Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Golden Week, (1) the lack of one and a few musings on the right & history

Golden Week came and went with little fanfare this year.   Two of my universities tend not to take public holidays so on Showa Day - 29th April - the day that celebrates the birth of Emperor Showa (aka Hirohito) I still had classes. Since I consider the day a symptom of the nationalistic march right, I couldn't really object to having to work.  I tend to lose track of holidays at this time of year, but I had Mon & Tues as holidays which made for more of a Golden Weekend rather than a Golden Week.

The nationalistic march right has been plaguing my mind for a while.  Aus PM Abbott's visit here was lauded by the media in Aus, but it's  unsettling to see Australia aligning itself overtly with a nationalistic Japan against China.  I don't have anything particularly constructive to say about Japan's lurch to the right; nor am I at ease with China's regional stance, particularly on territorial matters which relate to the Philippines and Vietnam as much as Japan.

I'm dismayed though by news over the weekend from the  right wing Sankei Shimbun (newspaper) that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is about to embark on a "propaganda war" to correct the mis-history that the neighbours (China and Korea) are keen on propagating. I don't understand why it's so difficult for countries to look former combatants in the eye and sincerely say "we were wrong".  Whether it's Japan and China or Korea, whether it's China looking at the Cultural Revolution, student protests in Tienanmen Square, (ongoing) treatment of Falun Gong members. etc, or whether it's reconciling Korea's less glowing post war history. The irony of President Park being virulently anti Japanese when her father served as elite military in the Japanese army and was fiercely anti-democratic implementing martial law seems to be lost on western commentors who like Fox news seem to find it difficult to distinguish between Koreans and Nepalese.

The other day in a Japanese society class I asked students which country had most influenced Japan the most through history. I got a few answers and gave them a multiple choice of 4: China, Korea, US, Netherlands/Holland.   Almost 2/3 of the class said Holland; a couple said the US and the remainder China. Even really good, smart, switched on students said Holland.... Several students were surprised that Japanese kampo 漢方medicine had its origins in China. When they thought about the kanji, they realized that I wasn't making it up.

Much of the Meiji era (1868-1912 - the reign of Emperor Meiji)  was spent trying to gain the respect of the west, which meant distancing the country from Asia.   The work that epitomizes the shift from Asia to the West is Datsu-a-ron . I've put a link to a translation of it, though a caution that the blog that it's on is quite hostile to Korea. (It makes some fair points but much of it is tiresomely childish in the childish way of nationalists in the region).

I was  quite shocked years ago in Aus when one of my Japanese work associates told me that "Japanese are white Asians".  It didn't make any sense to me at the time - though it presumably made sense in apartheid South Africa where Japanese (for economic reasons) were considered white.  (Correct me if I'm wrong Ru)  In Japan though it's a common sense, at least among a reasonable part of the population, that Japan isn't Asia.

In Meiji times, Asia was the past and the west was the future. Today nationalists in Japan today (who are arguably no worse than the nationalists elsewhere in the region) struggle to grapple with the change in the economic situation of the region and aggressively assert the right for Japan to revise the constitutions and have a standing army. At the same time Japanese of most persuasions are tired of China and Korea complaining about war history and fail to appreciate the genuine irritation in both countries about  Yasukuni visits. The gulf seems so wide sometimes...

The gulf is evident at the individual level as much as the national level.  Each year I usually have a couple of Chinese students.  The students studying here from China are probably not typical of Chinese students, but invariably they are so much more switched onto the realities of the world than their Japanese classmates.  This is neither praise nor criticism, it just is.  Japanese students are much more likely to want to go to a poor country to "save" poor children.  Chinese students are more likely to want go to a poor country to "employ" poor children.  There's merit in both.   Japanese students are more likely to want good social welfare; Chinese students good laws.

It's living in an idealistic bubble, but I wish the region could put historical point scoring behind it and work on a better future for all...

Shinjuku dori in Yotsuya
just up from the station towards Kojimachi.
Usually national flags are flown on national holidays;
this was not a public holiday.
There is still a strong association between the flag
and the ultra-right wing. It's not particularly fair
perhaps but flags like this remind me of the "spider flag"
from the Sound of Music...

An LDP poster urging support for those who
defend Japan... He looks a bit like a French
Hitler though....


allrite said...

Interesting post. My belief is that we should study these past atrocities to come to the realise that we are all human and that all societies are capable of committing such acts, irrespective of our nationality or ethnicity. Otherwise we allow our mythologies to demonise others and excuse such acts in future.

Cecilia said...

Couldn't agree more. You're too switched on to make it in politics in NE Asia at the moment...Though to be fair there's plenty of jingoism happening world wide.
I'm reading an excellent book by Ian Buruma at the moment - inventing Japan - about the creation of Japanese myths. If you have the time and inclination, it's a good read.