Oldness is goodness: Is it truly a tradition?

by Sheena Sasaki

What is Japanese traditional food? What is Japanese worldwide known food? I am sure some people would tell me the answer sushi. However, sushi (vinegar rice topped with piece of raw fish), famous Japanese food, began to be eaten since Edo Period. Compared to relatively new nations such as the United States, 400 years of history for food may be long “tradition.” However, compared to Japanese history, which lasts since era of B.C., it is not significantly long. More important, sushi had been eaten only in limited areas of Japan since it uses fresh fish. Referring to Japanese geography as a mountainous land, it is impossible for some parts of Japan to come up with food such as raw fish. However, as the nationalization and globalization have taken place in Japan, sushi has become domestically and internationally known as a ‘traditional’ food of Japan. Thus, nationalization and internationalization have played a significant role in the invention of tradition in Japan.

This invention of tradition is becoming an issue in Japan today. In September 2013, the Japanese Supreme Court finally accepted that the law that limited  children born outside of marriage to inheriting only half the amount of “legitimate” children, as discrimination and a violation of Japan’s Constitution. Japanese denial and rejection of “illegitimate” children, adopted children, divorce, and married couples having different surnames is quite strong even now. It is not surprising to hear that children born outside of marriage were bullied in the school they attended during their youth. Also, some parents tell their children not to play with such children just because they lack real parents or their parents use different surnames.

Why do Japanese citizens strongly oppose different styles of family? Many people answer: “Because we do not want to destroy the traditional family system of Japan.” This traditional system of family is based on “ie (家)” and “koseki (戸籍)” which respectively mean house and family legislation. Thus, many Japanese citizens resist changing what is written on their koseki, with the exception of when a woman is married. However, the history of koseki is not so long as to be called traditional.

Influenced by Germany, Japan created the koseki system during the Meiji Period, the era of Japanese nationalization. The system was to support one royal family, imperial family of Japan. The imperial family is unchangeable, meaning one single bloodline is considered to be imperial. Thus, for this family to hold stronger and more important meaning, member of one koseki was also to pass down one blood. The Meiji-era civil code also stated that an ie must consist of single surname, single koseki, and single bloodline. Here, we see the family system putting an emphasis on one bloodline, which is considered as tradition today. In opposition to the word “tradition,” before the Meiji Period and the creation of koseki system, it was common to see adopted children reign as the head of the household. Compared to the ie system today, the family system used to emphasize more the surname of the household rather than bloodlines. Therefore, what is said to be the traditional family system in Japan has existed for only 100 years.

There is Japanese phrase “furuki yoki (古き良き)” which means that “old is good.” However, the invented tradition of the Japanese ie system does not seem to bring good anymore. Year by year, there is an increase of divorce, child adoption, and single parenting. These shapes of family are not considered proper families, and are targets of discrimination. Although the Japanese government has admitted that the law discriminates against certain children, the law itself has still not changed. The curse of “furuki yoki” still dominates the sense of discrimination.

Some links to news reporting issues of rights for illegitimate children

“家族とは?親子とは?揺らぐ法制度” http://www9.nhk.or.jp/gendai/kiroku/detail_3408.html

“婚外子差別の撤廃へ 民法改正案を閣議決定、戸籍法の改正は見送り” http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2013/11/12/kongaishi-minpo-_n_4258246.html

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Yasukuni Shrine and Korean Identity

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lilia Yamakawa

In his research on nationalism, Craig Calhoun talks about when and how nations were formed. Some people say nations are primordial, that they have been around forever, that they are “natural” phenomena. Others, including Calhoun, believe that nations and nationalism are modern and constructed. By 1815, the world was full of nations. He calls nationalism the most momentous phenomenon of modern history. He writes:

In East Asia, nationalism has throughout the twentieth century been the rhetoric not only of anti-imperialist struggles but of calls for strengthening and democratizing states from within. (p213-214) 

Calhoun cites references on China, relating how anti-Japanese imperial protest, the May Fourth Movement in 1919, was both anti-imperialist and served to strengthen and democratize China. This was later to have led to the revolution.

It seems as Korean nationalism has beeb strengthened through protest against Japanese policies. Recently, the Korean president refused to negotiate with the Japanese because Japan refuses to apologize for its wartime actions. One of my Korean friends told me that he cannot talk about the history of his country without talking about what Japan did when it controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Jukka Jouhki (2009) 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 says that the Korean image of Japan is as she 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 trying to work through.

Japanese leaders’ nationalism, such as 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.

References

Calhoun, C. (1993). Nationalism and ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology19, 211-239.

Jukka, J. (2009, May 8). The second invasion: Notes on korean reactions to the yasukuni shrine issue. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/179474/The_Second_Invasion_Notes_on_Korean_Reactions_to_the_Yasukuni_Shrine_Issue 

 

Charms of Storytellers: Forgotten Memories

English: Peace Park statue A life size bronze ...

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

Can we be ever sure of what we remember, or what we think we remember as the truth of our nation’s history? As one of the living beings in human society, we always belong to some kind of ‘community’ and can never truly be alone. A person may belong to the community of language, nation, family, education, gender, age, and social networking service at the same time. Thus, people can never be uninfluenced by others. Therefore, it is not very surprising to state that our memories are at many times purposely constructed by the others. In his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson 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)

At many times, citizens of nations are blinded by controlled education system and media. I remember learning about the great explorer Christopher Columbus during my early years in elementary school in the United States. The teacher taught us that it was Columbus who marked the start of the United States’ history and therefore he is the one of the most important American ‘heroes.’ She also showed us a Snoopy animation video which illustrated the ‘finding’ of ‘new land’ and ‘friendship’ between the Europeans and Native Americans. The class was as if the storyteller whispering the tales into our ears. However, I was never taught of Christopher Columbus as an invader, one who enslaved Native Americans, slaughtered, and took over their land. Therefore, the nation, at least the school I attended, intentionally created and taught the mythology of national creation. With this way of education, we ‘remember’ that Christopher Columbus is the key person to the history of the United States; however, ‘forget’ the bloody background as to how the Europeans settled.

This myth-constructing education takes place all over the world. Similar case exists also in Japan. When being taught about the Hiroshima bombing, children are told story of a girl named Sadako Sasaki, a girl who passed away due to radiation by the bomb named “Little Boy,” and her thousand paper cranes. Sadako wished upon the paper cranes she folded during her hospitalization that someday she will recover to her healthy state. Later, she became the heroine of a moving tale, a girl who fought against leukemia and never gave up hope. Today, the story of Sadako is famously known throughout Japan and she represents hope and peace. However, the story does not end as just the moving tale. Her story emphasized Japan as the victim of the World War II, not a fighting actor. Hence, Sadako makes Japanese ‘remember’ 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. By the use of child’s story, the nation cunningly victimized her citizens and successfully represented herself as poor and weak being.

In summation, we are forced to have and believe very narrow field of vision from our youth. We are blinded by the parents, teachers, stories, education, and nation sometimes unconsciously, and at many times, consciously. At the level of internationally globalized society, it is possible to break the wall of ‘memory and forgetting.’ However, it is very difficult to change the core believe that has been planted during the youth; the charm of tales by storyteller strongly remains.

Yasukuni Shrine and Nationalism

A gateway to a Shinto shrine. In Yasukuni Shrine.

A gateway to a Shinto shrine. In Yasukuni Shrine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lilia Yamakawa

Some people criticize nationalism because it is connected with racism and a sense of “us & them.” Benedict Anderson, however, believes we should remember that nations also inspire love and self-sacrifice. I want to explore how Yasukuni Shrine is seen by some as a symbol of love and self-sacrifice.

When thinking about Yasukuni Shrine, it is very easy to see the negative side of nationalism and patriotism. Twelve class A 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, fails to portray 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 government officials insult Asian neighbors when they insist on visiting the shrine. Finally, while there is supposed to be a separation of religion and state, Yasukuni Shrine seems like a very political place, which does indeed portray a nationalism based in “us vs. them.”

How do some people see Yasukuni as a symbol of love and self-sacrifice? 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 signified 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. Kevin Doak expresses this view: …

To die for the protection of one’s family, friends, or fellow countrymen is the most sacred of acts…The paying of respect is an act of mourning their death and praying for their souls. Can the Chinese leaders and those who argue that Class A war criminals should be removed from Yasukuni really be so arrogant as to believe that they themselves are perfect human beings? Will they themselves not need our prayers some day? (p. 55-56)

Many Japanese also believe it is the right of the people of a nation to worship whoever and however they chose to worship.

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. I believe, however, that we should pray for them in a place that is not so political and insensitive to the Koreans, Chinese, and others.

Reference

Breen, John, ed. 2007. Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s Past. New York: Columbia University Press.

Colonialism and Modern Day Expats in Southeast Asia

by Adelle Tamblyn

I was five when my father got expatriated to a coal mine in the middle of the jungle in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Moving from a cosmopolitan environment (Sydney, Australia) with a population of a few million, to a tight-knit community of Westerners (predominantly) in a population of approximately 150 people in an expatriate setting was a complete contrast of lifestyle. In Sydney, we were an average, middle-class family. In East Kalimantan, however, we lived a life of luxury. We were a fairly isolated community, but in no way deprived: our town had its own elementary school, commissary, mess hall, and a restaurant that everybody called “the cafe”, as well as complete, free access to a pool, a golf course, squash and tennis courts, and a man-made beach with sailing boats. The town we lived in was specifically built for expatriate employees of the coal mine, about 40 minutes away from other towns, some of which were starkly different to our own. The isolation of our town, as well as a community of seemingly affluent expatriates brought about a new type of employment opportunity to the local community: as maids, cooks and gardeners. Through this setting of Western owner and Indonesian server, it set a tone of race relations that, in the minds of some, placed the expatriate higher on the racial hierarchy than the Indonesian community.

In his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson refers to colonial racism in a chapter entitled “Patriotism and Racism” (p. 150). Anderson states that in colonised communities, colonisers felt a sense of “inherited superiority”: in an imagined community away from home, the Englishmen were to the “natives” what English lords were to Englishmen, thus heightening “antique conceptions of power and privilege” (p. 150). In this way, I believe that modern-day expatriate communities and colonised communities can be paralleled: in line with Anderson’s description of heightened senses of superiority among colonisers, the same can be said of expatriates in a tightly-knit community, in which the expatriate—in a dichotomy of wealthy and white, and a worker for white people and local—may begin to imagine him or herself as superior to the local community. Such a mindset worked to distance the Western expatriate community away from the Indonesian community, creating an imagined sense of “we” and “them”, creating, as Anderson describes, a “solidarity among whites” (p. 152).

As with the misconduct, adultery and even violence that ensued in colonial empires, the similarly isolated environment in the expatriate community allowed for deviance and foul-play amongst some expatriates: behaviour that would surely not be accepted back home. Not only did this colonial community effect have an impact on adults: taking sociological cues from their parents, some children became accustomed to the idea that they, too, were superior to the local community. One example of adolescent deviance involved the baiting and killing (involving stoning and running over) of wild dogs. Another incident involved one adolescent who acquired a BB gun and fired at Indonesian civilians.

Making local workers in a modern-day expatriate community setting only helped to create two separate, imagined communities that is reminiscent of colonist communities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A tightly-knit expatriate peoples, set next to a work-hungry local community in Indonesia gave birth to class differences divided among race. As Anderson aptly states, racism forms within national boundaries, and helps to justify “domestic repression and domination” (p. 150).

American Mythology and Racism

One in a series of posters attacking Radical R...

One in a series of posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Deanne Walters

Nations are imagined communities, with in an imagined community there are often myths that do not always match up with the reality of what that imagined community is like. The example that will be explored for this blog post is America and race. The myth that America presents is that it is multiethnic society where all races are equal. Yet this is far from true. The history of racism is clear throughout American history and this continues to modern day. Racism has created negative stereotypes of people of color and especially African American people. What do the creations about the imagined community of America show about how America sees itself?

Language, especially slang, can show how Americans think of the races. A kind of covert racism is associating the colors white and black with good and evil. For example, seeing something as black and white is seeing something as all bad or all good. Covert racism can extend to the description of people. Fair when used as complement again reinforces the connection between light skin and beauty. Language can also be used in an obvious form of racism using words like the negro or slant-eyes. This reduces people to a physical characteristic taking away their humanity. They have been used as slurs against enemies, as seen during World War II and the Vietnam War for the slurs against Asians. These words are also used against Americans who have Asia or African ancestry. In that way while America would like to be seen as multiethnic and equal nation, however when we look at its language and slang we can see it still clearly has racism.

What could be a better example of what America stands for than Miss America? For 2014, there was the first Indian-American crowned. There was also a huge backlash on social media saying that she was not “American” enough and instead holding up Miss Kansas (who has blond hair and white skin) as what a true American should be. While this is only one example, this idea runs much deeper in media. When looking at media that is about a group within America, the majority of actors are white. Only 4 percent of Oscars have gone to African Americans and only 14 percent of characters in television and film are African American. If America was a multiethnic and equal community, why is the nation’s diversity not repressed in film? There is still racial bias in American media and that bias extends over all of American society.

The final area is the idea of white as a default person. When talking about other races in America it often said African Americans or Asian Americans, but that contributes to the idea that then when you say American they are white. By thinking that white is the starting point it means that they are the people who get represented most in television and film. This is another bias that shows the racism in American society.

Apart from all these examples the negative stereotypes of people of color are common in the American society and they still affect people of color. The myth that America tries to promote of being multiethnic society and an equal society it is just that, a myth. America does have people from many ethnicities and races, however they are not equal. Racism is still major problem that needs to be addressed.

References:

Goodykoontz, B. (2012, February 24). Despite oscar notice, black actors still hit limits in film. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/movieawards/oscars/story/2012-02-24/race-in-hollywood/53238028/1 

Hafiz, Y. (2013, September 16). Nina davuluri’s miss america 2014 win prompts twitter backlash against indians, muslims. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/nina-davuluri-miss-america-religion_n_3934428.html 

Moore, R. B. (2006). Racism in the english language. In O’Brien, J. A. (Ed.), The production of reality: Essays and readings on social interaction (pp. 119–126). London, UK: Saga Publications, Ltd.

Richardson, K. (2013, April 25). How can white americans be free?. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/04/25/how_can_white_americans_be_free/