Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Where Are You, Jack?

The ancient Japanese name for November is "Shimozuki", which literally means "Frost Month", or perhaps "Month of Frost".  Not only have we not had a lick of frost yet this month, but today was the first day in which the temperature peaked at less than twelve degrees Centigrade (59 degrees Fahrenheit).   I think our old friend Jack extended his vacation without telling anyone.


The more I hear about the Tamogami affair, the more questions I have.

What's that?  You don't know what I'm talking about?  Okay, assuming you haven't checked out the above link, let me summarize in brief.  (Former) General Toshio Tamogami was the chief commander of the JASDF (Japan Air Self-Defense Force).  He was long known to hold controversial views regarding Japanese history, particularly with regard to WWII.  Anyway, in the latter part of October this year, he submitted an essay to a contest.  In this essay, an English translation of which is available (in pdf format) here, he maintained that:
  • Japan was a victim during WWII, not an aggressor.
  • The occupation and annexation of Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria all took place through mutual accords with those countries and was therefore totally legitimate.
  • Japan was the only colonial power at that time that made efforts to incorporate its colonies into the nation itself both culturally and economically.  Japan's treatment of its colonial subjects was thus far more benign than that of the Western powers.
  • Japan's "invasion" of China was a legitimate response to terrorism.  It was also the result of manipulation on the part of communist agents intending to destroy both China and Japan so they could take over, a fact long since proven (in Tamogami's opinion).
  • Japan entered the Pacific War because it was tricked into doing so by the U.S..  The U.S. government was itself being manipulated at the time by communist agents as part of their grand scheme to dominate Asia, a fact which has since been proven (in Tamogami's opinion).
  • Education in Japan must be changed so that children will not be ashamed of the glorious history of their country.
  • The Japan-U.S. security alliance is a necessity, yet Japan needs to become an independent economic and military power lest its culture be Americanized to the point of destruction.
This essay earned Tamogami a prize.  It also got him sacked as chief of the JASDF and pressured into retiring immediately.  He has since been very vocal, complaining through various channels as well as directly to the Diet that he was fired simply for exercising his right of free speech.  He even went so far as to whine that he was punished for saying that Japan was "a good country".  Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and Prime Minister Aso both counter that freedom of speech and patriotism are not the issue; Tamogami had every right to express his views, but he had no business being JASDF commander if he openly contradicted the government's official line (not to mention making inflammatory statements guaranteed to shred Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors).

The U.S. government, not surprisingly, praised Tamogami's prompt dismissal.

Still, there is plenty of cause to wonder.  Even a tiny amount of research will show that Tamogami's essay is full of serious factual errors and distortions if not outright fabrications (not to mention some assertions that show highly questionable judgment).  It seems he just looked around at the writings of various right-wingers and conspiracy theorists and selected those "facts" that he liked.  That alone would seem to justify his dismissal as JASDF chief.  However, this isn't the first essay on this topic that Tamogami has issued.  He wrote more or less the same things in at least one other publicized work while he was JASDF chief, and no one even raised an eyebrow; on the contrary, he received a lot of praise.  To make matters even more complicated, now they are saying that Tamogami issued a directive urging his senior officers all to submit essays on the same topic.  Tamogami himself denies this, though he does insist that most if not all officers are firmly in agreement with him on the topic.  (Naturally, said officers deny it.)  Then there is Prime Minister Aso.  One would like to think he's cracking down on these renegade loyalties, but the evidence doesn't support this, either.  As mentioned before, Tamogami received nothing but praise for his earlier revisionist essays while still holding his position.  There's also the no small fact that PM Aso himself recently purchased a book written by a well-known right-wing nationalist who also shares Tamogami's views.  More than likely, this dismissal is nothing but window dressing...or even face-saving.  Indeed, looking at all the evidence, it would seem that people at the top levels of both the military and the civilian government are confusing patriotism with historical white-washing.


Once again the kids have amazed me.  Last Saturday (November 15th) was a triple-header for the junior high members of the Flying Eggheads.  In the morning they had the annual Junior High Class Choral Competition (seriously off-key fanfare with weak altos), a major school event involving lots of preparation (though you wouldn't know it listening to the nerve-wracking performances of certain classes...).  (Incidentally, my own home room took the top prize for the 7th grade!  They did a really good job, and I was proud of them...not that they gave me any thanks for my efforts with them...)  As soon as that was over, the kids piled into cars and got hauled off to Kamisu for the East Ibaraki District Ensemble Contest (slightly better in tune fanfare with one squeaking clarinet).  There were fifty-two junior high ensembles.  Of those, our brass quintet, made up of 9th graders, took 1st place.  Our sax quartet, consisting of one 9th grader, two 8th graders, and one 7th grader, came in 2nd.  Our clarinet quartet, consisting of three 9th graders and one 8th grader, came in 5th.  (This year we didn't have any senior high groups participating, which helps to underscore some of the problems we're currently facing.)  All in all, the kids did a fantastic job.  It didn't end there, however, for the sax quartet and four of the members of the brass quintet immediately had to hustle off to the Kashima Labor Culture Hall for the 5th annual Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival.  The festival organizers were kind enough to accommodate our schedule by putting us in the very last slot...i.e. we headlined the program.

We were under enough pressure as it was.  The fact that we wound up going onstage after Malta, a very well known jazz/fusion saxophonist, and his quintet made it even worse.  Needless to say, Malta was awesome.  (The fact that he went around and greeted everyone backstage after his performance did much for my respect for the guy, too.)  I felt very humbled going on with my band of kids afterward.  The audience didn't seem to think so.  Neither did the kids themselves, because if anything Malta's performance inspired them.  They turned in one of our best showings ever.  In particular, the brass players who had been to the solo contest that afternoon seemed particularly in the groove, nailing tough entrances that had always been a bit of a problem in rehearsal or during other performances earlier in the year.  Our lead alto player ignored almost all of her written solos and did some fine improvising, showing just how far she has progressed in that respect.  Our 2nd trumpet player, a 9th grader, also turned in an excellent Miles Davis-style solo feature in the tune "Beneath an Orange Moon".  All in all, I was really proud of the kids, and they were pretty pumped up, too.

After our slot was done, the program organizers, a club calling themselves the KSJ (Kashima Seaside Jazz) Friends, came onstage for the final curtain call.  We closed the program with a version of "Hello, Dolly!" that I had arranged.  We were ALL supposed to play it together, so I included an open solo slot so the KSJ Friends and others could cut loose and have fun.  As it turned out, NONE of them brought their instruments onstage!  Faced with an empty open solo slot, I grabbed my clarinet and jammed on it myself as best I could just playing by ear with little memory of the chord changes.  That was fun, though I felt kind of self-conscious...and did my best to avoid the woman chasing me around with a microphone.

They announced the date of next year's Jazz Festival.  Guess what?  It's probably going to be another triple header...


And here's another "Guess what?".  After starting work on this post, the weather demons finally woke up.  Maybe someone saw what I had written and gave them a boot on their little, cloudy butts.  This morning saw the first frost of the year.  Finally.

Alright, time for coffee.


  • Like the US, Japan likes to whitewash it's war crimes.

    Let's just say my college friends from Thailand, Singapore and the Phillipines often had a VERY different view of Japan's "efforts to incorporate its colonies into the nation itself both culturally and economically" - in other words,civilians were treated just the same as enemy combantants.... Although they themselves didn't experience Japanese torture, starvation, death camps directly, their elders did.

    And yes, the Japanese did have death camps just like the Nazis..only they were smarter. When it was clear they were going to lose, they killed everyone, cleaned up the camps and then killed themselves.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:43 AM  

  • I see you haven't completely melted, MM ;-)
    So glad to hear that your kids have been doing you proud. I bet you were pleased they were inspired by Malta's performance.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:45 PM  

  • Ladybug
    Precisely. Tamogami's biggest flaw with regard to his "benign colonialism" argument is that he only really mentions matters related to economic and industrial development. (Oh, and he also points out that a Japanese princess was wedded to the last Chinese crown prince, Yi Eun, who had been brought to Japan as a sort of hostage. He also mentions a couple of Koreans who were Japanese war heroes as if those few examples somehow represented the majority.) Never mind the fact that that development was mainly geared toward helping the Japanese mainland. Never mind the fact that Koreans and Taiwanese were forcibly brought to Japan to serve as slave labor. Never mind the fact that Koreans, Taiwanese, and Manchurians were forced to learn and use the Japanese language instead of their own, adopt Japanese names, and observe the Shinto religion (esp. worship of the Emperor). Never mind the fact that Japanese settlers in those areas were given strict orders not to mingle with the local populations, and said locals were required to give way to the Japanese.

    It's amazing how rosy the picture looks if you simply fail to mention certain facts. But that's exactly what people like Tamogami are urging Japan's education system to do.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:50 PM  

  • Nikkipolani
    Not completely. The frost this morning helped. ;-)

    I was really proud of the kids. We were given the toughest possible slot, and they filled it respectably. I couldn't ask for more.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:51 PM  

  • Incidentally, I've heard the Japanese death camp story before. Ironically, it came from one of my (Japanese) coworkers, who spent a portion of his childhood living in Indonesia. He actually went to the remains of one such camp. He says it's a memory which will haunt him forever.

    And he's a teacher of classical Japanese literature.

    You see, some people can't seem to understand that true patriotism can include owning up to the mistakes of the past. They seem to think love of your country means insisting it has a spotless record. That's a load of crap.

    I feel the same way about these people now trying to claim that there was never any conflict between science and the European (Catholic) Church back in the middle ages and Renaissance. Admitting past errors does not diminish one's faith in the slightest. As far as I'm concerned, trying to whitewash history betrays an insecurity on the part of the whitewasher.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:58 PM  

  • In firing Tamogami, Japan is trying to save face in front of whom, exactly?

    Considering how difficult jazz is, especially improvisation in the style of, your kids really did you proud!
    You must be an excellent teacher.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 2:58 PM  

  • On the flip side, we have people like Filipino-American right-winger Michelle Malkin in the US who write books defending Japanese interment during WWII when her own heritage makes me think there is much more to her animus than simple right-wing ideology...of course, none of this is discussed.

    Some factions never let things go...

    I am glad the kids did so well. Improv can be interesting stuff. Welcome to pre-winter.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:31 PM  

  • Olivia
    China. North and South Korea. Taiwan. The Philippines. Indonesia. Need I go on?

    There's definitely a precedent for it, too. Last year the government approved a series of history textbooks that basically said the same things Tamogami did (or didn't say the same things he didn't). Several private schools and even a few public school districts enthusiastically adopted them into their curricula. The result? The Japanese embassy in China was attacked. So were several Japanese-owned businesses as well as Chinese-owned stores that were Japanese chains. Some Japanese diplomats and exchange students were assaulted, too. Meanwhile, the Chinese police mostly stood by and watched (and sometimes even helped).

    Japan is trying very hard to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. They want Asian countries such as China and South Korea to accept increased Japanese participation in overseas military ventures such as protecting Japanese ships in pirate-infested areas. Tamogami's statements, if left unchallenged, would have wrecked everything.

    No one is fooled. Everyone knows PM Aso believes exactly the same things. He has already spewed plenty while serving as Foreign Minister. Because of that, unlike Tamogami, he has learned (the hard way) that shooting his mouth off can get him into serious trouble.

    Well, thanks, m'lady! This year the kids have been doing a lot on their own, too, so I'm not sure how much credit I deserve. We've finally succeeded in establishing a tradition, so hopefully it'll be self-sustaining.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:37 PM  

  • Snabudon
    That woman is nuts. If there's an evil ghost in her closet that's skewing her midbrain, I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:51 PM  

  • *hand in Starbucks*

    *help to answer the question to Livie* Indonesia :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 6:26 PM  

  • Selba

    Indonesia? How about pretty much ALL of East and Southeast Asia?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:50 PM  

  • Hm I guess underhanded strategizing to accomplish a separate agenda should come as nothing new in the world of politics...

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:34 AM  

  • There are lots of mass graves in Malaysia. I never knew both my grandfathers. They were killed during the Japanese occupation of then Malaya. They never came back one day, according to my grandmothers. They were immigrant Chinese.

    Talk about whitewashing history, Malaysia is also doing it. Certain local history facts have been wiped out of school history books. It's race-related though.

    MM, it takes a great teacher to churn out great students. Need I say more? Congrats!

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:57 PM  

  • Regarding the generals memoires, we have holecaust deniers too. WWII was a very big war, well documented, and well filmed and photographed. The generals actions must protray a very deep personal sense of shame.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 5:47 AM  

  • Happysurfer
    I hope all that gets well documented before people that were alive back then and still remember it die off. That's the problem we're starting to face now. Revisionists hope that everyone with first hand experience will disappear so they can say, "You can't prove it!"

    I don't think it's a sense of shame so much as just the traditional Japanese obsession with image. People want to believe that their country has a glorious past. If you admit an error, apologize for it, and work hard to make amends, you are still seen as having a blotch on your image that will never go away. That's why companies here have long had a habit of trying to cover up flawed products instead of recalling them (though Toyota is a notable exception. My own car was recalled twice for very minor issues that took only a few minutes to fix). That's why politicians are often forced to resign for the slightest gaffe. One screw-up, and your name is mud as far as the public is concerned. The idea of, "Let's put it behind us," just doesn't wash here. That's why people see it as far better to try to deny the past than take responsibility for it.

    (Hey...I got "dimpler" as a word verification code. I'm running Firefox from a brand-new portable HDD. What a concept!)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:34 PM  

  • it's still quite hot here. i got a sunburn on saturday doing the dog walk! today i ran the a/c! hate it, really. hashim's in belgium and it's snowing. :(

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 7:11 PM  

  • Talk about fire and ice in your marriage! ;-)

    Hashim is in Belgium? Our good old blog friend Low is there now, too! it because of the beer?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:41 AM  

  • Happy Thanksgiving, MM, Everyone.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:59 PM  

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