asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Walking backwards for Christmas 16 February, 2014

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:09 am
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our hero

When I came to Japan the emperor Hirohito was still here, somehow transformed into a harmless marine biologist, but the same warlord who had presided over the Japanese empire of the 1930s and ’40s. It seemed a vaguely amusing curiosity at the time – we Europeans tended not to know so much about what happened in the Asian war, and my impression was “Yes, the Japanese did some bad things, like mistreatment of British and Australian POWs, maybe bombed some cities, but nothing to compare with the evils of Nazi Germany”.

I was wrong.

It was only fairly recently that I figured I’d better know what the Chinese and Koreans were complaining about, checked out the Wikipedia on Japanese War Crimes and followed up some of the references there. It’s not easy reading let me tell you and I felt thoroughly shaken by some of the content. For example, if you don’t already know about Unit 731 have a look and see if you still feel exactly the same way about this country. Try to imagine the feelings of someone, probably Chinese, whose grandfather or aunt had been murdered there. Bear in mind that Chinese, unlike most Japanese, have been taught all about the atrocities committed in their country by the Japanese, and the anti-Japanese riots of a couple of years ago become a little easier to understand. There may be scope to argue about how many tens of thousands of people died in some incident or other, but there seems no doubt whatsoever that many horrible things were done on a vast scale by the Imperial Japanese Army, mostly under the direct orders of those at the top of the chain of command.

Many countries have right-wing extremists with outlandish beliefs – my own UK, the US, France, Germany and Russia come to mind – and here there have long been “uyoku” who drive around on the odd Sunday afternoon in vaguely military-looking trucks blasting patriotic music from high-powered speakers. There are also some politicians, mostly in the LDP, who have very strange ideas about the past. Like the White Queen, they have no trouble believing six impossible things before breakfast, for example:

  1. The Nanking Massacre never happened.
  2. The “comfort women” issue has been blown up out of the kind of prostitution that follows any army.
  3. China, Korea and all the countries invaded by Japan welcomed their occupation and benefited from it.
  4. The Tokyo trials of war criminals were distorted “victors justice” and an unfair imposition of alien Western values.
  5. Asperger’s syndrome is caused by “leftist influenced” parenting. (“Parents and Education” at the bottom of this page.)
  6. and… Japan should have nuclear weapons.

1 and 2 are easily dealt with by referring to any historian. No-one seriously doubts those things took place. 3 is a gross insult to those who suffered occupation. Ask an older Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian… 4 does have an element of truth. The trials were distorted; every effort was made by McArthur to hide the emperor’s involvement in war crimes, and the despicable Ishii, who ran Unit 731, was able to rejoin Japanese society as a respected researcher – because the Americans wanted his data.

I used to think that these beliefs were limited to a small fringe element generally rejected by society, and that in another few years we would all be over the war and its aftermath, ready for a new era of peace and co-operation in Asia and in the world.

I might have been wrong there too.

In the last couple of weeks, several unpleasant creatures have emerged from where they had been hiding and started saying in public what they had long been thinking in private. It started with Katsuto Momii, the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, who, at his inaugural press conference, compared “comfort women” with brothels in Amsterdam, defended the controversial State Secrets Law and said NHK International should promote government policies. Shortly after, a member of the NHK governors, Naoki Hyakuta, went campaigning for one of the candidates in the Tokyo gubernatorial election, a guy called Toshio Tamogami. If that sounds inappropriate enough, on the stump he said the Nanking Massacre had been made up and added that the three leading candidates (a former prime minister, a former minister of health and a former chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) were “human trash”. OK, it gets better. It turns out that another newly appointed NHK governor, a lady called Michiko Hasegawa, had written an essay last October about an ultranationalist, Shusuke Nomura. This guy didn’t like something the Asahi newspaper had written about him in 1993, pulled out a couple of guns and shot himself in the stomach three times in their office, dying shortly after. Rather than condemning the illegal use of firearms in an attempt to intimidate the media, Hasegawa said this was a wonderful thing that made the emperor a living god in spite of what it said in the constitution. Pretty weird people on the NHK board of governors, right? Hyakuta and Hasegawa were both appointed by Abe along with two others close to him, and the freshly adjusted board subsequently chose Momii as NHK chairman.

More, the surprise in last Sunday’s election for Tokyo governor was not “establishment” candidate Masuzoe winning, as expected, but this weirdo Tamogami who came fourth, but with 600,000 votes. (24% support among voters in their 20’s, tapering off to 6% for over-70’s) Tamogami used to be a Self Defence Force general but he had to resign after writing an essay full of the kind of nonsense referred to above. Tamogami’s essay won a contest run by the Apa company. The English translation is still available from the Apa website, and a fairly careful deconstruction by Tobias Samuel Harris here. I don’t know if you remember the scandal about apartments and hotels that didn’t meet earthquake standards a few years ago, but the hotels belonged to Apa, whose president Toshio Motoya is another right-winger close to Abe. Abe himself might be a hopeless idealist but many of the people around him are thoroughly unpleasant characters whose prime motivation seems not to be the protection of the Japanese people but how best to exploit them.

So it looks as if Abe is trying to put NHK under pressure not to publish content inconvenient for him, and is already succeeding. It took them three days to mention the Momii controversy and I still haven’t heard anything from them about Hyakuta or Hasegawa. The relatively high support for Tamogami among the young suggests the LDP’s proposed editing of school textbooks might not be needed. The young already have no grasp of how outrageous the things Tamogami and co. are saying really are.

The english-speaking web is full of articles about Japan’s “swing to the right” at the moment, but I’m adding my small voice to all this because I think it’s important, and very dangerous for Japan. As a friend put it the other day, the country may be “sleepwalking into disaster”. Now it’s true that the rulers of China have been instilling anti-Japanese feeling in their people for years, and this is helping to promote nationalism in Japan, along with genuine fear of the growing Chinese army. In return, the Abe government’s hawkishness is a convenient distraction from China’s many domestic problems. Even so, no good is being served by this attitude on the Japanese, Chinese and to some extent Korean sides. The example of Germany is often held up as a way for Japan to make peace with its neighbours, but I’d like to offer another one: South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission may not have been perfect, but the attitude of honestly facing up to what happened in the past is surely a necessary foundation for a healthy future relationship?

Abe thinks that his years of zen and carrot juice in the wilderness have made him into a Great Leader who will Save Japan. I think he’s an arrogant prick. He’s just so full of himself it’s impossible to watch without wanting to throw up. Japan is a beautiful country with a wonderful culture and sincere, good-hearted people. I like to think that sooner rather than later they will see through the idiotic nonsense he and his cohorts have been peddling and throw him off, as America finally rejected George Bush. I like to think that Japan will return to the sort of sensible path briefly hinted at by the DPJ in their short turn at power. I like to think that Japan could set a good example of how mankind can deal with some of the huge problems on the near horizon.

Please, Japan, don’t let me be wrong this time.

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65 years 13 October, 2010

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 3:02 pm
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I was born not long after the war and its after-effects reverberated through my childhood. Boys’ comics were full of brave British soldiers battling nasty Germans shouting “donner und blitzen!” (although I preferred spacy stuff like Dan Dare), my parents got nervous at the sound of the siren from a nearby airfield, friends would mutter in the corner of the playground about fiendish “torture” practiced by evil Germans or Japanese and distant mushroom clouds were a regular item in my dreams for some years. But some 580,000 Japanese civilians, and more than 2 million soldiers died in that war – far more than for the UK or USA, if not coming up to Russia or Germany ( Wikipedia ) and most Japanese of that generation have terrible memories of the war.

The last couple of years, NHK, the national TV network, have made a project of interviewing eyewitnesses to build an archive of war experiences while they still can. Many Japanese soldiers died in the most horrific circumstances, with little support from central command beyond exhortations to rely on their “samurai spirit”. Most older Japanese have strong anti-war opinions, and I think it would be fair to regard the civilian population as co-victims, along with many fellow-Asians, of the militarism that gripped the country in the early 20th century – a time when people were tortured to death for mentioning in a letter that they hoped the war would end soon… So maybe NHK are hoping to maintain this pacifism into the next generation, who grew up in the postwar era of prosperity. Good luck to them!

The anniversaries of the monstrous flashbulbs that went off over Hiroshima and Nagasaki come early in August, just before the end of the war itself. Now, more people actually died in the firebombing of Tokyo, but that doesn’t alter the suffering of children who were fried on their way to school. Tragedy, like peace, is indivisible – it’s not really a question of numbers – and I was glad to see the American ambassador at Hiroshima this year, to pay his respects. Just a natural human response, you’d think, so why was this the first time since the end of the war 65 years ago? Even more, why did so many Americans get angry about it, complaining that there was nothing to apologise for? Leaving the issue of whether the atomic bombing was justified or not – there are arguments on both sides – surely there’s nothing wrong with recognising the suffering of innocent people?

Now, maybe it’s time for Japanese to face up to the Nanking Massacre?

 

New Year at the farm 19 January, 2010

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:23 pm
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The weather forecast said a cold front was on its way and sure enough just after midday on the outskirts of town the snow started sprinkling down. We were on our way out to Gifu so that didn’t bode too well for conditions further on, but we had decided to spend a couple of days out at “the farm” for the new year so pressed on… Of course by the time we’d got halfway the road was getting slippy and there was nothing for it but to put those cursed chains on the front tyres. Put on the brakes to pull into a parking area and the car just kept going… that’s how close to the edge things had been. These new-fangled plastic tyre chains are supposed to be easy to put on, but after half an hour of scrabbling about in the freezing slush I still hadn’t got the hook thing at the back properly attached – my fingers had no feeling and it was getting dark and things were looking somewhat hopeless… Finally a friendly passerby gave us a hand and the left chain was on. Back in the car with the heater on full for a few minutes of agony as the blood returned to my fingers, but then the other chain went on much more easily, as I’d sort of got the hang of it.

It’s now dark and an almost full moon is gazing balefully down through a gap in the clouds as we tiptoe gingerly down the road through 10cm or so of snow. Finally make it to the house, turn on the heater, sit in the kotatsu with a cup of tea and it’s all in the past…

New Years Day and it’s still snowing. The postman braves the elements to bring us our small bundle of nengajo – there’ll be more back in Nagoya. Unlike Christmas cards, which should arrive before Christmas, New Year cards are supposed to be read at New Year and the Post Office keep the ones posted in December and go to some trouble to deliver them on the first of January if at all possible.

New Year is really just like Christmas back home in many ways: everything’s closed, all day spent watching the box, eating, drinking… We’ve only got a radio on the farm, but still don’t miss NHK’s big song spectacular which they’ve been plugging for weeks. Something like the Royal Command Performance (do they still have that? ), it’s been slipping in the ratings in recent years. The newspaper is full of adverts for January sales – these used to be after a week or so but now many places start right in on the first, along with “lucky bags”, which can be OK and can be rubbish. Even the shrines are advertising – the best place to have your car blessed to protect it from accidents, the best place to pray for success in exams… They say some 80% of a shrine’s takings are in the first few days of new year, so this is peak time for them. The terrible economy is good for holy business, but the snow and cold probably hasn’t helped.

Throughout our stay we are visited by a huge flock of small birds, flying around in a swarm like migrating swallows. About the size of sparrows, with a crest on their heads – I’m not an ornithologist, but I suppose they’re winter visitors from somewhere further north.

A new beginning… and everything is “hatsu”whatever, ie hatsumode – first visit to a shrine and presumably hatsu-sake, hatsu-tabako…

Happy New Year!

 

Weekend Sunshine! 21 September, 2008

Filed under: music — johnraff @ 2:23 am
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Listening this morning to “Weekend Sunshine” I got all nostalgic listening to early Pink Floyd, grooved on Malians Rokia Traore and Issa Bagayogo… finished off with Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell… If you live in Japan and don’t know this NHK FM radio programme you’re in for a treat. Check out this week’s playlist. Of course the DJ Peter Barakan is a fellow UK citizen, about my age  and arrived in Japan about the same time, so I suppose it’s not so odd there’s some musical affinity, but when I discovered this programme two or three years ago Japan was a better place to live.

Saturday morning 7:15 to 9:00 is not a time I’m usually too active, so I use our video recorder to record it. They have built-in timers, usually hi-fi sound these days (in fact these days everyone except us has got a dvd recorder) and you just have to connect an fm tuner to a “line in” socket at the back somewhere. (I’m sure the same would work with a dvd recorder.)  Anyway there’s a good quality sound recording on the  video cassette and I can copy stuff I like onto an audio cassette (yes we’re pretty retro round here) or maybe some day I’ll figure out how to get it into the computer as an mp3 file or something. Anyway, it’s great music.

With online stores and illicit downloads from the web radio programmes might seem a bit outdated but I still think there’s a place for a DJ who can turn you on to things you might not have found otherwise. I’ve discovered so many excellent musicians thanks to Peter Barakan’s show. Keep up the good work!

While on the subject, another NHK FM programme I like is Masakazu Kitanaka’s World Music Time. A bit variable, but sometimes you get a great collection of sounds from some country you knew little about.

 

 
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