The Character 的

Today during my Korean class, our instructor was introducing everyone to Korea’s use of Chinese characters, or 한자. It was a welcome respite since I usually don’t understand about half of what the instructor is saying. Chinese characters, on the other hand, I feel much more comfortable with. At one point in the discussion our instructor introduced us to the character for 적(的) which we first found use for in a vocabulary word for this week 인상(印象). When you put the two together you can say that something was impressive, or left an impression (as you can in Japanese and Chinese with this same word).

Our instructor then made the most remarkable claim, “This character was invented by the Koreans, and doesn’t exist in any other language.” That is an interesting thing to say about a character which is the most frequently used character in the Chinese language. In Japanese, it is also very often used, especially in the creation of adjectives.
Continue reading The Character 的

Frog in a Well – Japan History Group Weblog

Today I want to officially “launch” a new Japan History Group Weblog at The title is 井の中の蛙, the Japanese version of an old Chinese proverb. You can read a detailed introduction to this new project at the site, including an explanation for the site’s title, but essentially the site is a multi-lingual (Japanese and English) weblog with a focus on the history of or related to Japan. Its target audience is primarily those studying Japanese history, either as undergraduate or graduate students, or scholars in the field. Some of the postings include Japanese or are written entirely in Japanese, and some background in Japanese history is assumed, but I think there is something to offer anyone with a love for history or Japan.

So far this group blog is made up of a small group consisting of two professors of Japanese history and a collection of graduate students. I hope over time to slowly increase the number of participants, until we have a fairly consistent flow of postings on a variety of topics. I especially hope to increase participation from Japanese students and scholars, or at least those studying the field outside of the United States. A primary goal I have for this project, also mentioned in the site’s initial posting, is to increase interaction and discussion between students and scholars in places like Japan and the United States. While we have only one participant studying in Japan to start, I’m going to be aggressively looking for more members for our team amongst my contacts in the Japanese academic world.

I think I will be keeping a heavy academic focus for this site that may unfortunately limit our readership. My reason for this is that I want to appeal to an audience of students and scholars who have little patience or appreciation for the world of blogs. There are no other group blogs related to the history of Japan, that I know of, and I hope this will help some people working in this field gain an appreciation for this medium of communication and writing.

The Japan history group blog is only the first of the “Frog In A Well” projects. I’m in the process of building a team of scholars and students for a China history blog (井底之蛙), a Korea history blog (우물 안 개구리), and one closest to my own heart: a fourth blog dedicated to transnational historical study of East Asia and/or its place in a broader global context. This last blog will also include duplicate postings from the other three which didn’t fit neatly within national boundaries.

Another Salvo: Kim Hee-sun’s Father

The accusations of the national betrayal and collaboration of relatives in South Korea’s politics continue with “confirmation” that the father of Uri party Kim Hee-sun’s father was a special operative working for the police in Japanese controlled Manchukuo (see older stories on this via Google News). The Uri party has been most aggressive in favoring a government investigation into collaboration in the colonial period. The anti-Uri Chosun Ilbo has, at least in the English edition which is all I can read at this point, been leading the way in reporting these charges in a Korea which is charged with emotions about its difficult history as a colony of Japan.

The claims of legitimacy by linking oneself to Korea’s independence movement (Kim Hee-sun apparently claimed to be the “daughter of the independence movement”) and the taint of treason that comes with being connected in any way to those who cooperated or worked for the Japanese colonial administration are powerful currency in the politics of the ROK. Only in the last few years, however, has this really bubbled to the surface in mainstream political discourse. Again, I can’t wait to get my Korean up to a level where I can plunge into looking more closely at the history of treason in the aftermath of the colonial period.

Koreans in Korean Textbooks

My 2nd year Korean textbook has this flattering view of Korea in its “culture” segment:

Koreans, especially women, are very sensitive to fashion. With seasonal changes, Koreans change their clothes (and shoes, in the case of women), conforming to the most fashionable trends. In the workplace too, men and women like to dress in a more or less uniform way. The quest for fashion and the wearing of similar formal attire are ubiquitous in Korean cities, perhaps because of Korean’ culture of uniformity and formalism.

Although diluted to a certain extent by the American culture of diversity and pragmatism, Koreans still place a considerable value on traditional uniformity and formalism in social interactions. In general, a Korean’s mind is tied to his/her immediate family, organization, and community. Koreans are very much concerned about how others are behaving and what others think about their behavior.1

Am I the only one who finds this description, designed to introduce foreigners to Korean culture deeply problematic? These kinds of generalizations, which I was only happy to make when I first started studying Japanese and Chinese years ago now totally disgust me and I find them totally unhelpful. As evidence, the picture shows a bunch of Koreans walking down the street in business suits. Exactly how is this different than any business sector in Asia, New York, London, or anywhere else? And can anyone tell me a culture where we can not find people “conforming to the most fashionable trends”? I’m also amused by the use of the term diluted by American culture.

1. Cho, Young-mee et al Integrated Korean: Intermediate One (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001) p. 49.

South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Law

I have been watching the development of South Korea’s fascinating “Truth and Reconciliation Law” very closely. The leading Uri party is digging up old skeletons by looking at the pro-Japan collaborators during the colonial period. This is especially interesting to me given my interest in the uses of treason in East Asia. In addition to a genuine desire to look into the dark aspects of the colonial period and point a few fingers, there are very powerful political motivations at work. Also, this law has actually caused some tension in ROK’s relations with Japan.

The most recent news is that the Uri Party have completed their final draft of the law. While I’m getting plenty of information on this through Korea’s English language media, I can’t wait until I can read more about this in Korean…unfortunately my language studies progress only slowly…

Obsolete Kana and Other Wacky Combos

Matt had a good question: How do we type some of those obsolete kana like ゐ and ゑ? I found the answer in the Apple ことえり help file which, unlike most Apple help files, was surprisingly helpful. For the above characters you type WYI and WYE, respectively. Japanese is not the only language with this problem. I occasionally forget how I type nü using the pinyin input method for Chinese (the answer is a wonderfully intuitive nv).

UPDATE: In a comment to this posting, my mom added a great link to a page listing various special roman characters and how to input them. I guess I could also add a plug for my own Pinyin to Unicode Convertor website which you can use to create unicode pinyin with tone marks.

UPDATE: Adamu pointed out that this list doesn’t have the ヱ from Yebisu beer! The list below is all hiragana. If, while typing Japanese you type “wye” you get ゑ but if you type “wye” with the “shift” key down, you can get the desired ヱ that is familiar to beer fans in Japan.

Kana Chart

Derrida is Dead

Derrida, the renowned philosopher and one of the rogues who is partly responsible for screwing up my nice little analytical philosophical world, just died today. The BBC article on his death begins the third paragraph with, “Fellow academics have charged that Derrida’s writings are ‘absurd’ but his mark on modern thinking is undisputed…” The NYT concludes that his “approach was controversial.” I wonder if it might be more accurate to say, “His approach has been hijacked and used by everyone in amazingly diverse ways and his challenges to the field of philosophy, the practice of reading, and the art of writing have contributed to a veritable civil war in the humanities which continues today.”

I like how the BBC article quotes him in a documentary made about him:

At one point, wandering through Derrida’s library, one of the filmmakers asks him: “Have you read all the books in here?”
“No,” he replies impishly, “only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully”.

All of these articles refer to him founding a “school” of “deconstructionists”? Is this true? I know his work, which include the idea of deconstruction, has been amazingly influential, but are there people out there who call themselves “deconstructionists” and does anyone in literature or theory think there is a school which thinks it is “doing what Derrida does”?

Anyways, it was strange to hear this news today since I just started Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida which is the first time these two very different philosophers have agreed to be published together. I don’t know that much about Derrida’s work. I never made it through Spivak’s introduction to his On Grammatology. However, I really liked the book Derrida by Christopher Norris, all of whose work I really respect, and also Jonathan Culler’s On Deconstruction, which I think does a decent job of explaining the idea.

UPDATE: There is a longer obituary in the NYT I didn’t see earlier. I like one quote especially:

“Many otherwise unmalicious people have in fact been guilty of wishing for deconstruction’s demise – if only to relieve themselves of the burden of trying to understand it,” Mitchell Stephens, a journalism professor at New York University, wrote in a 1994 article in The New York Times Magazine.

UPDATE: Enowing has a nice entry on this, which points to an article at the Chronicle which doesn’t refer to the “deconstructionism” that I puzzled over above. Also enowing has a great quote which cracked me up:

Avital Ronell recalls being with Derrida when a new edition of a French dictionary is released, and it includes the word differance with an a. Avital wants to organize a celebration of this historic occasion. Derrida’s mom, who’s been sitting at the dinner table listening to this conversation, turns to Derrida aghast and asks, “Jacky, you spelt differance with an a?”

Korean on a Macintosh

I made a little How-to website for people wanting to input Korean on a Macintosh (OS X). I was motivated to create this after our Korean teacher gave us a handout on how to add support for Korean input on Windows XP and I noticed a few mac users in my class feeling left out.

Korean on a Macintosh – Adding Korean input support, tips on input, and how to add hanja.

Google Print

Google has a “search-in-book” feature now which it appears to be testing. The feature is similar to, its search engine, and the commercial online library Questia. It seems to have a limited number of books but I found Louise Young’s Japan’s Total Empire. Just search for the book by title in the normal Google search engine and if a book turns up it you can enter the feature where you can see the book synopsis, back cover, reviews, table of contents, a few sample pages and access to a search engine which shows you all the pages which use a particular search term. You can then view each of these pages and those surrounding it. For Young’s book, search, for example for “Zhang Zuolin” to see all the pages in which she mentions my favorite bad boy warlord.

You Forgot Poland and its 0.02% Contribution

Someone commented on my debate posting with a quote from the Polish president which was critical of Kerry leaving Poland’s sacrifice out. I think it is obvious that Kerry knows that Poland (2,460 troops at time of invasion?) and other countries have made a sacrifice. That is so not the point. During the debate he emphasizes what often gets lost in the long list of smaller nations in the so-called “coalition of the willing”: that the top three contributors, the US (130,000 at time of invasion?), Britain (9,000) and Italy (3,000 at time of invasion and not what Kerry claimed, Australia, which had only 800?) make up vast majority of the soldiers actually contributed. While it will usually be the case that the US is the majority contributor in an international “coalition” conflict like this, it doesn’t change the fact that Poland is less than 0.02% of the contribution of troops in Iraq. (assuming the numbers on the web page above is accurate). Why should Kerry be obligated to list every country which makes a contribution of less than 1% of the troops in a debate when he is trying to point out the unilateral nature of this?? The sad truth is that this war was fought by the US, Britain, and reluctantly, whoever else we could drag into it. As I quoted in my original posting, Poland’s president now admits he was deceived and apparently, they are pulling their troops after Iraq has its election.