A New Theory of Japanese History: Robots

At No Fear of the Future, Jess Nevins has a new theory of modern Japanese history [via]:

It’s clear, isn’t it? When Japan makes a new robot, a white person steals it, and bad things happen to Japan. Japan, beware the white man! He will steal your best stuff and ruin your country!

Implausible? Well, examine the evidence:

Mojikaki-ningyo gets stolen by a white American in 1875. Japan shifts from undoing the unequal treaties forced on it by the white powers in the 1850s and 1860s to trying to make its military the equal of the white powers’. Japan begins sending spies into the Western countries. Japanese ultranationalism begins. The Black Ocean and Black Dragon Societies are founded. Meanwhile, Mojikaki-ningyo is brought to the U.S. in 1875 or 1876. The American management/labor clashes of the mid-1870s end shortly thereafter, as does the Panic of 1873. The U.S. lays the groundwork for its ascension as a world power in the 20th century.

gets stolen by a white German in 1928. What follows in Japan is a domestic economic crisis, the lose of civilian power over the government, and the rise in power of the military.

The three “Mobile Suit Gundam” novels are translated into English in 1990s and snapped up by crazed American otakus. The Japanese bubble economy collapses soon thereafter, leading to the ushinawareta jūnen, the Japanese “lost decade.” Meanwhile, the U.S. begins consuming Power Rangers, Pokemon, and a variety of J-Pop offerings. The English translation of the Gundam novels was one of the first official, licensed J-Pop products, which gave the imprimatur to the American otakus, who helped create the American craze for J-Pop, manga, and anime, so that there are more American consumers (numerically) of the latter than there are Japanese consumers. In other words, America, not Japan, is now the audience for J-Pop–it’s made for us, not its native audience. America has co-opted J-Pop.

The robots under discussion are fascinating devices, but the causation… well, it would require a much better developed theory of robotic intervention.1 I think the last section in particular is too vauge: the critical technology has to be Transformers, which were invented during Japan’s “Number One” days, but whose introduction into the US corresponds exactly to the bubble collapse.

  1. I’m reminded of Asimov’s Foundation and Robots of Dawn series, somehow  


  1. I was in Japan in the mid-80s when they were pretty hot, and then got to crow about seeing “the originals” when they hit the US scene. It would be cooler if I could find the bloody things: they’re in one of my boxes, somewhere….

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