Sunday, August 19, 2012

Samuel Hawley, "The Imjin War"

READ THIS BOOK!  I haven't been as captivated by a historical novel since Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty.  I was originally going to do a quick report on Ozawa Ichiro's Blueprint for a New Japan, but then I got bored and migrated to Netflix just finished this one yesterday and was so impressed that I decided to do a write-up while the material is still fairly fresh in my head.

As the title implies, Hawley's novel explores, in incredible detail, the background and events of the 1592-1598 "Imjin" War between Japan, Korea, and Ming Dynasty China (Okay, sue me, it wasn't called China then, sheesh...)  Where does the name Imjin come from?  Turns out, it is simply the name of the year that the war started in, 1592, according to an ancient sexagenary calendar system from China.  In this system, there is a cycle of sixty years, and "each increment in the cycle was given a name consisting of one of ten "heavenly stems" derived from the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and an "earthly branch of one of the twelve zodiacal symbols: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig." (Hawley 133) The year 1592 happened to be the year of the water dragon, or in Korean, "imjin."

On a side note, I should mention that purists also use this same calendar to come up with the supposed date of the founding of the Japanese monarchy in 660 B.C by the mythical Emperor Jimmu.  The year 660 was apparently at the end of one of the 60-year cycles, and also the date of some sort of larger meta-cycle in the system.  Again, though, unless one is really a purist, it is perhaps more logical to conclude that the founding of the Empire may have been pushed to this date to fit with the calendar... (most historians agree that the Chrysanthemum Throne was founded in the 5th century AD)

In any case, this book provides a wealth of insight into the key players, tactics, motivations, and circumstances of the Imjin War.  The war, as explained by Hawley, served two purposes:  1.) To assuage the ego of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a megalomaniac dictator who united Japan after more than a hundred years of civil war, the country's so-called "sengoku" period; and 2). To channel the aggressive energies of Toyotomi's restless vassals.  These vassals had originally acquiesced to Toyotomi in part because of the generous rewards his rule offered.  Unlike his dictatorial predecessor and mentor, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi built much of his empire through his knack for offering generous settlements.  He much preferred to spare life where life could be spared.  He would attempt to spook his opponents into accepting lucrative agreements  through MASSIVE shows of force, in which they would receive comfortable fiefs and he would become their lord.   By 1592, however, with almost all of Japan united under Toyotomi's banner, there was no more unconquered land to distribute to his acquisitive daimyo (Japanese territorial lords).  Toyotomi hoped that his armies in Korea would be able to march into China, giving him a massive amount of land to divvy up among his restless vassals.

Why did I capitalize the word 'massive' a few sentences ago?  As Hawley emphasizes, the scale of Toyotomi's armed forces, as well as the resources available to him, were immense.  Likely unprecedented.  I found this point to be particularly interesting.  At the time that Toyotomi was launching his invasion of Korea, standing armies in Europe rarely amounted to more than 50,000 men.  Toyotomi's invasion force in Korea was more than 150,000 men strong.  While this number includes support troops and is not merely reflective of the samurai or peasant foot-troops (ashigaru) in his ranks, this is still a massive amount of men to assemble and transport at a single time.  Nor was this feat a one-time accomplishment.  As we will see, in a second invasion of Korea in 1597-1598, he easily mobilized another force of 140,000 men.  Even more impressive was that these numbers were outclassed by some of Toyotomi's domestic campaigns.  He once assembled nearly 250,000 men in a show of force to cow the daimyo of Kyushu into submission.

 My high school had about 2000 students, and the largest group of people I've ever seen gathered together is probably in the 5,000-6,000 range.  I can't even conceptualize what 150,000+ (not to mention 250,000) soldiers camped out in  Toyotomi's headquarters must have looked like.  Not to mention that this took place in the nutrition-scarce world of the 16th century.  Hats off to him, huh?  Maybe we should also thank the higher caloric efficiency of Japan's staple crop, rice...

I don't want to spoil all of the book, so if you are interested in reading Hawley's play-by-play account of the war itself, don't read on in this review!

Suffice to say, Hawley's description of the war is gripping.  I don't know where on earth he found such detailed source material, but his accounts of the battles and movements of the two sides is just addicting.  The most marked part of Toyotomi's invasion was the ease with which he executed it.  At the time, Korea was remarkably ill-prepared for war.  They were technologically and organizationally outclassed.  Toyotomi's forces, as had become common in Japan at the time, were equipped with deadly arquebuses, originally copied from the Portuguese in the 1540's.  Various Japanese daimyos perfected the weapon further and even came up with the first system of bullet standardization in the world, so as to make the weapons more efficient. (soldiers, unlike in Europe, did not have to carry around bags of lead pellets that worked only for their individual gun).  On the other hand, Korean forces were largely limited to bows, swords, and spears.  They did possess a superior knowledge of cannons and mortars, but this advantage was not pressed until later in the war.

Organizationally, the Koreans were hopeless.  Hawley describes a number of incidents that highlight how factionalism, corruption, and mismanagement kept Korea's armed forces at half-capacity from the get-go, Japanese invasion or not.  For example, all of Korea's top generals were kept confined in the capital, away from any sort of army.  The founder of the reigning Choson dynasty had once been a general himself hundreds of years earlier, and had used his loyal army to topple his predecessors, the Koguryo dynasty.  As such, in order to avoid a repetition of such deception, all generals were confined away from their troops.  They were thus not on hand to direct soldiers in the event of an emergency, and after the Japanese invasion, were not dispatched for some time.

Coupled with a broken draft system and poor strategic planning, Korea was ripe for the taking.  The sheer size of Toyotomi's force frightened most of the low-to-mid level Korean commanders into desertion, and consequently, the Japanese were able to march up to Pyongyang almost unopposed.  The few remaining Korean armies were quickly pushed aside.  This part of the book was truly incredible.  I was amazed at how quickly the Japanese advanced, and even more shocked by the number of Korean commanders who abandoned their posts in utter panic.  In one almost laughable example, a commander of nearly half of the Korean navy mistook a (completely unprotected) fleet of 200-some Japanese transport galleys as a large group of battle ships.  He scuttled his ENTIRE fleet to avoid it from falling into enemy hands without once attempting to approach the Japanese and determine the extent of the threat.

It was dwindling interest in the campaign on Toyotomi's part, plus the consequences of his ailing health, that doomed the Japanese effort.  Japanese troops quickly occupied most of the country's major cities, but their grasp over the country overall was tenuous.  They had advanced so quickly that they merely controlled the cities and the territory around several main supply lines, and nothing more.  Toyotomi's old age and failing health ensured that he never arrived as promised to conduct the campaign personally, and the various daimyo commanders were slowly pit against one another by personal feuds.  The rise of Korean guerrilla forces at this time also initiated a deadly war of attrition.  Curiously enough, many of the guerrilla leaders were not official military leaders.  They were often disgraced and cast-off members of the Korean aristocracy (yangban class), or local grass-roots heroes.  Added to the picture were the Chinese, who, under the do-nothing Wanli Emperor, had finally gotten their act together and sent forces against the Japanese so as to protect their Korean vassal.  Although most of the early Chinese armies were routed and halted, their efforts still put enough raw manpower onto the side of the Koreans to stabilize the situation.  Eventually, the Japanese decided to retreat to the south, after careful negotiations with the Chinese.

Even so, the Japanese weren't going anywhere, and they would still be military dominant for most of the war.  If there is one thing I can stress from my reading of the book, it was the apparent supremacy of the Japanese forces in battle.  Their daimyo leaders were tough, courageous, and mind-numbingly cruel.  The troops were disciplined, well-equipped, and extraordinarily resistant to the deprivations of battle.

Another point I would stress, however, was the strength of the Korean navy under Commander Yi Sun Sin.  Yi was originally a military man, a low-level officer left to drift on Korea's northern border.  In the intrigue and corruption-filled Korean government, he had two flaws: a tendency to enforce discipline among his troops, and a knack for reporting his superior officers' indiscretions.  Yi, however, through an obscure connection at court, was rescued from anonymity and appointed as a naval commander amid the Korean government's hurried preparations for war (they had an inkling that Toyotomi was serious about invading by about 1591). After reading Hawley's book, I think it is fair to say that the Koreans might have lost entirely without the efforts of this renowned admiral.  Under other commanders, the Korean navy performed poorly during the war, despite having superior cannons and ships.  Admiral Yi, however, led the Korean navy to superb victories on multiple occasions, destroying hundreds of Japanese ships despite his inferior numbers.

The engagement that he is most famous for took place at the end of the war in 1597, and is known as the Battle of Myeongnyang.  Here, with a fleet of only 13 ships, he wiped out a Japanese fleet of 300 vessels (about 100 of which were actual battle ships).  Yi's tactics, reasoning, and personal leadership throughout the entire war were superb, despite being under constant pressure and stress from the attacks of jealous rivals at court.  He also pioneered the use of the so-called turtle-ships, or kobukson.  It is a popular misconception that these ships were completely plated in armor, in the same fashion as the Monitor or Merrimack from the U.S. Civil War.  Many still (wrongly) believe that Korea was thus the first country to pioneer the use of armor-plated ships.  Hawley does a great job tracing how, through gradual American contact with Korea in the 19th century, this idea took root.  In reality, Yi's turtle ships were likely just heavier and better-constructed than their Japanese counterparts, and were completely covered on top by large metal spikes. Hawley suggests that the spikes provided some form of armor in and of themselves.  The kobukson also rode low in the water, which ensured that their hulls were not as exposed to attack as their high-riding counterparts.  (Fun fact - Hawley notes that the first record of armor-plated naval ships being used in combat actually took place in Japan.  Toyotomi, in attempting to dislodge the powerful Mori family near Osaka in 1576, had a squadron of iron-plated ships constructed to wipe out the large Mori fleet.  They were, of course, successful.  It is not known why Toyotomi did not use these ships in Korea).

Another key point from the book which I found fascinating was the deception and outright lies that dominated diplomacy during this 16th-century conflict.  Halfway through the war, the Chinese government engaged the Japanese forces in a dialogue, in which both sides lied their pants - or should I say kimonos, am I right or am I right? har har - off.  By this point, many of the Japanese commanders were tired of war, and recognized the futility of incorporating and pacifying a swathe of land as large as China and Korea.  As such, in negotiations with the Chinese, they said only what was most likely to strike a sympathetic cord and delay combat further.  Japanese representatives, which included a monk skilled in Chinese calligraphy and several pro-peace daimyo, concocted a story in which the Koreans were largely to blame for the war.  The Koreans, the Japanese said, were unfairly blocking the Japanese from establishing peaceful tributary relations with the Chinese. (Keep in mind, Toyotomi had every intention of conquering the Ming dynasty outright and installing the Japanese emperor as the Emperor of China).  The Japanese negotiators passed this fiction on to their Chinese counterparts, who knew full well that the Japanese were lying.  But even they decided to keep this fiction alive, passing the story on to Beijing anyway.  They were also chiefly interested in stopping the war, even if temporarily, and they knew that the Ming government would halt its combat operations if Japan expressed a desire to become a tributary state.  With this fiction in hand, they could go back to Beijing, proclaim peace, and claim riches and honors.  Any renewed Japanese aggression would just look like deception, and not be the Chinese diplomats' fault.

Meanwhile, the Japanese also fudged the truth of the negotiations in their reports to Toyotomi, who was still very much interested in crushing China.  After negotiating a ceasefire and secure retreat to Pusan, a city on the Korean coast, the daimyo commanders responsible for the agreement painted it as a "temporary" arrangement in their reports to Toyotomi.  They alleged that the Chinese were suing for peace and seeking to mollify Toyotomi with tribute.  To this end, after one of the last great battles of 1593, Toyotomi issued a number of demands, calling for, among other things, "1.  As evidence of sincerity, the imperial families of [China and Japan] shall enter into marriage relations.  The Ming emperor shall send one of his daughters to Japan to be married to the emperor of Japan as his empress...4.  If all the foregoing terms are accepted by [China], not withstanding the fact that Korea had been rebellious against our country, we are willing, in order to show our good will to Tai-Min, to divide the eight provinces of Korea into two main divisions, and to return four provinces, including the one in which the national capital is situated, to the King of Korea..."

By this time, Chinese envoys had been sent to Japan, and were technically on hand to receive this proclamation.  Yet again, however, a series of hilarious deceptions kept Toyotomi's rude demands from upsetting the delicate fiction that had been built up in negotiations over the past year.  First and foremost, the Chinese envoys were not actually official envoys.  A Chinese general had merely dressed up two of his junior officers in official-looking clothing and sent them off to Japan.  At the time, the Japanese had demanded to negotiate with officials authorized to speak directly on the Emperor's behalf.  No such official with this special authority was on hand, so for the purpose of expediency, the general conjured up some Imperial envoys of his own.  Secondly, Toyotomi's list was immediately given to pro-peace daimyo, who promptly softened the language of the demands and eventually dropped most of them altogether.  Although the dignitaries on hand did initially hear the demands (and were accordingly outraged), the daimyo hushed the matter over and ensured that no such list would ever reach the Ming emperor in Beijing.

Meanwhile, Toyotomi withdrew half his forces from Korea while China answered his request, though thousands of Japanese troops would remain encamped in Pusan for the next three or so years.  While the rest of the troops remained in Korea, one of the most prominent pro-peace daimyo, Konishi Yukinaga, worked with a Chinese envoy to transform Toyotomi's pleas into something that would be palatable to the Chinese.  In effect, all of Toyotomi's demands were eliminated, and the two crafted a farce of a letter in which letter Toyotomi "begged" the Chinese to be invested as their vassal.  This, from a man like Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wished to conquer much of the known world.  The Chinese promptly sent royal robes and documents of investiture that would make Toyotomi the "King of Japan."

In a hilarious twist, when these envoys finally reached Japan, they were portrayed by his wily commanders as bearers of tribute.  Toyotomi and his vassals enthusiastically put on the robes and feted for several days.  Hawley describes this awkward period in wonderful, hilarious, biting detail.  In one comical situation, when the Chinese delegation attempted to perform the ceremony of investiture, the entire house of cards nearly came falling down.  The Chinese expected Toyotomi to supplicate to the Emperor's banner and kneel.  Toyotomi, staring at these strange foreigners, thought that these envoys were offering him tribute.  When it came time for Toyotomi to kneel - and of course, he did no such thing - Toyotomi's handlers alleged that Toyotomi had a painful boil on his knee which made kneeling impossible for the time being.  So, the ceremony was performed with Toyotomi standing, and all was well.

Eventually, however, Toyotomi brought in his own personal experts (they were monks) to examine the documents that had been given to him by the Chinese.  When the monks truthfully reported what was written, he flew into a rage and nearly had the envoys killed.  After the envoys were sent away he cooled down, however, and eventually requested that they not raise the issue further in Beijing.  Though appearing more calm, the egotistical Toyotomi was still not about to let the incident pass entirely.  He directed his anger towards the Koreans, who had not sent a high-ranking official along with the Chinese, and planned to invade again.  Thus, in 1597, came invasion number II.  This would be an immensely bloody campaign, waged purely to "teach the Koreans a lesson" and show the Chinese that Toyotomi was still a force to be reckoned with.  The Japanese slaughtered civilians on an unprecedented scale, wiping entire cities and towns off the map.  When the Japanese withdrew from Korea after Toyotomi's death in 1598, Korea's economy would not fully recover for more than a hundred years.  The King's burned-out palace in Seoul, Gyeongboggung, would not be fully rebuilt until 1867.  For almost three hundred years, much of the complex remained a burned out ruin, too costly to repair.

For the Japanese, the war was, on the whole, a disaster.  They did not come away with any permanent territory in Korea or China, and thousands of men had lost their lives on Korean soil.  One silver lining, though!  The Japanese were able to capture large numbers of Korean potters and scholars, leading to a renaissance in various cultural arts for Japan.  As such, in Japan, it is sometimes known as the "Pottery (yakimono) War".

All in all, a fascinating book, and I earnestly recommend it!  Also, I can't end this blog without a reference to Kato Kiyomasa.  Google this man.  I swear, based on Hawley's description, he seems to have been the physical embodiment of some sort of angry, ranting war god.  He was the most virulent and aggressive of Toyotomi's commanders, wielding a massive three-pronged spear and orchestrating some of the most crushing defeats for the Koreans during the war.  He pops in and out of Hawley's account, but eventually becomes an essential character in all the drama, serving as a counterpart to the peace-seeking Konishi Yukinaga.  On one hand, you can't help but hate the guy for his cruelty.  He committed some of the worst atrocities of the war, and I would fancy him a psychopath were it not for evidence of other positive qualities in the man.  One example from the book stands out in my memory:  "By this time the order to fall back to Seoul had reached [Kato Kiyomasa] at Anbyon on the border of the remote northeastern province of Hamgyong...Kato, in his own mind the most daring and successful of all the daimyo commanders in Korea, was not eager to of [the advancing Chinese army] was brought to Kato by an envoy sent from Pyongyang by Ming commander Li Rusong, together with an order that he surrender with all his troops.  But Kato was not the surrendering type.  By way of an answer he had one of his Korean captives, a young woman reputed to be the most beautiful in the kingdom, tied to a tree, and then with the Ming envoy looking on he impaled her with a spear.  With this demonstration of Kato's determination in hand, the Ming envoy turned about and headed west to make his report."  Yikes yikes yikes yikes.

On the other hand, Kato was also probably the most loyal towards his lord, Toyotomi.  He diligently followed his master's plan of conquest every step of the way.  He advanced into the farthest reaches of northern Korea, even attacking the Jurchen of Manchuria, and wrote constantly for further instructions from his lord.  He also consistently attempted to point out to Chinese envoys that Konishi Yukinaga was lying  about Toyotomi's intentions, but they never much cared.  During a spell in Japan, when Toyotomi's castle at Fushimi (near Kyoto) was destroyed by a massive earthquake, Kato was also the first to rush back to the carnage to ensure that Toyotomi was safe.

There is also evidence, I think, to show that Kato was a tough commander who shouldered the same burdens as his men.  At the siege of Tosan, in which a small garrison of Japanese troops was hopelessly outmatched by a huge Chinese army, he sailed into the doomed fort to take command.  After weeks of bitter cold and absolute starvation (some of the men inside the fort resorted to cannibalism), he was able to lead the troops in fending off the Chinese, who suffered enormous casualties.

As such, by the end of the book, you end up developing a strange sort of respect for the man.  He is portrayed to be much more sincere and loyal than most of his fellow daimyo, and his cruelty to the Koreans notwithstanding, he was probably one of the best Japanese commanders in Korea.  Anyway, a fascinating individual, check him out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kenneth J. Ruoff, "The People's Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995"

I really enjoyed this book.  A great read.  Starting with a bit of background information on Japan's imperial line (which probably started around the fifth century AD), Ruoff gives a good accounting of the changes that were made to the Imperial system after WWII.

The important pivot point in the Japanese monarchy's post-war history was the promulgation of the post-war Constitution.  Articles 1, 4, and 7 of the Japanese constitution severely curtailed the powers of the Emperor. Most important was the definition of the Emperor as a "shocho," or "symbol" of the state.  What exactly did this mean?  On one hand, according to General MacArthur's directives, the Emperor was still supposed to be head of state.  However, this intent was not necessarily conveyed in the constitution, and led to some controversy about what the Emperor's role was exactly.  (I have copied the text of the english-language Japanese constitution pertaining to the Emperor)


Article 1:

The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.

Article 2:

The Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law passed by the Diet.

Article 3:

The advice and approval of the Emperor in matters of state, and the Cabinet shall be responsible therefor.

Article 4:

The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government. 2) The Emperor may delegate the performance of his acts in matters of state as may be provided for by law.

Article 5:

When, in accordance with the Imperial House Law, a Regency is established, the Regent shall perform his acts in matters of state in the Emperor's name. In this case, paragraph one of the preceding Article will be applicable.

Article 6:

The Emperor shall appoint the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet. The Emperor shall appoint the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.

Article 7:

The Emperor shall, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people: (1) Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders and treaties. (2) Convocation of the Diet. (3) Dissolution of the House of Representatives. (4) Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet. (5) Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers. (6) Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights. (7) Awarding of honors. (8) Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law. (9) Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers. (10) Performance of ceremonial functions.

Article 8:

No property can be given to, or received by, the Imperial House, nor can any gifts be made therefrom, without the authorization of the Diet.


For the most part, the Emperor was able to engage in ceremonial acts (such as giving rewards for acts that supported Japan's culture and economy), as well as visit heads of state.  His real purpose was to represent the tradition and history of the Japanese people.  However, at times, this understanding was broken.  Emperor Hirohito, for example, still requested briefings from the Prime Minister and his cabinet, which were always interpreted as being too related to the governance of Japan by the Communists and Socialists.  (A funny note - perhaps hoping to be like his samurai ancestors, Prime Minister Sato Eisuke was especially deferential to the Emperor.  He even tried to give him some kimono silk for the Empress, a gift which is expressly forbidden by Article 8.  On this point, it is worth mentioning that Shigeru Yoshida and Tanaka Kakuei were equally deferential.) 

Over the years, a few controversies have arisen about ostensibly public acts that smack of old, Imperialist traditions.  One of them was the issue of Foundation Day (post-war: Kenkoku kinen no hi; pre-war: kigensetsu), a holiday held before WWII on February 11th to celebrate the mythical origins of the Japanese monarchy, supposedly founded on February 11th, 660 B.C. (This date is pretty much total hogwash, and was made up by the Meiji government)  After several towns containing old Imperial tombs began to hold revival celebrations of kigensetsu in the 1950's, a huge national movement started to pick up steam.  A lobbying group was made, and efforts were made to hold a central rally for the cause in Tokyo.  There was disagreement by some over when a "new" Foundation Day ought to be held (some suggested the end of World War II, the date of the promulgation of the Constitution, etc. etc.)  However, in the end, enough pressure was placed on the Diet that Prime Minister Sato pledged himself to the idea in 1965.  A bill was passed in 1967, and kenkoku kinen no hi was celebrated that year for the first time, on February 11.  Ultimately, 47% of those polled still preferred February 11, so it was kept the same. 

Even so, the government did not sponsor a national celebration.  Not until Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro did a Prime Minister even attend a private foundation-day celebration, and when he did, in 1984, strenuous efforts were made to disassociate the event from Emperor worship.

Another issue that riled up anti-Imperialist forces in Japan's post-war history was the issue of reign names.  Traditionally, Japanese emperors picked names to symbolize their reign.  In times old, Japanese emperors could choose any number of reign names to symbolize different periods of their rule as they saw fit, but after the Meiji era, a single reign name was given to each Emperor.  All years were dated from the start of the reign.  So, you'd have Heisei 24 (the reign name of current Emperor Akihito) for 2012.  Much like the Foundation day issue, a national movement was created to get a majority of townships to adopt the reign-name as their official dating system.  The Diet was pressured to approve the change, and the bill was passed in 1979.  However, only government officials are required to date documents in this format.

The other interesting issue in this book was the Japanese monarchy's outlook on apologies for WWII-era atrocities.  This is an important issue, considering what happened yesterday (August 14th, 2012).  President Lee Myung-bak requested that, if the Japanese emperor visits South Korea, he give a more heartfelt apology for Japanese atrocities during WWII.  What does he mean by this, a more 'heartfelt' Imperial apology?

Emperor Hirohito, despite being pretty darn responsible for the carnage of the war, never really gave an apology that expressed much regret.  I think most of the problem in this regard stems from the fact that Hirohito had to be careful about coming across as responsible for the war.  This was an impression that the Imperial Household Agency (the agency responsible for the Imperial family's affairs) had meticulously attempted to avoid.  Hirohito had issued a vague apology to President Ford in 1975, when he said that World War II was "the most unfortunate war which I deeply deplore," and to South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan in 1984.

However, Emperor Akihito, reflecting his post-war roots, issued a far more heartfelt apology to the Koreans in 1990, looking directly at South Korean President Roh Tae Woo and stating, "While looking back upon the history of long, fruitful exchanges between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, I recall what was stated by the late Emperor Showa: "It is indeed regrettable that there was an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe that it should not be repeated again."  I think of the sufferings your people underwent during this unfortunate period which was brought about by my country, and cannot but feel the deepest regret."  Similarly, in a 1992 speech about the Japan-China relationship, Akihito stated, "In the long history of the relationship between our tow countries, there was an unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great sufferings on the people of China.  I deeply deplore this."

These apologies, of course, came after many apologies from various Japanese Prime Ministers, starting, I believe, with Tanaka Kakuei in the 1970's.  While apologies from the PM's were most certainly acceptable, there was actually some debate as to whether the Emperor had the power to issue such apologies.  Would such a statement, bearing on Japan's wartime responsibility, constitute a public act?  Funnily enough, in an attempt to remove such a responsibility from the Emperor, highly conservative organizations that were supportive of the Emperor system  (the association of Shinto Shrines, for example) actually argued for a strict interpretation of the "public acts" clause and suggested that the Emperor NOT be able to issue such apologies.

This issue leads to a finer point that I believe Ruoff identified nicely.  Among supporters of the throne, there is by no means a consensus that Japan ought to return to the pre-war Meiji Emperor system, under which Hirohito wielded a great deal of power.  In fact, the organizations most supportive of the Emperor often call for restrictions on the Emperor's power, so as to prevent the Japanese Imperial institution from being saddled by troublesome burdens, such as the issue of war responsibility.

On the other hand, there is another branch of conservative scholars which hails the current Emperor system as a return to the old model of Imperial rule.  For most of Japan's history, the sitting Emperor was likewise often a 'symbol' or 'figurehead,' managed and controlled by an ex-Emperor or Shogun.  Similarly, most of the business of government today is done by the Diet of Japan, while the Emperor stands to the side.

Finally, another interesting chapter at the end of the book outlined how Emperor Akihito, when compared to his father, was an "Emperor of the Masses."  Now, from what I've gathered, Akihito is still regarded as a fairly stiff and 'old' figure - his speech during the 3/11 crisis was derided by some as being too stiff or formulaic.  Ruoff makes the point, however, that Akihito is far more of a crowd-pleaser than his father.  Hirohito had been raised as a god-king in an extremely insular environment, and always had trouble in public appearances with common folk.  Emperor Akihito, however, was brought up in a classroom with other children, and was taught by an American tutor.  Although it was clear that he understood his own importance (Ruoff relates one story in which, during a lesson, the American tutor at Akihito's school asked each child to write down what they would like to become someday.  Akihito simply wrote, "I shall be Emperor."), he was still brought up in a far more egalitarian environment.  Koizumi Shinzo, one of his teachers, also had him read aloud - in English - an entire biography of Britain's King George V, who was known for his reputation among the people.  The exercise was intended to provide Akihito with a role model of sorts, and no doubt had an influence on his thinking.

In the 1970's, Akihito's star rose quite a bit among the people.  His marriage to Empress Michiko was sensational, as she was the first commoner to enter the Imperial family in god knows how long.  Although Michiko hailed from a wealthy family, she was still not related to Japan's old aristocracy.  Her roots, combined with the fact that the marriage was a "love match," inspired a whole generation of young men and women.  One young women even remarked, in a magazine, "I still have hope because the Crown Prince's younger brother (Prine Masahito) remains available."  This sort of statement was absolutely unprecedented in Japan's history.

All in all, an excellent summary of the post-war status of the Japanese Imperial family.  Ruoff includes tons of interesting anecdotes and details, and gives a thorough description of Emperor Hirohito and Akihito's reigns.    His accounts of the articles written by conservative commentators in the post-war era also could only have been assembled through meticulous research.  My only complaint is that the section on the Emperor's post-war legal status was a little confusing.  I wish he had given a section that clearly stated Articles 1-8 of the Japanese constitution.  It would have been a little easier to understand the rest of the content.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Michael Zielenziger, "Shutting out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation."

I'm ashamed to add a Japan-bashing book to the list, but it must be done.  This tome was, albeit biased and pretty pro-American, a solid book.

The author's premise is that, metaphorically, Japan increasingly resembles a hikikomori.  A hikikomori is the Japanese term for a shut-in, someone who rarely if ever ventures out into the world.  It is a phenomenon, given its scale, almost unique to Japan.  Although government estimates place the number of hikikomori living in Japan at 700,000, other estimates place the number higher, at nearly 1,000,000.  The cause, as outlined by Zielenziger, is essentially an inability to adapt to the rigid stresses and pressures that are forced onto the average Japanese youth.  Pressure to succeed, pressure to perform well on one's examinations, and perhaps most importantly, pressure to fit in with the rest of the group.  This final form of pressure usually takes the form of verbal bullying, which can reach ludicrous levels and even lead to suicide.  Zielinziger highlights how this problem is not unique to youth alone - it continues well into a person's adult life, suggesting why most hikikomori drop out of society in their early to mid-20's.  In fact, social bullying can be seen at every level of Japanese society (among adults, it is known as ijime).  Hikikomori essentially give up trying to cope with this pressure and the idea of fitting into society.  Instead, they retreat into their rooms to drink, pursue hobbies, sleep, or do nothing.  Japanese hikikomori rarely tune into online worlds (this is a popular misconception) and are also a huge source of domestic violence.  A majority of hikikomori are known to attack their parents or immediate family, the same individuals who give them food and money to survive.

Where does the overall metaphor come in?  The author proceeds to zip through a number of social ills that are beginning to hurt Japanese society.  Such problems, as identified by Zielenziger, include population decline, women not wanting to marry, inhospitable treatment towards immigrants, under-employment/unemployment, and an economy that is slow to adapt to the high-speed, globalizing 21st-century world.  In effect, he feels that Japan is becoming cut-off from developing technologies (mostly internet entrepreneurship), and is simultaneously suffering a demographic crisis.  Both of these factors, in turn, have transformed Japan into a virtual hikikomori, isolated on the world stage and increasingly unable to muster up the internal will necessary to change the situation.

In the end, I was a little skeptical of the book's claims, or at least, the way in which they were presented.  I have read and heard quite a bit about the systemic social pressure that exists in Japanese society, and I definitely agree that it is basically no good for Japan's ability to innovate and compete in the 21st century world.  Social bullying, as seen in Japan, results in excessive deference to one's superiors, an urge to conform, and a need to downplay one's own abilities and talents, none of which is helpful in creating a competitive, knowledge-based economy.

However, the book ended up being a quiet defense of Western values and American superiority.  Although the author was careful to throw in information about the United States' own social ills, and explain the many positive aspects of Japanese society (relative socioeconomic equality, low crime, teamwork, etc.), his tone still essentially held up America as the model of success.  I have a lot of faith in this country, and can get pretty patriotic, but I always hesitate when I hear that Japan needs to become more like the United States.  I've always thought that the Japanese have a special sort of strength - an ability to do great things when they come together.  Japanese society may be too rigid to adapt quickly to changing conditions, but give it time.  It will still do great things.

"Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan Under the Single Non-Transferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution"

(Editors: Bernard Norman Groftman, Sung-Chull Lee, Edwin Winckler, Brian Woodall

Alas, after many attempts, I give up on providing a good summary for this book.  It is just far too complicated and technical to remember it all without reading it a second time.  Regardless, I did feel that it was an excellent book, and it gave me a lot of information on the problems and deficiencies of SNTV systems in Korea and Japan especially (The book contains several parts about Taiwan, but given my relative dearth of knowledge about the country, most of it was lost on me.) 

Big picture stuff:  SNTV elections are no longer used in Japan and South Korea, except, I believe, in small specialty districts.  They have since transitioned to a mixed PR/plurality system (Japan in 1994, South Korea initially in 1985).  This decision has led to huge changes in their political organization, as well as the strength of opposition parties in both systems.  

When combined with a fourth-rate political culture and authoritarian controls, respectively, SNTV elections in Japan and South Korea were both unrepresentative and inimical to the growth of opposition parties.  Consider Japan first.  The SNTV system, when combined with districts of medium size districts (by this, I mean a 'medium' number of representatives from each district, usually 3-5), helped the LDP stay in power for years.  With the LDP swaying the minds of vested interests through strategic pork-barrel spending (and often, outright graft), it was able to crowd out the influence and the perceived effectiveness of the opposition, at that time, the Socialist party.  In turn, given that a successful candidate only needed to win about 25-30% of the vote to win, it was easy to push through an otherwise 'unpopular' candidate on the backs of more popular ones.  Popular candidates could lend their excess support to fellow LDP candidates by urging their supporters to vote strategically.  Of course, the fact that the LDP continually blocked electoral reform also increased the unfairness of the system.  Even though the population had moved to the cities in overwhelming numbers, the lack of electoral reform meant that more districts were not added to these suburban areas.  The votes of urban residents ended up equaling roughly 5 of their suburban counterparts.

Now, South Korea.  Under Dictator Park Chung-Hee and his Japan-inspired "Yushin Constitution," South Korea specifically chose a version of the Japanese system to copy its unrepresentative effects, allowing his regime to stay in office.  The interesting part of all this is that the SNTV system actually HELPED the opposition in South Korea (as it probably would have had the LDP been a little less corrupt and the Socialists a little more competent in Japan.) The low threshold necessary to win a seat under medium-district SNTV elections ensured that the opposition could gain at least one seat in many districts.  But, under the Yushin constitution, President Park still directly appointed 1/3 of the members of Parliament.  The opposition had effectively been given lip service in order to be 'bought off' with superficial levels of political influence.  While I'm not convinced that President Park knew what he was doing, the SNTV system managed to split the non-appointed seats of the legislature in such a way that a) President Park's party won a plurality of them and b) the Opposition won enough to achieve superficial representation.  Smart, huh?

I'm going to return back to the SNTV system in Japan.  It is important to remember that, while used to create a highly unrepresentative political system, SNTV was not the sole culprit, nor was is it particularly pernicious when compared to similar systems.  Several other industrialized countries using a parliamentary system (the book mentioned Sweden or Finland as a prime example, I have to go search around and figure out which) were found to be even more unrepresentative.  In effect, one of the contributors concluded that the SNTV system functioned as a proportional system with an especially high barrier for entry - the % of the vote a party must receive in order to be allotted seats.

A final note.  Another important conclusion from the book was that SNTV was largely to blame for the rampant factionalism within the LDP; one contributor went so far as to suggest that the factions might actually be identified as Japan's missing opposition parties.  In my opinion, though, this is deeply deceptive.  All of the factions were essentially non-ideological, barring the occasional emergence of a zoku giin (a member of the Diet with particular expertise) at the head of a particular faction.  The conclusion about factionalism makes sense, though.  With multiple members representing each district, each faction could feasibly pick up a seat in each district...voila, intra-party competition!

Overall, a good book, though probably one of the most technical I've read.  This one is something you might need to go through twice, or even three times.  I'll get around to it eventually.

Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan under the Single Non-Transferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good article  I am a fan of Noda Yoshihiko; I think far too few people give him enough credit for the political grit he has brought to the job of PM.  Sad to think that he will likely be out of office in September, even though the country is immensely angry at him over the nuclear reactor startups.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Deflation, deflation, deflation...

There is a lively debate going on in the comments section, but my general thought is basically this: Japan is way too dependent on export industries that are on the lower side of the technological spectrum.  For an economy of its depth and size, Japan should not have to worry about keeping the Yen so undervalued, even now, when the currency is at its strongest.  Heck, a question - why IS the Yen still so gosh darned weak compared to the U.S. dollar?  Why haven't these small-scale manufacturer's died off a long time ago?  I know that the Japanese government used massive currency manipulation throughout the 1970's, and that the 1980's saw a basic expansion of the monetary supply (thus, more yen floating around), but what about now?  And especially with the influx of investors in Japanese government bonds and such, how on earth is the Yen still so weak?  Maybe because most JGB-holders are themselves Japanese, so they are just trading yen into the system for the government to zip the same Yen back out as government spending?  I know so little about everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Event I helped plan at work, lots of fun!  Was able to meet three of my heroes: Dr. Takashi Oka (whose book is on this blog), Emma Chanlett-Avery, and Yuki Tatsumi!  Sadly, no time for a photo together, but check it out!