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Archive for January of 2006
January 22, 2006
January 20, 2006
If 'ordinary country' (futsu no kuni
) is a charged expression, the word 'Yamato', now extremely prevalent in Japan 2006 is equally significiant. 'Yamato' operates on several different levels.
First, the Yamato Damashi
or the 'Spirit of Yamato' is a phrase used colloquially by Nationalists and Rightists in Japan to speak in nostalgic ways about a a vague 'Golden Age' of Japanese culture. In this mythical imagining, life was simple and people allegedly were honest and worked hard.
The Yamato Empire had the concept of the state as led by a powerful singular leader (Emperor or Tenno
). That was the idealized state, of course. In Japanese feudal times, the military caste, that included the bushi and the samurai, were organized in strict military forms and had a unified single headquarters-like structure, the Shogunate. The Shogun represented civil and political power. As is well known, the Shogunate ruled Japan in various forms from 1192-1868.
Second, Yamato refers to Nara Prefecture. Here, Japanese history indicates that the first political efforts of unifying Japan began in the Nara Basin from the third century until the fourth century. Thus, at the dawn of Japanese history Yamato was clearly the political center of Japan.
Which brings us to the battleship Yamato. Famous along with her sister ship Musashi as being the largest battleships ever built
, the battleship Yamato embodies the mythos of the above, symbolized by the Imperial (teikoku
) chrysanthemum crest on her bow. She was and is more than just a battleship.
The Yamato and its role in Japanese popular culture post 1945 have long been a barometer and proxy for Japanese nationalist and conservative efforts to portray the Pacific War. When in 1974 it was featured in an animated TV series (and later movies) Uchuu Senkan Yamato
(Space Battleship Yamato), it was widely and correctly seen as a replay of the Pacific War in the 'safe' mode of space battles with aliens.
Now in January 2006, the Yamato has made the jump to the wide screen. She is the star of a live action movie
that portrays her death ride in 'Operation Ten-Go'
as a heroic and noble sacrifice. It is the number one movie in Tokyo in December 2005 -January 2006. Here, Haruki Kadowkawa, the film's producer explains:
Losing is the ultimate eye-opener. Japan is no longer moving forward — it relies too much on rails that have already been laid and has forgotten how to make new types of progress. What is going to save us — our sense of duty? Or are we going to finally wake up? We are hoping for someone to lead the way, someone who has a fresh outlook for Japan. That is a motif of the film. When you lose you wake up — and Japan needs to wake up.
In other words, the core audience for this film is young people. I find it really interesting that the group I most want to see the film is the group that most wants to see it. That age group knows that Japan and America fought, but not much more. Some will ask you who won the war. (laughs) It's not hard to understand — looking at Japan today, it's hard to believe we lost.
In addition to the Yamato movie, there is now a full time Yamato Museum
in the naval city of Kure. And the set of the movie has itself become a tourist attraction. The Yamato today exerts enormous impact on the contemporary Japanese psyche.
And as Japan seeks to discover its identity and purpose in a 21st Century of Chinese ascendancy and U.S. strategic incompetence and hyper militarization, the Yamato and imaginings of the Yamato will have an important role.
Which is all very interesting and overly abstract to non-Japanese perhaps. Except yesterday the Stiftung was wandering through the blight of strip malls that litter the Imperial City environs. And what did we stumble across? Yes, Dear Reader, for our little boys and girls:
As Japanese soft power waxes and drives much of U.S. popular culture for those under 50 years old - either through toys above, videogames, animation/manga, or movies — it will be interesting to see how Yamato and the Imperial project emerges in the U.S. mind. Perhaps in the end, she and her crew will actually prevail. And Okinawa was not the end but merely the beginning.
January 19, 2006
Few innocuous sounding phrases are as fraught with latent implications as 'Japan as ordinary country'. Popularized by perennial power political player Ichiro Ozawa
and his book of the same name, the phrase unifies decades of work by conservative politicians such as former PM Yasuhiro Nakasone.
Nakasone, Ozawa and others seek to jettison the legal, political and psychological constraints on Japanese re-armament.
Parallels between radicalization of American foreign policy post 9-11 and Japanese developments are noteworthy. And hardly accidental. Japanese conservatives and nationalists have used the American radicalization of the international environment to push through transforming Japanese military activities and changing internal consensus on Japan's role in the world.
Under Koizumi's government, Japan now speculates on owning nuclear weapons to oppose China, is launching military surveillance satellites
to give Japan real time intelligence, and has deployed troops to Iraq. Four Japanese troops were claimed to be killed in January 2006.
The Japanese Defense Agency included in the 2006 defense program the introduction of cruise missiles and light aircraft carriers for a pre-emptive attack on enemy missile bases.
The Japanese conservatives have not fully reconciled internal Japanese attitudes to all this. Koizumi's drive to make Japan 'an ordinary country' and active military ally of the United States, while accepted still raise eyebrows now and then. Opinion over Koizumi's commitment to “the victory of the American cause” in Iraq fluctuates sharply. Moreover, a Fukuoka court ruled last year that Koizumi's visits to Yakusuni Shrine (a practice begun by Nakasone), the controversial site which honors Japanese war dead, were illegal. Koizumi's response? His reaction appalled everyone — “I don't understand what the court means at all.”
Koizumi is required to step down this year. These elections might seem like an important test case on Japan's course. But in fact only two political parties will be major players. And both are essentially conservative nationalist.
Besides Koizumi's moribund Liberal Democratic Party (he won by his personal charisma, not by party affiliation), the political party which was the most successful in 2005 elections is ''The Democratic Party' , even more committed than Koizumi to the return of militarization of Japan. The party is another of Ozawa's machinations, a coalition of different factions united only in their ambition to take power. The DPJ and Ozawa want even more “force transformation” by strengthening Japanese special counter-terrorist corps, massively increasing Self Defense Forces, upgrading military technology, and further strengthening Japan's integration with American missile defense.
Upcoming Major Political Confrontation Impending
Over the Japanese Constitution
“Article 9 of the Constitution had become an impediment to strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to LDP leader Nakagawa
Whoever succeeds Koizumi will lead a major political confrontation in Japanese politics to the amendment of the 1946 Constitution, particularly on the revision of its pacifist clause, Article 9.
What is astonishing is that in 2006, powerful political momentum has already been created in order to change the constitution. Opposition to such a change now looks anachronistic. All of the major pro-revision actors are politically visible on the Japanese stage. When Armitage told Nakagawa quoted above, he made the comments in the context of Washington's support for Tokyo's moves to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Armitage argued logically that any nation with that status must be ready to deploy military force in the interests of the international community.
The media campaign is already underway — the Yomiuri Shimbun
, Japan's largest newspaper with a circulation of 10 million, started a campaign to change the constitution by publishing its first draft constitution in 2000. In 2005, on May 3, the memorial day for the proclamation of the current constitution, the same newspaper published its third version. It and other major media organs are pushing for an acceleration of the revision process.
Japanese polls are all over the place. Some polls indicate that around 60% of the Japanese people are against changing Article 9. So one can expect that mobilization of the threat (Chinese and terrorist) will be amped up accordingly to 'mobilize' public opinion in favor.
January 05, 2006
Was it a dream? The post-1945 Japanese holiday from national assertion and full participation in the international arena continues to wind down. In addition to the symbolic troop presence in Iraq (operationally less significant than the Luftwaffe
out of country operations in the Balkins) comes this from the DoD Press Service. This marks the first time Japanese troops have ever trained in CONUS - something not likely missed in Beijing and elsewhere.
Today begins the first in an anticipated series of posts this coming week. The Stiftung will explore the role and image of the United States in the Japanese psyche as they seek to recapture a warrior ethos and confidence deliberately repressed for 50 years. More to come shortly.
Marines School Japanese Soldiers in Amphibious Warfare
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS BASE CORONADO, Calif., Jan. 18, 2006 - Boating around San Diego Bay may sound relaxing, but members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force training with U.S. Marines here have found it to be just the opposite.
Roughly 200 Japanese forces have been training here since Jan. 9.
Read more »
From The Other Times across the Pond
Hollywood's appeal to the Japanese advert business is fading as national confidence grows
Japanese people, say the top media analysts, no longer look up to American and British film stars, so it does not help a product much when they are called in to hawk it.
Sophia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray plays an actor who is paid millions to tout whisky in a Japanese commercial, will look like an historical period piece within a year or so, the chairman of Japan’s biggest advertising watchdog predicts . . . Japanese stars now exclusively dominate the top 20 adverts of last year, and in the course of 2005 Mr Sasamoto has cast five Koreans and a Taiwanese — something that he says would never have happened two years ago. [Emphasis added]