This chart on Japanese living abroad from Nikkei was too good not to share. When I was going to school in Washington and living in Bangkok, I had a fair amount of experience dealing with Japanese expats. I knew mostly students in DC, so these were by and large people who just wanted to learn enough English to either help them in their get a job after graduating from a Japanese university or earn some promotion points at their companies back home, if they were older.
Bangkok, however, was a different animal entirely. Perhaps because I was looking for work, I had the chance to speak with a lot of recruiters and translation agencies. Many of the Japanese people I met came to Bangkok with long-term plans to stay. For some of the younger people, working as a local employee of a Japanese company was a way around the shukatsu system, while some older men apparently just fell in love with the country (and probably its women as well), not so different from the throngs of British/European men with Thai wives that are common in the city.
There was another recent article in Asahi about how young Japanese are flocking to Shanghai for the job opportunities. I can certainly understand the draw. A big city in a fast-growing, developing country like Bangkok and Shanghai can be very exciting. Bangkok was bustling, full of interesting people from all walks of life, loud, had great food, and was just a treasure trove of new experiences, sights, and smells (some better than others). Add to that a well-paying job and for many it won’t compare to life back home. Compared to that, Tokyo can seem downright dull.
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.
A friend of Mrs. Adamu’s brought us these “Khaotan” puffed rice crackers – “the traditional Thai snack” according to the package. Unlike many Thai snacks, these were actually not too sweet. They had a more subtle flavor that complemented the taste of the crunchy rice without overwhelming it.
We ate all the actual crackers already (Mrs. Adamu was especially fond of them), so here’s a random picture from the Internet to show you what they look like:
Hailing from Lampang in northern Thailand, Khaotan is part of the “One Thambon One Product” (OTOP) program sponsored by JETRO, an organ of the Japanese government. JETRO provides funding and expertise to help local areas develop their products for export to places like Japan or New Zealand.
My favorite part of Khaotan was the extensive personality assessments on each face of the package. On the back is a chart of personalities based on the day of the week you were born (this day of the week system is pervasive among Burmese people as well), and a list of male/female personality types lines each side. The part about female personalities struck me as especially harsh – they have about twice as many different types as the men, but almost every type is just a different shade of dishonesty, vindictiveness, or irresponsibility. Just in case you can’t read the photos I will transcribe them for you:
The prediction according to the day of birth
Sunday: Smart at thinking and live happily until the end of life
Monday: Always cheerful and when death comes, one is supposed to be in heaven
Tuesday: Be brand and no fear of any danger
Wednesday: Clean and clear and can make dream come true
Thursday: Lots of properties and wealthy
Friday: Lots of fun till others envy
Saturday: No sad at all and has many followers
Types of male
One who is a typical male
One who is slug
One who is fed by wife
One who is a gallant
One who is inferior
One who is a sluggard
One who keeps himself from others
One who is indolent
One who is always in bad temper
One who runs away from and comes back home several times
One who cares family and relatives
One who is patient
One who has many wives
One who is praised by others
One who has hospitality and sacrifice
One who works hard for the better life of his family
During one of the “red shirt” riot scenes in Bangkok on 13th April 2009, when a gas truck was hi-jacked and reportedly threatened to release the flammable contents near Din Daeng Area, an unknown individual emerges as Batman. The super hero was able to divert the attention of the protesters, opening an opportunity for the rescue team to retrieve the gas truck.
This is all kind of confusing, but I am glad Batman saved the protesters.
Which Bruno over Frodo says in such a way meets in some will coincidence also on me
Rear Schnacker, make for you not too much nen thick head, everyone must these “are I also like that?” Moment have, because there is ne quantity of Paralellen to have with the men the Asian friends, from Thailand to North Korea.
I had mean moment, when I am discovered a blog, in which a Japanese over its view on men write, who have a Japanese friend. Unfortunately I do not find the left any longer, at that time but I noted the most important points (with those some also to me to apply) more fuer to mean blog, did not gepostet her then however, because the whole topic somehow too negatively rueberkam:
1. The men came to Japan in a recent age and them come around this journey as part of the arising becoming to use.
2. They became acquainted with your wife in Japan and not in its homeland.
3. Most speaking very well Japanese, it prefer the society of Japanese, since they can impress these easily to be simply only thereby foreigners. They fall themselves into that learn the language.
4. Few of them had ever a western friend.
5 most of you has very negative stereotyped ones over western women.
6. however very positive opposite Japanese women, above all these is as feminine.
7. Many are arrogant and have large problems if their ideas and opinions are contradicted.
8. They may not other western foreigners and compare their language abilities and its cultural knowledge permanently with these over unterschwellig say them would be better.
Is to be become “gotten” always dumb and in generalizing Characteristika be recognized.
Interesting about also charisma one https://www.mutantfrog.com/2007/02/22/superman-meets-charisma-man/
A Comic over Canadian loose, which mutates in Japan to the Supercasanova.
Taipei to preserve historical Japanese-era buildings – I have previously discussed the many Japanese houses that can be found all over Taiwan in stages of repair ranging all the way from crumbling ruin to well preserved monument. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at one ruin in Taichung, and here and here are photographs of the one behind my apartment building in Taipei. Although Taipei is not proposing a general preservation rule for such historical buildings, which might be nice, they are designating an area near the intersection of Zhongxiao E Road and Jinshan S Road, which contains a cluster of 10 surviving houses built for Japanese civil servants – reportedly the largest single cluster in Taipei – as a special historical zone.
Miaoli officials caught in a lie – Another piece of grim news. Apparently officials in the Miaoli County actually pretended to hold a meeting to discuss the historical preservation of the last three surviving kilns in what was a center of the pottery industry during the Japanese colonial period, but in fact never even convened the meeting. The claim that the kilns had “no historic or cultural value” sounds shaky at best, and it seems that they likely violated the Cultural Heritage Protection Act [文化資產保護法] to make way for an industrial development. Angry preservationists are filing lawsuits against the officials who cleared the kilns for distruction.
There were also three other stories of note related to historical topics I have discussed on this blog before.
Chiang Kai-shek plaque to return to memorial hall – “Rectification of names” continues in Taiwan. I have discussed this phenomenon several times in the past, as committed by Chen Shui-bian’s DPP administration here and here, who was replacing China-centric names with Taiwan-centric ones, and then with the reveral of Chen’s Taiwanization moves by Ma Ying-Jiu’s KMT administration here and here. As of January 22, Democracy Hall nee Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is now once again Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. However, the new KMT administration has magnanimously decided to preserve the renaming of the area surrounding CKS Hall to “Liberty Square”.
Descendents of ‘Orphan Army’ dream of home – I previously discussed the KMT/ROC army remnant of Southeast Asia here, noting in particular their fascinating historical association with the SE Asian drug trade, and the unlikely direct connection forged with 1970s Harlem druglord Frank Lucas, as portratyed in the film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. As descendants of KMT soldiers, there are actually a fair number of “overseas Chinese” from Burma or Thailand who have gone to Taiwan to study using fake documentation, and although they are apparently not deported from Taiwan due to the tricky historical ROC links, they also find it difficult to obtain proper documentation that would allow them to travel back and forth. I imagine there is some sort of process by which they can apply for legal status, but it may very well require geneological or other documentation that is hard to come by. This is a story well worth checking into more.
Study backs findings on Polynesian origins – Linguistic, genetic and archaeological research in the past has suggested that the entire Polynesian/Austronesian group of peoples, ranging from the Malays of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to the Maori of New Zealand and the native Hawaiians, are all descended from seafaring explorers that set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago. Although only about 2-3% of Taiwan’s current population officially belongs to these “aborigine” tribes whose ancestors were also the ancestors of the Polynesians, a much, much larger percentage of “ethnic Chinese” Taiwanese are actually at least partially descended from aborigines who became culturally Sinicized generations ago. This is of particular pride to proponents of Taiwanese independence who use it as evidence that Taiwan is not inherently Chinese. It is actually a popular theory (if not fact) that much of the “Han” population of southern China is actually descended from natives who became culturally Sinicized in a similar way hundreds or thousands of years ago, and have a noticably distinct genetic history from the northern Han Chinese.
Descendants of victims mark ‘Taiping’ tragedy – Not specifically related to anything I have written about before, but the story of how over 1000 immigrants from China to Taiwan died in a shipwreck near Shanghai in 1949 is new to me, and well worth knowing. I am a bit skeptical of how one can wring out a 20-episode drama from this story though. James Cameron’s Titanic was long enough for me.
After my post the other day, it is worth realizing that, despite worrying trends back home there are no shortage of countries that are far, far worse off. Here are some stories that jumped out at me just in the past few days.
Andrew Berends, a New York-based freelance filmmaker and journalist who was working on a film about the oil-producing Delta region, was arrested on Sunday and held overnight. “They didn’t let me sleep or eat or drink water for the first 36 hours,” he said Tuesday night.
The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday rebutted accusations from the Taiwan Society and others that it was breaching freedom of expression by issuing a letter of inquiry to the group that organized a major rally held last Saturday.
The rally drew tens of thousands of participants protesting the government’s cross-strait policies, and called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, save the economy and help to accelerate the adoption of “sunshine bills.”
The ICT says that 344 of the websites it listed had content it deemed “contemptuous” of Thailand’s royal family, five were considered “obscene,” two featured religious content and one hosted a sex video game.
Thai courts issued orders to shut down about 400 of the websites on the ICT’s list, while the remaining 800 are expected to be blocked by ISPs. The ICT also asked police to help round up sites’ owners, noting that it wants to “bring all violators to trial.”
Being seen talking to a foreigner is enough to earn a Uighur a minimum of five years in prison and the confiscation of his business. “Please leave here,” said one man in a tea house around the corner from the scene of the attack. “We did hear things, but we cannot talk or we will be taken away.”
Fearful of the growth of an independence movement, and of the motivating effects of religion, the Chinese government has imposed debilitating measures on the local mosques. One popular mosque was even padlocked shut yesterday.
No one under 18 is allowed to visit a mosque, and schools deliberately schedule their classes over the 1pm call to prayer. Nor are imams allowed to broadcast over a tannoy.
Uighur passports are now held by the police, who refuse to let many Uighurs travel abroad. Since May, any Uighur travelling inside of China has been stopped and sent home by the police. They are not welcome at any hotels or guesthouses, under stringent regulations designed to protect Beijing or the other Olympic cities from a possible separatist attack.
And so on. This is just a small sampling of countries besides the US where the government is stepping beyond any reasonable bounds to stifle political dissent. Of these four countries, three are significantly less free than the US today and serve, in various ways, as examples of what governments should not do (the case of Thailand is extra complicated, since with their eternal coups and factions it’s hard to even tell who should be considered the government at any given time.) The fourth country, Taiwan, is particularly complicated case. A military dictatorship and full on police state until fairly recently, Taiwan is a new democracy that was ranked an impressive #32 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. But the current administration is a return to the formerly dictatorial KMT, and there are serious worries over the possibility of recidivism. In the same ranking, the US was given a dismal 48- having slid precipitously from #17 in the 2002 Index.
On Saturday, I went with a friend of mine to see the “Children of the Dark“(闇の子供たち) , a new film by Japanese director Sakamoto Junji primarily about child prostitution in Thailand. The story is primarily told through the perspective of the two Japanese main characters, a reporter for Bangkok bureau of the fictional Japan Times (no relation to the actual English language Japan times, but more of a pastiche of the Asahi or Mainichi. I believe the Mainichi was thanked in the credits) named Nambu, and a Japanese college student named Keiko, who is volunteering at a tiny Bangkok NGO. Secondary characters include Nambu’s mildly irritating 20-something Japanese backpacker/photographer sidekick, and a wide selection of Thai criminals, NGO workers, and abused children.
Except for a brief trip back to Japan around the middle of the film, it takes place entirely in Bangkok. The dialogue is mixed Thai and Japanese, probably with Thai dominating. Nambu speaks appropriately good Thai, as a foreign correspondent should (even if they don’t all), and Keiko speaks a bit haltingly, but according to the subtitles at least she seems to have no trouble expressing complex thoughts, or understanding what anyone says.
The central plot thread is your fairly typical “newsman uncovers a story and chases it ragged even at the risk of his own life” and makes sure to include a selection of the typical cliches, such as a back-alley gunpoint menacing in which none of the stars are harmed, despite a secondary Thai character having been shot in the head in another scene moments before or the photographer’s constant wavering between going home to safety in Japan or staying in Thailand to fight the good fight. At the beginning of the film, Nambu receives a tip that Thai children are being murdered so their organs can be transplanted into dying Japanese children. This is just one of the ways in which children become disposable in the film, but I felt like the addition of this imaginery (although certainly not impossible) scenario to the array of real horror detracted from the film’s effectiveness.
The primary goal of the film is the depiction of evils inflicted by adults on children, and there are a number of truly unpleasant scenes involving child prostitution by foreigners of both Western (American and European) and Japanese origin, as well horrendous mistreatment of the child slaves by their Thai captors. These sorts of terrible things happen all day long in many parts of the world, and it is understandable that the film makers wanted to depict it on screen, but I found the “deeper” messages to be more muddled than sophisticated.
Incidentally, the Japanese Wikipedia article on the film has a rather odd criticism I’d like to mention briefly. It mentions that Japanese blogs (2ch-kei foremost I imagine) have called it “an anti-Japanese film” since it “puts all of the blame for the selling of children in Thailand on the Japanese.” This claim is patently absurd. Of course a significant part of the film’s purpose IS to blame Japan predatory Japanese, but Western perverts are given at least as much of a spotlight in the brothel vignettes. And the Thai criminals who actually run the victimization business are hardly made out to be innocent bystanders.
For some reason I was mildly irritated by Keiko’s inexplicably competent Thai throughout the film, but it may simply have been the fact that I found the character generally pointless. When she first arrives at the NGO, one of the ladies working there asks her “Why did you come to Bangkok, isn’t there some good you can do in Japan?” While this question lingers throughout the film, and naturally Keiko does come to do some good in Bangkok, her motivations are never explored and her character acquires no depth. Why did she come to Thailand? Why is she even in this movie? She is tabula rasa- a standin for the audience, or rather for the way the film maker wants the audience to think. Her initial appearance suggested that she could have been an aspect of a message that I think the filmmakers were trying to convey-that Thailand (and presumably other countries like it, although no others are mentioned) are playgrounds for Japanese and Western neo-colonialists to act out their fantasies of either depravity or heroism without repercussion. However, despite this theme perhaps being touched on ever so briefly during her first appearance, Keiko turns out to be nothing but an autonomic cliche of a young NGO volunteer.
I hope my ramblings do not give the impression that I hated the movie- I did not. I would, in fact, say that it was overall decent. But I did find it very disappointing. It starts well, and has a number of powerful scenes of horror and despair, but it is too long, the story is meandering and a bit cliched, and one of the leads is just dull to the point of no longer being annoying. Those with a particular interest in the problems this film addresses should see it, but wait for the DVD.
After having my aching knee MRI-ed and examined by a sports medicine specialist at Kyoto University Hospital last week and been told that the problem wasn’t particularly serious and that riding a bicycle should be safe, I decided to finally go and buy one. I asked a Japanese girl I know who is a bit of a bicycle otaku to accompany me on the shopping trip so I would be decently advised in buying something a few times the price of the crappy mama-chari I rode during my previous two periods of residence in Kyoto, and she took me to a shop she likes inside the Sanjo Shotengai. After picking out the bike I wanted and the accessories that needed to be attached, I went out to the east exit of the shotengai to withdraw some cash at the 7-11 and grab something to drink.
With a cold drink in hand (Thursday was a bloody hot afternoon in Kyoto), I sat down on the bench just outside the convenience store next to a middle aged man smoking a cigarette, in the typical fashion of a 50-ish Japanese guy who would be hanging out with a cigarette in front of a 7-11 in the middle of the afternoon, and looking over his envelope of documents. I had my headphones on, listening to some podcast or other, but the man said hello, and having an hour to kill before my bike was ready I took off the headphones and talked to him for a bit.
When I asked his name, instead of just telling me, he reached into his wallet and pulled out, to my mild surprise, an Alien Registration card very much like mine. I say very much, because there were a few important differences. The first being that, as the card of a Korean national permanent resident, the fields for such information as “Landing date” and “Passport number” were filled with asterisks instead of numbers, and the name field contained both his legal Korean family name of Chang (I will leave the personal name out) as well as a Japanese family name of Oyama, in parenthesis and with the same personal name for both.
Mr. Chang was born and raised in the south part of Kyoto, where the so-called Zainichi Koreans are clustered, and described himself as “basically half-Japanese” despite having Korean citizenship and speaking Korean. He is the oldest of three children, at 55, with a younger brother practically half his age at 29 who is currently in graduate school at Kyoto University and a younger sister in the middle, around 40 years old. He mentioned that when he was younger his Korean was good enough to do simultaneous translation, for which he would practice by reading the Japanese newspapers aloud to himself in Korean, but these days he has gotten a bit rusty. Although he was actually born with North Korean (DPRK) citizenship, he changed it to South Korean (ROK) years ago, as traveling abroad is extremely difficult for DPRK citizens. He mentioned having visited New York, which I presume would have been virtually impossible as a North Korean. He also spoke more English long ago, when for a time he lived with an English woman who had no interest in learning to speak Japanese (or, presumably, Korean, although he did not even mention that possibility) but says that these days he would not even be able to string a sentence together.
Now essentially retired, aside from having to take care of certain kinds of corporation registration and tax documents such as the envelope he was holding, he is the owner of three different companies, which include several drinking and eating establishments in Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya. He started with one izakaya 30 years ago out in the “sticks” of southern Kyoto, then opened another in Nagoya, and now at the end of his career has reached a high level of success as owner of a highly priced Gion hostess bar.
He was quite keen to talk about how the hostess club is an important part of Japanese culture, the high pricing of and lack of sexual availibility therein often baffles and angers foreigners. He mentioned that on a few occasions foreigners came to the club, and were then outraged at the final tab, not understanding that this was not the sort of place one goes for a drink if one is the sort of person who worries about the tab. There was a specific anecdote about a Turkish man who, while not outraged about the price per-se, was quite angry that such a sum of money did not allow him to bring one of girls home with him. The problem, Mr. Chang explained, was that in the West there is not such a clear distinction between businesses which provide girls for “fun” (i.e. hostesses) and those which provide girls for sex. In his own country, the Turkish gentleman would be able to take the girl home for a night of what he might consider “fun” but in Japan, there are entirely separate businesses which cater to the physical. This is, he said, the modern version of the Geisha system, which in the past also separated the working girls into those for higher and lower pleasures.
But Mr. Chang does not actually spend time in any of his bars or clubs anymore-not even the hostess bar in Gion. He has cancer, and it has metastized beyond the realm of surgical efficacy, not leaving him long for this world. As owner he takes care of the paperwork, but no longer does anything one might actually call work. The pain of the cancer is often intense, and he has trouble sleeping at night. He is close with a singer in Tokyo, who sings to him over the phone when the cancer pain keeps him up at night, until the gentle voice lulls him to sleep, with the reciever falling off to the side.
He never had any children, but he wanted to do something positive for the world, to “make up for [his] sins.” To that end, he has become the official sponsor of an AIDS hospice in Chiang Mai, Thailand, whose several-dozen residents are all, as he says, his children. Although he is the active sponsor, he was not the sole fundor. To gather funds for the community, building their bungalows, providing their education and health care, he went around to all of the “shady characters” he knew from his business dealings over the years- the fellow bar owners, the real estate people, the local yakuza-and strongarmed donations out of them. “Think about what you did to get that money,” he says he told them, “surely you can spare a few yen for this.” It turned out that they could. Tragically, every time he visists there are “those who are no longer there.” He can afford to make them comfortable and provide some level of treatment, but the drugs cocktail that keeps wealthy first-world AIDS patients alive indefinitely is still too expensive in mass quantities.
And so it was time for Mr. Chang to pick up his laundry and drop his papers off at city hall, and for me to pick up my new bicycle. He asked if I would be willing to give him some English refresher lessons, so he could have some simple exchanges with the foreigners that came into his establishment, despite having said that he no longer spent any time there. While I do not normally have any interest in English conversation tutoring, I gave him my phone number.
Given our recent focus on Thai-Japanese relations, I thought I would share some excerpts from a translation I did about a year ago on the topic. The essay was written by a Japanese scholar as part of the catalog for the Show Me Thai museum exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
Art Exchanges Between Thailand and Japan in the Modern Era
by Masahiro Ushiroshoji
Thailand and Japan in the Early Modern Era
Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to have escaped Western colonization. Squeezed between the balance of power between the British Empire, which merged Burma into British India and brought the Malay Peninsula under its control, and France, which controlled the Indochina peninsula, King Mongkut (made famous in the movie “The King and I”) and King Chulalonkorn succeeded in their modernization policies and in keeping the country independent. The turning point in modern Thai history came in 1932 with a coup d’etat, whereupon the nation of Thailand started on the road modernity as it became a constitutional monarchy similar to Japan under the Meiji emperor.
Thailand’s modern art, distinct from its neighbors in Southeast Asia that became colonies of the Western powers, developed under the art policies of the government, which aimed to create a nation state. In this sense Thailand’s experience mirrors Japan’s modern art. More specifically, Thailand invited a foreign expert from Italy named Corrado Feroci, among others, to build a national school of fine arts (Rongrien Praneetsilpakam) in 1933 (which in 1943 became Silpakorn University). As a modern nation, there was a need to quickly train Thai artists, especially sculptors, to build the Democracy Monument to commemorate the democratic coup, and the “Victory Monument” intended to celebrate Thailand’s victory in a war with France, as well as monuments to the king. Since then, many Thai artists have emerged from this art school.
What is crucial to note when considering Japan’s role in Thai art history is the presence of Japanese artists in Thailand before and during the Pacific War. The Thai government invited not only Western advisors but also Japanese advisors in various fields. Accordingly, records remain of gakou (artisans specialized in painting) and choukokushi (artisans specialized in sculpting) dispatched by the Ministry of Education to Thailand.
There were three Japanese artisans/ artists who taught at Rongrian Poh-Chang — lacquerware artisan Sakae Miki, Western-style painter Niro Yokota, who joined Rongrian Poh-Chang as a teacher in 1930 and opened the school’s bamboo craftwork course.
Thai Students in Wartime Japan
It was rare for Thai students to study in Japan before the war, but Jitr Buabusaya stands out as an early pioneer.
In November 1941, Jitr, who had hoped to study in Europe, ended up in Japan since Europe was in the middle of the World War II. Ironically, Japan entered the Pacific War a mere two or three weeks after Jitr arrived in the country, and his five years in Japan coincided with the war he tried to avoid.
Jitr was born in Bangkok in 1911. He studied at the teacher training course at Rongrian Poh-Chang, and after more than a decade of teaching experience went to Japan on a Thai education ministry a scholarship. In Japan, he studied oil painting and sculpture at Tokyo Fine Arts School. It is often noted as historical fact that he studied oil painting under Kunzo Minami and sculpture under Fumio Asakura, but Jitr himself professes that he did not study under any one specific master.
As one of the few foreign students to come to Japan from Southeast Asia, Jitr was invited to events held throughout the country, such as the opening ceremony of the Kanmon undersea locomotive tunnel. He painted gorgeous scenes of Japan, rich with seasonal beauty, using his travels as inspiration. In 1942, Jitr held a solo exhibition at the Nichido Gallery and planned an exhibition in his home country as well. But tragically, most of his works, which would have served as important artifacts in the history of Thai-Japanese relations, were burned in bombing raids, and Jitr was only able to bring a few small pieces back to Thailand. Still, it is possible to glean from his remaining body of work that he had mastered portrayal of external light in the impressionist style as seen in his brilliant paintings of Japan’s vistas. Impressionism was not yet known in Thailand at the time, and Jitr is credited as the painter that brought the impressionist style to his homeland.
Jitr’s Artistic Contributions and Japan
Jitr returned to Thailand in 1946 to find the Poh-Chang school building destroyed in a bomb attack. He worked to rebuild the school and served as its headmaster. Jitr modeled the school after the Tokyo Fine Arts School where he himself had studied. He was impressed by Japan’s teaching methods, which struck a balance between Western influence and Japanese tradition, and used them to structure the school’s curriculum. He added new courses, including anatomy, composition, color theory, and art history.
Outdoor nature sketching also came into practice under his leadership. Moreover, Jitr designed the school building by himself — it was erected in Japanese-style mix of Japanese and Western convention known as the “Imperial Crown style,” only with a twist: he added a Thai-style roof to a Western structure.
Jitr’s art studies in Japan were in line with the Thai government’s goal of establishing an art system, and took place within the framework of public art administration and the training of art teachers. But Jitr the painter brought the impressionist style that took root in Japan after the establishment of the Hakubakai in 1895 which was the first Western style painters’ group in Tokyo, and from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, Jitr provided the opportunity for French impressionism, imported via Japan, to take the Thai art scene by storm. In the late 1950s, Fua Hariphitak’s cubism made an impact among Thai painters, quickly pushing impressionism into the annals of history, but Jitr’s role in the history of Thai-Japanese art exchange will not be forgotten.
Postwar Exchanges: From Prints to Modern Art
On Jitr’s heels came many postwar artists who went to Japan to study, mainly printmakers. This group returned home after learning Japan’s advanced woodblock techniques and played a key role in the development of printmaking in Thailand. The pioneer artist who studied abroad was woodblock printmaker Praphan Srisouta. Srisouta was more interested in Japanese traditions, not in the latest printmaking techniques. Born in Lamphun in the Northern region of Thailand, he went to Japan in 1964 after studying at Silpakorn University. He reportedly spent most of his time studying Ukiyo-e woodblock prints by famed masters such as Hiroshige.
He journeyed from Japan to Germany before returning home in 1967 and went on to gain notoriety for his first solo show,
which showcased 90 of his original woodblock prints. These prints, which were dually influenced by Thai temple mural paintings and Ukiyo-e, portray the daily lives of children and feature vibrant depictions of people and beautiful black and white contrasts, and are considered some of the most precious masterpieces in all of Southeast Asia.
In recent years, Thailand’s modern art has received increased exposure in Japan, ushering in a new era of art exchanges between the two countries. Notable among these artists is Montien Boonma, who is often exhibited in Japan. His installations, which reflect an almost meditative Buddhist mindset, have remained popular even after his sudden death.
One artist of the younger generation has set in motion yet another new turning point in Thai-Japanese art exchange. That artist is Navin Rawanchaikul, who is married to a Japanese woman and works out of Fukuoka, Japan and Chiang Mai. Navin is not content to simply work out of this regional Japanese city. He closely examines the Fukuoka community where he lives and creates pieces that deal with issues within it.
These works have in turn allowed him to become involved in the Fukuoka community. He will continue to be watched as a new harbinger of Thai-Japanese interchange whether from the perspective of a teacher, learning as a foreign student, or showcasing his art.