BBC Magazine: Three Western myths about Japan

Geisha eats a sushi roll

BBC- Magazine (by Dr. Christopher Harding):

National and racial stereotypes are often hard to dispel, but in the case of Japan, argues Dr Chris Harding of Edinburgh University, people in the West seem particularly determined to cling on to a set of long-established myths.

Landing in Japan for the first time 10 years ago, I couldn’t wait to get out of Narita Airport‘s dull beige arrivals area and into the real Japan.

Pretty soon, I felt sure, I would be lost in the intense verdant greens of paddy fields and forests, the steaming waters of natural hot springs. A sip of green tea would set me up for an afternoon of meditation in some old Buddhist temple tucked in among fragrant cedars. And then as night fell, a bullet train would zoom me into central Tokyo for a joyously baffled embrace of its Blade Runner futurism and crazy entertainments.

None of these fantasies survived a three-hour gridlocked bus ride into Tokyo, the motorway’s faceless concrete sidings occasionally dipping to allow views out across faceless concrete high-rises.

Rush-hour traffic in Tokyo

I drank sugary milk marketed as “ice coffee” with the Japanese acquaintance who’d come to meet me. We established that though his family was “technically Buddhist” he had no idea what that meant and he associated temples with school trips and dead people.

As we lapsed into silence, I considered asking Japan’s tourist board for my money back. I had been mis-sold Japan!

Later I realised they were just doing their job, generating tourist dollars with the material available to them – one extremely gullible young man, plus a century and a half of Western misrepresentations of Japan.

Here are three of the best misrepresentations – or worst, depending on your point of view.

1: Japan is inherently strange

“To find oneself suddenly in a world where everything is upon a smaller and daintier scale than with us – a world of lesser and seemingly kindlier beings, all smiling at you as if to wish you well – a world where all movement is slow and soft, and voices are hushed… this is surely the realisation, for imaginations nourished with English folklore, of the old dream of a World of Elves.”

That was the writer Lafcadio Hearn, 125 years ago. Across the century that followed, countless Westerners visited and worked in Japan. Japanese culture became readily available to us in literature and film. And yet despite all this, the keynote of the brilliant 1980s travelogue Clive James in Japan was a drily comic bewilderment at everything.

When he buys a snack on a bullet train, thinking that it might be a ham sandwich (while also noting that it looks like a pair of tights) it turns out to be a powerful-smelling dried squid – “dried and ironed” he speculates. Revolted, James stuffs the snack into the seat pocket and heads off for his next misadventure with the carriage’s on-board telephone.

Maybe I shouldn’t gripe. This was light entertainment, after all. But whereas most travel documentaries try to offer a portrait of a place, helping viewers or listeners get to know it, when it came to the Japanese the underlying message was: “It can’t be done! They’re completely inscrutable!”

Why? One reason may be that in a world where true strangeness and surprise have become rare and precious commodities, we have to find them somewhere. Financial Times journalist David Pilling quotes a friend who said Japan was the most alien place she’d been that had good plumbing.

At the same time, Japan offers us a mirror in which to look at ourselves. We say “Japan is…“, but we’re really asking a question: “Are we…?” The Japanese are dainty, kindly, soft – are we coarse and hard-hearted? Japan is hobbled by a group mentality that trumps individualism – how free are we…?

2. The Japanese are dangerous

1942: Japanese soldiers celebrate after capturing an American gun emplacement in the Bataan province of the Philippines

Atrocities committed during World War Two gave the Japanese military a powerful reputation for cruelty. But a notion has long bubbled away in the West that the Japanese as a people are inherently unpredictable and dangerous – the famous gentility masking something menacing. This goes back at least as far as the 1850s, when British travellers and diplomats saw Japanese tolerance of their presence in the country morph into sporadic attacks against Westerners and their Japanese assistants. They linked the violence to the particular outlook of the samurai class, and the association stuck.

Some of these early ideas about the samurai were in part Japanese creations – fantasies concocted for a Western readership willing to pay good money for exotic tales of violence and sex. World War Two gave the legend another twist: the chivalrous, highly ethical elements of this samurai fantasy were lost, and what remained was the unthinking loyalty, the refusal to surrender, the indifference towards death – and others’ lives.

You can hear the results of all this in Alan Whicker’s nervous postwar musings on karate.

3. Japanese women are submissive

Japan has been seen as the land that feminism forgot. Both Japanese and Western commentators have tended to see the geisha girl as the ideal of Japanese womanhood – attractive and subtle, subservient to men, but clever enough to be good company. Then there was the influential American anthropologist of the 1940s, Ruth Benedict, who heard that Japanese girls were given just enough education so they could put their husbands’ books back the right way up once they’d finished dusting them. By the 1960s, for Western men unsure what to make of the rise of women’s liberation movements, all of this appeared deeply attractive.

Japanese women even received the ultimate British seal of approval in 1967, as Mie Hama became Bond-girl “Kissy Suzuki” in You Only Live Twice. Given the low-down on domestic arrangements in Japan by his male host – women are inferior to men, they’re happy with that, and they live to serve – Bond gives his blessing: “I think I’ll retire here…”

And if you think that nothing of this sort could possibly go on in the early 21st Century, then you haven’t been paying attention to Japanese pop culture, and the success of Japanese pop behemoth AKB-48.

Japanese all girl band AKB-48 arrive at the 22nd Golden Melody Awards in Taipei on June 18, 2011

Yes, 48 young girls (in the original line-up, though the group has since expanded), forbidden from having boyfriends and content instead to smile and dance around in bikinis or mock military uniforms or really whatever a paying public of – critics would argue – socially inadequate young and middle-aged men want to see.

All in all, this particular myth about Japan is simply worth too much to too many people – Western men mourning the passing of the patriarchy, Western feminists looking for sisters to save in Asia, corporate Japan chasing the under-deodorised male dollar (or Yen) – for it to be revised any time soon. It’s the perfect example of how diverse interests come together over time to create misrepresentations with a surprisingly long shelf life.

The Japanese-Peruvians interned in the US during WW2

Photograph of Blanca Katsura in 2014Blanca Katsura and her family were among 1,800 Japanese-Peruvians to be interned in the US 

BBC News (by Jaime Gonzalez of BBC Mundo):

Blanca Katsura will never forget the night of 6 January 1943. She was 12 at the time and living with her parents and two siblings in northern Peru. On that night, two officials came to their home and took away her father. Mr Katsura, who owned a small general store, was arrested because he was part of Peru’s prosperous Japanese community.

My father told them he hadn’t done anything wrong, but they didn’t listen to him,” she recalls.

Japanese people began migrating to Peru in considerable numbers at the end of the 19th Century, drawn by opportunities to work in the mines and on sugar plantations.

By the 1940s, an estimated 25,000 people of Japanese descent lived in Peru. Many had become lawyers and doctors, or owned small businesses.

An undated photo of a  relative of Art Shibayama in his shop in PeruMany Japanese-Peruvians did well in their new homelands and set up successful businesses 

Their prosperity, further fuelled by racism, soon triggered anti-Japanese sentiment in Peru, Stephanie Moore explains.

Ms Moore, a scholar at the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, says after the outbreak of World War Two, the Japanese community in Peru became a target, and their assets were confiscated.

In May 1940, as many as 600 houses, schools and businesses belonging to citizens of Japanese descent were burned down,” she says.

Following Japan’s 1941 attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the US government asked a dozen Latin American countries, among them Peru, to arrest its Japanese residents. Records from the time suggest the US authorities wanted to take them to the US and use them as bargaining chips for its nationals captured by Japanese forces in Asia.

Italian, German and Japanese residents of Latin America are seen leaving a temporary internment camp in the Panama Canal Zone Many Japanese-Latin Americans were taken to a camp in the Panama Canal Zone first

Mr Katsura was among the 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent who were forcibly deported to internment camps in the US. Blanca Katsura, who is now 83 and lives in Northern California, remembers how she learned of his fate.

A month after my father was detained, he sent me a letter because it was my birthday,” she recalls. “He had been taken to Panama from where they were planning to send him to the US,” she adds.

Six months later, Blanca Katsura’s mother decided to take her three small children to the US to search for her husband.

When we arrived in New Orleans after a month-long trip, they confiscated our passports and then sent us by train to the Crystal City camp.”

As many as 4,000 people were interned during World War Two in this camp in Texas run by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Most of the detainees were of Japanese descent, although some German and Italian immigrants were also held there.

Undated aerial view of Crystal City Internment Camp, TexasCrystal City Internment Camp was located 180 km (110 miles) south of San Antonio in Texas

It was at Crystal City that Blanca Katsura was reunited with her father. “I was shocked, he had lost so much weight,” she remembers.

For the next four years, her family lived in the barracks at the camp. Her memories of that time are not particularly traumatic, she says.

Being a child at the time time, I had no worries and made lots of friends.We were able to go to school and learn Japanese,” she adds.

Japanese-Peruvians attend a class at the Federal High School in the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas in 1944Children in Crystal City attended classes inside the camp
Ms Katsura says she later learned that the camp authorities were keen for the children to learn Japanese so they would be able to speak the language once they were deported to Japan.
Chieko Kamisato Chieko Kamisato now lives in Los Angeles
Chieko Kamisato’s memories of life at Crystal City are less positive.

You could call it a concentration camp, because we were surrounded by barbed wire fences and guards with guns,” she says.

We couldn’t go out at all, although we were free to move around inside,” she recalls.

My parents were really bitter about the situation because they were forced to come to the US. They had no choice,” she says.

Ms Kamisato’s father had moved to Peru from Japan in 1915 and had worked hard to open a bakery in the capital, Lima. Now 81, she lives in Los Angeles.

Of the 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent to be interned in the US, 800 were sent to Japan as part of prisoner exchanges. After World War Two ended, another 1,000 were deported to Japan after their Latin American home countries refused to take them back.

A group of children poses for a photo in Crystal City Camp in this undated photoWhile there were also Germans interned in Crystal City, the majority were of Japanese descent

Ms Katsura’s and Ms Kamisato’s families successfully fought deportation and were eventually allowed to remain in the US. In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologized on behalf of the US government for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Under the act, the government paid tens of thousands of survivors of the camps $20,000 (£13,000) each in reparation.

But Japanese-Latin Americans did not qualify for the payments because they had not been US citizens or permanent residents of the US at the time of their internment. Outraged, they filed a class-action suit and 10 years later, the US government agreed to pay them $5,000 each. Most accepted, but a small group headed by camp survivor Art Shibayama decided to hold out, demanding to be paid the same as Japanese-Americans.

Blanca Katsura says that even though her childhood at the camp may not have been traumatic, no amount of money can compensate her family for its loss.

My parents wanted to go back to Peru but couldn’t. They missed the life they had there,” she recalls.

The Peruvian government sold us out to the US government and that is not a very nice feeling. How would you feel about it?

The Scottish mother of Japanese whisky

Rita Taketsuru

BBC:

Scotch enthusiasts found it hard to swallow recently when a Japanese single malt was named the world’s best whisky. But the fact that a Scot played a key role in establishing the hard stuff in Japan may make that news more palatable for some.

Jessie Roberta Cowan, from Kirkintilloch, had little idea how much her life was going to change when a young Japanese man took up lodgings at her family home in 1918.

Masataka Taketsuru had come to Scotland to study the art of whisky-making, taking up chemistry at Glasgow University before becoming an apprentice at Longmorn Distillery in Speyside and later at Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown.

Masataka and Jessie – who was known as Rita – soon formed a strong bond and on 8 January 1920 they married in a Glasgow registry office.

It was the beginning of a long journey that was to end with Rita becoming known as the mother of Japanese whisky.

Masataka TaketsuruMasataka Taketsuru came to Scotland to learn the art of whisky-making

Shortly after their marriage, Rita followed her husband back to Japan as he pursued his dream of building his own distillery.

By 1923 he was in Kyoto, working for Kotobukiya – later to become Japanese drinks giant Suntory – tasked with building Japan’s first genuine whisky plant at Yamazaki. A decade later, he prepared to start up his own distillery at Yoichi, marking the beginnings of what was to become major Japanese drinks business Nikka.

Rita’s role in helping Masataka produce his first whisky in 1940 cannot be underestimated, according to Nikka Whisky international sales manager Emiko Kaji.

Rita played a very important role in Masataka’s life work,” she said.

She provided not only moral support but also financial support when they had a difficult time.

“She made every effort to adopt herself to the Japanese culture and stay with him all the time, even during the world war.”

Mr Kaji added: “It is said that she was good at Japanese cooking and served traditional Japanese dishes. Her income from teaching English and piano sometimes helped the household. Rita’s network through the job also connected Masataka with other investors to establish his own company. Masataka could not have overcome a lot of difficulties without loyal support by Rita.”

Nikka Whisky Distillery at YoichiThe Nikka distillery is still operating in Yoichi

Yoichi was a world away from the bustling city of Kyoto. Based on the northernmost main island of Japan, Hokkaido, it offered a much more isolated way of life.

But Masataka saw it as the perfect place to build a distillery.

Colin Ross, from the Nikka-owned Ben Nevis distillery at Fort William, said: “He chose Yoichi because it looked a lot like Scotland, felt like Scotland and the temperature was much the same as here.”

Rita launched herself into Japanese culture, speaking only Japanese and following local traditions, but her life was to change during World War Two.

Her great-nephew Harry Hogan, from Newton Mearns in East Renfrewshire, said: “I think during the second world war it was very difficult because a lot of the Japanese turned against them – against her particularlyThe story goes that even her own (adopted Japanese) daughter turned against her slightly because of the fact that she was British.”

Masataka and Rita TaketsuruMasataka and Rita married in Scotland in 1920

 

According to Urs Matthias Zachmann, head of Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the Japanese authorities also made life difficult for her.

He said: “Their house was searched because they had an antenna on the rooftop and the special police thought that she might be a spy, contacting British or Russian forces, whatever. It has been said that the company workers tried to speak on her behalf and defend her.”

But Rita stayed put and the Yoichi distillery soon prospered as the Japanese appetite for genuine whisky grew in the face of a wartime import ban.

Rita died at the age of 63 in 1961, but her legacy lives on in Yoichi, whose main street is named Rita Road.

She is also far from forgotten in her adopted nation as a whole. The story of her relationship with the man who became known as the father of Japanese whisky has just hit the small screen in Japan.

TV drama Massan is a fictionalised account of Rita’s travels to Japan and Masataka’s attempts to begin the Nikka Whisky distilling company, which is now owned by drinks group Asahi. The show has quite literally lifted spirits at the business.

Nikka Whisky International Sales Manager Emiko Kaji said: “We have been experiencing a kind of ‘Nikka boom’ or ‘whisky boom’ since the NHK drama Massan started at the end of September. Our domestic sales are growing by almost 20% and the number of the visitors to Yoichi distillery in 2014 increased by 50% compared with the previous year.”

Masataka died in August 1979 at the age of 85 and was laid to rest beside his wife in Yoichi. Rita’s life may have ended in 1961 – but for many Japanese, her spirit lives on.

Link

Fresno, CA. Tower Pays Tribute To Interned Japanese-Americans

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Fresno, California‘s newest landmark is 26 feet tall and this tower towers over everything else at Simonian Farms in southeast Fresno.

Dennis Simonian created the memorial tower to honor four families he says taught him about farming and family.  “That was the Takahashi families of Clovis, the Hayashi family, Mochizuki family on Kings Canyon.   They had a fruit stand on Kings Canyon and Minnewawa.”

The lumber has special significance.  The builder of the tower, Daniels Wood Products in Paso Robles, got it from Arizona where Japanese-Americans were interned.  “Once I found out this wood came out of Poston, Arizona that’s what got me to do it out of the internment camp. They told me if it wasn’t this height and the way it was they didn’t want to be a part of it.”

One Japanese-American says this tower has so many similarities to the internment camps in Arizona.  He talked about the holes in the wood and the gaps between the two boards and how they would have to crush cans to seal it up so sand wouldn’t blow in.

The tower took less time to create than the picture board that sits in front of the tower.  The photographs dating back to World War Two require special permission.

The Japanese inscription on the monument translates to Soul Consoling Tower.  “And I feel so good in my own soul for what I’m doing.”

The memorial will be formally dedicated next Tuesday morning at ten.

Check out this link:

Fresno, CA. Tower Pays Tribute To Interned Japanese-Americans