Hiroshima bombing anniversary

Today, August 6, 2010, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, significant for being the first visited by a delegation from the US, as well as by the UN Secretary General himself. There is no shortage of commentary out there, such as this short essay by Nobel-novelist Oe Kenzaburo, or the statement issued by the mayor of Hiroshima, but there are a couple of specific items I want to highlight.

Despite being one of the most famous incidents in all of human history, there is still a surprising amount of speculation, doubt, and conspiracy theorizing regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Foremost among these is Truman’s real motivation for ordering the bombing; did he really believe that it was the only way to end the war without hundreds of thousands, or millions more deaths, or did he believe that Japan was ready to surrender, but could not give up the chance to show off the awesome destructive power of the atom to the Soviets? I could of course investigate that question all day, but instead I want to briefly look at two other issues related to the morality of the bombing.

First of these is a fascinating, some might say disturbing, questionnaire given to over 250 Manhattan Project scientists in July, 1945, which was first published as “A Poll of Scientists at Chicago, July 1945,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1948, 44, p63. (Link thanks to i09.com)

The single question poll has been posted online as an interactive web-poll, but since it isn’t working properly for me I will post the actual text here.

Which of the following five procedures comes closest to your choice as to the way in which any new weapons that may develop should be used in the Japanese war:

  1. Use them in the manner that is from the military point of view most effective in bringing about prompt Japanese surrender at minimum human cost to our armed forces.
  2. Give a military demonstration in Japan to be followed by renewed opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon is employed.
  3. Give an experimental demonstration in this country, with representatives of Japan present; followed by a new opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon is employed.
  4. Withhold military use of the weapons, but make public experimental demonstration of their effectiveness.
  5. Maintain as secret as possible all developments of our new weapons and refrain from using them in this war.

Please read the full post at Ptak Science Books for far more details, including the results of the original poll, the online poll, and links to their long series of posts on the history of atomic weaponry.

Next we have the following article from the Asahi, one month ago.

Nara honors its Chinese scholar savior

A Chinese intellectual credited with saving historic Nara from annihilation in World War II is to be immortalized in bronze in the ancient Japanese capital.

Liang Sicheng (1901-1972), a renowned Chinese architectural historian who was born and spent his early childhood in Japan, is believed to have interceded with the U.S. military to protect the historic former capitals of Nara and Kyoto from the air raids that flattened many of Japan’s urban centers.

The statue was unveiled in Beijing in mid-June in the presence of representatives from Japan and China and is expected to be installed at the Nara Prefectural Cultural Hall by late October.

Liang was known for his efforts to protect China’s cultural treasures in areas occupied by Japan during the Japan-China war, producing a map, at the request of the U.S. authorities, of key sites in the country.

But he is also believed to have used his connections with U.S. officers to plead on behalf of Japan’s ancient capitals.

“He strived to protect cultural properties from war damage, not just those of his own country but those of an enemy,” said Luo Zhewen, a former senior official of the State Bureau of Cultural Relics.

Luo, 86, who worked with Liang on the China map, is an adviser to the China Social-Cultural Development Foundation, which has helped promote the statue idea.

He said the statue would have “great significance for China and Japan’s friendship.”

There are no written records to confirm Liang’s role in preventing the bombing of Kyoto and Nara. The story of his contribution appears to have originated with Su Bai, 87, a professor of archaeology at Peking University.

In 1947 or 1948, Su attended a lecture by Liang, who told him during a break about the map of cultural properties in China and his request to the U.S. forces to refrain from bombing Nara and Kyoto.

Su mentioned Liang’s comment to a Japanese researcher in the 1980s and the story began to spread.

Liang was born in Japan and lived there until age 11. His father was Liang Qichao, a well-known reformer during the late Qing Dynasty. After graduating from what is now Tsinghua University, Liang studied architectural history in the United States from 1924 to 1928.

He worked for wartime culture protection under the Chinese Nationalist government.

Lin Zhu, Liang’s second wife, said he told her about his request to the U.S. forces during the Cultural Revolution, when he became a target of student criticism.

“He loved Japan, where he spent his early childhood. He was so troubled by Japan’s invasion of China,” said Lin, 82.

Lin said her husband had kept his appeal on behalf of Nara and Kyoto secret because he feared his help for the wartime enemy might make him a target of criticism.

There are competing accounts of why the old capitals were avoided by U.S. bombers. Langdon Warner (1881-1955), an art historian at Harvard University and a mentor to Liang while he was at Harvard, is also credited with calling for the cities’ protection. The decision has been attributed by some to U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Liang’s grandson, Liang Jian, 56, says, “I believe my grandfather wanted to protect cultural assets regardless of national borders. It is, however, a fact that no written records exist.”

As far as I’m concerned, that last line is the most important one. While I am willing to believe that Liang “wanted to preserve cultural assets” there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that he did, or that Doctor Langdon Warner – who is popularly, and falsely credited for having saved Kyoto despite his own denials – did so, rather than military and political considerations. The fact is that there is no real evidence to suggest that cultural asset preservation was a factor in the decision over where to drop the atom bombs, which is a topic that I plan to make a detailed post on some time in the future.

Really, at it’s core the myth that Kyoto, and perhaps Nara and other historical cities, were saved from the atom bomb due to a strong desire to preserve ancient relics is nothing but a feel-good story for both side. Now, it might sound crazy to some that any aspect of the bombings is a “feel-good story,” but I propose that it actually serves such a purpose for both the Americans and the Japanese. By believing the myth that our government and military was persuaded to significantly alter the bombing plan, we can believe that, even in the midst of a bloody and inhuman war, an appeal by a humble art historian led us to transcend immediate concerns of war between nations for the sake of the historical legacy of humanity as a whole. We can pretend that while on the one hand we possess such godlike power, we also have the humility to use it wisely, and by remembering how we spared history for the sake of a greater good, we can conveniently draw attention away from the decisions to kill hundreds of thousands.

Conversely, for the Japanese side to believe in this myth is to somewhat allay the wounds of defeat by appealing to national pride. After all, for an enemy so terrified and desperate to win that they would unleash the power of the sun itself to, in that very instant of apocalyptic destruction, to deliberately avoid incinerating Japan’s largest concentrations of sacred and historically significant sites can be nothing but a reflection of how truly significant those sites, that culture and history, must be. To believe so strongly in the power of Japanese culture to affect the enemy’s actions in such a moment creates a kind of victory in the face of defeat, much as the common (although, I stress, not universal) portrayal of the bombings as an event of passive victimhood similar to a natural disaster, with neither reason nor aggressor, creates a narrative in which all moral complexity is stripped away, the virtuous suffering, martyrdom, and survival of the victims are the only salient facts, allowing for a sort of moral victory in the face of defeat. The perpetuation of this historical myth may seem innocent to some, but it enables the avoidance of the grave moral and strategic issues that actually were in play, issues of both Japan’s war responsibility and American reasons for the use the atomic bomb (as raised in the survey above), and does a disservice to those who suffered and died.

And finally I leave you, without comment, the official North Korean statement on the anniversary of Hiroshima and its special mix of factual record and – let’s say – colorful political commentary, courtesy of their always entertaining KCNA news site.

Korean A-bomb Victims Have Bitter Grudge against US-Japan

Pyongyang, August 5 (KCNA) — Sixty-five years has elapsed since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead. The death toll is about 159,000 in Hiroshima and 73,000 in Nagasaki.

Among the victims of the nuclear holocaust, the first of its kind in human history, were foreigners and many of them were Koreans.

According to a non-governmental organization of south Korea, the total number of the Korean victims is about 70,000 and the death toll about 40,000. A civic organization of Japan made public that the Korean victims in Nagasaki alone total 21,384, 10,278 of them dead.

The figures show that the Koreans account for more than ten percent of all the victims.

Many Korean people, forcibly brought to Japan for slave labor, lost their lives due to the atomic bombs. Even survivors died later or are still suffering from their aftermath.

Some of the survivors have come back to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

They have been harassed by mental sufferings as they have adversely affected their descendants in the second and third generations from the genetic point of view. They are closing their days with a deep-rooted rancor against the United States and Japan.

Nevertheless, Japan has refused to make any apology and compensation or render humanitarian assistance to them allegedly because it has no diplomatic ties with the DPRK. On the contrary, it is seeking nuclear armament with the backing of the United States.

Meanwhile, the United States, far from feeling guilty of having inflicted the unheard-of nuclear holocaust on humans, has stepped up nuclear war preparations near the Korean peninsula and in other regions of the world.

The Korean army and people are determined to decisively smash the nuclear war preparations of the U.S. imperialists, their sworn enemy, and foil the nuclear ambition of the Japanese reactionaries, who are going for reinvasion of Korea, servile with the United States.

I also have another blog post related to the Hiroshima bombing I plan to put up later, whereupon I will replace this note at the bottom with a link.

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Coverage of Yoshida-ryo piece on CNNGo

Reaction to my recent CNNGo photo/article feature about Kyoto University’s famous Yoshida Dormitory has been very positive. I want to thank whoever it was that submitted it to Boingboing, who kindly linked to it as they have several Mutantfrog posts in past years. I also want to especially thank frequent MF commenter KokuRyu, who posted a link to the piece on MetaFilter, where there have been some pretty interesting comments from people who seem to have experience in other cooperative/squat type housing, making some comparisons between them and Yoshida-ryo.

I am also planning on doing a follow-up piece sometime, discussing a little bit more about the history of Yoshida-ryo and the other self-administered dorms at Kyoto University, as well as some of the  “self run” (自治) student activity areas in the university, and the relationship between Yoshida-ryo and the various squatting protests that have occurred on campus over the years, such as the Ishigaki Cafe and the currently still ongoing Kubikubi Cafe. Since CNNGo would not really be an appropriate venue for this sort of piece, I’m hoping readers can suggest or introduce someplace that might be interested!

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My photo gallery of Kyoto University’s famous Yoshida-ryo, with article, on CNNGo

Dammit, I can smell the rooms in your pictures, Roy.

Said my friend Jon after looking at my piece just published at CNNGo.

Little known outside of Kyoto is the fact that Kyoto University has the last remaining truly old style dormitory, constructed in the late Meiji era timber construction style. Opened in 1913, Yoshida-ryo (吉田寮) still exists nearly 100 years later despite decades of attempts by the school to raze it and replace it with a less scummy and earthquake-unsafe bland concrete box. A relic in both architectural and social terms, it exists today in a weird nebulous state somewhere between an official school dormitory and a giant squat-house.

When I took our friend, and current CNNGo editor, David Marx on a tour of the campus during his brief visit to Kyoto some time last year he demanded that I do a piece on Yoshida-ryō for him, and we finally got it done. For my 20 part photo gallery and a brief history of the dorm, check out my article at CNNGo.

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Why does Gyoza no Ohsho need to brainwash its employees?

Earlier this month, Nippon TV aired this segment about Kyoto-based ramen/Chinese food chain Gyoza no Ohsho’s somewhat, um, intense training program for new recruits. Take a look:

This is part 1. Watch parts 2 and 3 on Youtube.

As you can see in the video, the trainers act like drill sergeants, berating the new employees as they memorize and recite company rules, receive intensive training in Japanese-style customer service basics (scream a lot, always smile), and make sure their uniforms are on right. They even have a specially designed calisthenics routine, to “check whether they can do even simple work with their full effort.” At the end, each trainee must step forward to announce their “ambitions” i.e. what they hope to accomplish as Ohsho employees. If they pass, they all seem to break down crying, at which point the trainer comes up and embrace them.

The scene recalls either a Christian revival meeting, a self-help seminar, or perhaps a Marxist self-criticism session.

It’s kind of shocking to watch, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen this style of training on a Japanese documentary. About a year ago, NHK did a feature on the Tokyo University cheer squad where the senior members broke down the new recruits psychologically just like this.

Going viral

Since then, the segment has gone viral on the Japanese web, with the majority recoiling in horror. A minority (my estimate) took the stance that this sort of thing is normal in grown-up society, while others thought this might be the secret to the company’s recent success. (notably, one of the faces in the studio watching the segment was Miki Watanabe, CEO of Watami, an izakaya chain that’s been a similar success story to Ohsho. He said his company does not do that kind of training because that’s not Watami’s “corporate culture”)

One reason the video caught on may be because this is the time when many university students receive job offers after their year-long search for work post-graduation. Most big Japanese companies and many small ones hire groups of new college graduates all at once, with the intention of treating them as lifetime employees. Though Ohsho seems to hire many from the pool of non-college grads, the theme is no doubt resonant at this time.

It’s an enormously important time in a college student’s life, especially in the current bad job environment, because failure to land a decent job can doom one to a lifetime of “non-regular” employment with fewer pay/benefits and less security, or a full-time job at a “black” company with terrible labor practices.

The job market for students who did not finish a four-year university is even worse, but while beggars can’t be choosers, I am sure many would think twice about signing up with Ohsho after seeing this segment.

Ohsho’s response

Perhaps sensing some potential reputation damage, Ohsho has posted a response on its website. But instead of the usual corporate gobbledygook, someone put the time and thought behind an impassioned defense that starts with a challenging question – a career running a restaurant is not a popular choice among today’s youth, so why on earth would a restaurant chain choose to use such a strict training regime?

First and foremost, they explain, Ohsho’s mission is to open Chinese restaurants nationwide that can become deeply entrenched in the culture of each local area. To that end, they do things a little differently from most chains. As any regular Ohsho customer will know (Roy and I are fans), each store has a slightly different menu, and until a few years ago they even allowed some franchise owners to decorate the stores how they wanted.

So to fulfill that mission, they need employees and potential franchise owners that will hone their cooking skills, use their creativity, host events, and otherwise proactively promote their stores as local destinations. None of this is possible unless the employees “find satisfaction and their own reason for existence” in the job.

The thing is, today’s young people have grown up in an era of personal freedom, the letter says. They’ve never been scolded at school or at home. So the first thing Ohsho needs to teach new recruits is that to succeed at Ohsho, acting self-centered in the name of personal freedom just won’t be tolerated. In order to truly shine as an individual, first one must master the basic rules. The point of memorizing the company rules, they say, is to teach what it means to work as a member of society and the importance of rules, consideration, proper etiquette, and teamwork.

Essentially, they argue, Japanese young people today are missing three things: they don’t sweat, they don’t cry, and they don’t understand gratitude. The Ohsho training is intended to fix that, especially the last one. That’s why they do the boot camp.

Are you convinced?

(Hat-tip – J-Cast News)

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Trams in Japan

My long post the other day on the history of department stores in Kyoto naturally included a lot of discussion on the relationship between department stores and railways. In that I mentioned that:

The predecessor to the Hankyu Railway Company was Minou Arima Denki Kidou (箕面有馬電気軌道), or the Minou – Arima Electric Railway, and called Kiyu Densha (箕有電車). (kidou is a now rarely used word that translates to “permanent way” in English, referring to the physical infrastructure of railway tracks.)

In the comments section, Aaron corrected me by pointing out that the word 軌道 is not itself particularly rare, to which I responded. “I meant that particular usage of 軌道. Actually it’s still commonly used as railway jargon, but not among the general populace. My point is that the idea of seeing a railway actually using 軌道 in its name today would be anachronistic.”

Joe responded to this by pointing out that, in fact, there is a company with such a name in just the next prefecture, Osaka’s Hankai Tramway Co. Ltd., known in Japanese as 阪堺電気軌道.

Looking at Wikipedia’s list of Japan’s 20 or so surviving tram lines  (which thanks to Japan’s huge train otaku community, I think we can safely trust as comprehensive), there are actually three companies with this term kidou in their name. First is the aforementioned Hankai in Osaka, as well as the Nagasaki Electric Tramway (長崎電気軌道) and the Okayama Electric Tramway (岡山電気軌道). Very interestingly, Wikipedia claims that these two railway companies, founded in 1914 and 1910 respectively, are the only two (or at least two of the only, it is not entirely clear) Meiji-era railway companies in Japan to have never changed their name.

However, the Hankai Tramway is a different story. The current, old fashioned corporate name doesn’t even date from the age when it would have been a common name, with the company only having been founded in 1980 when it was spun off from the Nankai Electric Railway Co., which still owns 100% of the stock. The Hankai tramway itself dates back to 1897, and has gone through a dizzying number of acquisitions, sales, and name changes over the years. I won’t even begin to summarize it, but the important fact is that its name from 1910 to 1915, when it merged with 1915. In short, the current name is a relatively modern  (i.e. 1980) revival of a century old name, which I think can fairly be described as anachronistic.

Incidentally, Kyoto has two similar old fashioned tram lines remaining in use, which are currently two separate companies, were founded separately, but were at one point combined.  One, the Randen line going from Shijo-Omiya to Arashiyama was originally the 嵐山電車軌道 or Arashiyama Electric Railroad (founded 1910), but was acquired by Kyoto Electric in 1918. Kyoto Electric established the  Keifuku Electric Railroad Co. (京福電気鉄道) in 1942. (Randen, an abbreviation in Japanese of “Arashiyama Electric Railroad,” is still the name of the line itself, sometimes leading to minor confusion.)

While today, railway companies are most associated with department stores, early electric trains in Japan were often established by electric power companies, before electricity was such a universally available resource. Kyoto Electric (京都電燈) was founded in 1888 to provide coal power to Kyoto, and around 1892 began providing hydroelectric power from the Lake Biwa Canal.  As demand for electricity skyrocketed beyond the capacity of the Biwa Canal plant, Kyoto Electric shrunk, with Kansai Electric eventually taking over their power generation and transport operations. It went bankrupt in 1942, with Keifuku being established to continue the railway operations in its place.
The other old style line in Kyoto, the Eiden going to Kurama and Mt. Hiei, is called the Eizan Railroad (Eiden is an abbreviation of the Japanese, 叡山電鉄), but was previously  the Kurama Electric Railroad (鞍馬電気鉄道) , which had been established in 1927 to manage the railroad that had been started in 1925 by Kyoto Electric, and was later folded into Keifuku. Today it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the much larger Keihan Electric Railway, which acquired all of its shares in stages following its split from the Keifuku Electric Railroad Co. in 1985.

Incidentally, Keifuku Electric Railroad used to also run some trains in Fukui Prefecture, to which today’s Echizen Railway is a successor.

Update: One thing I didn’t specifically mention originally but meant to point out is that all three of the railway companies with kidoh in their name translate it as “Tramway” in English, while no other company or line (as far as I can tell) does so today. The standard word for “tram” itself is also 路面電車.

The Keifuku and Eiden are both trams, but Keifuku also still operates the, Eizan Cable line, which is technically a funicular, even though it is actually located in the territory of Eiden. Amusingly, the tiny cable line on the other side of Mt. Hiei, the Sakamoto Cable, is the only system operated by Hieizan Railway, which began in 1924 and today is, like the Eiden, a subsidiary of Keihan.

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The history of department stores in Kyoto, and Kyoto in the history of the department store

It was announced on January 28th that the downtown Kyoto location of the Hankyu department store will be closing in autumn. Sales at the store, which opened in 1971, had fallen to a pitiful 1/3 of peak volume, which was reached back in 1991 on the precipice of the bubble. I had originally begun writing a post on the circumstances leading to the closing, the reaction to it, and the possible impact on the area but a planned paragraph on the larger history got out of hand and I ended up with about 2000 words on the history of the department store in Japan in general. Therefore, I have decided to save the discussion of the current events aspect for another post and publish the history piece right now.

Kyoto’s Hankyu Kawaramachi in the 1970s

The store is located on the SE corner of the bustling Shijo – Kawaramachi intersection, just above the terminal of the Kyoto Line of Hankyu rail that links downtown Kyoto with Osaka’s downtown neighborhood of Umeda. (Trivia time: technically the Kyoto line terminates one stop before Umeda in Juso, with service between those two stations technically running over the quadruple track of the Takarazuka line, but this is an internal technicality and for all practical purposes the lines terminates at Shijo-Kawaramachi one one end, and Umeda on the other.) The presence of Hankyu department store above the Hankyu railway terminal is of course no coincidence, as the confluence of private regional railroads and departments stores is a distinctive and rather unique characteristic of the history of both industries in Japan, which had a profound impact on Japanese urban development in the 20th century. Although the Hankyu department store only opened in 1971 and the terminal beneath it had only opened in 1963, their Kyoto Line had linked Kyoto and Osaka for decades before that, with the section between Saiin (西院) Station and Omiya (大宮) Station (which had been the terminal before the Kawaramachi station opened, and had gone by the name of Kyoto Station) having been the first subway train in all of Kansai. (See timeline here.)

The intersection of Shijo and Kawaramachi street (四条河原町) is the heart of downtown Kyoto, which has long been anchored by large department stores – and in fact Kyoto is itself the birthplace of many of the dry-goods stores known as 呉服店 (gofukuten, roughly “traditional Japanese-style clothing stores” as opposed to 洋服店 (youfukuten) or “Western-style clothing stores”) that eventually evolved into the modern department store goliaths. Even department stores that originated in Edo or Tokyo (same city, different times) had strong ties to Kyoto, which was the center of the Japanese textiles and clothing industry until western style clothing took over as daily fashion in the 20th century.

Hankyu is not just one example of the peculiar symbiosis between Japanese railways and department stores, but its originator. Unlike all of the other department stores that I will be mentioning later, Hankyu was a train company first, only expanding into the retail business later on. The predecessor to the Hankyu Railway Company was Minou Arima Denki Kidou (箕面有馬電気軌道), or the Minou – Arima Electric Railway, and called Kiyu Densha (箕有電車). (kidou is a now rarely used word that translates to “permanent way” in English, referring to the physical infrastructure of railway tracks.) Starting in 1906, Kiyu Densha first ran trains between Umeda and Ikeda, Ikeda to Takarazuka to Arima, and to Minou. After some rapid expansion through both construction and acquisition, they changed their name to Hanshin Kyuukou Dentetsu (阪神急行電鉄) or Osaka – Kobe Express Railroad, in 1910. In 1943 they merged with Keihan Denki Kidou (Kyoto – Osaka Electric Railway, 京阪電気鉄道) and changed their name once again to Keihanshin Kyuukou Dentetsu, (京阪神急行電鉄), which meant the Kyoto – Osaka – Kobe Express Railway. In 1949 the union came to an end, with the Keihan unit being spun off once again into the present Keihan Electric Railroad, and finally became the Hankyu Corporation in 1973.

Hankyu Umeda Station, ca. back in the day

Hankyu’s entrance to the retail market was driven by the company’s founder Kobayashi Ichizo, which naturally has a page of hagiography to him on their corporate site. Although the Hankyu Department Store (阪急百貨店) proper opened in 1929, there were actually two significant stages before that. The first was in 1920, when the Tokyo based Shirokiya (白木屋) rented the first floor of the Hankyu Umeda Station building, sensing the obvious business opportunity of a store directly connected to a major railway terminal. Shirokiya was founded in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district in 1662, when it was still Edo, and became a modern corporation under the name of Shirokiya Gofukuten in 1919, just before opening their store in Umeda. Shirokiya Umeda sold food and other grocery store items, while Hankyu turned the second floor into a large affordable eatery called the “Hankyu Cafeteria” (阪急食堂). After Shirokiya’s lease ended in 1925 Hankyu booted them out and turned the 2nd and 3rd floor into the “Hankyu Market” (阪急マ-ケット), but it is unclear what exactly replaced Shirokiya. In 1929 this was finally developed into the Hankyu Department store, which is widely recognized as the pioneer of the “railway terminal department store” model that can now be seen throughout Japanese cities. In 1947 the Hankyu Department Store was established as a separate company from the Railway, but they remained under the same holding company, although the names have changed slightly yet again following the recent merger between the Hankyu and Hanshin (Osaka – Kobe) groups.  (See this Japanese language site for a great history of the Hankyu Umeda station, including many old photos and maps.)

The Hankyu Market

Significantly, Shirokiya would  later became the Tokyu Department Store, as Tokyo’s answer to the Hankyu model of retail and railway symbiosis, after being bought by the Tokyo Railway. Presumably this was related to their experience in developing the market in Umeda. Incidentally, although there is no mention that I can find anywhere on official looking pages, I did find a couple of references online mentioning that Shirokiya had originally been a well-known clothing wholesaler (呉服問屋) in Kyoto before establishing a retail store in Edo, a pattern that is seen repeated more reliably in another example below.

The old Shirokiya store.

Hankyu’s retail division was a latecomer to Kyoto, having only opened their store in 1971, but Takashimaya had already had their store on the southwest corner – directly across from Hankyu’s location on the southeast corner – since 1950. The company that would later become Takashimaya was in fact originally founded in Kyoto in 1831 and reorganized as a modern corporation under the name of Takashimaya Gofukuten in 1919, but in 1932 opened their first modern department store in Osaka and made that their corporate headquarters, which it remains to this day.

Just a couple of blocks to the west, along Shijo, one can also find the original Daimaru department store, which like Takashimaya was born in Kyoto, but later moved their headquarters to Osaka. Daimaru was founded in 1717 as the Gofukuten Daimonjiya (呉服店大文字屋), in Kyoto’s Fushimi ward, well south of the current downtown location. In addition to their primary business as a retail establishment they also had a currency exchange counter, which might surprise those who remember that Japan was virtually closed to foreign trade during this period. In fact, exchanged were not being made between foreign money and Japanese money,  but between the Japanese gold, silver, and bronze coins, for which a 1-2% service charge was exacted. Daimonjiya (presumably named for Kyoto’s famous landmark / festival) expanded early, to Osaka’s Shinsaibashi in 1726 and Nagoya’s Honmachi in 1728 (later closed), which is when they changed the name to Daimaru. After reorganizing as a modern corporation under the name of Daimaru Gofukuten in 1908, they opened their first modern department store at the current location in Kyoto in 1912. Although this is the location of their first actual department store, the Shinsaibashi site on which they opened in 1726 is their current flagship store, which is doing well enough to have opened a new annex building directly across the street from the original building just last year.

Mitsukoshi Gofukuten (From this neat blog on Meiji era Japan.)

Next I would like to mention Mitsukoshi, even though it was not exactly founded in Kyoto and does not currently even have any locations in the city. It is well known that the future Mitsukoshi department store was founded by Mitsui Takatoshi as the Echigoya Gofukuten (越後屋) in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1673, and was the first semi-modern retail clothing store, leading the way for those mentioned above. Like Daimaru, they also had a currency exchange window, which developed into the Mitsui Bank and later formed the basis for the Mitsui Zaibatsu / Group. (Incidentally, the Kyoto Hankyu building is actually owned by Mitsui Sumitomo Real Estate, and leased to Hankyu.) Less well known is the fact that Mitsui was at the same time operating a location in Kyoto, but rather than a retail store like the company in Edo was a purchaser/wholesaler (仕入店), and this Kyoto office was apparently considered the headquarters in the early days of the company. It was first located in the Nishijin (西陣) district, which at that time was the center of Japan’s textiles industry on Muromachi Street in Yakushi-cho (室町通薬師町), but it soon moved to the south, and became the first Echigoya retail store in Kyoto. Although Mitsui later sold most of the land after the store closed, they kept a small portion at the corner of Nijo and Muromachi, which is now a memorial park to the old Kyoto store, which appropriately contains a shrine to Inari, the Shinto fox god of wealth. (See Google map below for location, and photos plus more info in Japanese here.) Although I couldn’t find any reference to it online, I believe I have also seen a photograph of an ornate Meiji era style Mitsukoshi store labeled as having been at the very same Shijo-Kawaramachi corner as Hankyu and Takashimaya, on the northeast corner. I think the photo was from the 1920s or 1930s, and that it said the store burned down, without being rebuilt.

<iframe width=”500″ height=”350″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”http://maps.google.co.jp/maps?f=q&amp;source=embed&amp;hl=ja&amp;geocode=&amp;q=%E5%AE%A4%E7%94%BA%E9%80%9A+%E5%86%B7%E6%B3%89%E7%94%BA&amp;sll=34.999875,135.720345&amp;sspn=0.007145,0.006888&amp;brcurrent=3,0x6001088730deeea1:0xbb15bb050546e710,0&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;hq=%E5%86%B7%E6%B3%89%E7%94%BA&amp;hnear=%E5%AE%A4%E7%94%BA%E9%80%9A&amp;ll=35.009626,135.751302&amp;spn=0.013302,0.036659&amp;t=h&amp;layer=c&amp;cbll=35.013631,135.75806&amp;panoid=c7c7YpzPnKihu9JVZ1qOeQ&amp;cbp=12,332.33,,0,16.54&amp;output=svembed”></iframe><br /><small><a href=”http://maps.google.co.jp/maps?f=q&amp;source=embed&amp;hl=ja&amp;geocode=&amp;q=%E5%AE%A4%E7%94%BA%E9%80%9A+%E5%86%B7%E6%B3%89%E7%94%BA&amp;sll=34.999875,135.720345&amp;sspn=0.007145,0.006888&amp;brcurrent=3,0x6001088730deeea1:0xbb15bb050546e710,0&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;hq=%E5%86%B7%E6%B3%89%E7%94%BA&amp;hnear=%E5%AE%A4%E7%94%BA%E9%80%9A&amp;ll=35.009626,135.751302&amp;spn=0.013302,0.036659&amp;t=h&amp;layer=c&amp;cbll=35.013631,135.75806&amp;panoid=c7c7YpzPnKihu9JVZ1qOeQ&amp;cbp=12,332.33,,0,16.54″ style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>Click for large map.</a></small>

The last traditional department store that deserves mentioning is the one with the least history in the city, despite being one of the most visible today. I speak of course of JR-West Isetan, located in tower of the Kyoto Station building. WEST JAPAN RAILWAY ISETAN Ltd., as the company is properly called, is 60% owned by JR West and 40% owned by Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., but was founded in 1990 before the Isetan / Mitsukoshi merger, and so was originally a joint venture of JR West and Isetan. Remember that since privatization JR West is no longer government owned, but publicly traded on various stock markets. Isetan was itself founded Tokyo in 1886 as yet another gofukuten, and like the rest of the big ones evolved into a modern department store in 1930 when they opened their flagship store in Shinjuku. Isetan never had a store in Kyoto until September 11 1997, when the JR West Isetan department store opened along with the brand new Kyoto Station building itself, which had been newly erected to replace the bland concrete building that had been constructed as a temporary station to replace the classic style station building that had been lost to fire in 1950. For whatever reason, JR West did not partner with a department store chain that already had ties to Kyoto (maybe they tried and failed, I really have no idea), but regardless, the idea that a full size department store was an essential anchor to a new, modern  station building reinforces the long union between railways and department stores in 20th century Japan, started at Hankyu Umeda 70-odd years earlier.

呉服問屋
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Union Extasy court decision tomorrow

Back in March, while I was traveling, Adam wrote a post about Union Extasy, a two-man union of former workers at Kyoto University who decided to protest the limited term contract system after it forced them out of their staff jobs. While their most visible form of protest was the construction of a tent squat underneath the landmark camphor tree in front of the famous Kyoto University clock tower (a location which is the basis for the university’s logo and the preferred location for graduation photos and the like), they also engaged in the more traditional labor complaint route of filing a formal grievance, conducting formal union/management negotiations (団交), and eventually filing a lawsuit alleging the illegality of the mandatory limited-term contract system.

While the Union Extasy squat was inspired by the “temp worker village” set up in Tokyo’s Hibiya park during the 2008-2009 new years season, unlike that particular stunt it never actually ended. Although they had originally expected it to only last for a couple of weeks before shaming university management into doing something, when they realized that things were going to take a long, long time to resolve, instead of taking down the tent they instead expanded it, adding a public area with seating that was labeled the “Kubi Kubi Cafe.”Kubi is the Japanese word for the head or neck, and has also become a synonym for “firing” or “sacking”, as beheading is the Japanese metaphor of choice for such a practice.

The university was naturally displeased with the ongoing protest, particularly in such a prominent and symbolic location, and filed a lawsuit in May or so (the date escapes me at the moment) against Union Extasy, ordering them to vacate the premises. Why exactly they had or chose to actually file a lawsuit escapes me since I would have assumed that they could just ask the police to remove trespassers without any special legal maneuvering, but I presume there is some legal reason that they took such a course of action. Aside from the existence of the lawsuit itself, there were two things that struck me as rather odd about it. First, that the lawsuit was not filed against the two men (Ogawa and Inoue) but against the Union Extasy organization itself. The second odd point, and this one if very odd, is that they were not seeking an order for the union to vacate the campus completely, but only a specified zone including the area immediately in front of the clock tower. The university was actually so cautious about acting without a court order that they did not even disconnect the power cable siphoning electricity from the clock tower building (which kept the lights and vintage iMac running at night, network connectivity naturally courtesy of the campus Wifi). Inoue let me flip through a folder of documents that had been filed in the case, and sure enough there was a map of the campus with a rectangle drawn around the very specific area. Amusingly, among the supporting evidence was a land assayer’s appraisal of the land value of the entire campus, as if the market value of the national university’s grounds-which I expect is legally impossible to sell in any event-was somehow relevant to the matter at hand.

After receiving a court order to vacate the area, they complied with it-by moving about 10 meters over to another patch of lawn, just far enough away from the camphor tree and clock tower so as to allow an unobstructed view of the landmarks.

I have spent little time speaking with the involved parties since before I went home for the summer and had not been following the progress of their protests or court case, except of course to notice that the protest squat had never ended, but I just got word that the initial verdict of their lawsuit is due out tomorrow, presumably with a party to follow. I will be there tomorrow afternoon after lunch to see how things turn out and will report on it after, but in preparation, here is a gallery of photos I’ve taken at the Kubikubi Cafe.

Continue reading Union Extasy court decision tomorrow

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Halal food in Kyoto University is news?

The Japan Times posted the following small item from Kyodo News:

Kyoto University will start providing food permissible under Islamic law at the school’s cafeteria to meet the needs of the increasing number of Muslim students on campus.

The cafeteria will introduce a halal food corner from Tuesday, avoiding pork and seasonings of pork origin, which Muslims are banned from eating. The new menus include chicken and croquettes made of broad beans, it said.

More than 1,000 Muslims live in the city of Kyoto, and many are Kyoto University students and their families.

The rare introduction is aimed at supporting such Muslim students, whose population is expected to rise under the university’s plans to accept more foreign students.

While the co-op said it had problems in arranging a cooking environment to avoid mixing pork and related seasonings with halal food, it solved the issue by preparing the food at different hours.

The odd thing is that they have actually been serving dishes labeled as Halal in the main cafeteria (中央食堂) since, at the very least, when I arrived in April of last year. I’m rather puzzled at why something that they have been doing for some time would be reported as news.

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Daimonji

Last night was the Gozan Okuribi (五山送り火) in Kyoto, the culmination of the O-bon Japanese festival of the dead, in which giant symbols of fire are ignited on the mountains surrounding the city to help spirits find their way. Watching the fire ignite at 8pm (as with many festivals in Japan, often while drinking) is an ancient tradition in Kyoto, with modern hotels even holding special events on their upper floors. While I was feeling too lazy to actually go out and find a spot where I could see multiple daimonji, as the giant characters are called, go up in flames, the dai character on the east mountains is visible from my house, so I tried to get some photos of it.

All photos taken with Canon 50D. The first photo used the Canon 50mm/1.8f lens and the others used the Canon 100-300 4.5-5.6, a poor quality but extremely cheap telephoto lens. The photos could have been better, and I was reminded that I should pick up a tripod some time for such situations, but the low light capabilities of my new camera continue to impress, and there were a few respectable shots. In the fourth one, notice that you can actually see people hanging around the bonfires.

50 1.8F lens @ 3200ISO, 2.5f, 1/60 sec

100-300mm lens @ 3200ISO, 110mm, f4.5, 1/25 sec

100-300mm lens @ 1600ISO, 300mm, f5.6, 1/13 sec

100-300mm lens @ 3200ISO, 300mm, f5.6, 1/100 sec

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