Two Conference Paper Proposals

I recently submitted two conference paper proposals. One is somewhat connected to one of the chapters of my dissertation, and the other is something of a prequel for a post-dissertation project I hope to work on.

If they are accepted, I have a foundation of notes to work off of, but there is some more research that needs to be done and I welcome any comments, suggestions, etc.

The ‘Democratic Police’ under US Military Occupation: Torture and Reform in Korea and Japan, 1945-48

The reform ideals of every postwar United States military occupation have faced one of their greatest tests in the question of how to address the pre-occupation institution of the police: Are they to be preserved largely intact in order to carry out the essential duties of preserving public order, and guarding against new insurgent forces? Or are their post-conflict remnants to be completely dismantled or at least thoroughly purged for having been the most efficient tools of state oppression? This paper examines and compares the attempt by US occupation authorities in early postwar Korea and Japan to balance its strategic need to preserve social stability and its desire to eliminate the worst symbols of police brutality and oppression. It focuses on the campaign to bring about an institutional rebirth in the form of the new ‘Democratic Police’ and the responses to it within the Japanese and Korean police establishment. US occupation officials and post-occupation advisors were forced to acknowledge, often with embarrassment, the failure to eradicate torture. However, the United States police forces that supplied advisors and instructors for the occupation were no distant strangers to brutality themselves, with torture, or “third degree” interrogations reported widespread in the 1931 Wickersham Commission’s “Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement.” Despite a genuine disgust with brutal methods, the very willingness of US forces to quickly disassociate themselves from the ‘dirty work’ of occupation security guaranteed the persistence of such methods by Japanese, and in a more politically violent environment, especially the Korean police.

Pan-Asianism or World Federalism? Raja Mahendra Pratap and the Japanese Empire, 1925-1945

A number of Indians opposed to British colonial rule made their way to Japan and found their voices welcome among Japan’s leading pan-Asianist thinkers. The most famous of these figures include Rash Behari Bose and Subhas Chandra Bose, former president of the Indian National Congress and eventual commander of the Japanese supported Indian National Army. The collaboration between these Indian nationalists, sworn to an anti-imperialist cause, and Japan’s own brutal empire has been of great interest to historians. The more eclectic figure Raja Mahendra Pratap, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932, was also a fervent activist against British colonial rule in India and likewise turned to Japan for support, but Pratap also developed a highly evolved and spiritually charged conception of world federalism. Pratap found some support for his ideas in China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, where he raised money and corresponded with intellectuals long before the idea of World Federalism would briefly enjoy widespread interest in Japan and around the world from 1945-1947. This presentation will show how Pratap worked to prevent his conception of a world federation from clashing with Japan’s imperialist conception of pan-Asian union and suggest the ways in which his exploration of the relationship between the regional and the global foreshadowed postwar and contemporary debates of a similar nature.

Update: The first proposal was rejected and I delivered the second presentation at Columbia University. I’ll try again with the first proposal for another conference in the fall.

More Evidence Uncovered of Devious Japanese Plan to Claim Dokdo

Evidence continues to mount of, “a carefully coordinated action plan among Japanese officials and ministries to claim territorial rights over the islets” of Dokdo.

Last week’s breathtaking revelation that new middle school teaching guidelines in Japan will include the phrase, “It is necessary to deepen understanding about our country’s territory in a way identical with the Kuril Islands by mentioning that there exist differing assertions between our country and Korea over Takeshima,” amounts to a provocation which provides the Republic of Korea with a clear casus belli.

However, this is only the beginning. In addition to a stealth campaign which is surely behind such outrages as the Library of Congress proposal to adopt the so-called “neutral” term “Liancourt Rocks” there have been a full range of suspicious activities which provide plentiful proof of a perfidious plot by the Japanese.

Revenge of a Japanese Villain

According to a recently declassified US military report found in the National Archives a Japanese youth of around twenty years of age, Tsuji Shintaro, was fishing near the Korean islands of Dokdo in early spring of 1948 when his boat was sunk during a US bombing run in the area during training. He was saved by a nearby Korean who collected seaweed along the coastline. However, the two fought when Tsuji claimed the islands were Japanese territory and, badly beaten by the naturally physically stronger Korean, the Japanese fisherman swore that he would someday get revenge.

Tsuji, who went on to found the Sanrio corporation, is ready to seek vengeance. The popular Hello Kitty character, which is famous for its mysterious lack of a mouth may soon undergo a startling change. As Sanrio spokesman put it in a special press conference last Wednesday, “Sanrio Chairman Tsuji feels that it is time for Hello Kitty’s long silence to come to an end. She must speak the truth about Takeshima, and we are confident that the world will listen.” The addition of a mouth to the Hello Kitty character is to happen sometime before Christmas sales for 2008 set in and many Hello Kitty products will play Takeshima related quotes by the character at random times, according to a Sanrio employee who asked not to be identified. Hearing this news, one excited Japanese fan reported, “The people of Japan, and of the world, have never heard the true voice of Hello Kitty, so we are all looking forward to this.” There are some reports that the first sound of Hello Kitty’s voice can be heard all over Japan through a special radio broadcast at noon on August 15th.

A Bamboo Plot

Oil prices and food grains are not the only products rising in price these days. Market observers and bamboo nursery owners have recently reported an unprecedented 670% rise in the price of bamboo seeds as well as full-grown stock of bamboo over the last 6 months. Jeffrey Haskins, associate editor of the San Francisco based Bamboo Quarterly was alarmed enough to explore what he called, “This clear distortion of the market.” Haskins had no idea that he would stumble upon a Japanese nationalist plot, “Those I approached either refused to speak to me or else warned me that, for my own safety, I ought best drop this entirely.”

After meeting considerable resistance at every step Haskins was finally able to tie up with Kaneyama Chiyo (金山ちよ), a student reporter for the Hitotsubashi Youth Red Flag Journal (一橋赤旗青年ジャーナル). Together they were finally able to identify the true source of the huge purchases of bamboo: an until now largely unknown organization going by the name of, “The New Bamboo Shoot Tribe” (新竹の子族). This insidious group of right-wing nationalist thugs is said to have close ties to Japanese organized crime syndicates and operates out of unmarked headquarters found somewhere in or near an apartment complex called the Harajuku Verdant Heights. In interviews with local residents Kaneyama reported that members of this organization have been seen to hold secret night time rallies in Yoyogi Park dressed in strange attire. They apparently open with a bizarre oath to the memory of former Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and have been heard chanting various anti-Korean slogans.

Very little is known about the leader of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe and her life is largely shrouded in mystery. What is known about Mitarai Aya (御手洗彩) is that she has a long history of violence and gang involvement. First detained by police in 1980 for destruction of public school property, she is said to have led many mass battles between groups of high school students in central Tokyo. She was eventually expelled from high school when she stabbed her math teacher 14 times with a geometry compass in 1982. One year later she was arrested for the death of two Yakuza men found with brutally cracked skulls near Meiji shrine. The charges were dropped after she argued that she had been molested by the older men, who were found still armed with knives, and in response she had to “bust some heads,” in “self-defense.”

A single rare picture remains of a young Mitarai taken some time in the early 1980s. We can already see in her eyes the early indications of someone who would become a cool and cruel Japanese right-wing nationalist fanatic:


The research of Kaneyama and Haskins definitely established the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe as the source of the massive purchases. This has affected prices not only of the popular Phyllostachys bambusoides and other varieties of bamboo common in Japan but a wide range of East Asian species such as Fargesia dracocephala. However, a follow up article slated to be published in Asahi newspaper which was to analyze the organization and its plans for the bamboo was never submitted. Soon after the initial joint publication of the research by these two courageous reporters Haskins left suddenly and mysteriously for Patagonia in southern Argentina to reportedly “find God,” leaving all his belongings and his wife and two children behind in California. Efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. More shockingly, Kaneyama died soon after in a mysterious fire in a restaurant in the Ōkubo district of Tokyo.

The impact of this price rise should not be underestimated, as it even threatens the Beijing Olympics held in China this summer. The cost of feeding pandas, who depend on the plant, has skyrocketed and rationing of bamboo shoots has been implemented in China and elsewhere. According to panda specialist, Dr. Zhang Zhongxu at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Feeding Center, “The Japanese have long been jealous of the prestige China will gain this summer with the hosting of the Olympic games. This manipulation of the bamboo market is a direct provocation aimed at sabotaging the games. We can now only afford to feed each of our pandas 4kg of bamboo shoots per day, and our beloved pandas are in dire condition.” One of those threatened and at the point of starvation is none other than Jingjing, one of the five mascots of the Olympics beloved all over the world.


A national campaign has been announced to raise money to feed Jingjing and other starving pandas in the wake of the crisis. However, in the event Jingjing does not pull through, there is discussion about the possibility of substituting the cartoon mascot for the Shenzhen based Internet Friendly Monitoring Division of the Public Caring Bureau, which coincidently is also named Jingjing.


While not as cute as the panda figure, the alternate Jingjing has gained much respect for his considerable mastery of a wide range of Chinese martial arts. He easily won the underground 2007 Worldwide Battle of the Mascots held in the Cambodian border town of Pailin, unseating the 3-year consecutive Japanese champion Custom-kun (カスタム君) whose Sumo skills were thought to be unbeatable.

The sentiment stirred in the Middle Kingdom surrounding the bamboo price increase, however, may have distracted the media away from the real purpose behind the massive purchases of bamboo by dummy corporations set up by the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe. While it hasn’t received much international attention, a short “Research Note” in the forthcoming issue of the International Irredentist Review ties the Kaneyama and Haskins research directly to the Dokdo issue. Professor Kjell Skadberg, head of the Institute of Irredentist Studies at the University of Flekkefjord and author of highly controversial and much criticized work Dokdo/Takeshima and Eastern Greenland: What We Can Learn from the 1931 Norwegian Invasion and Occupation of Eirik Raudes Land has suggested that this massive purchase of bamboo may be part of a new and more frightening stage of Japanese imperialist attempts to boost their international claim to the Dokdo islands through direct action.

“The New Bamboo Shoot Tribe, which must surely have government support to be engaging in such massive purchases, may be planning to somehow cover the contested islands in bamboo. If they could get this normally tropical plant to grow on the rocky surface and cover it with the verdant green of the bamboo (or take) which is part of the Japanese name for the islands, then it would serve as excellent ammunition for the Japanese claims. The equivalent would be if Koreans were to ship all the lonely people of their nation to the islands of that designation.”1

Could this be the ultimate bamboo conspiracy? Activists have already mobilized to pursue this hypothesis. The first support for Skadberg’s claim has already been found. After Kaneyama’s suspicious death in March, a close review of her possessions turned up three single sheets from a longer roster of the paying members of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe from 2006. This list included 2 pilots of major Japanese airlines as well as a retired Japanese self-defense air force pilot of high rank. Among them was also an assistant professor of the Department of Agriculture at Mie University, Saito Jun, whose past publications include an essay entitled, “From Tropical Soils to Rocky Wastelands: Increasing the Range and Promoting the Growth of Plants in Adverse Conditions.” Activists have already begun surveillance of these individuals but they have all refused requests for interview or comment.

Fishy Relations

As seen above Skadberg suggests that there is secret Japanese government financial backing behind the conspiratorial designs of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe. This is undoubtedly the case, but there are other possibilities for funding that go beyond government support and the deep blood chests of Japanese nationalist networks. In an amazing scoop, one more name found on “The Kaneyama Roster,” as the membership roster found in deceased Kaneyama’s possessions has come to be known, suggests a connection between Japan’s neo-imperialists and Korea’s huge network of Dokdo seafood restaurants, which goes by the name Dokdo Marine Products Industry Federation (독도해산물산업연맹, hereafter DMPIF). The list contained the Korean name Choe Sangho (崔尙浩) which is the same name as the DMPIF’s long-serving former chairman (1985-1997) well known for leading the expansion of DMPIF membership by encouraging all failing seafood restaurants in Korea to paint images of Dokdo on their interior walls, add Dokdo to the restaurant name and put pictures of the islands on menus or on the outer walls and signs. Before becoming chairman, Choe was merely the humble owner of his own restaurant in Shinchon, “Dokdo Tuna” and was only inspired to become active in the DMPIF when his wife one day reportedly remarked, “Wouldn’t it be nice if every station on the new line number two had a Dokdo restaurant?”


This would become the campaign theme for the DMPIF barely a year after the completion of subway line number two in 1984, ten years after violent protests against the “pro-Japanese subway” (친일지하철 반대운동, 1973-1975) line number one opened: “A Dokdo seafood restaurant at every station of line number two! Celebrate the completion of our first pure Korean subway line!” With the patronage of patriotic customers and new support of restaurant owners Dokdo-themed restaurants spread like wildfire across South Korea during Choe’s tenure as chairman, with membership in the federation growing from a mere 24 restaurants in 1985 to 432 in 1996. On the eve of the current scandal, member restaurants were said to be over seven hundred.

However, now Choe’s legendary status among students of Korea’s seafood history was being seriously questioned. Was he a selfless patriot who fought for Dokdo through his career as a seafood restaurant owner and chairman of the DMPIF? Or was he perhaps secretly an opportunistic pro-Japanese traitor who actually conspired together with Japanese extremists to deprive Korea of these sacred islands?

Choe naturally dismissed all suggestions that he had anything to do with the New Bamboo Shoots Tribe or other Japanese nationalist organizations. In a short comment given to the press through a spokesman he said, “I have dedicated my life to educating the people about Dokdo and make sure that with every delicious bite of our food they are reminded of the beauty and sanctity of the islands. Dokdo is our land! I am horribly saddened to hear that someone going by the same name as me was found on the roster of this despicable organization.” However, shortly after the statement was delivered he was committed to a “health spa” on Cheju island due to “illness and stress” and has since refused to see anyone. The DMPIF immediately began damage control, quickly distancing themselves from Choe in a press release and emphasizing that, “Choe has not served on any executive body of the DMPIF since 2001 and we are currently conducting an internal audit to investigate possible charges of corruption against him from his time as chairman.”

However, Choe’s potentially treasonous activities sparked the interest of the Korean Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities (민족문제연구소) who decided to take a look at the leadership of the DMPIF. Fresh from their hard work on the newest release of names of leading colonial period collaborators, they conducted a detailed study of all leading executives of the DMPIF from its founding in 1965 until now. The disturbing conclusions reached by their researchers can be found in the concluding paragraph of their damning 622 page report:

“Of the 78 members holding executive positions in the history of the DMPIF no less than 59, including Choe Sangho are direct descendants of colonial period pro-Japanese traitors. An additional 6 executive leaders of the DMPIF in the 1960s were themselves already in our most recent list of 4,776 traitors. We must therefore conclude that the DMPIF is a pro-Japanese collaborationist organization and will be including the organization in the upcoming release of the post-liberation edition of our dictionary of pro-Japanese collaborationist organizations (일제협력단체사전: 국내 해방후 일제잔재편).

The reaction was swift and severe. Last week a statue of Choe Sangho that had been erected at the opening of the fish market in Noryangjin in 1999 to commemorate his lifetime dedication to the preservation of Dokdo was torn down by angry protesters. More peaceful candlelight vigils were held outside the DMPIF demanding the dissolution of the organization.

Many Koreans were left shocked and confused. Scenes of crying children whose parents denied them the pleasure of visiting their favorite local Dokdo restaurant became commonplace. The very restaurants that helped promote the Korean claim to Dokdo long before children sang the Dokdo song in school were somehow also connected to Japanese terrorists who were trying to steal the islands from them? How could this happen? The scholarly investigations of the Korean Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities were followed up upon on by another powerful non-profit organization dedicated to the global fight against Japanese neo-imperialism: VANK.

The Very Annoyed Network of Koreans, or VANK, set out to identify the motives and the exact trail of money and meetings that linked the DMPIF with Japanese organizations. First their volunteers infiltrated the mid-tier cells of the DMPIF and recorded a number of revealing conversations that showed the base opportunism at the heart of the DMPIF’s treasonous crimes. The following example gives the clearest voice to this treachery:

DMPIF Traitor: Business was at its peak during the furor surrounding the establishment of ‘Takeshima Day’ in Shimane [Prefecture, Japan] and the issue of the Takeshima stamps a few years ago. However, since then people have gradually forgotten about Dokdo and business has been in steep decline. All people care about now is eating Korean beef! We have to get Dokdo back into the news and for that we need to work together with the Japanese, who have that ability.

VANK Infiltrator: But what if Japan succeeds in its campaign to steal Dokdo from us?

DMPIF Traitor: [Laughing] That would be perfect! Recovering the islands from Japan would become a permanent obsession of all Koreans! Our restaurants would flourish!

There is a sick and twisted logic to the traitor’s comment. Who now remembers the once insanely popular restaurants of pre-WWII France that served Alsatian cuisine and incorporated the word “revanche” in their names or on their menus? If Dokdo were lost, the spirit of revanche would surely lead to a new renaissance for the DMPIF, had their plot not been uncovered. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of VANK members, fired with passionate zeal and love for their nation, massive financial contributions by the DMPIF to a “bamboo fund” and other Japanese plots have been uncovered. Yesterday, the farcical attempt of DMPIF to prevent the scandal from coming out came to an end when the entire executive board of the federation fled to Tsushima island and sought political asylum from the Japanese authorities, who still forcefully occupy the Korean island, properly known as Daemado. “When Korea rightfully reclaims Daemado,” said a spokesman from VANK, “these traitors will receive their just punishment.”

One major battle to thwart the current Japanese attempt to steal Dokdo from Korea has been won but Koreans must remain vigilant. The fight continues, with ever increasing efficacy. Seoul Metro has pulled Japanese condom ads found on subway doors and special crack troops have successfully apprehended and liquidated a flock of pro-Japanese Korean pheasants. Let no Korean man, woman, or child ever forget that Dokdo is and has always been their land!

  1. Skadberg, Kjell. “Research Note” The International Irredentist Review 14:3 September, 2008 (forthcoming), 248. []

Quotational Quarantines

As historians, we often engage in the liberal use of quotations to sanitize and quarantine distasteful terms or phrases that lend legitimacy to a category or a way of referring to an institution or other body. The use of these quotes, which I confess to frequently using, presumably robs such terms of their nomenclatural power and further serves to establish distance between us and the ideas and terms we enlist to talk about the past.

Finally, use of these quotation marks excuses us from having to spend time analyzing the terms themselves, putting them aside as if to say, “Yes, yes, this is a very inappropriate term that needs careful and sensitive discussion, but since I’ve a lot to do in this essay, I just can’t be bothered at the moment to deal with it.”

Some people seem to feel that the aesthetic impact on one’s work is such that the frequent use of quotations is just not worth it, or perhaps feel that we simply aren’t accomplishing anything useful by using them for direct translations or referrals to terms as they were used decades or centuries ago. However, not using quotations or confronting problematic terms can earn the ire of book reviewers, as I discussed in a response to a review of the book Collaboration by Timothy Brooks. Brooks was criticized for used the term “pacification teams” to refer to the units the Japanese called “pacification teams” in occupied China during the war even if he is anything but sympathetic to the Japanese in his book.

One strategy is to use quotations once, and then announce that you won’t be using them anymore. I came across this tactic today when reading a Chinese translation of an essay by Matsuda Toshihiko, called 日本帝國在殖民地的憲兵警察制度:從朝鮮,關東州致滿洲國的統治樣式遷移 (English title was listed as “The ‘Gendarme-oriented’ Police System in the Japanese Colonial Empire: The Transfer of Models of Rule Used in Colonial Korea to Kwantung Province and Manchukuo”) After putting Japan’s 內地 (the interior of Japan = Japan proper excluding its colonies) and terms like 滿洲 (Manchuria, 滿洲國 Manchukuo, the largely Japanese controlled Manchurian state from 1932-1945, often called 僞滿州 or the “puppet Manchukuo”) in quotations, he follows each with “一下省略括號” (“Brackets left out below”).

Another strategy that can sometimes be used, which is one I follow for some words like “traitors,” is to embrace a word and use it quite shamelessly in order to deliberately provoke the reader. In English, the word traitor has lost much of its punch of late – a good thing in my opinion – but still holds great power in many other places and languages. The discomfort generated by the word and the way it forces readers to think about what it really means is part of what I aim to achieve when I use the term. Far from wanting to contribute to the term’s legitimacy, my deliberate use of it is partly out of a kind of mockery, but more importantly out of a desire to help set the scene of the politically charged context in which it was used.

Though I can’t speak for them, I suspect something similar is being done in some other famous cases of this. Some scholars of Korean history have been strongly criticized for using words like “terrorist” to describe Korea’s national tragic hero Kim Koo. I suspect these same critics would have much less opposition to him be referred to by his popular nickname, “the assassin.” I really don’t have strong feelings on this issue and I don’t think it is as straightforward as my own case, but it raises some interesting questions. What if these scholars are also engaging in a dual process of linguistic mockery and deliberate attempt at reviving a historical scene? Should the word be off limits entirely, should it necessarily be accompanied with quotations, or are there alternatives? What I think escapes some critics of such scholars is that I believe at least some of them are using the word terrorist not as a way to conjure images of Kim Koo as a suicide bomber in a crowded market but, on the contrary, to show how the word terrorist has itself a history and potentially embraces a wide range of figures we might be less willing to unconditionally condemn. In doing so, they potentially open a space in which to critique the way the word has come to be used and what it now narrowly represents, as well as the wide range of activities and contexts it covered both in the past and now. Can we only engage in such a rhetorical technique through the use of quotations?

I’d be interested in hearing from other students and scholars about this. What strategies do others take when they are faced with the need or potential need to establish quotational quarantines? What conventions do you follow?

Code-Switching Spotting and Living Korean History

I spent the afternoon in a coffee shop mining footnotes of various secondary accounts of the violence in the autumn of 1946 (it is also known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, the October People’s Resistance, the October Riot Incident, the October Rebellion, and the Taegu Uprising) to see if I have been missing anything.

I thought to myself, you know, it is kind of depressing to see how little is actually available in Korean sources, as far as I have been able to find out so far, and especially when compared to the wealth of materials of widely varying quality coming out on the various violent uprisings in South Korea in 1948 (Yŏsu, Cheju-do, and so on). Though American military materials abound, in general, I been somewhat underwhelmed by the relative lack of accounts of the 1945-50 period on the Korean side. The explanation I hear everywhere is that the devastation of the Korean War of 1950-3 is much to blame.

Just as I was pondering this problem, two elderly men sat down next to me and carried on a conversation. Although the loud espresso machine in the background made it difficult, I overheard some of their conversation and could recognize my favorite linguistic phenomenon:

わざわざ…followed by some Korean
しがつはつか(四月二十日)완전히…more Korean
근대おれは…more Japanese
すまないな, 지난번…more Korean
あれはね、…followed by Korean sentence.

Some excellent code-switching going on. Sentences seemed to only switch completely into Korean when discussion got fast or emotional, but would switch back to Japanese at the beginning of a new topic with Korean words sprinkled in here and there in the middle of sentences, and the middle of Korean sentences throughout the conversation would get a Japanese word here and there, as if for emphasis.

This is something I have written about here at Muninn on several occasions (A code switching family in Seoul, code-switching in Taiwan, Japanese-Chinese code-switching couple in Taiwan, Chinese-English code switching in a Harvard campus coffee shop). It was something I saw on a number of occasions in Taiwan amongst older Taiwanese though, with the exception of older Koreans speaking to me in Japanese (such the Korean war stories I heard from this gentleman and this retired policeman) I have been looking forward to finding the same thing in Korea, where I know it happens.

After listening for a few minutes, I took advantage of a moment of silence between the two elderly friends and jumped in, using Japanese. A delightful conversation ensued, which eventually ended up in exactly the kind of code-switching between Korean and Japanese that was going on before I joined in, but now with some English thrown in (one of the two had worked 4 years in the US) here and there as well.

Both learnt their Japanese as children, having completed primary school during the colonial period. They were 13 and 14 when the colonial period ended, and were both a small minority in a good quality school made up of mostly Japanese students. “One day, our Japanese friends suddenly told us they had to go to Japan because they lost the war,” said one, “to which I replied, ‘Why do you have to go to Japan? Weren’t you born here?'” One was born and raised in Taegu, but was now living and still working in Japan, while the other grew up in Seoul. I asked the man from Taegu if he remembers anything about the violence in the autumn of 1946, he said someone told him about seeing the corpses of policemen being dragged by ropes through the streets, but he didn’t see anything himself.

I asked them about their Korean war experience. The man from Seoul says that he and his family were kidnapped by North Korean militia and taken to a town north of P’yŏngyang and put into a labor team, and that he was held for 100 days. He said every day was a nightmare there, his mother praying for their survival every day. He says he has almost blocked every memory of the experience out, “When I close my eyes all I can see is an image of the 태극기 flag.” He said that he escaped with his family when the US troops reached the area in the autumn of 1950. He then walked back to South Korea. His friend sitting across the table said, “I have never heard this story! Why do you tell this stranger but you’ve never told me this story?” He replied that this was a really painful (つらい) memory for him and he doesn’t want to recall it (思い出したくない).

I told them the biggest obstacle for people like me studying the period 1945-50 is the lack of materials. Even if the memories are painful, I encouraged them both to write down their stories, and like the boom of Japanese publishing their memoirs and diaries of wartime experiences in Japan in the last few decades has done, give historians and younger generations a chance to hear their stories. One of the guys answered, “いや、韓国は日本じゃない。ここでは、そういうような書く문화がない。” (Korea is not Japan. Here we don’t have that kind of culture of writing) Is that fair? Perhaps that generation just needs a bit more time and a bit more encouragement?

Are You Korean?

I caught a taxi today to visit the Baotuquan(趵突泉)springs here in Jinan. I asked the driver what my chances were of catching a cab to the airport around 5:30 in the morning on Monday to get to Jinan airport to return to Korea and how long it would take from my hotel. After he answered, the driver went silent for a bit and then asked,

你是韩国人吗? Are you Korean?

The question came across quite sincere. On the one hand it seems reasonable to ask someone who is “returning” to Korea if they are Korean. On the other hand, one might also say it is reflective of a kind of ignorance of the fact that the vast majority of Korean citizens are anything but blond caucasians. It is possible that this driver may not, like other Chinese I have met here, have been watching Korean dramas and may not know much at all about the people of that peninsula other than, perhaps, that China fought a war there to “resist America” (抗美战争)and its “aggression” against North Korea in the 1950s. Or perhaps the driver assumed, quite reasonably, that, like China with its dozens of recognized ethnic groups, Korea too had an ethnic minority of caucasian-looking people living somewhere up in the hills where we preserve our language and traditional costumes. However, this is the second time that a Chinese person I met (the other time was a student of around high school age I met in Beijing years ago who asked me, in the presence of some Japanese friends, if I was Japanese) who only used my race to put me into the category of “foreigner” when seeing me and not immediately assuming that I could not be a citizen of some other Asian country.

Another example of this kind of relatively rare experience suggests that this doesn’t have to be due to any kind of ignorance about the relative racial homogeneity that still prevails in places like Japan and Korea, despite recent immigration. Once when I was at Taipei airport in Taiwan returning to Japan, where I was living at the time, I met a Korean citizen who was born and raised in Japan (在日), spoke only Japanese and no Korean or much English. We met at the bus stop at the then “Chiang Kai-shek airport” and soon discovered we were both heading to Tokyo. Although she was traveling as a Korean, she told me she was actually right now in the process of getting Japanese citizenship, over the strong opposition of her grandparents in Japan. After a few sentences exchanged in Japanese, she asked me, “Are you Japanese?”

As someone who lived her entire life in Japan and who spoke no language but Japanese, her question, again completely serious, can’t be blamed on any ignorance of the racial makeup of Japan. Instead, perhaps because of her own situation, she didn’t immediately associate being Japanese, as many others who grew up in that country would, with belonging to any particular ethnic group or race. She asked the question as we might reasonably ask someone of any race, who spoke with an American accent, if they were American (though even in this case, racial minorities like Asian-Americans will often get the, “Where are you from from,” question to get them to answer where their non-caucasian immigrant ancestors came from).

Given the reality of immigration in places like Korea and Japan, the time may come, in a decade or two, when this question becomes more common and natural.

The Hall of Asian Peoples

Although I lived in New York for two years, I never got around to visiting many of its museums. A few weeks ago I finally paid the Museum of Natural History a visit along with a good friend of mine.

As some of my previous postings indicate, I have become more and more interested in the geographies and narration of museum exhibits. As a student of East Asian history, I was especially interested in how the museum portrayed the cultures of that region.

The museum of natural history is not just home to dinosaur bones and stuffed animals. Between the hall containing the stuffed lions and the one containing the stuffed birds, one can find the “Hall of Asian Peoples.”

In the hall of Asian peoples, with “Asia” defined in the broadest old use of the word, we can find all sorts of exhibits. The hall provides a lot of interesting material for comment, from its exhibit on “the Lure of Asia” to its portrayal of Islamic cultures and China, but I’ll just make a few comments on its portrayal of Korea and Japan. Take a look at this hall plan (click for a larger version):

Hall of Asian Peoples

I was struck by the central location of Japan in the large square room to the right. Surrounding Japan were a number of exhibits, including the “Introduction to Primitive Asia” and others. Among the exhibits on the outside of the Japanese center was one portraying the Ainu peoples.

The Ainu

The Ainu, of course, where almost eradicated by the Japanese. Next to this, also on the outside of the Japanese center, we find the Koreans. The entire mapping of these cultures in the museum closely mirrored the Japanese imperial order of old.

Korea: The Uniqueness

The Korean government, however, has done what it can to spruce up the exhibit a bit, which portrays a Yangban scholar at his studies, with his hanbok-clad wife working nearby. The title of the exhibit is, “KOREA: The Uniqueness.” Ah yes, that familiar claim brought back so many memories. A sign reports that, “This exhibit was made possible through the generous assistance of the Korean Cultural Service.” It saddens me that, far outside of the host countries, the arm of nationalists can reach into the heart of museums. When I was there, a crowd of delighted Korean tourists were snapping pictures. The Ainu next door were less popular with the cameras.

The heart of the square room, with its Japan exhibits, was hardly any better. I could smell the hand of Japanese government influence upon the contents of the exhibit, even if some of the contents showed unmistakable evidence of a non-Japanese hand. See, for example, the kanji characters in this numbered list of photo identifications:


Besides the general sloppiness of the handwriting, you may notice the number four (四) shows a little excess creativity. These problems, however, are found in most museums. The element of the Japan exhibit that most showed potential Japanese government or other suspect dabbling was the description of the Japanese emperor system (click for readable version):

Japan Emperor System

This description of the Japanese emperor would not pass muster in a student essay in the most introductory course on Japan. The over-attribution of agency to the emperor in the Meiji period, the description of the “restoration” of Shintô which was more accurately the birth of state Shintô, is bad enough. The most interesting problem with this little snippet is what it leaves out. Notice how the paragraph jumps from the triumphs of the Meiji period, over the decades of Japanese imperialism, directly to Hirohito’s denial of divinity after World War II. How clean this picture looks: no imperial responsibility for the war, no outside pressure of Hirohito to deny his divinity hinted at.

In case the rosy picture of the text failed to persuade, no “Hall of Asian Peoples” could be without a photo of the Japanese imperial couple:

Imperial Couple

甘口カレーという問題 (Or, on the problem of the so-called “sweet” curry)

I love curry. I love curry from many countries and in many colors and consistencies. However, I am a firm believer in the basic principle that curry must be spicy. I know that the Oxford English Dictionary describes curry as:

curry, n.2 A preparation of meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric, and used as a relish or flavouring, esp. for dishes composed of or served with rice.

but seriously, I think it is time for us to take a stand and reserve the use of the word for the spicy curries that truly deserve the name. One of the first to go should be what the Japanese call 甘口カレー, or sweet curry. It is simply shocking that this can decorate the shelves of grocery stores in Japan along side “moderately spicy” and “very spicy” curry blocks. “Not very spicy at all,” this I can accept, but “sweet” curry does violence to the word it modifies. Curry has to be more manly, more aggressive, it has to have bite! If anything it has to mean something slightly closer to another, now obsolete, use of the word curry also listed in the Oxford English Dictionary:

curry, currie, n.3 The portions of an animal slain in the chase that were given to the hounds; the cutting up and disembowelling of the game; transf. any prey thrown to the hounds to be torn in pieces, or seized and torn in pieces by wild beasts: see QUARRY.

You see, at least that has much more punch than “a quantity of bruised spices”!

Today I was reading in the Harvard-Yenching library with Sayaka. She abandoned studying for a time and with her headphones on watched Youtube movie clips of Downtown, her favorite pair of Osaka comedians. The silence of the library was disturbed by the occasional muffled chuckle emerging from her side of the table. After we left the library I asked her what was so funny. The Downtown clip she showed me was brilliant: Matsumoto Hitoshi basically laid down the law on this ridiculous concept of 甘口カレー. For those of you who understand Japanese, you can view the clip here: 甘口カレー Downtown Clip.

Tragically, however, like so much other extremely rare and otherwise completely unobtainable video content now or until recently available on Youtube, I doubt the link above will last long.

George Will on Yasukuni

A friend pointed out an article about the Yasukuni issue, “The Uneasy Sleep of Japan’s Dead” by the Washington Post’s conservative commentator George Will which I found deeply problematic. I find the article to be a short but good example of a particular type of writing about Japan’s relations with its neighbors and the sensitive issues related to history and memory which employs a rhetoric that is effective in creating sympathy for Japan’s position but seriously flawed.

This kind of writing portrays Japan as a friendly, civilized, and eminently rational state surrounded by dangerous and evil neighbors. Japan, the writer will claim, is provoked and insulted, and forced to react to this outside pressure either by concessions or the rare and just stand against its attackers.

I find this style of writing particularly annoying not only because it is essentially a perfect reproduction of the Japanese nationalist line on foreign policy, but because it resembles the writing of so many of Japan’s misguided supporters in earlier times. This kind of expository can be found in the English language newspaper articles and books written by those friendly to Japan from the end of the 19th century and through the Manchurian incident of 1931. In earlier times it showed the degree to which contemporary diplomats and politicians within Japan were able to successfully portray themselves as enlightened members of the world club of nations while continuing to describe their neighbors as, at best, half-sovereign unruly children awaiting the benevolent and guiding hand of the Japanese empire. Both then and now, this kind of writing essentially avoids the need to address the problem at hand face on, since any accusations can be dismissed as the pernicious ranting of outsiders.

Let us take a closer look at Will’s article in order to offer more concrete criticism. Let us reduce the article to a series of more basic clips:
Continue reading George Will on Yasukuni

国粋 and 국수

I’m giving a presentation to my Korean class related to nationalism, and wanted to explain one translation of the word that is particularly strong and usually has a negative connotation: 국수주의(國粹主義). I want to explain the word by discussing its parts, especially the character 수(粹) which can be roughly translated as “essence.” For reference, I looked up the definition of the important compound 국수 in my Korean-Korean dictionary (동아 새국어사전 제4판). It has the following definition:

국수: 그 나라나 민족 고유의 정신상・물질상의 장점이나 아름다운 점.

To compare, I then looked up the same word in Japanese in the Japanese dictionary 広辞苑 which had the following definition:


If you know Japanese and Korean you can see that these two definitions are, down to the order and specific wording, almost exactly same. It can be roughly translated as:

The spiritual and material virtues and strong points specific to a nation and its [people/race]

The only differences between the two definitions is that 1) the Japanese uses the word 国民 (nation; people; citizens) whereas in the same position, the Korean definition uses the word 민족(民族) which has a similar meaning but includes a kind of conception of race or ethnicity in it and as far as I know, cannot be used to merely refer to the citizens of a state. 2) The Korean uses 아름다운 점 for 美点 (good point; merit; virtue; beauty; excellence) when they could have used the same Chinese character compound 미점. However, the meaning is pretty much identical in either case.

While it is not surprising that a character compound like 国粋, which probably had either a Chinese predecessor (I haven’t bothered to look up its origin) or was a modern neologism from Japan is similarly defined in the dictionaries of the languages that adopted the compound. However, the similarity in word order and phrasing is really too close to be anything other than a direct copy. The question then is, who copied who? Or perhaps more likely, did the 広辞苑 and 새국어사전 take their definition from the same older source (the 諸橋 or something like it perhaps?)

Soccer Game

I was just about to go to bed when suddenly the entire neighborhood erupted with wild cheering. The sounds of joyous voices poured in through the window from all around. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “It must be the world cup and Korea has just scored.” But wait a second, haven’t all the newspapers been eagerly awaiting Korea’s first game to come later this week?

I turned on the television just in time to catch the replay of the goal that was scored and created such joy all around me. Australia had just scored a goal against Japan…