Crappy Japanese Textbook Sparks Protests in Korea, China

Well, it’s happened again. From the BBC report:

Japan has approved a set of new school history text books whose version of past events has already sparked complaints from South Korea and China.

One of the eight texts is an updated version of a book which triggered diplomatic protests in 2001.

Seoul said the new books sought to glorify Japan’s war-time past, a continuing source of regional tension.

It goes on for a while about the problems in the new book, the protests, the history of Japanese Imperialism and so on, but what is to me the most important fact is buried towards the end of the article.

This book is currently in use in fewer than 0.1% of Japan’s schools, but this time the authors are hoping for a better response.

Why is the adoption rate of this textbook so low? I think the answer is clear-few teachers are interested in giving their students a piece of shit biased textbook that overlooks such major historical facts! The protestors would have a valid position if this was a government issued textbook, but they are blatantly misunderstanding the situation.

In Japan textbooks are not written by the government. In the case of this history book, the author is a minor right-wing group named The Society For the Creation of New Textbooks,
which is no more catchy in Japanese. The job of the Ministry of Education in Japan is not to choose the textbooks that schools use, but to check the content that they do have for factual accuracy, not to mandate exactly what they teach. This is a marked contrast to the situation in all of the protesting countries, where primary school textbooks are created and issued by the government. [Update: Nora Park tells me that textbooks in South Korea are actually written by private companies following government guidelines.] The Japanese Ministery of Education in fact approves a number of textbooks, from which public schools are free to choose.

But this raises the question of why? Why do they have this semi-controlled market, instead of either opening up the market completely or just mandating textbooks? I can’t answer that, but I do think that they should reconsider the practice. Clearly their vetting process does nothing to keep utterly worthless textbooks off the market, and contributes to one of Japan’s worst ongoing diplomatic crises in years. If the book in question was simply on the market, instead of sort of govermnent approved would this even raise eyebrows in Beijing or Seoul?

Oh, and does anyone else find it interesting that there have been no protests in Japan’s other major former colony, Taiwan? Could their feelings for Japan actually be that much friendlier?

For some more, hopefully not too biased, information on the Nanjing Massacre itself, see as always the Wikipedia article.

Japanese Towns Can’t Keep off the Dole

Just a quick link, quote, and commentary shot straight from my hip for a story:

1 DAY BONUS: Over 40 localities to delay mergers

The Asahi Shimbun

The delay gains merging municipalities an extra year of benefits.

Localities poised to merge in a central government plan to reduce costs are learning that sometimes it pays to be late.

Of the 44 municipalities that are set to merge nationwide by April 1, more than 90 percent, or 41, will postpone the move to qualify for one more year of extra funds, an Asahi Shimbun study shows.

In fact, 24 of the cities and towns delaying their mergers are pushing the date back only one day to gain the bonus. By delaying, the 41 municipalities will receive between a few hundred million yen and nearly 3 billion yen more in tax allocations, the study said.

This merger is the “Great Heisei Merger” which follows the “Great Showa Merger” and the “Great Meiji Merger”. In the Meiji period, the tens of thousands of feudal hamlets that had existed in the Bakufu period were reorganized into more modern style towns and cities when the Meiji Constitution came into effect in 1888. In Showa, there was further reorganization. There is a great World Bank paper on the topic that I completely missed out on when I wrote a paper about this for class. Doh!

Basically, the Showa merger in the 1950s switched from the more hands-off, autonomous style of the Meiji/Taisho/early Showa eras to a mostly centralized funding system. Basically the towns send all their money to Tokyo and then get it doled back to them. It was seen as more efficient since all policy was being made from Tokyo anyway. This new round of mergers reflects more the changing demographics of Japan than a planned economy. Many towns are simply running out of people, so merging would give people more access to public services etc.

Koizumi wants to go back to the more hands-off approach, allowing the Prefectures and towns to have more tax collecting power. The Keidanren wants him to go a step further and eliminate prefectures altogether, making a 9-member United States of Japan (called doushuusei), but this is maybe a first step.

Funny, then, that he’s using funding incentives to get the mergers going. Local governments who have been nurtured with central government welfare aren’t going to change so easily. They’ll be happy to wait an extra day to get a bigger check.

Anti Semetic Bobby Fischer to Find a New Home in Iceland?

By now many of you have probably heard that Bobby Fischer has been granted citizenship by the government of Iceland and should be well on his way there. This was accomplished through a special act of the Icelandic parliament, sponsored by a Mr. Saemundur Palsson, who have the following comment to the press, “I hope that he will stop cursing the Americans now. It has gotten him into so much trouble.” Unfortunately, Mr. Fischer was not quite so sensible. The NYT quotes him as saying, “This was not an arrest, it was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and Koizumi. They are war criminals – they should both be hung.”

Bobby Fischer is of course the former world chess champion, on the run from US authorities for playing a chess match in a country which no longer exists in violation of economic sanctions. Despite actually being Jewish, he became a rabid anti-Semite and after years of hiding resurfaced as a caller to radio programs in Iceland and the Phillipines ranting about how fantastic it was that the World Trade Center had been destroyed and calling for the extermination of the Jew-infested US Empire (his sentiment of course, not mine).

More information on Bobby Fischer, as well as links to recordings of some of his insane radio interviews can be found here.

Considering how his bizarre anti-Semitism, I was curious how this attitude might fit into the general perception of Jews in Iceland, and after a little research found this article, which is very likely the best word on the topic on the entire Internet. I would like to quote from the conclusion:

However, one cannot say that Iceland was a case of “antisemitism without Jews”. Iceland’s antisemitism first appeared concerning the Bolshevik connection, but only in small measures. It was not until the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Germany that Icelandic antisemitism became transparent. The anti-communism elements in Iceland, most notably the newspapers Morgunblaðið and Vísir, showed considerable antisemitism, especially when the persecutions in Germany became more visible. After the Kristallnacht the existing support for Germany decreased, and vanished almost completely after the Russo-German pact of 1939. Consequently, criticism of the German antisemitism inflated and antisemitic remarks receded.
Iceland’s Jewish policy was in most ways similar to these of other Nordic countries. However, what differed was Hermann Jónasson’s lack of flexibility while, on the other hand, other Nordic governments allowed proportionally more Jewish immigration on humanitarian grounds. On the total, it seems that Iceland took much less part in the rescue of German Jewry than most, if not all, European countries, contrary to Jónasson’s statement of the opposite. Although the general Icelander was usually friendly and compassionate towards the Jewish refugees, the Government showed a totally different attitude.

Anyone interested should read the entire paper.

Historical Value of the Yen

Before I go, I just wanted to post an excerpt of an email I got from Saru the other day.

* * * * *

With regard to your question about the historic value of the yen. It
was set at 360 to the dollar during the occupation. There is a story
that attributes the choosing of this value because “yen” means round
and someone thought it would be appropriate since there are 360
degrees in a circle. At any rate, this may be apocryphical.

It stayed at 360 until August 1970, when Nixon pulled the US off of
the gold standard, effectively ending the Bretton Woods System. The
Japanese call this “nixon shock.” By this point, because the Japanese
were running substantial current account surpluses, the yen was
considerably undervalued. The Japanese government tried to keep it at
Bretton Woods levels, but eventually gave up and let it float. Since
it was undervalued, it rose pretty quickly from about 360 at the start
of 1971 to stabilize around the 300 mark until the mid-1970s. It hit a
high of 183 in the late 1970s and then fell again back to the mid-200s
by 1980. Then it skyrocketed in the mid-90s. You can check out the
detailed numbers yourself at the address below if you’re interested.
The Bank of Japan used to have great stats, but I checked today and
for some reason they only have effective exchange rates indexed at 100 for March 1973.

Yen/Dollar exchange rates history.

Incidentially, when my boss first went to Japan back in 1971, he said
it was his first real lesson in economics because the yen just kept
getting more expensive and more expensive. On a similar note, 94-95
would have been a great time to have been teaching English and getting
paid in yen. Jesus I wish I were six or seven years older sometimes!

Prehistoric Chinese Sex

Xeni of Boingboing brings attention to this post about prehistoric Chinese sex toys on the excellent Danwei blog.

Probably the best place that anyone could go to really learn about this topic is the Chinese Sex Culture Museum which I visited when I was in Shanghai in 2003.

Looking up the museum on Google, I am surprised to see that it is being forced out of Shanghai, for the city of Tongli in neighboring Jiangxu province. According to this China Daily article, 70% of the museum’s visitors were foreigners, I would assume mostly people who found it through the ubiquitous Lonely Planet guide, as I had.

The museum’s curator and owner Mr Liu Dalin was interviewed about the move by MSNBC:

after years of struggling to keep his private museum afloat, Liu is packing up his collection of 3,700 erotic toys, icons and other sex paraphernalia and moving to the countryside.

Liu, a retired Shanghai University professor and noted sociologist, says he was done in by a lack of official support.

“Over the past 15 years we have had more than 100,000 visitors. None of them said it was bad. Not one. They all felt it was very respectful, and to be admired,” Liu said.

“But some bureaucrats fear that the topic of sex is dangerous,” he said in an interview at his museum, in a nondescript office building far from popular tourism and shopping routes.

I would agree. It was actually a very good museum, and a serious exploration of sex in ancient Chinese culture. Certainly the topic can turn into a bit of a freakshow, with large collections of items like prehistoric stone dildos, special beds used by Ming era prostitutes, erotic scroll paintings from centuries ago, foot-binding tools, and so on, but it was all presented in historical context, not as pornography.

This People’s Daily report includes some more information on the museum’s move. Luckily, it seems that where the Shanghai city government forced him to open in a very out of the way area and censored the museum’s advertising, his new location will be very good for the museum.

“I’ve wasted too much energy and time on the rental fees.” His sex museum will move to the canal town’s Lize Girl’s School, about 80 kilometers from Shanghai, and the Tongli government will cover the renovation fee of 2 million yuan. Admission will be 10 yuan to 15 yuan, about half of the current price, according to Liu. The profits will be shared by the professor and the Tongli government. The sex museum, much like conceiving a child, is largely due to fate.

Here is the front gate of the museum’s former location in Shanghai. They asked not to take photos inside and I didn’t buy any merchandise in the gift shop (yes, they had some old stone dildos for sale-, probably not recommended for use) so I can’t show what the displays were like.

The General Theory of Nostalgia

Nostalgia has been a recent theme of several sites I frequent.

First up is the puzzling surge in Soviet nostalgia among the former Socialist bloc. He and MF witnessed it firsthand in Kazakhstan. Why on earth would people wish for the days of Stalin, when, for example, millions of political dissidents were killed and fear reigned the day? Curzon posits that “many feel they have lost their national pride, and they want it back.”

Now, what is meant by nostalgia? Curzon talks of nostalgia on a national level: a combination of the older population feeling nostalgia individually for things Soviet, and the youth who yearn for what their grandparents told them of their nation’s history.

Then we have Dr. David Thorpe, reknowned music snob, feeling nostalgia about bad music from a few years ago that we think is good. He gives an insightful explanation as to why we look at songs like “November Rain” differently from when they were played 20 times a day on the radio:

Those of us who bear the burden of an unhealthy obsession with pop culture are often stereotyped as being unreasonably nostalgic. I’m not sure I buy that. Those of us with more discriminating tastes know that the pop music of the past isn’t really better than the pop music of today, but the appeal of shitty songs from the past is no less mesmerizing. Nostalgia isn’t the right word; I don’t yearn for the days when Whitney Houston battled Eric Clapton for the year’s biggest tearjerker. I don’t fondly remember turning on MTV and seeing the “Unbreak My Heart” video three times in a row. Regardless of this, cultivating an appreciation for pop music I once hated is a vital part of my education as a music snob. Sure, I may spend my days studiously furrowing my brow at high-minded avant-garde music that plebeians like you could never properly appreciate, but that doesn’t mean I won’t throw on a Color Me Badd record once in a while. Continue reading The General Theory of Nostalgia

From Abeno Seimei and Onmyodo

The Yomiuri newspaper has a short article on an interesting religious ceremony conducted at the ancient Kamigamo Shinto shrine in Kyoto. I’ve translated it below and due to the obscurity of the material included some additional notes.

From Abeno Seimei and Onmyodo

At the Kurabeuma horse race which has been conducted at the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto for 910 years, the Norijiri(riders) conduct certain rituals before the race. The ceremonies of self-harai(ritual Shinto purification) by onymyokuji(yin-yang divination by lots) and harai by onmyo-daiyuudai (some kind of obscure onmyodo ceremony) are known as the norikiji houhei [houhei are the hemp rope and folded paper decorations seen at Shinto shrines). In the houhei ceremony the norijiri waves the houhei and offers a prayer to the kami (gods) by taking a special step. Reseachers on religious ceremony have concluded that these rituals include rites that can be traced back to onmyodo harai..

For those who can read Japanese, more information on the Kurabeuma is avaliable here.

Onmyodo: Literally ‘the way of yin and yang.’ An ancient form of Japanese magical practice, combining imported Taoist philosophy and practices (such as ying and yang and the 5 elements) with native Japanese Shinto beliefs and rituals. Practicioners of onmyodo were known as Onmyoji.

Abeno Seimei: The most famous of all Onmyoji. There is a popular novel and manga series by the author Baku Yumemakura, which has not been translated into English. There is however a film version and sequel, which you can get as a package here. The budget may not approach Lord of the Rings, but they are recommended for anyone who wants to see what Heian era Japan actually looked like.

Kami-gamo Shrine: One of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, it actually existed long before the city was built. Named after the Kamo clan that ruled the area before the Imperial family moved the capital, Kami-gamo (upper Kamo) and Shimo-gamo (lower Kamo) shrines are a pair. The Kamo river which flows past downtown Kyoto also takes its name from this source. In Heian times, the Abe and Kamo family’s were the two preeminent onmyoji families.

A Quieter Coming of Age Day This Year

A girl coming of age.
Remember last year when there were all those reports of kids raising hell as if they came straight out of Battle Royale? Well this year there were some problems as well, but not nearly as bad as last year. Here are some highlights from this year’s festivities:

Stage dancer disrupts Aomori Coming of Age festival

A Coming of Age Day ceremony in Aomori was disrupted on Sunday after one of the participants jumped on the stage where the event was being held and starting dancing, officials said.

Officials at the ceremony in Aomori yanked the man off the stage, but about 10 of his friends continued to disrupt proceedings while a band was playing, throwing wastepaper at the stage.

In a separate Coming of Age Day incident in Naha, a man celebrating the day was arrested after he attacked a police officer who had taken custody of a drunk man, suddenly kicking the officer in the backside.

The man, who had been drinking with friends after a ceremony in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, was arrested at about 1 a.m. on Monday, for obstruction of official duties.

Personally, I was in Japan on that day and got to see some girls looking good in their kimono. I used to think it was an odd “old vs. new” juxtaposition to see the girls dressed in kimono while using their purikura-decked cell phones, but considering that it’s not that old of a tradition (made official in 1948) I don’t see any reason it should seem weird. The same goes for Buddhist monks riding motorcycles (something else I saw in Japan that gave me that “old meets new” feeling of irony).

B eijing, The Summer Palace

Here is what Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China (as seen in the film by Bernardo Bertelucci), says about the Summer Palace in his autobiography.

When he was made responsible for the founding of a navy my grandfather misappropriated a large part of the funds to build the Summer Palace as a pleasure park for the Empress Dowager. The busiest stage in the building of the Summer Palace coincided with exceptionally heavy floods around Peking and in what is now Hopei Province, but a censor [a kind of eunuch advisor] who suggested that the work should be temporarily suspended to avoid provoking the flood victims into making trouble was stripped of his office and handed over to the appropriate authorities to be dealt with. Prince Chun, however, said nothing and worked his hardest to get the job finished. When the Summer Palace was completed in 1980 he died. Four years later the so-called navy he had created came to a disastrous end in the Sino-Japanese War, and the marble boat in the Summer Palace was the only one left on which so many millions of taels (ounces of silver) had been spent.

March 7 2004

We did eventually make it to the Summer Palace.

Unfortunately, due to being lost we arrived quite late and didn’t have enough time to get inside any of the museum buildings. Still, there were some excellent pieces outside within the grounds.

The sun sets, the palace grounds close.

An Aging Island Embraces Japan’s Young Dropouts

HATOMA ISLAND, Japan – For the children new to this tiny subtropical island, population 58, it was the magical time of the day – after the school bell had set them free and before sunset would summon them to their foster parents’ homes

Strangely, this map from the New York Times article shows Hatoma Island as being in the Ryukyu Islands, which is the older and now less common name for Okinawa. The article itself also never mentions Okinawa.

As in many Japanese villages, its school was the center of community life here. Without a school, without children, the island risked becoming populated only with increasingly fragile elderly people incapable of fighting off the trees and bush that, as in other hot places, threatened to swallow up roads and houses.

“If there are no children,” said Isamu Kajiku, 50, one of a handful of older men sitting under the shade of a tree, “the island is not alive.”

So nowadays, several aging islanders act as foster parents to children who have experienced troubled homes or playground bullying or who simply did not fit inside Japan’s regimented schools. With 10 students and 9 teachers living with the 39 locals, the school and island sustain each other.

I know almost nothing about Okinawa and had never heard of this tiny Hatoma Island before so of course I tried a search on Google. Here is a picture of the school mentioned in the article.

Here is the travel log of a girl named Akiko, who’s family name curiously seems to be Hatoma, the same as that of this island. She says that you could walk all around it in perhaps an hour, and of course like the islands of Okinawa are famous for is full of fabulous beaches. She went to this school in question and tells us that there were 3 elementary and 8 middle school students. The schoolhouse has one floor, and she is impressed by how every room of it has an ocean view. She says it has a ‘warm atmosphere.’

Here we have another travel diary. The first entry is an account of how the tiny community of Hatoma Island is supported by daily (except sunday) trips by the mail boat (Fusakiya-Maru, which Maru being a traditional boat-name suffix) from the larger Iriomote Island to the south.
Here’s a translation towards the end.

“The bulk of the post is for Hatoma Elementary/Middle School. Now there are eight students in the middle school and three in the elementary school, but in 1974 the middle school had reached zero students and was threatened with closing. At that time Mr. Tsuuji [I’m not quite sure if I’m reading this name correctly.] became the center of the foster parent movement and devised a plan to receive children from the mainland. The result was that in 1984 there were three students and after 10 years the middle school was reopened. “This island doesn’t lack a post office, and it doesn’t lack a school. The children are this island’s treasure,” says Mr. Tsuuji as he narrowed his eyes”