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.
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.
Education for international students takes a role to reflect what society wants (Cage, N., 2008). Kanno (2006) analyzes four different kinds of educational institutions focusing on bilingual education in Japan. Kanno assumes that school vision and its education construct identity of students through bringing the idea of imagined communities. The idea of ‘imagined communities’ here takes the role that learners of second language have expectations or images of the communities where they will participate later.
Kanno reveals how visions of different four bilingual schools have decided their students’ paths after graduation. The schools concentrating on Japanese obviously follow what Japanese society wants and the other focuses on other languages. These results, at least for me, make the idea that the education supports immigrant students to realize their imagined communities with proper curricula for the imagined communities of the students. Thus, bilingual students are forced to be suitable to meet what society requires.
If you see the author’s work, schools makes their program become more adaptable for Japanese society to embrace their students. One school only operates its curriculum in English, but that school is actually based on western society, not Japanese base. Students attending that school mostly go back to western countries for their education and job. In that sense, students who imagine their future in Japan tend to have greater Japanese proficiency than in their original language, and others who expect their lives in their passport countries or other countries without Japan have a tendency to learn curricula with their mother tongue. This shows how international students and schools shape themselves to fit the society’s requirements, the imagined communities. Namely, imagined communities reflecting what society asks have influence to build students’ identification for their future.
The Korean case is more obvious to show that what society needs has serious influence on school programs, even governmental policies. The increasing number of multicultural children from international marriages, mostly between Korean and Southeast Asians, and the inflow of international students are dramatically increasing in Korea. There are several movements to make multicultural schools, but those schools are not for multicultural students and immigrant students to be comfortable with their multicultural background when they grow up in Korea (Lee, B., n.d). It is for them to have Korean proficiency and Korean value through education to reflect what Korean society wants.
For example, students of Chosun ethnicity that come from China have tried to learn Korean to have Korean nationality and work in Korean companies. It is because they have to prepare for their imagined community that is mostly Korean society. Multicultural schools that those student attend, thus, make their students become fluent in Korean. Therefore those schools focus on how to make bilingual students suitable for Korean society. Imagined communities happen in different way by status of students.
As in the previous cases, relatively poor students attend the multicultural schools to assimilate into Korean society, but the rich attend international schools that reflect the high level that Korean society requires. This means that richer immigrant students attend higher level international schools. For example, Korea has fewer bilingual schools, but the most famous school for bilingual students is the Seoul international School. It is fully operated in English rather than Korean.
It is because of the tendency that Korean society requires students to have English proficiency even more than Korean. Although it was built for international students and some Korean returnees, there are also many Koreans attending the school who are born in Korea. The reason is that having better English proficiency certainly grants high-position jobs in Korean society. Also, Korean society evaluates that English is worth worth than Korean forces Koreans to enter those sorts of schools even through illegal ways (Lee, H., 2013). So, Korean society gives international students different imagined communities.
In short, schools make their curricula for immigrant students to assimilate into the imagined communities that the students dream. The curricula have changed by following what society needs and the situation of students. Namely, education plays a role that makes immigrant students assimilate to be suitable in certain positions in which the positions meet the situation of students rightly.
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.
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.
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).