Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Event I helped plan at work, lots of fun!

http://usasiainstitute.org/2012/07/16/leadership-in-transition-japan/  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!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

All Hail Michael Cucek and Jun Okumura!

Evening all!

For those that follow this blog semi-regularly, thought I would chime in quickly to update you on my reading activity this week.

As some of you may know, I am an avid fan of Michael Cucek's famous blog on Japanese politics, "Shisaku" (no joke - I have spent Friday nights reading his stuff.  Maybe not the whole Friday night, but at least enough of the night for it to be downright strange.)  Until recently, I was not familiar with a similar blog written by one of Cucek's friends, Jun Okumura.  Okumura is a former MITI/METI bureaucrat and a Counselor at the Eurasia Group, and his commentary is equally informative, hilarious, snarky, and apt.

So, where do they come in?  For the past few days, I have been procrastinating on a review I need to do for a stupendously boring book about SNTV election systems in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.  (I'm not kidding.  You will deed me the naming rights to your first-born child in gratitude for having only to read my sort-of-boring review and not the god-this-is-really-boring-book).  To escape the clutches of the dreaded SNTV system, I have been going through and reading all of the old posts by these eminent individuals, because I realized that I could stand to learn so much from their older commentary since 2004 or so.  I only started reading Cucek in 2011, and fairly loosely at the beginning, so there's a lot of ground to be gained here.

So anyway, that's what I'm up to!  I will be sure to comment briefly on my conclusions from the old Cucek/Okumura posts.  And maybe I will gather myself to finish that review...soon...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army" by Sabine Fruhstuck

Alright folks, I return from the grave to put down my first post in more than a month!  With my girlfriend's birthday and projects at work, I've had a little less time to devote to my beloved blog.  But, never fear, my reading did not stop, and I'll be rolling out three entries in the next week or so, so look out for them!  For the sake of efficiency, they might be a bit shorter than has been my wont in the past few entries.

This week we are taking a turn to the security realm with "Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army," by Sabine Fruhstuck.  Yes, yes, I know - the title surprised me too.  Japan doesn't have an army, only Self-Defense Forces.  What gives, Fruhstuck?

To be honest, I don't really have an answer (haha, got you).  But given the focus of Fruhstuck's research, I might surmise that the word choice in the title is no accident.  Fruhstuck's thesis argues that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' attempts at promoting a "military masculinity" are burdened by an intricate array of historical pressures and forces, including the organization's links to the old Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).  As such, by referring to the GSDF (Ground Self Defense Forces) as the "Japanese army" in the title, I think she is attempting to draw more attention to the fact that the GSDF, regardless of its uniquely non-aggressive mission, is an army organization with deep continuities and connections to the past, even if it doesn't always acknowledge it.

Fruhstuck's points were varied, and due to the ethnographic nature of the book, it was sometimes difficult to pin down all of what she wanted to say.  (Ethnographic studies like this entail extremely qualitative, psychology/culture-heavy analysis, and can get the reader wrapped up quickly in nuanced points that are sometimes distractly)  But her research was painstaking and thorough; besides interviewing hundreds of current and former service members, she herself donned a GSDF uniform and trained alongside recruits for, from what I recall, about a week.  The broad points of her findings might be summed up as such:

 1.  The Japanese GSDF is burdened by the horrendous historical legacy of its old predecessor, the Imperial Japanese Army.  Vast amounts of energy are spent to distance the GSDF's missions and image from the aggression and jingoism that were inherent to the IJA.
  • Top-level brass in the GSDF are highly resistant to right-wing suggestions to revise Article 9 and dispatch Japanese forces abroad once more.  
  •  Service-members take great pains to not wear their uniforms around in public, especially in dense urban areas.  (This is sometimes the opposite in rural areas like Hokkaido, where GSDF bases are a boon to the local economy.)  
  • An entire new vocabulary has been created to distance the GSDF from old military terms used by the IJA.  Solders in the GSDF are not 'soldiers,' or 'heishi' but 'special group members' or 'jietaiin,' for example.  Fighter jets are not called "fighters" but instead, "special planes," or "tokubetsu hikoki."
  • In its advertising campaigns and recruitment posters, any evidence of the GSDF's military activities is almost nonexistent.  Advertising campaigns promote entirely different concepts than those emphasized under the IJA.  GSDF recruitment themes might include service to the people (NOT the Emperor), self-empowerment through service and adventure, or a peaceful world.  Posters do not, as in the US, show images of guns, tanks, or military equipment.  
  • In general, discipline under the GSDF is far more lax than the IJA, partly in an effort to recover from the IJA's reputation for having had ludicrously harsh officers (during WWII, many Japanese officers were shot in the back by their own soldiers, who were sick of their heavy-handed methods).  Training is rigorous but not back-breaking, and compared to the US military, soldiers in the GSDF are given more leeway for rest by their commanders during field drills.  
  • In general, most GSDF soldiers are pacifistic and not in favor of military operations.  Many joined because of the GSDF's role in providing assistance after natural disasters, dissatisfaction with office jobs, or the adventure of UN-sponsored peace-keeping missions (UNPKO).  In her interviews, Fruhstuck found many service-members who would quit the SDF if ordered to engage in combat.  When PM Koizumi ordered SDF troops to Iraq, suicides among GSDF personnel in Japan increased.
  • Many volunteers for the GSDF who are overtly right-wing in their interviews are not selected for service.  (An interesting point: many of the soldiers said that the right-wing types typically quit after about 6 months, once they realize that the GSDF is not the bastion for old conservative military thinking they hoped it to be.) 
2.  Despite its reluctance to bill itself as such, the Japanese GSDF is nonetheless a military organization that must instill a sense of martial pride in its members.  This necessarily entails hearkening back to certain aspects of Japan's military past and doing certain things to bring the GSDF's aggressive potential into focus.  Here are some things that the GSDF do to quietly emphasize the GSDF's role as a military force:

  • Base museums on every GSDF base attempt to instill respect for the REGIMENT (not necessarily the entire GSDF) by linking it to past regiments that were based in the area, including those of the IJA.  These museums are administrated by base commanders, who act as amateur docents for visiting recruits.  Most of the commanders, in interviews, lamented that most GSDF recruits are completely unaware of - or opposed to - Japan's history of military excellence.
  • Every year, the GSDF holds a live-fire demonstration to satisfy right-wingers who take greater interest in the GSDF's military side.  This is a high-profile event attended by hundreds of carefully selected civilians, politicians, reporters, and others.  Helicopters, tanks, paratroopers, planes, and other GSDF equipment and personnel are brought in to recreate a fictional battle in front of onlookers, filled with dramatic explosions and gunfire.  
3.  With the need to maintain a pacifist image on one hand, and the need to maintain itself as a 'military' organization on the other, the GSDF engages in a complicated and somewhat torturous process of selective memory, clever PR, and image compartmentalization.  In sum, it is a military divided in its own conception of itself.  Across the board, opinions differ: some are more 'conservative' in the old sense and appreciate the GSDF's military power, while others appreciate the GSDF for its ability to offer service and adventure.

One additional point that I found interesting was that different types of masculinity loom larger over GSDF soldiers, including that of the infamous Japanese salaryman and the American soldier.  The former is powerful because, in Fruhstuck's words, it became the predominant conduit for Japanese masculinity during Japan's "high growth" era.  Advertisements for energy drinks and office apparel aimed at salarymen emphasized their role as economic warriors on the frontline of Japan's national success - using slogans such as "advance!" or "fight!"  Meanwhile, the GSDF was sullied by the reputation of its predecessor for most of the post-war era.  The men who joined the GSDF were not seen as the pinnacle of masculine strength. Even today, it is often seen as an escape hatch for those who are unable to face the prospect of 'real' office work.

The latter image, that of the American soldier, also presents the GSDF "group member" with challenges to their self-identity.  The American military looms large over the GSDF, provoking both envy and frustration in its Japanese counterpart. On one hand, the GSDF envies the American military for the simplicity with which it can present iself: it is a military, not a public service organization, and has no bones about emphasizing its capacity to inflict violence.  (Consider your average movie trailer clips in the US when you go to the theater - there's at least one epic National Guard recruitment clip, and then you might have at least one other movie that somehow glorifies the US military's fighting capacity.  It might even include Rihanna.  And be an awful movie.  *cough* Battleship *cough* *cough*).  Moreover, from the GSDF's perspective, the discipline, technical know-how, and training methods of the U.S. military represent the cutting-edge of world military organizations.  The raw strength of the average U.S. soldier (an interesting point, this: in the GSDF, 'bulking up' and accumulating basic muscle mass is not nearly as important as it is to be mentally tough and physically sturdy.) is also looked at with a mixture of awe and curiosity, as a sign of what is entailed by being a real, active-duty military.  

On the other hand, GSDF personnel often express frustration at the US military, which they sometimes see as being intrusive in Japan's internal affairs and overly aggressive.  Sometimes, the US is just a nuisance. When the US military undertakes any life fire exercises, the GSDF has to go in and clean up the empty shell casings, because of strict GSDF liability guidelines.  When US helicopters crash around Futenma airforce base in Okinawa, too, they can be downright deadly, rather than simply a nuisance.

Some additional parts of the book also explore the experiences of women in the GSDF, which I found to be fairly interesting.  Women were originally only allowed to serve as secretaries or nurses in the GSDF until the 1970's, when, in the midst of a shortage of male recruits, Prime Minister Tanaka allowed women to serve in more roles, though still not on the "front lines."  This situation changed in 1986 with the the passage of an Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and all positions were opened to women.  However, Japan still rates low in terms of the number of women within its forces, compared to other countries (4.2% vs. 15.5% in the US).  For women, life in the GSDF is difficult, as even though it is possible to have children while serving, there is a great deal of pressure to quit and stay at home to take care of them thereafter.  On the other hand, the GSDF often attracts women who wish to go off the beaten path, so they may be better suited to deal with such pressure.

All in all, an interesting book, though I thought that some of the conclusions were not as groundbreaking as the cover implied.  Much of the book reaffirms what one might logically be able to deduce - that Japan's military is still in the midst of an identity crisis in the wake of WWII.  This is a well-established fact for those who follow Japan.  However, the specificity and depth of her research was truly impressive, and I recommend it as a source of highly intimate and rare information about the way the GSDF is managed.  One final interesting point that I enjoyed was her analysis of the role of UNPKO within the GSDF.  Although GSDF are sometimes ridiculed by fellow UNPKO service-members from other countries for being unable to fire their weapons, or even carry certain guns, the missions are nonetheless a huge source of pride for GSDF personnel.  They augur up adventure, prestige, action, and a sense of purpose in the minds of soldiers, and after coming back from such a mission, one is considered a true 'veteran.'  In many ways, then, the GSDF might be a more positive model for what a "peaceful" military ought to look like in the future, where the incentive/prestige system places greater emphasis on humanitarian involvement and contributions to society.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More posts to come soon!

Hey everyone,

I haven't been able to put thoughts down to paper (well, the computer) for the past few weeks because of a few other ongoing projects, so my apologies for the dearth of posts.  Expect new entries next week, though!