OK, here's a post that I have been meaning to write for quite some time.
Here is the trailer for Li Ying's controversial film Yasukuni.
Is it just me or does it always seem as though the words "controversial" and "Yasukuni" are always connected to each other?
Anyway, have a look at the trailer, courtesy of the Japan Society NYC, which also contains English subtitles.
For those who don't know, Yasukuni ("The Land of Peace") Shrine, located in the Musashino area of Tokyo, was created in 1869 by the Meiji Government after defeating the Tokugawa Shogunate. The original intention of the shrine, as I understand it, was to honor the war dead of both sides of the conflict, so the country could unite and begin the task of modernization. Not a bad idea. In fact, it's a great one.
In a similar vein, Gettysburg National Park, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, honors both Confederates and Unionists in what was the bloodiest battle in the U.S. Civil War. Also, the United States has the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, to honor American war dead. In addition, many a British war hero and royalty were buried and/or commemorated at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Other countries honor their war dead in similar ways as well.
Over time, soldiers who fought in Meiji Japan's wars, such as the Japanese-Chinese War of 1894, the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and World War I, had their spirits (and ashes) enshrined at Yasukuni as divinities. Of course, the tradition followed after the end of World War II. More on that in a bit.
Here's a link to the website for Yasukuni Shrine. The website has some really glorious photographs of the shrine and its surrounding area. I first started visiting Buddhist temples and such when I lived in Seoul, South Korea. When I went over to Tokyo and Osaka for a couple of vacations, I also visited some Shinto shrines in addition to some Buddhist temples, the most notable being Asakusa. The atmosphere of visiting such places is always a delight as everything seems to be quieter, more peaceful, and more relaxing. Plus, I'm just a temple and shrine architecture freak. I love the designs, the colors, and the statues, among other things.
According to the shrine's website, some 2.5 million soldiers have had their spirits enshrined at Yasukuni. This number includes not only Japanese, but also Koreans and Taiwanese who served in the Japanese military during many of these conflicts.
What makes Yasukuni so controversial, the details of which still remain cloudy, is that in the late 1970s, about 1978 or so, the spirits of many Japanese military members who had been convicted of war crimes by the U.S.-led Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal were enshrined there. After the enshrinement, Emperor Hirohito (more on him later) refused to visit Yasukuni ever again.
In recent times, Yasukuni has re-emerged on the international stage as an item of controversy as Junichiro Koizumi started to visit the shrine on an annual basis (around August 15th, the day of Japan's official surrender) when he became Prime Minister of Japan back in 2001. The circumstances of his visits to Yasukuni appeared to have been two-fold. First, he did promise (if I remember correctly) to visit the shrine if he had been elected Prime Minister. (Who says politicians don't hold their promises?) Second, he has a personal connection with relatives having fought and died in World War II. Hence, the scenes at the end of the trailer for the Yasukuni film.
Personally, I've never visited Yasukuni Shrine. During my last trip to Tokyo, back in September 2005, I meant to do so. It was on my list of places to visit. Somehow, I got distracted and visited some other places instead. To be honest, that trip I took was something of a washout. I had a fun, but not as much fun as I thought I would have. Thus, I never got to see Yasukuni's "infamous" museum with its model of the Railroad of Death that was built in Thailand as the historical timeline that seeks to explain and justify Japan's role in World War II. (See my opinions below.)
Getting back to Li Ying's film about Yasukuni Shrine, I would like to see the film. As a person with a deep interest in history, I can't wait to see it. If it is released on DVD here in the U.S., I'll certainly buy it.
Li Ying is certainly a brave man with an interesting story. Li Ying is a filmmaker from Southern China who has been living in Japan since the late 1980s. He speaks fluent Japanese and is also a member of the Japanese Director's Guild.
The story of the making of his film is just as interesting as his film. Li Ying spent nearly ten years making his film, shooting with a video camera in and around Yasukuni Shrine. He gained unprecedented access to the grounds of the shrine in order to make his film.
Naturally, Li Ying's film is also not without controversy. Li Ying applied for and received an arts grant from the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan to make his film. In addition, he also received money from the Beijing Film Council and a Chinese producer as well. These two facts give the impression to some in Japan, such as certain members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party who have connections to many "right-wing" organizations, that the film is inherently "anti-Japanese" and that money from Japanese tax payers shouldn't have been used. Li Ying also came under controversy for his portrayal of Kariya Naoharu, the 90-year old sword artisan who still makes the famous Yasukuni swords that were used in Japan's military conflicts, particularly World War II. Predictably enough, there was also the controversy of the film's premiere in Japan as "right-wing" groups protested and threatened movie theaters who had originally agreed to screen the film.
Regardless of these controversies, this is an important film and it should be seen by anyone with the slightest interest in Japanese history. In a very detailed two-part interview with The Asia Times, Mr. Li went into heavy detail as to why he felt so compelled to make a film about Yasukuni Shrine. Basically, Mr. Li's point is that the shrine is a symptom of a disease ("The Yasukuni Disease" as he calls it.) in which Japanese refuse to come to grips with what occurred during World War II. Mr. Li recalls that the motivating factor for making his film came from attending a conference in Tokyo about the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Nanking. According to Mr. Li, the conference screened a film produced by the Japanese military made in 1937. The audience, says Mr. Li, loudly applauded when the Japanese Imperial Army entered the city at the beginning of the film. He told the interviewer for The Asia Times that he was simply astonished and that he had to do something.
Reading from his interview, Mr. Li deliberately intended for his film to be confrontational and provocative, which is abundantly clear from the trailer for the film. This kind of confrontational approach is something that most Japanese no doubt would have problems with. Indeed, Mr. Li said that he intended his film to be bitter medicine (or tough love, if you prefer) as he wanted Japanese audiences to actually think about what Yasukuni Shrine symbolizes as well as what should be done with it.
Mr. Li should have read Michael Zielenziger's book (I know I'm sounding like a broken record here, but it really is an important book about contemporary Japan.) Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created It's Own Lost Generation prior to his film's premiere. Mr. Zielenziger touches upon several of the cultural issues that Mr. Li appears to be addressing, such as how many of Japan's wartime leaders became leaders of post-war Japan thanks to American assistance, how Japanese culture works against taking initiative and personal responsibility, and how there is a HUGE chasm between Japan's ruling elites (the monarchy and the Iron Triangle of the Liberal Democratic Party, the bureaucracy, and big business) and the ordinary, common people of Japan. There's so much more from Zielenziger's book as well that I feel could be used in regards to the Yasukuni Shrine debate. I could be here all day, quoting from his book chapter and verse. It's that important.
After all, it is my belief that it was Japan's ruling elites that wanted World War II, not the common people. That could explain the disconnect as to why many people in Japan have such ambiguous opinion/emotions toward World War II. Two books that I have been meaning to read are John Dower's Embracing Defeat and Herbert Bix's Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. Those two books could provide some more illumination to the subject.
My opinion of Yasukuni Shrine is that if the shrine is to continue, it should only honor the average, common soldier who fought and died for Japan. If opinion polls in Japan are to be believed, many in Japan feel the same way. Perhaps what is needed is a secular monument to Japan's fallen. Take away the Shinto-as-a-state religion that currently plagues Yasukuni Shrine once and for all. There have been such proposals before, but, due to typical Japanese inertia, nothing ever comes of them.
As for people like Hideki Tojo and other "war criminals" like him, why should they, the people who gambled and lost Japan's hard-fought empire, be honored?
Those people shouldn't be honored with anything. The last thing Imperial Japan needed was a long, drawn out, destructive war. Instead, Japan's ruling elites should have focused more on consolidation, integration, and building up its established empire, an empire that spanned from Sakhalin Island and the northernmost Kurile Island to the Korean peninsula to Taiwan to all the way down to Germany's former Pacific Ocean colonies. That's quite a large area. Instead of keeping what they had, Japan's ruling elite chose to get involved with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, putting that empire at risk.
Honor and glorify the people who lost all of that?
I most certainly don't think so.
NOTE: You can read Li Ying's interview with The Asia Times here and here. I highly recommend reading both parts. They are very lucid reading.
All this week, I've been meaning to sit down and write some more blog posts because there is just so much to write about.
Unfortunately, I've just been swamped with all kinds of junk to do. My To Do List seems to get longer and longer and longer. Not only was I sick for a couple of weeks, but I'm just exhausted when I get back to my tiny apartment from a long day at work.
Last night, I actually sat down and wrote out a list of topics to cover in my blog. I had something like 14 or 15 topics that I want to get out of my system. I'm sure that I could think of five or six more possible topics while I write this sentence. Some future posts will be on serious topics; while others will be more esoteric in nature.
For better or worse, I like to do some in-depth analysis when it comes to writing posts. That's just the way I am. After all, I'm an analyst.
Anyway, I'm going to make an attempt to actually sit down and knock some of these blog posts out this weekend. I just might have to chain myself to my desk to get some of these done.
As I was finishing up work on my taxes, I went over and had a look at the News on Japan website.
While there, I found this article from The London Sunday Times about how the current economic crisis is affecting Japan.
Well, so far, the news isn't good. In fact, it's quite bleak. The statistics that keep coming out of Japan just keep on getting worse and worse and worse.
According to this article as well as other articles I have recently read about Japan's economic gloom, the number of homeless people in cities like Tokyo is starting to increase. The last time I was in Tokyo, way back in September 2005, I was absolutely shocked by the large numbers of homeless people I saw living along the banks of the Sumida River as I was leisurely traveling from Tokyo Bay to Asakusa Temple on one of those tourist boats on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It was unbelievable. I lost count of how many blue tarpaulins that had haggard people sitting underneath them. This was back in September 2005!!! My first experience of Japanese homeless was during my first trip to Osaka in October 2004. During my second night in Osaka, I went out and walked around the Osaka Station area. Near the Starbuck's located near Osaka Station, I walked past several homeless men sitting on the side of the street with their heads held low. That kind of shocked me.
In addition, the article also points out how Japan's suicide rate, already one of the highest in the world, will more than likely start to creep up as well. After all, according to statistics kept by the Japanese government, nearly 33,000 Japanese killed themselves in 2007 with nearly half of those unemployed. (It's right there in the article.) Predictable, isn't it?
Michael Zielenziger's book Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation goes into some detail about the difficulties of Japan's economic recovery since the 1990s (See Chapter 6, I highly recommend reading this chapter.). In addition, he also delves into just how mentally weak many Japanese really are. Let's face it, quite a few Japanese aren't very resilient when the chips are down. Many Japanese would rather kill themselves than to go out and receive some kind of counseling or therapy. After all, the thinking goes, only crazy people go see a psychiatrist or psychologist or counselor.
As the economic recession seems to go from bad to worse, there doesn't seem to be a lot of anger in Japanese streets. Recently, there have been some demonstrations in places like Osaka, Hiroshima, and suburban Tokyo from foreign workers living in Japan, especially those who are of Japanese descent but have, say, a Brazilian passport, for example. Zielenziger also goes into what he describes as the failure of Japanese civil society to keep the so-called Iron Triangle (politicians of the Liberal Democratic Party, the bureaucrats, and big business) in check. According to Zielenziger, most of what passes as Japanese civil society has, in fact, been effectively co-opted by the Iron Triangle. Many Japanese feel that no matter what they decide to do nothing will ever really change. The sad reality is that there are just too many vested interests inside Japan who want things kept the way they are, no matter how bad the economy gets or no matter how many people kill themselves because they are too ashamed to admit that they lost their job and are now unemployed.
Japan is ripe for change and the current economic recession just might be the catalyst that Japan needs in order to lay the groundwork for true and lasting reform. The latest opinion polls show that PM Taro Aso has a less than 20% approval rating (some go down as far as 10%). However, I don't see a general election coming anytime soon. My best guess is that the Liberal Democratic Party will hold onto power until the very end (this September), hoping that the economic climate will improve somehow, someway.
Getting back to Japan's workers, the article from The Sunday Times mentions that up to one-third of Japan's workers are temporary or contract workers. That's a staggering amount. It just goes to show how dependent Japan, Inc. has come to rely on temporary and contract labor. Japanese companies are reliant upon temporary and contract labor in order to subsidize those employees that are covered by Japan's famous/infamous system of lifetime employment. Clearly, the lifetime employment idea is an idea that really needs to be put to death... and quickly. Workers in other countries, such as the United States, have gotten used to the idea that lifetime employment is a thing of the past. It's time for Japanese workers to come to the same realization. Why should Japanese workers be different? Heck, I've had at least seven jobs since I've graduated from college. Now, I'm looking for a new job. So, take that.
It's no secret that Japan's economy is perhaps the most inflexible, most regulated, and most protected in the world, among so-called industrialized nations. Zielenziger goes into great detail explaining this in his book (see Chapter 6). As one American banker in Tokyo put it, in an article in the New York Times about Japan's infamous "zombie companies", Japan has gone from exporting winners to protecting losers. (That's almost a direct quote.)
What Japan needs, in my opinion, is a re-shuffling of the deck. It's time for these vestigial, out-moded, and non-sensical barriers to come down. It's time for Japan to open up economically.
Unfortunately, some of Japan's most powerful politicians, such as Mr. Ozawa of the Democratic Party of Japan, want to turn back the clock and re-trench failing policies such as lifetime employment and building all of those bridges and highways that lead to nowhere.
Well, it's time to start working on emptying my blog queue...
Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing the current war in Afghanistan in the class I help teach at Fort Huachuca. It's a timely topic as quite a few of the students in my class will more than likely end up being sent to Afghanistan. Recently, Yours Truly has even started to consider looking for a contractor position to go over there to get some experience as well as make, well, quite a lot of money.
Anyhow, I noticed recently over at GI Korea's website about recent rumblings coming from within the South Korean government about "sending troops to Afghanistan". On December 28, 2008, GI Korea had a blog posting in which the Donga Ilbo, that bastion of honest and truthful reporting [yeah, right], printed an article which claimed that the US government had asked South Korea to redeploy troops, especially "civil military operations troops", to Afghanistan. It's a very funny read. Are the people over at the State Department in Washington, D.C., high or something? Did they already forget that South Korea paid at least $20 million to the Taliban for the release of captured South Korean Christian missionaries? Plus, the fact that South Korea agreed to withdraw what little token force it had already had in Afghanistan.
The U.S. State Department are totally naive when it comes to South Korea. Apparently, the nameless, faceless bureaucrats with fancy degrees from places like Georgetown and M.I.T., who are accountable to no one, seem to think that South Korea is some kind of dependable ally or something. That kind of thinking couldn't be further from the truth. The South Koreans only want the "USFK gravy train", as GI Korea phrases it, to continue and to benefit them, while lambasting USFK in the South Korean media. After all, not too many people in the United States know what goes on in South Korea.
Anyhow, GI Korea does bring up a good point. There are quite a few countries, mostly NATO countries, who have military forces inside Afghanistan who are doing not a whole fucking lot. While doing some research about the ISAF, the so-called International Security Assistance Force, I found this really good article about ISAF over on Wikipedia, of all places. Now, I know that Wikipedia isn't the greatest resource out there on the internet since just about anyone, including idiotic South Korean trolls who have nothing better to do, can write articles, but, based upon what I know and what I've pieced together from talking to people who have been to Afghanistan, the article is largely correct and highly informative. BTW, according to The Economist, the joke going around Afghanistan is that the acronym ISAF stands for I Saw Americans Fight, not International Security Assistance Force. That's pretty damn funny.
What's especially striking is the map of Afghanistan that shows where ISAF forces are deployed. By looking at the map, one can see that the areas that experience the heaviest fighting are the areas that include American, British, and Canadian troops. These are the areas primarily located along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Away from the border regions, you will find other NATO countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and Norway.
Also of note are the troop levels that each country has contributed to this "international" operation. In addition, the author of the ISAF article has also included what each respective country is doing in Afghanistan. When it comes to actually carrying out missions against the Taleban/Al Qaeda, the only countries that seem to be involved are Australia, Britain, Canada, The Netherlands, and the United States, besides the Afghanis themselves. I would include France in this list, but I'm still not too sure what the hell they are doing other than sitting in Kabul, the capital city. Plus, I'm not too sure the French themselves know what the fuck they are doing there either, but that's just me. The Germans seem to be content building roads and drinking A LOT of beer in their sectors of Afghanistan.
It's great to see that it's pretty much the English-speaking countries taking the lead in what goes on in Afghanistan. Isn't how that typically is? There's not too many other countries that I would trust in a combat situation. I would be totally at ease with Australian, British, and Canadian troops. Heck, all we need to add to that list would be South African and New Zealand troops, but, hey, I've always been a British Empire fanatic.
Getting back to our fair-weather ally, South Korea...
On February 19, 2009, GI Korea posted yet another report about the possibility of South Korean troops being sent back into Afghanistan. According to The Hankyoreh, another shining example of fair and unbiased South Korean media, just like the Donga Ilbo, the ruling Grand National Party, or GNP, [the South Korean version of the Republican or Conservative Party, for those who don't know], is proposing to send South Korean "troops" back into Afghanistan. If the article is correct, the price tag for this "generosity" is for the United States to give South Korea high tech weaponry in return.
If that report is true, I'd turn down South Korea's proposal. Real allies don't demand access to high tech weaponry in return for sending what would amount to a token force that wouldn't do anything but sit in their barracks and play the computer game Star Craft or install thousands of toilets, which is what the South Koreans exactly did in Arbil, Iraq, for the better part of five years. Real allies don't engage in the kind of grandstanding that the South Koreans did in Iraq, while the armed forces of other countries perform the more dangerous and more hazardous missions. Real allies don't pay a multi-million dollar ransom to the enemy like the South Korean government did to free those Christian missionaries. Those missionaries had no business being in Afghanistan in the first place. Plus, their safety wasn't the responsibility of the United States. Real allies don't send troops and then expect some kind of unrealistic benefit as a result, which is what South Korea has a long history of doing. Real allies share the risk and the burden. They don't hide behind elaborate bases and then trumpet to the world what "great" things they are doing.
Again, if this report is true, then this is yet another example of the South Koreans trying to wring more concessions/benefits from the United States. The United States-South Korean "alliance" is rotten from the top down and all the way to the core. Make no doubt about it. It's absolutely true. I was stationed in South Korea for four-and-a-half consecutive years. The more I discovered the truth about USFK and our "allies", the South Koreans, the more disgusted I became.
Doug Bandow, of The Cato Institute, in a famous article about US-South Korean relations from a few years ago, wrote that the Pentagon never met a military alliance that it didn't like. It's so absolutely true, especially when it concerns South Korea. The Pentagon are really good at justifying everything and anything when it comes to South Korea.
The United States government takes it up the ass when it comes to South Korea. Uncle Sam doesn't get a whole hell of a lot from South Korea. It's all one way traffic toward South Korea. They take and take and take, while we get very little in return. A good example would be the recent proposal from the South Korean government to offer goods as payment for the stationing of USFK as opposed to paying cold, hard cash. What, the world's eleventh largest economy (I heard that so many times in South Korea, so it must be true.) can't afford to pay for its own defense? Too bad. I guess you don't need that tripwire after all, I'd tell President Lee Myung Bak.
Well, guess what. It's time for that to change.
If the South Koreans aren't willing to send troops to Afghanistan to serve in actual combat, like the Australians, the British, and the Canadians have, then it's time to further re-evaluate this so-called alliance. As far as I'm aware, our true allies don't make the same never-ending demands that the South Koreans seem so bent on doing. Have the Canadians or Australians or British ever asked for anything in return like the South Koreans always seem to do? If they have, I'm certainly not aware of it.
It's time to end the USFK gravy train for South Korea. This corrupt sham of an "alliance". No more shady weapons deals for the South Korean military. No more tolerance of spying on USFK by the South Koreans. No more tolerance of South Korean hypocrisy on just about anything and everything, such as "crimes" committed by US personnel as well as the sex trade inside South Korea, for example. It's time to either relocate USFK to either Yokosuka, Japan, or over to Hawaii. The sooner, the better. That will fix those little ingrates in South Korea.
Furthermore, contracts to supply troops in places like Afghanistan or Iraq shouldn't be awarded to companies from countries that don't have troops performing meaningful operations (e.g., combat) inside the theatre of operations. It's just that simple. No more more of these cynical displays of what the South Koreans did in Arbil, Iraq or what they are now attempting to do with that tiny hospital at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. No troops on the front lines doing the dirty work, no contracts. That means no more LG or Samsung or any other South Korean product inside the PX (Post Exchange, the US military version of a department store or a convenience store where soldiers can buy things tax free) in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Lastly, before I forget, I should mention Japan's contribution to the war effort in Afghanistan. Japan's contribution has been pathetic to say the least. The last I heard or read, the JMSDF, Japan's navy, had a supply ship and a frigate operating in the Indian Ocean supplying ships belonging to ISAF. Several months ago, there were rumblings in the Diet that Japan was going to undertake a feasibility study of sending troops to Afghanistan. The Japanese government ultimately decided not to send troops to Afghanistan due to popular opinion as Japanese continue to bury their heads in the sand. Furthermore, Mr. Ozawa, the current leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, and other pacifist wimps like him, such as the numerous pacifist groups who somehow believe that Japan is committing war crimes by supplying the ISAF, should read the first sentence of the Wikipedia article about ISAF. Doing so might just change their mind about how the war in Afghanistan somehow lacks approval from the United Nations. But then again, this denial about ISAF not having a mandate from the UN is just a subterfuge from the DPJ to force a new general election, as Ampontan has pointed out numerous occasions on his blog. As for Mr. Ozawa and his tactics, all I can say is that you're playing with fire.
It's been a couple of weeks since I last wrote a blog post here on my blog, so I have a lot of catching up to do.
The month of January, and going into the first half of February, was a complete washout.
Until about a week ago, I was sick for most of January. The initial symptoms were itchy eyes, itchy throat, sore throat, headache, chills up and down my spine, extreme heat sensations, the inability to sleep, and a hacking cough that never seemed to go away. At times, it seemed as though my right lung was being crushed inside a C-clamp. Plus, I just had a severe lack of energy to do anything. For a while there, people at work thought I had pneumonia or something like that. In fact, many people at Fort Huachuca were diagnosed with strep throat. Anyhow, it took me nearly two weeks to see a doctor about what was going on.
If what my doctor said is correct, then what I had is an allergic reaction to pollen from a desert plant known as the desert broom. Due to the unseasonably warm weather we've been having here in Sierra Vista, AZ, this and other desert plants have been pollenating. So, in other words, I have some allergies. Who knew that? I always thought that I didn't suffer from allergies. The next time something like this happens, I'll just take the shot in the ass and move on.
As a result of being sick for so long, I'm being crushed under the weight of all of the things that I need to do. I need to do my taxes. I need to do start work with my financial planner. I need to get started on my absurdly long reading list. I need to get caught up on my blog postings. For example, I made a horrible attempt at writing about Li Ying's film about Yasukuni Shrine, but it was incredibly lame. This was probably due to being so incredibly sick, so stay tuned. I mentally write and re-write that post on a daily basis. Among the many other things on my incredibly lengthy To Do List (that just seems to increase exponentially on a daily basis), I need to start looking for a new job.
Basically, I just need to do a thorough spring cleaning of my entire life, especially in regards to fighting depression. After reading the first few chapters of Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-Cybernetics, I came to the re-realization that I have a really do possess a rather negative self-image of myself. Plus, I have a HUGE inferiority problem in regards to other people. Where these things originate from, I don't know, but they are there.
It's going to be a long struggle, but it's a struggle that I must win.
To quote the excellent song by former Japan frontman (and one of my most favorite artists), David Sylvian, it's time to "Let The Happiness In" and enjoy life. Speaking of letting happiness in, it's also time to re-start listening to the Holosync program as well.
The song can be found on David Sylvian's excellent 1987 solo album, Secrets of the Beehive. The album also features a re-recording of the famous David Sylvian-Ryuichi Sakamoto song "Forbidden Colours" from the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto, but that's for another time, another post.
Well, this was supposed to have been a short post, but you how that goes...