (Emperor).

Even those people for whom the name Niinamesai does not register should recall seeing on television the Tenno cutting the rice in the paddy at the Fukiage-gyoen (gardens) at the Imperial Palace. The Niinamesai is a festival to celebrate the rice harvest and offer a prayer for an abundant harvest in the coming year.

The Tenno’s rice harvest is a symbolic performance. The Tenno, whose spiritual power has been strengthened to the maximum through the Chinkonsai (Shinto service for the repose of the dead) held the previous night, conducts a ceremony at the Imperial Palace for offering the harvested grain to the divinities. The Daijosai is conducted when the new Tenno ascends the throne, and is best understood as a version of the Niinamesai on a larger scale.

The Tenno system has continued even with the changes to the Constitution after the defeat in the war and the transfer of ultimate sovereignty from the Tenno to the people. When decisions were being made on new holidays, the Niinamesai was offered as a candidate, adapted as a day to give thanks for the new harvest. The associations between the name of the holiday and the Tenno gradually grew weaker, and the holiday was established as a day to honor work, celebrate production, and to have the citizens extend their thanks to each other for the work they do.

A poem in the Man’yoshu suggests the Niiname was once a ceremony conducted in the home. The name Niiname is not to be found among the harvest festivals held throughout the country in the early modern period, however. In short, it is best considered a ceremony restored under the Meiji Tenno system.

The origin of Labor Day has not been taught in schools in the postwar period, so children think of it as a day of appreciation for their father’s daily efforts. But if that is the case, why isn’t 1 May—May Day—a holiday?

Culture Day on 3 November was known as the Meiji Setsu before the war. It is the birthday of the Meiji Tenno. During the Meiji period, it was known as Tencho Setsu (The Imperial Birthday). During the (following) Taisho period, the birthday of the Taisho Tenno was known as the Tencho Setsu, and the birthday of the Meiji Tenno was eliminated as a holiday. But the Meiji Setsu was brought back as a holiday soon after the Taisho Tenno died and the Showa period began.

Postwar decisions

The Law Regarding Citizens’ Holidays was promulgated on 20 July 1948. Of course, Japan was still an occupied nation under GHQ control. Provision was made for nine holidays at that time: New Year’s, Coming-of-Age Day, the Vernal Equinox, the Tenno’s Birthday, Constitution Day, Children’s Day, the Autumnal Equinox, Culture Day, and Labor Day. Of these, five were holidays related to the Tenno; only their names were changed. The Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox were originally known as the All Imperial Ancestors’ Day for the spring and fall respectively. The Tenno’s Birthday had been known as the Tencho Setsu. As we’ve already seen, Culture Day was the Meiji Setsu and Labor Day was the Niinamesai.

The author and politician Yamamoto Yuzo, who was a member of the upper house Culture Committee considering that legislation at the time, wrote with great sorrow the behind-the-scenes story about setting the date of Culture Day. According to his account, the committee placed the greatest emphasis on 3 November and wanted to make that Constitution Day. Their reason was that Japan’s new Constitution had been promulgated the year before on that day—3 November 1947.

As he wrote, “The Civil Information and Education Section (of GHQ) did not allow that, however. They thought 3 May would be a better choice for Constitution Day. It wasn’t long before the lower house approved 3 May as the date, making negotiations all the more difficult. But I did not give up. I thought the date the Constitution was promulgated rather than the date it came into force to be a more appropriate date. Considering the distribution of the holidays, the seasons, and the weather for each, I kept up the good fight for seven months.”

Why was GHQ so adamant? Yamamoto Yuzo explains that both the Americans and the Japanese had ulterior motives. He wanted to make the date for commemorating the Constitution the day it was promulgated rather than the day it went into force. The new Constitution was passed by the Diet and approved by the Privy Council on 29 October. He wanted the promulgation date to be 1 November and make that the holiday. But the Constitution was to come into force six months later, and that would mean it would coincide with May Day.

At that time, the United States was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union and did not want the date the new Constitution came into effect to overlap with the day commemorating laborers. Therefore, GHQ ordered that 3 November be made the date of promulgation.

The next dispute arose over whether to make Constitution Day the date of promulgation or the date of effectiveness. The Japanese old guard was certain that 3 November would be the date because it was the former Meiji Setsu. But GHQ, which was trying to promote democratization, thought that should be prevented and insisted the most suitable date for Constitution Day was the day the document came into effect.

Other factors

I suspect there was perhaps one more reason that GHQ went counter to common sense and stuck to 3 May. That was the day the International Military Tribunal for the Far East—the Tokyo War Crimes Trial—held its first session in 1946. Surely they wanted the date to coincide with the first day of the ceremony that sat in judgment of militarism. They did not want anyone to ever forget the spirit of war renunciation in the new Constitution.

That’s why Constitution Day falls on 3 May, but there are also some strange circumstances involving 3 November. Culture Day was created as the result of a dispute between the Japanese forces of reform and conservative forces. Yamamoto Yuzo wrote: “Our task was to select holidays for the people, not select holidays for the Imperial Household.” This can be understood as a kind of declaration of defeat. The result of the effort to make 3 November Constitution Day was ultimately to give that day the nonsensical name of Culture Day.

In spite of Yamamoto Yuzo’s intent, Meiji Setsu survived, but ironically in a different form. In his later years, he recalled that he was criticized every year for the unfathomable day called Culture Day.

Ironically enough, 23 December, the birthday of the Kotaishi (Crown Prince—now the current Tenno), which would become a holiday sometime in the future, was the date Class A war criminal Tojo Hideki was executed.

- Inose Naoki

Afterwords: The last sentence above is the topic of Mr. Inose’s new book.

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Posted in Festivals, History, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions, World War II | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Beers in heaven

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Heaven there is no beer
That’s why we drink it here
And when we’re all gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all the beer.
– “In Heaven There Is No Beer”, Ernst Neubach and Ralph Maria Siegel (translated from the original German)

FRANKIE YANKOVIC and his Polka Kings once had a hit with the song, In Heaven There is No Beer, but he might have changed his tune had he known about the new microbrew on the market in Oita.

Showa-en, a Beppu, Oita-based company that operates ryokan (Japanese inns), is also involved in microbrewing. They’ve announced the sale of two new beers made with brown rice using a manufacturing method that attempts to utilize the yeast bouquet to the fullest extent possible. The method involves putting the yeast into a state of suspended animation through a three-step, low-temperature pasteurization process for which the brewer has received a patent. Company President Mochinaga (given name not confirmable) says, “Nowadays, everybody’s talking about costs, costs, and that’s why I wanted to make something authentic. I want to take this product nationwide.”

This is actually only one new beer brand with two varieties. The brand name is Namban Okoku Mugishu, which translates to “Barbarian Kingdom Beer”. In this case, however, namban means Christian—namban bungaku, or barbarian literature, was the term used for Christian literature centuries ago. The Christian appellation fits, as we’ll see in a second, but it’s not because Belgian monks are involved. Mugishu is what the Japanese used to call beer. The same Chinese characters for that word were used to create the Korean term mekju when the Japanese introduced Koreans to the delights of the beverage early last century. The word mugishu means “barley alcoholic beverage”, and yes, that is an odd name for a beer made with brown rice.

The first variety of the Namban Okoku Mugishi is named Don Otomo Sorin after a 16th Christian warlord who was the daimyo of the Bungo domain in what is now Oita. His original name was Otomo Yoshishige. Sorin was the name he took in 1562 when he became a Buddhist monk, which was after he met the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1551 and before he converted to Christianity in 1578.

During his days as daimyo, Sorin controlled most of Kyushu and was referred to as the King of Bungo in Jesuit records. His wife rather disliked Christianity, and they divorced. She is known in the same Jesuit records as Jezebel, which will come as no surprise. To grab this post by the collar and get it back on track, platinum powder is added to the beer during the finishing process. It sells for JPY 670 (about $US 7.55) for a 330-milliliter bottle (0.7 pint) and JPY 870 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

The second variety is a dark beer named Don Xavier—after Francis, of course—to which gold powder is added during the finishing process. The two sizes cost JPY 650 and JPY 860 respectively.

President Mochinaga said he devised the suspended animation yeast method five years ago after taking over the operation of the Yamaga Kirara microbrewery, which, by the way, is a public-private sector partnership. In Japan, these are called third sector companies, and they were quite the rage among local governments for a time. Nationwide, roughly 70% of the third sector companies are in the red, which will also come as no surprise, but there I go digressing again.

Most beers are pasteurized at a temperature of 60º C (140º F) for 20 minutes, but that kills the yeast. If the yeast is kept alive, however, its aroma constantly changes, and it’s difficult to maintain that for long periods of time. Mr. Mochinaga’s idea was to divide the pasteurization into three periods: two minutes at 55º C, one minute at 40º C, and two minutes at 40º C again. When the beer is shipped, the yeast is in a state of suspended animation, but after it is opened and drunk, it is resurrected, as Francis Xavier might say, inside the consumer’s body. The brewer claims this provides the drinker with amino acids. How many other beverages do you know of that build you up and tear you down at the same time?

Brewmaster Fukuda Rikiya thinks this is the first time anyone anywhere has tried to brew a beer using this method, and I’m inclined to believe him. He added there were many failures before they got the production line operating the way they wanted. Said President Mochinaga, “There are countless microbrews around the world, but few are commercially successful. I didn’t want to imitate the big brewers. I thought it was essential to create a new method of brewing from scratch,” and you can say that again. He is willing to talk about technology-sharing deals if other companies in Oita want to make a similar beer.

Namban Okoku Mugishu is sold at department stores, ryokan, and the prefecture’s airport. In combination with its other four brands—I don’t want to know—the company expects to produce 300,000 bottles a year.

Now tell the truth: Did you ever expect to read some of these words, expressions, and concepts in the same place at the same time?

So, who’s up for a beer run to Oita?

Afterwords: I dare you to click on that link to the song title!

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Food, New products, Religion | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Crossing over the cloth bridge to paradise

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HERE WAS THE PROBLEM: How were women to be allowed to reach the Sukhavati paradise, the pure land of bliss in the Jodo sect—enlightenment, in other words—when it was forbidden for them to enter Buddhism’s most sacred sites? Leave it to the Japanese to come up with a solution in a visually stunning ceremony whose elements seem as much artistic as religious, and which is still reenacted today.

The harsh restrictions for women in ancient Buddhism did not apply in this country when the religion crossed over from the Continent. Records indicate there was not an extreme imbalance in the number of male monks and female nuns, and the latter were allowed to have public duties. Some theorize that the example of Japanese female shamans was still fresh. Women in those days also held administrative positions at court.

But the view of women that prevailed in Buddhism in other lands eventually became the theological standard several centuries later, and females became subject to what was termed the Five Obstacles to rebirth. The Big Five are said to originate in the Vinaya, or monastic regulations, and include rebirth as the god Brahma, the god Sakra, Mara, a universal monarch, and as a Buddha. As did many ancients, the Buddhists considered women impure because they bled during menstruation and childbirth. (That’s also the reason they aren’t allowed inside sumo rings, but let’s not stray from the path.)

That meant women couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Toyama to climb Tateyama, one of the three sacred mountains of the Edo Period (1603-1868), for dhyaana (intense meditation; it is also the seventh of Pataanjali’s eight limbs of yoga). But because the Buddhist establishment encouraged the pilgrimages—which also generated income through donations—a way was found to allow women to participate.

The solution was a ceremony called the Nunobashi Kanjoe, literally the Cloth Bridge Sacrament, and it was held during the autumn equinox. The women dressed in white robes, symbolizing shrouds for the dead, and gathered in a hall where they were condemned by the Lord of Hell. (At this point, married men might be forgiven for thinking turnabout is fair play.) They were then blindfolded and led to a bridge, over which they crossed on three strips of white cloth (nuno). The side from which they started represented confusion, and the far side represented enlightenment.

The view of the Tateyama Hell Valley below the bridge and the nearby mountain Tsurugi-dake was supposed to represent…well, hell. In addition, there’s a pond in Hell Valley with a reddish color due to the iron sulfide content. That’s the science, anyway. According to the story told by the male Buddhists, women fell into the pond during childbirth or menstruation, so the color came from their blood. Crossing over the bridge blindfolded allowed them to pass over to paradise while bypassing hell. The expiation of their sins was a bonus.

To make sure they didn’t go astray on the path, or heaven forbid, fall into the bloody Hell Valley pond, they were escorted by priests from the nearby Ashikura temple. To create the proper mood, they listened to music with Buddhist scripture set to verse, called shomyo. They also heard gagaku, the traditional music of Japan’s Imperial house, and which is therefore more associated with Shinto than with Buddhism. With forebears so nonchalant about the extensive intermingling of Shinto and Buddhism, it’s no wonder the religious attitude of many Japanese is anything goes–as long as it doesn’t turn into devil-may-care.

Safely across the bridge and cleansed of their sins, the ladies were led to another hall where their blindfolds were removed in pitch darkness. The shades covering the large windows were lifted, enabling them to see the sacred mountain, which by all accounts is an impressive sight. The experience, they say, is ineffable.

For the return trip over the bridge, they removed their headwear and left their blindfolds behind.

Buddhism fell into disfavor in the early Meiji period, and the last Nunobashi Kanjoe of that era was conducted in 1872. Tateyama was no longer considered a sacred mountain, and women could finally come and go as they pleased.

But it seems that ceremonies can be reincarnated as well as people, because this one came back to life almost 130 years later for the National Cultural Festival in 1996. Three years ago it was held as a “healing ceremony” for the current Heisei period. And this year on 27 September, 71 blindfolded women crossed the Nunobashi once again.

The organizing committee invited women from different parts of the country to come to Tateyama for a modern pilgrimage, and musicians were brought from Tokyo for the shomyo gig. An estimated 3,000 people watched the ceremony, and another 120 people crossed the bridge behind the women, though without the costume or the blindfolds.

The nature of any illumination received by the monks allowed to enter the innermost sacred area of the mountain may be unfathomable to most of us today, but the description of the Nunobashi Kanjoe makes me wonder if the women staked out a plot of their own on the Higher Ground of the Pure Land despite the Five Obstacles—and they didn’t have to become ascetics to do it!

Posted in History, Religion, Traditions | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Shimojo Masao (5): Franchising and norenwake

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 22, 2009

Franchising and Norenwake

The franchising of retail outlets in the United States is said to have begun with Kentucky Fried Chicken. In a franchising operation, a franchiser offers the products he developed and the expertise gained from conducting his business to a franchisee. That franchisee is allowed to operate a business using the same trademarks and logos, while the franchiser receives royalties from the franchisee as a compensatory payment. This manner of operating a business enterprise was introduced to Japan in the 1960s.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), however, there was a manner of operating a business enterprise that resembled franchising. This was called norenwake. A noren is the curtain hung at the shop’s entrance or other location, and wake means to divide or share. The noren functioned in the same way as the trademark and logo of a franchiser by verifying that the shop was trustworthy. (Noren is now also used as a term to denote the goodwill or reputation a company has earned.)

The norenwake system allowed employees who had worked at a commercial establishment for many years to become independent and launch their own business as a separate enterprise while using the noren of the original business, which corresponded to the trademark and logo. It was not the straightforward capital transaction that defines the relationship between franchiser and franchisee.

As a result, the apprentice system (apprentice→shop assistant→manager) for the employment of boys in their early teens was established in the commercial houses of the period. The apprentice was responsible for miscellaneous chores in both the shop and the house itself. At the same time, he received basic vocational training in the three Rs.

After serving as an apprentice, he reached the position of shop assistant, or tedai. That position corresponds roughly to a mid-level management position in today’s business world. The tedai was responsible for business affairs and was allowed to conduct business on his own by applying his skills and innate resources. While the apprentice received wages that were roughly equivalent to those of a servant, the tedai received a salary. It took from 15 to 20 years for an apprentice to earn the right to act independently, and during this period he learned every aspect of the business.

In a franchise operation, expertise in that particular business is provided to a franchisee with capital. In Japan, however, it was acquired by the individual in a working environment based on the seniority system.

The next position was that of banto, or manager, who had substantial authority in the management of both the business and the household. Capital and business operations were separate in large-scale Edo period commercial establishments. In this system, some people set up a separate establishment and opened their own shop. It differed from the franchise business model in which a person acquired expertise in the business for financial considerations. There was a master-subordinate relationship with the master of the house, and great importance was attached to personal relations. This was the original model of the Japanese style of business management, characterized by the seniority system, lifetime employment, and employee welfare benefits.

Thus, a market economy was functioning in Japan during the Edo Period in an environment similar to that in a capitalist society. The business models, however, differed from those in the United States, where the franchise system originated. They were also different, of course, than the business models in China and the Korean Peninsula, which were unrelated to a market economy. This gave rise to the Japanese business and employment ethic, in which both labor and management discovered a purpose for living in one’s work, in a stable workplace.

- Shimojo Masao

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, History | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts on Buddhahood, alliances, and polite fictions

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 20, 2009

“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”

BY NOW, the world knows that Ozawa Ichiro, Secretary-General of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, beclowned himself last week when he held forth on global cultural and religious matters to reporters after a meeting with Matsunaga Yukei, chairman of the Japan Buddhist Federation in Wakayama.

Mr. Ozawa asserted that Christianity is “exclusive and self-righteous” and that Western society is “stuck in a dead end” (or “has reached an impasse”, depending on the translation.) He added that “Islamism is also exclusive, although it’s somewhat better than Christianity”.

That the man who controls both the Japanese government’s ruling party and the Diet seems to know so little about the world outside East Asia is disquieting. Did he not learn that America exists because it was originally a haven of religious freedom? Does he not realize how secularized Western society has become? Is he unaware that the continued Islamification of Europe will alter the face of that continent within a generation?

And where did he get the idea that Islamism is less exclusive than Christianity? It isn’t the Christians who treat non-believers as infidels to be given the choice of death or dhimmitude if they don’t convert. It isn’t the courtrooms in Christian countries that give more weight by law to the testimony of believers.

This is not to defend Mr. Ozawa—ignorance is ignorance, after all—but his is not an isolated example. More than a few politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party also exposed their breeches after their climb to the top of the greasy pole. But it’s rare for the politico in any country to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of people and events overseas. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, thinks the people of Austria speak a language he refers to as “Austrian”. We should have learned by now that the political class devotes its time and energy to schmoozing and outsources the rest to their aides, speechwriters, or the Foreign Service.

The infotainment media worldwide bears a heavy responsibility for this ignorance. The Japanese media’s presentation of conditions overseas is kiddie-pool shallow and usually consists of little more than the superficial translation of a few newspaper or television reports. Meanwhile, the overseas media’s offerings on Japan are filled with enough bologna to launch an international chain of delicatessens.

What he also said

But the spitballers and peashooters missed several comments by Mr. Ozawa that are even more worthy of interest. For example, he also said this at his Wakayama press conference: “Modern society has forgotten or lost sight of the spirit of the Japanese people.” And most interesting of all: “Buddhism teaches you how humans should live and how the conditions of the mind should be from a fundamental standpoint.”

People also seem to be overlooking more of the Ozawa Analects delivered at a press conference on Monday this week, and at another meeting last week on the 11th. None of those bon mots seem to be in wide circulation in English, perhaps because they offer no diversion for the coffeehousers.

During his Monday press conference, Mr. Ozawa not only refused to apologize for or retract his comments, he also gave us further insight into his personal philosophy:

“The Eastern view is that humankind is one of the workings of eternal nature, while Western civilization believes that human beings are of the highest order as primates.”

And:

“(In the Buddhist worldview) people can become Buddhas during their lifetime, and when they die, everyone achieves Buddhahood. Do any other religions allow for everyone to become divinities? I expressed the basic differences in religion, philosophy, and view of life.”

He also quoted Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who gave as his reason for climbing Everest, “Because it was there”:

“Western civilization believes that (everything) exists for human beings, even nature. But Everest is worshipped as a sacred mountain by the people in the region where it is located. Most Asians do not have the idea of trying to conquer it.”

He concluded:

“Both you and I can attain Buddhahood when we die.”

Who knew that the master practitioner of Chicago-style politics in Japan was such a spiritual being at heart?

To be fair, this is nothing new for Shadow Shogun V.2. He has spoken in the past about the importance of symbiosis (kyosei) between person and person, country and country, and people and nature. There seems to be a streak of Buddhism in Mr. Ozawa that informs his views on government, and it ranges from foreign affairs to environmentalism.

In fact, it makes one wonder if he and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio are political and religious soul mates of a sort. We already know about Mr. Hatoyama’s family heirloom philosophy of yuai. Indeed, the man whose ideas were the inspiration for yuai once wrote (emphasis mine):

“The chaos of modern politics will only…find its end when a spiritual aristocracy seizes the means of power of society: (gun)powder, gold, ink, and uses them for the blessing of the general public.”

Here’s the latter day spiritual aristocrat explaining his support of suffrage for foreigners with permanent resident status:

“The Japanese archipelago is not only a Japanese possession. The Japanese are more infused with the Buddhist spirit than anyone else in the world, so why do we not allow foreigners to participate in local elections?”

Giving expression to that Buddhist spirit, he added:

“The earth is for all people who live with gusto. The same is true for the Japanese archipelago. It is not just for all human beings. It is the possession of animals, plants, and all creatures.”

Is there any other government among the world’s economically advanced nations in which the two most important figures talk this way? Had George W. Bush used his Christian beliefs to justify or elaborate the reasons for his policy decisions while head of government, he would have been pilloried in the U.S. for mixing church and state. That would have been followed by a global epidemic of tongue-swallowing. Meanwhile, the Japanese merely roll their eyes over yet another mention of yuai and say, “That’s Yukio.” Mr. Ozawa’s observations are considered unremarkable.

That brings us to another underreported Ozawa comment. The day after his Wakayama press conference, Mr. Ozawa addressed the closing assembly of the third Japan-China Exchange and Discussion Mechanism in Tokyo, of which he is the chair. The top-ranking representative from China was Wang Jiarui, the Chinese Communist Party International Department Minister.

He got all cosmic on us then, too:

“I am convinced that both countries can cooperate and work together in the 21st century to achieve an epochal partnership in the history of humankind in both political and economic terms, as well as in terms of culture and civilization and the global environment. This will enable the world to prosper in peace and stability, and human beings to live together and coexist with each other.”

Mr. Ozawa was not just whistling Dixie for his Chinese guest. He has long been open about his pro-Chinese sentiments while coming as close to anti-Americanism as any mainstream Japanese politician who wishes to hold power dares.

The DPJ Secretary-General has been the leader of a citizen exchange group called the Great Wall Project since 1986, when he was still a member of the LDP. He plans to lead a delegation of the group to visit China again this year. It will be their 16th trip, though this one is being conducted under the auspices of the DPJ. During a visit in late 2007, he was so obsequious to his hosts it even angered some members of his party. (They have since split.) At about the same time, he purposely kept then-American ambassador Thomas Schieffer waiting for 30 minutes before deigning to meet with him and discuss his party’s approach for global anti-terrorism efforts. China was the first country he visited after being named head of the DPJ for the second time in 2006.

Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Wang go back a long way. Their last meeting was in Tokyo in February, when Mr. Ozawa created a minor stir by telling him that he has always had a “special feeling of closeness with China”. As he was then still head of the DPJ and in line to become prime minister after the next lower house election, he promised Mr. Wang that relations with China would be given a special emphasis in a DPJ government. That same month Mr. Ozawa made his more publicized observation that the Seventh Fleet was the only American military force that needed to stay in Japan, and that the country should instead focus on closer ties with China and South Korea to deal with regional issues.

He met with Mr. Wang for 75 minutes during the latter’s February visit, but could spare only a half an hour for American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Mr. Wang’s meeting with then-Prime Minister Aso Taro lasted 60 minutes.

Ozawa The Sinophile

Mr. Ozawa comes by his Sinophilia honestly. At the start of his national political career, he became attached to Tanaka Kakuei, who was the Big Enchilada of Japanese politics for the better part of two decades even when he wasn’t serving a term as prime minister. It was Mr. Tanaka who spearheaded the drive to recognize mainland China when the nation’s political class was split 50-50 on the issue, achieving his objective in 1972. He long worked to improve Japanese-Sino relations and formed close personal ties with members of the Chinese ruling class.

For their part, the Chinese always considered Mr. Tanaka a friend, and that friendship extends to his daughter Makiko, who briefly served as Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Jun’ichiro Cabinet. A chip off the old block, Ms. Tanaka followed her father’s line during her term in office by urging a stronger relationship with China and South Korea and less dependence on the United States. She also disagreed with U.S. policy on Taiwan and tried to steer the Japanese position on that issue on a course independent of the Americans.

Whenever he meets with the Chinese, Ozawa Ichiro insists that he is simply following the lead of Tanaka Kakuei. He likes to quote former Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai on the subject, saying that the people who drink the water of a well should always remember the people who dug it.

While perhaps not as blatantly pro-Chinese as Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Hatoyama is clearly intent on steering Japan on a course closer to Asia than the United States (the emphasis is mine again):

The one important thing now is the spirit of yuai in foreign relations, which I have devoted the most attention to since becoming party president. That is to say, the yuai spirit elevated France and Germany, which constantly fought each other, into the EU, which does not have wars. I think that is by no means impossible to achieve in East Asia. First, cooperation between Japan and South Korea is extremely important, and then we can add China. If necessary, we can have the Americans join. I’m saying that an East Asian entity, the concept of an Asia-Pacific mechanism, is important. That’s why I said the early creation of a free trade agreement between Japan and South Korea is critical.

That’s Yukio!

Try this on for size: If Buddhism indeed informs the perspective of both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama, might it be one factor underlying DPJ positions regarding political circumstances in Japan, East Asia, and the alliance with America?

Japanese-Korean nationals

For example, both men strongly support suffrage in local elections for foreign nationals who are permanent residents. In practice, that means the people born and raised in Japan of Korean ancestry who have chosen to retain Korean citizenship. Supporters of the measure hide behind the euphemism of “permanent residents”, but their meaning is clear. Openly advocating the vote for that particular group would ensure focused opposition because the zainichi could easily obtain Japanese citizenship, and because of the size and outspokenness of Chongryun, the pro-North Korean organization in Japan.

Is it possible that their position is a statement of East Asian solidarity based on their expressed cultural and religious perspectives?

The LDP

Certainly some, if not most, members of the Liberal Democratic Party understand and share these Buddhist sentiments. It is also certain that somewhere in both the Ozawa and Hatoyama homes there is a kamidana, a small Shinto altar/shrine (usually on a shelf) to honor the family guardian deities.

Yet one seldom hears the LDP politicos express such explicitly Buddhist sentiments. They are more likely to talk of Shinto, and that offers an intriguing contrast between the parties. Explaining the relationship between Shinto and the Japanese would be like trying to explain the relationship between fish and water, but to put it briefly, it consists of two strains. One involves community-based customs and attitudes that have existed as long as there have been Japanese, and the other resembles an organized religion associated with the imperial line. These strains have repeatedly interacted and diverged over the centuries, but when today’s politicians speak of Shinto, it is not tantamount to a referral to the state-established variety that lasted from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to 1945. That was just one chapter of a much longer history.

On the other hand, despite its immense impact on the country, Buddhism is an import that arrived from China via the Korean Peninsula. In fact, it was subjected to attack at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration just for this foreignness.

Thus, the visits of prime ministers Suzuki, Nakasone, and Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine, and the visits of prime ministers Mori and Abe to the Meiji shrine, might be viewed mainly as an expression of national identity. The invocation of Buddhism by Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama, in contrast, would therefore seem to be expressions of regional identity.

Some in the media compared Mr. Ozawa’s observation about Buddhism and Western religions to former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro’s controversial statement to a Shinto group that Japan is a “kami no kuni”, centered on the Tenno (Emperor). That Japanese sentence is impossible to translate in a meaningful way in English, however. Without background knowledge, the Western conception of “divinity” will prevent those in the West from understanding the meaning when they read the commonly used translation of “Japan is a divine country.”.

It might be that Mr. Ozawa’s claim that “Modern society has forgotten or lost sight of the spirit of the Japanese people” sprang from a similar source within. It’s just that Mr. Mori’s approach was from a Shinto perspective, while that of Mr. Ozawa is from a Buddhist perspective.

Therefore—speaking very broadly and generally—could the emphasis on Buddhism as opposed to Shintoism by the two DPJ leaders be one way they differentiate themselves from the LDP, intentionally or not?

New Komeito

The New Komeito political party is widely assumed to be the political arm of the Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist organization. An enigma for many Japanese was their willingness to form a coalition government with the center-right LDP, despite a center-left outlook that includes pacifist tendencies and a program calling for more social welfare benefits. A relatively high percentage of the Soka Gakkai membership consists of Japanese-born Korean citizens, most of whom would welcome the chance to vote in local elections, a policy the LDP opposes. It would seem that New Komeito and the DPJ would be natural allies.

Yet Ozawa Ichiro is known for an intense dislike of New Komeito that dates back at least to his days as head of the Liberal Party, when they were in a coalition government headed by the LDP under Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. No one seems to be able to explain it, or at least they aren’t trying to explain it in public.

Is it possible that Mr. Ozawa’s dislike of New Komeito stems from a belief that their backers represent a divergent sect of Buddhism whose beliefs have been used for nationalist aims in the past? (Soka Gakkai claims it is based on the teachings of Nichiren. See this previous post for a brief discussion of the influence of Nichirenists on early 20th century Japan.)

Polite fictions

The factual or interpretive accuracy of the Ozawa/Hatoyama cosmology is not the point in any of these matters. Nor is it important whether Buddhism was their point of departure for reaching the political position of regional identity, or whether they started from an awareness of regional identity and then employed Buddhism as a justification. What is important is whether they sincerely believe it, and whether they act on those beliefs.

But Mr. Hatoyama in particular must weigh his public statements carefully and engage in polite fictions, because telling the truth would be asking for trouble both at home and abroad. There is a long-standing debate in Japan whether it should align primarily with the West or with East Asia. Those who favor alignment with the West consist of several elements, including people who think China and the two Koreas will never take Japan’s interest into account in any regional grouping. Mr. Hatoyama’s calls for an East Asian entity are sufficient to arouse their opposition.

These folks are well aware this ground has been covered before. In a 1973 interview with Time magazine, Tanaka Kakuei felt compelled to reassure his visitors that “the U.S. comes first.” After his now notorious article in the September issue of Voice, portions of which were translated into English and published in the New York Times, Mr. Hatoyama has been similarly compelled to reassure contemporary Americans that the U.S. still comes first.

That’s what he says. In his article, Mr. Hatoyama wrote that America is waning and China is waxing. He also wrote that the U.S. is seeking to maintain its dominance, and China is seeking to attain dominance as it becomes economically powerful. He claims that an East Asian entity would be the best way to keep Chinese ambitions in check, bring order to their economic activity, and defuse nationalism in the region. It is perhaps an irony that the U.S. government pre-Obama sought to do something similar through a strategy of simultaneous engagement and balance, though more through friendship than through marriage.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hatoyama is all too sincere in these beliefs, which suggest a level of ignorance similar to that of Ozawa Ichiro’s views on international religion and culture. It is not enough to note that the Chinese naturally assume that regional dominance and hegemony is their national birthright. One has to realize the term they use for themselves is “the flower in the center of the universe”. Mr. Hatoyama is never going to change that, no matter how willing he is to share his cookies and milk.

And his view of the European Union is a mirage. The EU has had little to do with preventing another continental war, for which Europeans thankfully no longer have the stomach. Instead, it has evolved into an oppressive, top-down meddling behemoth of a bureaucracy that is a multinational Kasumigaseki times ten. Czech President Vaclav Klaus calls its governing principle “post-democracy”: “where there is no democratic accountabiity, and the decisions are made by politicians, appointed by politicians, not elected by citizens in free elections.” That sounds like just the sort of thing a spiritual aristocrat could sink his teeth into.

Japanese-American relations

Too much Hatoyama honesty causes too many problems for Japanese-American relations, but we can be frank: some contemporary Americans make too much of themselves for what their ancestors did and act as if they are owed eternal subservience.

As it is unfair to hold contemporary Japanese responsible for their ancestors’ behavior, it is just as unreasonable to remain in liege to America for its past behavior. Yes, the Japanese did what they did, and the Americans did what they did, but Imperial Japan and the U.S. of the 1940s no longer exist, and the world is a much different place. It is as if the Americans perceive a Japanese and Western European failure to pledge emotional and financial fealty as ingratitude.

Christopher Preble, writing on the Cato Institute’s blog, recently expressed this idea:

From the perspective of our allies in East Asia (chiefly the Japanese and the South Koreans), and for the Europeans tucked safely within NATO, getting the Americans to pay the costs, and assume the risks, associated with policing the world is a pretty good gig.

Mr. Preble needs to pay more attention to the details. In 2002 Japan’s contributions represented more than 60% of all allied financial contributions to the US, and covered 75% of the USFJ’s operating costs. That contribution has declined somewhat since then, but it is still substantial. He also overlooks the risks Japan faces if the American military were to use its locally based forces to intervene in a Chinese attack on Taiwan, for example. Does he think the Chinese would consider those bases in Japan to be off-limits for retaliation?

To those Americans who would complain that the Japanese are using the Peace Constitution as an excuse, it might be asked: Just whose idea was that anyway? Americans wanted to create a pacifist culture in Japan after the war, and they succeeded. The legal basis for the Japanese state does not come in a ring binder whose leaves are to be inserted or removed on the whims of politicians in another country according to the circumstances of the day.

And that brings us to the ultimate in polite fictions—unless you’re certain that the United States would come to the aid of the Japanese if the latter were attacked. There is speculation from U.S. sources now circulating in the Japanese media that an American military response would be a 50-50 proposition at best.

Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo called for an end to the post-war regime. Would it not be an irony if his political foes in the DPJ were the ones to achieve it?

But why stop there? Isn’t it high time the Americans moved on from the post-war paradigm as well? Everyone might be better off by letting the neo-Buddhists in the DPJ start the process of Japan seeking a new equilibrium on its own. Owing to its history, Japan is unlikely to ever be wholly aligned with either East or West. And owing to its history, that might be the best course for all concerned, because it’s uniquely positioned to serve as a bridge between both.

In that event, the key for the Japanese would be to remain aware that lurking in the shadows of the shining path is the resentment from both for belonging to neither.

Afterwords:

* Some Japanese worry that the DPJ approach will cause the U.S. to move toward the Chinese at Japanese expense. Surely they are forgetting the traditional Chinese outlook toward foreign affairs and other countries. Now that the Chinese are reverting to their default attitude, it would seem that Japan doesn’t have much to worry about.

* Here’s a link to a review of the book Zen at War by Brian Victoria, which describes Zen Buddhism’s intellectual and emotional contributions to the Japanese war effort. The review is worth reading for that reason, despite the self-indulgent prose and the swallowing whole of the claims in Iris Chang’s book. The reviewer also claims the book could never have been written in Japan, and he has a point. The Japanese would not have failed to mention that the Tokugawas used the requirement for families to register with Buddhist temples as a weapon to eliminate Christianity. Nor would they have failed to mention that since the warrior class initially popularized Zen in Japan, it would have been natural for some Japanese Zen Buddhists to get behind the war in their own way. The reviewer also seems to think that “it could happen again”, which is just silly.

* The Time magazine interview with Tanaka Kakuei contains this passage:

“In the big cities, the left tends to support academic men. They usually are not very hardworking, but for some reason they appeal to people, especially since they don’t wave the red flag of their socialist and Communist sponsors but the green flag [of the fight against pollution].”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

* When I taught adult English classes years ago, I liked to do quick surveys of my students to find out what religions they professed to believe in as part of the classroom discussion. About 1% of Japanese are Christians, but historical factors boost that to about 5% in Kyushu, and a slightly higher percentage than that show up to study English on their own time and dime.

I asked students to raise their hands when I mentioned a religion. Almost no one raised their hand when I asked if they were Shinto. Almost everyone raised their hands when I asked if they were Buddhist.

* The quote at the top of the post refers to the behavior of everyone mentioned in the post itself.

Posted in China, Government, History, International relations, Religion, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

From the overseas media

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TO SLIP BRIEFLY into blogging mode, here are two quick hits from the foreign media instead of another piece I was working on. (My wife suggested a trip to the baths, and that’s a suggestion I always agree to.)

The first item concerns the apprehension of the prime suspect in the Lindsay Hawker murder case, which aroused intense interest in Britain. A long-time lurker sent me this link to an article written by Jenny Holt for the Comment is Free section of The Guardian. I don’t follow police blotter/natural disaster stories very closely, so please accept my apologies if you’ve seen it already.

Ms. Holt pulls no punches in her description of the coverage of this country in general, and of the Hawker case in particular. The Uzai! she snaps off to the media suggests that she had reached her limit and could contain her disgust no longer. For example:

“(T)he mainstream media has seized on the crime as an excuse to indulge in practically the only form of overt racism still tolerated today – the demonisation and denigration, en masse, of Japanese men.”

I’d replace that last word with “people”, but after a start like that, I’m not about to pick nits with Ms. Holt. Then she shifts into second gear, referring to:

“…(T)he same xenophobic caricatures about an uptight society with an underlying streak of insanity that refuses to co-operate with western forces of reason and justice.”

Preach, sister!

“And it is not just the Blackman and Hawker cases that invite this approach. The same ignorant stereotypes are rolled out at any opportunity…Television programmes seek out oddballs to portray as mainstream…And cinemagoers would be forgiven for thinking that every other Japanese was a geisha or a yakuza. Any half-informed piece of disinformation seems to suffice where Japan is concerned.”

Hallelujah!

“I have lived in Japan for nine years, I have a Japanese husband and son, and I can honestly say that the most striking thing about people here is how downright normal they are.”

Lord have mercy!

“This is modern normality, and if foreigners who came here actually bothered to learn the language and find out what ordinary Japanese people think they would appreciate that.”

Yes! And now for the slam dunk:

“The stereotyping also speaks volumes about the western psyche. It suggests that westerners resent and fear successful non-white cultures and that they cope by denigrating and dehumanising them. What Britain chooses to see in Japan says more about its own insecurities than about the Japanese…”

I stand in awe—in a few paragraphs, she’s precisely laid on the line what I’ve been banging on about for several years, though I include the entire Anglosphere rather than just Britain. Thank you, Ms. Holt.

Allow me to make just one addition, if I may make so bold. Of the other countries in Northeast Asia, South Korea has become a successful society, and it isn’t on the butt end of ignorant stereotypes. China is making rapid strides toward success on Western terms, despite some serious handicaps of its own device. It is subjected to serious criticism in the Western media for its failings, but seldom does one see any of the schoolboy raillery aimed at Japan.

I submit that is because neither fought a war with the Western powers and lost. Imperial Japan was flattened and left a smoldering ruin at the end of that war, which is still within living memory for some. Yet while most of the veterans of that war were still alive, Japan not only reconstructed itself, it thrived, and surpassed in economic power all of the victorious Allied powers save one. Additionally, the residents of that one remaining superpower, the United States, had to face the fact as long as 30 years ago that the formerly humiliated Japanese now excelled them in the production and quality of the symbol of their economic power and personal freedom–the mass-produced automobile.

The attitude of the Western media, I suspect, is fueled by chagrin and mortification at the defeated nation’s demonstrated ability to outdo them all, and to do it so quickly.

Uzai, by the way, is a rough expression that packs quite a message into one blunt and compact word. The user is telling the listener that since he has his head up his posterior, just STFU and go away.

The second item concerns one of those minor teapot tempests that I wouldn’t have ordinarily bothered with until I had an uzai moment of my own.

That would be U.S. President Barack Obama’s two-for-the-price-of-one, super-sized bow and handshake offered to the Japanese Tenno and Kogo during his recent visit.

This caused some gnashing of teeth in America for several reasons. They include:

  • Heads of state do not bow to heads of state
  • Americans in particular do not care for their heads of state to bow to royalty any time, anywhere, for any reason. 1776 and all that.
  • He already got slammed for bowing to the Saudi head of state earlier this year, which the ninnies staffing his White House initially denied, even in the face of video evidence.
  • He gallivants around the world bowing and scraping but can’t be bothered to put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem—another breach of American presidential protocol.

In other words, despite spending part of his childhood living as a Muslim in Indonesia, Mr. Obama is no more cluey about dealing with foreign cultures than those Americans in flyover country he denigrates as bitterly clinging to guns and religion.

Some rushed to his defense. A reader of Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit blog, who said he had spent seven years in Japan, pointed out that the Japanese always bow when meeting each other. The correspondent overreached himself, however, by including bows to “repairmen coming to fix the kitchen sink”.

Sorry Charlie, but only a horse’s ass would bow from the waist to a repairman, and that goes double for men. Besides, I would hesitate to use the term “bow” for a slight forward tilt of the trunk combined with an exaggerated but quick nod.

And regardless of the angle of incline, it is never combined with a handshake.

To be fair, it wasn’t just Mr. Obama. It turns out that Richard Nixon also bowed years ago, and Bill Clinton offered a semi-bow to the current Tenno. The New York Times offered some semi-criticism of Mr. Clinton here, observing succinctly that “Americans shake hands.” They also said he “put his hands together”, which is not what Japanese do with their hands when they bow.

Memo to Bubba: Thailand is several thousand miles away to the south.

Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for the American network ABC, consulted a friend in academia whom he described as having some expertise in things Japanese. The response was every bit as excellent as Ms. Holt’s:

“Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.
“Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.
“The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms….The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.”

That line about the first-year English teacher trying to impress with Karate-kid level knowledge of Japanese customs is so good I wish I had thought of it myself.

My uzai moment, however, came with this post at the Contentions blog at Commentary by John Steele Gordon. After getting his displeasure with Mr. Obama out of the way, he continued:

“President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking. As my mother used to say, ‘Pardon me while I throw up.’”

Before Mr. Gordon heaves all over his CPU and makes a smelly mess, he might consider the following:

  • The Japanese government has apologized to the Chinese for its behavior on more than 20 occasions, according to former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in his book, Toward a Beautiful Japan. Those in the nether regions of the commentariat and blogosphere might scoff and suggest we consider the source, but I suspect the source could come up with a list in short order. I also suspect that none of the scoffers would be informed enough to dispute it.
  • Since diplomatic relations have been restored, Japan has lavished enormous amounts of ODA on China as de facto war reparations. This largesse continues even though China is likely to surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in the near future.
  • The LA Times story to which he links notes that soon after assuming the throne, the current Tenno formally expressed his remorse to the countries that were the victims of Japanese behavior during the war. Yes, those are apologies. They’re also more of an apology than Queen Elizabeth has ever given for British colonial behavior.
  • Inputting the name Askew in the Search function on the left sidebar will turn up a paper written by a professor of that name. It will help demonstrate to those with only superficial knowledge of the event the fact that real scholarship into the Nanjing Massacre is broader, deeper, more extensive–and more honest, all things considered–in Japan than in China or the United States.

And I don’t have the time for the research now, but as a regular reader of the Contentions site, I wouldn’t be surprised if the stomachs of most of the contributors there would start jumping at an American presidential apology for slavery.

Isn’t it time to do something about those double standards?

Afterwords:

The LA Times article contains this sentence:

“The future emperor learned English during the U.S. occupation, but, inexplicably, his father ordered that his oldest boy not receive an Army commission as previous imperial heirs always had.”

Why should this be “inexplicable”? The Japanese were determined to eliminate militarism in their country after the war, and what better place to start than at the top? Did not the Americans intentionally try to create a culture of pacifism in Japan? Is it so surprising that they succeeded? Is the LA Times so clueless as to be unaware of this?

The words emperor and empress are inaccurate substitutes for the Japanese terms Tenno and Kogo, so I no longer use them. A case could be made that “pope” is more accurate than emperor, were that a hereditary position. Also, we already have the precedents of the English use of the terms Kaiser and Czar.

To those who would ask why I don’t follow customary usage, I would answer that they have their style manuals, and I have mine.

Posted in China, Foreigners in Japan, Imperial family, International relations, Mass media, World War II | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Out of the woodwork

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 14, 2009

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF JAPAN owes its victory in the August lower house elections to the electorate’s long-standing desire for sweeping reforms in the conduct of government and the realization that they weren’t going to get it from the Liberal-Democratic Party as presently constituted. But in much fewer than the 100 days often used as a benchmark for political performance elsewhere, it has become apparent that the only sweeping the DPJ’s new brooms will do is hide its reform promises under the carpet. Meanwhile, the party’s victory has had the unexpected byproduct of unfastening the lid on the Pandora’s box of their membership and allowing some unappealing specimens to ooze into public view. One of them is Kushibuchi Mari, as we’ve seen here.

Another is Hatsushika Akihiro. In Tokyo’s 16th district, Mr. Hatsushika defeated Shimamura Yoshinobu, who formerly served as Education Minister and Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister. Mr. Shimamura had served nine terms in office and is 75 years old, 35 years older than his handsome challenger. The desire for new blood as well as change was likely a factor in Mr. Hatsushika’s victory.

But what does Mr. Hatsushika believe beyond the standard political boilerplate? He gave the country an idea on his Japanese-language website in this translated message posted on 30 July 2002.

*****

In Japan, we generally use the term Kitachosen (North Korea) to refer to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Most Japanese use the term Kitachosen without a second thought. But is that the appropriate name for the country?

As you know, the Joseon people are now divided into two countries at the 38th parallel. The southern part is called the Republic of Korea, and the northern part is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Japanese people generally use the term Kankoku to refer to the country in the south. The use of the name Chosen (Joseon) for the northern part enables it to be distinguished from Kankoku. But the word North is added.

The people of Joseon are in fact extremely uncomfortable about the name. They are dissatisfied with this term because they are aware it refers to one region in the northern part of the Korean peninsula and doesn’t recognize that they are a country. We probably aren’t aware of it, but the people who first used the term Kitachosen likely did so with that in mind.

Solid diplomatic relations cannot be formed unless both partners in a relationship recognize each other as countries. If the people of one country want the people of another country to respect them, they have to respect the other country in the same way.

That’s why I don’t use the term Kitachosen. I make every effort to call the country Joseon or The Republic because the people of Joseon are as proud of their own country as I am proud of the country Japan. I do not think we should negligently wound their pride.

****

Mr. Hatsushika wrote this blog entry when North Korea still maintained it had not abducted Japanese citizens. Just two months later, Kim Jong-il came partially clean to then-Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and admitted they had occurred after all.

Alas, that entry on Mr. Hatsushika’s blog exists no longer. Someone’s erased it. Was he concerned that it might have an untoward effect on his election campaign? Has he never heard the expression about information wanting to be free?

But Mr. Hatsushika left a few blank spaces in his explanation of how words are supposed to mean things. Let’s fill some of them in.

* The Japanese government has a treaty with South Korea in which it recognizes the latter as the only lawful government on the Korean Peninsula.

* Mr. Hatsushika is not alone in his choice of Joseon or The Republic as the names used to refer to North Korea. Those are the names preferred by the DPRK itself, as well as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, and they reject any other. The latter group is closely allied with North Korea, supports the country’s juche ideology, and is opposed to the integration of its members in Japanese society. Six of its officials are also delegates of the Supreme People’s Assembly, which the reference books say is the name of the North Korean “parliament”.

* Chongryon does not refer to South Korea as Kankoku. Instead, it uses the term Minamichosen (as it would be Romanized from the Japanese). The Japanese term for North Korea, Kitachosen, means North (Kita) Joseon (Chosen). Minami is the Japanese word for south.

* The Japanese media in the past used to refer to the North as Kitachosen while including the full Democratic People’s Republic of Korea name at least once during each report, at Chongryon’s request. That ended with the revelation of the truth about the abductions. The news media noted that they didn’t use the formal name of any other country in their reports.

* Chongryon operates about 60 schools nationwide for the children of its members, including one university. Pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il adorn the classroom walls. According to the Chongryon newspaper, Hatsushika Akihiro is a strong supporter of those schools. He’s also visited North Korea—or should we say The Republic?—several times.

* The Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters for Kankoku (South Korea) would be Hanguk, which those familiar with the Korean language will instantly recognize.

Fancy that: here’s another member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan sitting in the Diet who’s an ally of an enemy of the state. (Friends of the state wouldn’t kidnap its citizens and hold them for some 15 years, now would they?) And since he’s at the ripe young age of 40—and wrote that blog post at the age of 33—Mr. Hatsushika had to have formed his views when the criminal venality of the Kim Family Regime had never been more obvious.

It would seem that the personality type of the poseur lifestyle Leftist is a universal phenomenon. Instead of wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, the Japanese fancy the Kim Jong-il model instead.

Where did this defender of neo-Stalinism come from, and how did he get where he is?

Hatsushika A.

Pyeongyang's pal in the Diet

It’s a fascinating story. Mr. Hatsushika was graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree from the Faculty of Law. That has traditionally been the point of departure on the elite track for those interested in a career in politics or government. Mr. Hatsushika seems to have gotten intellectually sidetracked, but he still wound up at the station punched on his ticket. He entered politics by being elected to a seat on the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on his second try.

Japanese political parties usually determine the candidates they choose to support for Diet seats themselves without holding primary elections for the voters. That means the DPJ thought Hatsushika Akihiro was worthy of a seat in the Japanese Diet.

It probably also helped that he worked as an aide to DPJ head and current Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio between his first and second try for a Tokyo Metro seat.

It’s time to revisit James Delingpole again, speaking to Americans about their 2008 presidential election:

“I warned the U.S. of the ‘smorgasbord of scuzzballs, incompetents, time servers, Communists, class warriors, eco-loons, single-issue rabble-rousers, malcontents and losers who always rise to the surface during a left-liberal administration….it becomes a problem – as you’re about to discover, if you haven’t already – when your ruling administration consists of nothing but these people. No longer do they qualify as light relief. They become your daily nightmare…. Making these predictions was a no-brainer because it’s exactly the same process as we’ve witnessed in Britain these last twelve years under New Labour.’”

This would seem to be another universal phenomenon.

Instead of voting in reformers, the Japanese electorate inadvertently flipped the lid on a Pandora’s box filled with the most motley of crews. Their promises have been broken with childish excuses, they are reinforcing the bureaucratic influence rather than weakening it, and they are conducting the business of government with tragicomic incompetence.

This weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting with Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, the patron of Hatsushika Akihiro. The meeting is likely to go smoothly. After all, they have much in common, starting with an amateurishness in handling the affairs of state and conducting blatantly illegal fund-raising operations.

And continuing with the similarity in the views of their political associates.

Posted in Government, International relations, North Korea | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Hands across the Sea of Japan

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 13, 2009

IT’S A RELIABLE rule of thumb that a nation’s political class is more often the problem than the solution regardless of the matter at hand. The reliability of that rule continues to be borne out by the behavior of the Japanese in Kyushu and the Koreans on the southern part of the peninsula. While the politicos vaguely talk the talk about the importance of good bilateral relations, folks on the ground continue to walk the walk and do the job themselves. Here are two more examples—one of people at work, and the other of people at play.

At work

Busan’s Ulsan region in South Korea resembles Kyushu in that it is the center of flourishing auto and shipbuilding industries. The Ulsan region, however, is home to 1,500 companies in the industrial textile sector that supplies products to both. Many of the firms have created a niche by producing items for car interiors and specialty textiles, and they are eager to develop ties and do business with Kyushu’s auto industry.

To help them make their pitch, the International Footwear, Textile, and Fashion Expo in Busan has invited representatives from Kyushu auto companies to attend the three-day event starting on the 19th. Business and opinion leaders on both sides of the Korea Strait are excited about the potential. The Nishinippon Shimbun described that potential in two stories on the Expo and the specialty textile industry in the Ulsan region that covered half a page.

They quoted Paek Mu-hyon, the chair of a textile industry group in Busan:

“We want to promote technical ties and business with Kyushu’s many auto companies and use high-function Japanese and Korean products to compete against China, which is increasing its presence as a market and production region.”

Who needs summit meetings about East Asian entities when the private sector demonstrates this much enthusiasm to achieve the same result on their own?

At play

Here are two events that go together like ice cream and cake. The first is the Yamaga Lantern Dance, a festival from Yamaga, Kumamoto, in which hundreds of women dance to a stately traditional folk song while dressed in summer yukata and wearing lighted lanterns made of paper and glue on their heads. (Here’s a previous post with photos.) The second is the Seoul World Lantern Festival, which is underway in that city right now and will run until the 15th. Those of you near Seoul and willing to visit will have a chance to have your ice cream and cake and eat it too, when the women from Yamaga perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Yamaga officials say the dancers visit such Asian cities as Shanghai and Singapore once a year, but this is the first time they’ve been to South Korea since 1993. Held on the banks of the Cheonggyecheon, the Lantern Festival is one of the attractions of the 2012 Visit Korea Year. The events feature performances from South Korea, Japan, and China, and the area is decorated with displays of both real lanterns and lantern-like objects. During the Yamaga performance, the streets will be lined with candles in bamboo holders and traditional Japanese umbrellas. In addition to the group from Yamaga, a group from the Nebuta festival in Aomori will also participate.

The lack of coverage given by the overseas media to this flourishing cross-strait interaction notwithstanding, the only remarkable thing about this activity is that it isn’t remarkable at all—it’s a fact of daily life. Regional and local politicians have enough sense to either get out of the way and let it happen, or lend a helping hand from behind, rather than elbowing their way to the front to pose for photo ops.

Now if the national politicians would only get the hint that grand schemes aren’t necessary when people are allowed to act naturally without interference. Everyone else already has.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Festivals, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Report: Japan to throw billions down rat hole

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RECENT NEWS REPORTS say that Japan’s government is about to chuck $US 5 billion in the gutter.

Well, that’s not what they really said, but in this instance, one plus one plus one results in a sum of minus 5 billion instead of three.

How does that add up?

One

Despite the Hatoyama government’s implicit pledge to rethink the U.S.-Japan alliance, it is acceding to United States pressure to provide aid to Afghanistan commensurate with its “international status”.

“Japan said Tuesday that it would dramatically increase its nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan, pledging $5 billion for a range of projects that includes building schools and highways, training police officers, clearing land mines and rehabilitating former Taliban fighters.”

But, some might object, that sounds pretty good. Of course it sounds good. That’s exactly the point. The idea is for it to sound and look like a wonderful gesture, both to the current American administration and to the Japanese media. The former will stop twisting Japan’s arm for the next couple of months, and the latter will trumpet the promise of funds as if it showed the country were a serious actor in foreign affairs. By this time next week, however, they’ll have forgotten about it forever.

And if what happened to the previous aid happens to this tranche, they’ll forget they even knew about it to begin with.

Plus one

Afghanistan is so corrupt that an enormous amount of foreign aid winds up in the wrong pockets, as President Hamid Karzai tacitly admitted on an American television program.

“Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview airing on Monday he is taking steps to root out corruption in his government, but he also said foreign money was making the problem worse. In addition to what he called ‘the usual corruption in any government,’ Karzai said he is dealing with a kind of corruption that is foreign to his country….Without providing specific examples, Karzai listed contractual mechanisms, a lack of transparency in awarding contracts and corruption in implementing projects among the ‘new’ and more serious corruption problem.”

Note that even though whatever passes for political loyalty in that part of the world has been most easily obtained for cash on the barrelhead since time began, Mr. Karzai wants to shift the blame on the foreigners. That’s an odd position to take for a man who wouldn’t be where he is today—the de facto Mayor of Kabul—if it weren’t for foreigners.

But what sort of corruption is he so delicately referring to?

Plus one

As Max Boot points out in Commentary’s blog, Contentions:

“Indeed, aid projects have become one of the Taliban’s primary sources of income — they collect extortion payments to let the projects proceed. That should cause the international community — foreign governments, international organizations like the UN, and numerous NGOs — to rethink some of their assumptions.”

It won’t cause the Hatoyama Government to rethink its assumptions, Mr. Boot.

They’re more interested in symbolic, albeit expensive, action that pacifies the Americans for the present and allows them to preen at home and at high-level conferences abroad rather than concern themselves with the efficacy of the action itself. Indeed, if the past is a guide, they may well be indifferent to whether the aid will have any positive benefits.

And let’s not forget the need to placate the handful of lifestyle leftists that constitute the Social Democratic Party of Japan. The ruling DPJ needs to keep the rump Socialists in the coalition corral as long as it lacks an outright majority in the upper house. This is yet another example of how tiny minorities in a parliamentary system can prevent a government from functioning normally.

Here’s another way to add one plus one plus one:

1. Only someone whose outlook on life is as juvenile as that of Hatoyama Yukio, Japan’s boy prime minister…
2. And only two little bon-bons–the British call them chinless wonders—such as Mr. Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, neither of whom have ever done a lick of work in their lives thanks to their families’ immense wealth, and neither of whom have ever demonstrated any knowledge or experience of what actually happens in the world outside the hushed and gilded rooms they’ve inhabited since birth…
3. And a Japanese foreign ministry only too willing to follow the long-established tradition of buying its way out of serious international commitments, created by generations of a Japanese political class with neither the guts nor the inclination to expend any political capital on creating a national consensus to give the rest of the world a clear yes or no…

…Would be capable of coming up with this rich-boy-plays-statesman scheme to waste the people’s wealth and think the recipients might benefit as a result.

Why should they care whether they burn someone else’s money? They’ve never had to make any of their own to begin with.

Now really—would someone with an outlook grounded in the experience of adulthood seriously think that vocational training for the Taliban had a realistic possibility of success? That training the Afghan police force will stop religious fanatics ready and willing to die? That land mines won’t be replanted after being bought with extortion money, and new schools won’t be blown up, particularly if girls try to attend?

Of course, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that their motives are pure. It’s also entirely possible that their pledge is just another dose of nose medicine (hanagusuri, a bribe or hush money) for the Americans. Besides, if the Americans are so anxious to build turnpikes for the Toyota pick-ups the Taliban use as troop carriers, they should try banging the tin cup at UN headquarters. They’re the ones that authorized the NATO mission to begin with.

Be that as it may, whatever the motives of the current Japanese government, the cash will still wind up in the equivalent of a sewer.

Before a sewer can be repaired, the muck has to be cleaned out first. But what would Messrs. Hatoyama and Okada know about getting their hands dirty?

Posted in International relations | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Get the number of that fish!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WHAT DO YOU GET when you combine the Japanese love of new technology and gadgets with their insistence on food freshness and concerns caused by recent incidents of falsely labeled food products, particularly those from overseas?

QR Code Fish

Maritime mug shot

Several possibilities come to mind, but one is now undergoing trials conducted by the Nagasaki Prefectural Institute of Fisheries and the Yokohama-based National Research Institute of Fisheries Science. The two groups are working with a Nagasaki fishing cooperative to test the viability of a system in which tags with QR codes are placed on individual fish to allow consumers to trace the region where it was caught, the cooperative that caught it, the network used to distribute it, and the date it was shipped. It’s the first system of this type in Japan, and one of the innovations for this particular application is that the tags don’t require a special reader.

Here’s how it works: Consumers use their cell phones to photograph the QR code on the tag attached to the fish head, connect to the Internet, access a site jointly operated by the Japan Fisheries Association (link at right sidebar) and the Fishing Boat and System Engineering Association, and get the fish story firsthand. In fact, consumers don’t need even need a cell phone camera—they can get the same information by using their PCs to input the tag number at the website.

The fish being used for the trials is a type of horse mackerel (aji in Japanese) caught in the strait between the Goto Islands and Nagasaki Prefecture. Reports say this fish was selected because it’s easier to trace from catch to shipment, though the reports didn’t say why. Each of the 150 fish in the initial trial shipment weighs at least 250 grams (8.8 ounces). They will be sold for about JPY 1,000 apiece (about $US 11.11) within four or five days at Tokyo department stores, which are about 966 kilometers (600 miles) away from the point of shipment.

The two groups conducting the trial say the system could benefit consumers because it will enable them to quickly check fish quality and freshness. That’s not always easy to determine with the naked eye, and some Japanese distribution routes are complicated. The consumer will also know just where the fish was caught.

The fishing co-ops hope it promotes this particular kind of fish and boosts slack fish prices. The trials are also being used to determine the amount of work required to tag each fish and the amount of additional distribution costs. The system will go into full-scale operation if it functions smoothly and if the producers and the consumers are comfortable with it.

Here’s the website that will be used for the system, for those who read Japanese.

Now I ask you: Did you ever think you’d see the day when you could use your own telephone while shopping at a retail outlet to check the freshness of a fish on display in a bin?

Posted in Food, New products, Science and technology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

And now for a look at a Japanese textbook

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 9, 2009

ONE OF THE FLAWS inherent in giving the public sector responsibility for education is that school instruction can be too easily used as a vehicle for political indoctrination, regardless of the country or the political system. That problem is just as intractable in the democracies of the Anglosphere as it is in Northeast Asia, where the democratic is mixed with the despotic.

In this part of the world, Ground Zero for educational controversies is textbook content. For example, the modern history textbooks for second- and third-year high school students in South Korea now in use were developed and written during the administration of the late President Roh Moo-hyon, and several have been criticized for being sympathetic to North Korea. The previous post touches on the near-taboo in that country of allowing textbooks to mention that the 35-year Japanese colonization/occupation/merger with Korea also had, to a certain extent, a beneficial impact on the lives of the general public. Former South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung-moo was stripped of his position as professor emeritus at Korea University for daring to write an article suggesting that an honest reappraisal of Japan-Korea relations during that period was in order.

There is also a long tradition in Japan of hijacking public school textbooks to indoctrinate the nation’s youth. During first half of the 20th century, texts were used to glorify militarism to such an extent that even word problems in arithmetic used examples of soldiers and tanks rather than apples and oranges to provide instruction.

Japan’s neighbors, particularly South Korea, have closely monitored the country’s textbooks during the postwar period. The Japanese treatment of events on the Korean Peninsula in history textbooks became an issue in South Korea starting in the early 1970s. Korean demands of Japanese publishers for the modification of schoolbooks came to a head in 1982. On 5 August that year, a South Korean committee organized to examine the Japanese history curriculum completed its analysis of 16 new textbooks. The committee published a Japanese-language booklet cataloguing its objections to 167 citations in 24 categories and distributed it in this country. Mindan (The Korean Residents Union in Japan, a group closer to the South than the North) handled distribution of the booklet in Japan through its affiliated organizations.

As a result, the government of then-Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko had the Ministry of Education revise its standards for textbook certification to add what has become known as the Neighboring Nation Clause, which is still in effect today. It states:

“Consideration from the perspective of international understanding and international cooperation is required for the treatment of modern and recent historical matters involving neighboring Asian countries.”

The adoption and application of this clause has not resulted in a lessening of overseas complaints about Japanese textbooks, however. Rather, the focus of the complaints has shifted to the treatment of such topics as the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women. Indeed, it has become apparent that some elements in South Korea will not be satisfied unless they share in the complete oversight of Japanese history textbook publication. One can imagine their response were groups in Japan to demand the same influence over South Korean history texts.

All the textbooks under fire from overseas were written when the Japanese government was under the control of the largely center-right Liberal Democratic Party. After decades of controversy, one might think that officials of the Democratic Party of Japan, which leads the coalition now in control of the government, would be wary of overtly political content in textbooks. But that is not the case. Said Acting DPJ President Koshi’ishi Azuma in January:

“It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.”

Though these sentiments come close to calling for a violation of Japanese law, Mr. Koshi’ishi has made several similar comments over the past year. He has made it clear that he thinks political indoctrination is one of the roles of education. What sort of indoctrination? The DPJ acting president has long been affiliated with the Japanese Teachers’ Union (see right sidebar for link). Many members of that union may be even more militant, left-wing, and anxious to eliminate real educational achievement than their brothers and sisters in the teachers’ unions in the Anglosphere.

Kadena no

The DPJ hasn’t been in control of the government long enough to replace or modify the primary textbooks currently in use in public schools. But their allies in the JTU have published their own supplemental textbooks for use in the home, which they advertised on their website until very recently. One was a text offered for parents to use with their primary school-aged children for the study of arithmetic. The Japanese language link to that text was still live until September last year. Since then, however, the JTU has reworked their website and removed the overtly radical sections, perhaps to prevent their use in the campaign for the lower house election that was held in August.

Those eliminated sections can still be found floating around in the Internet ether, however, and here’s a link to one of the chapters in that arithmetic text. The lesson in this chapter is how to calculate the number or amount of something in a defined unit, i.e., population density per square kilometer. The introduction to the chapter says the following:

“In this chapter, we will use the multiplication and division methods we learned to study the American military base at Kadena and Kadena-cho in Okinawa. This will also include a study of geography, history, and peace. So let’s enjoy those parts of the lesson as we broaden our knowledge of multiplication and division.”

The Kadena Air Force Base is the home of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th wing and a hub for American air power in the Pacific. It is not located solely in Kadena-cho, but also covers parts of Chatan-cho and Okinawa City. Okinawans have long been involved in efforts to either move the base or restrict night flights due to the noise. The Hatoyama administration has recently gotten stuck in a controversy over another base at Futenma, squeezed from one side by the Japanese Left, members of its own coalition, and Okinawa residents, and squeezed from the other side by the U.S. government.

The first two questions in the JTU text contain explanations of how to calculate population density. Here is Question 3.

“The town of Kadena-cho is in the center of the main island of Okinawa Prefecture, which is the southernmost part of Japan. As of 1 October 2003, the population of the town was 13,766, and its area was 15 square kilometers. Let’s use what we’ve learned in the first two questions to calculate the town’s population density.”

The answer is 918 people per square kilometer.

There follows a box insert with a smiley face that says:

“It’s easy to understand from the answers to Questions 2 and 3 that Kadena-cho is much more crowded than the rest of Japan. But the real population density of Kadena-cho is very different. Why is that? The answer is related to historical and social factors. We’ll uncover that secret in Chapter 2.”

Here’s the big secret in Chapter 2:

Q4:
There is a place in Kadena-cho that the residents are absolutely not allowed to enter. Do you know where that is?
A:
The American military base at Kadena.

Next comes a boxed note called “Mini-Knowledge 1”:

“There is land in the town surrounded by a fence. That’s the Kadena base that came up in the answer. This land belongs to the people of Kadena, but it’s been decided that they cannot freely enter this land. The residents require a passport to enter. If they try to enter without permission, the American military police will arrest them.”

Subsequent questions and answers reveal that the base occupies 83% of the town’s area, which is used as the basis for the calculation of the town’s real population density of 5,398 people per square kilometer.

Finally, the boxed note of “Mini-Knowledge 2” has this instruction for the children:

“Fifty-nine years ago, the residents could freely enter or leave any part of Kadena-cho. But many American soldiers invaded Okinawa in April 1945 during the Second World War (here, literally the Pacific War), and occupied Kadena-cho. After the war, all the residents were held at far-away concentration camps, and the Americans arbitrarily installed a fence around the area to create a large military base (That’s the Kadena Base!)
The war has been over for 59 years now, but the land has not been returned to the people, and they still can’t enter that area. The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation. But we can’t say that the war in Okinawa is over at all.
What would you think if the town where you lived were like Kadena?”

Whether or not the Kadena base should be moved, or whether the population density of the town is intolerable, is not the point. Rather, it is that the JTU, which wants all American forces out of Japan, has eagerly adopted the educational practices of Imperial Japan—and China and North Korea—and uses textbooks for the political indoctrination of children.

It is clear that when the JTU complains about politics in Japanese schools, their real concern is not whether politics may have crept into the instruction, but rather the nature of that political instruction itself.

For an even greater irony, note again this section: “The war has been over for 59 years now…The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation.”

I could have written that passage myself (and in fact have written many like it at this site). Yet JTU members are the first in the country to get enuretic at the mere idea that Japanese troops should be equipped with defensive weapons and sent overseas to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. If anyone dares suggest that Article 9 of the Constitution should be amended to allow for legitimate self-defense, the laundry bill from their soiled underwear rivals the GNP of a minor island nation in the South Pacific.

Let’s be frank: This attitude is nothing less than an expression of the utmost contempt for their fellow countrymen. It is as if they think Japan is a nation of violent, abusive alcoholics that would fall off the wagon and start another rampage throughout East Asia if allowed a snack of one liqueur-flavored confection.

Or is it that they pine for a political alignment with North Korea and China, assuming they can stomach the market reforms of today’s China?

You think I exaggerate? Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

He is also president of the Japan-China Skilled Workers Exchange Center of Japan, which he established in 1986. Mr. Makieda visited China in that capacity in 2007. He has also served as the Chairman of the Japan Committee for Supporting the Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea. As the head of that organization, he has said that “to promote Japan-DPRK friendship it is important for Japan to liquidate its past and establish good-neighbor and friendly relations with the DPRK”, according to the North Korean news agency.

One Japanese proverb that corresponds to the English language “Birds of a feather…” is Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru, or “Mix with vermillion and turn red.” Perhaps that’s even more appropriate in this case.

It should be no mystery why the members of the JTU become incensed when they are required to stand and sing the national anthem twice a year at school functions.

Neither should it be a mystery why many Japanese held their nose when they cast their vote for the DPJ in the lower house election. The only real mystery is why the South Koreans and Chinese get upset about history education in Japan when the classrooms are infested with people such as these.

Let’s hope the damage can be kept to a minimum during the DPJ’s turn at the helm.

Afterwords:
Meanwhile, in the West, Roy Thomas in his book Japan: The Blighted Blossom, called Mr. Makieda “a liberal and humanist” who views education “as a force for social change”.

Thanks to Aki for the link and the info.

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Posted in Education, History, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

A textbook from the South Korean New Right

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 7, 2009

RECENT ACTIVITY in the Comments section has prompted me to present a summary of a longer article sent to me some months ago by Prof. Shimojo. It is not part of his recent series of short essays, but it is worth reading for the information it presents. Here is my very quick translation.

*****
A Textbook from the South Korean New Right

In March last year, the Textbook Forum of South Korea, consisting primarily of economists, published the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History. This textbook has attracted attention both inside the country and overseas because its view of recent South Korean history is not based on the theory of Japan’s colonization of Korea as an illegal seizure of territory. Rather, it offers (to a certain extent) a positive evaluation of Japan’s role in the modernization of the country. For that reason, it is viewed in some quarters as a Korean version of the New History Textbook published in Japan. That is why it was subjected to a concentrated attack by the Left.

At just that time, a new conservative government took power in South Korea that emphasized a practical relationship with Japan rather than the issues of the past. The publication of this textbook portends the advent of a new period for the historical problems of Japanese-Korean relations. Therefore, let us consider how best to deal with those historical problems as we refer to this textbook of the New Right.

The creation of the Textbook Forum

The preface of the proposed textbook states that the Textbook Forum was created in 2005. On 16 March that year, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance establishing Takeshima Day, which inflamed nationalist passions in South Korea. It was also a period in which historical issues were brought to the forefront. Then-President Roh Moo-hyon made historical problems a matter of national policy and established the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia. That resulted in the emergence of a narrow-minded nationalism in South Korea, and the forces of the Left gained strength. This trend was accelerated by a special law passed by the Roh Administration in 2004 that enabled the investigation of collaborators with the Japanese during the colonization period. Thus began a period of research into the past.

At the same time, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance declaring Takeshima Day and commemorated the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the islets into the prefecture. Opposition to these moves erupted in South Korea. The backdrop to this opposition was the South Korean historical view, formed in the 1950s, that Takeshima represented the first territory sacrificed in Japan’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula. However, then Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon (now UN Secretary-General) took the stance that the Takeshima issue was of greater importance than the bilateral Japanese-Korean relationship itself. President Roh also declared that the claim of sovereignty over Dokdo (Takeshima) constituted a “second invasion”. Thus, historical issues became a matter of South Korean foreign policy.

This further inflamed nationalist sentiment in South Korea, for which Prof. Emeritus Han Sung-joo of Korea University paid with his reputation. At that time, Prof. Han had written an article for the April 2005 issue of Seiron titled, “The Stupidity of the Condemnation of the Japan-Friendly Faction, Stemming from Communist and Left-Wing Thought”. In the article, he argued for a reexamination of the merger between Japan and Korea. The university stripped him of his title, and his vilification as a pro-Japanese professor spread to campuses throughout the nation. The previous year, in 2004, Prof. Lee Yeong-hun, a central figure in the Textbook Forum, published The Latter Joseon Period Reexamined from the Perspective of Quantitative Economic History. That prompted a reevaluation of Japan’s colonization and merger. The Textbook Forum was founded in this environment.

A different approach

In South Korea, the new proposed text was viewed as a Korean version of the New History Textbook. Since the textbook problems of 1982, however, Japan’s Neighboring Nation Clause has permitted interference from China and South Korea. In regard to the Tsukuru-kai’s New History Textbook, the self-restraint in the writing of textbooks has limited efforts to championing the cause of the liberal view of history.

The dispute over textbooks in South Korea, however, originated in the South Korean nationalist view of history that arose during the negotiations for the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which began in 1952. This is rooted in the intellectual conflict between Left and Right. It was in this context that the Roh Administration employed the issue of historical views as a card in diplomatic relations. In February 2008, the Roh Administration in its final days distributed educational videos both in South Korea and overseas that focused on seven separate issues: the Yasukuni shrine, comfort women, history textbooks, Takeshima, the East Sea, Chinese historical research into its northeastern region, the former Mongolia (which caused an uproar in South Korea), and the border dispute between China and North Korea involving Mt. Changbai. The objective was the Takeshima dispute, however. The aim was to isolate Japan by mobilizing all the historical issues and insisting that the colonization was a Japanese invasion. In 2007, legislatures in the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, and the EU also took up the comfort woman issue after being urged to do so by South Koreans.

Japan, however, views the comfort woman issue as a single issue, and so was unable to respond from a broader perspective. When the problem with history textbooks arose, the Neighboring Nation Clause was adopted. When the issue with comfort women arose, the simplistic response was the Kono Statement. The South Koreans thus extracted commitments from Japan. Both the Koizumi and Abe administrations encouraged the joint study of Japanese-Korean history, but the result could be seen in advance as long as there was a problem with historical views in South Korea.

In this regard, the Textbook Forum’s publication of the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History represented a different approach—one that did not follow the South Korean historical perspective that viewed history as an invasion by the Japanese.

The Textbook Forum

The Textbook Forum has criticized conventional education in history for its nationalistic view based on a single perspective. The basis for its position is statistics and other data. Prof. Emeritus Park Son-su of the Academy of Korean Studies stated, “The description in the textbook showed that Japan contributed to the improvement and modernization of the Korean colony’s economy, society, and culture.” He was also critical, however, saying “The Japanese colonial government was the worst government, with none other like it in the world.” This is just historical viewpoint speaking, however, and is not historical fact.

In the 1970s, President Park Chug Hee’s Semaul Movement put South Korean agriculture on an independent footing and promoted economic development. President Park used the Japanese colonial administration as his point of reference for this movement. Past textbooks denied those successes, however, because the Park Administration was a military dictatorship, and he was considered friendly toward Japan.

That Park Geun Hye, a presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, is his oldest daughter was another factor in the political use of history. South Korea’s historical disputes are extremely political.

Park Geun Hye praised the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History, saying, “It highlights the problems with current textbooks.” The South Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry has presented to the Ministry of Education a proposal to revise the current textbooks. Thus, through the recognition of diverse values, the waves of democratization are beginning to break over South Korean history textbooks.

*****
Afterwords: Long-time readers know I am loathe to use the expression Right Wing or any of its permutations because its meaning became degraded beyond any practical use years ago. I asked Prof. Shimojo about the use of the term New Right, and he answered that the term is used in South Korea itself. Therefore, I used it here.

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Posted in Books, Education, History, International relations, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Shimojo Masao (4): An Jung-geun’s On Peace in East Asia

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 6, 2009

An Jung-geun’s On Peace in East Asia

Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s first prime minister, was assassinated at a Harbin train station in Manchuria by the Korean An Jung-geun in October 1909. There is a tendency in South Korea to excessively praise An’s essay, On Peace in East Asia, for its resemblance to the concept of an East Asian entity promoted by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.

From a historical perspective, On Peace in East Asia, which An finished in 1910, is similar to Prime Minister Hatoyama’s idea in that it is based on a trite concept that ignores reality. The concept of an East Asian entity had already been elucidated in 1880 by Chinese diplomat Huang Zun-xiang in his Joseon Strategy. In the year before the 1894 war between Japan and China, Tarui Tokichi also wrote the Treatise on Unifying (Japan and Korea into the State of) The Great East. The problem, however, was whether the historical conditions were in order in Korea at that time to create such an entity.

Huang Zun-xiang in his Joseon Strategy viewed an alliance of Qing Dynasty China, Korea, and Japan as indispensable for the survival of Korea, located to the south of Russia. But the Joseon ruling class fiercely opposed his strategy, and his concept of an East Asian entity was not realized. Indeed, in Korea, Queen Min (Empress Myeongseong) and her clan wielded arbitrary political power over the peninsula. She sold public positions in the bureaucracy to the highest bidder, which created turmoil in the realm. That turmoil in turn led eventually to the Japanese war with China.

After the Japan-China War, the Liaodong Peninsula in China was ceded to the Japanese. Negotiations with Russia, Germany, and France after the territory came under Japanese control resulted in a stronger Russian influence on the Korean Peninsula. Russia’s “Southern Policy”, about which Huang Zun-xiang expressed concern in his Joseon Strategy, had become a reality.

In 1904, Japan began hostilities with Russia, which had extended its influence into Mongolia. The Korean Lee Ki had a vision of dividing Mongolia into three spheres of influence if it came under Japanese control. According to his vision, giving the eastern part of Mongolia to Japan, the southern part to Korea, and the western part to Qing Dynasty China would prevent an invasion by Russia.

At that time, both China and Korea were ruled by monarchies from the Middle Ages. Only Japan had a constitutional government. Ignoring the differences in social structure and the phases of historical development, and assassinating Ito in the name of On Peace in East Asia, was an act that beggars belief.

- Shimojo Masao

*****

Afterwords: This short essay is an excellent example of a point I sometimes try to make here: relations between Japan, China, and Korea have been so complex for such a long period of time that contemporary conditions do not admit of superficial analysis by outside observers, particularly those unfamiliar with the historical background. Some additional information of interest: An was a converted Catholic, an admirer of the Meiji Tenno (emperor), and was anxious to create an East Asian entity as a defense against the “White Plague”. Contemporary South Korea’s view of Queen Min tends to the hagiographic; her life was used as the basis for a popular musical, in which she was depicted as a tragic heroine and the mother of her country. Also, Russia, France, and Germany intervened after the Japan-China War to persuade Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula to China. The almost immediate occupation of the peninsula by Russia after its return was a casus belli for the war between Japan and Russia.

Posted in China, History, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

 
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