… Hiroshima … Nao-shima … and now I’m Tokyo-bound…

Hiroshima. I was only there for a day. I liked it a lot, maybe more than Kyoto. Probably because my feet hurt so damned much and Kyoto involved so much walking for me. There was something about the Hiroshima vibe that was more comfortable — maybe vaguely more familiar — to me.

All the monuments to the dead… it’s depressing. Yet I have to say, I’ve never seen more concentrated discussions of war and anti-war sloganing anywhere (except maybe some radicals I knew in high school). Yes, Japan has the black vans with the right-wing idiots; it has bunkhead politicians trying to get Japan to have an army, and it has Yasukuni Shrine, which was, after seeing the trash propaganda in the museum, frankly a pretty digusting sight, and I can understand why Koreans are so very against it even more now than I did before. But besides Yasukuni and the black vans and the idiot politicians, I get the impression there’s a lot of people who hate war, who get it that Japan did evil crap in the past, that it’s a place they’re just not willing to let the country go again. I read somewhere there are 50 peace museums in the country; I’ve only seen two, but I was impressed with both. (The one in Kyoto, run by a University, was both more frank about the idiocy of the Japanese empire, and less depressing than the one in Hiroshima.) So the net effect on my thinking is that the kidn of hatred some Koreans find it mandatory to express towards Japan is simply too generalized, and that Korean society is shooting itself in the foot to whatever degree it is, indeed anti-Japanese, since it seems to me there are a lot of potential allies over here, and all that’s gained in ignoring them or pretending they’re not there is a free hot-button issue for politicians to use to distract the masses from, well, real issues.

Which reminds me, I found a neat book (posted home) on the Comfort Women by a female Japanese scholar. Skimming it, I found that she raised points that had bugged me before, but I haven’t often (ie. more than perhaps once) seen raised in Korean discussions of the issue: that Japan victimized others besides Koreans (ie. in Korean discussions it’s usually framed as a racial/nationalistic issue, not a sexism or exploitation of women issue), and that the absence of commentary within Korea for more than a generation after the fact — how many generations is almost 50 years? — suggests something fishy, sexist, and nasty on the Korean side of the water, too. Finally, and this is something that never fails to make me shake my head, she reports that the first journalist to bring up the issue was a Japanese one. Yes, his book was ignored. But he raised the issue. What were Korean journalists writing about? Was all discussion of Japan barred? Even if they were, why did it take until the early 90s to become an issue? Yes, Japan was the one using military sex slaves… but just because your oppressor has dirty hands, doesn’t mean yours are clean; and clean hands seem hard to find, given what the comfort women had ended up living like for decades after the war.

More on that later, I imagine.

Nao-shima is a little island among some other lovely islands. I was there today, just for a daytrip, to check out some museums there, and while I was less crazy about some of the art — especially at the Benesse museum, where most of the art did little for me — I was blown away by the buildings the art was housed in, and the park that the Benesse museum was surrounded by. That was really impressive, and I kept thinking how I would love to get something like that built somewhere too, someday. (Anyone got a few hundred million dollars sitting around?) And there were SOME pretty impressive works, I have to admit. I’ll write more on that later, too.

There was even a festival of some kind in the village the day I was there, which was very funny to watch. Some kids did a horrible fake-karate dance to some horrible Japanese techno-rock fusion traditional pleaserturnitoff music, everyone (okay, just the women and girls) were out in kimonos, and some guys banged a taiko drum for a bit.

But my feet are killing me. I’ve developed not just one but a series of blisters on the same spot on my foot — I’m beginning to wonder whether maybe there’s a bit of glass lodged in the skin and irritating it as I walk; also, the calluses on my heels are beginning to ache like they have never done before. I’ve been walking a LOT, and my sandals are all but worn out. (They seemed okay in Korea, but they’re flat, the leather and cork on one is beginning to wear through, and they’re just not comfortable anymore.) I need a new pair. It will have to wait till Tokyo — nobody has my size in Okayama, where I’m sleeping tonight. But by noon tomorrow, I’ll be in Tokyo. I’ll be okay till then, I think…

12 thoughts on “… Hiroshima … Nao-shima … and now I’m Tokyo-bound…

  1. I don’t know, I think it might be a good thing if the Japanese changed their defence policy. Rather than these violent extremes it would be nice to see them reach some sort of middle ground.

  2. Hmmm. My response to that is that I don’t know what people generally are learning in school, or seeing in the media.

    I think Japan’s claim of a need for nukes (at least to ward off North Korea) is quite understandable. However, I also suspect that Japan changing its constitution to allow a military would piss off all of the rest of Asia so much it might really lead to more instability. Certainly both Koreas would go into a state of absolute rage, and China would be pissed off too. That could lead to more instability.

    When I saw the black vans (in Hakodate, by the way, not in Tokyo), I was both deeply unsettled and felt a little sick. When I saw the rhetoric in the Yasukuni museum, I shook my head at how lamebrained it was — “We saw Asia was being encroached on by Western powers bent on rapacious exploitation, and knew we had to do something…!” was the main argument, with the “… so we decided it best we rapaciously exploit Asia instead!” left out. (And least that’s the English translation. Who knows how accurate it is.) Even the environs of Yasukuni Shrine made me feel a little sick — okay, I went on August 15th, but still, there were guys in war uniforms, drunk and singing old war songs and so on. It was like a big nationalist party, and I felt really unsettled with all of it.

    But I also saw loads of other people, Japanese I mean, in the anti-war museums, and most of them were talking to their kids about the exhibits, too. I talked to some elderly anti-war/anti-nuke demonstrators on the street, and I got this impression like educated people — meaning not the right-wingers — really do know how fucked up Japan’s leadership (and militarized society) was between the late 19th century and the end of WWII.

    The other thing is, while I can sympathize with what I presume are worries about North Korea — why else would Japanese leaders want a bomb? China? — I suspect that changing the constitution to allow a real official military in Japan would enrage the rest of East Asia so much that it’s too potentially destabilizing. Both Koreas and China would go ballistic — maybe not literally, but it’s a bad idea.

    Last thought: a lot of the things I see in Japan that make it a pleasant place to be — street buskers, and all kinds of uncontrolled venues for youth culture — are in such short supply in South Korea, and I suspect it’s the military service demanded of young men. Go into the army a dreamy-headed young college boy, and you (usually) come out a full-blown 24 year old ajeoshi. In my opinion, it’s culture-destroying, and however necessary it is, South Korea will be much better off when it’s no longer mandatory.

  3. Whoops — 24 in Korean age, that is. Most of the guys I know go when they’re 20 (Western age) and it’s down to just about 2 years now (or was it still 2 years and a few months?), last I heard.

  4. Maybe, but there’s a difference between pissed and more pissed. While the rest of Asia needs to move on, in some ways, that’s not a move that would encourage it.

    Meanwhile, I still fail to see the gain in it…

  5. Well, why fret about a country like Japan having nuclear weapons? It’s not like Iran or North Korea having nuclear weapons. It would be like Canada, South Korea, Australia, France, the UK, Thailand, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand, or India having nuclear weapons.

  6. Your comment tellingly leaves out China, by the way, and I am curious which group you put China in. (Or, fr that matter, America. I can tell you, but I’m sure you know, a lot of the world is nervous about nukes in the hands of the country that invaded Iraq on completely fabricated grounds.)

    I’m anti-nuclear proliferation in general, but I also think that we shouldn’t just complain when governments we don’t like have them. They develop them — at great cost and with great effort — because they fear the countries who do have them. Every country that has them creates a stronger incentive for others to have them, and what we don’t need on this planet is more countries with nuclear weapons. Because whatever foregone conclusion people who praise M.A.D. are thnking wasn’t foregone. We’re just lucky, or have been so far.

    Though of course we should kee researching nuclear power and keep some nukes on hand. There are (very remotely) possible situations I can see in which they would be handy. But as weapons to be used against humans or, worse, other states (worse in level of stupidity, that is), they’re a monstrosity.

  7. Not quite North Korea but not quite a benign as Canada. What’s the point of stopping nuclear proliferation if only the bad guys have the weapons.

    If I really thought the USA was a threat or a horrible country I wouldn’t be down here. I’d be living in the Peoples Republic of Northern Canuckistan grousing about American hegonomy while sipping Starbucks, wearing Nikes, and sucking on a mitten trying to keep warm.

  8. Sure, but since not everyone defines “good guys” and “bad guys” the way you (and presumably I) do, I am for halting anyone new from developing (or buying) them. And anyway, it’s not as if nukes are the necessary deterrent to nukes. The fact that it took so long for people to get it that there weren’t WMD in Iraq suggests that if there had been, things still might not have been so different. (Or it might suggest less politely phraseable things about that segment of the world population that bought the claim WMD were even present.)

    Bitter Canadian-in-exile diatribe aside (and I do understand, I’m happily not living in Canada too), I think lots and lots of Americans are worried about the dangers of their own country’s military, so your living there doesn’t automatically signify that you don’t. (I may reside there temporarily, too.)

    My point is not so much that the US nuclear capability is or isn’t a threat to this or that nation, but just that the presence of nuclear weapons on earth in this day and age is pretty strong evidence that we’re still a pretty dumbass species, and getting rid of them (at least in the arena of inter-state conflict) would be a great first step to becoming less stupid. (Even better would be the criminalizing of warfare but that’s not going to be practicable until we have effectively limitless energy and resources. Not for some time, that is…)

  9. It’s hegemony, isn’t it? So much for that BA from the U of Manitoba…

    Bitter up to a point. Most of my misery in Canada was self-inflicted, but there does seem to be a real lack of opportunities even when a person is firing on all cylinders.

    Why I can make a decent living in South Korea, Japan, and the USA but not in Canada is a mystery that I cannot fathom.

  10. Yeah, I certainly understand all of that… my fiancee doesn’t get why I don’t want to live in Canada, and I’m going to show her this so she knows I’m not the only one who feels that way.

    But if you’re patient, Canada will be shedding all the stuff that makes it decent to live there so that it can be like the US. No more health care, no more EI, etc. Even the centrist politicians have an unspoken (inadmissible) desire to be rid of all that.

  11. The battle for this particular heart and mind was lost a long time ago. In Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to be exact. I can remember watching a documentary on Andy Warhol (he had recently died), reading DC and Marvel comic books over at the Sklars, and well, it just snowballed.

    I’d listen to classic jazz on the radio while doing homework in high school, read Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Canada isn’t (or to be fair, maybe wasn’t) sexy.

    All this started when New York would have been considered a basket case. It was a really unpleasant place to live – I’d read enough at the time to know about the high crime and even higher rents. It didn’t matter.

    Canada could become a Soviet style socialist workers paradise or a freedom loving, libertarian entity, but I really don’t care either way. It just isn’t sexy. I’ve dreamed of living here and being in the thick of things for a long time, and it’s been everything I’ve hoped for. I’m living the American dream!

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