|Newsletter No. 52. 2013||
December 30, 2013
Lavish Are The Dead: Re-envisioning Japan's Korean War
In 1957, a young Japanese writer published a collection of short stories which quickly attracted nationwide attention. The title of the collection - Shisha no Ogori - is particularly difficult to render into English, but has been translated by John Nathan as Lavish Are The Dead. The writer was Ōë Kenzaburō, and the success of this, his first published book, was the start of a career that would ultimately bring him international fame and a Nobel Prize for literature.
Ōë's fable can be read in many ways. Viewed through one prism, it is a reflection on the forgetting of the Pacific War, whose whispering corpses float beneath the surface of national memory, just as the dead of the story float in their subterranean tanks beneath the halls of Japan's intellectual establishment. But Lavish Are The Dead, both in its subject matter and its silences, can also be read as a strangely powerful metaphor for the submerged presence of the Korean War in Japanese society, culture and memory.
This article explores the metaphorical and real presence of the bodies of the dead in Japan during the Korean War era, and uses this exploration as a starting point for reconsidering the memory of the Korean War in Japan and hidden elements of Japan's critical role in support of U.S. forces in Korea.
Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor of Japanese History in the Division of Pacific and Asian History, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, and a Japan Focus associate. Her most recent books are Exodus to North Korea: Shadows from Japan's Cold War, Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era and To the Diamond Mountains: A Hundred-Year Journey Through China and Korea.
Systems of Irresponsibility and Japan's Internal Colony
In the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, much has been said about the character of Japan, and especially about Tōhoku and its people.
It was clear immediately after the earthquake and tsunami, however, that very few specific, actionable ideas about how to rebuild were forthcoming, a problem exacerbated by confirmation of reactor meltdowns and radiation leaks. Faced with the enormity of the 3/11 catastrophe, many pundits and observers simply reheated pet theories and repeated old ideas. The immediate aftermath of disaster is often an opportunity to repeat long-held beliefs or vague platitudes in the hope that they remain applicable and will find new ears, and the days after of March 11 were no exception. Old attitudes are comforting and hard to abandon; when our beliefs are shown to be ineffective or obsolete it is quite common to respond by urging that their failure is the result of insufficient application of these beliefs rather than any defect therein. New ideas-at least the acceptance of new ideas-tend to come later if at all; neither philosophical nor discursive change occur as fast as the pace of events.
Among the many ideas about Japan and about Tōhoku that resurfaced after 3/11, two deserve special attention. One is philosopher and critic Maruyama Masao's "system of irresponsibility." In the first years after Japan's surrender, Maruyama diagnosed the wartime system as a complex "system of irresponsibility," in which "proximity to the ultimate value," i.e. the imperial institution and person, was the measure of political legitimacy and moral authority.
The second describes Tōhoku in its relationship to the Japanese nation-state. Historians have argued for decades that Tōhoku is Japan's "internal" or "domestic colony," and that the ostensible "backwardness" of the Northeast resulted from policy decisions by the government during Japan's rush to modernize after the 1868 Meiji coup d'état.
Nathan Hopson is a historian of modern Japan. He is currently a postdoctoral associate at Yale University's Council on East Asian Studies, where he is completing a book manuscript on Japanese postwar regionalism and nationalism in global context. Forthcoming works include "Takahashi Tomio's Phoenix: Recuperating Hiraizumi, Part 1 (1950-1971)" (Journal of Japanese Studies, 40, no. 2), and "Takahashi Tomio's Henkyō: Eastern Easts and Western Wests" (Nichibunken Japan Review, summer 2014).
The Uncertain Future of a "New Type" of US-China Relationship
President Xi Jinping's call for a "new type of great-power relationship" in meetings in 2013 with President Obama raises important questions about the future of US-China relations. On the surface, it appeared that the two leaders were on the same page. Obama has endorsed a "new type" of relationship in theory but seems to want practical results before actually embracing it. Exactly why a new type of relations remains elusive, despite the multitude of contacts and interdependencies between China and the United States, and despite the fact that most Chinese and American analysts believe in the central importance of their relations, comes down to mistrust. And beneath the mistrust lie sharp differences in global perspective that stem from the two countries' different self-perceptions and status in the international order.
What do China's leaders mean by a "new type of great-power relationship" with the United States? One prominent Chinese observer, Zhang Tuosheng, has written that a key characteristic should be that it "break[s] the historical cycle in which the rise and fall of great powers inevitably leads to antagonism and war," instead relying on "equality and mutual benefit, and active cooperation." "Equality and mutual benefit" was one of the five principles of peaceful coexistence, a mainstay of China's foreign policy since the establishment of the People's Republic. Its significance today is that the Chinese are not content to be a junior partner of the United States; they believe they have arrived as a great power and want to be treated accordingly. They don't want "G-2"-co-dominion with the United States over world affairs. But the Chinese do demand consultation and coordination: C-2, as the former Chinese state councilor, Dai Bingguo, put it.
Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective. His most recent book is Will This Be China's Century? A Skeptic's View (Lynne Rienner, 2013).
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