Monday, July 30, 2007

A Real Citizen of Somewhere Else Moment

So on the way to the local Matsuri festival, the tsuma voted in yesterday's historic parliamentary defeat for the LDP. Inside the junior high school gym, onechan and I had the following conversation.

Onechan: What is mama doing?
Me: She's voting.
O: I want to vote, too!
Me: You can't yet. You have to be older.
O: Go-sai? [Five?]
Me: No, bigger. Like 18 or 20.
O: You should vote, too.
Me: I can't vote in Japan. I can only vote in America.
O: Why?
Me: Well, you have to be a citizen to vote. Mama's a citizen of Japan. I'm a citizen of the U.S.
O: America?
Me: Yeah. So I can only vote in America. And mama can only vote in Japan. But you and imoto can vote in both countries when you get old enough.
O: [not that impressed]
Me: And then when you're even older you'll have to decide which one country you want to be a citizen of.
O: [not that impressed]
Me: OK, mama's done. Time to go to the festival!
O: Yeah!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Berube Mayoral Campaign Kicks Off with Analogy Contest

Cross-posted at Mostly Harmless.

Because it's our last Friday in Fukuoka (for this year, that is) and we have it on good authority that "analogies are mostly the refuge of the simple-minded," I hereby announce that the Official Michael Berube Campaign for Mayor of Blogoramaville is leading off with an analogy contest. Just fill in the blanks on any or all of the following in comments!

1. Michael Berube:[x=Republican Presidential Candidate]::a:b
2. Michael Berube:[y=Possible Mayoral Competitor]::c:d
3. Michael Berube:[z=Possible Running Mate]::e:f
4. Michael Berube:g::h:i

And remember to keep it simple, stupid. No similes or metaphors allowed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lit Bloggers of the World Unite... have nothing to lose but your self-respect and the esteem of your closest friends and colleagues. No, I'm not talking about the ongoing Mostly Harmless event--although Europhiles and Europeans among you may be interested in it. I'm talking about my campaign to get Michael Berube elected Mayor of Blogoramaville in 2008! Pass it on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Programming Note

Sorry to report that blogging here will get sparser and lazier for the rest of the month and into August. Although my last class meets in a few minutes, I'll be busy grading and meeting with personal and family friends for farewells during our last two weeks here in Fukuoka. We're cramming a trip to Kagoshima into the second half of this week, as well (here's hoping the forecasts for another early typhoon in southern Kyushu turn out to be wrong this time). And let's not forget boxing, shipping, packing, and giving away our stuff. Fortunately we can leave some things with the tsuma's family in Chiba, where we'll be from July 31 through August 14th, but while there I'll be hanging with onechan and imoto's cousins for the first week and then grading the last set of papers during the second week. So I guess what I'm saying is that Citizen of Somewhere Else will be a bit of a lower priority than it's been even in the past two months. I'll try to make up for the lack of quantity here with quality when I do post. But my five regular readers know how rare that is even when the law of averages is working in my favor! But it's entirely possible the next time you "hear" from me here, this blog will be back on Eastern Standard Time. Or is that Daylight Savings?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pattern Recognition: Historicizing U.S. Representations of Japan

This is the overview of U.S. representations of Japan I actually was able to give yesterday at the JASF, despite the storm. Over at Mostly Harmless today I'll give the conclusion to the talk, which speculated on what to expect in the next 25 years, and tomorrow here I'll discuss the Q&A (yes, I left 25 minutes for it, just as I wanted--love it when a plan comes together!).

But why this sudden popularity of Japanese popular culture in the U.S.? How does it relate to the history of U.S. representations of Japan? What light does my own personal history of engagements with Japanese popular culture shed on that larger history I focused on in my previous two talks? How does the history of U.S.-Japanese interactions and interrelations look from the perspective of 2007 rather than, say, 1995 or 1945?

Well, as I sketched out in my first two talks, the image of Japan shifted radically in American eyes, from an exotic, backward culture in the mid-nineteenth century to a modernizing, industrializing rising power at the turn into the twentieth century, to a militarist, imperialist enemy by the middle of that century, and then shifted again, from a key ally in the Cold War to a key economic rival in a post-Cold War era that some feared would lead to a broader competition over which country would be #1 in the next century. In part due to Japan’s economic troubles over much of the past decade, in part due to the decision of Japanese automakers to locate production facilities in the U.S., and in part due to a combination of American economic success and a new political focus on the War on Terror, the era of “Japan-bashing” and Japan panics came to an end much faster than anyone would have anticipated in the early 1990s. As Japanese political and economic leaders found some ways to cooperate with American neoliberals and neoconservatives, as trade frictions eased and American media attention to China and India’s economies seemingly overshadowed Japan’s, cultural exchanges of all kinds between the U.S. and Japan flourished in the 21st century.

What does this all mean? Certainly, for the W.W. II generation and their Baby Boomer children, Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, Nanking and Nagasaki, the Tokyo Tribunals and Article 9, and the samurai and the geisha continue to symbolize the poles and polarities of their representations of and responses to Japan. But I would argue that my generation and younger ones have very different perspectives on Japan--and that they are gaining a hearing from older generations. What I take from my own personal history is that younger Americans have many more windows on Japanese culture, many more lenses through which to examine images of Japan, much more access to uncut and unedited works from Japanese popular culture, a much wider and more varied range of clichés, conventions, stereotypes, and discourses to select from, identify with, question, or modify, and a much more vivid sense of being part of a global, transnational mix of cultures and styles than any Americans before them. As many people of my generation moved into positions in film, television, and literature that allowed them to follow through on the same kind of transnational influences that I had been unwittingly exposed to in my childhood and teenage years, it became clear that they brought a different attitude into their aesthetic, ethical, political, and theoretical dialogues with artists from different countries and cultures than in previous generations.

So I feel there’s cause for optimism in future U.S.-Japan relations based on Japan’s current association among many in the younger generations in America with cutting-edge youth culture, innovative entertainment technologies, and imaginative and varied animation techniques, styles, and stories, not to mention the fact that a wider range of Japanese popular subcultures are entering the mainstream of American popular culture on virtually their own terms than ever before. At the very least, the view from 2007 of the history of American representations of Japan gives more cause for optimism in future U.S.-Japan relations than, say, the view from 1945 or 1995. At most, we may be entering into a period where both Japan and the U.S. comfortably consider and treat each other as equals. But if the history of shifting American images of Japan teaches us anything, it’s just how volatile and subject to rapid reversals they are. It may turn out that the anime craze is our century’s version of japonisme, that the Harajuku cosuplayers are postmodern geisha, that this period will be swept away by history like a similar period in the 1920s. So let’s look ahead as soberly as we can.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Rim

Here's my take on 1973-1995 representations of Japan in American culture, which leads nicely into my first Mostly Harmless post from the third and last talk in my "Shifting American Images of Japan" series that may or may not be happening in a few hours (depending on how bad this typhoon turns out to be). If you read that one and its two sequels there, you'll be ready for tomorrow's post here....

By the mid-1970s, however, world politics and global economics again helped contribute to massive transformations in American representations of and relations with Japan. Under the pressure of President Nixon’s turn toward engaging the People’s Republic of China, the American defeat in Vietnam, and the oil shocks that opened and closed the decade, the attitudes, assumptions, and images of the early Cold War underwent a seismic shift. We can track such shocks, aftershocks, and tsunamis in American economic theory, popular culture, diplomacy, and public memory between 1973 and 1995. These images in elite and popular culture, however, don’t merely reflect what I’ll call, building on the work of Christopher Connery, “the rise and fall of the Pacific Rim”; they also pushed many in Japan and the U.S. during the 1990s to consider whether the American Century in Japan was coming to an end. At the close of the Cold War, many influential Americans were wondering—and worrying—where the U.S.-Japan relationship was headed.

Connery argues that Pacific Rim discourse arose in the mid-1970s as the early Cold War views of Japan and Asia became untenable in the U.S.; Japan was by then no longer a latecomer to modernity or a junior partner to the West, but instead a fully modernized and global economic power, leading other East Asian Newly Industrialized Countries down the road of efficiency, quality, high technology, and export-led growth. The Pacific, which formerly had been characterized as an American lake--part of the system of containment of Soviet expansionism--was now seen largely in economic terms, as a new frontier for multinational capital, a place where an American economy suffering from stagflation and energy crises could renew itself, an alternative to European social democracy and Soviet bloc state socialism. The imperative was to learn from Japan, as American futurologists like Alvin Toffler, sociologists like Ezra Vogel, and hosts of management consultants argued that Japan exemplified efficient orchestration of capital, technology, and labor, established best practices in management, and combined economic growth, equitable distribution of wealth, and social cohesion. Even revisionist work in the 1980s, such as Chalmers Johnson’s influential study, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, which emphasized Japan’s plan-rational rather than market-rational approach and characterized it as having a developmental rather than regulatory state, did so largely in order to point out lessons for the United States. By the mid-1980s, when Japan became a creditor nation, the idea that the future would be Japanese was so widespread in the U.S. that two kinds of backlashes developed in American popular culture--what I’ll call, following David Morley and Kevin Robins, techno-orientalism, and what came to be known as “Japan bashing.”

American cyberpunk, from the noir-ish stylings of science fiction films like Blade Runner and science fiction novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer in the 1980s to the more politicized and parodic portraits in Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash in the early 1990s, picked up on, played with, and projected Pacific Rim discourse’s identification of Japan with the future. By performing variations on a Japan-dominated future--either through focusing on a down-and-out American trying to survive the gritty, corrupt, and violent underworld of Yakuza, urban sprawl, and great disparities of wealth and power, by emphasizing the dehumanizing aspects of life and work in Japanese corporate domes that dot an environmentally and economically devastated U.S., or by portraying Japanese salarymen and entertainers as rigid, racist, and out of touch with reality yet so rich as to be ubiquitous in cyberspace--these works register some of the anxieties evoked by Pacific Rim discourse. Technology in all these works is both enabling and alienating, titillating and threatening. Classic works of Japanese anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell should be seen as responses to the techno-orientalism of these and other versions of American cyberpunk.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the tensions between Pacific Rim optimism and techno-orientalist anxieties prompted an even more extreme and pessimistic backlash against Japan. “Japan-bashing,” as it came to be known, emphasized fears of Japanese infiltration and invasion that hadn’t been aired so publicly in the U.S. since the World War II era. In fact, as Dower, Morley and Robins, Toshio Ueno, Masao Miyoshi, and many others have documented, the 1980s witnessed a recycling and upgrading of classic stereotypes from American WW II propaganda. Consider the interlocking use of smallness and largeness in the following images from American editorial cartoons and magazine covers. References to “economic Pearl Harbors,” “the Cold War is over and Japan won,” and the prospect of coming trade wars that could trigger actual armed conflicts between the U.S. and Japan began to appear with ever-increasing regularity and repetition in the U.S. business and international press. Hollywood films such as Black Rain and Rising Sun fed into this Japan panic, using the conventions of the thriller, the mystery, and the cross-cultural buddy movie to reach a mass movie-going audience. U.S. labor and government officials alike accused Japan of unfair business practices and lobbied for the opening of Japan to foreign trade and investment. In this climate, Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American, was beaten to death in 1982 by two recently laid-off Detroit auto workers who thought he was Japanese, and Yoshihiro Hattori, a Japanese exchange student was shot and killed by a panicked white Baton Rouge resident when he got lost on his way to a Halloween party in 1992 and knocked on the wrong door at the wrong time.

It is in this context that the two greatest crises in U.S.-Japan relations of the 1990s occurred, during President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War and the planning for a Smithsonian museum exhibit on the Enola Gay that originally sought to educate the American public about historians’ debates over the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both enacted another kind of return of World War II to American diplomacy and public memory. With the Gulf War, Japan came under heavy criticism from the U.S.-led coalition for practicing mere “checkbook diplomacy” and hiding from its global responsibilities behind an outdated peace constitution. Soon later, a coalition of veterans’ organizations and Republican politicians demanded revisions to the plans for a National Air and Space Museum exhibit that they deemed too attentive to Japanese suffering and too skeptical toward the official rationale for the decision to use the atomic bomb. Even after multiple revisions were made, they remained dissatisfied with them, successfully shut down the exhibition, and forced the resignation of leading Smithsonian officials. Ironically, it was largely conservatives and religious leaders who had been the first in the U.S. to criticize the atomic bombings during the late 1940s and early 1950s when Democrats lead U.S. foreign policy; in 1995, with a new Republican majority in Congress looking to influence President Clinton’s foreign and domestic policy agenda, historians who criticized the Cold War consensus on the atomic bombings were accused of political correctness and a patriotism deficit.

By the mid-1990s, then, with the dissolution of Cold War conditions that had turned bitter enemies into staunch allies, American images of Japan had turned so negative that people on both sides of the Pacific worried over the prospects of a return to World War II-era relations. The American Century in Japan seemed to be over, a victim of Japanese overconfidence and American defensiveness. In response to the rise of nihonjinron discourse in Japan and announcements of a “Japan that can say ‘no’” rocketing around the world, Americans once again, just as in World War II, strove to turn positives among Japanese elites into negatives for American audiences. The title of Walter LaFaber’s late-1990s history of U.S.-Japanese relations, The Clash, which was heavily influenced by the fall of the Pacific Rim and the apparent end of the American Century in Japan, says it all—a narrative of inevitable conflict between the two countries was the order of the day. When even sober historians known for their pioneering treatment of tendencies toward American imperialism in U.S. foreign policy start echoing themes of the most nativist Japan-bashers, serious questions must be raised about the possibility for any American to develop a truly objective attitude toward and perspective on Japan.

The power of long-held images and recently-recycled representations to shape perceptions of reality, to color attitudes and feelings toward others, and to affect actions and interactions as well as intercultural communications might well lead to pessimistic conclusions about the capacity even for highly-educated and well-informed Americans with extensive personal experience in Japan to transcend their times. U.S. images of Japan may seem frozen into arrogantly negative or condescendingly positive stereotypes, or arbitrarily tossed on the waves formed by geopolitical and economic shifts and shocks.

Yet even during the 1980s and early 1990s, which many characterized as the lowest point in U.S.-Japan relations since World War II, there were other undercurrents, patterns in American representations of Japan that perhaps are more visible from our standpoint today than a decade ago.

For those undercurrents, go to Mostly Harmless--then see my next post for my rejoinder to the rather pessimistic conclusions of my first two talks, which ended their surveys in 1945 and 1995. How does Japan look differently to Americans in 2007 than at either of these low points in U.S.-Japanese relations? I can't answer that question in general, but I do offer a personal perspective over at Mostly Harmless.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

From Wartime Enemy to Cold War Ally

Yes, Friday the 13th laziness on your bloggy menu today! Here's my survey of shifts in American representations of Japan between 1941 and 1973, delivered last Saturday at the JASF.

Last week, I focused on John Dower’s analysis of the use of animal imagery in American war propaganda to dehumanize Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War. This week, I want to interweave his emphasis with that of University of California at Riverside Asian American Studies scholar Traise Yamamoto, who in Masking Selves, Making Subjects demonstrates how Japanese people and culture were infantilized and feminized in American popular culture over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining Dower’s and Yamamoto’s focuses allows me to illustrate how sharply American images of Japan shifted over the course of the 1940s and 1950s and to suggest what’s at stake in that transformation.

Consider this series of cartoons from the beginning, middle, and end of the Pacific War. Throughout, Japanese soldiers are represented as monkeys and apes, but note how the imagery, style, connotations, associations, and allusions shift from treacherous to rampaging to cute. Now examine the gender politics of these wartime images of Japanese soldiers and female victims and how they contrast with these Occupation-era images of Japanese women and American military personnel. Taken together, these images provide an index of changing American representational strategies toward Japan. Indeed, they might even be said to construct for their American audiences a series of versions of Japan: from pesky and annoying enemy, to dangerous and powerful enemy, to savage and bestial enemy, to welcoming and inviting subjects in a demilitarized society. The kimonos the Japanese women wear are particularly significant; they not only allude to pre-modern Japan, but also evoke the “Madame Butterfly” image that many feminist scholars have shown to be so influential on Western perceptions of Japan. Indeed, whether the metaphor is of husband and wife, parent and child, or teacher and student, the underlying story these images tell is of the power relations between the U.S. and Japan during the years of the Pacific War and Occupation.

Such shifts were even more prevalent and overt in materials prepared for those Americans being sent to defeat, occupy, and reconstruct Japan in the mid-1940s. In the 1945 propaganda efforts of On to Tokyo and Know Your Enemy--Japan, Japanese barbarism and lack of individuality were emphasized, according to the established wartime script, yet just a few months after they were released, images of women and children flooded the screen in Our Job in Japan just as its narrative shifted from a critique of Imperial Japan to the prospects of a thoroughly reconstructed, demilitarized, and democratized society. We should pay equal attention to the continuities between this Occupation training film and practically concurrent war-time propaganda as to their disjunctures, for the tension between them signals the divisions among those planning the Occupation of Japan.

As John Dower documents in Embracing Defeat, conflicts between the “Japan crowd” and the “China crowd” among U.S. foreign policy elites intensified as the tide of battle turned in America’s favor in the Pacific War. Soon after August 11, 1945, when Dean Acheson replaced Joseph Grew as undersecretary of state, it quickly became clear that the China crowd--associated with a desire for a more radical reconstruction of Japan than the more conservative reformists among the Japan crowd were advocating for--had won this intellectual, political, and institutional debate. Thus, although the noted Japanologists of the 1940s worked together to craft a U.S. Office of War Information report in December 1944, they were almost completely excluded from General MacArthur’s administration during the Occupation.

In retrospect, however, the distance between both crowds seems rather small. Both urged General MacArthur to rule indirectly through the Emperor, his advisors, and the Japanese state bureaucracy, in order to capitalize on the loyalty of the citizenry to familiar and traditional authority figures. Both were blind to the colonialist structures and implications of the Occupation, particularly in Okinawa. Both saw Japan primarily through the lens of American histories and interests.

And those interests would shift dramatically by the late 1940s, with serious implications for Japan, Asia, and the world. The “reverse course” in the American Occupation of Japan has been covered by a host of distinguished historians; the shifts from purging militarists to purging Communists, from demilitarizing to remilitarizing Japan, and from political to economic reform are too large and complex to cover here. But a quick look at two non-fictional films that focus on the U.S.’s role in East Asia during World War II, the first from 1944 and the second from 1953, can serve to illustrate how dramatically the “home front” image of Japan changed from World War II to the Cold War. The Battle of China, one of the final films in Frank Capra’s Why We Fight war propaganda series, emphasizes the heroism of the Chinese resistance to Japanese imperialism and war atrocities at a time when U.S. war planners thought the road to defeating Imperial Japan ran through China and geopolitical strategists hoped that supporting Chinese nationalist forces against Chinese communists and Japanese imperialists would lead to post-war benefits for the U.S. By contrast, the celebrated Victory at Sea television documentary series, produced after the communists won and the U.S. “lost” China--after, that is, Japan had shifted from wartime enemy to Cold War ally--surveys the exact same history, but this time with an emphasis on the Anglo-American joint effort with their colonized subjects in India and Southeast Asia to free China from Japanese imperialism. This is a story tailored to the Third World in the mid-1950s, implying that American leadership can protect them from Soviet or Chinese domination; the earlier pro-China, anti-Japan narrative is almost completely submerged in this effort to make the East Asian and Southeast Asian theaters in World War II relevant to the needs of the Cold War U.S. in the final months of the Korean War.

Hollywood, too, followed suit during the 1950s, promoting the U.S.-Japanese alliance in films whose plots hinged on American military personnel’s relationships with Japanese women. In sharp contrast to U.S. W.W. II movies like The Purple Heart (1944), which make violent and brutal acts of male Japanese soldiers against U.S. POWs representative of Japan itself, the relationships between male American soldiers and female Japanese civilians in movies such as Japanese War Bride (1952), Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), and Sayonara (1957) allegorized the new relationships between their respective countries. As these movies were produced just as and after new American immigration laws were dramatically transforming policies established in the nativist 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, they represent and enact the continuing stereotyping as well as challenges to racial prejudice happening in the United States during the 1950s around citizenship rights for descendants of Asian immigrants and civil rights for African Americans. Some aspects of American power in Japan and attitudes toward Asians are romanticized and naturalized in these films, but others are questioned and criticized. The love plot and its vicissitudes in each of these 1950s films makes possible a reeducation of sorts of American movie-going audiences. Their domestication of U.S.-Japan relations brought the Cold War home, helping to normalize the drastic shifts in U.S. policy toward Japan over the previous two decades.

Thus, even as some U.S. officials began calling for the rapid remilitarization of Japan, even as Japan became a crucial workshop during the Korean War, even as the American reconstruction effort shifted from the Occupation to a kind of East Asian Marshall Plan, even, that is, as Japan became the hub of American diplomatic, military, and economic efforts to contain Soviet and Chinese communism, the representative images of Japan in American popular culture came to be modernized geisha figures. Even as Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, Nanking and Nagasaki, and the Tokyo Tribunals and Article 9 came to symbolize the poles and polarities of American representations of and responses to Japan, so, too, did the samurai and the geisha. In part due to the emphasis and efforts of state and civil society within Japan and in part due to American preoccupation with communist enemies in the Soviet Union, China, Korea, and Vietnam during the 1950s through early 1970s, however, the feminized, receptive image of Japan seemed to have eclipsed the aggressive, militarist image of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

That's More Like It! Back to Lazy Blogging, JASF Edition

Time to set the table! What follows is the opening of a talk I gave last Saturday at the Japan-America Society of Fukuoka. For this coming Saturday's talk, which is FINALLY done, check out Mostly Harmless. Given how busy I am in our final month or so in Japan (on this stay, that is!), I'm going to subject my "readers" to more of this talk over the next few days. Not the best of meals, but what can you do?

This talk, “The End of the American Century in Japan? 1941-1995,” picks up where last week’s “From Manifest Destiny to War in the Pacific, 1846-1945” left off. In that talk, I gave a very rough sketch of the changing images of Japan in American eyes, from an exotic and backward culture in the mid-nineteenth century to a modernizing, industrializing rising power at the turn into the twentieth century, to a militarist, imperialist enemy by the middle of that century. I emphasized that such shifts should be understood in the context of American experiences with and representations of other non-U.S. cultures and countries and argued that they are often more revealing of American mindsets than Japanese realities. By showing how certain images and styles of representation get cut and pasted from one group to another or get recycled from one time period to another, I tried to suggest how complex and difficult it can be to understand and analyze them.

Implicit in my talk were the following questions. What is the relation between image and reality? Between attitude and action? How, for instance, did Commodore Matthew Perry’s studies of European writings on Japanese culture and society as he was preparing to lead his first expedition to Japan, along with his experiences fighting Mexicans and Indians in the Mexican War of 1846-1848, influence his strategies and tactics as a negotiator with bakufu representatives? In what ways may Washington war planners, all the way up to President Harry Truman, have been influenced by American war propaganda emphasizing the brutal savagery of the Japanese military and the fanatical loyalty of the Japanese citizenry, particularly in the spring and summer of 1945?

These questions, of course, raise larger and even more difficult ones. To what extent can subjective human beings limited to partial perspectives understand each other objectively? Indeed, is such objectivity possible or desirable? This is not only a question of knowledge, understanding, and truth; it is also a question of how to understand the nature of reality. If we are tempted to argue that Americans often and perhaps even consistently mischaracterized Japan between 1846 and 1945, by what standard do we judge their characterizations to be mistaken? If even Japanese self-images of this time period do not escape the difficulties and complexities of aesthetic and political representation, where is such a standard to be found?

These issues in the relation between representation and reality, in turn, raise questions about how to characterize the first century of U.S.-Japanese relations. Was the Pacific War an inevitable conflict between two rising and expansionist powers with claims to and designs on the Pacific? Was it a blip in an otherwise amicable bilateral partnership? Was it a relatively arbitrary swing of a randomly seesawing relationship?

I’m going to return to these questions at the end of this talk. But first, by focusing on the shifts between 1941 and 1995 in American representations of Japan from wartime enemy to Cold War ally to economic rival, I’ll emphasize just how complex and difficult they are--and how much is at stake in them.
Somebody Tell Neil Gaiman

Thanks to the brilliant Bill Benzon, Gojira's telling Tie-Dye Hana Kuma onechan adventure stories over at Mostly Harmless. Reminds me of certain Sandman issues!

P.S.: Somebody (else?) tell me how to get real titles for my posts!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I have no idea why blogger isn't allowing me to enter titles to my posts here and at Mostly Harmless lately, but at least I don't have to decide between "What Does Flannery O'Connor Have to Do with Being a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer?" and "The Life You Change Might Be Your Own." In fact, I'm feeling confident enough about my last JASF lecture that in this quickie post I'll challenge my handful of readers to posit a connection between the above two title options and guess what I talked about last Thursday at the Kyushu Fulbright Alumni Association meeting. Hints in the tags. Well, one. Have fun. Back soon.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Born on the 4th of July...

...was one Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1804. Happy Birthday! I really wonder what you'd make of the state of the union.

[Update 7/9/07: and Ralph Luker didn't note it. For shame! But he did point us to this Joseph Nye piece earlier, so I take that back. By the way, I will return to CitizenSE blogging as soon as I finish my last talk. I have to deliver it Saturday and get it to the translator before then, so hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Whoa! Japanese Defense Minister Resigns Over His A-Bomb Remarks

It turns out the exact same day I was giving my first talk on "Shifting American Images of Japan," Defense Minister and Nagasaki native Fumio Kyuma was in my tsuma's hometown sharing his own views on the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan--views close to the mainstream in the U.S., I would add, with the predictable result that Right Blogistan and the 101st Keyboarders are in Red Alert mode. Of course, in Japan, news of his views prompted a wave of highly critical editorials and other responses, leading him to first apologize for his remarks, then retract them, and later resign from his post.

In other news, President Bush shamelessly stands behind discredited Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and commuted Scooter Libby's sentence.

So far the most interesting analysis I've seen has been from Observing Japan. If you know of other interesting ones (even if you don't agree with them), please let me know. I'm sure I'll be getting questions about this during my talk this coming Saturday!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Let's Start July Off With a Bang: Militarization, Propaganda, and the War in the Pacific

OK, so here's the part of my JASF talk that my audience got most into. Too bad I ran out of time. Ah well, gave me material for the opening of the next talk.

Militarization, Propaganda, and the War in the Pacific
Having emphasized in the prior two sections of this talk the transnational, multiethnic influences on American representations of mid-nineteenth-century Japan and the ways in which American reexaminations of Meiji Japan were at the same time meditations on the state of the U.S. as it entered the twentieth century, respectively, I want to bring these threads together in this final section on the Pacific War in the 1930s and 1940s. Even though Pearl Harbor and the U.S. war effort quickly crystallized American public opinion vehemently against Japan and most anyone of Japanese descent living in the United States during the war, it’s worth remarking how late--into the late 1930s among many elites and even later in popular culture--the Hearn-London debate from the first decade of the century continued to be played out. Two representative figures here are Robert Heinlein and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Heinlein represents the London school of Japanology. Updating for his contemporaries the media-induced Japanese invasion panic of 1907, London’s own writings on Japan and China, and the 1928-1929 Philip Nowland science fiction novel Armageddon 2419 (which inspired such comic strips featuring Asian villains as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Flash Gordon), Heinlein’s 1941 science fiction novel Sixth Column posits an Asian invasion of the United States. This popularized image of a “yellow peril” threatening the United States was not just a prejudice of the masses; in 1924, in a culmination of some 40 years of anti-Asian state and federal legislation, the U.S. passed the most restrictive immigration law in its history, completely excluding emigration from Asia (except for the quasi-colony of the Philippines) and drastically reducing emigration from southern and eastern Europe. With the demographic threat contained by the Johnson-Reed Act, the “yellow peril” shifted toward suspicion of the rising regional power in Asia, Japan.

Du Bois, by contrast, is closer to Hearn. As a host of recent studies--most notably by Vijay Prashad, Marc Gallichio, and Bill Mullen--has unearthed, many prominent African-American intellectuals during the 1920s and 1930s looked favorably upon both Taisho and Showa Japan. W.E.B. Du Bois, who during this period developed an innovative socialist critique of racism and colonialism, applauded the Taisho regime’s efforts to codify anti-racism and anti-colonialism in the League of Nations. Given his tendency to excuse the occupation of Korea, perhaps it should come as no surprise that even as the Showa regime leaned more and more toward militarism and expansionism--and even after the staging of the Manchurian Incident--Du Bois continued to hold out hope that the anti-colonial would outweigh the imperial in Japanese international politics. Only after 1937 did Du Bois pin his anti-colonial hopes on China and shift to a critique of Japanese depradations against Chinese civilians.

For different reasons, many U.S elites began to peg American national interests with China over the course of the 1930s, as well. Between the popularity of Pearl Buck’s 1931 novel The Good Earth, outrage at Japanese crimes against humanity with the bombing of Shanghai and the rape of Nanking, and the hope that Chinese nationalists would see the United States as a possible ally in their fight against European and Japanese imperialism, opinion leaders in the U.S. began to quietly agitate for war against Japan.

After years of such efforts, the U.S. public was primed for a nearly unanimous shift in representations of Japan by the U.S. government, media, and entertainment industries following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. And indeed, between documentaries like Frank Capra’s series Why We Fight, Hollywood movies like The Purple Heart that focused on Japanese atrocities against American POWs, comic books like Captain America, editorials and editorial cartoons in major newspapers and magazines, and even animated shorts featuring Bugs Bunny and Popeye, whatever debates over and ambivalence in the pre-war American images of Japan were washed away by a wave of anti-Japanese war propaganda.

John Dower has traced a fascinating shift in this propaganda over the course of the war. At first, as the Japanese military was winning battle after battle, American propagandists labored to convince the American public to take the threat from Japan seriously and to give up their stereotypes of the Japanese as small, harmless, incompetent, and even ludicrous when it came to fighting with modern weapons of war. Next, as the bloodiness of the battles and difficulty of seeing a way to victory became apparent, propagandists shifted to producing and questioning images of Japanese as super-soldiers. The sneaky, back-stabbing monkey images used to symbolize Japanese soldiers during the first year of the war were transformed into images of gigantic, powerful, rampaging apes, for instance. Then, as the tide of battle turned in the U.S.’s favor, images of Japanese as vermin to be exterminated began to appear, followed by a return to the mocking, parodic images from the first weeks of the war.

Christina Jarvis has updated and expanded Dower’s work to focus on how the image of war-time allies, such as Chinese and Filipino peoples, became rehabilitated during the war. During the 1930s, for instance, Filipino farm laborers in the American west were often bitterly discriminated against and attacked, as documented in Carlos Bulosan’s autobiography, America Is in the Heart. But once their compatriots were seen as the victims of Japanese imperialism in need of rescue by the U.S. military, attitudes toward diasporic Filipinos in the U.S. shifted, as well. The case of China is even more dramatic, as these scenes from The Battle of China, one of the last films in the Why We Fight series, demonstrate.

The work of Dower, Jarvis, and other historians of American war propaganda raise controversial questions that scholars of the aerial bombing campaigns and of the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have also considered. What role did this propaganda play in the decision to bomb civilian populations and dozens of major Japanese cities? Dower analyzes how American propagandists manipulated Japanese war propaganda, turning positives from the Showa regime’s perspective into negatives for the American public’s consumption; this suggests a degree of self-consciousness about the construction and orchestration of images of and from Japan. But did American war planners come to believe their own propaganda that the Japanese people were fanatically devoted to the Emperor, who was a tool of military elites, and needed to be shocked and awed out of their self-destructive reverence? Or after pushing for years for total and unconditional surrender of the Japanese government and sowing the seeds of racialized hatred of the Japanese people, were they constrained by the public opinion they helped cultivate? Over the past several decades, historians have debated the strategic, military, technical, scientific aspects of the American air campaign and the timing of the use of atomic weaponry, considering the full range of alternatives open to U.S. war planners. What a study of the first century of American representations of Japan can bring to the foreground is the relative role played by wartime stereotype, myth, discourse, ideology, and propaganda in the framing and sifting of alternatives. Even if we accept arguments that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to hasten the war and save American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Kyushu--the traditional view--or instead that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were meant as object lessons for the Soviet Union--the most controversial rival interpretation--it still is worth emphasizing that in either case the lives of Japanese civilians must have been construed as acceptable losses (as indeed they must during the entire incendiary bombing campaign of Japanese cities). Surely war hates and racism played a significant role in this calculation, even if (or especially if) it was done unthinkingly.

What actually took so long was setting up and analyzing my examples. Next talk: more examples!