Social Management

Sheldon Garon’s delightful book Molding Japanese Minds outlines how the Japanese state has entered the everyday life of its citizens. He focuses on what he calls “social management” (xiv) and notes that many Americans would be “astounded” by the degree of this state activity. However, Garon is very careful, even in his epilogue, not to come out too strongly either for or against such involvement. Many of the more harmless and innocuous involvements contribute, as education and public health do, in a minor way to the betterment of the community.

I think it is certainly fair to say that there is far less state involvement in daily life in the US, especially when it comes to the kinds of examples that Garon takes for the Japanese case. I also admit being astounded at various experiences I had during different stays in Japan when, for example, local police vehicles drove around the neighborhood and blasted recordings suggesting that parents make sure their children go straight home after school, or 17:00 songs or community loudspeakers proclaiming that it is now time to go home and have dinner.

However, I was reminded of Garon’s book when I found myself staring at the “Small Step #11” advertisement on a bathroom wall today. It suggested that I could make a small step towards healthier living by not eating meals larger in size than a box, portrayed on the advertisement, about the size of my fist. When I looked to see who sponsored this advertisement (thinking perhaps some fast food chain was hinting that they had a meal just the right size for me), I was surprised to see that this was paid for by none other than the United States Department of Health & Human Services.

I think this is at least one recent example of “social management” by the state here in the US. Pay a visit to the where they offer the full list of “small steps” we can take to getting healthy, or register at this government site for access to their “activity tracker” (their privacy statement is here, in which they promise not to tell anyone about your “activities” unless some law or statute, like the Patriot act, forces them to). There is a press release about this program here and the program also appears to be connected to The arguments for the program suggest that it is essentially a response to disease, in this case that of obesity in the US.

Early Modern Numeracy

Reading Hanley’s Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture with my class (which is quite interestingly divided on the success of its argument, but we’re just getting started), I was struck by my own lack of knowledge about Tokugawa era numeracy. We’ve got a pretty good handle on literacy, by class and period, but not its mathematical equivalent.

It comes up in her second chapter, on living space: the minka [commoner house] architecture which spread in the late 17th-early 18th century “required a considerable amount of calculation” (30), which presumably was available (otherwise the houses couldn’t have been built). I’ve always assumed that numeracy was pretty widespread among the urban population — merchants and artisans and anyone else involved in substantial business dealings — and that even farmers need pretty strong math skills to keep track of productivity, inputs and markets. I have also read things which suggest relatively low rates of numeracy among samurai — considering arithmetic something done by “lowly merchants” — but that is counterintuitive: household budgeting based on an annual stipend must have required some fiscal planning.

Perhaps part of my problem is that I don’t have a good idea of how a non-numerate person would function, in a modern or early modern environment. Once markets and money are involved, basic numeracy seems to be a sine qua non for daily life function. It is true that there are still plenty of non-market actors in the early, even mid-Tokugawa, so there should be some numeracy shifts to track.

But it’s going to be harder than literacy, because it can leave fewer traces. Is anyone working on this question? Rough ideas welcome.

First or Last Name

In her introduction to the excellent book The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration Anne Walthall notes that the Japanese historian Ichimura Minato always referred to Matsuo Taseko only by her first name “Taseko.” Walthall notes that this is following “an almost universal custom” in which “Jane Austin was sometimes Jane, but John Milton was never John.” (she is quoting from Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwomen in the Attic).

Walthall resolves in this book to call not only Taseko, but also Japanese male figures by their first names. “I am certain it will jar the sensibilities of many readers knowledgable [sic] about Japan. I do so deliberately, for practical reasons in that many of the men I discuss shared a common surname, and for political reasons in the name of equality.” (15)

I found this a very interesting little passage, and interesting as a practice for historians. I guess some people would indeed find it a bit jarring. Imagine if Najita Tetsuo always referred to his supreme master of political compromise as simply “Kei,” Marius Jansen refered to the famous revolutionary only as “Ryôma,” and Dower referred to his stubborn realist “One Man” only by his first name “Shigeru.” Part of the reason for this, especially in the Japanese case, is that it is so at odds with how contemporaries not very intimate with the figures would address them. Walthall, however, would probably argue that this is part of the point. We are simply replicating and perpetuating these practices in our scholarship.

Another solution, however, would simply be to always refer to female figures by their last name. However, as she mentions, this runs into the problem that the female connection to a last name is a “contingent” connection which in many cases (especially after this was dictated by law in the Meiji period) changes with marriage (thus Taseko is a Takemura before she became a Matsuo).

I am totally sympathetic to Walthall’s “political reasons” but confess it is the first time I took notice of the fact that we sometimes see female historical or literary figures referred to only by their first name in genres of books which usually refer to people by their last name. I don’t have any numbers on this, but I wonder how common this habit, of referring to women by their first names, is in the field of Japanese history, and then the field of history as a whole?

Comment Moderation

Hello everyone. Just a quick note to say that comment moderation has been turned on so your comments won’t appear immediately. They will get posted after being approved by an administrator due to the flood of comment spam that the blogging world is currently getting (despite the numerous plug-ins installed to prevent it).

Stumbling to Glory

When an antiquated and undemocratic regime falls quickly, those who follow it often do so with little firm idea what they want or how they will achieve it. Slogans — “progress,” “prosperity,” “catching up with the rest of the world,” “freedom” — and a sense that there are places in the world where life is better — though those societies threaten the sovereignty of a nation in flux, while they inspire its inchoate leadership — are all the plan that really exists. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that there are many plans, for there are many individuals, each with a distinct (and sometimes small) constituency, who wish to speak to and for the nation. The old regime collapsed quickly but not entirely cleanly (some loyalists will fight on for months; anti-reform insurgencies and assassinations will continue sporadically for a decade), and there are social and legal and cultural obstacles to development, including clan leaders, hereditary classes, and a complete lack of traditions of democracy , civil discourse or universal rights.

Sound familiar? It should: Japan, 1868. From these unlikely beginnings arose one of the most powerful and important nations of the 20th century.

One of the great challenges of the historian is to remember, and recapture, the lack of inevitability of events. One of my favorite books, because it really was the first one in which I felt that uncertainty reconstructed and revealed, is Michio Umegaki’s After the Restoration: The Beginning of Japan’s Modern State. One of my great regrets about my undergraduate career is that I did not realize my interest in pursuing history seriously until it was too late for me to take any courses with Prof. Umegaki; we’ve never met, though our paths have certainly crossed. Umegaki describes the beginnings of the Meiji (1868-1912) state as a series of shifting coalitions, informal working arrangements, rapidly shifting ideas and priorities, policies promulgated by working groups which surprised half the leadership, and generally uncertain steps towards viable governance.

This contrasts sharply with the more conventional backwards looking view of the early Meiji state, which takes in the immensely successful first decade or so and sees in it all the necessary components of development: comprehensive social, legal, administrative, military and economic reforms, which were only shallowly applied at first but which were nonetheless the template for Japan’s seemingly meteoric rise to regional power status.

That the Meiji reforms were successful is largely incontrovertible (though we argue about long-term side effects and who should get credit). But that success was not always carefully planned, was rarely coordinated or forseeable. In fact, there are quite a few missteps, and shifts in policy along the way, as well as reforms that succeed in spite of, rather than because of, central (and centralizing) reforms.

There were foreigners, even some Japanese, who doubted Japan’s ability to manage its own affairs: Japan was subject to the odious “unequal treaty” system until the 20th century, for example. There were domestic and international observers who found Japan’s new leaders cliquish, unrepresentative, unrealistic, ineffective, disunified, oligarchic, and otherwise objectionable. But in spite of their missteps, and in spite of their uncertainties, they did succeed.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

Historiographical Triangulation

This could be good, or it could be awful. Or it might be a good first draft, but the effort certainly seems worth noting (emphasis added):

A middle school history textbook jointly written by scholars, teachers and historians of China, Japan and South Korea will be published in May, according to the Asahi Shimbun on Saturday.

The committee has been engaged in compiling the work since 2002 with the aim of establishing a jointly recognized interpretation of history among the three nations and prepare solutions for conflict over the past rather than engage in criticism.

“It is the first time the three countries have worked together on an account of history. It is not an exclusive description of history from a nationalist point of view, but a description for future coexistence that views history with an open mind and respects the opinion of each nation,” the committee said.

About 200 people, including teachers, scholars and civic group members, from China, South Korea and Japan participated in the work, holding a series of domestic and international conferences on the subject.

The textbook will deal with the 18th-20th century, when the Northeast Asian regions witnessed many ups and downs, including the rise of Japanese imperialism and World War II.

In its modern history of the three nations, the textbook details Japan’s colonial rule and resistance against it. The textbook will also present pieces by several scholars of the three nations, providing students with the chance to look into the opinions of each.

Because this project arose out of “an East Asia peace forum on history in Nanjing, China” I suspect more earnestness than precision. Because this is a journalistic description, I won’t take the apparent emphasis on Japanese colonialism to be the only focus of the book, though the existence of widely variant nationalistic narratives of the late 19th-early 20th century certainly justifies both the attempt to write this history as a committee and the need to provide the one-perspective essays which seem to me to dramatically complicate the reading for middle-schoolers.

Actually, I could imagine all kinds of ways in which collaborative history could result in heavily distorted narratives: an anti-communist narrative, for example (drawing on Taiwanese rather than mainland Chinese scholars), or a Marxist interpretation (perhaps less likely with South Korean participation: I don’t know whether South Korean academia shares Japan’s tendency towards oddly doctrinaire scholarship, but there are certainly leftists who could have been part of the process). It doesn’t sound like that’s what they’ve produced, though I would be very interested to see how they handled non-Asian involvement in Northeast Asian affairs.

I can’t tell if there’s an English-language version planned. Anyone want to sponsor a translation, or join a group translation project?

[Via HNN; Crossposted at Cliopatria]

Hanshin Jishin 10th anniversary

White Peril and Far Outliers have notes about the decade-ago disaster. We were in Yamaguchi when it happened: woke me out of a sound sleep from 200 miles away. I immediately, of course, turned on the TV for the earthquake announcements, and didn’t go back to bed for a long time. Some memories and thoughts:

  • There was, coincidentally, a blood donation drive scheduled on the campus of Yamaguchi University the next day. We’d given blood in Japan a time or two before that, I think (the cards are around somewhere: I rarely throw that stuff away). Anyway, I figured we’d go by the mobile station and, if the lines were too bad we’d just give up. No line. We got in, went from station to station (they actually weigh you, if they think you might be borderline) and got stuck and bled with little delay. I know there are Confucian and other traditional issues about blood donations, but given Japan’s bad history with imported blood products I really expected a stronger response.
  • We also participated in a charity concert a month or so later. My wife is a fine musician, and is capable of coaching even a neophyte like me into producing some passable harmonica and harmony backup. It was an all-day production, with dozens of local acts. Woody did one of her own songs (“Miriam’s song” I think, a rousing prayer of praise to the universe), John Denver’s “Country Roads” (very popular among our Japanese friends, particularly with our “Almost heaven, Yamaguchi” modifications) and Stuart Stott’s “Music in my mother’s house” (fantastic nostalgia piece, well worthy of enka-ization). We did a joint piece with a local folksinger as well — I think it was John Lennon’s “Imagine” (I checked with Woody: she also sang Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”, and the song we sang with the local guy was Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Before the concert, since she was the featured performer, I coached her on the proper offering of condolences… then I did a translation into English. You had to be there.). Not sure how much we contributed to the effort, but it certainly was a change from the school choruses and music clubs that filled most of the program.
  • A few months later, the Jewish group in Iwakuni (mostly Americans associated with the Marine Air Station) raised some money among itself to bring relief goods to the Jewish community in Kobe. We got there on a Friday night in a rented van, and joined in for services and were treated to a fantastic Shabbat dinner by the locals. The Kobe Jewish community is mostly a remnant of WWII refugees, though there is a pretty strong Israeli component, too. The synagogue is Sephardic Orthodox (separate seating for women, the whole bit), and this Ashkenazi Liberal had some trouble keeping up. The building had suffered some structural strains, and a Ten Commandments tablet had been cracked. Otherwise they were doing pretty well. Wandering around Kobe was sobering: well outside the fire zone, there were frequent recently-cleared empty lots in the middle of busy city blocks, raw reminders. Though it could have been worse, of course, but for Japan’s strong seismic construction codes.

We haven’t been back to Japan since ’94, and I wasn’t terribly familiar with Kobe before that. I’d be very curious to hear from people with experience on both sides of the divide how the tragedy has affected people, institutions, architecture, geography.

update: here is an earthquake survivor’s recounting of the long-term personal costs

Japanese Universities in World Context

Tomorrow’s Professor just forwarded a list of the top 500 universities in the world. As the introduction says

Attempting to rank universities world-wide is no easy task [which is why very few organizations have tried to do it] and it is easy enough to take exception to the various criteria used. That said, here is a list of the top 500 universities in the world by rank as determined in a study from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. A much more detailed description of the criteria used, rankings by geographic area, FAQ’s and the questionnaire itself can be found at:

Here are the Japanese institutions which made the list, and their rankings

  • 14, Tokyo Univ
  • 21, Kyoto Univ
  • 54, Osaka Univ
  • 69, Tohoku Univ
  • 97, Nagoya Univ
  • 101-152, Hokkaido Univ, Kyushu Univ, Tokyo Inst Tech, Tsukuba Univ
  • 202-301, Hiroshima Univ, Keio Univ, Kobe Univ, Okayama Univ
  • 302-403, Chiba Univ, Gifu Univ, Gunma Univ, Kanazawa Univ, Nagasaki Univ, Nihon Univ, Niigata Univ, Tokyo Med & Dent Univ, Tokyo Metropolitan Univ, Tokyo Univ Agr & Tech, Univ Tokushima, Waseda Univ, Yamaguchi Univ
  • 404-502, Ehime Univ, Himeji Inst Tech, Jichi Med Sch, Juntendo Univ, Kagoshima Univ, Kumamoto Univ, Nara Inst Sci & Tech, Osaka City Univ, Shinshu Univ, Univ Osaka Prefecture

Keio and Waseda came much further down the list than I expected (the methodology is heavily weighted towards natural science and against social/humanistic studies), though I was gratified to see my research host Yamaguchi U [currently searching for an English instructor] on the list, not to mention Nagoya, my first Japanese hometown.

Side note: why don’t most Japanese universities have official university logo apparel? I know, sweats and T-shirts aren’t all that popular in Japan, and the major ones do (I always loved Keio’s crossed fountain pen nibs). But we had to take a photocopy of the Yamaguchi university logo to a print-shop so we would have T-shirts to trade with our family and friends. The only way to get logo stuff, it seemed, was to belong to one of the clubs, each of which had its own official seal and signs.

On a per capita basis, this is a very good showing; on a GDP basis, it’s just about right, or a bit underperforming (You can see the breakdown by country here). Though not all higher education is created equal, and there are significant pathologies present in Japanese higher-ed, it still bodes well, I think, as a rough measure of the likelihood that Japan will continue to be a strongly productive and innovative economy. The particularly strong showing of technical schools certainly suggests that to me.

One historical note: most of the universities on this list were the product of the US Occupation education reforms, particularly the insistence on public universities in every prefecture. Who would have guessed that in sixty years Japan would fill 1/15th of the world’s best list?

Japanese Historical Maps

I have been going through the H-Japan messages from the last few months, trying to get caught up with my mailing list subscriptions. One wonderful website mentioned, was the the June, 2004 launch of a UC Berkeley/David Rumsey site listing a large number of Japanese historical maps (the maps themselves are not limited to maps of Japan). Here is an excerpt of the message which is more of a general announcement of their whole collection (the above link is specifically to their Japanese maps):

David Rumsey and Cartography Associates announced the launch today of Visual Collections, a new digital image collection portal that includes more than 300,000 works from museums, universities and private collections throughout the world. Combined, the collected works create an unparalleled online resource in the arts and humanities that is available for free, public access.

Fine art, photography, maps, architecture and other collections of culture are represented within Visual Collections, which is made possible through the contributions of dozens of institutions. At its launch, more than 30 collections are represented in Visual Collections, ranging from the fine art of Museums & the Online Archive of California (MOAC) to early maps of Scotland from the University of Edinburgh’s Charting the Nation collection.

Their Japan collection is wonderful, do give it a whirl. For Mac users accessing the site: I didn’t have much success with the Safari browser, but it works fine in Firefox.

Speaking of maps and information, Jonathan Dresner has an update over at Cliopatria from AHA.
Continue reading →

China’s use of Japanese history

Young Chinese aren’t well educated in history, and there’s little evidence of much interest. They know what the state wants them to know (“post-Communist” China still retains tight educational and publishing controls and retains a strongly Marxist-Nationalist narrative of history), and apparently the state mostly wants them to know and care about Japan’s WWII atrocities. In fact, it’s a major topic on the Chinese internet, with thousands of Chinese participating in detailed and fervent discussions of wrongs done to their grandparents/great-grandparents’ generation. [via Claire George]

Strategic? Most likely. Illegitimate? Well, yes, in the context of China’s overall historical revisionism; no, in the context of Japan’s leadership’s failure (and much of general society) to come to terms with that history in a meaningful fashion.

Japan’s contribution to nihilistic Islamism

The AHA’s flagship journal American Historical Review doesn’t run Japanese articles all that often and, to be honest, interesting ones even more rarely. But the current edition’s foray is quite worth reading, though I’d like to know if other people’s reactions to it were as reserved as mine. The article is Japan’s Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900–1945 [AHA membership required] by Selçuk Esenbel, whose previous publications are mostly in the field of Tokugawa peasant studies.

She chronicles decades of intellectual, military and cultural contacts between Japanese and Islamic activists in a variety of fields, but most sharing an anti-Western (or anti-colonial or anti-imperial) modernism. Many of the Japanese names involved are familiar to scholars of Japan’s early-20c right wing, but the degree to which they concieved of political Islam as an ally and bulwark against Near/Middle Eastern colonialism is quite striking. It shouldn’t be, I suppose: these thinkers were so ambitious and global in their ideas that they must have had some concept of how a major world religion fit into the scheme of things, and Japan’s affinity for (i.e. sense of leadership of) modernizing societies in this period was still strong.

There were two main directions to the interaction: scholarship of Islam in Japan (including a surprising number of conversions) and spreading Japanese anti-Westernism in Islamic regions. Pan-Islamism, as Esenbel describes it, isn’t that different from Pan-Asianism as the Japanese preached it, and figures like Ōkawa Shūmei made the connection explicit in print and in personal contacts.

The weakness of the article comes when she tries to make a case for the importance of these theories and contacts. Aside from the interesting new depth it gives to Pan-Asianism, and filling in some of the gaps in the “they really thought they could win these wars?” lists, Esenbel tries to draw some connections to late-20c/21c political Islam, particularly violent Islamist groups. This seems like a huge stretch to me, without making much more explicit personal or intellectual connections between modernist anti-westernism and nihilistic traditionalism in Islamic radical circles. Contemporary Islamism isn’t akin to Ōkawa’s pan-Asianism, but something more like Kita Ikki’s agrarian nationalism: positing a perfect (unattainable) protean socio/cultural/economic “moment” against which the present does not measure up and the “re”establishment of which will require revolutionary and violent action. As others have argued, Islamism isn’t anti-Orientalist as much as it is Occidentalist, and I don’t see that emerging clearly in this history.

Am I looking for the wrong things here? Missing something fundamental?


I’m a big fan of sub-national academic conferences. The nationals are fine, of course: I’ve gone to quite a few, some even when I wasn’t looking for a job (I’ll be in Seattle in a few weeks for the AHA, for example, and anyone who doesn’t hire my job-seeking copanelists is just not thinking). Lots of interesting folks show up at these things, and the book sellers are more fun than anything happening in whatever city it happens to be in (except for the used bookstores).

Anyway, I just wanted to pass along the Call For Papers for the Pacific Rim regional of the Association of Asian Studies, aka ASPAC. I’m on the board, though as a very junior member; still, it’s nice to be asked and to feel like I can contribute to the institutions I’ve been making use of for years. I’ve been to several of their conferences now, and it’s a nice bunch of folks, serious scholars. Very welcoming of graduate students, too (the competition for the Esterline Prize for Best Grad Student Paper last year was pretty stiff), so I highly recommend it as a venue for airing and polishing dissertation material (I use conferences to give myself writing deadlines: got some big chunks of my dissertation done that way).

If anyone wants to talk about panels, leave a comment. Panel submissions are not at all required, but it makes the program committee’s job easier, and results in more coherent panels which dramatically increases the likelihood that relevant people will hear your paper.

List of Intellectuals

I just finished making a little list of the various Japanese intellectuals mentioned in Victor Koschmann’s essay on “Intellectuals and Politics” in Andrew Gordon ed. Postwar Japan as History. The essay is essentially a short narrative of postwar intellectual history and mentions many of the important figures.I added various tidbits about them as found in the essay. I have not added anything else (or the Kanji characters for their names), even in those cases where the intellectuals are well known for things not mentioned in that essay. However, since the list may be of some use to someone, I have posted it in pdf format for download.