The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that thrashed the northeastern Japanese coast has generated a great deal of thinking from me, not much of it coherent or of use to readers.  Thus the silence.  At some point, I would imagine that some discussion of the following questions would emerge:

To what extent have regional responses to the catastrophe intensified transnational goodwill?   Does this forceful reminder of natural catastrophe bring about a less nationalistic, more humanistic, outlook in the region wherein environmental and other less traditional issues finally assume a leading role in foreign relations?  How has Chinese news coverage of this catastrophe encouraged thought (or precluded thoughts) among PRC readers of the positive role played by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces?  Are the North Koreans capable of doing anything more than attacking Japan for crimes committed in the 1590s in the same week when the country is encountering its worst earthquake ever?  What is it going to take for a new transnational, pan-Asian, global consciousness [what we might call "environmental transnationalism"] to develop in East Asia, or will national boundaries and discrete historical sensibilities always prevail in the region?  What about the balance of power in East Asia?  Is Japan now more reliant on American force than ever?  Is there a new regional consensus on nuclear energy?

At some point, tendering answers to these questions will be appropriate, but everyone, including my rather sheltered self in Seattle, is still in a bit of shock and very much in observation/digout mode, so we shall have to wait.

To the extent that I can be helpful to readers in piecing things together, it’s in interpreting what I’m seeing in the Chinese-language media about Japan.  Purely from the Huanqiu Shibao, normally a leading organ of anti-Japanese nationalism, we see the following (taken and adapted from my Twitter site, a microblog which has of late been far more active than the present webiste):

Educating Chinese re: US occupation in Japan: Huanqiu photo gallery of 1948 earthquake

China takes note of Japanese report – NE earthquake could wipe out 1% of GDP

Chinese ambassador in Japan: no reports yet of Chinese students harmed in quake

Chinese news media appears not to be censoring much as regards nuclear leaks in Japan

Striking photos of Japanese air force bases under water

Finally, there is the question of how Japan will recover from the quake and the historical resonance of a new postwar movement for reconstruction and unity.  As a historian who writes about postwar Japan, and the Chinese views of it, this sad photo (taken outside of a school which has become a morgue), brought a particular historical episode to my mind:

"Syunsuke Doi, 22, left, mourns after finding the bodies of his wife and two children at a makeshift morgue built after the earthquake in Higashimatsushima on March 14, 2011. " Photo by Shiho Fukada, via Time Magazine Asia.

In the American archives of the U.S. occupation of Japan, a story is told about another young man in his 20s who was a sailor on the battleship Yamato when it was sunk in 1944.  He returns home to Japan only to find that his fiance has been killed in American airraids and that his parents’ home has been destroyed in the same conflagration.  He runs across a young woman, also in her early 20s, with three young children; her husband having been killed in battle.  Amid these circumstances, the seven of them create a home together out of the rubble of Tokyo, creating a new marriage, new life, and a new family.  The young man, trying to provide for his six dependents, gets involved in the Shibuya black market, but that is another story entirely in that difficult year of 1946….

I have been fortunate not to have any loved ones or very close acquaintances who have been directly harmed by the earthquake and tsunami, and thus my own statements of shock and compassion have been rather generally directed toward Japan, a country toward which (I hope) I have a long-standing affection and respect, if not even the beginnings of a complete understanding.  But the suffering is now specific, and I am going to need to focus my thoughts for this small period of time on this young man, Syunsuke Doi, because he, like Japan itself, is going to have a very, very tough haul ahead of him.

Competing Visions of Japan on the Huanqiu BBS

Huanqiu Shibao’s BBS world isn’t necessarily representative of the upper crust of netizen opinion, but, since, as China Digital Times reminds us, the internet is becoming increasingly Chinese, it behooves us to get any glimpse into the yawning nooks and immense creaking crannies of 爱国网民活动.

Today’s foray brings two threads into competition: a long missive on the Japanese assassination of Korean Queen Min in 1894 and then a photo essay on Japanese university students caught up in Maoist fervor in the late 1960s.

It’s an interesting commentary on the often unspoken affinities between China and both Koreas when the Queen Min story prompts one netizen to immediately jump to Nanking, while another notes “什么时候日本能给中国诚恳的道个歉?还死不承认,和麻生太郎一样不要脸!”  Drawing back to Japan’s imperial crimes means that ranks among continental Northeast Asian states can be closed, if even for a few minutes.  At least as long as no one brings up the issue of wartime collaboration.

明成皇后 -- Korea's enigmatic Queen Min

When it comes to Japanese students going pro-Mao, the netizen response is a wonderful collage of opinion.  Many take the photos as an opportunity to remember the greatness of Mao Zedong, while others note the naivite of students in China at the same time, warning against repeating the disasters (覆辙) of the Cultural Revolution.  And then there are others who are simply thrilled to see how many Chinese characters they can recognize in Japan.  It is as if Japan remains a revelation, still, to many Chinese.

Japanese Students Raise the Red Flag -- "Long Live Chairman Mao Thought!"

Chinese Cyber-Nationalism and Online Identity among Chinese Youth

China Media Research, a peer-reviewed online journal which is a cooperative venture between Zhejiang University and Michigan State University, carries two excellent and worthwhile articles in its latest issue.

Li Mingsheng, a communications scholar at Massey University, lays out an excellent and densely-document account of the netizen response to the Tibet debacle (both the March riots and the Olympic Torch protests) of spring 2008, entitled “Chinese Nationalism in an Unequal Cyber War.”  (Opens as pdf.)

Li’s abstract reads as follows:

This article examines the theory and characteristics of surging Chinese cyber-nationalism which is fuelled by antagonism toward Western media’s coverage of the Tibet riots. It is also fuelled by the media’s coverage of widespread, anti-China protests staged by pro-Tibet activists and China-bashers during the Olympic torch relay in 2008. It is pointed out that cyber-nationalism had an enormous influence upon the Chinese government and its foreign policy decisions. A huge gulf developed between Chinese netizens and the Western media in their understanding of human rights and Tibet issues. Chinese netizens, who seemed to have lost their confidence in the mainstream Western media which is represented by the CNN and BBC, began to align with the Chinese government in an asymmetric media battle. They used cyber space to express their views, voice their concerns, disseminate information, and mobilize and rally the support of millions of Chinese nationals. This was to fight against the Western media’s bias, prejudice, and misrepresentation, to protect and safeguard their national sovereignty, pride and territorial integrity, and to shore up China’s position over the Tibet issue. [China Media Research. 2009;5(4):63-79]

For more reflections on attitudes toward Japan and its role in forging identity among globalizing netizens, 2/3 of whom are between the ages of 10 and 29, an article by Chen Yanru of Xiamen University adds more weighty data.

For an old (2005) but still durable debate about anti-Japanese internet activities and “Taiwan otaku,” see this rather fascinating Sino-Japanese cultural blog in an essay entitled “反日網民遇上強勢小泉.”

From the same Chinese/Taiwanese blog, a more recent essay (December 3, 2009) on “History Women,” a group of Japanese girls who are fascinated by military women throughout history and uphold a culture of powerful women in the contemporary gaming culture.  This has great appeal to Chinese women as well!

via 知日部层 - click image for link to story / 打照片,到网连

An excerpt from the accompanying essay:


與 「草食系男子」一樣,「歴女」(レキジョ)是最近才在日本流行起來的詞彙,兩者分別打入剛公佈的2009年日本十大新語․流行語。「歴女」泛指沉迷日中歷 史武將的女子。她們的年齡以二、三十歲居多,對日本戰國的武將最感興趣,其次是日本幕末志士及中國三國猛將。她們喜歡從事「聖地巡禮」及cross- dress cosplay戰國武將,並熱衷消費相關的ACG、電視劇、電影、小說及商品。與男性為主的「戰國史達人」不同,「歴女」對歷史考証興趣不大,喜歡的不是 傳統史書所強調的武士形像,而是當今流行文化所塑造的美少年形像。

Notes on Japan

Japan has been rather quiet in the U.S. news of late, but a few things have happened which may be worthy of attention:

1. The secret terms of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty have been made public, and their revelation of U.S. transiting nuclear weapons through Japan has led to commentaries like this one from North Korea.

2. The Okinawa issue remains unresolved:

3. Tokyo isn’t getting want it wants (e.g., concessions on the abduction issue) from the Americans in Pyongyang.

4. Japan recently launched a new satellite with which to spy on North Korea.

via US News & World Report

5. Japanese women are looking as beautiful as ever, and marrying Chinese men in significantly larger numbers than before.


6. A Chinese woman had her fingertips surgically altered to make it through Japanese customs — and who said Japan wasn’t an attractive place to be?

Asia’s Ahab: North Korea, Japan, and Environmental Geopolitics in NE Asia

People who fish, who brave the ocean, who create seriographie of fish, who take pictures of fish, who quantify fish populations — all of these people have a special place in my consciousness these days.   The recent wetness in Seattle, along with a return to the cello/axe in a downtown performance backed by giant Jules-Verne style organ pipes, has me thinking watery thoughts.

Captain Nemo at the Organ, from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea / Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers"

And lo and behold, what should cross the data transom but a couple of significant fish-related stories?

KNCA in Pyongyang has, of late, been preoccupied with incidents at sea, but also with finding creative ways to outsource the blame for North Korea’s lack of food.  Fisherman going further out than normal to find more protein sources have, if the Good Friends reports hold true, been getting blown away by the North Korean Coast Guard.

So who better to bring into play than the old Japanese colonial navy, and the antagonisms toward Japanese fishermen?  Take this weekend’s KCNA dispatch:

Japanese Imperialists’ Extortion of Marine Resources

Pyongyang, November 20 (KCNA) — The Japanese imperialists occupied Korea illegally in the early 20th century and plundered its rich marine resources at random. They fabricated and promulgated the laws and regulations for plundering marine resources and set up machinery for the purpose.  In order to ensure their pillage by law, the invaders promulgated the evil “Fishery Act”, its enforcement regulations and the like in June 1911.

According to the act, the Japanese imperialists preferentially gave the fishery right to the Japanese fishermen and fishery monopolies under their protection and forcibly robbed the Korean fishermen of their fishing ground….Following the fabrication of all evil laws and machinery, they left no stone unturned to extort the precious marine resources of Korea.

The pillage of the marine resources by the Japanese imperialists was intensified entering the 1930s. At that time, they forced the Korean fishermen to increase fish production under the pretext of “fishing village promotion campaign”.  [E.g., "Don't blame us for working you hard during this new 100-day struggle campaign; you had it way worse under the Japanese.] In an attempt to realize their predatory ambition, the Japanese imperialists compelled Korean fishermen to deep-sea fishing with small wooden boats only to kill lots of them.

For the purpose of meeting the demand for ever growing military supplies, the Japanese imperialists were also hell bent on taking away sardine which amounted to 50 percent of the total fish catch in Korea at that time. The Korean fishermen had to live a miserable life owing to the Japanese imperialists’ brutal plunder of abundant marine resources.  The Japanese authorities must completely liquidate the crime-woven past.

Quite apart from the unintentional pun that caps it off, this is quite a document.  It furthers a stock theme in the North Korean discourse (hatred toward Japan) while turning this emotion of past victimization toward contemporary ends (muffling the grumbles about the 100-day campaign, justifying the lack of sea protein in the average diet [when in fact much squid is being sold off to the Chinese], and deflecting rumors about the North Korean navy shooting up the fishing fleet of DPRK citizens.)

"the Big Catch," by William Chua

And somehow living on a boat, waking up every day at a different sea level, gives me a deeper imagined connection to this topic.  In fact we share the same ocean, the Koreans and I!  But I have yet to catch any squid, and dry them, and sell them for peanuts to Dandong wholesalers…

View from the Nautilus

A second more logical sea-theme, a watery meme, a pelagic morpheme, can be found in my correspondence from this weekend.  I happened to be having some interaction with one Amanda Bradford, who is one of the world experts in Western Pacific Grey Whale populations and their migration patterns in Northeast Asia.  (For a more extensive look at her work within the matrix of DPRK environmental politics, a preliminary essay can be found here.)   Amanda notes in her 2003 University of Washington thesis — one of the few documents in the English language to discuss the Western grey whale and its transnational properties —  that political relations among Northeast Asian states have had a very significant impact on the whale population.

More recently, she notes:

Now that the western gray whale range states are not whaling (well, as far as we know, since nothing is known about North Korea), a big issue that has emerged is fatal entanglement in fishing gear in the migratory corridor (see attached paper).  So far, we only have information from Japan, but we suspect that it’s an issue along the Korean peninsula and China, also. [E-mail correspondence with the author, Nov. 20, 2009]

It would be nice if we could begin talking about North Korean-Japanese issues like these that are, quite literally, under the surface.  Fishing, water rights, and all the rest are of course issues in trans-Korean relations, but the DPRK dynamic with Japan could be significantly eased via cooperation in Track II style channels on issues of oceanic ecology as well.  I, for one, will be keeping my eyes open whether underwater or up here in the human world.

The mythical birth of Namor, the Submariner, may be read as allegory for underwater political reconciliation in NE Asia

Himalayan Shadows

In addition to the change of tone on North Korea, one of the more interesting trends in recent years in Chinese foreign policy has been the increasingly strident tone against India.

What does this have to do with Obama’s trip to Beijing?  Quite a bit, argues an Indian scholar in the Huanqiu Shibao.

In the meantime, Chinese are getting nervous about an Indian-Japanese alignment to contain China — suspicions which Hatoyama’s return to “checkbook diplomacy” in Afghanistan may confirm.


Obama in Tokyo: Initial Reactions

For someone like myself whose main point of reference of U.S.-Japan relations is the postwar occupation (1945-1952) and the later 1960 Security Treaty (or Anpo), there is something a bit giddy about watching Air Force One touch down in Tokyo.

(Perhaps it is the recollection of my own triumphal arrival in that city in 1987 as an impressionable and wholly smitten boy soprano, bringing Gershwin and Nordic vowels from Minnesota, but that is a story for another time.)

Obama is neither a conquering and supremely arrogant MacArthur, nor is he a frustrated Eisenhower, turned away by tumult in the streets and on the tarmac.  In other words, things could be much, much worse.

On the other hand, they could be better.  The base controversy in Okinawa is bubbling up, and more than 20,000 people protested the U.S. base at Futama on Okinawa; naturally this was the first question at the press conference (which is continuing as I type this).

I suppose there is a way to grab this after the fact on YouTube, but in old-fashioned style, I stayed up all night to catch this press conference, which started at about 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, evening in Tokyo.  I recall displaying the same dedication in Beijing’s Houhai area in 2006 to watch an immortal Germany-Portugual World Cup consolation match with a couple of very intelligent university students who were home on holiday from university studies in Japan.

Quite naturally for them, they expressed their despising views toward the Japanese while cheering on Schweinsteinger‘s immortal World Cup hat trick.

To the press conference!

Mandate-grippers at the NYC Waldorf-Astoria, General MacArthur's old haunt, on 23 Sept. 2009

Note on opening statements by Hatoyama and Obama: The Japanese P.M. is true to his reputation.  He manages at once to come off as academic, repetitious, and somewhat cautious.  He’s no Koizumi, but perhaps this is a good thing.  Hopefully he will be in place two years from now, as Japanese prime ministers tend to have a fairly short shelf life.  Obama’s opening remarks included a nod to the fact that his daughters are studying Japanese culture in school, which is why they couldn’t come to Japan.  Obama as Confucian father figure!  Good stuff.

The joy of the press conference’s beginning was apparent in the helter-skelter multi-pronged question lobbed up by a Fuji TV reporter, the first at the press conference.  A classic multiple-questions-within-a-question question, the reporter managed to evoke the Okinawa controversy, call out Hatoyama on his declarations of equality with his heavily-armed partner, provoke everyone’s senstitivies by asking Obama if the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified in 1945, imply that the President needs to visits peace memorials in those cities, and throw up up the North Korean issue for good measure.

After Hatoyama did his thing, recalling that he had campaigned in part on the reduction of the American presence in Okinawa, and raising the will of the Okinawan people themselves, Obama got his turn.  He went straight for the base realignment issue, obviously anticipating the question.  On Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he seemed a bit off-guard, but wisely slipped away down the memory hole, that is to say, he avoided reprising Harry Truman.  On Okinawa, I realized afterwards that he could always bring up his time in Hawai’i in expressing a kind of understanding for Pacific security issues or proximity to American air bases, but that this, too, carries certain political liabilities in the U.S.

The reason I say “joy” in this question is that nothing of the sort will make its way into Xinhua’s densely screened queries in China.  Can you imagine a Chinese reporter going after Obama about MacArthur’s decision to cross the 38th parallel in August 1950?  But perhaps the students in Shanghai, the decendents of the 反美扶日 (“oppose American revival of Japan”) protestors of 1948, will have something sharp that departs ever so slightly from the Huanqiu Shibao nationalist line.  Like: how are you going to bring the gavel down on Sarkozy to lower auction-house prices on our nation’s precious looted cultural artifacts?

Both Fox News and MSNBC very wisely let their cameras roll for the extended exchange with which the press conference began.

Then their anchors cut in, and why?  Well, the War on Terrorism of course!  Khalid Sheik Muhammed and Eric Holder.  Not so much as a map of Okinawa hit the screen, much less any discussion of this particular island or why it seemed to be chafing up the press conference.  Apparently we haven’t had enough reminders lately that there’s a jihad afoot and that non-state actors acting individually are just more important than nation-states that are our allies (Japan) or those with whom we lack diplomatic recognition (North Korea, who now Obama says “has a pathway, a doorway,” making them sound sort of like Joe Wilson’s illegal immigrants).

The White House is video-blogging the Asia trip here, but they are already behind!

No photos at of Hatoyama, but fortunately we are reminded that the President cares about education in Wisconsin and that this man now has a job:


this man's next pavement job may be on Guam, but then again, he's probably unionized

Who said Obama wasn’t thinking about the next election?  Maybe he’ll even bring home a couple of automobile plants.  Then again, maybe he won’t.