Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Shimane’

All you have to do is look (23)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 20, 2012

This is a scene from the Tenryo-san Festival held earlier this month in Oda, Shimane. One of the events of that festival is the use of these traditional clay roof tiles, distinctive to the area, in a game of domino knockdown. The event was revived this year for the first time in 14 years.

Thirty people took two hours to set up 1,500 tiles in a line that stretched for 200 meters down the main street of town. It took about a minute for the line to topple.

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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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Big rope

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2012

HUNG in front of the main worship hall, altar, or tori of Shinto shrines are cords or ropes made of rice straw called shimenawa. They are used to set off a sacred space from the profane, and tradition has it that they ward off evil and sickness. During New Year’s they’re sometimes hung over doorways, or even on the front bumpers of automobiles.

The Izumo Taisha in Izumo, Shimane, is one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan. It’s so old, in fact, that no one knows exactly how old it is, though it was described as the highest building in the country in 950. (It’s been reduced in size since them.) The enshrined deity is Okuninushi, considered by legend to be the creator of Japan.

A place that important is bound to have a serious shimenawa, and it certainly does. So serious is it that when it was replaced earlier this year, for the first time in four years, it required a crane to lift it into place. The entire operation took six and a half hours.

Made with straw from the local variety of koshihikari rice (the kind everyone thinks tastes the best), it is six meters high and weighs 4.4 tons.

It’s on video too, about three and a half minutes in.

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Matsuri da! (129): Where herons dance

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 6, 2012

ONCE upon a time, more than a thousand years ago, someone in Kyoto became convinced that dancing like a heron would drive out the plague. The heron dance, or sagimai, became very popular and was performed with taiko drums and flutes at the Yasaka Shinto shrine. Fashions in music and dance will always fade, however, and the Kyotoans eventually lost their interest in heron dancing.

For some reason — perhaps another visitation of the plague — they resumed the ceremony. In 1369.

It became so popular again that it was imported to a shrine in Yamaguchi. Warlord Yoshimi Masayori, in what is now Shimane, decided to import it there when that area was devastated by the plague in 1542. The Shimane shrine in Tsuwano-cho is also called the Yasaka jinja, and dates from 1428. The photo of the shrine’s torii below was taken by “Sean from Osaka”.

The dance was designated an important intangible cultural treasure of the nation in 1994. It’s performed at 11 spots in town as well as the shrine every year in late July, giving people a glimpse of what their ancestors thought was entertaining in the Heian period. It might even help keep the plague demons out of Shimane.

This is what it looks like. The heron headgear weighs 5 kilograms and is made of cypress and bamboo. The wings are made of cypress alone and weigh 11 kilograms.

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Japan’s cultural kaleidoscope (4)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JUST because the warts of the overseas media and the commentator-bloggers who rely on them think their folderol is insight doesn’t mean you have to fall for it. The national decline of Japan, if it exists at all, is greatly exaggerated. Here are a few short snorts testifying to the national vitality. The first is a translation of a brief article, while the rest are summaries.

Island hopping

Japan Air Commuter, a small Kagoshima-based airline serving the prefecture’s outlying islands, has hired its first female pilot, Hamada Eri (29). Her maiden flight was as co-pilot on two round-trip flights between Kagoshima Airport and the islands of Amami and Tokunoshima. After returning in one piece, Hamada said, “It was different from training. I sensed the weight of the responsibility for carrying passengers. I was very nervous, but it was a lot of fun and I was relieved when it was over.”

Hamada Eri

Her ambition to become an aviatrix originated when she was a student at Ryukyu University (Okinawa). While flying on commercial airlines to her home in Sendai (the northeast part of the country), “I discovered I liked the scenery from the cabin window and wanted to see the view from the front.” She enrolled at a flight school in Miyazaki City after graduation. She chose to work at JAC because she enjoyed her many flights over Kyushu during training, and because she wanted to repay the many people in the industry in Kyushu for their help.

The flights to the outlying islands are a lifeline for the people living there. “I was spurred by a desire to be of service on these flights, which are so important for their daily life.”

The Tohoku earthquake struck while she was still in training. The family home was washed away by the tsunami. While her parents were safe, a grandmother living in an institution died in the wave. She wanted to be near her family, but her parents encouraged her by saying, “We’re fine. You work hard in flight school.”

“I’m far from the stricken area (about 740 miles), but I decided to put forth my best effort along with all the people who suffered as they head toward recovery.”

Ms. Hamada is the 13th female pilot in the JAL group. “I intend to gain experience and become a full pilot, not only for my benefit, but also for the women who follow.”

A Japanese sentiment permeates every sentence of that article. For contrast, imagine how much self-importance it would have contained had the story originated in the Anglosphere instead of Kagoshima.

Tokushima seaweed comes home

Last year’s Tohoku disaster was also a disaster for Sanriku wakame, a noted product of Miyagi. To help rebuild the industry, a Tokushima Prefecture maritime research institute in Naruto sent local fishing co-ops some wakame spores last October that the Miyagians raised in Kessennuma Bay. The first harvest was last week.

It was a homecoming in a sense for the wakame because the folks in Miyagi shipped the Tokushima institute some of theirs in 2004 for cross breeding. The spawn from that mating is what Tokushima sent back. The spores grew to a length of two meters, though the water temperature this winter was lower than ideal. The quality, color, and thickness of the seaweed is good enough for it to appear on your dinner table soon. Local watermen harvested 400 kilograms on the first day. The harvests will continue until the beginning of April, when they expect to have hauled in a total of 3,400 tons.

Off to see the Iyoboya

The big maritime product in Niigata is salmon. The Niigatans like it so much, in fact, they established the nation’s first salmon museum in Murakami called the Iyoboya Museum.

Niigata was the Murakami domain during the Edo period, and it was there that salmon were first successfully bred in Japan. Since then, salmon has been an important part of local culture. Iyoboya is the name for the fish in the local dialect.

Iyoboya fanciers say the best part of the museum is the mini-hatchery. Starting at the end of October, the museum recovers salmon eggs and fertilizes them. The eggs hatch two months later. Visitors get to see the fingerlings, and if they’re lucky, the hatching itself. The museum is now raising 50,000 fish, give or take a few, which it plans to release in the Miomote River at the beginning of next month. The museum also offers views of the river through glass windows.

There’s a restaurant on the museum premises. Guess what’s on the menu!

Snow fun in Kamakura

The Kamakura winter festival has been underway since 21 January at the Yunishikawa Spa in Nikko, Tochigi. The event is held in small snow huts in a gorge along the banks of the Yunishi River, which sounds like just the ticket for those who get off on nose-rubbing. This is a hot spring town, so visitors can enjoy both the hot and the cold of it, dipping in the spa waters for relaxation after all the fun with snowmen, snow slides, snow hut barbecues (reservations required) and musical performances. If you’re in no hurry for spring to start, the festival will last until 20 March.

Let 100 dragons soar

There’s a lot of snow in Hokkaido, too — probably more than in Nikko — but that didn’t stop Sapporo kiters from holding their 35th annual kite-flying contest in the city’s Fushiko Park. The winner this year was Tanaka Mitsuo, whose design featured a 100-meter-long chain of 100 linked kites.

Mao Zedong once said, “Let a hundred flowers bloom”, but that’s got to be easier than getting 100 kites up in the air. Each of the hundred was 60 x 42 centimeters, made of bamboo and washi (traditional Japanese paper), and designed to look like a dragon. This is Dragon Year in the Chinese zodiac.

Rebuild it and they will come

They’ve been repairing the Izumo Shinto shrine in Shimane lately, the first major renovations in more than 60 years. The local carpenters know just how to go about it, too — the Izumo shrine has been rebuilt 25 times, the last in the 18th century, and also moved several times.

It’s the oldest shrine in the country, but ranks only number two in order of importance. (The enshrined deity is Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess.) There’s still a fence around one part where mortals may not enter.

The repairs are being made in conformity with the original construction techniques. That includes softening thin sheets of Japanese cypress by soaking them in water, and then using them to thatch the 600-square-meter roof with bamboo nails. Preparations began in 2008 and the work won’t be finished until next year, though the current phase ended in February. Had I finished this post when I intended, readers nearby might have been able to glimpse the main hall. Alas, I was sidetracked by other work and projects, and now the hall won’t be on view for another 60 years. Attendance also required a dress code: t-shirts, sweatsuits, or sandals will not do for a visit to the abode of Okuninushi, even though the divinity was moved to a temporary site on the premises in 2008 for the duration.

Leg room

Naruse Masayuki of Tamana, Kumamoto, has presented a paper on the safety of his single pedal automobile system to the Society of Automotive Engineers in the United States. Mr. Naruse operates a company that makes industrial materials, one of which is One Pedal. That’s an all-in-one pedal for controlling the gas and the brake to prevent accidents caused when drivers step in it by stepping on the wrong one. There’s an attachment on the right side of the floor pedal for acceleration, which drivers hit with the right side of their foot to move forward. Stepping on the floor still brakes the car.

The pedal’s been around for awhile — the old Transport Ministry conducted trials that demonstrated its safety. Mr. Naruse has custom-fitted nearly 200 cars in Japan with the device, but the major automakers don’t seem interested. Said Toyota, “Technicians have studied it, but we have no plans to adopt it now.” One complaint is that it’s more difficult to keep one’s foot against the gas pedal to maintain a constant speed than it is to downpress a pedal. Nevertheless, SAE plans to hold trials in Tamana with 70 drivers of all ages and foot sizes.

Hokkii rice burger

Tomakomai in Hokkaido has the largest haul of the surf clam — that’s the spisula solidissima for you shellfish enthusiasts — in Japan. They’ve got to eat them all somehow, so they’ve begun promoting a clam rice burger made with what’s called a hokkii, which is also the city’s “image character“. (The name isn’t derived from the hockey puck shape.) It was created by college students who liked the clam and made it for their school festival, and used rice for the bun instead of bread. City officials must have stopped by for a taste, because they adopted the idea and sold 1,600 at a three-day event last year. They then conducted trial tastings and questionnaires to get the perfect recipe, and shops around town began selling it in mid-December. There are several varieties with different condiments, but most sell for around JPY 400 yen, which is not a bad price. The idea is to get more people to come to Tomakomai.

Goya senbei

They’ve got as many goya in Kagoshima’s Minamiosumi-cho as they have surf clams in Tomakomai, so a local hot spring resort developed a way to incorporate them in senbei rice crackers. They slice and dice them and knead them into the batter. Reports say they give the crackers a slight bitter taste. That makes sense — the goya is also called the nigauri, which means bitter melon. Several groups in the city, including the hot spring resort and the municipal planning agency, created the snack as a way to use non-standard goya and gobo (yeah, that’s a vegetable) that can’t be sold on the market. They’re cooked by Yamato-ya, a Kagoshima City senbei company, and 40-gram bags are sold for JPY 315 yen. That’s a bit steep, but some of the proceeds go to local welfare services. Give them a call at 0994-24-5300 to see if they have any left.

Strawberry sake

Instead of clams or goya, Shimanto in Kochi has a strawberry surplus. That was the inspiration for a sake brewer in the city to combine the berries with their sake and create a liqueur with two varieties, one dry and one sweet. The employees even filled the 500-milliliter bottles by hand, and you’ve got to wonder if they had the temptation to sample some. There were 1,000 bottles of the sweet stuff and 2,000 of the dry type going for JPY 1,600 apiece. The idea is to sell it to “people who normally don’t drink sake”, which is code for young women. They’re even selling it outside of the prefecture, so if the idea of strawberry sake appeals to you, input 0880-34-4131 into your hand-held terminal and ask for some.

Extra credit

The more serious drinkers in Aira, Kagoshima, don’t fool around with fruity beverages, and demonstrated it by starting shochu study sessions last month. Some stalls specializing in that particular grog have been set up near the Kagoshima Chuo station, and the people who will operate the stalls attended three training sessions. One of them included lessons in the local dialect for dealing with customers. (Kagoshima-ben requires listeners to pay close attention, and even then you’re not going to get all of it, sober or sloshed. That includes their Kyushu neighbors.) The scholars also examined the traditional process for distilling it, listened to lectures on the origins of satsumaimo (a sweet potato variety) and how it came to be used in the local shochu, and visited the Shirakane brewers. Now that’s dedication for being a liquor store clerk. There’ll be 50 of them working in 25 shops at the stall complex.

Really high

If the last story didn’t convince you that Kagoshimanians are serious about shochu, this one will. They’ve just marketed a new brand called Uchudayori, or Space Bulletin, made with malted rice and yeast carried aboard the international space station Endeavor last May for 16 days. It was developed by researchers at Kagoshima University and the Kagoshima Prefecture Brewers Association. (The university has a special shochu and fermenting research institute for students, and I sniff a party school subtext.) There are 12 different varieties because 12 companies used the base materials to distill their own well-known products, including those made with satsumaimo and brown sugar. Those interested in getting spaced out can buy a set of 12 900-milliliter bottles for JPY 24,000 yen, which is reasonable considering the transportation costs for some of the ingredients. Sameshima Yoshihiro, the head of the research institute, says it has a better aroma than normal. No, he didn’t say it was “out of this world”.

This'll beam you up.

Exotic booze

Did that space travel bring back an alien life form? The shochu kingdom of Kagoshima is about to get its first locally brewed sake in 40 years. Hamada Shuzo of Ichikikushikino (try saying that after a couple of hits of shochu) announced they have started brewing the beverage. They’re the only sake brewery in the prefecture, and the first to go into the business since the last one shut down in 1970.

That's where they make it, you know.

Hamada Shuzo remodeled their shochu plant last year by adding facilities for producing 60 kiloliters of sake annually. An affiliated company used to make sake in Aichi until 1998, so they’ll blow the dust off the old notebooks and apply those accumulated techniques and expertise. A Shinto ceremony was held to receive the blessing of the divinities before they began fermentation with 20 kilograms of rice from other parts of Kyushu. (Kagoshima rice doesn’t work so well.) The company hopes to cook up 800 liters by March.

The company says Kagoshima’s higher temperatures — it’s Down South — make sake brewing difficult, and the shochu culture took root several hundred years ago. I have first-hand experience that Kagoshimanians drink shochu in situations where other Japanese drink sake, and it took about a week to recover. Statistics from the Tax Bureau support that anecdote. They say 36,767 kiloliters of shochu were consumed in the prefecture in 2010 compared to 1,379 for sake.

The company’s idea is to use sake brewing techniques for shochu product development. They might begin full scale production later, but the sake is now being brewed primarily for research. Didn’t I tell you these guys were serious? They’ve also got a restaurant/brewpub on the premises, and they hope it attracts customers who’ll also take a shine to their shochu. Sales in the restaurant begin in May, and in shops after that.

Build it and they will come

The slender, the fat, and the shapeless

Former sumo grand champion and now slimmed down stablemaster Takanohana announced he was starting a program to build sumo rings throughout the country to promote the appeal of sumo. The first will be in Shiiba-son, Miyazaki Prefecture. (Takanohana’s wife, the former newscaster Hanada Keiko, is a Miyazaki girl.) Mr. T believes that sumo helps build character, and he wants to see the rings restored at primary schools and other sites around the country. The Shiiba-son municipal government will contribute funds to the project and manage the ring once it’s built. The construction will be handled by the local Itsukushima Shinto shrine under the guidance of the Japan Sumo Association.

Mr. and Mrs. T sometimes visit a local juku that seems to be more of a character training institute than an academic enhancer. When they were in town to make the announcement about the sumo ring, they attended a lecture by the head of the juku on the Yamato spirit. (Yamato is the older name for the original ethnic group of Japan.) The lecture included this message:

Live as the cherry blossom, blooming vividly with full force and quickly falling from the branch.
We cannot see the color, shape, or size of the spirit, but a person’s spirit manifests in his way of life, deeds, and words.
There are three important things in the way of the
rikishi and the way of sumo: form, greetings, and etiquette.

That old time religion is still good enough for plenty of Japanese, and not just old guys who drink shochu and watch sumo. This month, a team from Saga Kita High School in Saga City was one of two selected for the grand prize in an annual calligraphic arts competition in Nagano conducted for high schools nationwide. It was the 17th year the sponsoring organization held the event, and the 17th straight year Kita High School won the grand prize. Kita students also won 11 of the 65 awards in the individual division. Teams from 273 schools participated and submitted 15,420 works.

The Kita girls have been getting ready since October. They practiced every day after school until 7:30, and voluntarily give up their free Saturdays. Said second-year student Koga Misaki, the calligraphy club leader, “We encouraged each other while being aware of the heavy pressure of tradition, and I’m happy we achieved our goal.”

And don’t forget Okinawa!

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Posted in Food, Martial arts, New products, Popular culture, Science and technology, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

But then, I regress

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IN 2001, brothers Bradley and D. Craig Willcox teamed with Makoto Suzuki to publish The Okinawa Program, a plan for life extension based on the results of a 25-year study into Okinawan longevity. Here’s an excerpt from their first chapter:

Okinawa is the home of the longest-lived people in the world. People there seem to have beaten the aging process and the debilitating diseases that accompany the “Golden Years” in the West. Heart disease is minimal, breast cancer so rare that screening mammography is not needed, and most aging men have never heard of prostate cancer. In fact, as a group, the three leading killers in the West—coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer—occur in Okinawa in with the lowest frequency in the world (1996 WHO study).

To understand the magnitude of this health phenomenon, imagine a typical town of 100,000 inhabitants. If the town were located in Okinawa, only 18 people would die from coronary disease in a typical year. If the town were in the United States, 100 people would die. Simply put, if Americans lived more like Okinawans, we would have to close down 80% of the coronary care units and one-third of the cancer wards in the United States, and a lot of nursing homes would also be out of business.

The Okinawan secret to longevity and the program they recommended is no mystery to people already interested in healthful living. From the Foreword:

The general principles of living the Okinawa way are not foreign. Indeed, they are highly accessible to everyone and quite consistent with the latest medical research on healthy lifestyles and healthy aging. They include getting lifelong, regular physical activity, eating a mostly plant-based diet that includes fish and soy foods with a great variety of vegetables and moderate amounts of the right kinds of fat, and enjoying strong social and community support as well as a sense of independence and self-responsibility for health.

While the authors noted that the Okinawans had pushed back the limits of population life expectancy, they also realized then that the pace of gains was slowing, and suggested: “What may potentially end this meteoric rise is not a biological barrier but the tragic loss of old ways.” In other words, younger Okinawans were increasingly adopting unhealthful lifestyle habits.

The day the authors dreaded may have arrived. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare yesterday released the results of their latest study on longevity showing that Okinawans no longer have the highest number of centenarians per 100,000 people in Japan. The national leader in that category is now Shimane, with 74.37. Okinawa—which had been the leader for 37 consecutive years—slipped to second place with 66.71.

The ministry thinks this might be due to the declining population of Shimane and the rising population of Okinawa. They have a point. Shimane has the highest percentage of population aged 65 or older in the country at 29%, though that has been the case for the past 35 years. Meanwhile, Okinawa has the highest birthrate in the country. (There has also been a slight trend for people from the rest of the Japan to move there in the same way Americans have moved from the Snow Belt to Florida, California, and Arizona over the years.)

Nevertheless, the results came as a jolt to the Okinawans. Said a prefectural official: “The impact (of the study) is overwhelming. We will immediately analyze the factors.”

They should already have an idea where to start. Here’s a blog post that quotes extensively from a Bloomberg article from three years ago that’s no longer on line. The headline of the article reads:

“Fries, GIs, Beef Bring Diabetes to Japan’s Isle of Centenarians”

And a quote:

The island that once boasted more centenarians than anywhere else in the world now has the highest prevalence of obesity in Japan, and life expectancy is falling rapidly. The government is concerned the deteriorating health of Okinawans may be a prelude to a nationwide crisis.

Don’t think that Bloomberg article is an exercise in American-bashing, either. If anything, the Americans are getting worse. Try this brief article with a clip from ABC news in which they interview a man who says that America is living in “The Periclean Age of Bacon”. He also says that for him, bacon fat is the meat and the bacon meat is the vegetables.

As if on cue, Lady Gaga (or her publicity machine) weaves all the strands together by crossing the Pacific to wear a raw meat bikini for the cover of Vogue Japan. Is that not a classic example of the primary motivation for all youthful rebellion—flouting contemporary social convention by shocking the easily shocked and living dangerously?

Now’s the time to trot out an old Chinese saying:

Everyone likes life, but few like the path of long life. Everyone dislikes death, but many like the things conducive to death.

Bon appétit!

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Posted in Books, Demography, Food, Social trends | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Shimojo Masao (11): Ignorance and incomprehension

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 9, 2010

JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA are currently embroiled in a dispute over the territorial rights of the Takeshima islets (the Liancourt Rocks) in the Sea of Japan. Takeshima became subject to dispute between the two countries on 18 January 1952, about three months before the Treaty of Peace with Japan was to take effect, and the country defeated in war was to return to international society. The South Korean government proclaimed the existence of the Syngman Rhee Line in international waters, and Takeshima was on the Korean side of the line.

From the perspective of historical fact, Takeshima was Japanese territory under the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture. In 1905, the Liancourt Rocks, which were technically terra nullius, were given the name Takeshima. Japan continued to effectively rule the area until its defeat in World War II. The South Korean government unilaterally claimed it as Korean territory and occupied it by force in September 1954.

The Japanese government proposed to the South Korean government on 25 September 1954 that the case be taken to the International Court of Justice, but the South Korean rejection of the proposal barred the path to resolution through dialogue. That is where the matter stands today, as Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution says the people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”. The resolution of the Takeshima issue was hopeless as long as the South Koreans would not come to the negotiating table and conduct talks.

The path to discussions opened again in 1994 when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea came into effect. It became necessary to establish a median line and an Exclusive Economic Zone in accordance with international rules. Therefore, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance creating Takeshima Day in 2005, 100 years after the islets were incorporated into the prefecture, to establish its territorial rights.

This met with the fierce objections of then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyon and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon (now UN Secretary-General). The South Korean government formulated as a state measure the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia, now known as the Northeast Asian History Foundation, and began promulgating anti-Japanese propaganda internationally.

They have used the comfort women issue and the issue of the name of the Sea of Japan (which they call the East Sea) to put a lid on Japanese moves to claim territorial rights to Takeshima by forcing a connection between Shimane Prefecture’s incorporation of Takeshima in 1905 with Japanese rule over the Korean Peninsula that began in 1910, and characterizing Japan as an invading country. As a result, the Takeshima issue has become known internationally. But this South Korean historical awareness, which is not based on historical fact, has caused confusion in the international community.

They have also taken out full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post claiming that Takeshima is Korean territory, as well as purchased advertising promoting their view of Takeshima on outdoor electrical signboards in New York’s Times Square. After Koreans in the United States bought advertising on billboards along Los Angeles expressways claiming that Takeshima was Korean territory, the Japanese embassy demanded that they be taken down. That resulted in an escalation of the activities of Koreans in the U.S., who thronged to the Japanese consulate to demonstrate.

It is not a fact that Takeshima was historically Korean territory, however, and the historical basis claimed by South Korea is in error. On 15 April this year, Chung Mong-joon, the president of the ruling Grand National Party of South Korea, visited Japan to gave an address. He claimed, “Takeshima has been Korean territory since the Silla period,” and added the criticism that, “The voices of the nationalist politicians in Japan are growing louder, which should be a matter of concern.”

There is no basis for Mr. Chung’s statements.

Chung Mong-joon thinks that Takeshima has been Korean territory since the Silla period because of a section in the Samguk Sagi (Chronicle of the History of Three Countries; i.e., Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) written in the 12th century. That section claims the territory of Usan was part of the Silla kingdom. The South Korean story is that the island of Ulleung and the subsidiary islets of Takeshima were part of Usan.

That interpretation of the text is incorrect, however. The South Koreans base their assertion that the Takeshima islets were a subsidiary part of Ulleung, and that Takeshima has been Korean territory since the sixth century, on a note included in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo (Explanatory Notes for Korean Documents), which was compiled in 1770. It contains this passage: “According to the Yeojiji (Topographical Records), Ulleung (island) and Usan (island) are all part of the Usan territory. Usan is therefore what the Japanese call Matsushima (now Takeshima).”

The note to the Dongguk Munheon Bigo, however, has already been demonstrated to have been an alteration of the original text added by an editor. The original wording of the Yeojiji says that “Ulleung and Usan are the same island”. Thus it is clearly a fact that Takeshima was neither a subsidiary part of Ulleung nor of Usan.

In addition, the 512 clause in Samguk Sagi defines the borders of Usan. It says the island is about 100 li wide, with the South Korean li being about 400 meters. The ancient Chinese characters used for this expression, however, are not an accurate measurement for the size of Usan. They refer only to the island of Ulleung. The Samguk Yusa compiled in the 13th century says that the circumference of Usan is about 48 kilometers, which is the same as that for Ulleung. Therefore, Takeshima, which lies about 90 kilometers to the southeast of Ulleung, was not a subsidiary part of Usan.

Despite the absence of a historical basis, Chung Mong-joon visits Japan and says, “The past that the victim remembers and the memory of the past for which the victimizer repents must conform.” Thus the Korean victimizer that invaded Takeshima criticizes the victim Japan. The proliferation of these irresponsible words and deeds is due to a lazy textual analysis. The arbitrary interpretation of the text is the responsibility of South Korean researchers.

Hosaka Yuji, a naturalized Korean born in Japan who has kept his Japanese name, argues the Korean position on Takeshima. He said in a newspaper interview, “Takeshima became Korean territory after the Usan territory, which ruled both Ulleung and Usan (Takeshima), surrendered to Silla in 512. There are many Korean and Japanese documents that attest to this fact.” This is a typical example of the arbitrary interpretation of the clause about the year 512 in the Samguk Sagi.

How then has the Japanese government responded to South Korea, which continues to illegally occupy Takeshima? When questioned about the Takeshima issue before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the lower house of the Diet this February, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya said, “I have decided in my heart not to use that expression (illegal occupation) so as not to elicit unneeded friction, and am conducting negotiations (in that way).” He has kept silent about the ongoing South Korean work to upgrade the heliport on the islets and to build maritime bases nearby.

Is this the intent of Prime Minister Hatoyama, who visited South Korea as DPJ secretary-general in May 2006? According to the October 2009 edition of the Monthly Chosun, Mr. Hatoyama was lectured for ninety minutes by the aforementioned Hosaka Yuji. The Japanese prime minister told then-Korean Prime Minister Han Myeong-suk, “All the territorial issues begin with history. It is necessary that I make an effort so that Japan has a more accurate understanding of historical fact in regard to the Takeshima issue.”

The South Koreans create a ruckus about Japanese historical distortions despite a far from satisfactory ability to read the relevant texts, and Japanese politicians in the DPJ administration have swallowed those South Korean claims whole. They themselves would cover up the fact that Japan was invaded. With this ignorance and incomprehension, has not the time come when it would benefit the people of both Japan and South Korea to have knowledge of that ignorance?

– Shimojo Masao

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Posted in 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 »

Japan’s cultural kaleidoscope

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 8, 2009

TECHNOPOLIS TOKYO is the image of Japan for many—-an ultra-sheen world of hyper-intense, manga-reading otaku and hyper-style-conscious gyaru wearing fake hair color, fake designer clothes, and fake undergarments, all jazzed on robots and consumer electronics and with a cell phone welded to the palms of their hands.

For most of the country, however, that’s just an alternate reality flickering in and out of existence over a template of tradition more than a millennium old. Here people can flirt with fashion while staying within eyesight of customs maintained for hundreds of years. The following stories are recent examples of how the timeless in this country is still the quotidian. All of them occurred in the space of less than a fortnight, and Tokyo was the location for only one.

Kakimoto Festival
Kakimoto Festival
Waka and tanka poet Kakimoto no Hitomaro (662-710) was the most prominent of the poets represented in the Man’yoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry, which itself dates from the 8th century. The Toda Kakimoto shrine in Masuda, Shimane, held its annual festival to honor Kakimoto on the date he is said to have died, as it has for more than 1,200 years.

Kakimoto is the tutelary deity of the shrine, which was built in his honor when someone from the area returned with a lock of hair from his corpse.

After the primary ceremony, a mikoshi (portable shrine) holding his spirit was carried 300 meters from the main shrine to the site of his birth. Local children dressed as miko, or shrine maidens, performed a dance there in his honor while ringing bells, and the 70 people watching quietly bowed their heads.

Naoe Kanetsugu Lantern
Naoe lantern
Naoe Kanetsugu (1560-1619) was known for his service as retainer to the Uesugi daimyo, his seamanship, and his love affair with Uesugi Kenshin in the beautiful samurai style. The Uesugi clan fought on the losing side in the Battle of Sekigahara, which cleared the way for the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. A recent NHK television program renewed interest in Naoe and his life.

In December 1600, a few months after the battle, Naoe presented a lantern to the Kasuga Taisha, a Nara City Shinto shrine whose close ties with the Uesugi family dated from 1588. (The shrine itself was founded in 768.) It was offered in supplication for the peace and tranquility of Kenshin’s adopted son Uesugi Kagekatsu, who assumed control of the clan and had also fought with Hideyoshi in Korea before his defeat by Tokunaga Ieyasu.

The 56-centimeter-high bronze lantern usually hangs in a corridor of the shrine’s main hall, but shrine officials recently displayed it outside so everyone could see it.

Nara Yabusame
nara arrows
Those who went to see the Naoe lantern at the Nara City Kasuga Taisha could have shot two birds with one arrow by watching a group of 40 archers from the Ogasawara school of yabusame (equestrian archery) offer a display of their technique to the shrine.

One ceremony was the Hikime-no-Gi, in which arrows called kabura-ya were fired over the roofs of buildings as a way to drive out evil spirits. If you were standing next to a building and the sky was suddenly hailing arrows, wouldn’t you leave too? They also performed the Momote-shiki, which is part of their daily practice. Ten archers lined up in front of the shrine dressed in white robes and fired 10 arrows apiece in pairs at a target. The depth of the tradition involved is such that the paired arrows have names; the first is called haya and the second is called otoya. Ten times ten equals one hundred, which is the origin of the ceremony’s name: momote in Japanese means a hundred hands.

Tokko no Yu
Tokko no yu
Enough of this new stuff whose age in centuries you can count with your fingers—here’s another millennium-plus story.

Legend has it that the famous monk/scholar/poet Kobo Daishi, who introduced the Shingon teachings in Japan, washed his ill father in the chilly waters near Izu, Shizuoka. For some reason he decided to break a rock with a tokko, an implement used in Buddhist services, and lo and behold, water sprang forth. That’s the origin of the Shuzen-ji hot springs. The annual Tokko no Yu (the hot water of the tokko) ceremony is held to commemorate the founding of the spa about 1,200 years ago, to thank the monk for picking that spot, and to placate his spirit. The original location of the incident is said to now be submerged in the Shuzenji River, and the spa itself was moved downstream this year to escape flood damage caused by heavy rains.

A group of 34 women wearing pink kimono and yukata and carrying wooden buckets departed from the grounds of the Shuzen-ji Buddhist temple and headed for the spa in a procession accompanied by children. Each of the women received spa waters from monks waiting at the site, paraded through the town, and returned to the temple to offer the water. After a reading of sutras, the water was presented to several local ryokan (Japanese-style inns).

Ise Spring Festival
Ise spring festival
The Ise shrine in Mie, closely associated with the Imperial household, held its spring kagura festival of Shinto song and dance on a stage specially built on the grounds. The festival is held in both the spring and fall to pray for peace and give thanks for the blessings of the divinities.

Two male dancers entered the stage bearing halberds (a spear/battle-ax combo) and purified the area to the accompaniment of flute and taiko drums. This was followed by another Shinto dance called the Ranryo’o, after which four female dancers wearing brightly colored butterfly wings performed the Kocho. The performances were presented twice a day for a three-day period.

Picking Tea in Shizuoka
shizuoka tea picking
No story of Japan past or present is complete without a green tea pick-me-up, so here’s a photo of the Misono tea picking ceremony held at a special plantation at the Sengen shrine in Shizuoka. The four tea-picking miko wore period costumes and worked in pairs as 60 watched. They wound up bagging 3 kilograms, which a local society used to brew for offering as sencha (medium-grade tea) to the divinities at a separate tea festival.

Here’s the best part: This is a new event that this year was held for only the fifth time. Considering the content, however, it could just as easily have been 500 years old as five. In Japan, the new being the old and the old becoming the new is just a matter of nichijo sahanji—literally, daily rice and tea, meaning an everyday occurrence.

Akihabara Gagaku
akihabara gagaku

Another example of nichijo sahanji is the combination of the very old with the very new, as demonstrated by the live gagaku performance held at Akihabara, the Tokyo district famous as the Mecca of consumer electronics. It was presented by the nearby Kanda shrine to publicize an upcoming festival. The site was a stage at a vacant building in the district most often used by budding pop singers and dancers. But shrine officials wanted to attract to their festival younger people who had never been before, so this was their first-ever gagaku performance outside shrine grounds.

The miko performed a dance usually reserved for wedding ceremonies to the accompaniment of flutes and drums.

And I’ll bet the first thing they did when the dance was over was to check their cell phones for messages!

Posted in Festivals, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Matsuri da! (87): The umbrellas of Onan-cho

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 8, 2008

AN ESTIMATED 300,000 FESTIVALS are held in Japan every year, ranging from extravaganzas that last for several days to simple affairs that are over and done with just a couple of hours after they start.

In most cases, there’s a clear connection between the festival’s primary activity and its objectives—usually to ask the divinities for a good harvest, good health, or protection from disasters. For some events, local records stretch back for a millennium or more. And festivals attract tourists, so the local shrine or municipality is happy to tell people all about it.

This connection is not so clear for other festivals, however, and it’s not always easy to find the pertinent information. One of those was the Ji-no-Hi Festival held about two weeks ago by the local Kamo Shinto shrine in Onan-cho, Shimane. It dates from the Muromachi period (1333-1467), and is held in supplication for a bountiful harvest. After that, however, the details begin to get vague.

Here’s what happens: a few male parishioners parade through Onan-cho carrying what are called kasaboko. That’s a word created by combining two other words–kasa, or umbrella, and hoko, a halberd. In medieval times, a halberd was a weapon consisting of a long shaft with a blade on the end, though of course no blade has been attached here. (Or at least none that you can see.) Colorful strips of paper are hung from what would correspond to the umbrella ribs of the kasaboko.

The kasaboko itself is five meters long, 3.5 meters in diameter at the top, and weighs about 40 to 50 kilograms, so the trick for the halberdiers is to carry it at an angle as they move forward without losing their balance. This year, about 300 spectators encouraged them with cheers as they slowly wended their way through town, and applauded each incremental advance.

But for some reason, there are gaps in the information about this event. For example, how did the festival start? (The story of a festival’s origin is usually worth hearing.) How did they come up with the idea of the decorated kasaboko? Is it just an interesting accessory, or is there some other meaning? Did they do something else with the kasaboko in the old days? And why are they moving them around like this to begin with?

Considering all the things that actually happen at Japanese festivals, the possibilities are nearly endless.

The Japanese-language website for the Onan-cho municipal offices has a brief description of the festival, but provides none of this information. Neither does another website that offers local tourism information. And the folks at Onan-cho have been lugging those kasaboko down the street every year for more than 500 years, at a minimum.

Now that’s inscrutable!

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Shimane Prefecture’s position on Takeshima/Dokdo controversy

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thanks to Occidentalism for bringing to our attention Shimane Prefecture’s publication and placing online a pamphlet presenting their position on Takeshima/Dokdo, which you can find here. I translated it last August, so they took their time to get it out!

It was reviewed by a man who worked for the Japanese equivalent of the National Archives (I think–I’ve forgotten exactly), who really knew his stuff, as well as being fluent in Korean. Therefore, this is probably what the Japanese government wants to say, but hasn’t said yet.

There’s a lot of worthwhile information in there, and when I was working on it I was surprised that the national government hadn’t been publicizing it more. Perhaps now they will.

If you get the chance, please read the introduction by the prefectural governor, if only to compare his attitude to that too often prevalent in South Korea.

During the course of my research on the translation, I often read materials in English written by Koreans on the issue, and came to the unfortunate conclusion that roughly 95% of the material on the Web about Dokdo from South Korea is utterly worthless. It is a congeries of outright deceptions and half-truths written by people who either know better or haven’t done their research, and parroted and recycled by adolescents and post-adolescents with too much time on their hands.

For the purposes of comparison, I think the official Korean position is here. (I can’t find the site I used last August for this document now.)

Finally, a translator’s note: Other professional translators will know what I mean, so it’s not as if I’m blowing my horn, but the English version wound up being more accurate and clearer than the Japanese. At one point, when I was discussing the revision with the Japanese government official who wanted me to change a passage, I protested that what he wanted to say slightly contradicted the original. He said, “Yes, I know, I’m going to have to talk to them (Shimane) about that!”

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

Becoming that which you hate

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

THE REST OF THE WORLD may have forgotten about Takeshima, the cause of a territorial dispute poisoning Japanese and South Korean relations, but Japan’s Shimane Prefecture—which claims jurisdiction over the islets occupied by South Korea—certainly hasn’t.

These islets in the Sea of Japan cover an estimated 230,967 square meters, which is approximately five times the size of the Tokyo Dome, a baseball stadium and concert venue in Japan. For comparison, Central Park in New York City occupies more than 3 million square meters of land.

Japan and Korea have been squabbling over the ownership of these specks of land for centuries, mostly because they are in the middle of prime fishing grounds, but South Koreans also consider the issue to be of critical importance because it gives them a chance to poke Japan in the eye, assuage their inferiority complex, and massage the permanent chip on the Joseon shoulder.

To more assertively present the Japanese position, Shimane Prefecture last year published a booklet in English (which I translated) summarizing the basis for the Japanese claim. One benefit of being a professional translator is being paid to learn things. One thing I learned by translating this booklet is that most of the information and arguments South Koreans post on the Net claiming Takeshima, or Dokto in Korean, as their territory are worthless.

Here are three examples:

In the late 17th century, fisherman Ahn Yong-bok claimed to have told the Tottori feudal lord while in that domain that he received title to the islets from the Shogunate, which was then stolen from him by the Tsushima feudal lord. Some stories have it that the Tottori feudal lord granted him title directly.

Ahn was indeed in Tottori, but it was unlikely he met the Tottori daimyo. The daimyo was living in Edo (Tokyo) at the time in compliance with the Shogun’s orders that feudal lords periodically spend time in the capital where he could keep an eye on them. This is just the sort of information that a non-Japanese would not know. Perhaps the Koreans didn’t realize it themselves–or if they did, thought no one else could see it through their propaganda blizzard.

It’s not as if Ahn is the most credible of sources. He came up with three different excuses for being on those islands in the Sea of Japan in the first place. There was a reason he had to do some fast talking—it was against Korean law for a Korean to be there at the time. To further complicate matters, the only surviving records of his account are based on documents that no longer exist.

Ahn also had trouble figuring out exactly where he was, though that’s understandable given the size of the islands and the navigational technology of the day.

For his superb seamanship and successfully cocking a snoot at the Japanese, Ahn Yong-bok has been dubbed “the father of the Korean navy”. The country has even named a destroyer (with the Aegis combat system) after him.

Masanobu Kitazawa of Japan conducted an on-site survey based on Ulleungdo in 1880 and reported that Takeshima belonged to Korea.

Korean scholars with a reading knowledge of Japanese have pulled this excerpt out of Kitazawa’s account to assert that the Japanese long ago recognized Korean sovereignty over the islets.

It’s odd, however, that the same scholars neglect to mention that Kitazawa clearly said he was referring to an island north of Ulleungdo, whereas the actual Takeshima lies to the southeast. Kitazawa had mistaken a small island called Jukto for Takeshima.

The American GHQ ceded Takeshima to Korea through SCAPIN #667 when it occupied the country at the end of the war and prevented Japanese access.

While the Americans did prevent the Japanese from going to Takeshima at that time, the Koreans fail to give us the rest of the story. That starts with the statement in the Potsdam Declaration that “Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to…such minor islands as we determine,” and continues with the same SCAPIN #667, which also specified, “Nothing in this directive shall be construed as an indication of Allied policy relating to the ultimate determination of the minor islands.” It is underscored in SCAPIN #1033, in which the GHQ stated: “The present authorization is not an expression of Allied policy relative to ultimate determination of national jurisdiction, international boundaries or fishing rights…”

The ultimate determination by the Allies was made by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which did not include Takeshima in the territory the Japanese were forced to relinquish—despite Korean demands that they be given Takeshima and Parangdo (another small island that no one could find, but was later determined to be submerged).

In addition to these fabrications and misrepresentations, here is what the Korean side has done to maintain possession of the islets:

  • Violated international law and an international peace treaty by unilaterally seizing Takeshima by military force, annexing it, and staking a claim on a large area of international waters in the process through its declaration of the Syngman Rhee Line in 1952

  • Maintained their occupation with a police presence

  • Killed or wounded 44 Japanese fishermen in the area

  • Violated a fishing agreement they signed with Japan by refusing to allow Japanese fishermen access to the surrounding waters, and using fishing techniques the agreement prohibited because they deplete the marine resources too rapidly.

  • Conducted an international propaganda campaign based on false information

  • Exacerbated chauvinistic and anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea in a campaign in which politicians of all parties–but particularly the “progressive” Uri Party–and the state-run KBS television and radio networks actively participate.

  • Refused to discuss the issue with Japan at all, and overreacted by screaming that the Japanese are trying to reoccupy Korea and reestablish an East Asian empire when the Japanese claim the islets as their own.

In an irony of history, their behavior resembles that of Imperial Japan in the early 20th century, albeit on a smaller scale. The result is that South Korea’s policy in regard to Takeshima is a classic example of people being consumed by so much hatred that they themselves have become what they hate.

It’s a tragedy that the Koreans have allowed themselves to reach this state. Are they unaware of what they have become, or do they consider this to be a righteous release of han, the Korean concept of holding a grudge?

Either one would be an even greater tragedy.

To read Shimane Prefecture’s side of the story in full, go to this page. For a shorter summary by Prof. Masao Shimojo in the Mainichi Shimbun (which I also translated), try this page.

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