2003年02月12日 水曜日

Kenkoku Kinen no Hi

by Jane Pinckard


It was a holiday yesterday, but I lose track of Japanese holidays so easily. I suppose that's natural when you are always moving in and out of countries, losing track of days of the week. This morning over coffee I look over the calendar and see the red "11" in February. Why was it a holiday yesterday? I ask my mother.

She makes a face. "It's the day Japan was supposedly founded. We're supposed to believe the gods came down to earth on that day. It's a new thing. They started it when I was in middle school, and I remember being against it. It's ridiculous."

My mother is Tennosei hantai - against the emperor system. I never knew this growing up, I don't remember having political conversations with her. She taught me about Japanese culture and food and introduced me to literature and manga, but political talk at my dinner table growing up was always between me and my dad, arguing about Marxism in the west or socialism in the United States. What I knew of Japanese history and politics I gleaned from samurai movies and historical television dramas until I got to college. It has been something of a discovery, these past few years, to find out about my mother's somewhat radical politics. Last year I lent her The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. It made her cry. She wanted to buy copies of it for people in Japan, but I told her it wasn't available in Japanese, because no one would translate and publish it. So she decided to buy copies in English and foist them on her friends. "They can look at the pictures and understand," she said.

I am slowly finding the Tennosei hantai coming out of the woodwork of my family tree, as I get to know them better now as a thinking adult. I am amazed that somehow, without ever talking about it, I have come to many of the same conclusions as my family members. I've written a little already about my cousin Yuji, who refused to follow the footsteps of his father and his older brother, yet ended up in a suit nevertheless. He is an avowed Buddhist, and a reformist, not only for finance and the economy, but also for what is sick in the Japanese spirit, the legacy of the war.

A month ago my mother and I had lunch with my uncle, Kazuo-san, and another cousin, a recent university graduate, Nobuo. We were chatting amiably about plans for the upcoming winter, and Nobuo mentioned he was going to Okinawa. Okinawa is a tourist destination for most Japanese, a cheaper, closer Hawaii. So I responded that a trip there sounded nice. "It must be very beautiful," I said lightly. "I'd like to go there some day."

Nobuo gently reminded me that Okinawa had been its own state, with its own relations to China, since at least the 13th century. "And then Japan took it over as a colony," he said. He is not a big talker, not a loud boy. He said all this quietly but firmly. Frankly, I was surprised, since my impression up until then was that most young people in Japan don't think about these issues. I was intrigued, I tried to engage him further. "It must be a strange place, a difficult place, with the army base there, and with the Japanese colonial structure, and the Okinawans."

He didn't really want to debate, I think. He merely expressed his deep interest in the Okinawan culture and people. Later, I found out from my mother that his senior thesis was on post-war relations between Japan and Korea. "He failed every job interview this year," my mom said, "because he's too outspoken. He won't conform." Right now he is travelling with a friend in Vietnam. He is interested in developing nations in Southeast Asia.

Last year the government decided to re-institute the imperial hymn, Kimigayo, as an official song in schools. Until last year, it was voluntary. My mother told me that Kazuo-san, an avowed liberal and Tennosei hantai, fretted over whether he would have to stand and sing it at Nobuo's graduation ceremony. It's a hard thing, especially in Japan, to not go along with the crowd. Try not standing during the Star Spangled Banner at a well-attended ball game and you'll see what I mean. The pressure to conform is enormous. I wonder if he sat silent and alone or if he stood along with everyone else and mouthed the words.

My grandfather was an imperialist. He got teary-eyed and sentimental at the emperor's birthday. He believed sincerely that the women who spoke out against the Japanes government claiming they had been forced into sexual slavery for the imperial army were just greedy lazy liars who wanted money. It was shocking to hear him speak like that. When they were younger, my mother and her sisters argued with him heatedly. He screamed at them, "Anyone who thinks that is half-rotten! You are half-rotten!"

Yet somehow they persisted in their Tennosei-hantai ways. My mother says, "I was embarrassed to be born in China. In school, in middle school, I didn't want to admit where I was born." I asked her why, exactly. "I was ashamed of what my father must have been doing there. He was a spy. He was an imperial soldier. I was ashamed of what he was doing. When I got to the United States I was still ashamed."

My mother hates Koizumi with a passion, but her greatest ire is directed at the now-dead emperor and his son, the current ruler.

"He was the main cause of the world war," she says angrily. "And after the war he 'didn't know anything about it'! And he stays on the throne. I just cannot take it."

"He could have said 'no more'. But he didn't. He wanted power. He wanted to be a god." She shakes her head. "And all these old men, they are so sentimental."

Maybe, I think, they want a god. They need a god, perhaps.

Yesterday, on Founding Day, I was on the road, from my aunt's house back to my house in Kakio. I remember a couple who shared the train car with me, an older man and his wife. He sat, taking up two spaces by sitting pompously in the middle of two seats on the bench. The woman stayed standing, although she could easily have sat if the man had scooted over a few inches. Her hair was neatly arranged, streaked with grey, matching her pearl-grey wool skirt. "It took us less time then I thought," she murmured to her husband. "We got here so fast." They got off at Ochanomizu - "water for tea". They may have been on their way to a social engagement. Across from them, a Chinese couple, speaking softly in mandarin: the man let the woman sit and offered the last empty seat to another lady. They looked to be on vacation, day trippers, maybe, with light nylon backpacks, jeans, and unfashionably comfortable shoes. Next children boarded the train, young boys with all the same bright blue backpack. One of them had a gameboy advance, and they watched him play a game on it. They were wearing uniforms, as if just coming back from school. Young men in suits got on at Yotsuya. On a lunch break from work? Work even on founding day? Quiet well-dressed young women, girls in sneakers, families with children. Is this imperial Japan? I passed through them all, through the countryside and the city. A foreigner, for all that I might be able to blend in sometimes, a ghost.

Posted by Jane Pinckard at 2003年02月12日 12:17


Jane- thank you for the insightful thoughts on this topic. I want to ask my own parents & grandparents about their stance on this topic now. I also want to read Iris Chang's book, which I've been meaning to do for a while. Thank you so much for sharing.

from sunny San Diego...

When I first visited Japan <a href="http://www.links.net/daze/01/12/emperor.html">I thought their Imperial system was quaint</a>, a strange holdover from the past, like Britain's. But the longer I was there, the more the Japanese Imperial system and the Emperor appeared to stand for a complex and unsettling confluence of coercion and jingoism. Your piece illustrates that. Still maybe there are <a href="http://joi.ito.com/archives/2002/11/23/hih_prince_takamado_norihito_passed_away.html">people in that position who try to do good</a>? Chanpon people, especially those living in Japan, must have a complex relationship with the Imperial system. Thank you Jane for sharing this.

3- Karuna Shinsho

This topic has always fascinated me. I'm currently re-reading Herbert P. Bix's "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan." I interviewed him when the book first came out. He basically got a hold of new documents that further buttressed the reality that Emperor Hirohito played a "strong and decisive role in wartime operations." I remember talking with him about the fact that his book probably won't be published in Japan(I wonder if this has changed) because of his taboo topic/thesis. In any case, living in Asia has further opened my eyes to how inept the successive Japanese governments have been in addressing the country's past war-time aggression. I know there's huge pressure from supporters of "tennosei,", but without addressing such issues, many people can't move forward.
I tried once to obtain an interview with the Crown Prince and Princess, but the Imperial Household Agency said, "why should we give you(an American network) an interview when we haven't even given the domestic networks one?" Hey, I thought I'd try at least! I'm not often scared, but it did pass my mind that if I had interviewed them and asked the "tough" questions, then perhaps I'd be harassed by the "uyoku."

4- Mimi

Jane, thanks for this essay. I have found that in everyday life in Japan the war and postwar seem very distant, but they are just beneath the surface, particularly for those over 50. It really has been such a short time, even though Japanese society has changed so much in the past 50+ years. What I am really curious about is the political awareness of the younger generation. I grew up still listening to my grandmother and her stories about the war and nationalism and the occupation. Those a little younger than me probably have the stories of my parent's generation, who were only children at the time. My children will only have me and my second-hand accounts... It really is different to read about these things or hear second hand compared with getting a first-hand telling, with all the nuance and emotional content that Jane describes.

5- Matthew

I lived deep in the inaka for three years (Iwate-ken). I definitely noticed that people there were way more likely to be openly critical of the imperial system. Many of the crustiest oyaji were the most critical about the emperor's role in the war. Young kids generally aren't interested. The elementary school textbooks especially, completely gloss over any possible bad things associated with the royal household.


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水, 2 12, 2003, @ 16:59
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