Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Imperial family’ Category

Ichigen koji (272)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 28, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Whenever the Emperor is brought up, the Japanese dispense with reason and lose their capacity for judgment. The Japan that existed before the Second World War again shows its face. It’s the same with the Japanese government and their attitude that they can’t let anyone say one word about the Emperor.

– A Choson Ilbo editorial

Posted in Imperial family, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

All you have to do is look (120)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Main gate stone bridge, Imperial Palace, Tokyo

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The Tokyo harvest

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THAT’S not just any old hayseed harvesting those rice plants — that’s the Emperor of Japan. He put on his boots, grabbed a sickle, and got right to work, cutting down about 100 plants. The man’s no stranger to farm chores. He planted the seeds, too.

Bet they don’t do that at Buckingham Palace.

He grew two kinds of rice, one a variety of mochi. Reports say this Palace harvest was that of a typical year. The crop will be used in ceremonies as well as eaten at the palace.

It’s a simple photo, but the combination of rice and the Emperor lies at the heart of the Japanese identity. Inose Naoki, a prolific non-fiction author who also serves as the Vice-Governor of Tokyo, briefly describes one of the ceremonies at which the rice will be used.

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.

Here’s a previous post on ceremonial rice harvests by younger and prettier farmhands.

But the Imperial Palace doesn’t have the only paddy in central Tokyo. Here’s a plot in the Ginza district on the street right behind the Tiffany & Co. outlet.

The leader of the group that came up with the idea explained:

“The environment in which we can grow rice is Japan’s treasure. Nothing is possible without that environment. I want people to value this Japanese environment.”

There’s also a paddy on a rooftop in Akihabara, the consumer electronics district. The plot’s been managed since 2009 by an NPO whose slogan is, “You can even do it in the middle of Tokyo.” They plant the rice in June, so it shouldn’t be too much longer before it’s time to harvest their crop, too. Pressed into service as temporary agricultural workers are the maids in the district’s maid cafes, as well as voice actors.

Here are the pretty maids all in a row at last year’s harvest. They don’t swing a sickle, but they do approach the task with typical Japanese aplomb.

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Still digging

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 15, 2012

The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.
– Hannah Arendt

No persons are more frequently wrong than those who will not admit they are wrong.
– François de la Rochefoucauld

THE first rule for politicians and business leaders who find themselves in a hole after a serious blunder is to stop digging. The exigencies of their particular situation cause most of them to forget this rule, to their regret.

But some politicians think shoveling is a patriotic duty, particularly when they’re digging the hole to shore up plummeting public approval ratings. South Korean President Lee Myong-bak dispensed with a shovel and went straight to the backhoe last month by visiting the Takeshima islets, deliberately insulting the Japanese Emperor, and breaching diplomatic protocal by refusing to accept a personal letter from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, all within a matter of days. Someone interested in pacifying the resultant ill-will would have realized that his first order of business was to stop digging. He chose to climb aboard a steam shovel instead.

Last weekend it was reported that Mr. Lee met for two hours on 5 September with Korean specialists on the Japan-South Korean relationship for a discussion of the situation, and, apparently, to vent. The media concentrated on this lament:

“My statements were distorted and then conveyed to Japan.”

Another rule for politicians and business leaders who find themselves in a hole is that no one believes the “I was misquoted” excuse. Then again, he also complained that he didn’t know a reporter was present at the event during which he shot from the lip about a possible Imperial visit to Japan. The South Korean reporter in question took one for the team by modifying his account of the president’s remarks, though it amounted to troweling around the edges. Mr. Lee was first quoted as saying that the Emperor wanted to come, but then it emerged that the Emperor has never said he wanted to visit Korea, and no one in the Japanese government —- who would have to approve it — knew anything about it. The reporter helpfully changed the presidential comment to “if he wants to come”.

That missed the point by a considerable distance. The rest of the original statement was:

“If he’s going to come to say something like “deepest regret”, like he did before, he doesn’t have to come. If he comes to South Korea, he has to apologize from his heart to all the South Korean independence activists who have left this world.”

He thereby insured that this Emperor will never visit South Korea.

Mr. Lee had another excuse for the specialists, however:

“Every time the issues of the past emerge, relations with Japan grow worse. I thought this vicious cycle might be broken by a visit from the King of Japan. I thought he might be able to bring an end to it somehow during his term.”

That turned the hole he was digging into a pit. Here’s why:

* He and other South Koreans are going to have to ditch the “King of Japan” business if they expect anyone in this country to take them seriously. Japan doesn’t have a “king”. It’s either Tenno or Emperor. (The Japanese use a different word for other emperors.) The Americans managed to call Wilhelm the Kaiser during World War I without resorting to “king”, but this seems to be beyond the diplomatic understanding of anyone in South Korea.

It’s a deliberate grade school smarty pants insult. The Japanese know about it because the South Korean news media includes that term in the Japanese-language translations of their website articles. Rather than making people angry, it makes them dismissive, as in “Oh, the Koreans again”, with a roll of the eyes.

If his specialists in bilateral relations haven’t told him this, he needs new specialists.

* The Emperor of Japan determines neither his travel arrangements nor what he says when he is fulfilling his diplomatic duties. The government makes those decisions. None of this is critical if he’s on a state visit to Italy, for example, but any visit to and statements about South Korea will be carefully calibrated and the result of long internal discussions.

If his specialists in bilateral relations haven’t told him this, he needs new specialists.

* Since the Emperor has already apologized and Mr. Lee gave it the back of his hand, he must have something else in mind. Kneeling while apologizing is one expression of humility and contrition in the Confucian tradition, which is strong in Korea. That’s what an apology means in Korean terms. Heo Mun-do writing last month in the New Daily explains:

“Prime Minister Noda and the government flew off the handle when President Lee Myong-bak demanded the apology of the King of Japan. Seeing this, we can understand there are several varieties of their tendency to close themselves off in their island country by postponing the effort to overcome their history.

“Even if 100 or 300 years pass, one thing will remain: For the Japanese Emperor to prostrate himself and pray at the tomb of Empress Myeongseong (assassinated by Japanese agents in 1895), as Willy Brandt fell to his knees at the memorial for the slain Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.”

They’ll have to wait more than 300 years. An estimated six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Under Japanese rule, both the population and the life expectancy on the Korean Peninsula roughly doubled, and females were educated for the first time (in the Korean language).

There is an unpaid debt involved, but it is an unpaid debt of gratitude.

This, by the way, is tied in with the South Korean effort to equate one of the Japanese military flags with the swastika, There’s no finer way of encouraging the Japanese to find more ways to use it.

* Speaking of assassinations, the Japanese aren’t sure the South Koreans are capable of handing the security for an Imperial visit. One reason is the Korean attitude toward an assassin of their own, the peculiar An Jung-gun. In 1909, An shot and killed Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese resident-general of Korea (and the first Japanese prime minister after they instituted the Cabinet system of government).

An was an independence activist who supported the merger of Japan, Korea, and China to repel the “White Peril”. Some people like to give him credit for coming up with the idea of an East Asian entity before the concept of an EU arose. As An fired the shots, he shouted the rough equivalent of “Korea, Banzai!”— in Russian. He thought that killing Ito would promote Japanese-Korean friendship. He was an admirer of the Japanese Emperor Meiji, and he cited Ito’s deception of the Emperor as one of the 15 “crimes” that Ito committed which made him worthy of killing.

An Jung-gun was designated a Korean national hero in 1970, and a museum is dedicated to his memory in Seoul. Indeed, some South Koreans still think that An should be a symbol of Korean-Japanese friendship, and no, I am not making that up. From the Joongang Ilbo:

“There are a lot of ways in which Korea and Japan can help one another. “Hero,” a song-and-dance dramatization of national independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun that won the JoongAng Ilbo-sponsored Musical Awards in 2010, was staged at Lincoln Center in New York in August 2011. United Nations envoys were invited to the performance by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”

Those who thought the Japanese would get a fair hearing at the UN, raise their hands. Anyone?

“As Ahn is our hero, Ito Hirobumi [the first resident-general to colonize Korea, whom Ahn assassinated] remains so to the Japanese,” said the musical’s creator, Yun Ho-jin. “Such an understanding in the play drew empathy from ambassadors from various countries and underscored the bigger message of peace in Asia, which had been envisioned by Ahn in his manifesto written in prison.” Negotiations are under way with a Japanese agency to stage “Hero” in Japan in 2015 as a part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic normalization.”

Doesn’t that read as if it could have been lifted in toto from the North Korean news agency’s website?

Every country prefers to write their national narrative to suit themselves, but as long as the South Koreans are creating song-and-dance dramatizations of the visionary An Jung-gun for the Lincoln Center and think it will improve bilateral relations, it is not possible to guarantee the safety of Japanese Emperors on the Korean Peninsula.

* Mr. Lee is also angry that Japan won’t do anything to resolve the comfort woman issue. The anger is pointless, because most Japanese consider the matter resolved, and most of them know the issue was distorted to begin with. The president’s comment about the problem at the meeting, however, was most revealing:

“Japan is too insistent on law and principle.”

The newspapers thought this was a hint he might not demand that the Japanese government accept legal responsibility. If so, he’s going in circles — that’s why the Asian Women’s Fund was created with Japanese government assistance nearly 20 years ago.

But everyone else will read that and see he’s admitting the South Korean claims have no basis either in law or in principle. Japan has to assuage their feelings. Too bad he’s singlehandedly made certain that what he wants will never happen.

As one Japanese commentator put it after reading this report, Mr. Lee should be apologizing to Japan for creating a misunderstanding between the countries before offering these excuses. But no one expects it from a man determined to keep digging that hole.

Media help

The news media in both countries made half-hearted efforts to spackle over the differences, but the cracks in the wall are too big. The photo above shows President Lee and Prime Minister Noda meeting at the APEC summit in Vladivostok on the 8th after the latter smiled at his counterpart and walked over for a handshake and a five-minute conversation. Here’s what the Korea Herald thought this meant:

“Seoul and Tokyo are moving to mend ties strained over historical and territorial disputes as they recognise the growing importance of bilateral cooperation over North Korean threats and other issues of mutual concern.”

The two foreign ministers met for a few minutes as well.

The media tried to parlay that photo op into rapprochement, but it’s all just a cup of cold water on a hot rock. Incidentally, a passage from that same article gives us an example of objective journalism in South Korea:

“Japanese politicians have been spewing out remarks denying its past ahead of the possible parliamentary elections expected as early as next month. Tokyo has also said that it would bring the issue to the International Court of Justice, although the legal process cannot proceed without Seoul’s consent.”

Further down the page:

“Also on the sidelines of the Apec forum, President Lee and Hillary Clinton held talks Sunday. They stressed the need for cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan in resolving North Korea’s nuclear issues.”

That’s not all Mr. Lee told her, either. According to Japan’s Nikkei Shimbun, he also said:

“Japan is headed toward right-wing extremism. They should discard this extreme rightwing attitude for the sake of peace in East Asia.”

No, that doesn’t sound like he’s “moving to mend ties” to me, either.

Meanwhile, NHK reported that Mr. Lee “expressed respect for the Japanese” during his meeting with the experts on the 5th. Both the Asahi and the Yomiuri Shimbun picked up the story. Unfortunately, it was replastering of the sort that the Korea Herald attempted. One expert at the Lee meeting later told the South Korean media that the word “respect” was never used. Rather, Mr. Lee noted that Japan couldn’t be ignored because it had four times the economic strength of South Korea.

Virtual Reality

One of the primary reasons the problems between the two countries are unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future is that the Koreans are living in their own state of virtual reality, as one Japanese commentator put it. Japan is still viewed in absolutist terms, and anti-Nipponism is the state religion.

What better way to describe this state religion than by using the perspective of a religious theorist and commentator? Here’s Douglas Wilson:

“I have earlier made note of what are called plausibility structures. They explain why it is easy to be a Mormon in Salt Lake City, a Muslim in Mecca, and a secularist in an MSNBC newsroom. But let us refrain from applying it to first order beliefs, like religion, and fifth order beliefs, like the notions that those eyewear fashions you wear are even remotely okay, and turn to apply it to second order beliefs, like politics.

“Yesterday, I was looking over a magazine rack at a bookstore in Spokane that I like to haunt (Aunties), and happened to thumb through a copy of Adbusters which, shall we say, is off my beaten path. Page after page was gritty rage-against-the-machine stuff, and it was uber-hip, and I felt my consciousness being raised just standing there. Nothing was more apparent than the fact that these guys thought they were being Authentic. They embraced that risible proposition because the editors and readers of this thing inhabit the same plausibility structure. What they all take for granted can be done in a spirit of serenity because nobody who shares their particular cocoon will ever call them on it. Very few people who flip through it will think it as funny as I did.

“In the blog world, and sometimes in the comments section of this blog, different plausibility structures collide. This results in what some people call debate, but which is very rarely a real debate. People resort to their plausibility structures for ammo (what they call facts), get up a head of steam, and ram into somebody else with another set of facts. Nobody sinks, usually, but rather they just bob on over to another blog. Sometimes they float back on over. And thus it is that we have the death of argument….

“…Recognizing the force and reality of plausibility structures is only relativism if you live in the plausibility structure of a sociology department somewhere. Truth is always worth fighting for, and plausibility structures make the fight necessary.”

Here’s another opinion made possible by a plausibility structure that exists in a different virtual reality from the truth. It’s from an op-ed on the comfort women by Bak Jeong-hun in the 9 September Chosun Ilbo. He is writing about the now discredited Yoshida Seiji, who claimed to have gone comfort women hunting while in the Imperial Japanese Army on Jeju:

“30 yen was a not insubstantial amount of money (in those days), but it is just not possible that a Korean woman would want that money and volunteer to become a comfort woman. They probably would have caused an uproar if they were taken forcibly. That’s why Mr. Yoshida and his subordinates tricked them. They told them they would perform general duties, like cleaning or washing.”

The article was written to praise Yoshida Seiji as “a Japanese of conscience. “ Mr. Yoshida wrote a book in the 1980s that was the spark which kindled the current controversy. His claims have been disproved by a Japanese historian and the local Jeju newspaper. They’ve been rejected by the Asahi Shimbun, who initially used them to turn the controversy into a crisis. Mr. Yoshida himself has now admitted it didn’t happen on Jeju after all, he had to embellish the story to sell books, and he was used by “human rights hustlers”.

The real world no longer takes Yoshida Seiji seriously. Only those in the Matrix would still think Yoshida Seiji is a man of conscience, or that Korean womanhood is by nature an unsulliable flower, or that it would be easy to fool someone of normal intelligence by offering a salary for cleaning and other chores that would make them the richest washerwomen in East Asia.

Or think that the King of Japan should kneel at the tomb of Empress Myeongseong.

It’s not possible to manufacture 50 million red pills and expect every South Korean to take one simultaneously. Too many of them prefer the blue ones.

Monk Higgins can’t stop himself either.

Posted in History, Imperial family, International relations, Mass media, South Korea | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (166)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 9, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

* One of the Japanese words for “you”, kimi, is actually derived from the Korean family name Kim.

* A man named Bak (Park) came to Japan from the Korean Peninsula and established the Yamataikoku settlement near Osaka. His name is the origin of one of the Japanese masculine words for “I” (boku).

* A man named Kim also established a settlement in Kyushu.

* After some time, this settlement came to control all of Japan, and the Japanese emperor’s name became Gimhae Kim (the name of a clan on the Korean Peninsula).

* The Kimi ga Yo of the Japanese national anthem (very roughly) means “The king’s (emperor’s) domain. But because Kim was the ruler of Japan, and the progenitor of the Emperor’s family name, the title really means “Kim’s (kimi) domain”.

– An etymological argument presented by Lee Nam-gyo of Kyungil University, in a column in the Maeil Shinmun, about the origin of the waka poem Kimi ga Yo, written (perhaps as a love poem) during the Heian period (794–1185). The lyrics later became those of the Japanese national anthem. The location of the Yamataikoku is still a matter for serious debate in Japan.

Prof. Lee reportedly also thinks the words wasabi (Japanese horseradish), Christ, Santa Claus, and Big Bang are also of Korean origin. His photo is at the top of the post.

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Imperial family, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Ichigen koji (154)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 28, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Just when dissatisfaction with South Korea had reached the maximum among both the left and the right in Japan, (President) Lee boorishly attacked the Emperor, the national symbol who transcends party factions. It is probably accurate to say that this has caused everyone to be fed up with South Korea.

– The Tweeter known as Aceface

Posted in Imperial family, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (26)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 23, 2012

A recently discovered photo of the Edo Castle in Tokyo taken by Shimo’oka Renjo in 1871. The castle was built in 1457. The Tokyo Imperial Palace stands on the site today.

(Photo from the Asahi Shimbun)

Posted in History, Imperial family, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Tip your hat to the new Constitution

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Emperor’s cover letter to the Japanese Constitution

Quite a few of the people of my acquaintance recognize that the current Constitution is a sham. But most of them say this shouldn’t be discussed in public, or that the time for discussing it in public hasn’t arrived yet. Not only that, some of them even refrain from discussing it with me in public.

– Fukuda Tsuneari, author, critic, translator of Shakespeare, in 1975

THE time for discussing the Constitution in public has arrived. Some Japanese were ready to rewrite the document the day the Allied occupation ended, but the psychological effects of the war and the need to regain international respect prevented that. There has always been sympathy for the idea, but the state of mind of those sympathizers was much like that of Fukuda Tsuneari’s acquaintances. As former Defense Secretary Ishiba Shigeru pointed out:

“When people talked about national defense before, others would accuse them of being right wing or bellicose.”

Among the accusers and the strongest defenders of the Constitution was the Japanese left, which in practical terms means people to the left of the Clinton/Blair Third Way. Their influence has waned over the years, a process that culminated with the failures of the first two DPJ governments, particularly that of Kan Naoto.

People have long recognized the hypocrisy of their positions. For example, they attack the Japan-U.S. security treaty in public, but accept it in private. The disappearance of American military would mean the reappearance of the Japanese military as a legitimate, legally sanctioned military force. The Asahi Shimbun, their media outlet of choice, has said as much. Their approach is similar to that of democratic socialists (the name of Kan Naoto’s original party) and socialists everywhere. Some have been and still are sympathizers of China and North Korea. This is not the approach of most Japanese people.

Several generations of Japanese have reached maturity since the end of the war, and the outlook of pre-war Japan is as alien to them as Zoroastrianism. The idea that they should be held responsible for the behavior of their great-grandparents is just as alien. They understand that the 50-60 years of bad behavior was an aberration when seen from the perspective of a millennium and a half of history.

And then there are the people who think nationhood requires that the nation’s defining charter should be written by the people of that nation and not the legal representatives of a conquering power. They just want their country back.

The behavior of some countries in the region has hastened the day of discussion. That the Chinese are up to no good goes without saying. It is now apparent that the South Koreans are unsatisfiable in bilateral relations, and will keep changing the location of their imaginary goalposts while complaining that the Japanese ignore them. There is also a growing belief that the Americans are fickle and would not uphold their end of the security treaty bargain should the need arise.

The recent intensification of activity within the closed loop of emotional chauvinism among the government, media, and public in South Korea and China will accelerate this process. Several Japanese-language websites carry direct translations — not analyses — of Chinese and South Korean media reports. The educated and informed public immediately places links to articles of interest from these sites on Twitter, which has become the de facto Japanese blogosphere. People now know that the Chinese are trying to foment Okinawan independence, and that some Koreans are trying to “recover” Tsushima. They now know of the needlessly contemptuous newspaper articles in the South Korean daily press, written in a tone unlike any in a Japanese newspaper, with deliberately insulting references to the “Japanese king” (i.e., the Emperor).

Japan’s neighbors have contributed as much to the advance of Constitutional debate as anyone inside the country.

One Osaka

We’ve seen before that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, the leader of the regional One Osaka group that is about to become a national party, is in favor of eliminating the Peace Clause of the Constitution. At the end of May, One Osaka declared Constitutional reform to be one of their objectives. Said Mr. Hashimoto:

“A process is required in which we rework the Constitution ourselves, in consideration of the special circumstances during which it was created in the period after the loss in the Second World War and before Japan regained its sovereignty….That we have a Constitution which causes a debate as to whether it was imposed on us or whether it is invalid is itself shameful.”

As for Article 9:

“It causes us to forget the ceaseless efforts required to maintain our peaceful way of life.”

Most interesting is the strategy they have adopted. Their first step will be an attempt to revise Article 96, which requires a two-thirds vote of both houses and a national referendum to amend the Constitution. Until that happens, they say, nothing happens. Their goal is reduce the requirement to a simple majority vote of both houses.

One Osaka will not now offer a new draft of the Constitution. They insist that should be the end of the process. A national debate comes first.

The Liberal-Democratic Party

Now in the opposition, the former ruling party for most of the past 50 years included a plank calling for a Japanese-written constitution in their charter when they were founded in 1955. They submitted a draft in April timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the peace treaty.

The party has rewritten the entire preamble. It will no longer contain this section:

We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationships and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.

Their official statement read:

“We have citied the autonomous revision of the Constitution as the mission of our party since its formation. After emerging from the occupation, we have made many statements for the revision of the Constitution to make Japan a country worthy of being a sovereign state.”

The word I translated here as “emerging”, by the way, was dakkyaku. That passage could also read, “After extracting ourselves from the occupation…”

They note that Japan has never amended its Constitution since the end of the war, while the U.S. has done so six times, France 27, Italy 15, and Germany 58. Here’s a look at some of their proposed changes.


The LDP draft maintains the three principles of the people’s sovereignty, respect for basic human rights, and pacifism, while expressing the determination to defend the history, culture, nation, and land of Japan by themselves.

Chapter 1

The Emperor shall be the head of state, and the symbol of the Japanese nation and the unity of the people of Japan. (The current Constitution says only that he is the symbol of the state.) “Head of state” here is in the sense of a constitutional monarch.

The draft makes clear that the national flag and the national anthem are the national flag and the national anthem. The Japanese republicans (anti-monarchists), such as Kan Naoto, cloak their opposition in the criticism of the war years. Some DPJ Cabinet ministers have made a point of hiding the Japanese flag or moving it out of sight during their swearing-in ceremonies and press conferences.

The success of One Osaka in passing legislation calling for the national anthem to be played and sung during ceremonies at the start and end of the school year over the objections of teachers’ unions suggests any opposition to this can be overcome.

Unlike the practice in the U.S., incidentally, the national anthem is not played at the start of every professional sporting event.

Chapter 2

This chapter of the draft contains provisions enabling unilateral self-defense and the maintenance of a military while maintaining the principle of pacifism. The name of the Self-Defense Forces will be eliminated, and the military forces will be called just that. There are also provisions for participating in international collective self-defense and the protection of national territory.

Chapter 3

The LDP would include in this chapter, which addresses the rights and obligations of the people, the requirement of national citizenship for voting rights, including local elections. The current Constitution says voting rights are for “the people”, without further defining it. The Supreme Court has stated that means citizenship, but the ruling DPJ wants to give Korean citizens born in Japan the right to vote in local elections.

Everyone recognizes this to be a step in the door to the right to vote and run in national elections. People are also aware of the unusual degree of support provided to the DPJ by the zainichi, including illegal financial contributions.

There would also be a provision for respecting the family and the mutual assistance of families. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the mother of a wealthy show business personality was receiving welfare payments at the same time he was getting rich. This revelation touched off a mini-cultural war.

One provision relates to Article 20, which is the Japanese version of the separation of church and state. The LDP draft allows religious activities that do not exceed the scope of social ceremonies and traditions. This refers to Shinto rituals, such as festivals or ceremonies with priests when construction projects are started or finished. State Shinto is no longer a factor the life of the nation.

Current deliberations

The Diet is now reviewing the Constitution and proposed amendments under the direction of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. The party’s center of gravity is on the left, and many of their members are first-termers who won their seats in 2009 and will lose them in the next election. They are trying to stall the process while they still can. One way they are doing that is by forcing a review of the document article by article. All 103 of them.

Said Kakizawa Mito of Your Party

“There’s already been a constitutional draft with amendments to 42 articles submitted by a group of several parties, but that’s been shelved. This is unusual to say the least.”

Your Party, the only reform party at the national level, supports making the Emperor the head of state, as well as the LDP provisions for the flag and anthem. They also support the direct election of the prime minister (now chosen by the Diet under the Westminster system). They note that the head of the royal house is already the head of state in European countries, and criticize those who deliberately confuse the issues related to the Emperor and the election of the prime minister.

Here’s a taste of the debate about the role of the Emperor.

From Yamahana Ikuo of the DPJ:

“At present, we do not as a party have a unified opinion on individual clauses.”

This is a laugh line in today’s Japan. A party that includes both socialists and people who cite Margaret Thatcher as their primary political influence is incapable of a unified opinion on anything.

“If we were to make changes in the Imperial succession, a referendum would be required that enables recognition of (the Emperor) as a symbol of national unity. To amend the Constitution, it would be desirable to have all the Diet groups submit a unified proposal. If each of the Diet groups submitted their own proposal, there would be a political battle.”

In other words, they don’t want to do anything.

Nakatani Gen of the LDP a former SDF officer (Ranger):

“There is an aspect to the Emperor in which he represents Japan in diplomatic relations, and he should be clearly specified as the head of state for external matters too. For national acts, it would be slightly disrespectful to refer to it as advice and consent for the Cabinet, so we have worded it in our draft as “offer an opinion”. The flag and national anthem are symbols of the state, so it is necessary to provide for this in the Constitution.”

Akamatsu Masao of New Komeito, associated with Sokagakkai, a lay Buddhist group:

“No clauses need to be added to Chapter One. The established position of the Emperor as a symbol like the head of state is suitable. The meaning would change if we specified the Emperor as the head of state. As for the issue of a female emperor, that should be left to a debate about the revision of the Imperial Household Law, but we have argued that it should be recognized.”

Kasai Akira of the Communist Party:

“A mechanism in which one individual through heredity becomes the symbol of Japanese national unity is not suited to the principles of democracy or human equality. The direction we should aim for Japan in the future is to be a democratic republic. At the same time, the Emperor system is part of the Constitution, so whether it should be maintained or eliminated is an issue that should be resolved by the will of the people.”

Watanabe Koichiro of the Kizuna Party, a nine-member splinter group from the DPJ:

“The Emperor is the head of state but this should not be specified. Most of the people already have the idea that the Emperor is the head of state. The Emperor is not the same as the president or the prime minister of other countries, and should be perceived as a symbol above that.”

This is very much the old school in Japanese political thought. As former Prime Minister Aso Taro said about the right of self-defense, we have it but we aren’t going to use it. In other words, it’s really there, but coming right out and saying it will upset some people.

Teruya Kantoku of the Social Democrats:

“Stating that the Emperor is the head of state is in opposition to the basic principles of the Constitution and cannot at all be recognized. Public opinion supports a female Emperor, and is part of the mainstream opinion of equal participation in society. This should be achieved by an amendment to the Imperial Household Law. We are opposed to increasing the amount of his acts of state, or public acts.”

The SDP is the remnant of the hardline left that didn’t join the DPJ to maintain their political viability. The news media conducts monthly polls to determine the rate of support for each party. When rounded off to the nearest whole number, the support for the SDP fluctuates between 0% and 1%.

The peace clause discussion began at the end of May. The ruling DPJ said their position is as stated in a declaration they adopted in 2005 — a declaration that many of their MPs publicly oppose.

During the Diet discussion, DPJ member Osaka Seiji read the declaration line by line. Nakano Kansei, head of the party’s committee on constitutional study, said the declaration was “the most authoritative decision” the DPJ had made as a party. But former DPJ Justice Minister Hirano Hideo, a leftist with connections to the Korean community, said “It is just a declaration, and it is not supposed to be the party’s official position.” He was also worried:

“There’s been an increase lately in right-leaning politicians. Should we be dragged along with them?”

Rather than being dragged along, they will more likely be shunted aside. Here’s a brief look at the scorecard:

LDP: The right of self-defense includes both the right of individual and collective self-defense. It is a matter of common sense throughout the world that having a military is to secure the safety of the citizens.

DPJ: We will remain committed to the idea of pacifism that has been fostered in postwar Japan, and clearly express the right of self-defense as established in the UN charter.

New Komeito: There is no need to amend the Constitution, but the Self-Defense Forces are constitutional. Article 9 does not repudiate the right of individual sovereign states to self-defense.

There’s that old school thinking again.

The Diet debate, however, is largely a rehash of the positions fossilized over the past half-century. The future belongs to the people of One Osaka, other similar groups, and those who sympathize with them. It is not yet possible to define the form a new Constitution will take, nor when that will happen. If the linear trends continue, however, it will happen, and sooner than some people think. The day that happens, most people — regardless of their opinions about the content — will see that as the day Japan regained its nationhood.

Do not be surprised if Article 9 is tossed on the ash heap of history. Do not be surprised if the role of the Emperor is redefined as the head of state. There are many historical examples of the nation rallying around the symbol of the Emperor when Japan’s existence is threatened. That was one of the factors driving the Meiji Restoration in 1869.

When that happens, we already know what will emerge from the closed loop of emotional chauvinism among the government, media, and public in South Korea and China. Some of it will also appear in the Western media. It will be as unfounded as the concerns about a reunified Germany 20 years ago.

We also know what won’t emerge from that closed loop — the realization that they facilitated the process.


* From Charles Kades in 1981:

“I myself wrote Article 9, including the section about the renunciation of war. I was given a page from a yellow legal pad by Whitney with instructions on three or four main points. I think they were notes he took from a conversation with MacArthur. But every nation has the right to its own self-defense. That’s why I thought (the part prohibiting self-defense) was illogical, and I took the liberty to remove it.”

Kades said at the same time that he didn’t understand the meaning of the term “the right of belligerency”. (He was an attorney.) He said that if Japan had objected to that phrase, he intended to remove it.

* Some in Japan suggest that, contrary to what others might think, Japanese conservatives were among the foremost of those who supported a strong alliance with South Korea based on the principle of anti-Communism. They overlooked the anti-Japanese attitudes to give that priority.

Those days seem to be over.

Here’s the group Shinsei Kamattchan. They are not your father’s (or grandfather’s) Japan. The drummer and the keyboard player (the group leader) set them apart. No one knows quite what to make of singer-guitarist Noko (~の子, for those who understand Japanese).

Posted in China, Government, History, Imperial family, Politics, South Korea | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Kagura Koshien

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 20, 2012

THE climactic stage of the 94th annual national high school baseball championships has arrived — the semifinal games will be played today, and the finals are tomorrow. One of the most well-known sporting events in Japan, the championship is commonly referred to as Koshien after the name of the Hyogo stadium where the games are played. (It’s also the home park of the Hanshin Tigers major league team, who are forced to take a long road trip every summer at this time.)

This event is so well known that the term Koshien is now used colloquially to refer to any national high school championship competition. This post presented the Koshien for a new competition featuring the combination of calligraphy with dance and music. One of my college students this spring said performing with her club in a similar competition was her favorite memory from her high school days. (There’s also a brief description of the Manga Koshien.)

Another new and different Koshien began last year with content that might surprise even Japanese — the performance of kagura. That’s an ancient Shinto ritual of dance and music for the divinities whose origins are at least 1,300 years old. It is also performed in some areas of the country as a folk-drama during shrine festivals. The appeal of kagura in the latter context is easy to understand when you realize the art contains elements similar to that of a Broadway musical comedy, albeit from a different millennium.

This year’s Kagura Koshien was the second, and it was held at the end of last month in Akitakata, Hiroshima, at the Kagura Monzen Tojimura. In addition to a kagura dome, that facility also has a hot springs resort with lodgings.

Ten schools from five prefectures took part, with representatives from Hiroshima, Shimane, Tottori, Kochi, and Miyazaki. Last year’s inaugural event featured five schools, and while the first three of those prefectures are in the same region, Miyazaki is in Kyushu, which is some distance away. That suggests the idea is catching on in other parts of the country. The event organizers reported there were about 1,600 spectators. Said one of the students, 17-year-old Fujii Riiya:

“I learned a lot by watching the kagura of the other schools. I hope the younger students take part next year.”

Here’s an explanation of the origins and more formal varieties of kagura, and here’s a description of the pop variety, with a blow-by-blow account of one of the plots.

And in an excellent example of synchronicity, this YouTube video digest of the Kagura Koshien was uploaded just this weekend. Watch it to discover how an ancient ritual could capture the imagination of high school students.

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To fight is human; to forecast, divine

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 14, 2012

THE earliest Japanese emperors have the equivalent of an asterisk next to their names because they are considered to be legendary. One of these was the Emperor Chuai, whose reign is nominally assigned the years of 192-200. He might have existed, not as a Tenno figure, but perhaps as a regional warlord. He is also supposed to have been the father of the Emperor Ojin, who is not legendary.

Legend has it that the legendary Emperor Chuai and his wife Jingu were leading a punitive expedition against the Kumaso, who lived in the southern part of the country. He ducked into a local Shinto shrine to pray for victory, which he was granted.

That was the Suoichi no Miya Tamano’oya shrine in what is now Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi. A divination ceremony was held to predict the outcome, and that become the origin of a ceremony of divination for victory or defeat in battle. For centuries it was held on 15 August by the lunar calendar, but after the current calendar was adopted during the Meiji period, it was moved to 24 September. Nowadays the ceremony, called the Urate Jinji, is held near that date in the evening before the shrine’s annual festival the next day.

Looks like a sumo match, doesn’t it? That’s one reason it’s also called the Urate Sumo. Here’s a page of excellent photographs of the ceremony and the site itself.

Click on the green lettering down at the bottom and it’ll take you to a second page. There is no actual fighting, though the word for the role the two men play translates literally as warrior. The divination is done based on the condition of their hands. The Japanese explanation says there isn’t a lot of written information on that part of the ceremony itself, so I suspect it’s something that only the priests and perhaps a few other people know.

In April, the same shrine holds a festival to give thanks to old eyeglasses that have been disposed after years of service. They’re burned after a 30-minute ceremony. This is the East. Even inanimate objects have a spirit.

Posted in Imperial family, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (138)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 13, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Try to imagine it. His Majesty the Emperor parachutes down to applause from the stadium crowd. (Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara) Shintaro gives one of his specialty speeches. AKB48 and Exile dance and sing.

Give me a break!

– A Japanese Tweeter known as Wataru on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

Now try to imagine if the response of the international English-language media would have been the same as that for the London extravaganza.

Posted in Imperial family, Mass media, Popular culture, Quotations | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (8)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ceremony at the Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of the Meiji Tenno on 30 July

(Photo from the Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in Imperial family, Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (5)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 2, 2012

A gate at the Meiji Jingu (Shinto shrine) in Tokyo illuminated to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the Meiji Tenno

(Photo from the Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in History, Imperial family, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (76)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 2, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

The discussion of the (Imperial) system should be left to debate in the Diet…(but) when discussing the ideal form of the Imperial Household in the future, I would very much appreciate it if they asked for my opinion, or that of His Majesty the Crown Prince.

– Prince Akishino, second in line to the Imperial throne, during a news conference held on his 46th birthday

Most of the coverage in the media both in Japan and overseas focused on his comment that there should be discussion of the possibility of establishing a retirement age for the Emperor. The current Tenno is 77, has had health problems in the past, and recently spent time in the hospital for pneumonia. The overseas media is aware that the position is almost entirely ceremonial, but unaware of the amount of time required to serve.

This statement was not widely reported overseas, however. Those in Japan who play close attention thought the statement was rather frank for a member of the Imperial family. They suspect it might be an expression of frustration within the family that the political class makes the decisions on important matters related to the family without consulting them at all. The family is of course aware that some Diet members, including former Prime Minister Kan Naoto, are closet republicans who would abolish the system if given a chance.

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Posted in Imperial family, Quotations | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Exquisite music

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 14, 2011

MORE than 800 years ago, in 1196, the Buddhist priest Hozan Kengyo was sent from the Myo-on-ji Jorakuin temple in what is now Shiga to attend the opening of a new temple in today’s Hioki, Kagoshima. Hozan was proficient in the biwa, and he taught 12 pieces of religious music to the local priests. It was performed with eight instruments, including the biwa, flute, taiko drum, and shell horns.

The name of the new temple was the Nakashima Jorakuin, and the music Hozan brought with him was known as Myo-on Junigaku (myo-on means exquisite music). The Japanese biwa is derived from the lute by way of the Chinese pipa, but several different types have been developed in Japan since then. This temple is said to be the origin of the Satsuma biwa, which was used not only for performing music, but also for the mental and moral training of the local samurai. In the past, only blind priests could serve at this temple, and many of the chief priests were renowned for their musical talent.

Nakashima Jorakuin is affiliated with the Tendai sect, at one time the mainstream Buddhist sect in Japan and at its zenith when the temple was founded. Tendai was once associated with the Imperial court, and the Jodo and Nichiren sects are derived from it. A class of warrior-monks emerged from the sect after the 12th century, which applied pressure to the Imperial court and took sides in military and political disputes to defend what it considered to be temple interests. That ended when the warlord Oda Nobunaga almost completely destroyed their headquarters in 1571.

The main temple of Nakashima Jorakuin was moved to a location near the Kagoshima Castle in 1619. With the early Meiji-period anti-Buddhist movement to disestablish Buddhism and replace it with Shinto, and the damage suffered during American bombing missions in World War II, the temple was again moved, this time to Miyazaki. What remains on the original site in Hioki was the subsidiary temple, which has been reduced to one building and the graves of the chief priests. Kagoshima has designated it a prefectural historical site.

Kagoshima also designated the 12 pieces of myo-on junigaku music as an intangible cultural treasure of the prefecture in 1971. The repertoire was once performed by blind priests throughout southern Kyushu, but it is now heard only once a year and only at Nakashima Jorakuin, accompanied by readings of sutras unique to the temple.

That performance always falls on 12 October. Ten musician-priests came from Kagoshima and Miyazaki this year to play. Said a sixth-grade boy who attended:

“I think it’s amazing when I wonder how the people of the past, who couldn’t record music, were able to memorize a performance of nearly an hour.”

Here’s a two-minute YouTube clip from last year’s performance of music that has changed little, if at all, from a millennium ago.

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Posted in History, Imperial family, Music, Religion, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »