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.

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Myth of Beauty: Facial Features and Skin

by Sheena Sasaki

In her book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Nancy Etcoff (1999) wrote that in many parts of the world, big eyes, high cheekbones, small chins, and full lips are features of beautiful woman, and each of these features combined represented youngness. I believe this is partly true. Cosmetics invented today helps women to have these facial characteristics to raise their self-esteems that they are beautiful. However, the trend of beautiful facial characteristics changes from place to place and time to time. For example, in old time Japan, ‘otafuku-gao’ was considered to be women’s beautiful face which consisted of the followings: round face, thin eyes, low nose, wide forehead, small lips, and very plump cheeks. Nonetheless, less people consider the face with such features to be beautiful in Japan today. There always exists certain trend of beautiful face.

Then, what about skin colors?

Whenever I step into a drugstore in Japan, my eyes always catch the word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ which directly means ‘beautiful white,’ in cosmetic section for skin.  However, I do not find any word which represents ‘beautiful black.’ This means to me that the concept of beauty, at least in Japan, is naturally tied to whiteness of the skin. Referring back to old literature of Japan such as The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu from the 11th century, women with white skin are considered to be beautiful. Moreover, there exists a proverb in Japan which says, “White skin hides seven flaws.” Thus, beauty of white skin has been practiced for long period of time. This is not only limited to Japan. The world’s famous beautiful fairytale princess Snow White has skin which is as white as snow. Nancy Etcoff (1999) also writes that the beauty of white skin is commonly believed throughout the world and overcomes the beauty of facial features. This brings me to another question. Why is white skin considered to be beauty in the first place?

If it was the period when most of both men and women from the lower and middle class worked outside under the sun, white skin represented wealth.  Hence, it is not hard to predict that men were more attracted to white-skinned women who could spend their money and time on their physical appearance.  Yet, this prediction does not fully fall into the society today where increasing number of people work inside of the office buildings. Many people do not clearly know why they prefer to have whiter skin, or why white skin is beautiful. In this case, I believe “I don’t really know” is the best answer as people say. In this technologized society, media controls one’s sense of beauty and values. As a result, the cycle is created. Women follow similar conception of beauty because someone on the media said it is beautiful, more people follow after because everyone talks of the same beauty, and the media reflects upon and introduces the beauty concept believed by the audiences. The word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ became too common in Japan to extent that almost no one bother to question the beauty of whiteness.

Reference

Etcoff, N. (1999), Survival of the prettiest: The science of beauty. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Global cities of the future

by Miranda Solly

First of all, I apologise to any reader who saw the ‘of the future’ in the title and thought I was going to paint a picture of space port cities, or multi-global cities full of aliens. I’d actually like to suggest why global cities become global, and what that says about how future one will grow.

The global cities we were given as examples all seem different on the surface. There are places like London or Tokyo, which are important because they form the biggest financial hubs in the world. Then there is Johannesburg, whose economy stemmed from South Africa’s mining wealth and rose to prominence in the financial sector too. Yet another type of global city is Bangalore, which has risen in status fairly recently due to its ties to global communications and the internet. They all function in similar ways, attracting highly skilled workers from around the world while also acting as a beacon to the poor from the home country and abroad. What important similarity causes people to act in this way? Money. As the proverb goes, “Money makes the world go round”. Money is necessary for most of our everyday needs and in a bigger way for large-scale developments. So money, at the moment at least, does equal power.

What interests me is that Bangalore based its wealth on information technologies, unlike the other cities, whose wealth stemmed more or less recently from industry. This is almost certainly because the digital revolution has changed humans lives as dramatically as the industrial revolution did. The places where such a huge change is navigated effectively will undoubtedly gain money because of that. As we are still discovering what digital technology can do, I am sure that there will be many more global cities like Bangalore. 

So I suggest that global cities are created when their inhabitants successfully manipulate the latest technological advancements (heavy industry, digital technology) to gain power (money). Having attained this power, people are able to forge international ties that strengthen their standing as a global city. This presents two questions: one, can existing global cities keep up with those built on new technologies; and two, what might that next advancement be?

In answer to the first question, I wonder if pre-existing power allows global cities to catch up with new technologies more quickly than other places. After all, New York and Tokyo have not suddenly become obsolete. Possibly new power structures are built with the existing ones as their basis. On the other hand, perhaps negative effects from such a revolution take more time to appear than we have been able to observe. There might be opportunities for those working in up-and-coming global cities related to new technologies that are not offered in more established communities. In London, there is talk of trying to be ‘the next Silicon Valley’, but so far no large internet companies have established themselves there (London cannot compete with the space and human resources that other global cities have). 

In answer to the second question, I think my reader’s guess is as good as mine. But hey, if Virgin Galactic really is the catalyst for a new space age, maybe the next breed of global cities will be on the moon.

Invisible Immigrants

by Ayano Tsukada

New York City is a city of minorities and immigrants. Unlike other cities like Los Angeles or Miami where one ethnic group makes up majority of the immigrant population, New York receives immigrants from all over the world. Their identities vary among the ethnic groups as well as within the groups. Here I would like to focus on second-generation Black Immigrants in New York City because they become invisible in two ways:

  1. The government does not track the second-generation of immigrants (They become Americans officially);
  2. The second-generation immigrants lack their parents’ distinctive accents and they look very similar to native-born Black American.

If they don’t tell their ethnicity, they can easily be seen as native-born Black Americans or act like native-born Black Americans.

But they don’t react to this situation in a same way. They adopt different types of racial and ethnic identities. Mary Waters, in her survey in New York City, found that there are three types of racial and ethnic identities adopted by Black immigrants: Black American identity; Ethnic or hyphenated national origin identity; and Immigrant identity. These identities are related to different perceptions and understandings of race relations and of opportunities in the United States. Second-generation immigrants with Black American Identity tend to see more racial discrimination and limits to opportunities for Blacks in the United States and disagree with parental judgements that there are strong differences between Black Americans and Immigrant Blacks. Those with Ethnic Identity tend to see more opportunities and rewards for individual effort and initiative and agree with their parents’ idea that Immigrant Blacks are better than Black Americans. Those with Immigrant Identity take a more neutral stance, but they are more like visible immigrants since they are likely to have immigrated recently and have distinctive accents and styles of clothing.

The interesting fact revealed by Water’s study is that these second-generation immigrants are aware of the generalized negative view of Blacks in the United States and yet some choose to be part of them while others try hard to differentiate themselves from Black Americans. What we can see from the fact is that they are helping to maintain the structure of racism in the United States. Second-generation immigrants with Black American identity are doing so by accepting the stereotypes of Blacks and those with ethnic identity do so by differentiating themselves from Black Americans.

So they are not challenging the current system.

They are making racism and colourism in the United States craftier and more invisible.

Reference

Waters, Mary C. 1994. “Ethnic and Racial Identities of Second-generation Black Immigrants in New York City.” International Migration Review 28(4):795-820.