It is always amusing to observe the looks of disbelief in a classroom when the topic of invented traditions is being discussed. Some look betrayed as if their whole life had been a lie, while others scratch their heads and ask “Well, weren’t all traditions invented at some point?”
Unfortunately, I must confess that I generally fall under the same category as the head scratchers. There are certain qualities of an invented tradition that don’t make sense to me. For example, the discussion in this case was about the Scottish kilt, Hugh Trevor-Roper (1983) argues that the Scottish kilt was not an ancient Highlander tradition, but rather workwear designed for Scots by an Englishman; the kilt was not even considered to be a cultural asset until the noblemen began to wear it and refer to it as such. While these two facts are not exactly difficult for me to grasp, it is the fact that the kilt can be considered an invented tradition when the version that we know today was created in 1745 (Trevor-Roper 1983). Hasn’t it been long enough for it just to be considered a tradition?
In 1745 my home country, the United States, hadn’t even been officially created yet. This lead me to ask myself if there are any genuine traditions present in modern America that cannot be classified as “invented”. It is common knowledge that many aspects of culture and tradition in America have derived from the cultures that immigrants brought with them. While all traditions were invented at some point, the term “invented tradition” refers to a pre-existing symbol, item, or ritual that has been repurposed to fit the new needs of society (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983). But what about traditions that serve little to no purpose such as a food like apple pie?
Apple pie is considered to be a traditional American treat, in fact the phrase “as American as apple pie” describes something or someone that is archetypically American. However, the tasty treat is actually a blend of pastries that came from multiple European countries. Thus, it is not quite an American tradition (Ferroni 2012). This being said, can it then be considered invented? It is not an ancient dish nor is it original, but what could have possibly been accomplished by apple pie being viewed as an American tradition?
The same can be said for a number of traditions present in modern America, which leads me to believe that the definition of invented traditions needs to grow in order to include hybridity, creolization, and time progression. With cultures becoming more influenced by one and other, new traditions and meanings to old symbols are being formed. When will today’s new symbols become the next old tradition?
Trevor-Roper, Hugh. 1983. The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland. Pp. 15-41 in The Invention of tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
“The predicates of peoplehood are categorically asserted rather than inductively proven. Being more prescriptive than descriptive they propose and enforce what it means to be a typical or normal member… In other words, the state and its associated institutions constitute people in their idealized image, exercising biopower that shapers society and citizens… Hence as much as modern peoplehood seeks to an inclusionary identity, it excludes relationally defined minorities of the body and of the mind.”
Simply speaking, he means that creating legislation and norms and its contents decides who’s in and out, or who is ideal, mainstream or a national, and who is an outsider, a minority or a non-national. As the title of his chapter suggests, “the paradoxes of peoplehood” implies this process.
This is greatly applicable to Burakumin in Japan. Lie (2011:179-180) discusses a process that the Burakumin went through. Even though the laws and social consciousness now acknowledge the Burakumin (although not fully), and after the Meiji Restoration gave them rights equal to the mainstream Japanese, this didn’t change much of the situation. Instead it gave the Burakumin a further burden. They were given more equal conditions, meaning they were giving the same expectations they had to meet, but this time without any protections or help from anyone, however with the persistent image that they were still at the bottom of society. They got more pressure from society, earned less money, and were remained just as poor as they had been.
Here is a related example of this paradox that my mother experienced. When my mother was in junior high school, there was a random group of kids who took extra classes. They were always taken from the classroom occasionally and studied in a different classroom. She later found it out that those kids were Burakumin and the reason why they were taking extra classes was for their education, which they had been deprived of historically. I assume that the purpose was to even out the educational opportunities and lessen the gap between the mainstream and the Burakumin. However, because they were treated differently by teachers, my mother thought that the kids were special and different from her and the rest of her classmates. This can mean that they saw the kids as different, abnormal, or a non-national group: outsiders.
Even recently, the Burakimin have been discriminated against, especially when job hunting because they have particular kinds of last names and birth places that imply a Buraku ancestry.
In Japan, who is and is not the mainstream is very explicit. I think this norm is not easy to break down as it has been passed on over generations, together with an essentialist aspect of Japanese people. However, doing nothing never helps people get out of poverty and out of the bottom stratum of the society. In my opinion, with the accelerating globalization, as long as the idea of nation-state exists, there always will be those who are “outsiders”.
Lie, John. 2011. Modern Peoplehood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
In Chapter 10 of Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson explains censuses, maps, and museums as institutions of power which lead colonial states to imagine their dominions. Anderson explains one of the institutions, maps, as something that is “nothing visible on the ground, but demarcating an exclusive sovereignty wedged between other sovereignty”. Among the three given institutional powers, maps were one of the most interesting and relatable topic to me.
The spread of “official” maps creates an imagined shape of “our” nation, where “we” live and belong. These illustrated maps of territories however are not a concrete line but can be changed throughout history. Anderson gives an example of “imagined ties” between the widespread Dutch colonial territories by illustrating “maps-as-logos”, by using colors to show how the places were all connected.
A similar effect was brought up in class during the discussion as we examined the Japanese wartime textbook, which indicates maps of Japanese territories and the world map. This textbook was a relevant example of this week’s chapter, since the textbook convinced us how the spread of maps with color usage and the world map of Japanese being in the center was distributed through the educational system creating mindset of where Japan is.
I experienced the influence of maps and the mind-set created by them when I went to a school in Canada. Since Canada uses a world map in which England is placed in the center, it was a different “map” from what I saw in Japanese textbooks, where Japan was illustrated in the center. I immediately thought the map was wrong, and was even offended to see Japan placed at the far right of the map, like it didn’t matter, since I was able to imagine people I know and society inside this map of Japan.
When being constantly reminded of where we are connect to and belong to, we tend to look towards the things we are familiar with rather than a map of some foreign country. It is also impossible to actually imagine people living in the “uncolored pieces of the map”, thus only seeing it as a land. This reflects a colonial state of mind, of “filling in “the empty boxes that was not yet their territory.
As a recent example, maps are today not only an instrument to imagine a nation, but also colored and labeled in differently in different occasions, perspectives, in multiple places. Feeling strong sense of attachment towards “Tsu-gaku kuiki 通学区域 (school district)” in Japan could be an example. Throughout the nation, when attending public elementary school, students must go to the school which are assigned to each school district. This system creates the sense of community, since the boundary of who attend which school is clearly illustrated. Thus when students move up in middle school, and introduce which elementary they are from, people easily could imagine which part of the city they are from.
Much like the way some people do not care about their local sports team, I do not give much thought to my racial identity. This is mostly due to the fact that if I gave my race anymore thought than the occasional ponder, I would be in a constant state of identity crisis. My mother is Japanese-Korean raised in Japan, and my Father is Irish-German-Mexican raised in America. Thus I have christened myself as an “Euro-Mexi-Asian-American”. Fortunately I have been privileged enough in life where I was never made particularly conscious of my race; I have never let my race define me and very few people I’ve met have defined me by it. However, due to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I have become unusually conscious of my ethnic background.
After the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson my Facebook was splashed with statuses saying things like“f*ck white people #AmeriKKKa”, and articles talking about what white people need to do about racial inequality. There were many types of reactions to the grand jury’s decision but everything ultimately boiled down to race or more specifically, the oppression of black Americans by white Americans. Every day frustrated black (along with some enlightened white) Facebook friends posted lists of black victims of police brutality and offended white friends posted articles supporting the “not all whites” stance. Quite honestly, I didn’t understand my role in this conversation, I am horrified by the violence and inequality that American society has tolerated for so long but I cannot say that I completely empathize with black Americans. I am upset about Ferguson but I was not exactly sure why.
It is this feeling of disconnect that had made me conscious of my ambiguous racial identity. On one hand I am partially white, does that put me on the side of the oppressor? Did I feel upset because of underlying guilt? But what about the times where I was discriminated against, what about all the times where people told me to go back to China? Was I upset because I was afraid of being a victim of violent discrimination? While it isn’t true, I couldn’t help but feel that there was really no place for me in the conversation about race, I straddled an awkward border of whiteness that made it seem that I didn’t have the right to talk about race as a minority.
I thought about all these things for a while and ultimately decided that my disgust with the Ferguson case did not derive from any sense of ethnic identity (as a white or as a minority) but rather a betrayal of my national identity. As Craig Calhoun (1993:235) puts it, “The idea of nation is itself an instance and an archetype of this classifying logic of categorical identities”. As hackneyed as it sounds, I believed that being American stood for unparalleled equality and opportunity and seeing that it was not as I believed upset me quite a bit. I realized that my national identity was stronger than my racial identity because of my racial ambiguity. While this epiphany does virtually nothing to solve the racial tensions in Ferguson, I do believe that figuring something like this out can encourage more people to act as a community.
Bolivian soldier prepares to fire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Miyu Fujihara
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson talks that the self-sacrifice for the nation comes from the idea of disinterestedness one feels for the nation and that this is similar to the sense that one feels for the family. People cannot choose where to be born and thus that it is natural that people feel strong connection to it, which one can’t control or change.
In other words, people imagine there’s a fatality to belonging to one’s nation and that nation can represent and express that person as well. Also, Anderson states that people cannot feel tied as much to those international organizations that seek for certain interests, like Amnesty International, because one can get out of these community whenever she/he wants to, unlike the relationship between one and one’s nation.
When combined, these two ideas mean that the one cannot die for a non-nation, such as an international organization, because there’s no fatality between them. However, when looking at the history and the number of those who work for the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations, it seems that Anderson’s statement doesn’t necessarily apply.
In the UN peacekeeping operations, especially for military personnel, there is always a chance to lose their lives during the operations, but there are 97,000 uniformed military personnel from over 110 countries and this system has been maintained ever since 1948. This explains that a number of people are willing to work for the UN peacekeeping operations. In other words, many wish to foster world peace even by risking their lives for the UN peacekeepers’ aim, which is to help countries suffered from conflicts to create a condition for peace. It is again clearly contradicting the idea that Anderson’s has. These personnel can sacrifice themselves to sustain world peace, not necessarily to protect their countries.
Nonetheless, on the uniform that they wear during the operation has name of their own nation like Japan, Brazil and the United States and so on, apart from the symbol of the UN and the blue helmet. At this specific point, it does not make sense to have the name of nation seen. If they are truly working for the UN and have so called “UN identity” believing in world peace, not representing their own nations, only should the UN symbol be on it.
This leaves questions that why they hope to join the UN peacekeeping programs while risking their lives, and also why they do not forget to belong to a certain nation. In my opinion, as Anderson says, people cannot sacrifice for nothing but their own nation, and this is why they still want to have their national symbol on them when they know they might die at any time to show their nation-ness. Borrowing Anderson’s words, by doing so, they change the operations disinterested from interested.
Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities. London: Verso Books.
鮮, referring to Korea, and 内, literally meaning inside, representing Japan
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argues that the emergence of “official nationalism” was, to a large degree, incited by the national movement in the American nations. Old dynastic groups felt the need to merge nation and empire in order to retain power that is competitive to that of establishing imagined communities. Among such empires, Anderson uses Japan as one example.
Japan officially annexed Korea in the year 1910, and the following 9 years were called the Military Police Reign Era. This era was characterized by massive violence, frequently involving deaths of civilians. The Military Police Reign Era was abruptly ended in March 1st of 1919 when, for the first time, the Korean public across the peninsula joined the demonstration to resist against repressive Japanese colonial rule. Realizing the limitation to rule by force, the government-general switched its policy to “cultural policy”, which was an attempt to break down Korean identity and culture (partly) through forbidding usage of Korean language. In schools, students were severely punished if they spoke in their language, and such punishment methods included forcing children to beat each other if one of them talked to the other in Korean. Through education and forced visit to shines (and many other ways), the government-general laid the foundation for full mobilization as the tide of war was gradually turning against Japan.
Kuniaki Koiso, Japanese Governor-General of Korea, implemented a draft of Koreans for wartime labor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Japanese imperialism continued even after the end of WWII. The period between 1945 and 1948 marked the most intensive education movement by the Koreans in Japan of all time. When the liberation was finally achieved in 1945, the Koreans in Japan immediately set up language schools to prepare for repatriation. However, the GHQ, along with the Japanese government, took oppressive measure to interrupt the Korean identity education enforced by the League of Koreans, a group that undertook the management of schools. In 1947, the occupation force issued the sentence commanding Korean schools to follow the direction of the Japanese administration, which basically denied the education right of Korean children. The second directive was issued in March 1948, which stated that the government will shut down the schools by force if the league does not accept the first order. Receiving the directive, enraged Koreans immediately gathered to organize demonstrations. In April 7th, around 10,000 participants in Kobe gathered in front of the school gate to block the police from entering the school. Police resorted to brutality against parents and teachers who strongly resisted. Following such a large scale demonstration, on April 24th, the government took down the order and the GHQ, for the first time, declared the state of emergency in Kobe, which virtually marked the victory for Koreans. Although there are some other political reasons behind the oppressive measure taken by the oppressors, from the fact that the GHQ and Japanese government tried to exterminate Korean educational institutions, it is possible to make an observation that they were aware of the power of language and its potential to be their threat.
Countries where English is an official or de facto official language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Saki Miyata
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson discusses the rise of nationalism in Europe through the study of language and the establishment of official or vernacular languages. A “revolution in European ideas about language” (Anderson 1991) evolved right after the discovery of the civilizations other than European, which were thought to be much older than the European civilization.
The “revolution in European ideas about language” included the beginning of the first scientific study of language, including comparing grammar, classifying language into families, reconstructing language by scientific reasoning of “proto-language” (Anderson 1991). These studies of language created new fields of professions, which pushed further increase in printed language including dictionaries. In addition, Anderson states that the so-called middle class population “visualize in a general way the existence of thousands and thousands like themselves through print language” (Anderson 1991). Here, it implies that the population sharing the same vernacular language or readable language were able to imagine a community.
I was particularly interested in the concept that sharing the same language creates communities. Anderson states that “power and print-language mapped different realms” (Anderson, 1991). To give an example, a German speaking population was imagined as a community, including every German speaker meaning both native German speakers and the population who did not come from Germany but was able to speak the German language. Can we apply this to the current English speaking world? The English speaking world includes the United States, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that use English, as well as immigrant populations. Although their countries may be different, these groups of people all share and understand the same language.
If sharing a common language means to belong to the same community, can ESL (English as a second language) students be included in the “English-speaker’s community” as well? Can accents such as “British-accent”, “American-accent”, and “Australian-accent” all be classified as one community? In order to investigate who belongs to this “English community”, the ownership of English is questioned. Pavlenko and Norton interestingly state that “In many English-speaking context, the ownership of English by white immigrants is contested to a significantly lesser degree than by racialized newcomers” (Palvenco and Norton, 2007). Does this imply that the English language belongs to whites?
Do different language have different degrees of unity? Is it true that the smaller or lesser the population which shares a language, the stronger sense of community? In Japan, one of the criteria to be recognized as Japanese is to be able to speak the Japanese language. In Japanese society, the Japanese language is considered unique and it is true that Japan is the only country that uses Japanese. However, English is used or learned all around the world. For example, in Canada, being able to speak English was not considered important when determining who is Canadian.
Another question is how well do we have to know the language in order to be in the community? If Benedict Anderson’s statement of imagining a community by sharing common language can be applied to the English speaking world, then these members are increasing drastically through the globalization.
For further research I would also like to investigate what for and why these people “wants” or feel necessary to join this community of the English language.
Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Lilia Yamakawa
In 1985, US President Ronald Reagan agreed to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany to lay a wreath in honor of Germany’s war casualties. Reagan’s team of advisors did not do their homework, and it was later discovered that the cemetery contained graves of some of Hitler’s elite officers who had taken part in the massacre of Jews. Here was a president who always talked about “American values”, and he was going to pray for soldiers who had caused the Holocaust. There were strong protests by Jewish groups, US congressmen, US military officials, and regular citizens who all urged Reagan not to make the visit. He felt he could not cancel, however, and instead, a trip to a nearby concentration camp was also scheduled for the day of the cemetery visit. Reagan was not anti-Jewish, nor was he a Nazi sympathizer, and he himself had even served on the “right side” of the war. Although he had simply bumbled into the visit, the “Bitburg Fiasco” turned into one of the lowest points of Reagan’s presidency. He and his handlers had failed to see the powerful symbolism of the visit.
One German political editor noted the day after the visit was announced that Germany “had been able to become a member of the community of civilized nations after the war not by denying but by accepting its Nazi past.”
The Reagan-Kohl idea of a historic harmony is, therefore, an insult not only to those who suffered and died in the camps. World War II was not just another European war. It was the darkest hour of European civilization. Its end brought to an end the world’s most atrocious regime and the world’s hitherto most dangerous conflict. It also laid the basis for a democratic West Germany and a united West (Lou, 1991).
Japanese Prime MinisterShinzo Abe, on 26 January 2013, made his second visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a powerful symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. Unlike Reagan who had bumbled into his visit, Abe went on purpose. Unlike the Americans, who had fought against the German aggressors, Japan was the aggressor. Unlike many Japanese leaders who deny many wartime actions, the Germans have accepted their Nazi past. Thus, it is understandable that the Koreans and Chinese would be upset by visits to Yasukuni by Abe and other officials.
This post explores national identity and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese government officials. I examine how the visits help to form and strengthen a sense of nationalistic, racist self-identity among some Japanese. I will also show how the visits help to form a particular identity of Koreans today. This paper is based on Benedict Anderson’s (2006) Imagined Communities.
First, with regard to Japanese identity, Yasukuni Shrine shows us a negative side of Japanese nationalism and patriotism. Twelve class-C war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni. In fact, the government pressured the shrine to include the war criminals in 1978. The museum at the shrine, the Yushukan, does not show the atrocities that the Japanese army brought on its neighbors in Asia, controlling the way history is remembered. The shrine symbolizes the beliefs of ultra-nationalist right-wing groups today. Japanese officials not only insult Asian neighbors when they visit the shrine, but they also make the Japanese identity look bad to the world. Finally, while there is supposed to be a separation of religion and state, Yasukuni Shrine seems like a very political place that portrays nationalism based on “us vs. them.”
Love and self-sacrifice are important parts of a nation’s identity, and Yasukuni is a symbol of that positive side of nationalism and patriotism. Anderson points out that a love of nation is often expressed in its literature. Emperor Hirohito paid a visit to the shrine and wrote a poem that said: “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino.” Because of this, soldiers who went to war would say “Let’s meet at Yasukuni.” These words signify loyalty to the emperor, to the nation, and to the Shinto religion. In this way, it was and remains a symbol of love and self-sacrifice.
People who believe it is the right or duty of Japanese, even government officials, to pray at Yasukuni argue that it is a spiritual place. To worship at Yasukuni is an act of love and gratitude to those who fought and died for Japan (John, 1991). Many Japanese also believe it is the right of the people of a nation to worship whoever and however they choose to worship.
Anderson discusses the roots of racism and says that in some cases it came from social class differences rather than nationalism. But in the case of the Japanese, is it possible that nationalism and racism were pretty much the same thing?
Koshino Kosaku is a sociologist who studies Japanese identity. He argues that “racialism” includes racism but is broader in meaning. He describes race as a socially constructed and imagined community because it does not have a real biological foundation, and because most members of the group don’t actually know each other. Although the Japanese are mixed, many of them imagine that they are a racially distinct and homogeneous group. These people believe that being Japanese is an unchosen result of nature. The Meiji leaders invented the idea of Japan as a “family-nation of divine origin.” All Japanese were supposedly related to each other and to the emperor. “Kinship, religion, and race were fused to produce a strong collective sense of oneness” (Koshino, 1998).
Koshino says that the notion of blood ties is still a part of the Japanese subconscious. The idea of Japanese blood makes the idea of “us v. them” stronger. Japanese culture is associated with a “Japanese race,” and Japanese tend to be possessive of their culture. Many people believe that no matter how long Chinese or Koreans live in Japan, they will always remain Chinese and Korean because they are different “minzoku”. He says the concept of “minzoku” can mean race, ethnic community, and nation. Anderson says that a nation is closed because it is something you don’t choose. It is, however, also open because through language and naturalization you can enter a nation. It seems that as long as the Japanese tend to think of themselves as a separate race and continue to feel racist toward others, Japanese nationalism is much more closed than open. Abe’s visits to Yasukuni only make this racist identity stronger. (Koshino, 1998)
Next, we will discuss Yasukuni and Korean identity. Whenever a Japanese official visits Yasukuni, the Koreans protest. It seems as Korean nationalism has been strengthened through protest against Japanese policy. Recently, the Korean president refused to negotiate with the Japanese because Japan refuses to apologize for its wartime actions. One Korean said that he can not talk about the history of his country without talking about what Japan did when it controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Jukka Jouhki discusses the Japanese politicians’ visits to Yasukuni and the impact of those visits on Koreans. In the following passage he describes Yasukuni as a “wormhole”:
Symbolically, Yasukuni can be thought of as a wormhole that goes through time and space. When this wormhole crops up, the entire Korean nation seems capable of being transported backward into the era of Japanese colonial rule. (Jouhki, 2009)
Jouhki says that the Korean image of Japan is as it was in the colonial period, and Yasukuni represents imperial Japan just as if it were now. The image exaggerates the difference between us and them, Korea and Japan. He says that when the Koreans were colonized, it made the Koreans see themselves as “Other”, just as they saw the Japanese as “Other”, and Yasukuni represents an identity that they are still trying to work through. Therefore, Japanese leaders’ nationalism, expressed through visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the museum and textbooks that fail to show wartime atrocities, is not only a means to form a certain Japanese identity. It seems that Japanese nationalism strengthens a certain Korean identity as well.
Amartya Sen writes that a sense of identity can be positive because it makes us closer to others in our group, but it can also be negative because it can cause a deep feeling of division with those who are outside your group. He talks about how Al Qaeda tries to create a militant Islamic identity so that the people will feel the West is separate and bad. In the same way, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni creates sense of division from both the side of Japanese and Koreans.
The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity and … the illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price” (Amartya, 2006).
Visits to Yasukuni can cause certain groups, both Japanese and Korean, to get caught up in one identity, forgetting they have diverse identities, and this can lead to conflict. These visits cause some Japanese to identify themselves as Japanese in a nationalist, racist way. They can cause some Koreans to identify themselves as Korean and the former victims of Japanese imperialism in an overly nationalistic way.
Clearly, Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of patriotic love and self-sacrifice. It depends on your political beliefs as to whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing. I believe the people were used and sent to war by the Meiji oligarchs in their official nationalism, and they need to be prayed for. However, I believe, that we should pray for them in a place that is not so political and insensitive to the Koreans and others. It leads to a nationalist identity, on both sides, that is divisive and may lead to conflict and violence.
Benedict, A. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.
Calhoun, C. (1993). Nationalism and ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 211. 239.
Lou , C. (1991). President reagan: “the role of a lifetime. (p. 520). Touchstone Simon and Schuster
John, B. (1991). Yasukuni: the war dead and the struggle for japan’s past. (2007 ed., p. 56). C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
English: Peace Park statue A life size bronze of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who survived the Hiroshima bombing, but later died from radiation sickness at age 12. Children visit the park and bring origami cranes to the statue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Sheena Sasaki
When does education start? The official education may start from the enrollment of elementary school; however, education itself has begun long before. One of the educational tools for children under age of elementary school is picture books and verbal stories. It is not rare to see the scene where mother is telling bedtime stories to her children. The story and picture book the mother chooses deeply influences the children’s education. This post focuses on three well-known bedtime picture books/stories in Japan, and examines the influences of the picture books, stories, and the character of the story to shape children’s beliefs and education.
How do Japanese children learn morals and values, and why do they decide to follow such social rules? Without a question, a person or people who raised the child would significantly influence shaping the base of the child’s moral belief. My mother used the picture book, Ehon: Jigoku by Tsuguo Miya (1980) as part of moral education. The book vividly illustrates many different parts of jigoku, the place similar to the underworld of Greek mythology. In this place, dead people are judged by Enma-daio, the judge of jigoku, about their behaviors when they were alive. Ehon: Jigoku uses very detailed and brutal pictures to graphically explain how the dead are punished for certain bad conduct and crime. Miya (1980) writes in the preview that the purpose of Ehon: Jigoku is to embed the idea “death is very fearful” into children’s mind since fear against death may be coming from human instinct, however, is possible to strengthen through education. He continues that people who lived during the period with underdeveloped medical science taught their children to stay away from danger and to feel deep attachment to their lives by showing pictures telling stories of jigoku. Thus, Miya (1980) concludes that the book may be one of the sagacities that ancient Japanese have created.
The book gives the readers a great impact of punishments for certain misbehaviors. Children who read the book may be traumatized by brutal pictures and strongly feel that they do not want to go to jigoku. As they grow older, those children may not believe in the life after death anymore; however, sense that they are being watched by somebody remains.
The key of jigoku is that people are being punished there. No matter how much people deny and hide their bad conduct and crime, the judge knows. As a result, many children behave better to appeal to Enma-daio that they do not deserve to be sent to jigoku. Thus, building sense of being watched by somebody is important to lead children to follow moral and rules. Without that sense, children may misbehave since their mothers are not watching, and such children may accept shoplifting when no one is near and quickly drive away when they runs over a person with a car.
There is a phrase in Japan which means, “there is ear on the wall and eye in the door.” The phrase addresses that it is almost impossible to have privacy since there is always a third person behind the curtain. Thus, Japanese adults tend to care very much about their behaviors in the public and reputations. Although children will not read picture books after they become adults, nonetheless, the sense which had been planted during their youth that there is invisible judge remains. Hence, picture books largely influence children to build moral beliefs and to follow social rules.
In his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson (1983) states, “to serve the narrative purpose, [the ongoing mortality rate, exemplary suicides, poignant martyrdoms, assassinations, executions, wars, and holocausts] must be remembered/forgotten as ‘our own.’” (p. 206) He argues that people’s memories and images towards history are at many times purposely constructed by the others especially the ones in power. The bedtime stories are also a part of memory construction.
When being taught about World War II, the information given to Japanese children tends to lean towards the Hiroshima bombing. Along with the story of the thousand paper cranes, children are told story of a girl named Sadako Sasaki who survived the bombing itself but passed away due to the effects of radiation exposure.
The story starts with explanation of character Sadako, how she was energetic and healthy elementary school girl. However, she falls extremely sick. Sadako wished upon the paper cranes she folded during her hospitalization that someday she will recover her health. After her death, she became the heroine of a moving tale, as a girl who fought against leukemia and never gave up hope. Today, the story of Sadako is known throughout Japan, and her statue of raising a big paper crane was built as a representation of hope and peace.
However, the story does not end as just the moving tale. Her story overly emphasized Japan as a victim of the World War II, not a fighting actor. Hence, Sadako makes Japanese “remember” about the Hiroshima bombing and the terrifying influence of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it makes the citizens unconsciously “forget” that Japan also fought during the war and killed innocent children like Sadako. With the use of child’s story, the nation cunningly victimized her citizens and successfully represented herself as poor and weak being.
The issue lies where children do not notice the hidden “remember and forgetting” purpose of the story. Their impression would simply be “poor Sadako” as the government has intended. Thus, from youth, people are forced to see and believe an extremely narrow field of vision. They are blinded by the parents, teachers, stories, education, and nation sometimes unconsciously and at many times, consciously.
Bedtime story heroes are also used to serve the purpose of government. Momotaro is the most famous hero from didactic fiction in Japan. The story is very simple. Momotaro, who was born from a peach, decides to rescue a princess from creatures. With his three friends—a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant—Momotaro reaches the island of the creatures, defeats the evil, and becomes a hero.
The message of the story is similar to Ehon: Jigoku that the evil will be punished. Additionally, the story also holds the message righteous justice wins. Children are taught from the story to help others. However, this hero was used by the Japanese government in propaganda films during World War II.
Momotaro no Umiwashi and Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei were both directed by Seo Mitsuyo and released consecutively in 1943 and 1945. The earlier movie, Momotaro no Umiwashi is based on the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The main character Momotaro attacks the island of the evil with air force and results in victory. The second film Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei illustrates the civilization and colonization of Japan with musical. The hero Momotaro defeats the creatures controlling over poor animals, takes land away from the evil, and civilizes the animals.
Since both films were animated and used Momotaro as main hero, children and even adults repeatedly watched the film. Pretty characters and comical battle scenes enabled Japanese citizens to watch a war movie without hesitation. However, unlike the original story, creatures were represented in human form, and to be more specific, the Americans and British. The film visually shifted the antagonist from creatures to human foreigners. Thus, children are planted with information foreigners (especially Caucasians) are evil and it is necessary to fight against such evil “people.”
Both films are now considered well-made propaganda films. However, the audiences back in the time did not recognize the films as propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s famous propagandist, once stated “Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths” (Goebbels, 1928, para. 31). His propaganda principle also argued “To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium” (Doob, 1950, p.426). According his theory, a good propaganda movie is one which would not be recognized as propaganda film. Both movies used a popular hero, evoked interest of the audience with animation and musical, and were transmitted through the communication media of film. As a result, a bedtime hero became a propaganda hero.
In summation, before their schooling, children are educated with bedtime stories which construct their core images of the world. Brutal pictures of life after death structures and make them follow the social rules. Additionally, as tool for “memory and forgetting,” bedtime stories based on real events sometimes are used to victimize the nation during wars the nation also fought.
The character of the story may turn into propaganda hero to make children feel familiar with war. At the level of globalized society today, it is possible to break the wall of “memory and forgetting” of nation’s history and education. However, the study of internationalization and globalization is still considered to be “high level” and is not taught in elementary school. Students face difficulty changing the core beliefs that were planted during childhood; the magic casted by the stories strongly remains in heart.
Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York, NY: Verso.
Doob, L. W. (1950). Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda. Public Opinion Quarterly,14(3), 419-442.
Goebbels, Joseph. (1928, January 9). Erkenntnis und Propaganda (R. Bytwerk Trans.). Speech presented at the Hochschule für Politik, Berlin, DE.
Miya, T. (1980). Ehon: Jigoku [Picture book: Jigoku]. Japan: Futohsha.
Seo, M. (Director). (1943). Momotaro no umiwashi [Momotaro’s sea eagles] [Motion picture]. Japan: Geijutsu Eigasha.
Seo, M. (Director). (1945). Momotaro: Umi no shinpei [Momotaro: Sacred sailors] [Motion picture]. Japan: Geijutsu Eigasha.
Mascots are everywhere in Japan. Often anthropomorphized and cute, they represent companies, cities, and even the Japanese Self Defense Force. They came about after the economic bubble crashed. The national government decided to decentralize, putting more responsibility on the prefectures and cities (Birkett, 2012). Because of the economic bubble, there had also been a mass migration out of the countryside and into the cities (Birkett, 2012). Smaller cities had shrinking populations, both from aging and emigration as well as the problems of the economic depression (Birkett, 2012). So a new way to promote cities and create city pride was made, mascots or characters that represented cities (Birkett, 2012). The mascots speak the local dialect and are often based off of a city’s historical legend or city’s industries (Occhi, 2012).
This marketing tool became very popular and now there are over 800 mascots in Japan (Kracker, 2013). Each prefecture has at least 2 mascots and some have over 50 (Tan, n.d.). These mascots help create the imagined community of the city and become the representation of the city. The characters participate in community events and some of these events become so popular they bring in tourism (Birkett, 2012). These characters have been shown to be very popular with children and the elderly (Tan, n.d.). Some mascots become popular even outside of their city. An example of the massive popularity of mascots can be shown with the mascot grand prix a national event in which people vote on their favorite mascot. The ideas that will be discussed in relation to the mascotization are mascots as soft power, creating imagined hometowns, mascots and their connection to the past, and mascots similarity to invented traditions.
Soft power as defined by Joseph Nye is the ability to influence events and people (2005). While Nye was looking specifically at countries, anything can have soft power. The soft power of the mascots is created in different ways from other organizations, with mascots it is often done through cuteness. Mascots are made to be marketing tools and cuteness is an important component of that marketing (Birkett, 2012). Cuteness is not unique to marketing mascots, it is quite widespread in Japan (Madge, 1997). During live events, the cuteness of the mascots helps create approachability and familiarity that is not possible between two people (Birkett, 2012). This familiarity helps foster the imagined community of the city and from that people feel pride in their cities. The public’s connection to the mascots did not start at events, but through contest were amateur artist create possible mascots and they are voted on by the public and there are also contests for mascots’ names (Occhi, 2012). This connection is then used, indirectly, when mascots are used in marketing that is aimed toward the public, similar to how celebrity endorsements are used (Occhi, 2012).
Mascots at events are played by people wearing costumes and are able to interact with the people around them (Occhi, 2012). These events are specifically working to promote the connection between the mascot and the people (Occhi, 2012). These events are aimed at children and families and used to reinforce the both the characters and the sponsors (Occhi, 2012). The sponsors are usually companies or branches of local government (Occhi, 2012). Many of the mascots also promote traits like kindness and cleanliness (Occhi, 2012). At these events there are also various group activities that promote the idea of togetherness (Occhi, 2012).
Part of the soft power that mascots have is the fact that they are not seen as marketing tools, but as a friendly character something between a mascot and a human (Birkett, 2012). Some of the popular characters get fan mail and talk with their fans over twitter (Birkett, 2012). One famous character, Kumamon, made over 2.5 million yen in merchandise sales (Birkett, 2012). These characters represent their city or prefecture and so are also popular with tourists (Tan, n.d.). Mascots have been successful marketing tools (Birkett, 2012). They can also fail, only some of the characters are popular, usually the more rounded and soft mascots and not the more human shaped mascots (Occhi, 2012). The soft power of mascots is created through their cuteness and approachability. They are aimed at children and families. They are used to market cities, local events, and the mascot’s sponsor.
Mascots were not the first thing to be tried to help revive towns. There was push before them for creating “hometowns” which were the idea of traditional Japan and were said to be the hometowns for urban people, profiting off of the nostalgia of urban people (Birkett, 2012). The connection to the past was not only for the tourists’ sake. The town’s reconnection to the past was also important for the townspeople to feel pride and connection to their town (Birkett, 2012). Towns would also promote some rare product, natural resource, or legends tied to the place and create merchandise of it (Birkett, 2012). Some attempts of merchandising failed because it was available everywhere, however some became successful because they could only be bought in one shop (Birkett, 2012).
Mascots have been the most successful form of marketing for towns. The mascots share similar ideas to previous marketing schemes. Mascots are usually based on either the industries or the legends of the area (Birkett, 2012). When the mascots are using a figure from history or a legend, the connection is always to the ancient past. One of those mascots is Sento-kun. He was created for Nara’s 1300th anniversary as the embodiment of Nara (“Sento-kun’s profile,” n.d.). He is a young boy with deer antlers to represent the deer in Nara (Hashi, 2011). He is heavily connected to the past because they created him to be the new protector of Nara as other deities were before him (“Sento-kun’s profile,” n.d.). The mascots that are based off legends and traditional creatures vary from Yoichi-kun based off of the archer Nasu no Yoichi from the Tales of Heike to demons and the kappa (Birkett, 2012). All of them have been redesigned to be cute. They are a reinterpretation of the past not completely disconnected from it, but clearly changed (Occhi, 2012). The mascots have been the latest and most successful form of marketing for the towns. The mascots are similar to the previous marketing schemes in promoting the towns with their unique products and connection with the past.
Mascots share attributes to invented traditions. Invented traditions are traditions that have been created recently, but are made to seem as if they are a tradition from the past (Vlastos, 1998). The purpose of the traditions is often to support the status quo. Instead of being from the past, mascots inherit the past. Their purpose is to promote the community similar to some invented traditions that also support group identities. Mascots also promote the status quo, promoting only positive ideas and parts of the past.
Representations of the community, connections to the past, invented traditions, imagined hometowns, and soft power are all discussed in the paragraphs before are also present in national imagined communities. The first parallel is with banal nationalism. Banal nationalism is when an imagined community has objects that make the community feel connected, like flags (Billig, 1995). For cities, the mascots become those representations for the community, while the ties to the cities are not are strong as with the nation there is still the imagined community and the reinforcement of it through the mascots.
Another parallel is with the connection to the past. Nation-states often connect themselves with the past and use the past to support their positions with invented traditions (Vlastos, 1998). In this same way mascots and cities are also using the past for their own ends, which are creating pride in the city.
The next parallel is imagined hometowns and imagined pasts. Imagined hometowns do not have any direct parallel to national imagined communities, but when looking at the ideas that make up imagined hometowns there are parallels. When making imagined hometowns recreates a romanticized Japanese past (Birkett, 2012). Recreating an imagined past is also something that national imagined communities will do as well (Anderson, 2006).
The final parallel, soft power, is one of the more obvious parallels. Both imagined communities have goals that they wanted accomplished through their citizens, the difference is the goals they have. Mascots and the imagined city communities share more resemblance to national imagined communities than would first be assumed.
Created to foster city pride and market the city, mascots have become successful in those goals and beyond. The creation of city pride has had the inadvertent effect of creating imagined city communities around these mascots with various parallels with national imagined communities. The mascots also now have power themselves that is used to market the city, local government branches and companies. The mascots and Japanese city pride show another variation of imagined communities and how marketing can be intermixed with that.
Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York, NY: Verso.
Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Birkett, M. (2012). “Amateur” mascots on the loose: The pragmatics of kawaii (cute). (Master’s thesis, University of Michigan).