During the spat between China and Japan this week, China made headlines by temporarily cutting off the supply of rare earth metals to Japan, which were necessary for much of Japan’s high-end industrial production. The ban was reportedly repealed later in the week.
More interesting, and unfortunately much less widely reported: in the middle of all this, a publicly-funded Japanese research institute suddenly announced a cheaper alternative to rare-earth motors for hybrid vehicles, which would allow production to continue even if China kept the ban in place.
I want to say that this was a little victory for Japan, but now it’s pretty unsubstantial. So I would call it more of a warning to China: as any country gets more aggressive about screwing over foreign companies through economic restrictions for self-serving reasons, foreign companies will find ways to avoid that country. This is more true in the 21st century than it has ever been. Another good example of this, coincidentally in the same industry, is the recent Chinese rule requiring electric vehicles to be built in foreign-domestic joint ventures. Nissan bit the bullet and moved forward, but Peugeot decided to stand its ground and threatened to move production out of China.
Starting toward the end of September, a group of 27 Karen refugees will resettle in Japan.
The refugees currently live in Thailand, part of more than 100,000 Karen people living in refugee camps in Thailand, along with thousands more living among the Thailand general population. The Karen are natives of Burma, where their people have been waging guerrilla warfare against the central government since the end of World War II. In response, the Burmese army has waged a campaign of torching villages and terrorizing people to try and weaken support for the insurgency. Talk about a Long War.
Twenty-seven refugees from five families–all members of minority Karen tribe–will be relocated from the camp to Japan in late September. They will be the first group to arrive under a “third-country” resettlement program adopted by Japan, which has long been criticized as closed to refugees.
The program is designed to help refugees in camps outside their home countries.
“We have no worries as long as we stay here,” [one of the 27] said in Karen, as he sat on his knees. “But I want to see our lives improve. I want my children to have goals and dreams. I will go to Japan to live a new life.”
He said he wanted to farm in Japan. “I believe I will manage if I make the effort.”
Since late July, those accepted under the resettlement program have been taking one-month training courses from the International Organization for Migration, which was commissioned by the Japanese government.
Initially, 32 members of six families were accepted, but a family of five decided not to move because of Japan’s high prices.
A 36-year-old man in a family of seven did not hide his anxieties about living in Japan.
“Away from Myanmar, without knowing the language, how can I possibly find a job soon?” he said. “But there is no future in this camp. I will do my best trying to become a naturalized citizen.”
An 8-year-old girl has also set goals for her life in a new country.
“I want to go to school and make many friends. I want to get in a car, too,” she said.
Japan plans to accept about 90 refugees from Myanmar in three years from this fiscal year.
Best of luck to them. The government apparently plans to train them in Tokyo for a while before finding a suitable place for them. In any case, relocation of refugees is tough. The children will probably have the easiest time assimilating. In Bangkok, Mrs. Adamu used to work with Burmese refugees, including several Karen. They often had only just arrived in Bangkok, and because it was their first big city, a lot surprised them. They’d get scared on elevators, throw up in taxis, never been bowling or seen a movie in a theater before. These folks are in for some serious culture shock, especially the adults. The first winter will probably be a little scary.
Little boy learning Japanese writing, courtesy Yahoo News
This move by the Japanese government comes after years of pressure from the US, the EU and other nations that participate in refugee relocation programs. Japan accepts a fraction of applications for refugee status made on Japanese soil, but it has previously not taken part in third-party settlement programs. In contrast, the US receives tens of thousands of refugees every year resettling for various reasons, recently in the aftermath of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent years, upward of 80% of Japan’s refugee applications have been filed by people from Burma because of stepped-up pressure by the junta and pressure on overflowing refugee camps. There are an estimated 10,000 or so Burmese living in Japan, with a particular concentration in the Takadanobaba area of Tokyo (notable for delicious and authentic Burmese restaurants). Near the industrial complexes in greater Kanto, Burmese workers can be found work
The Vietnamese experience in Japan has been mixed. English Wikipedia actually has a fairly detailed article on this, noting that while many of the original refugees had trouble integrating, many of the 2nd generation are completely assimilating, taking Japanese names and perhaps not even mentioning their non-Japanese heritage to people they meet on a daily basis. With their distinctly Southeast Asian features, the Karen may not have that option.
It’s unclear at this point where the new arrivals will live or how exactly they will be taken care of (unclear to me at least; I am sure MOFA has plans), but generally they can be expected to receive some form of government assistance for the foreseeable future. They will also benefit from being first, which will bring extra attention and a greater commitment to get things right. But eventually they and their children will have to form some connection and relationship with Japanese society, along with the hundreds if not thousands more who will follow. Much like the test groups of Indonesian and Filipina nurses, these refugees will be yet another test case for Japan’s immigrant experience.
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)
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:
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.
Give a military demonstration in Japan to be followed by renewed opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon is employed.
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.
Withhold military use of the weapons, but make public experimental demonstration of their effectiveness.
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.
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.
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.
One of the more entertaining characters I’ve run across in my studies of Taiwan is has been George Psalmanazar, one of the famous hoaxers of all time. Born around 1680, nothing factual is known about his early life, even his country place of birth, although he later claimed it to be somewhere in southern France, which was allegedly corroborated as likely by those who had heard his French dialect, while doubted by those who were familiar with his ability to impersonate such dialects.
Regardless of where he spent his early years, upon completion of his education Psalmanazar began traveling around Europe, attempting to scam his way to Rome by impersonating an Irish pilgrim. Upon realizing that Ireland was neither exotic enough to elicit much interest from potential marks nor far enough to be entirely unfamiliar, he began instead impersonating a rare pilgrim from the distant land of Japan, and later to the even more exotic and lesser-known island of Formosa, which we now usually call Taiwan.
His wild tales of alien customs and bizarre foreign lands were popular, and after a detour through Rotterdam he arrived in London in 1703, where he became a minor celebrity. Banking on his fame, in 1704 he published a book entitledAn Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan. “Originally written in Latin by Psalmanazar, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa was translated into English and quickly went through two editions. A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfort in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar’s fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity.”
This book provided a detailed description of the island of Formosa, including its history, geography, flora and fauna, religious customs, language, and so on. And virtually every single word of it was completely fictional. Psalamanazar knew all of this, he claimed, because he was himself a native of Formosa. Having been named after the great Formosan “Prophet Psalmanaazaar, who delivered the Law to the Formosans” as well as their writing, Psalamanazar was bringing knowledge of his exotic homeland to the credulous and curious people’s of Europe. In fact, not only had he never been to Formosa, or Asia at all, he knew nothing about it.
Although there were a handful of Jesuits who had been to the real Formosa, their denial of Psalamanazar’s fantastic claims were largely ignored due to the anti-Catholicism prevalent in England at that time. While it might seem absurd to us today that people would have believed such outlandish tales, consider how unreliable information on foreign lands was in the days before the photograph, the telegraph, and even regular long-distance trade to many regions. We may find it unbelievable that the English believed that a man with Western European features similar to their own could have been a native of the East Asian land of Formosa, but how many Londoners would have ever seen an Asian face themselves?
He not only created fanciful, entirely invented, accounts of Formosa all the while portraying himself as a native of that exotic island, but also invented a Formosan language, in what must have been one of the very, very few pre-Tolkien attempts at such an endeavor. Psalmanazar’s creation of a fictional Formosa was actually very Tolkien-esque, not merely in the way that it included a fictional language, but in the way that the development of the language was linked to the invented history. Although the fantasy island was named after the real island of Formosa, and the title of the book claimed that it was “an Island subject to” the very real island of Japan, the descriptions of the customs, geography, history, and language of these real places was very nearly as invented as that of Rivendell or Gondor. Psalmanazar describes the language of Formosa as follows:
The Language of Formosa is the same with that of Japan, but with this difference that the Japannese do not pronounce some Letters gutturally as the Formosans do: And they pronounce the Auxiliary Verbs without that elevation and depression of the Voice which is used in Formosa. Thus, for instance, the Formosans pronounce the present Tense without any elevation or falling of the Voice, as Jerh Chato, ego amo; and the preterperfect they pronounce by raising the Voice, and the future Tense by falling it; but the preterimperfect, the plusquam perfectum, and patio poft futurum, they pronounce by adding the auxiliary Verb: Thus the Verb Jerh Chato, ego amo, in the preterimperfect Tense is Jervieye chato, Ego eram amass, or according to the Letter, Ego eram amo; in the preterperfect Tense it is Jerh Chato, and the Voice is raised in the pronunciation of the first Syllable, but falls in pronouncing the other two; and in the plusquam perfectum the auxiliary Verb viey is added, and the same elevation and falling of the Voice is obsery’d as in the preterit.
The Japan Language has three Genders; all sorts of Animals are either of the Masculine or Feminine Gender, and all inanimate Creatures are of the Neuter: But the Gender is only known by the Articles, e.g. oi hic, ey hoec, and ay hoc; but in the Plural number all the three Articles are alike.
TheJapannese wrote formerly in a sort of Characters most like those of the Chineses; but since they have held correspondence with the Formosans, they have generally made use of their way of writing, as more easy and more beautiful; insomuch that there are few now in Japan who understand the Chinese Characters.
To get an idea of how famous Psalmanazar actually was in his time, consider that he was referenced very prominently in Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which Swift uses him (albeit spelled a bit differently, perhaps due to imperfect memory and a lack of handy reference) as part of his case for the encouragement of cannibalism.
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.
The fact that must be remembered here is that not only was George Psalmanazar a famous public figure in Swift’s time, but that by the year in which A Modest Proposal was published, 1729, Psalmanazar’s account of Formosa was already been widely known as a fraud, the author having had confessed as much in 1707. While Swift’s essay is still widely read, virtually no modern readers will have any clue to what he is referring in this paragraph, and even fewer will realize that much of the basis for the humor in this section is due to the fact that the essayist is attempting to prove his case by referring to a a source that, at the time of publication, would have been recognized by Swift’s audience as not merely fraudulent, but famously and comically so.
Following the end of his career as a hoaxer, Psalmanazar used his celebrity to start a career as a legitimate writer, producing such works as The general history of printing: from its first invention in the city of Mentz, to its first progress and propagation thro’ the most celebrated cities in Europe. Particularly, its introduction, rise and progress here in England. The character of the most celebrated printers, from the first inventors of the art to the years 1520 and 1550: with an account of their works, and of the most considerable improvements which they made to it during that interval, published in 1732. As a now-respectable man of letters, he became friends with such luminaries as Samuel Johnson.
Although he revealed his fraud as early as 1707, details were not revealed until the year after his death. Naturally, this was in the form of a book, which is wonderfully entitled: MEMOIRS OF ****. Commonly known by the Name of George Psalmanazar; A Reputed Native of Formosa. Written by himself, In order to be published after his Death: Containing An Account of his Education, Travels, Adventures, Connections, Literary Productions, and pretended Conversion from Heathenism to Christianity; which last proved the Occasion of his being brought over into this Kingdom, and passing for a Proselyte, and a member of the Church of England.
The one thing that he never revealed, even in his posthumous memoir, was his real name. As far as I know, no details of his early life have ever been verified.
The table of contents, as well as some all too brief excerpts of Psalmanazar’s first book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa,can be found here, but until earlier this year it was very difficult to get one’s hands on a copy of the English version of the book, at least outside of certain libraries. Although it was published in Taiwan a couple of years ago, that was a Chinese translation, which even if I could read well would hardly be as entertaining. Original copies are very expensive, with the English first edition going for US$1426 on a rare book site, and the French version selling at an even less accessible $1900! Copies of his memoirgo for a technically more affordable, yet still entirely unaffordable $600 or so.
Luckily, not only has an affordable reprint edition of both his Description of Formosaand his Memoirs(as well as some others) are available for purchase online. However, even better, just the other day I managed to locate a scanned electronic edition of both books, freely available in an archive of the British Library. As the online version only seems to be accessible from licensed institutions, such as libraries and universities, I am providing both of them for download as PDFs. Since their PDF creator can only generate files up to 250 pages in length, both of them have been split into two files. Scans of 300 year old books, these files are as public domain as they get. Feel free to spread them far and wide.
Update [August 5]: I regret that I forgot one very important detail from this when I first published it yesterday. While Jonathan Swift may be the most significant literary reference to Psalmanazar’s imaginary Formosa, it is not the only one. Many readers may be familiar with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderful comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and hopefully not the abysmal film based on it), in which they spin a version of our world in which every fantastic story, character, and geography is integrated into a single tapestry. While the story proper is mainly told in the form of comic book panels, Volume Two (for sale here, and highly recommended) contains, in the form of a lengthy appendix, a sort of gazetteer of this fantastic geography, which contains the following text.
We passed east of Zipang, or of Japan as it is these days called, and went south by way of Formosa, which possesses of its coast another smaller island of the same name, where the women and the men go naked save for plaques of gold and silver.
Zipang is in fact one spelling of the Shanghaiese reading of “Japan,” formerly used by some Europeans and thought to be the origin for the modern spelling. Moore here is obviously referencing Psalmanazar’s Formosa, as we can see from page 225 of the Description (first page of PDF Part II). By describing this Formosa as “another smaller island of the same name”, Moore is cleverly leaving room on the map for both the real and fantasy Formosa.
The great difference between the Japannese and Formosans, consists in this, that the Jappanese wear 2 or 3 Coats, which they tye about with a Girdle; but the Formosans have only one Coat, and use no Girlde. They walk with the Breast open, and cover their Privy parts with a Plate tied about them made of Brass, Gold, or Silver.
Incidentally, Moore’s reference to Formosa is located just above a large illustration of Laputa – which readers may remember from either the eponymous Miyazaki Hayao film, or its original source: Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. When one considers that Swift was clearly a fan of Psalmanazar’s imaginary geography, it actually seems quite reasonable to wonder if perhaps the Description of Formosa was an influence on Gulliver’s Travels, which as a chronicle of fantastic geography has some undeniable similarities.
A little while ago a story swept the Internet that “white people are available for rent in China.” Apparently, sometimes companies hire Western actors to pretend they’re either visiting foreign businessmen or high-level employees to make a positive impression.
For the purposes of this post, I am assuming the posts and CNN report are basically accurate, though I couldn’t find any corresponding job listings on a cursory Google search.
What surprised me about this story was the cool reaction of much of the reporting and reaction (I’m looking at you, CNN). The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud? Sending a fake company representative might sound like a funny sitcom premise, but misrepresenting your company’s operations can have some serious negative consequences. Not that any of this crossed the minds of the winners in the video. By the way, who wears a wifebeater to their CNN interview?
For a case in point, let me point to this Asahi story about securities fraud among startup companies in Japan:
FOI Corp., a maker of chip production devices in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pretended to have sold products to overseas companies when the goods were actually gathering dust in a warehouse in Machida, Tokyo.
To sell the story of its overseas business, FOI took CPAs abroad where they met the company’s supposed business partners. The translator hired by FOI lied to the accountants about the sales, sources said.
FOI was listed on the Mothers market in November last year after apparently window-dressing accounts starting in fiscal 2003.
The company reported fiscal 2008 sales of about 11.8 billion yen, but investigators suspect that 98 percent of the amount was fictitious. The company is now undergoing bankruptcy procedures.
FOI’s tactics fooled not only the CPAs, but also Mizuho Investors Securities Co., which advised the company on the listing, and the TSE.
I wonder if these “out of work actors” ever checked to see whether they were fronting for a real company. The overseas trips could easily have been to China, maybe even to a phony shop floor with real live white people.
With all the World Cup excitement in Japan right now, I just thought I’d link to this Bloomberg report on the two players from Japan on the NK soccer team:
North Korea, the lowest ranked team in the soccer World Cup, faces five-time champion Brazil tonight with its hopes pinned on two players from Japan.
Japan-born striker Jong Tae-Se and midfielder An Yong Hak, who both play in the J. League, will represent the communist nation in its first World Cup match in 44 years, playing at 8:30 p.m. local time in Johannesburg. Ladbrokes Plc, a U.K. oddsmaker, rates North Korea a 1,000-to-1 chance to win the tournament.
This is the first time players from Japan are representing North Korea at the World Cup, according to Ri. Jong, 26, who plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J. League, and Omiya Ardija midfielder An, 31, were named in the national team last month.
The two players attended North Korean schools in Japan, hold North Korean passports and have no problem communicating with Pyongyang-based teammates, Ri said.
North Korea, playing in its second World Cup since reaching the quarterfinals in 1966, has no professional teams. National team players earn about twice the average laborer’s salary, according to the North Korean football association.
I am hoping for a US-Japan championship match, but of course that isn’t realistic.
Due to aggressive evangelism and indoctrination over the course of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule (ending in 1898), the Philippines today is overwhelmingly Catholic. A few percent, mainly in the far south, are Muslim, a very few communities still practice pre-colonial indigenous religion, and maybe 10% or so have converted to Protestant or evangelical Christian sects due to American influence over the course of America’s half-century of colonial rule (roughly 1898-1946). While the US-derived constitution does provide for separation of church and state, Catholicism is still so deeply entrenched that the technically required secularism of public education is said to be ignored, and (as I have mentioned before) public policy in areas like birth control are largely dictated by Vatican doctrine.
But of course, there are exceptions. While abortion is utterly banned (although naturally, still available in sub-par conditions to the desperate), condoms are sold openly in every convenience store and pharmacy, and the overpopulation crisis has led to a bill in congress to provide public funding to birth control, against the will of the Church and the staunchly Catholic current president Gloria Arroyo. (Arroyo’s term is nearly over, and the fate of the bill under the next president, yet to be chosen, is uncertain.) Homosexuality is another interesting case. While the law of the land affords no particular rights to LGBT citizens, in comparison with the recent trend in many Western countries towards allowing same sex partnerships of one variety or another, or anti-discrimination laws, the Philippines also does not persecute gays and lesbians, as for example, most Muslim countries so, and as many US state would continue to do if so allowed by the federal government. The society at large, like most of Southeast Asia, is also generally exceptionally tolerant of minority sexualities when compared with the official doctrine of the dominant, highly conservative, religion.
But while being an out of the closet gay is generally acceptable here, coming out as an atheist is reportedly considered to be something deviant. If atheists are the most distrusted minority in America, surely their status is even lower in the Philippines. While my handful of Filipino friends here, who I know from studying in Japan, all fall on or near the atheist end of the spectrum, virtually every other person I have spoken to in the Philippines has been a vocal Christian, usually Catholic.
Which brings us, finally, to the title of this post. The day before yesterday I was getting a tour around the historical district of Intramuros from a government archaeologist named Joseph, he mentioned to me that he and his family had converted from Catholicism to American style evangelical Christianity several years before, and that he now found the idolatry of Catholicism disturbingly heretical. “These days,” he told me, “the number of freethinkers is really on the rise.” This turn of phrase both surprised and intrigued me, as the term “freethinker” is one I had always associated with the modern atheism movement, but I still understood his usage. I must admit that to make a conscious choice regarding one’s belief and walk away from the religion of one’s parents, rather than to un-critically accept it, is in a sense as much an exercise of freedom of thought as to walk away from religion entirely, even if as an atheist myself I consider both the original and adopted religion equally irrational.
With that brief conversation in mind, I was particularly intrigued when, yesterday afternoon at around 4pm, when I was wandering around the University of the Philippines Dilliman Campus, in Metro Manila’s Quezon City, following a lunch appointment I had had in the area, I was handed the following flyer and pointed to the red brick-faced UP Film Center just down the block.
Naturally, I went.
The program consisted of much what one might expect. (Full list here.) For example, the Richard Dawkins video The Root of All Evil? (Embedded below.)
Both of those videos were ones that I already knew of, but had never seen, so I was happy to go in and watch them. And while they were enjoyable enough, I had really been hoping to see something local, either the Philippines equivalent of a Richard Dawkins-esque attack on the pernicious influence of religious dogma on society or a documentary about the Filipino Freethinkers group itself. Unfortunately, there were no locally produced films, although they are trying to put together something themselves for the next time. But following the conclusion of the last film, Ryan Tani, president of the group, did take the lectern and microphone and give a summary of the FF’s history, purpose, and activities.
The founding members, a half-dozen friends of an atheistic/agnostic persuasion and frustrated with a lack of public space to discuss their feelings about religion, decided to organize an informal meetup group just over a year ago. After experimenting with different schedules, they settled on a bi-weekly meetup, which gets an average of 20-30 attendees, out of a total of perhaps 100 who come from time to time, and out of 800 members on their Facebook group, which also includes plenty of members who live too far away to make it to the Manila meetups.
A couple of months ago they decided to organize this film festival as a means to reach out to a wider audience. Interestingly, funding for the film festival, which seemed to borrow some of the tried-and-true hospitality tactics of campus evangelical organizations like free snacks, was provided by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no apparent ties to the Philippines, who simply came across the fledgeling organization online and decided to help them out. He gave a brief comment towards the end of the program, but had to duck out before the post-event mingling and I was unable to chat with him to find out his story.
But I did spend a good while talking with those who stayed past the end of the films, which were mainly those who already knew each other from the meetups rather than new faces like myself, and ended up being invited along for dinner. (Amusingly, this was at the same restaurant I had eaten the night before with my local friends, a place called Trellis that we had been to on each of my three visits to Manila, and quite literally the only restaurant in the area the name of which I actually know.)
It is unsurprising that they chose the University of the Philippines Dilliman campus as their venue, as the flagship campus of the elite public university has a reputation for left wing – even Marxist – faculty and students. It is also unsurprising that the members of Filipino Freethinkers are themselves almost universally graduates or current students of elite schools like UP, Ateno de Manila or De La Salle.
Also unsurprisingly, it was a pretty geeky crowd, with a high representation of people in the software industry, sciences, psychology, and plenty of fandom for scifi novels, video games, comic books, tabletop role playing games, anime and manga, etc. Basically, the same kind of people I hang out with at home, with the same kinds of interests, and table discussion that sounds barely at all different from my friends back in New Jersey/New York, except for the Filipino accents, and sometimes – but surprisingly rare – interjection of Tagalog into the heavily English language conversation.
And about the same average level of religious engagement, except that while I estimate that at least half (maybe far more) of my atheistic/agnostic friends at home come from families of an already religiously apathetic bent, the Filipino Freethinkers almost all come from extremely Catholic, or at least Evangelical, families, who were strongly opposed to their decision to leave the Church. This social pressure makes clear why they decided that a specifically atheist themed social organization was needed. I suppose if I had grown up in the Bible Belt I might have longed for such a group in high school or college, but coming from Montclair, NJ it wasn’t exactly an issue, and spending several years in Japan – perhaps the most religiously disinterested nation on the planet – has put me increasingly out of touch with the reality of living in an overwhelmingly religious society.
The last several years have seen the birth of a new movement of pr0-atheism writing and activism around the world, which has even started to bubble up in the strictly Catholic Philippines. Pro-atheism films like those here are rarely, if ever, screened here (The Invention of Lying was also mentioned, as a major Hollywood film that simply wasn’t distributed in the country due to its anti-religious content), and this may very well have been the first public screening of most of this material.
The Filipino Freethinkers are trying to establish more local chapters of their informal group, and some current UP students who are formally establishing a campus chapter, as a registered campus organization, were in attendance. I won’t deny the great art and culture that religion has inspired throughout history, and I do very much enjoy learning about religion in its complexity, and do very much enjoy certain ritual aspects of religion, but as time passes I lean increasingly towards the stance that not only are the most fundamentalist religious – the Al-Qaedas and abortion doctor murders – dangerous to society, but that genuine, deeply felt religious belief is always the enemy of rationality and a danger to a stable world. It heartens me to see secularists starting to come out of the closet in this deeply religious country, and I wish them luck in persuading others of like mind to do the same.
I would also like to end by briefly making a statement along the lines of what was being proclaimed at the meeting. Opposition to religion does not mean opposition to morality, only a recognition that morality is derived from our nature as an evolved social animal, rather than from a supernatural source. Opposition to religion also does not mean opposition to the religious. Freedom of thought and belief is sacrosanct, and nothing is more important than the development of a society in which all shades of belief and non-belief are permitted.
Once again, I have made a promise to post all of my backlog of travel photos and narratives before embarking on my next journey, which yet again lies unrealized. Tomorrow – or technically today as I write this at 3.30am – I depart for a primarily research-justified trip to Manila, Philippines and Taiwan. I will be in Manila from the 23rd to the 28th of February, then fly to Taipei on the 1st of March, and back to Manila on the 14th, from whence I return to Japan on the 21st. Following that, I am taking an entirely non-research trip to Seoul from March 24-31.
Taiwan will be mainly in Taipei, but with a few days going down to the south, Kaohsiung, maybe Tainan, maybe Taichung area. Philippines will be almost totally Manila, and Korea will be basically just Seoul.
People in any of those places, feel free to get in touch and see if we can meet up!
I’m happy that China’s economic development has created an upwardly mobile middle class that has the opportunity to travel overseas. I just wish they wouldn’t take out their lack-of-modern-empire-penis-envy frustrations on the natural environment of the world. And Japan, perhaps China’s biggest buggaboo, is possibly the biggest target for this graffiti as more and more Chinese tourists flood in to visit its temples, shrines and other monuments.
(It could be worse — at least the Chinese government doesn’t have management over tourist sites outside China, which would be a real disaster for human civilization).
The LA Times has a story on how an activist group in South Korea, sinisterly named the “Anti-English Spectrum” has been following foreign English teachers to ferret out suspected wrong-doing:
The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.
Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker.
Yie waves off the criticism. “It’s not stalking, it’s following,” he said. “There’s no law against that.”
Since its founding in 2005, critics say, Yie’s group has waged an invective-filled nationalistic campaign against the 20,000 foreign-born English teachers in South Korea.
On their website and through fliers, members have spread rumors of a foreign English teacher crime wave. They have alleged that some teachers are knowingly spreading AIDS, speculation that has been reported in the Korean press.
The debate over foreign English teachers is symbolic of a social shift taking place in a nation that has long prided itself on its racial purity and singular culture, South Korean analysts say.
In less than a decade, the number of foreigners living in South Korea, with a population of nearly 49 million, has doubled to 1.2 million, many of them migrant workers from other Asian nations.
Also included are the foreign English teachers, most from the United States, drawn here by compensation packages that may include as much as $2,500 a month plus free rent and a round-trip ticket to teach a Korean population obsessed with learning from native speakers.
While the idea of vigilantes following English teachers around is definitely unnerving, the effort seems much smaller and more reasonable than I expected from the headline. No reports of violence and just one threatening e-mail. If there are troublemakers in the country I think the citizens have a right to their activism. The “activists” seem more like a community of Internet hobbyists going after a group that’s done nothing to them for no reason other than self-satisfaction, very similar to the incidents of “enjo” flaming campaigns in Japan (or scambaiters, “Anonymous” protests against Scientology, etc. in the English-speaking world). I am tempted to write it off, but given what I am reading here and all the reports on English teachers smuggling drugs and getting into other trouble, the relationship between the foreign English teachers and the local Koreans seems genuinely strained.
Given the relative similarity of the situation in Japan (homogeneous Asian population, fetish over learning English from natives), it struck me how nothing like this has sprung up yet, especially given the industry’s business/hiring practices and the excesses of some of the teachers. There are stirrings of anti-foreigner sentiment here and there, but what strong feelings there are tend to come from fringe rightist groups railing against Koreans.
It’s possible there is a difference of degree in Korea – the Internet is a more integral part of life, there are proportionally more English teachers there, and foreigners in general are a more visible presence. That said, it could offer a glimpse at where Japan might be headed.
Korea remains one of the most connected nations on the planet, and has become famous for flaming campaigns. There was a recent string of celebrity suicides, some apparently a result of internet harassment.
In Japan, these attacks are quite common, though I have yet to hear about any high-profile suicides. Japanese net users have turned their ire on Westerners before, most notably in the “WaiWai incident” when they became outraged over lewd, liberally translated articles on the Mainichi Daily News site. If a foreign English teacher commits a heinous crime (or the police decide to play it up), it’s possible the 2ch crowd could start something a “Spectrum” of its own. If it comes to that, we will all no doubt back our dismissive comments about Debito and beg him for help (I am guessing there is no Debito equivalent in Korea – prominent Korea blogger Marmot has very little sympathy with his wayward fellow Westerners). Even so, I don’t get the impression that average Japanese people feel uneasy about Western English teachers – quite the contrary, they tend to be treated very well. Maybe we can thank the JET program for bringing in more “high quality” talent with its more rigorous selection process.
Next, there are a lot of English teachers in Korea! If the article’s figure of 20,000 is correct, it’s even more than the roughly 14,000 in Japan (and shrinking) even though Korea’s population is just 40% of Japan’s. If Japan had the same proportion of English teachers there’d be 36,000 of them, and businesses would probably have to lower standards even more to fill all the positions.
According to the article, foreigners make up 2.4% of South Korea’s population. In Japan that number is 1.74% and growing. Also, from all accounts the US military presence is felt a lot more in Korea, be it from soldiers on the street or the daily awareness that the country remains in a state of imminent war.
But with the foreign population on the rise in Japan, its greater visibility means there will definitely be some kind of reaction. Some might feel the kind of anger that’s directed at the government’s proposal to give permanent residence the vote. Those protests have yet to produce any violence or anything worth calling an “incident” but it’s a potential rallying point, and the bill hasn’t come up for debate yet.
The article draws a link between the Anti-English Spectrum and the overall issue of dealing with foreigners in “racially pure” South Korea, noting there have been some recent racially motivated attacks. I think there’s a clue in this for people watching Japan. When the net activists start wielding the hammer of anti-foreigner rage, Western English teachers might start to look more and more like a nail.