Monday, November 21, 2005

NYT: "Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan"

This article from the New York Times may be of interest to those with an interest in how right-wing propoganda and revisionism in Japan is being portrayed in the popular culture, particularly manga.
TOKYO, Nov. 14 - A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."

In another comic book, "Introduction to China," which portrays the Chinese as a depraved people obsessed with cannibalism, a woman of Japanese origin says: "Take the China of today, its principles, thought, literature, art, science, institutions. There's nothing attractive."

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan's fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan's worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan's longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain's apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan's history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea's rise to challenge Japan's position as Asia's economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

The reality that South Korea had emerged as a rival hit many Japanese with full force in 2002, when the countries were co-hosts of soccer's World Cup and South Korea advanced further than Japan. At the same time, the so-called Korean Wave - television dramas, movies and music from South Korea - swept Japan and the rest of Asia, often displacing Japanese pop cultural exports.

The wave, though popular among Japanese women, gave rise to a countermovement, especially on the Internet. Sharin Yamano, the young cartoonist behind "Hating the Korean Wave," began his strip on his own Web site then.

"The 'Hate Korea' feelings have spread explosively since the World Cup," said Akihide Tange, an editor at Shinyusha, the publisher of the comic book. Still, the number of sales, 360,000 so far, surprised the book's editors, suggesting that the Hate Korea movement was far larger than they had believed.

"We weren't expecting there'd be so many," said Susumu Yamanaka, another editor at Shinyusha. "But when the lid was actually taken off, we found a tremendous number of people feeling this way."

So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan's most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries "extremely rationally, without losing its balance."

As nationalists and revisionists have come to dominate the public debate in Japan, figures advocating an honest view of history are being silenced, said Yutaka Yoshida, a historian at Hitotsubashi University here. Mr. Yoshida said the growing movement to deny history, like the Rape of Nanjing, was a sort of "religion" for an increasingly insecure nation.

"Lacking confidence, they need a story of healing," Mr. Yoshida said. "Even if we say that story is different from facts, it doesn't mean anything to them."

The Korea book's cartoonist, who is working on a sequel, has turned down interview requests. The book centers on a Japanese teenager, Kaname, who attains a "correct" understanding of Korea. It begins with a chapter on how South Korea's soccer team supposedly cheated to advance in the 2002 Word Cup; later chapters show how Kaname realizes that South Korea owes its current success to Japanese colonialism.

"It is Japan who made it possible for Koreans to join the ranks of major nations, not themselves," Mr. Nishio said of colonial Korea.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

That peculiar aesthetic, so entrenched in pop culture that most Japanese are unaware of it, has its roots in the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, when Japanese leaders decided that the best way to stop Western imperialists from reaching here was to emulate them.

In 1885, Fukuzawa - who is revered to this day as the intellectual father of modern Japan and adorns the 10,000 yen bill (the rough equivalent of a $100 bill) - wrote "Leaving Asia," the essay that many scholars believe provided the intellectual underpinning of Japan's subsequent invasion and colonization of Asian nations.

Fukuzawa bemoaned the fact that Japan's neighbors were hopelessly backward.

Writing that "those with bad companions cannot avoid bad reputations," Fukuzawa said Japan should depart from Asia and "cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West." He wrote of Japan's Asian neighbors, "We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do."

As those sentiments took root, the Japanese began acquiring Caucasian features in popular drawing. The biggest change occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, when drawings of the war showed Japanese standing taller than Russians, with straight noses and other features that made them look more European than their European enemies.

"The Japanese had to look more handsome than the enemy," said Mr. Nagayama.

Many of the same influences are at work in the other new comic book, "An Introduction to China," which depicts the Chinese as obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution, and has sold 180,000 copies.

The book describes China as the "world's prostitution superpower" and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, "I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China."

The book waves away Japan's worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 - which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners - was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

"The only attractive thing that China has to offer is Chinese food," said Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who provided the script for the comic book. Mr. Ko, 66, has written more than 50 books on China, some on cannibalism and others arguing that Japanese were the real victims of their wartime atrocities in China. The book's main author and cartoonist, a Japanese named George Akiyama, declined to be interviewed.

Like many in Taiwan who are virulently anti-China, Mr. Ko is fiercely pro-Japanese and has lived here for four decades. A longtime favorite of the Japanese right, Mr. Ko said anti-Japan demonstrations in China early this year had earned him a wider audience. Sales of his books surged this year, to one million.

"I have to thank China, really," Mr. Ko said. "But I'm disappointed that the sales of my books could have been more than one or two million if they had continued the demonstrations."

Another white guy with his own theory about the Japanese...

I'm really getting tired of white men believing they have some unique insight into Japanese culture.

This article in The Metropolis has got to be one of the most absurd articles I've ever read about Japan. Not only do we have the typical Nijonjinron "Japanese are unique" argument, but now we have a new "innate cuteness" argument, summed up in this nugget of wisdom:
Now, many of the physical characteristics we associate with the Japanese are also characteristics we associate with children: smoother, less hairy skin; lack of physical stature; slenderness; less voluptuous curves in women; large head-to-body ratio; flatter faces; and higher pitched voices. Very few people would argue with the idea that the Japanese are cuter than most other races.
Even if this is an attempt at ironic humor, it is incredibly condescending and insulting, and even borderline racist -- and not the least bit humorous.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

UN: Japan needs to combat racism, xenophobia

From Japan Today:
Japan should clearly adopt national legislation to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, and exercise a greater political will to fight them, a U.N special rapporteur said Monday.

"I will propose that in Japan, as elsewhere, that national legislation should be adopted clearly against racism and racial discrimination and xenophobia," said Doudou Diene of Senegal, who was appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to investigate contemporary forms of racism and discrimination in various countries.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Amnesty International: Appeals for compensation fall on deaf ears

From Amnesty International:
Amnesty International today called on the Japanese government to accept full responsibility for crimes committed against women condemned to sexual slavery by their Japanese captors -- so-called "comfort women" -- before and during the Second World War.

In a comprehensive report entitled "Still Waiting After 60 years: Justice for Survivors of Japan's Military Sexual Slavery System", the organization outlines the brutal treatment suffered by "comfort women" and the excuses given over the years to deny responsibility for their suffering. Up to 200,000 women were sexually enslaved by the Japanese military before and during the Second World War, many of whom were under the age of 20, with some as young as 12. The report also provides recommendations to the Japanese government and the international community on ensuring justice for the remaining survivors.

"The Japanese government must finally right the wrongs of over 60 years by providing full reparations to the survivors of this horrific system of sexual slavery," said Purna Sen, Director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme.

Survivors of the "comfort women" system are now elderly and unknown numbers have died without justice, an adequate public apology or direct compensation from the Japanese government. For years, the Japanese government consistently denied responsibility for its system of military sexual slavery and only when evidence directly linking the Japanese government's role came to light did the government finally admit responsibility.

"Apologies offered to former "comfort women" have been inadequate, vague and unacceptable to survivors. Moreover, the Asian Women's Fund fails to meet international standards of reparation and is perceived by survivors as a way of buying their silence," said Purna Sen.

"This is a current human rights issue that should not be relegated to the past -- it is about lives that have been destroyed and the continued denial of justice and reparation," said Purna Sen. "Reparations in this case are not just a moral obligation. Any state that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity such as rape and sexual slavery also has a legal obligation to provide full reparations and a promise of non-repetition directly to the survivors."

The Japanese government has argued that rape was not a war crime until 1949, when it was incorporated into the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty International argues in its report, however, that there is a wealth of evidence that rape in the context of armed conflict was a crime under customary international law during the entire period in which the Japanese government operated its system of sexual slavery.

"I was taken to China when I was 16 years old," says South Korean national Lee Ok-sun, now aged 79. She was abducted and taken to Yanbian, north-eastern China -- where she was forced into sexual slavery in a "comfort station".

"The age range of the girls was from 14 to 17 and they forced us to serve 40 to 50 soldiers a day," she says. "It was impossible to serve that many men, so I refused and was beaten. If a woman refused they cut her body with a knife; some girls were stabbed. Some girls got diseases and died... It was a painful experience -- there was not enough food, not enough sleep and I couldn't even kill myself. I desperately wanted to escape." Lee Ok-sun was in China for 58 years before she was able to return to South Korea.

"We want our experience to be written in history so that the next generation and people in other countries will know what happened to us and for us to be given justice," said Lola Pilar of the Philippines, in the Amnesty International report. "The Japanese government has to admit to what the Japanese soldiers did. We need an apology and compensation from the Japanese government""

"I want justice more than the money," echoes survivor Lola Amonita, also of the Philippines. "I want a public apology from the Japanese government."

Background

"Comfort women" is a term used to euphemistically refer to young females from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, South and North Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Netherlands and other Japanese-occupied countries or regions who were forced in to sexual slavery by Japanese troops before and during the Second World War.

The abuse took place at "comfort stations" established by the Japanese authorities wherever they were based during the course of the wars. Women were brought to the stations often through abduction or deception; sometimes they were bought from their destitute parents.

Despite the widespread prevalence of what was essentially institutionalized rape, the issue of "comfort women" was ignored by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, set up after the Second World War to prosecute Japan's war criminals. Only during the Dutch military tribunal in Indonesia were prosecutions made -- for the sexual enslavement of Dutch women only; similar crimes against Indonesian women went unpunished.

Humiliated and ashamed, "comfort women" survivors remained silent for decades before finally speaking out in the early 1990s in response to persistent denials by Japanese government of its involvement in the system. Survivors are severely traumatized, many never married and many were unable to have children as a result of injuries sustained through repeated rape or due to contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

The Japanese government denied responsibility for the "comfort women" system until evidence directly linking the Japanese government's role was discovered by Professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki in 1992; the Japanese government subsequently issued several official apologies but these have not been acceptable to the survivors. Moreover, the Japanese government, in response to tireless campaigning by survivors of the sexual slavery system and their supporters and to international criticism, introduced the Asian Women's Fund in 1995. However the fund is perceived by survivors as a way for the Japanese government to evade its international legal responsibilities towards them.
Full report on "comfort women" from Amnesty International available here.

'Hard Gay' Razor Ramon releases his first book

From the Mainichi:
Razor Ramon HG at the release of his first book in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Razor Ramon "Hard Gay," currently one of Japan's hottest celebrities, pledged Wednesday at the release of his first book that the work will be "a lot dirtier" than what he's allowed to get away with on TV.

Razor Ramon HG, who has skyrocketed to fame in recent months by parodying hard core gay rights activists, announced the release of his book "HG" with the customary cry of "Whooo" that has been behind his rise from obscurity as a struggling professional wrestler.

Razor Ramon HG said that his book will be a collection of photos, stories and conversations he has had with his partner, RG.

"The limiter on dirty talk that is normally placed on me when I appear on TV has been lifted for the book, which will be a lot dirtier," the controversial comic told reporters at a book signing.

Razor Ramon HG told reporters of his long held dream to romp around the ring.

"It was always my dream to become a professional wrestler, so when I did so, it was awesome," he said. "I couldn't stop grinding my hips for about a month and I was hot no matter how cold it got."

Razor Ramon HG also sent a message of support to kyogen comic artist Motoya Izumi, who has at least temporarily given up performing in the world of traditional Japanese culture to become a professional wrestler.

"If Izumi represents Japanese-style wrestling, then I'm a symbol of the West," he said, before letting loose with another whoop.

Razor Ramon's announcement was cut short when RG, clad only a bright red loincloth, invaded the stage and the partners let loose with a series of screams.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nagoya guards who killed inmate set free

From the Japan Times:
Nagoya guards guilty but walk
Court rules that deadly hosing was 'cleaning'

NAGOYA -- The Nagoya District Court gave two prison guards who killed an inmate by spraying him with a high-pressure water hose suspended sentences Friday, ruling they had not intended to hurt the prisoner.

The pair received suspended sentences for the December 2001 incident at Nagoya Prison, which drew global condemnation and led the government to improve prison conditions.

Mikio Otomaru, 49, was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for four years, for spraying a 43-year-old inmate with a high-pressure hose. The man was serving time for robbery.

Masahiro Takami, 45, received a 14-month prison term, suspended for three years, for assisting Otomaru in the attack.

Both may appeal their sentences, their lawyers said following the ruling.

According to the ruling, the two guards, along with a third guard -- who was also given a suspended sentence last year-- pulled down the pants of the inmate and sprayed water into his rectum in December 2001.

The inmate died the following morning from bacterial shock after suffering severe injuries to his rectum.

The guards had pleaded not guilty, claiming they were simply carrying out their work and trying to wash the inmate.

Presiding Judge Hideki Shibata backed the defense argument that they were trying to clean the inmate and rejected prosecutors' allegations they were inflicting unnecessary punishment.

Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence for Otomaru and 18 months for Takami, saying, "The act was aimed at punishing rather than correcting the inmate."

Despite handing down the suspended sentences, the judge said, "It was done in an inadequate way that amounts to assault."

He went on: "The defendants' acts were dangerous and illegal abuse against the inmate. Moreover, they damaged public trust toward corrections administration. It can be easily presumed that the inmate died as a result of the water discharge."

In May, after widespread criticism over the death, the government revamped the prison law for the first time in nearly a century, revising the 1908 code to spell out the rights of prisoners and require human rights training for prison guards.

After the scandal broke, Amnesty International said a lack of transparency in the penal system had allowed prisons to impose arbitrary and sometimes cruel rules.