Skya explains that, in WW2, the Italian enemy was Il Duce, the German enemy was Hitler, but the Japanese enemy was simply called “the Japs.” And this wasn’t all just racism: Japan didn’t have any obvious evil leader or evil system that the Americans could insult. Their whole fascist, warlike discourse was carried on at such a high level of abstraction that you would have needed a PhD. in religion to even begin to guess who was responsible for making the Japanese go crazy. Skya’s central point is that Shinto ultra nationalism is the equivalent of Nazism or Fascism.
His book examines how the Shinto religion went from being a sort of mellow religion in the late 1800’s to a super-patriotic, theocratic religion after the Meiji Restoration, and then morphed into a totally apocalyptic cult in the ‘20s.
Originally Shinto was an animist forest religion (The tree had a god, the river had a god, that rock over there had a god, the crayfish in the river had a god) made by stone-age village people. It was something that the average peasant or hunter-gatherer knew about and used in their daily life. So how did this very down-to-earth common-people’s religion get turned into this super-esoteric, mystical, secret-rites-in-back-rooms, tons and tons of procedures and pomp-and-circumstance religion whose purpose was to separate the people from the Emperor? I would have liked to have read a chapter on that.
My – totally guessing – answer to that question is, Shinto was done in by its own syncretism (syncretism is a fancy word meaning, you already have a ton of gods, so it is no problem to add more gods and more layers of belief): since the emperor gets his power from Shinto religion, and we need to get the public to respect his authority, we’ll just keep adding more layers of pomp and mysticism, deliberately, to impress and bamboozle the masses.
But still, I can’t explain how a forest-and-animals religion came to require an emperor in the first place. Were the original emperors like the toughest warlords? And if so, how did they go from being tough to being ceremonial pawns of the shoguns for 1,000 years???
Anyway, Skya explains he got the idea for writing this book when he read about the “May 15 incident” when Shinto radicals assassinated the prime minister, and attempted to overthrow the democratic government.
“I wondered whether political assassination had become an acceptable form of behavior in the minds of the Japanese people (by the 30s). The fact that the lawyer for the terrorists presented over one hundred thousand letters appealing for clemency, and that thirty thousand holders of the golden kite, the highest military decoration, signed a petition, says something about the mood of the Japanese masses at the time. Where was the outrage over the killing of a prime minister? These kinds of things could neither be explained or condoned by the “regular” kind of Shinto of the early Meiji period (late 1800s).”
Foreigners have never really studied wartime Shinto before because they assumed it was meaningless propaganda. And Japanese never studied it because wartime stuff is still taboo. But according to Skya, wartime Shinto was not just propaganda, it was a major force that motivated the decision to invade Asia and go to war with America, so it must be studied.
Skya also says his book is relevant to today’s problems re: Islamic terrorism. The militant Shinto solution is different, but their complaint is the same as jihadists: westerners, materialism, modernism and decadent rich must be smashed! A cosmic, global clash of civilizations is inevitable.And so on!
Good points of the book: explains why the Meiji Restoration oligarchs bothered to have the window-dressing of a constitutional democracy, and how the super-anti-communist right-wing emperor guys could ALSO assassinate major capitalists and want a state-planned economy . . . while stabbing any legislator that was not in favor of an immediate land war with Russia!
Bad points: Although this book is about super exciting extreme violence, it’s also super tedious at the same time: a full ten pages are devoted to explaining the differences between CONSERVATIVE Shinto ultra nationalism, REACTIONARY Shinto ultra nationalism, and RADICAL Shinto ultra nationalism .That should give you some idea. (short answer: the first two don’t approve of assassination).
Also the book is too much about ideas, not enough about how those ideas affected the average people. Skya’s interpretation of history is like:
STEP ONE: certain very esoteric, philosophical books are written
STEP TWO: ??!???
STEP THREE: Japanese people are ready to conquer the world and commit suicide
This leaves me with four questions:
ONE – Do these obscure intellectuals’ ideas really drive the behavior, or just justify it after the fact? Did important people just decide to go to war and dismantle democracy, and then get some pencil-neck geeks to make some justification for it?
TWO – Skya says a dozen times that Shinto ultra nationalism was a very public movement dedicated to propagandizing the public, but how did that process actually work? And, were people really convinced by the rhetoric, or merely scared shitless to respond to it?
THREE – Other books on that time say that at that time, there was unemployment, high taxes, high rents, and families so poor that they sold their own daughters into prostitution (!?!). Skya includes none of this. Considering that these extreme economic- and daily-life circumstances would make people more receptive to extreme ideas (either for or against the emperor), he should have spent more time putting the Shinto propaganda campaign in the context of the people’s daily lives.
FOUR – He makes no mention of the distinction between regular Shinto and state Shinto (see above). And he doesn’t explain why none of the guys who influence national policy to be more Shinto, to be more theocratic and less democratic . . .why are none of these guys actual Shinto priests? In fact, all the guys Skya profiles are lawyers. Weird. Other books, such as Bix’s and Seagrave’s biographies of Hirohito, stress that the emperors are constantly surrounded by a retinue of Shinto priests, viziers, courtiers, and household managers that basically run their entire life all bird-in-a-gilded-cage style. I was surprised that none of those guys made a run for the money.
A recurring theme of the book: guys saying “If we do such-and-such, democracy will result” or “If you believe such-and-such, then by implication you believe the Emperor is mortal”. . . AS A WAY OF DISSING SUCH-AND-SUCH.
“(my opponents think) that our national state the Emperor and the people are not different in kind: the emperor is a man , the people too are men”
“If one says that we have a right to participate in the enactment of the constitution, this is to assert that sovereignty resides in us.”
It’s like OOOH , SHINTO BURRRN!!!! Seriously, there are parts where I have to re-read the quotation half-a-dozen times to comprehend that it’s actually an ANTI statement.
Another, related, theme: ultranationalist guys taking the most negative stereotypes of Japanese (obedient, illogical, putting the group before the individual, xenophobic, and deliberately stripping foreign concepts of their values to make them more Japanese) , and saying, “Yeah, we are like that! We’re all totally just like that, and that’s what makes us so rad!”
It’s like a bunch of Jews who decided “Hey, why don’t we write our own protocols of the elders of Zion?”
Skya’s Characteristics of militant Shinto:
Organicism : You're not an individual, you're a cell in the body of the state. All Japanese are part of one family. What is good for your emperor or elites must therefore be good for you as well. Unlike other totalitarian states, we are not imposing rules top-down by force. In our state, everyone has the same vested interests. Everyone who is not a dirty commie traitor, anyway.
Irrationalism : Ok, the economy is fucked and everyone is corrupt. And we have no plans for reform, what to do with interest rates, taxes, or land reform. Our only plan is killing motherfuckers. But if we restore the emperor to absolute power he’ll fix it with maaaaaaagic!
Unlimited expansionism, and A tendency to pursue total destruction or global rule :
God created Japan specifically to take over the world! Or die trying! Anything less is turning our back on the Imperial will, and is thus blasphemy.
Total absorption of the individual into the collectivity: Self-interest and individualism are decadent, Western notions. A famous slogan of that time was: True Shinto enlightenment means dying to yourself, and being reborn in the emperor!
Or, as another example, let’s look at the 6-point program of the fascist group Keirin Gakumei (Society for the Study of Statesmanship):
1 – realization of the ideal of the whole nation beating as one heart through ideology
2 – enhancement of national glory through the mobilization of the entire nation
3 – the resolute enforcement of national militarization based on the premise that each and every individual in the nation is a soldier
4 – the creation of a national economy through the control of capital and labor
5 – the establishment of a nation of one people through the administration of a public welfare system and the preservation of the national characteristics of the nation,
6 – the adoption of a nationwide system of elections.
All this talk of “society-is-more-important-than-the-individual”, “democracy sucks”, “bow to authority” and “everyone should be the same” make me wonder, exactly how is Shinto theocracy different from communism??? I mean, aside from the religion thing.
Well, communists emphasize that everyone had different vested interests, and were obsessed with rooting out the impure: for instance they weren’t just purging the rich and the spies, they were purging fucking “middle peasants” and “upper middle peasants” . . . basically anyone who had more than one cow was marked as a class traitor!
In contrast, radical Shinto was designed specifically to make people believe they all HAD the exact same vested interests, rich and poor alike. The commie paranoia was absent. People with radically opposing vested interests were portrayed as on the same side, provided they had a) pure blood , and b) correct attitude. This way society would be finally free of the class and political animosity that had divided it. No longer would the rich landlord exploit, no longer would the poor commies try to revolt. Everyone would be one happy family under the Emperor.
Why is right-wing fascism is anti-rich?
Skya quotes Breuilly, a scholar of fascist movements:
"Fascism is a radical, anti-bourgeois, anti-liberal, anti-Marxist movement.”
Huh??? That sounds crazy! Anti bourgeois, AND anti Marxist? Well who DO they like? The Easter Bunny??? It sounds crazy, but I keep hearing that same definition over and over in different books. How can commie-hating right-wingers also hate the rich and capitalism?
Traditional right-wing authoritarian governments are like, the king or dictator and his oligarch buddies decide everything in smoke-filled back rooms. But fascism (Italy, Germany, Spain, Italy, wherever) was a new style : a PUBLIC movement, where populist leaders appealed directly to the masses:
“Fascism comes into its own at times of intense popular involvement in politics and the breakdown of established political parties. In place of traditional conservatism, parliamentary politics, or working-class victory, fascists offer the vision of a strong and united nation whose heroic leaders pursue a glorious and expansive foreign policy. The rejection of class, party, and elite politics leads to the idea of the nation as a classless, party-less, permanently mobilized organism bound together by blood or language or “folk values”, which are made known to and expressed through extraordinary leaders, who are “just doing the will of the people.”
OK. So that’s why. They weren’t against the rich or capitalism per se, they just hated anyone who put their own interests or agenda ahead of those of the country – which included commies AND corporations.
The guys who overthrew the shogun (and the old system of feudal rule) did it in the name of the emperor (and therefore of Shinto, because the emperor was a Shinto god). But why did they choose Emperor as their symbol?
Breuilly to the rescue once again:
Very diverse elites ranging from reactionary samurai in the domains to enthusiastic westernizers in the imperial court co-operated, at least for a time, in a common opposition to the Shogunate. The “rule-by-emperor” system provided a ready-made alternative to feudal rule. Continuity, the confinement of politics to elites, the diversity of elites involved, and existing institutional alternatives – all were reflected in the artificial, syncretic ideology of emperor loyalty and the restoration of Shinto religion which were used to justify the Meiji restoration.
OK, so they needed an Emperor. So why then did they make a democracy also? Even if it was just for show, didn’t they realize that it totally contradicted the whole “restoring the emperor to ultimate power” narrative they worked so hard to establish?
The answer (is this book rad or what?): Most of the key members of the collective leadership long before the coup were aware that almost all of the powerful western states had constitutions and were convinced that this was a key element contributing to their state power. The oligarchs for the most part had resigned themselves to granting limited popular participation in the affairs of government in the hope of obtaining broad public support from the educated subjects for government policies and the long-range goals of the state. In other words, the oligarchs sought to use liberal institutions for conservative ends. And equally important factor: the oligarchs were aware that constitutional government was a minimal requirement to gain acceptance by the western powers and rectify the unequal treaties imposed by them.
THE MEIJI CONSTITUTION
. . . is important because the ambiguity of constitution allowed radical Shinto ultra nationalism to flourish.
In the West, a constitution would have to spell out clearly who was to be in charge: the democratically-elected legislature or the emperor (not to mention the prime minister and the military!). And that would mean the four factions would have to fight a total civil war, to get their preferred constitution approved.
But in Japan, to preserve the peace, the oligarchs who wrote the constitution resorted to two classic Japanese tactics: ambiguity and montage. The constitution didn’t say anything about checks, balances, or who was responsible for what! I mean it did, but you could interpret what it said any which way.
The ambiguity means that each conflict between factions would have to be solved in some backroom deal, on a case-by-case basis. From the point of view of the oligarchs, this was fine, because THEY were the ones who had the power to pick all the cases!
And the “montage” part was: keep the existing emperor system and lay an entire, fully-formed constitutional democracy right on top of it.
This is traditional behavior: for example, Japanese kept their whole Japanese language and added 10,000 Chinese Kanji to it, and then added Engrish on top of that. Another example: religion! Everyone simultaneously believes in Christianity (for weddings) Buddhism (for funerals) and Shinto ( for seasonal festivals). So why not systems of government too? It didn't seem contradictory at the time, I guess.
However, after the oligarchs got old and retired or died, the natural conflicts between the military, emperor, ministers, and legislature spiraled out of control. And that caused the government to grind to a standstill. The government needed a definite non-ambiguous leader who could say CUT THE SPEECHES, YOU DO THIS! YOU OVER THERE, FIX THAT!
A lot of citizens wanted to make it a real democracy, and a lot of other people wanted the emperor to run everything directly. Both solutions would solve the ambiguity problem, and get government working again . . . but either way, half the population would be totally pissed. The frustration caused both sides to embrace more-and-more radical solutions, dividing the nation even further.
Nakae Choumin, chief Liberal Party ideologue, characterized the Meiji Constitution as a “strange creature with one body and many heads.”
You got this “institutionalized irresponsibility” where – even when very strict rules and extreme militarization is being handed down to the masses, at the top it’s like no one has their hands on the wheel. It’s authoritarian but strangely passive. All the different parts can act with total autonomy as long as they don’t contradict each other in public.
Anyway, let’s look at the structure of the Meiji government, with emphasis on why no one was ultimately responsible for bad decisions, and why no one had the power to shoot down truly terrible ideas:
Privy Council (枢密院 Sūmitsu-in) – made of secret oligarchs.
Not responsible because: they really run things – they answer to no one.
Can’t ever contradict Emperor because : he’s their legitimacy.
Emperor (天皇陛下 Tennnouheika) –
not responsible because: descended from God, and therefore never wrong.
Can never contradict Privy Council because: they installed him in power.
Not responsible because: merely implementing Emperor’s orders.
Can’t ever contradict Emperor because : outranked.
However, once they have been given a law or program to enforce, they can run wild with it and take it in crazy directions. Or, as Skya puts it, “Given the tacit understanding that the emperor could not constantly be directly involved in the nitty-gritty politics in ruling the state, the ministers’ formal accountability to the emperor and not to the parliament meant in fact that they were accountable to no one but themselves.”
Cabinet (内閣 Naikaku)
same as ministers???? Or what?? Someone please help me out here. . .
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH (国会 Kokkai)
Not responsible because: it is not allowed to propose laws or budgets on its own.
Can never contradict Emperor because: outranked.
Intentionally given the exact minimum of power for Japan to qualify as a “constitutional Monarchy.” Namely, parliament only has the responsibility to APPROVE laws and APPROVE the budget that the executive branch comes up with. It can’t propose laws on its own. However, parliament can waste everyone’s time debating, and bring the government to a total standstill, thus forcing the executive branch to make some concessions.
Although nominally “elected”, only 1% of the population could vote. And even then only for the lower house (upper house: nobility only!). So that could explain why no one really cared when politicians got assassinated all over the place in `20s and `30s.
PRIME MINISTER – (elected official ??? is he even legislative or executive??) in charge of the Cabinet. Has no authority to fire Cabinet members who go off the rails, knock off his hat, etc. Basically he is just there in case someone needs to be assassinated.
Not responsible because independent of legislative AND ministers, basically a country into itself. Can in fact overthrow the legislature any time, and they know it.
Can never contradict Emperor because he is the “supreme commander of armed forces”.
But they can act on their own and then tell the Emperor afterwards, “Just FYI, we totally invaded Manchuria. So um was that OK? We figured you’d be cool with it.”
Complicating matters further, the elected politicians weren’t saints, either (despite representing Western-style democracy). They were corrupt, and they tended to reject anything proposed by the other parties just out of spite, even if the proposed bill would be good for the country. Sound familiar?
So, who to blame? Mr. Itou Hirobumi, one of the most powerful oligarchs, and the main force behind writing the Meiji Constitution, made sure article one of the constitution was:
"The empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of emperors unbroken for ages eternal."
And Article three was: "The emperor is sacred and inviolable."
However, it's clear he didn't believe that. He just found the emperor a useful tool to "unite the people." Let's check his speech to the other oligarchs, given while they were still in the process of writing the constitution:
""In Europe, religion is the foundation of the state. The feeling of the people is deeply penetrated by and rooted in religion. In our country, however, the religions represent no important force. In our country what alone can be the foundation is the Imperial House."
The most influential anti-democracy, pro-theocracy, Shinto writer of the late Meiji and early Taisho period.
Here is Hozumi in a nutshell:
(traditional Shinto doctrines) +
(family concept of the state) +
(organic theory of society) =
Put in real-world, non-abstract terms:
(fundamentalist Shinto says emperor is god, therefore perfect, and all Japanese are his biological children)
(therefore all Japanese are special, and should obey him as they would their own father)
(therefore the individual should, like a catholic or Buddhist monk, erase their own identity in humility before god, and exist to serve society)
(the Emperor should control the Cabinet and we don’t need to vote or have a parliament)
There! Simple enough?
Amazing Hozumi quotes:
Democracy was “an invention of humans” and therefore “unnatural” and against God. God created nature, and god created the first Emperor, therefore theocracy was natural and pro-God.
On constitutional democracy:
“If the constitution is determined by the sovereign , then we as subjects cannot use the constitution to restrict the sovereign.”
“If one says that we have a right to participate in the enactment of the constitution, this is to assert that sovereignty resides in us.” ( mind-blowing: he said that to DIS democracy, not to advocate it!)
This is what I like about Skya’s book: not only does he explain the mind-numbing, angels-on-a-head-of-a-pin religious philosophizin’ in a way that ties it to real-world politics, he also describes it SO WELL I find myself thinking, “Hey, that’s pretty logical! ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR! ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR!”
Even more retarded: all this anti-democracy, “No one but the emperor should shape how the country is run” stuff is written by a guy without a speck of noble blood, who is not the emperor, trying to influence how the country should be run.
Kind of like how ‘70s USA anti-feminist women like Anita Bryant would get paid large sums to travel the country without a husband, running their own PR firms, in order to tell their audiences how feminism is bad and women should not be free.
Skya even answers my down-to-earth question: WHY did anyone care what the fuck Hozumi thought?
Well, he went to a prestigious university, and then got a job as a Professor of Constitutional Law at an even MORE prestigious university. Also the Ministry of Education got him a gig revising the national textbooks to be more pro-emperor, which gave him a captive audience of all the kids in the country!
HOZUMI AND THE KOKUTAI DEBATE
Any book you read about Taisho or Showa era Japan is going to blather on about “the kokutai” debate, and chances are the book will leave you more confused than you were before you read it. This is because most Japanese history books define “kokutai” as “national polity”, WHICH , ALTHOUGH THOSE ARE BOTH ENGLISH WORDS, IS NOT A PHRASE WHICH HAS ANY MEANING, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES THEY REPEAT IT.
I’ll save you the trouble of reading about any of these very tedious debates: Basically what it all comes down to is: the cabinet! The cabinet advises the emperor, who proposes laws.
Is Japan’s kokutai going to be a democracy (in which case, the legislature controls the cabinet) or a totalitarian religious state (the Emperor appoints the cabinet himself, and they order the legislature to rubber-stamp his decisions).
Skya’s book is the first book I ever read to actually define the word KOKUTAI in a meaningful way: kokutai means “the place where real power is located in any given country.” Not just Imperial Japan has a kokutai. Communist countries, democracies, and monarchies all have kokutai!
The shape of the kokutai is different depending on who the fuck really pulls the strings. In a monarchy: the KING is at the top of the kokutai. In a communist country, the Party Central Committee is at the top of the kokutai. In a democracy, the common people, represented by the elected President, are on top. And in Japan’s unique kokutai, the Emperor is rocking it.
OK. So, what defines Japan’s unique kokutai, Mr. Hozumi?
One: Emperor at the top!
TWO : BLOOD
Japanese citizenship is limited to natives – people who are descended from the emperor and therefore from God. (to give you some idea of how fucking off-the-hook Japan was in the ‘20s, this racist, fascist notion was enough to get Hozumi labeled as a PANTY WAIST, LATTE-SIPPING LIBERAL because it seemed to say ‘don’t conquer all of Asia, since they don’t have that Japanese DNA’). WTF ‘20s Japan!!!!
three : the UNBROKEN CHAIN of emperors.
Hozumi said the creation myth (the Emperor was born by the goddess Amaterasu… And he gave birth to all the Japanese people) was a historical fact. Not only did this make all of Japan one big family chosen by God (thus the whole ‘blood’ thing), but also it made Japan the ONLY country on earth whose kings were ALL sons of the previous kings. Unlike Russian Tsars and dumb-ass French or English Kings, or those wacky Chinese kings.
Most nations started out run by Kings descended from God, with divine right of rule. Hozumi acknowledged this. But he said, “According to the rules, if your king gets overthrown by some other guy who declares himself king, you’re out. Unbroken chain foul!
Or if your king doesn’t have a boy child, and so they get some royal person from another country to be your new king, you’re out.” (I imagine Hozumi wearing a umpire uniform and making dramatic gestures with a whistle to emphasize this point).
“Not only is your country out of the rule-by-a-living-god-destined-to-one-day-rule-the-planet business, but you are doomed- DOOOOMED to democracy and liberal humanism. LIBERALLLL HUMANNNISMMMM, OOOOOOHHHH!!!!!!!”
four: THE FAMILY THEORY OF STATE.
Since all Japanese are children of the emperor: they shared his special, unique-in-the-world blood-tie to God. Not only that, but (unlike other racial-purity fascist regimes like Nazi Germany) the Japanese people had a personal debt to the emperor. They OWED HIM bigtime.
This is different than Rule #1 because it means that people are in a hierarchy. Mom is superior to the daughter. Older daughter is superior to younger daughter. Dad is superior to everyone else. This is as god and nature intended. But don’t worry – mom wants the best for her daughter. Dad wants his family to grow up big and strong. Everyone has the same vested interests. And you owe dad. He brought you into this world.
Quoting dude: “The family is a small state. The state is a large family.” This “family-state” philosophy would get increasingly pernicious in the ‘30s and ‘40s: people would be asked to kill and die for the emperor in a way they would normally do only for their own close relatives.
Two other things, however, are curiously ABSENT from Hozumi’s discourse:
ONE: He seems totally unconcerned with specifically WHAT the emperor would do with his unlimited god-given authority. Even more: he was unconcerned with what the emperors HAD done throughout their 2,600 year reign. IF they had divine superpowers and unlimited political clout, what the fuck had they ever done during the last 2600 years? “Who cares, it’s the principle of the thing.” Seems to be his answer. Who the fuck even thinks like that? Seriously????
TWO: For all his talk of “blood ties” and “the volkisch, ethnic traditions that make Japan unique and superior”, he seems to be utterly unconcerned with actual ordinary Japanese folk culture or people, except as replaceable interchangeable parts used for glorifying an emperor who never does anything aside from exist. He never talks about folk customs, superstitions, festivals, nicknames, fairy-tales, or anything. Suspicious, if you ask me!
No academics have ever pointed this out. Once again, I scooped them! In your face.
Also wild: the emperor himself (his flesh and blood) was not important. The flesh-and-blood body was just the current earthly incarnation of the Amaterasu goddess. The THRONE was the important, unbroken, thing.
Quoth Hozumi: “The throne is Amaterasu of this world. Thus to worship the throne is to worship Amaterasu. The throne is the source of state law and state religion.” Not so important to everyday politics, but important if YOU LIKE HAVING YOUR MIND BLOWN. Also it explains why the fact that emperor Taisho being clinically retarded did nothing to diminish the growing fundamentalist Shinto frenzy.
1910 – Hozumi publishes his main book, KEMPOU TEIYOU (Handbook on the Constitution of Japan)
In this new book, he talks about the seitai.
If kokutai is the place where power is situated (i.e. emperor), SEITAI is the apparatus by which the ruler’s will is carried out. Ten states with the same exact kokutai (democracy, imperial rule, communism, secular fascism, etc.) can still have ten different SEITAI; different ways of implementing their policies. (for example, elected legislatures, bureaucracies, religious councils, regional fiefdoms, etc.)
Why is this important? Because – to radical Shinto guys – the Emperor gets his power from the “emperor-on-top”-shaped Kokutai of Japan. So if he stops being the supreme leader EVEN FOR A SECOND, it’s game over: he loses his god-powers, AND Japan is doomed to democracy FOREVERRRRRR. Therefore, Hozumi has to explain why the current Meiji system (power shared by Emperor, army, legislature, and ministries, power of Emperor limited by constitution) is NOT a change in the kokutai.
And his answer (wait for it) : the kokutai didn’t change, just the seitai. And that’s why seitai is important.
Which brings me to another weird thing about Shinto ultra nationalism: despite their obsession with the total all-powerful god-king, they also think he’s really weak. Like how Superman can beat up the Hulk, but a 3-year-old girl with a fistful of kryptonite can stomp a mudhole in his ass.
As far as I can tell, it all comes down to this: merely being the earthly incarnation of a sho-nuff Goddess by itself doesn’t mean SHIT. For him to really be powerful, the kokutai has to retain the same form that it’s always had (the ‘unbroken chain’ rule). And, as we’ve seen above, Japan’s kokutai consists of 4 things: 1) a theocracy, 2) a pure-blood nation, 3) the unbroken chain, and 4) a nation where everyone is the same family with the same traditions
Besides the whole “If he stops being supreme leader for even a few seconds. . . ” thing (rule #3 foul), here are some other kryptonites his Highness has to beware of:
If too many foreigners are let in, the kokutai changes: Japan is no longer an ethnic nation (rule #2 foul =Kryptonite)!
Or if too many Japanese lose their traditions, that’s a rule #4 foul = also kryptonite!
That’s why right-wingers tend to get so rabid about culture-war issues that – to regular folks – seem really symbolic and superficial: too much foreign culture will alter the kokutai. And if the kokutai changes, the Emperor loses his god-powers. You’d think that – being a divine being, he’d just perform a few miracles until the average Joe believes in him again. But no.
Which leads me to this:
If people stop believing in him, he loses power. I guess that’s true of all religions and fairy-tales, but Shinto openly acknowledges this, which is amazing. ANOTHER SUPER BASIC FACT THAT ALL THE ACADEMIC HISTORIANS NEVER REALIZED UNTIL I TOLD THEM IN ALL CAPS.
Hozumi’s “organic theory of society” is particularly gnarly. The individual is reduced to an interchangeable, no-identity-having, replaceable part who should be sacrificed for the good of Society. In Shinto thought this is called “goudou seizon” (literally, fusion or amalgamated existence” (merging of the individual into society)).
And this explains the lenient treatment that communists and anti-emperor guys were given in fascist Japan. In other fascist countries, such people would be instantly executed or sent to slave-labor camps. In Japan, it was inconcievable that they could not be "rehabilitated", inconcievable that they could not be re-absorbed into society. They were just kept in jail until they "realized" the errors of their ways. This process of "conversion" was called tenkou.
The most famous, influential proponent of democracy at that time. Unfortunately Minobe’s rational, common-sense approach makes this chapter the most boring one in the whole book.
Like Hozumi, Minobe also went to elite Tokyo Imperial University and also traveled to Germany to study more about modern government. Like Hozumi, Minobe went on to teach government and law at a university, and also work for the government (Hozumi in the Education ministry, Minobe in the Home ministry).
Minobe is usually presented as the good guy because he wanted to limit the Emperor’s power and give more power to the legislature. But in his own way, he’s nuts. Mostly because he listened to Germans.
Hozumi thought the emperor WAS the state, period.
In contrast, Minobe followed the German philosopher Hegel, and Hegel had this crazy idea that “the state” was a “real, organic, independent personality, and sovereignty rested not in the monarch or in the people but in the state itself. As an individual organism the state consisted of different organs with separate functions.”
And – Minobe decided – in Japan's case, the Emperor was one of those organs.
It doesn’t matter that Hegel was barking mad. What matters is that Minobe’s theory of a powerless, figure-head emperor was saddled with the totally awkward name of “EMPEROR AS ORGAN THEORY”.
And not just in the English translation, either!
As a Professor of Constitutional Law, Minobe had to use every ounce of his legal training, German logical philosophy skills, and professorial gravitas to justify his ORGAN interpretation of the constitution.
His solution? Ignore the parts that were “written wrong.”
Or, as Skya more charitably puts it, “For him, the constitution did not accurately reflect the essential law of the Japanese state and the historical conditions of the times. It contained laws that needed to be corrected. Minobe asserted that “the constitution had flaws because the men who established the constitutional system were ignorant or careless of the principles of constitutionalism.” In other words, although the founders of the constitution sought to establish constitutional government, they did not fully comprehend the idea of constitutional government.”
Other weird things about Minobe:
Despite being the most pro-democracy guy, he refused to say that the people were the source of all political power – preferring instead to use an elaborate legal gymnastics to justify the emperor as sole sovereign of Japan, who just happened to be a figurehead.
Also, the “emperor as organ” theory came from Germany. And the Germans actually invented that theory to PREVENT democracy from breaking out in Der Vaterland: limiting the power of their king, so as to prevent a violent revolution which would, if successful, have made Germania fully democratic.
However, his basic point was pretty sweet:
The Emperor is infallible, so he should not be held accountable for any dumb political decisions. And the only way to prevent this is to make politicians – specifically ministers and cabinet members – responsible, so as to spare the emperor. This meant two things:
This had two implications:
One : the parliament (who is accountable to the voters) should control the ministers, and fire them if they give the emperor bad advice. This because the ministers aren’t infallible, so they had to be put in check somehow.
Two: Instead of the ministers just rubber-stamping the emperor’s decisions, they draw up the plans and the emperor rubber-stamps it.
Anyway, shystey tactics aside, Minobe’s “emperor-as-organ” theory gradually overpowered Hozumi’s “emperor-as-the-dick-I’m-riding” theory to become the dominant theory of the elites. Politicians, pundits, and professors all pretty much agreed Minobe was right. And, Skye hints that in the ‘20s the legislature even got the power to control the cabinet.
WHICH IS REALLY IRRITATING AS FUCK, WHEN YOU CONSIDER THAT SKYE SPENT THE ENTIRE LAST 50-PAGE CHAPTER INSISTING THAT THE ULTIMATE CONFLICT WAS OVER WHO CONTROLLED THE CABINET. And now he just sort of casually drops this bomb halfway into the last page of the Minobe chapter? I mean, come on.
Minobe’s theory was basically the consensus of all the elites, which makes it TOTALLY SUPRISING WHEN, IN 1935, HE IS SUDDENLY DECLARED TOTALLY CONTROVERSIAL AND HAS TEAMS OF RIGHT-WING NINJAS REPEATEDLY TRYING TO ASSASSINATE HIM!
What the fuck happened?
Basically, he got Fox Newsed!
See, his theory was the consensus among the ELITES. And his (Shinto) enemies finally had the bright idea of taking his theory to the MASSES, via the newspapers.
Minobe’s theories, which had been dominant for years, were suddenly re-cast as “The Minobe affair” – a scandal!
And, proving that Fox didn’t invent a damn thing, the media didn’t go after Minobe’s idea, but a really shitty, straw-man VERSION of it. See, at that point in time, the masses were really beaten down by high taxes, rapacious landlords, widespread unemployment, a huge gap between rich and poor, and some scary-ass commies threatening to unleash a bloody revolution at any moment.
The average workin’ Tanaka was pissed as hell, and looking for someone to blame. And here came the newspapers with:
“The Emperor has been made powerless! He has been stripped of his power by MINOBE, an elite, latte-sipping, brie-eating professor who thinks he knows what’s better for Japan than you! The emperor has been surrounded by a bunch of corrupt ‘advisors’ who treat him as a puppet, and that’s why the country is fucked up. Because of this MINOBE, pencil-neck, intellectual, emperor-castrating, Son of a bitch!”
Diet member Kikuchi Takeo denounced Minobe in the legislature in 1935 in one of the most preposterous speeches ever given by a politician: “(Minobe’s books) emphasize the influence of actual circumstances and vigorously expound logic and the law of reason”
Kikuchi said this to DISRESPECT Minobe.
Kikuchi said this IN THE LEGISLATURE, WHOSE WHOLE PURPOSE IS TO HAVE DEBATES.
Way to go , 1935 Japan. Imagine a parliament demanding “ALL POWER TO THE EMPEROR! WE DEMAND LESS POWER! TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS! TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS!”
What could account for such a spectacle?
ONE: regulatory capture a la USA : the House of Peers was all nobility, and even the Lower House was elected by the richest 1% of the population (no one else could vote) – so they tended naturally to side with the monarchy.
TWO: politicians not wanting to be held responsible for the shitty state of the country : if they are nothing but a rubber-stamp committee, so much the better!
THREE: Raw fear of right-wing assassins (the Minobe Affair was just 3 years after the prime minister got stabbed to death).
Suddenly Minobe became Van Jones, Jerimiah Wright, Acorn, and every other bogey-man.
The more astute right-wing politicians made use of this anti-Minobe media blitz to take pot-shots at democracy and the constitution in general: restore the emperor to absolute rule, or else Minobe wins! That’s the only solution!
After narrowly dodging several ninja attacks, Minobe was forced into early retirement and fled.
This chapter of JAPAN'S HOLY WAR is tricky because it’s pretty clear that Skya thinks Ikki is a little bitch. Which he totally is, but if you’re a professor, you should be able to clearly explain the ideas of people even if you don’t agree with them.
Bloggers, on the other hand. . .
Skya manages to dis Ikki in the introduction, before the book even starts: “Western historians think Ikki is all that, but only because he’s the only pundit to have his stuff translated into English.” Oh schnapz!
Then, in the Ikki chapter, Skya doesn’t give even a brief bio, birth/death date, or any reasons why people paid attention to him (which he does for the other thinkers).
Third, although Skya spends a whole chapter summarizing Ikki’s socialist views, he doesn’t mention class, capitalism, money, or anything else socialists yap on about. Here’s Skya attempting to explain Ikki’s politics without mentioning, er, politics:
“Ikki thought Japan was a socialist country, because it had more than one person, so there was a society of people in it.”
I mean, huh?
I was like, “Is Ikki just that batshit insane, or is Skya deliberately making him sound dumb?” (answer: both. But according to the main book on Ikki, homeboy DID talk about politics and capitalism ALL THE TIME in his works, so shame on you, Skya).
Skya only talks about Ikki’s 1906 book, Kokutairon (On the Kokutai and Pure Socialism). So I’m basically writing a review of Skya reviewing Ikki reviewing the Meiji Constitution and Hozumi’s book. What a circle jerk.
Also, kokutairon wasn’t even Ikki’s main book. The main book had totally different politics, so WTF.
Here’s Ikki’s main thing: he’s not a traditionalist like Hozumi or a Democracy guy like Minobe. He’s a dirty commie!
“He expressed profound disappointment in the fact that the Japanese people had been unable to reap the full benefits of political and social equality opened for them by the Meiji Revolution because of their ignorance regarding the true essence of the modern Japanese state.”
In other words, Japan in 1906 was already a Socialist paradise, but only Ikki knew it yet. WTF.
It takes balls to thank the semi-feudal, semi-capitalist oligarchs, “Thanks for making Japan into a commie country,” but it takes even bigger balls to then tell them, “But fuck you for not doing it right! This is the worst socialist paradise ever!”
“Interestingly, Kita maintained that the responsibility for this state of affairs was not the fault of the emperor himself. Rather, he accused the collective Meiji leadership of treachery in sabotaging the cause of the revolution. To obscure the real nature of the state, Kita argued, the oligarchs, in their construction of the modern Japanese state, had transformed the emperor into an object of blind devotion and worship, a “clay figure” as he put it.”
Kita took aim at Minobe AND Hozumi: Kita said both democracy and theocracy were bullshit, because democracy was based on INDIVIDUAL rights, and the emperor was a single INDIVIDUAL. And – according to his wacky theory of history – the Stage of Individuals was over, and the Stage of Societies had begun, therefore only Socialism was valid.
“The state, in other words, was a gigantic organism that existed and evolved according to its own biological purposes.”
Although again, I’m quoting Skya’s version of Ikki, and I already showed you Skya likes making Ikki look batshit. Near as I can make out, Ikki believed that government bureaucrats should control everything, since “the State” (i.e. government) was to him the same thing as “society.”
Which again cracks me up.
Here’s Ikki, a guy with radical opinions, a crackpot if you will – he’s nothing BUT a unique individual. And here he is saying, “The age of the individual is over, now it’s time for us to become interchangeable parts in the collective.”
Here’s a guy trying to single-handedly remake government (at the age of 23, no less!), and saying “Democracy? Fuck that! Individuals shouldn’t have that kind of power to change government, only the collective.”
At least the government banned his book! Take that, you puny individual!
One can only assume he was overjoyed.
OK, enough picking on the poor bastard. Here’s a paragraph where Skya allows Ikki to make sense:
“The Meiji revolution of 1868 was a momentous event in Japanese history. In Kita’s evolutionary theory of the Japanese state, it. . . represented a fundamental change in the kokutai as well as the seitai. It gave birth to the (democratic, non-feudal) nation-state. Thus, the kokutai had changed from a patriarchal kokutai to a nation-state kokutai, and the old, aristocratic seitai became a new democratic seitai. Kita was convinced that the Meiji revolution was successful in overthrowing the Tokugawa feudal system due to the collaboration of the emperor and the people.
By “the people,” Kita meant those who had participated in the countless peasant uprisings at the end of the Tokugawa period, as well as members of the lower-ranking military aristocracy. The fact that the emperor was involved on the side of the revolutionaries to overthrow the military class may have made it appear as if the new state were a monarchial state, but this was not the case. Kita maintained that the emperor and the people had acted together as constituent elements of the state on the basis of absolute equality to overthrow the old regime and establish a social democracy.”
To which I say, if “the peasants” were involved in “countless” uprisings in the name of socialism , why wouldn’t they remember that Japan was supposed to be a social democracy? Why did they need Ikki to tell them? Did they forget? Were they on some Sideshow-Bob-becomes-mayor-of-Springfield shit: “Oh, all that. . . stuff I did”?
Like many shit-disturbers, Kita is at his best, his most sensible and dangerous, when he is ripping apart the beliefs of others:
He took Hozumi’s Shinto beliefs, identified the core principles, and one-by-one poked holes in them. SMACKDOWN!!!
Cave-men lived in small egalitarian tribes, they didn’t have emperors. Your “unbroken lineage” was broken FROM THE BEGINNING.
Until the Fujiwara period, the title “emperor” essentially referred to whoever was the strongest authority, whoever possessed the land and the people of Japan. And in the Kamakura period, the emperors struggled with the shoguns for power, not ruling absolutely.
Filial piety and ancestor worship:
In Japan’s feudal times, ancestor worship and unbroken lineage – the 2 pillars of Hozumi’s theory – actually worked AGAINST the power of the emperor. Here’s how: the warring clans , each vying for domination of all Japan, were more loyal to their own chieftains because of the respective chieftains’ lineage and because they shared ancestors with their chieftains. Nobody gave a fuck about the emperor at that point.
Article 27, bitch: “Japanese subjects shall, within the limits of peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.” So Shinto is not superior to any other religion, so the Emperor, as leader of Shinto, is just a regular guy under the law.
The importance of Pure Japanese blood:
It means Japan can’t conquer other countries, since their populations could never be part of Japan. Also, Japan had never been a 100% ethnically homogenous state. In ancient times, several emperors had brought Asians into Japan and naturalized them, thus not only blowing up Hozumi’s myth, but also using his own “because the emperor said so!” logic against him. Good show, sir. Well played!
Ikki’s conclusion: his interpretation of the constitution was, the emperor and the parliament together constitute the highest organs of the state. But, he believed that the State itself was the ultimate power, ruling over both. I have no idea what that means. But I can tell you THIS: despite being a radical, Ikki not only believed in the constitution, he wanted the emperor in the top tier of a socialist government.
In the early Taisho period, the common people start demanding a political voice. In Japan, this was a totally new thing. Maybe Ikki was right about the Meiji Restoration changing things more than the Restorers realized!
ONE: there is now mass media in Japan, allowing opinions to be broadcast and bringing news of many foreign ideologies
TWO: they are nominally living in a democracy, but since only 1% of the people get to vote, the politicians don’t even bother to pander to them. Thus, they’re a bit irked.
THREE: they have better education than in feudal times (necessary so they can learn these fancy new industrial machines) and,
FOUR: they are pissed about the outrageously high taxes which were levied on them to pay for the rapid industrialization
This mass democracy movement did two things: it took the “kokutai debate” out of the colleges and bureaucratic meetings, and put it on the front page of the newspapers. And this media-ization made both Hozumi and Minobe’s theories kind of irrelevant:
Hozumi’s “The commoners are just tools or objects of the emperor to do with as he pleases, democracy is against god!” was not going to play in the mass media.
And Minobe’s “We need a strong legislature, but only if they work alongside a divine emperor” was not a big hit with the new secular, pro-democracy crowd : the masses had outraced the once-radical intellectual scholars.
So how did the new generation of constitutional scholars deal with this new mass-movement?
Well, first of all, it required a new, more radical Shingo thinkers who were good at getting word out to the masses (particularly the armed forces!). These new-school guys all had different attitudes but they excelled at one thing: taking public anger at feeling powerless, and channeling that anger against the one thing in the country that could empower them: the democratically elected government!
Somehow they were able to convince folks, “You want power? You want to vote? You want to change the country? Well, I’ll give you the ULTIMATE power: to become one with the emperor! It’s easy: just abandon your ego and desires!”
In other words, this new philosophy of self-dis-empowerment and total war was phrased as a very positive, uplifting message: You're important! You matter! The fate of the world rests on your shoulders! Without the help of each and every Japanese, the emperor can’t carry out the will of the gods! In other words, every average Joe can feel part of a giant historical, cosmic mission that they play an essential role in. This helped persuade a lot of people.
Explaining how they were able to do these mental gymnastics will take a long time, but it begins with a single word:
MINPONSHUGI! (people-ism) The idea that the government was supposed to work for the benefit of the common person (or at least make noises to that effect!)
This buzzword was so popular, it was used by BOTH SIDES of the democracy debate.
Here’s how the pandering went down:
Uesugi (the most radical of the pro-Shinto guys) saw his task as to prove that Shinto ultra nationalism was capable of adapting itself to modern society and convince the politically awakened masses that Shinto ultra nationalism, just like liberal democracy and socialism, had a program relevant for them. This meant repudiating his teacher, Hozumi. Like a true politician, Uesugi kept Hozumi’s anti-democracy, fuck-the-people goals, but concocted a whole new media-friendly rationale for it:
“Only through Shinto, emperor-based democracy can we have true power for the people, because the emperor (unlike elite politicians and oligarchs) is bound to help his family.”
To Mr. Yoshino (the most important new-generation pro-democracy guy) minponshugi meant that
“Although sovereignty resides in the emperor, that doesn’t mean that he is the only person who engages in politics. He has to consult others. It is therefore not wrong to consult the opinions of the public instead of a small select group of people. If sovereignty should stay strictly only with the emperor and no one else, the oligarchy also has to be looked as being unconstitutional.”
He went on to say that even though the common people aren’t super smart and don’t know a lot about politics, they can still tell if a politician they elected kept his promises or not, and on that basis alone they are qualified to have the right to vote.
In Kita Ikki’s case: nothing!
Kita Ikki doesn’t give a flying fuck about pandering to anyone, he’s keeping it real. Oh but he switched from far left wing to far right wing fascism without a word of explanation to anyone. Huh? He wrote a new book, called An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan, which spooges out, in great wonkish detail, how a new, improved Japan would be run, after the revolution.
He was still anti-Shinto, although he believed the emperor should be retained as a figurehead : the emperor belongs to the state, which is the people.
Which reminds me, here’s another difference between “old-generation” thinkers and “new generation” thinkers:
Although the old-generation guys (Minobe, Hozumi, and Kita) were on opposite sides of the kokutai debate, they still had one thing in common: they were policy wonks.
Each in their own way was trying to answer the same question: how can we get this fucking country running again with a single, non-ambiguous authority?
The new-school Shinto guys, however, had no interest in how their proposed new government would solve down-to-earth problems like inflation or taxation: “Once we restore the Emperor, he will use his god powers to solve everything . . . . despite not having ever done that in the last 3,000 years of strife and warfare.”
Also, the new-school Shinto guys had an explanation of the Emperor’s god powers!
The Emperor is not just a living god – he’s THE ONLY HUMAN WHO IS DEVOID OF SELF-INTEREST OR SELFISHNESS, TOTALLY UNBIASED. That’s why everything the country of Japan does is inherently moral!
Not exactly raising the dead or water-to-wine, but maybe a little more interesting.
Unlike the bad politicians, capitalists, communists, and westernized individualists, the Emperor loves each of his children equally. And that’s why, if we all become more like the Emperor, we don’t need government or rules. If you need food, I’ll give you mine. If you need a job, I’ll give you one. If you need someone to get stabbed several times in the head, I’ll handle that shit. And you’d do the same for me. That’s why I have the moral authority to start a violent revolution and take over the country: because I’m the only guy who isn’t perusing an agenda! (insert do-do-deedleedle-doop-de-do circus music here)
This idea was an extreme version of what the old-school Shinto guys had been saying all along: we’re not trying to take over or impose an authoritarian government. Fascism means one powerful person imposing HIS vested interests on weaker people. But, according to the radical Shinto-ists, everyone in Japan has the same exact vested interests. That is part of our kokutai, that is what separates us from other, dumber countries. And that’s what makes OUR fascism fair and not authoritarian at all.
All these guys thought that. Where the new generation (Uesugi and Kakehi) differed from the old generation (Hozumi and those before him) is this:
Old generation: The Emperor is mysterious remote figure, so far above you that you can’t even look right at him. He gets his authority from being the patriarch, the father of Japan. And your dad is your family’s patriarch, so obey your dad.
New generation: you know what? Fuck your family. Fuck patriarchy! (ironic but true, they consciously decided that!) Nothing must stand between you and the emperor. The emperor is not a remote guy up in heaven, the emperor is INSIDE YOU. You can never get away from him. You are part of his Japan-sized soul, and your mission in life is to submerge yourself into the emperor till there is no distinction between him and you. When you finally cease to exist altogether, then you will be enlightened.
Of course! What’s a jihadist, religious revolution without a theory of martyrdom?
Sacrifice for the good of the country was a holy act, proving your dedication to the emperor. Your only reason to live is to “improve” your spiritual life, and improving meant moving closer to the emperor – eliminating your individual consciousness. And dying in battle is sort of a short-cut to enlightenment : nothing eliminates consciousness like the grim reaper!
Side note: in Christian belief, you are supposed to get rid of your ego too, but in order to accept Jesus in your heart. He comes to you. In Shinto, when you get rid of your ego, your soul sort of drifts into the emperor. He’s like a cosmic egg with all the souls of Japanese people sort of swimming to him at all angles like sperm. Let that visual sort of sink in.
Finally, since the New Generation thought that everyone has a personal, unmediated link to the emperor, everyone had a moral responsibility to work to improve Japan, and take initiative. It’s the “take initiative” part that led to all the assassinations. Did I mention there is going to be LOTS of assassinations?
This was a big break from the traditional, patriarchal, “all you people just wait for instructions from above” brand of Shinto; a new idea of Shinto which was relevant in the age of democracy: “Everyone in Japan has a moral responsibility to act proactively to improve the country. Put another way, the only way to improve yourself (achieve enlightenment, etc) is to improve the nation.”
Also, this “take initiative” concept, plus the fact that the emperor at the time was a no-fooling retard who was kept locked away and thus couldn’t be a charismatic Il Duce / Hitler figure . . .these 2 added together account for the fact that there were 100 different overlapping here-today-gone-tomorrow rightwing groups, instead of one unified force (like the Duce’s blackshirts or Adolph’s brownshirts).
Anyway, how did new-school Shinto guys think of foreign countries?
In western, democratic countries, on the other hand, everyone was an “individual,” pursuing their own self interest. If one wins, the other loses. Remember, this was just after the unbelievable horror WWI, so this kind of argument made a lot of sense at that time. Even though it conflated European royalty’s imperialist ambitions with democracy and free speech. But still.
Uesugi said, other countries (including Asia) were ultimately ruled by “mechanistic” governments – devoid of spirituality, without any real love and altruism to unite the people, and that’s why those other countries never had stability, never had an unbroken line of emperors stretching back to the beginning of time, like one country we could mention. Individualism and zero-sum, mechanistic thought was why the rest of the world was doomed to eternal war and dis-harmony.
Thus it was up to Japan to save the world. (not just the usual "we have the right to, since we're the best," but the rather more looney, "We have a moral imperative to take over the world! Anything less is a betrayal of our gods!")
And this was TOTALLY ABSENT from shinto thought as late as 1910. Hozumi was anti-imperialism. Think about that – between '10 and '35 or so, the main point of the main religion of the country TOTALLY CHANGES.
Of course, like you can guess by now, Uesugi graduated with a law degree from Tokyo Imperial University, and taught there from 1912 on. He also had the requisite government gig, instructing the navy cadets on the meaning of patriotism. Which is exactly what you want the most radical cleric the country has ever seen doing.
Like other Imperial University law teachers, he wrote books saying that direct imperial rule was going to eliminate social conflict and help the regular people, by making things equal.
Unlike other Imperial University law teachers, he also had a side job: founding right-wing militia after militia! (spoiler alert: He was the brains, they were the muscle). Unlike Uesugi's books, the militias were ALL ABOUT increasing social conflict. And instead of making people equal under the emperor, the mobs were anti-democratic, clandestine organizations that tried to change history radically without the consent of anyone outside their dozen followers. Including the Emperor.
Busy guy, Uesugi.
This guy is supposed to be the most radical of them all, so I expected some real foaming at the mouth ranting. Instead, I got METAPHYSICS. So dry and well-reasoned.
Here is “Shorter Uesugi:”
STEP ONE – “One’s individual being, as a constituent element of “being as a totality,” had movement. This moment of being related in a cause-and-effect relationship to the movement of other beings in a spatial environment , which is called man’s sokan. And, the interrelationship with other beings in a spatial totality in time, which is called man’s renzoku.”
STEP TWO – 100 more pages of same
STEP THREE – stabbing.
You gotta admit, that’s a pretty persuasive argument you got there.
“Good lord, man! Stab someone? I’d go to jail! My wife would leave me. What the – seriously, you want me to end a human life because of a spatial totality of time, which you call my renzoku?”
“No, my son, no. A spatial totality IN time. I said, IN time.”
“Oh for reals? My bad – hey where’s that sword? Somebody tell me where that motherfucker lives.” *walking off, waving sword and muttering* “IN time, not OF time, you idiot . . . !”
Fortunately, Skya was nice enough to summarize Uesugi’s main points, for those of us whose sokan exists in an interrelationship with not giving a fuck.
Uesugi’s philosophy seems to be an extreme version of the usual Japanese “the individual gets his or identity from the context of the group which he or she is in.”
But where Uesugi differs from other fascist “group/government is all ! individual is nothing!” thinkers is that, in HIS conception of the group is everyone is equal (except for you-know-who!).
So, all kidding aside, how was this egghead able to motivate and organize dozens of hard-knock assassins and terrorists? Because, he had a “street version” of his doctrine. (remember how Minobe refused to simplify his theories for mass consumption, so in the end he got Fox Newsed? His opponents made up the “street version” of his doctrine, and they simplified and distorted it to make him look like a jerkwad in the media? Well, it seems the Uesugi was way ahead of Minobe in terms of controlling your message). The street version was, THE PEOPLE SHOULD BECOME ONE WITH THE EMPEROR. Easy, small words, a positive message, but vague enough that it could be interpreted to justify almost anything. Perfect!
Hozumi thought that regular people are just the Emperor’s children so they should just wait for orders. Hozumi really liked hierarchies because the family is a hierarchy.
Kita Ikki was on some commie, “the individual is just a little cell in the body of the government”
Kakehi Katsuhiko (who we’ll get to later) agreed with Uesugi that everyone – high and low – had a responsibility to act on their own to improve Japan. However, Kakehi ultimately thought that social hierarchies (your boss / your commanding officer / etc.) were good, because the upper people achieved their high status by being closer to the very top (closer to you-know-who!)
Uesugi was more like, every person or institution which stands between individuals and the Emperor must be destroyed. They’re profiteers, middle-men, parasites! Not only that, but they're bending our kokutai out of shape, giving it an obese spare-tire of beuracratic flab. We have a moral duty to eliminate them, and then we will rebuild Japan from scratch as a utopia. I believe the catch-phrase of the time was : “Eliminate the wicked advisers, corrupt politicians, capitalists, and weak-kneed bureaucrats!” Keep in mind, the widespread unemployment, starvation, poverty, and total inability of government to cure same.
Is the problem that the pro-Shinto Powers that Be won’t let government do its job? No, clearly the problem is TOO MUCH democracy!
And since the Emperor is infallible, loves us all and wants us to prosper, if the country is in bad shape, SOMEONE MUST BE GIVING HIM BAD ADVICE.
Well now you ask, if everyone is equal, then why should they destroy their individual identities and submit to the emperor? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction? That’s where Shinto and the kokutai (*sigh* again with the kokutai!) comes in. Because what sets Japan apart from all other countries is they all share one spirit, one blood, one family.
If you took away the laws and government in, say, Russia or Germany, people would soon fall into a state of savagery, a Hobbsean war of all against all. But in Japan, everyone would help their brothers and sisters, anarchist-style, just out of the goodness of their hearts – BUT ONLY IF THEY FIRST RECOGNIZED THAT THEY WERE NOT INDIVIDUALS but part of the single nationwide soul that was Japan. By putting the group first, total peace and harmony can be achieved. After the bloodshed and massacres, of course.
And once Japan has been made into a heaven on earth, we have a Shinto duty to share this earthly paradise with Asia. And after that, everyone! Yaaaay! You know what? let’s not even wait for earthly paradise to come to Japan. Let’s just start a bunch of wars now and then work on that peace-and-love shit later.
The big guy! The single most influential radical Shinto guy. What’s his secret? All of Uesugi’s “let’s take over the world!” holy-war enthusiasm, with none of Uesugi’s “destroy the corporations and government!”
Kakehi believed in using worldly, flawed, secular institutions to further his radical fundamentalist program, and this proved wildly popular with – wait for it – the powerful people. He was a close confidant of the empress, lectured to crown prince Hirohito in 1926 (while he was regent).
Interestingly, he became a radical FIRST, and THEN got his big government connections. Which makes me think maybe the government was just using him to rationalize decisions they’d already made, contrary to Skya’s thesis.
Also, Kakehi backed the winning fundamentalist army faction (the control faction), and Uesugi backed the losing faction (cherry blossom society), which got shut the fuck down after their failed coup attempt. Did I mention there’s going to be lots of coup attempts?
But anyway! How did Kakehi get so influential in the first place? Tokyo Imperial University, maybe? Law degree? Studied in Germany, perhaps? Government job lecturing the elites?
Everything but the “studied in Germany” bit. Instead, Kakehi had something even better on his resume: actual knowledge of Shinto! While Hozumi focused on the kokutai, and Uesugi obsessed with “being as totality” and “renzoku” and “stabbing”, Kakehi actually read thousand-year-old texts about Shinto rituals and fundamentals.
Kakehi wasn’t just concerned about Japan becoming too democratic, he was concerned that modern kids these days were out of touch with their roots.
Most of his writing was the same-old “Japan is swell” stuff. . . but Kakehi’s twist was a phrase he invented:
Isshin doutai, which means “being of one heart and the same body.” It meant not just blood and family ties, but: rich and poor together, high and lower class together, with the same vested interests. (this is how he could tolerate the government and corporations, unlike Uesugi). Moreover, isshin doutai meant a unity throughout time. This is a difficult concept for me. I think it ties in to the whole “unbroken chain of ancestors” thing, but applies it to everyone, not just the Emperor. It’s almost like all your ancestors exist with you in the here-and-now.
Imagine the guilt!
Furthermore, the Emperor is a “universal person” because he sort of holds the souls of all Japanese. Since he was the first Japanese soul, and everyone else, living and dead, is his direct descendant, it’s like Japan only has one, eternal, giant-sized soul, and you share your soul with your ancestors. Deeyamn.
Also, unlike other “Shinto ultranationalists,” Kakehi actually referred to Shinto mythology.
Heaven is called kannagara-no-michi, earth is Utsushi-you, and hell is Yomo-tsu-kuni (or yomi-no-kuni).
And Kakehi’s take on this is that, if everyone worked together and “became one with the emperor”, we could achieve kannagara-no-michi right here on earth.
Furthermore, and here it gets kind of migraine-inducing, Kakehi interprets the individual kanji of Kannagara-no-michi and “discovers” another meaning to it: “to praise and realize the inherent state of being of one heart and one body, while preserving from ancient times the proper relationship between superiors and inferiors.”
In other words, the kokutai. How convenient!
However, don’t think of Kakehi as some egghead who just talks theory. In fact, he was better at pandering to the soldiers and farmers than anyone else, another secret of his huge influence.
“All the Taros and Jiros (like saying, all the joes and jacks) were created by the grace of the emperor”. He continued: “Lower ranking people must respect their superior officers if they feel obliged to the emperor. Your superiors , you should regard as a substitute for the emperor. Furthermore this applies not only to soldiers but civilians.”
So he supported hierarchies, but Kakehi’s hierarchies were not like Hozumi’s traditional “because I’m the daddy and I say so” hierarchies.
Kakehi’s hierarchies were motivated by “Isshin doutai,” meaning one heart, one body: the leaders would not coerce the masses, they’d all work together of their own free will, because same soul and all that. This was supposed to make it more palatable to the now-politicized masses.
He also talked about how farmers had the traditional mutually-supporting one-heart, one-body lifestyle. This might seem like the bare minimum of pandering in Tea Party America, but Skya doesn’t report any of these other elite scholars even bothering to do basic pandering besides the occasional cry of “Minponshugi.”
Kakehi’s justification for conquering the world:
The gods themselves created Japan to save the world by conquering it, so as to bring everyone the eternal peace and harmony of "one body, one soul."
So how does Kakehi solve the ole’ “What do you do with foreigners after you conquer them – they’re part of your empire but they can’t ever be part of your kokutai” contradiction?
You’re going to love this!
We Japanese are unique because we rule without force and coercion. We all have the same vested interests. But since foreigners lack the Shinto spiritual one-body, one-soul nature, and they don’t understand that we Japanese are acting selflessly . . . therefore, we will have to rule them with force and coercion. They can’t ever be citizens, just guests or objects. But by using enough force, we can keep them peaceful forever.
Amaterasu is not only the ancestor of Japan but of everyone on earth. But even though these fallen, foreign humans can never ever be part of our family again, even though I personally forbid them from even going into Shinto temples. . . we Japanese still have a duty to re-absorb them and restore the world as it once was.
Keep in mind, unlike Ikki or Uesugi, this guy was considered mainstream.
TERRORISM IN THE LAND OF THE GODS
The aftermath of WWI showed the western countries going democratic and or communist, and all abandoning their own monarchs. Domestically the masses demanded the right to vote. And the elected officials were demanding a right to be more than a rubber-stamp. Where will it end? Since the public was pretty cool with all these changes across the board, the only solution left was assassinations.
Beginning around 1930, all hell breaks loose. The average lifespan of a sitting prime minister was like two weeks and change. Typical reasons given were: he believes the emperor-as-organ theory, he voted against going to war with china/Russia, he signed a naval treaty with the evil British empire, or the ole’ Uesugi favorite: just by existing he is keeping the emperor from being one with the people.
Plus the president of Mitsui Bank and the president of Yasuda corporation got killed. Show me another “fascist” country where THAT happens. (and don’t you wish that Skya would have said why specifically those two were targeted?)
Fuck that! I’m going internet on this one.
According to an online Time Magazine article from ’33, the president of Mitsui was Takuma Dan, and he was killed because he sold the yen short when Japan went off the gold standard. According to this other report, the yen “depreciated 30%” as a result, meaning that average people lost a third of their measly wealth, but Mitsui made millions. The article then goes on to say that the following year, the yen depreciated ANOTHER 30%, this time “mainly due to Japan's aggression in China and resulting diplomatic isolation.” So the very military that the assassins backed was equally to blame.
As far as the Yasuda assassination, here’s all I could find:
In this tense atmosphere, Zenjiro Yasuda was not a respected man. He had been accused of profiteering after the Russo-Japanese War. In 1921, the same year Prime Minister Hara Kei was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic, Zenjiro Yasuda was killed by a disgruntled visionary incensed by the financier's refusal to fund a workers' hotel.
Also, according to Wikipedia, the “workers’ hotel” was a right-wing extortion scam, to which he refused to “donate” money. And, he was Yoko Ono’s grandfather?!?
It’s kind of irritating because, after saying 100 times, “These radical Shinto thinkers created a climate of terrorism,” Skya doesn’t explain anything about the terrorists or what their demands were, why they targeted certain presidents of large corporations (like commies!) and so on. So frustrating! Nor does Skya explain the average lives of people and the stresses they were under (from corrupt government and exploitative corporations and a bad economy), which led those average people to support the terrorists. He neglects to mention that there was a HUGE bout of unemployment and nationwide depression in 1930, the same exact year the assassination craze starts.
He’s just like, “Gosh, those must have been some persuasive arguments!”
Skya keeps saying that the root of the “radical change” in Shinto, from Hozumi’s day to Kakehi and Uesugi’s day was getting the masses involved. Getting them to support terrorism, as well as getting them to sublimate their “we just got the right to vote, we’re political!” attitude and change it into, “Yeah, we’re political . . .to help Japan and our leaders take over the world!” Getting them to see the emperor as their REAL parents, and die to protect him as they would die to protect their REAL parents. Well ok.
How did the radical Shintoists accomplish this propaganda campaign? Skya says that some of these guys lectured to elites or army guys and etc. . . . and that small terror cells killed politicians. But both of those are the OPPOSITE of public. As far as influencing regular people, wtf? Were they holding big Nazi-like rallies? Or what? Did they send postcards? It’s like Skya doesn’t even care about his own central thesis.
The terrorists – despite claiming they wanted to return to a traditional, emperor-centered Japan where everything was like it used to be – were frustrated that Japanese people (both in government and in general) refused to accept radical change. In this, they were just like westerners! Except instead of trying to sell cheaper products in a more efficient manner, they were trying to overthrow the government.
The coup plotters went from being right-wingers, to religious nuts, and finally to religious nuts who were in the army and had hundreds of guns.
They wanted to have what was called a “Showa restoration” (like the Meiji restoration of 1868, that toppled the corrupt feudal system and restored the Emperor to power). . . the Showa restoration would topple the corrupt democratic system and restore emperor Showa to absolute power. Coups kept getting snitched on before they were carried out, though. But the plotters would get ridiculously light sentences, like 5 days community service or getting licked by a poodle.
By ’35, right-wing coup plotters were killing each other over whose coup would ultimately be carried out!
The whole terrorism thing culminated in the February 26, 1936 incident, when a whole division of army dudes took over government buildings in Tokyo and killed a lot of the emperor’s advisors.
This coup was only stopped when the emperor himself said, “Actually guys, I kind of like being a figurehead . . . .psyche!”
The Feb 26 coup was carried out by the imperial way faction, and they lost, leaving the so-called Control Faction in charge of the military. But the control faction believed the exact same holy-war Shinto fundamentalism as the imperial way faction . . .they just had a bit more patience, and they were more down with working together with big business:
“the control faction opted for cooperation with capitalists and with the parliament, so long as it was amenable to army wishes. The control faction also took practical measures to alleviate some of the worst economic problems, which was a source of much social discontent, to ensure that the terrorist-driven insurgency would lose its base of support and not resurface again.”
In contrast to the Control Faction, here’s a quote from the manifesto of the Imperial Way Faction. It’s noteworthy because it’s the only thing in the whole book that even hints at the social/economic hardships faced by regular Japanese:
“in recent years many persons have made their chief purpose in life the amassment of wealth regardless of the general welfare and prosperity of the people, with the result that the majesty of the empire has been impaired. The people of Japan have suffered in consequence. Many troublesome issues now confronting our country are due to this situation . the elder statesmen, financial magnates, government officials, and the political parties are responsible.”
In a final dis to Kita Ikki, whose main claim to fame was that “He was the brains behind the coup”, Skya insists that the Imperial Way coup guys didn’t even like Ikki. Skya says that Ikki’s wonkish , “How shall we structure society after the revolution” policy detail was what appealed to the 1936 coup plotters, not Ikki’s anti-Shinto attitude. In fact, Skya says, the plotters had a lot more respect for Uesugi than Ikki and they were fervent Shinto-ists.
I should also point out that Ikki, not Uesugi, was executed for the plot.
So, ok. But how did these terrorists know what the emperor wanted? They never talked to dude. On one hand, it’s obvious: no one in Japanese history has ever given two shits what the emperor wanted. If they did, they would have let him have friends. They would have let him have a childhood. They would let him have five minutes of alone-time not structured by elaborate rituals. They would buy him a little noodle shop for him to run and chill when the day was done. Since the beginning of time, the un-official policy has been: do whatever the fuck helps you, and then claim you’re doing it in the emperor’s name.
So, yeah. We all know this. But. It’s amusing to see the mental gymnastics that these religious nuts have to perform in order to justify that their behavior is NOT just what I said above. So let’s check it out.
“I haven’t talked to him, but it’s clear that as a god, he must be against democracy and in favor of theocracy, so politicians got to go!”
And why stop there? Let’s go all the way down the crazy drain:
“Since I have broken free of the bonds of ego, vested interests, and western individualism, I have achieved unity with the emperor, and the emperor is without selfish goals. So that means that I am also without selfish goals, and also that my (sincere, selfless) goals must be His. And his goals are that I take over the government. QED.”
That’s more like it!
So what kind of society did these coup-plotter guys want, “after the revolution?”
“a political community consisting of the emperor on top of a highly centralized and industrialized state.”
To me that sounds like they were combining Kakehi’s highly hierarchical beliefs with Uesugi’s call to violence. As one would expect from army guys who were planning a coup!
What distinguished radical Shinto terrorism from “regular “ terrorism?
One – they only target specific guys. They don’t blow up civilians. This was, as you can expect, part of what made them such a hit!
Two – after committing their acts, they’d either commit seppuku or turn themselves in to the authorities. This was important, since in their religion, breaking laws or doing bad was only allowed if one is acting selflessly and for the greater good. (Actually, according to INSIDE THE KAISHA, this is a belief held by most Japanese to some extent). And remember, the emperor is the most un-selfish, benevolent, impartial and fair man ever. And so by killing myself, I show that I did my deeds with no thought for my own benefit, which must therefore mean I had “become one with the emperor” and thus I was carrying out His wishes.
Most of the officer corps had become indoctrinated with radical Shinto ideology (remember, Kakehi and Uesugi were paid to lecture to them!) , but they were not members of the control faction. So even after control faction took over, the unaffiliated officers kept planning coups, kept trying to overthrow the government! The solution: permanent war! War abroad to keep the peace at home!
Keep those crazy Uesugi-lovin’ motherfuckers busy killing Chinese.
MAKING HOLY WAR SEEM NORMAL
In 1937, the government’s radical Shinto ideas were finally put into a propaganda book called KOKUTAI NO HONGI (Fundamentals of the National Polity). It was designed to win over the hearts and minds of the population, and therefore everyone was required to read it or go to jail. Ha!
The book was what Skya called a “bloodless coup” :Where assassinations and terror had failed (very anti-harmony!) this book was able to make a national consensus (very pro-harmony!) and thus end the constitution debate once and for all.
And it solved the debate quite ingeniously: it said the constitution was meaningless, because no piece of paper was going to limit you-know-who!
So basically all the 5,000 words I typed about the constitution debates are now moot. Forget you read all that.
And guess what? KOKUTAI NO HONGI had no mention of Shinto rituals, chants, or everyday customs. What a weird theocracy Japan was!
Kokutai no Hongi started by denouncing the emperor-as-organ theory.
The book went on to say, OK, yeah, we DID get a lot of ideas from Asia. And we’re fine with that. Because we had thousands of years to “absorb and digest” those ideas, stripping them of all meaning which conflicted with our kokutai: individualism, universal values, and so on. But we’ve been influenced by western culture only for 80 years and haven’t had time to digest it yet, so it threatens our kokutai. So stop being western, you’re fucking up the whole country. And naturally, that “stop!” includes the western concept of considering your own best interests. Terrible, terrible stuff.
The book DID quote two Shinto creation myths briefly, the Kokiji and the Nihonshoki, but only to emphasize the emperor’s divine origins.
But the vast majority of the book seems to be bizarre, run-on sentences like this:
Our contributions to the world lie only in giving full play more than ever to our Way which is of the Japanese people. The people must more than ever create and develop a new Japan by virtue of their immutable National Polity which is the basis of the State and by virtue of the Way of the Empire which stands firm throughout the ages at Home and abroad, and thereby more than ever guard and maintain the prosperity of the Imperial Throne which is coeval with heaven and earth.
Which boggles my mind : this sounds like it was written by a schizophrenic scientologist. And this was supposed to simplify Shinto for the common man! How did average Japanese react to it? Did they roll their eyes? Of the gung-ho people that said “Fuck yeah this book!” how many of them even understood it?
Now, you may say, maybe it’s just translating it into English that makes it sound crazy. That’s a good point, imaginary reader who is still paying attention! But check this out : there was a whole bunch of “commentaries” written to “explain” this book. Any intellectual worth his diploma rushed his own commentary into print. So you tell me, smart guy: how effective was KOKUTAI NO HONGI as propaganda???
Consider this segment:
In our country there is no filial piety apart from loyalty, and filial piety has loyalty as its basis. When filial piety is elevated to loyalty, then for the first time it becomes filial piety. In China, too, importance is laid on filial duty, and they say that it is the source of a hundred deeds. In India too, gratitude towards parents is taught. But their filial piety is not of the kind related to or based on the nation. Filial piety is a characteristic of Oriental morals: and it is in its convergence with loyalty that we find a characteristic of our national morals, and this is a factor without parallel in the world.
The Japanese way of speaking is thought of as being very indirect, very ambiguous, and very polite. But here is some new shit: this book’s sentences are very strong, very unambiguous, declarative, like a textbook: we’re the best! This is the way it is! You have to know X,Y, and Z!
And yet! It’s very didactic and declarative, ABOUT ABSTRACT CONCEPTS, intentionally not spelling out the real-world implications of these concepts.
The word ‘loyalty’ implies ‘loyalty to the emperor’ . . .and by constantly comparing ‘loyalty’ to ‘filial piety’, they are saying you should be more loyal to the emperor than your own parents. It’s the worst of both worlds: an overbearing, brow-beating oratorical style that is STILL hiding the true meaning through abstraction and deliberate ambiguity.
Fuck you guys.
The other money quote:
In foreign countries, the life cords of the nation have been cut off through revolutions and downfalls, so that the spirit of the founding of the nation is disrupted and dies off, giving birth to another national history.
Therefore, when seeking to find the spirit of their nation, they have looked to general rules based on “abstract reason.”
Going further down the crazy-hole,Skya summarizes part of the book as follows:
The purpose of the Japanese nation was to promote harmony around the world. But at what price was this harmony to be achieved? Ultimately, (Japanese radical Shinto guys) reasoned that individualism was the main source of disharmony in the world of the 20th century. Accordingly, it had to be eradicated from within and from without.
So, even if foreigners can never be part of our Shinto “family,” we still have to conquer them so as to stamp out their “abstract reason”, logic, and individualism . .. that’s the only way to permanently stop these “undigested” foreign ideas from oozing over our own borders and disturbing our own harmony.
As far as rationales for world-domination goes, this has to be one of the most wacky. Not just war-for-peace (an old American favorite!) but conquering YOUR country, in order to restore OUR country to a state of isolation. We don’t want your money, your historical treasures, your slave labor. . . we just want you to stop harboring ideas of abstract reason and individualism.
Skya then talks about the commentaries.
One was written by Mr. Yamada Yoshio, who was quite a character! He wasn’t a Tokyo Imperial University guy, he worked as president of Kougakkan University, a theological seminary where they trained Shinto priests. In his own commentary, Yamada acknowledged that around a fourth of the Japanese population had foreign blood, but that was ok, because they had been assimilated both physically and spiritually : the same argument used about foreign concepts from Asia.
Yamada’s big breakthrough was taking the crazy, we-all-have-one-soul deal and making it more crazy: there’s a Shinto god called Ame no mi naka nushi no kami.
And this god is . . . hmmm, I’m not sure, exactly.
The god is like the personification of “the imperial throne.” And the “naka” part of the god’s name is the same character for “inside.”
But in a spiritual metaphysical, high-on-LSD sense, “naka” meant an eternal now, which we are all “inside”, forever.
In other words, in Shinto, the past and future are always with us. That’s why the whole “unbroken chain of emperors” and “forever pure bloodline” and “unchanging kokutai” are such a big deal: they seem to prove the concept of “eternal now” exists and is unique to Japan. And that means that the Imperial Throne exists not just all over the world, but all over time, and is constantly expanding like the universe, man!!!! Far out!
Yamada’s China-bashing had serious consequences. He started out with a reasonable claim: China did NOT have an unbroken chain of emperors. Right.
Then: at different times in history, any given Chinese state or city has been owned by many different kings or warlords. OK, sure.
And: unlike Japanese, Chinese don’t really identify with whoever is running their city at the current time. Well, maybe, if the rulers are dicks. But your point, Yamada?
Well, therefore China isn’t really a country. They don’t have a national identity. China is just some random cities that are owned by him, her, whoever.
So therefore: why would the Chinese mind if they got owned by US? I mean, fuck it. Why NOT us?
This helps explain why Japan sent an army of 350,000 people to conquer a country of a billion people. They seriously thought Chinese would be like, “Whelp, whatever. Here we go again. Here’s the keys.”
That decision alone might have cost Japan the war. Maybe they could have used some “logic” and “critical thinking.”
Furthermore: since it’s our destiny to run the world, anyone who says Japan can be defeated (for instance, an Army guy trying to concoct a sound battle strategy based on, say, minimizing the possibility of defeat or casualties) is a blasphemer! Japan has the blessings of the gods, it has never been defeated in war in its 2,600 year history!
Also, at the time, there was a popular propaganda slogan: hakkou ichiu. It meant “the whole world under one roof.” And whose roof might that be, I wonder?
Yamada explains the roots of the “whole world under one roof” expression:
What should be the work of the divine nation of Japan? As every person nowadays knows, it was clearly indicated in the imperial proclamation of emperor Jimmu (first ever emperor), eight strings make a house (hakkou o motte ie to nasu). What is a house? We can understand this when we look at our individual life. Even if ewe go out engage in various activities, encounter difficulties, and feel uneasy, once we go home, we can enjoy our own living there. Thus a house is a base where people feel at ease and carry on their lives. The “eight strings” means, “in all directions” I believe that “eight strings make a house” signifies Emperor Jimmu’s desire to let everyone and everything have peace of mind and enjoy living. . . it is conceivable that the thought of “the whole world makes a house” is the purpose of the Greater East Asian War at the present time. However we can clearly see that this desire of Emperor Jimmu did not start only with him, this is the desire of Amaterasu Oomikami.
See? We just want to feel at home!
“We must engage in fixing, solidifying, and stabilizing other countries in the world who are wandering aimlessly. This is the original mission of the divine country of Japan. This greater east Asian war was started to force England and America to relinquish their position of world leadership and ultimately establish a new order to secure a just and lasting peace.”
Hozumi was a conservative guy, who sought to push back the clock and recreate a Shinto theocracy.
Both Uesugi and Kakehi were radicals who wanted to change society from the ground up. But they differed in some ways. They agreed that The ultimate purpose of the individual was to die for the emperor, the act through which one’s own being would merge into the mystical body of the emperor, thus closing the unbearable gap.
But for Uesugi, this meant seeking death by eliminating individuals who refused to follow what they considered the true will of the emperor, or by destroying corrupt institutions that stood in the way between the emperor and the masses: (if these institutions are preventing me from merging with him through peaceful meditation, I’ll merge with him through violent suicide, and get revenge on those institutions at the same time! What could be more appealing!). Accordingly, Uesugi-influenced terrorist activity was directed primarily against Japanese.
For Kakehi, however, the best way to die for the emperor, was by carrying out the emperor’s task of destroying the western controlled secular world order. This was very suited to his primary political backers, the control faction of the military (which included General Tojo). And, in contrast to Uesugi, Kakehi-inspired violence was more directed toward outsiders by waging war and dying on the battle field!
Speaking of battle-fields, how was that war going?
We’ve seen how radical Shinto thinkers use impeccable reasoning to prove a) we have to conquer the world, and b) foreigners can never be a part of our country because it would fuck up our kokutai. Now, you may wonder, how did they reconcile those two points?
Answer? They couldn’t! Not even with the arsenal of illogic and their wacky “anything-goes” attitude towards reasoning. Instead, both the philosophers and the military adopted the attitude of, “conquer first, spread world harmony later.”
And this had profound real-world consequences : if you’re liberating a country that WANTS to be liberated and given peace and harmony, you don’t need a lot of soldiers. You just overthrow the leadership, station a few troops, and move 90% of your forces on to the next country. But if you’re liberating a country, while telling them, “We’re conquering you for god, but uh, our god hates you, AND we are determined to perform cultural genocide on you by totally erasing your dumb culture and replacing it with ours, even though you’ll never be truly Japanese, so what is the point, just do it, asshole!” Then you’ll probably need to keep your whole army there for decades, you can’t move on to conquer other countries, PLUS you have to send in millions of civilians TOO, to show each individual conquer-ee how to act Japanese. And that’s why we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wait, I meant to say, that’s why Shinto fucked up the Japanese war, at the same time as it encouraged it.
The Japanese colonial overlords resorted to a bunch of wacky strategies: bringing back Hozumi’s “patriarchal society” theory of Shinto (for the other lands, not the motherland!) even though it contradicted what they believed, building shrines everywhere but not letting gaijin in them, letting them in but not letting them pray, and eventually concocting an amazing plan to ship all Koreans to New Guinea.
Here is a famous story which Skya relates, which sort of sums up the whole 20s-30s period:
It was the time of the war of 1894-95. one day on our ship, a sailor was weeping as he read a letter written in a woman’s handwriting. A passing lieutenant saw him and, thinking his behavior unmanly, said, “Hey, what have we here? Has life become so valuable? Are you afraid to die? Are you lonely for your wife and children? Don’t you think it’s an honor to become a solider and go to war – What kind of attitude is that?”
“Sir, don’t think that of me,” replied the sailor, handing the officer the note.
(The officer reads the letter)
You said you did not fight in the battle of Feng-tao, and you did not accomplish much in the August 10th attack at Weihaiwei either. I am very disappointed in you. Why did you go into battle? Wasn’t it to sacrifice your life to repay the emperor? The people in the village are good to me and offer help all the time, saying kindly: ‘It must be hard for you having your only son off fighting for the country. Please don’t hesitate to tell us if there is anything we can do.’ Whenever I see their faces, I am reminded of your cowardice and I feel as if my heart will break. So every day I go to the shrine and pray that you will distinguish yourself in battle. Of course I am human, too, and cannot at all bring myself to hate my own child. Please try to understand my feelings as I write this letter.”
The officer said, “I’m sorry. I can only admire your mother’s spirit.”
The sailor, who had been listening with lowered head, saluted, and smiling, left.
This was required reading for elementary school kids.
1868 – Shogun Overthrown. Feudalism and Buddhism replaced with the Meiji Restoration, headed by the emperor and Shinto.
1870-84 : the Great Promulgation Campaign (Taikyō senpu undō 大教宣布運動) I guess this was a nationwide PR campaign to raise awareness of Shinto, which legitimized the emperor, which in turn legitimized the new system of government.
Also : terrible sufferings imposed on the peasantry by the ruthless taxes required to pay for a munitions-based program of industrialization.
1881 – Genyousha started. The grand-daddy of all right-wing terror groups.
1873 – The oligarchs (leaders of the clans that overthrew the Shogun) get in a fight over what kind of government to make. Everyone agrees they need a constitutional democracy (meaning, limited power for the emperor), but they disagree over WHAT KIND.
One side, led by Itou Hirobumi, wanted Prussian style: no separation of powers, a Cabinet that would openly serve the Emperor (rather than make their own proposals) and an elected Parliament that had no power
The other side, led by Itagaki Taisuke, wanted a English/French style: A powerful Parliament – accountable to the people – who advised the Emperor. And an ornamental cabinet just for fun.
1889 – Prussian-lovers win. Emperor announces a Prussian-style Constitution written in secret with no popular approval.
However, this does not even come close to solving the democracy-or-theocracy debate, since no one in history ever has been able to make a “partially democratic divine-god-king” government work. For some reason.
1895 – Japan conquers Taiwan.
The military, working with Genyousha assassinate Korean Empress Myongsong in the Korean royal palace.
1897 : Hozumi Yatsuka publishes a book called KOKUMIN KYOUIKU AIKOSHIN (National Education: Patriotism), which advocates a ‘return’ to absolute monarchy, couching it in terms of the ‘family-state’.
1901 – Kokuryuukai (black dragon society) is formed – another right wing terror group.
1905 – Japan Kicks Russia’s ass, sinking most of their whole navy and shit.
Unprecedented rioting in Hibiya, as the people protest Japan’s signing a pussy-ass not-conquering-shit treaty with the defeated and abject Russia.
1906 – Kita Ikki published his KOKUTAIRON OYOBI JUNSEI SHAKAISHUGI (On the Kokutai and pure Socialism), saying fuck you to Hozumi. His shtick: emperor-backed socialism!
1910s+20s: the masses get more politicized –they demand to have a say in government. Open to western ideology (democracy, communism, feminism, anarchism) but also ANYTHING extreme. Including radical Shinto.
1910 – Hozumi publishes his main book, KEMPOU TEIYOU (Handbook on the Constitution of Japan).
Japan conquers Korea.
1911 – Minobe, the foremost pro-democracy scholar, publishes a book called Kempo Kowa (lectures on the constitution). Straight dissing the right-wing Minobe’s #1 disciple, Uesugi!
1912 – Meiji emperor dies, Taisho emperor takes over. Also Minobe dies, and Uesugi Shinkishi takes over as the main Shinto pundit.
Mass popular protests in favor of democracy.
1913- mass protests against Prime Minister Katsura (for what???) topple him and his whole cabinet.
Uesugi responds to Minobe’s book dis by forming a S1W-style paramilitary reading group called Tokagakkai (palwnia flower society) to take out Minobe’s theories and push for the disbanding of the parliament.
Kakehi Katsuhiko published Kokka no Kenkyuu (a study of the state), taking Shinto in a more radical direction.
Protests against corruption in the navy (?!?!?)
1918 – the rice riots topple the Terauchi government (Terauchi being the prime minister). Leadership is scared of general revolution!
World War One over (pretty much the end of monarchies in Europe), plus : Russia goes commie. All this is very worrisome for right-wing, monarchist Shinto folks.
1919 : Kita Ikki goes from commie to fascist and publishes An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan.
1920 – a right-wing organization called Kokoku Doshikai (Association of those Devoted to the Advancement of the State) is established to fight democracy and socialism. Unlike older right-wing groups (black dragon, great ocean), Kokoku Doshikai is very public and openly appeals to the masses.
1921 – Uesugi publishes Kokka Shinron (A New Thesis on the State), one of the most influential, pro-emperor, pro-assassination screeds.
Right-wing kid assassinates Yasuda Zenjiro, president of the Yasuda corporation.
Prime minister Hara Takashi also assassinated.
1922- Minoda Muneki, too radical for Kokoku Doshikai, starts his own magazine, GENRI INON (true Japan) to bully any other kids on campus who disagreed with his radical Shinto deal.
1923 – Uesugi and some clown named Takabatake found Keirin Gakumei (Society for the Study of Statesmanship): to fight western individualism western materialism and get western thought and ideals out of the government (as opposed to simply assassinate all government members).
1925 – universal male suffrage.
Uesugi formed yet another militia group: the Seven Lives Society (shichishou sha). More of a hard-rock crew, street-fighting against leftist youth crews, and agitating to expand Japan’s empire from Asia to the whole world (once we finish this kung fu fight). Some of the Seven Lives guys went on to form Ketsumeidan (League of Blood) who would kill a lot of people.
1926 – Akao Bin (even most of the other right wing militias said he was way the fuck out there!) forms the Kenkokukkai (National Foundation Association), which dominated far-right street shit in the 20s. the Kenkokukkai was about bombing shit. Akao himself bombed the Russian embassy.
Kakehi Katsuhiko publishes Kannagara no Michi (the way of the gods as such)
1928 – a secret clique of army guys assassinates Zhang, the puppet governor of Manchuria, because Zhang is more loyal to the Japanese Prime Minister than the Japanese Army.
1929 – Yamamoto Senji, a left-wing politician, assassinated by the Seven Lives Righteousness Association
1930 – Prime minister Hamaguchi killed by Aikokusha (The Patriotic Society).
The Sakura Kai (Cherry Blossom Society) founded: right-wing group dedicated to overthrow of civilian government and expansion of imperialism and, of course, Shinto. What makes Sakura Kai special is, it was all army guys!
1931 – A different group of Army terrorists start the Manchurian Incident, as a pretext for a full military takeover of Manchuria.
The October Incident: an attempted coup, which included senior military officers, and intended the assassination of almost the entire cabinet. But someone squealed and so they never pulled it off. However, the perpetrators got put on trial and let off with a warning (?!?!?!?)
1932 – Inoue Junosuke, finance minister, shot by a member of the Ketsumeidan (Blood Pledge Corps). A month later, another Blood Pledge member kills Dan Takuma, leader of Mitsui Bank.
Then, the May 15 incident – Prime Minister Inukai killed, “effectively ending party rule” (meaning, the cabinet was handed back to the emperor, instead of being chosen by elected officials, and plus from this point elected officials didn’t say peep without getting an OK from an emperor-lover).
1933 – another coup foiled before it started. This was called the Shinpeitai Incident (Divine Soldiers incident, after the group which planned it), and led by a personal student of Uesugi, one Amano Tatsuo, in conjunction with army dudes. Again (just like the October Incident), the whole thing was hushed up, and ringleaders were given a $25 dollar fine and required to attend 8 hours of traffic school.
1935 – . The first major assassination between radical right conspiracy groups! Colonel Aizawa murders Major Nagata , who was the director of the Bureau of Military Affairs: Aizawa was Imperial Way Faction, and Nagata was the just-as-fundamentalist-Shinto, but not as radical Control Faction
Kakehi Katsuhiko publishes his epic Koukoku Kenpou (the Constitution of the Imperial State)
1936 – a coup-d’etat kills a lot of cabinet members and Kita Ikki takes the blame. 1,400 soldiers – a whole division, took over some government buildings and ninja-attacked the 3 admirals, the grand chamberlain, lord keeper of the imperial seal, a general, and a finance minister were brutally killed. The imperial palace was taken over, but then the emperor himself said, “Thanks anyways guys but guess what? I like being a figurehead!” and the army guys were like “WTF man” And the Emperor was like, “Yeah, so death penalty for you guys! Psyche!”
One of the victims was General Watanabe. . . apparently Watanabe hinted, in a speech, that he believed Minobe’s pro-democracy emperor-as-organ theory.
1937 – Kokutai no Hongi (Fundamentals of the National Polity) is published and everyone in the country has to read it. This is an official government document which explains the new, non-democratic Shinto government’s goals and the people’s responsibilities.
1938 – Kono Seizo publishes “Our Kokutai and Shinto”, the most important commentary on Kokutai no Hongi.
1939 – Yamada Yoshio publishes “the spirit of the founding of the nation”, another commentary on Kokutai no Hongi, but much more far-out than Kono’s book.
1941 – pearl harbor.
9 comments Tags: wwii —
These are the songs that Christine Yano picked out as influential in her book TEARS OF LONGING.
I can't say that a Japanese would agree. But most of these are heavy as hell.
Let's start with a cover version of the 1906 hit RAPPA BUSHI, originally written by soeda azembo
next, Sasurai no uta (song of wandering) (1917), which cashed in on a social phenomenon: the lonliness of leaving hometown to find work in the city. a very topical theme in the rapidly industrializing country.
Sendou kouta (boatman’s song) by noguchi ujou and Nakayama Shinpei (1921) – first enka hit influenced by western music.
This one is a'ight, but the version by 森繁久彌 (Moreshige Hiyasa) just kills it.
Moreshige Hiyasa makes ian curtis look like milli fucking vanilli.
Unfortunately embedding is disabled on that video. so you'll have to click here to see the difference.
Just don't click if you're tired of living. Seriously you'll jump out the window before the bridge.
Fuck! this guy is fucking crazy. Here's Moreshige Hiyasa doing a LOVE SONG. (the youtube poster captioned 'overflowing with love'), so you know this is dude at his maximum happiness level.
Tottori Shunyou's hit "kago no tori" (bird in a cage) (1924). It was such a huge hit, became a film! Japanese corporations even then were really savvy about cross-merchandising. This 60 years before manga-became-videogames-became-anime-became movies and all that!
moving to the '30s, meet sendou kouta : the man who gave enka the distinct sound and arrangements (aka KATA) that it has today.
Kouta was a song-writer. I'm not sure who is singing on this one.
Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka (is sake a teardrop or a sigh?) -
another version of the same song:
kage wo shitaite – following after your image. another kago hit.
akagi no komoriuta (Lullaby of Akagi)
A classic example of a big enka theme: nostalgia for the furusato (hometown), in this case, Akagi.
Moving to the post-war era,
yu no machi elegy (bath town elegy) (1948) – also by Mr. Kago. this song captures the gloom of post-war Japan.
(sad music was banned during the war!)
this song got sampled by rap group non-fixion.
Ringo oiwake (1952 )– super sad even by enka standards: the girl's mom died. big hit by Misora hibari – the postwar "queen of enka"
this was a huge hit for misora hibara. the queen of enka.
namida no renrakusen (ferryboat of tears) (1965) – reviving the classic enka style in hippy times.
Kanashi sake, (sad booze) (1966) – another hit by MIsora Hibari.
Here's a much iller version, but embedding is disabled:
it just goes to show you the huge difference that soul makes.
Just for kicks, here is a few more tunes that Yano mentions:
haguresou (not sure the meaning of this joint)
abare daiko (raging drums)
sasoriza no onna (scorpion woman) – the "theme song" of Mikawa Kenichi. King of the cross-dressing enka singers. There was more than one? Apparently that was a thing back in the '70s.
and again, here, same dude, a few years later. . . you can see how society got a little more liberal:
below, a super-creepy "virtual idol" version of kachuusha no uta . This isn't such an influential song in Enka history, but WTF man? dig the uncomfortableness.
4 comments Tags: enka —
Enka has been called “Japanese blues”, “Japanese country and western,” and “dasai grandma music.” Enka are sad, melodramatic ballads that you karaoke the fuck out of in run-down snack-bars at 3am. If you ever bike home drunk at 3am and pass bars with terrible out of key singing gurgling out of them, you’re hearing enka.
I like some enka passionately, and hate most of it. So when I found out there was an English book about it, I jumped at the chance to read it. Maybe it could tell me how to avoid the crappy stuff. That didn’t happen, but nonetheless, this book is pretty good!
Like this: the BOMBASTIC style:
And this – the exact same melodies and verse-chorus structure but done super-minimal. . . .what i call the SUICIDAL STYLE.
Compare to this next one: the PLASTIC BULLSHIT NO-SOUL CORPORATE SELL OUT style.
Note how it's still basically the same melodies and arrangements but all the soul has been sucked out by The Man.
I'll yell at The Man more later, but let's get back to the book review:
The good parts of TEARS OF LONGING are the history of enka, the breakdown of enka clichés, and the explanation of the Japanese word ‘kata.” (型）
The bad parts are the tedious chapters behind-the-scenes-at-the-record-company-meetings, which I get the feeling that Yano had to include just to prove she was a real anthropologist. Anthropologists have to go to places that no one has gone before.
Her constant harping on “the social construction of gender” and “the social construction of patriotism and the Japanese spirit,” I can take or leave.
Enka is complicated to define. The actual term “enka” was not widely used until the ‘60s. And then it was immediately applied retro-actively to the previous 70 years of pop-tunes-that-sounded-Japanese (as opposed to pop-tunes-that-sounded-western). Although, at the times those tunes were written, they were not thought of as enka.
Got all that?
Enka is a sort of release valve for Japanese emotions. People who would never share their true feelings with you can go to the karaoke with you and belt out songs with ridiculous, over-the-top emo lyrics like “I would drown myself in an ocean of sake for youuuuuuuuuu, I exist only to tell lies, I’ll never forgive you for what you did to me, I’d rather die than love another, waaahhhh.” It’s no coincidence that most enka songs have “sake” in the title – Japan’s other release valve.
Enka is made up of other, earlier styles of Japanese music, such as:
minyou (folk song),
Roukyoku (in Osaka, called naniwa-bushi) Roukyoku are narrative jams, story-telling ballads. This genre flourished among street performers, and recounted traditional tales, as well as newsworthy stories of the present, often with a preachy moral. Samurai, thieves, dutiful sons, and devoted wives. Duty and honor! Just vocal and shamisen.
kouta (‘little songs’), which were more humorous or ironic, and had more of a retro-Edo feel. Also shamisen-based.
These styles were synthesized in the 1930s by famous song-writer Koga Masao, who established the kata (form or pattern) of enka.
A standout point of Yano’s book is her definition of kata. Here it is:
“There are good reasons for my using “kata” instead of translating it as the English words "pattern", "style", or "formula".
First, kata emphasizes an embeddedness in daily life.
Second, kata emphasizes surface form and beauty: the emphasis on form and effects gives a highly theatrical sense to performance, and a performative sense to daily life.
Third, kata emphasizes detail.
Fourth, as a system of theatrical display , kata places emphasis on technique, on the process of doing: a performance becomes a presentation of presentation.
Fifth, kata separates the whole into discrete, patterned units, which create a recognizable code of the performance, a code whose goal is beauty.
Sixth, kata is important as a way for art forms to be taught and handed down from one generation. Kata becomes a means by which one may enter an art form, it is a manner of doing, a way of being. Kata at once establishes, constructs, and verifies a relationship with the past.
Seventh: At the same time as it formalizes, aestheticizes, and historicizes, kata also spiritualizes, which might be the most important characteristic of all. Working on the external through kata transforms and defines the internal. Unlike western thought that gives primacy to what is below the surface and behind the mask, kata gives the surface its due. Self presentations are not merely outward expressions of some inner substance, but a constant process of creating that identity, while simultaneously signifying and demonstrating it.
The western dichotomy of form (false) vs. content (true) becomes reconfigured as continuous and interpenetrating parts. Displays of emotion are at once raw and cultivated, and the ability to balance both is what makes fans appreciate you more than the other singers. When one becomes a jedi-master of a certain art form, you perfect the kata until the line between you and kata vanishes. The creative goal of kata-training is to fuse the individual to the form so that the individual becomes the form and the form becomes the individual.”
That said, the main kata of enka is excess. Melodrama heaped on top of melodrama! Whether manly bombast, sentimental schmaltz, or broken-hearted emo whinging, do it in excess! There is no such thing as “too obvious” or “too much”.
This being Japan, the idea of “that’s too fake” doesn’t apply – the idea is to be authentic by sticking to the formula and perfecting it. However, this being Japan, nobody bothers to explicitly state what the kata of enka exactly ARE – you’re just supposed to automatically know them from sheer repetition and knowing the context. To find out what the kata are, Yano took 115 popular enka songs (mostly from the shitty era of the 70s and 80s 90s, which is a bummer) and got statistical on the ass of the enka canon.
The most common words (based on how many songs they show up in) are:
Dream, heart,you, sake, tears, crying, woman, person, love, flower, persona lone, chest, I, rain, couple, life, bloom,wind, man, snow, drink, boat, sorrowful, and right at the bottom: happy.
The single most commonly used word : sake.
Like easily 3 times as much as any other word. You don’t even need a list.
Yano then takes the most common lyrical themes and examines how they’re used :
Yano says, In enka, dreams dwell on past loves, on mother, and on old hometown. They do not goad the dreamer into action but encapsulate the dreamer in a sate of inaction and resignation.
Waiting is a related theme. Again the passivity which contrasts with the burning flames of emotion.
Crying is not weak or shameful, the way we think of emo music. In Japan, crying – through the magic of music, is turned into a thing of beauty, a performance of tears, a mark of exquisite tragedy. You don’t wipe away your tears, you show them off. Tears are like a safety valve for honne (private self). Enka songs often speak of secret tears.
Oh! In my barren heart
My tears freeze and my passion burns
Oh! Please embrace me
Please embrace my barren heart
Tears, tears, tears!
Even if my ears run dry, it won’t mean that my love has withered
I burn with desire and fall – the compassion of a woman
I am drenched with sadness- the tears of a woman
I cannot be with the one I love – the heart of a woman.
Also, it’s almost an iron law that drops of tears and drops of sake are made into metaphors of each other in every song.
And given Japan’s cultural propensity towards anthromorphization (see my yokai interview!), Yano says, “Enka’s emphasis on tears endows even nonhuman inanimate objects with the ability to cry: crying shamisen, crying nights, howling north winds, crying train whistlse. This projection of emotion onto objects and elements of nature makes for a kind of environmental empahy: the jilted lover does not cry alone but in concert with everything around her."
ROMANCE AND GENDER
I want this love to burn until death,
this one night love to which I surrender
A man’s love is the tenderness of a single night
But a woman’s love lasts until the day of death
I don’t care if I throw my life away,
just please let me be here by your side
There’s this definite wabi-sabi vibe to the enka view of romance – like the cherry blossoms that fall too soon, this morbid sentimental reverence for anything that is brief , and all the more precious or touching because of the transience.
Men are bummed because they have to do a duty that they really don’t want to do, or because they miss their home town, women are bummed because they fall in love with terrible men. Women have sex once and then spend the rest of their lives condemned to love and hate that man.
Women characters drink alone as they sing, which is shocking!
Men are also alone, but it is not a sign of weakness for them, it is a sign of standing on your own two feet, sticking to your guns – a good thing. Instead of having a one-night-stand and then pining for it the rest of your life, men commit to a certain course of action or a certain dream (otoko no michi – the men’s road) and then spend the rest of their lives following it to the bitter end, never wavering or giving up.
ENKA AND FAKE NOSTALGIA:
Enka is retro: like country music in the USA, which is sold to people as representing the “real America the way it used to be”, but in fact it’s kind of phoney.
Modern enka started in the ‘60s, duh, and represents a Disney version of ‘30s Japan that never was. Enka cultivates this reputation as “nihon no uta” (song of Japan), an expression of nihonjin no kokoro (the hearts/soul of Japanese).
Notwithstanding, some of the most famous enka singers since the ‘80s are Korean and Taiwanese imports. Also, most enka singers are women but the lyric-writers and managers are all men.
Although thought of as music from grandpa/grandma’s generation, most enka fans were into pop or rock music and then switched to enka when they got older.
Whereas Japan sells tea ceremony, flower arranging, koto music and sumo (not to mention that wacky anime!) to foreigners as “exotic tourist stuff from a foreign country”, enka is only sold to Japanese.
But it’s still seen as exotic – wahat Yano calls “internal exotic.”
In regular words: it’s more Japanese than Japanese. It functions to bind people together and cement what it means to be Japanese, and creates a single idealized past without all that fascism and war. For example, they use a lot of “Japanese” instruments , flutes, shamisen, koto, taiko, but only in the intro, as decoration. To be “exotic.”
More on that nostalgia:
Ryuukouka (Japanese-style pop) became the dominant style of the Taisho era (1912-1926). And today’s enka draws mostly from ryuukouka. In other words, the nostalgia of contemporary enka is nostalgia for the Taisho era: not only was Taisho the era of ryuukoka, but Japanese society was advancing, modernizing quickly, and people were full of hope. Then came the fascism and the nuclear bombs.
As part of the nostalgia, new songs are made to sound exactly like songs from 40 years ago. This is kata (型) at work. Now, don’t get me wrong: Yano’s rant about kata is the best explanation of what it is and why it is important to understanding Japanese culture that I’ve read so far.
But enka from the 80s and 90s is just crap.
Kata was invented for artisans, Buddhist monks, and martial artists. In other words, before mass production, mass media, and modern times.
And it makde sense BACK THEN to do every single damn thing with kata: if someone is a master artisan, they’re a tool-maker, and you ask him for a tool (say, a katana), you need it for a job. To stab suckas with. You don’t want him to get arty or original with it. Same thing with martial arts. And as for Buddhist monks, god isn’t going anywhere – god is unchanging and eternal, so kata is not supposed to change.
But when modern times come along, applying kata to mass-production can result in huge cockups.
I mean sure, with identical, assembly line transformer toys or hello kitty t-shirts, go ahead, use kata. They’re supposed to be the same! But with art or music? Fuck no, don’t use kata.
Kata worked fine when there was only like 40 songs written per year, because jedi-masters of enka took a whole year to make one song the old-fashioned way.
But by combining old-school kata with new-school mass-production and mass-marketing, you get the worst of both worlds: the un-creativity of kata, combined with modern techniques that allow companies to spew out hundreds of sound-alike songs every month. If you want the same songs, just use your modern factories to burn millions of cds of classic songs from the ‘60s. But of course the fans already have those songs, so you have to make them buy new ones by cranking out songs THAT SOUND JUST LIKE THEM. Worst of both worlds!
TIMELINE OF JAPANESE OLD-TIMEY POP MUSIC
8,000,000 bc – minyou (folk songs) come into being
1860s – roukyoku becomes a big working-man’s type of music in the early Meiji period, as do kouta ('little songs')
1880s – enka starts as “enzetsu no uta” a form of acapella protest song.
In its original form, enka was half-sung and half-spoken by an enkashi (enka singer/caller) otherwise known as a soushi (singer/caller), acapella. In its rhythmic exaggeration of certain syllables, it was musically similar to the cries of street vendors, but its goal was political. Enkashi were described as “singing street guerrillas.” Because it was acapella (and preachy!), enka was less about melody and more about really exaggerated vocals – sad words sound REALLY sad, happy ones sound really happy, long notes are really long ,etc. And this can be heard in today's enka as well.
1890 – enka turns into more of a entertainment genre, because a
1890s – Soeda Azembo becomes the first “king of enka!", and incorporates a lot of the new western styles into his music, defining the enka sound of the Meiji Era. He sings “kae-uta” (parodies of popular songs), changing the lyrics to be about current events in newspapers, functioning as sort of a cross between a pop star and a town crier. I guess this is a way Enka was different from roukyoku.
1907 – intellectuals introduce the first instrument to the a-capella genre of enka: the violin. This “high class, Western” instrument was not a hit with the masses, but the concept of “having a band” really took off, and thereafter, enka used instruments!
1920s –There’s enough foreign music coming in that it gets its own genre: kayoukyoku. It seems that kayoukyoku originally referred to western music but then came to refer to Japanese pop which had an exotic, western ‘flavor’ to it as well. Maybe? It's not clear.
All the Japanese-sounding pop styles are now put under the umbrella of “ryuukouka” (pop tunes), to distinguish them from kayoukyoku. As a result of this "together-grouping" , a lot of ryuukouka hits would later be thought of as enka (remember, enka was defined retroactively). Jesus! Is that pedantic enough for you?
Meanwhile, enka is now popular enough that singers can make a living doing requests in bars. Pop tunes are a sort of exciting new thing, like radio and movies, that never existed before.
20s and 30s : advances in recording technology allow pop tunes to be sold in the exciting new 78RPM format! Record companies, sensing immense profits, demand that full bands (not just a shamisen) be used to back the singers.
1930s – ryoukouka eclipses shinminyou to become the dominant trend for Japanese style pop (although lots of people were by then really into swing jazz, so decadent and exotic!)
Koga Masao – the “father of modern enka” finds the perfect formula for enka: a foundation of kouta and add a bit of naniwa-bushi, keep the tempo slow, lay off the harmony singers,and rock the minor scale, and change the shamisen into a guitar (mandolin in a pinch). This helped solidify enka into a kata, or cliche.
1938 – government bans all foreign "enemy" music, as well as Japanese songs with sentimental or romantic themes. The government also banned all overt expressions of sadness such as the word for tears!
1944 – government, realizing it's losing the war on all fronts, resorts to more drastic measures: it also bans western instruments : guitars, banjos, ukuleles, as well as western melodies. Jesus fucking christ, you people.
1950 – misora hibari, former child star, becomes “queen of enka”. She can make anyone cry.
Japan’s shitty post-war times practically called out for a rebirth of enka with specially gloomy tunes like “bath town elegy” – also by Mr. Koga. This postwar-gloom enka focused less on people pining for their lost hometown, to alienated city-dwellers with no home to go home to.
Preachy songs about how "the real Japan" gave way to more sophisticated, if immoral songs about “Here I am at a bar , just got dumped by a no-good man AGAIN, let’s get shitfaced.”
50s – record companies get more sophisticated, hiring professionals to write and arrange songs behind the scenes, reducing artists to just hired voices.
60s – mood kayou (mood songs) are blues-influenced enka ballads about failed romance, that featured saxophones. They are the worst kind of enka ever. Anything with a saxophone, switch that shit off.
Late 60s/early 70s: the word Enka makes a comeback, meaning not “anti-meiji-government protest songs” but “all pop music of the last 70 years which ‘sounds Japanese’”. A firm kata soon emerges to regulate new songs produced in this style
CONTEMPORARY ENKA SUBGENRES:
Do-enka (real enka): more influenced by naniwa –bushi: west-coast flavor, honor, machismo, all that shit. Plus serifu (narrative in a spoken-word voice) between voices. Contemporary do-enka singers: kitajima saburou, toba ichirou, miyako harumi, nakamura mitsuko, sakamoto fuyumi.
Mood enka : descended from the mood kayou of the ‘60s, without so many saxophones. more weepy and ballady, less honor-y and macho-y. where do-enka singers might ornament their singing with grunt or growl, mood enka people are more inclined to use yuri and kobushi, the vibrato that sounds like weeping.
Pops enka: crossover. Major key. Lyrics less suicidal.
YANO’S PICKS FOR THE MOST INFLUENTIAL ENKA JAMS OF ALL TIME:
rappa bushi (bugle call song) – by Soeda azembo –first King of Enka celebrates kicking Russia’s ass in '05. Just a singer and a shamisen.
Sasurai no uta (song of wandering) (1917), lonliness of leaving hometown to find work in the city. a very topical theme in the rapidly industrializing country.
Sendou kouta (boatman’s song) by noguchi ujou and Nakayama SHinpei (1921) – first enka hit influenced by western music.
tottori shunyou releases "kago no tori" (bird in a cage) (1924). It was a huge hit, became a film! Japanese corporations even then were really savvy about cross-merchandising. This 60 years before manga-became-videogames-became-anime-became movies and all that!
Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka (is sake a teardrop or a sigh?) - first big hit of Mr. Koga, inventor of the "classic" enka style.
Kage o shitaite (following after your image) - another Koga hit.
yu no machi erejii (bath town elegy) (1948), by koga maso – classic postwar gloom.
namida no renrakusen (ferryboat of tears) –(1965) reviving the traditional style in hippy times.
Ringo oiwake (1952 )– super sad even by enka standards: the girl's mom died. big hit by Misora hibari – the postwar "queen of enka"
Kanashi sake, (1966) – another hit by MIsora Hibari.
sasori-za no onna (scorpion woman) – the "theme song" of Mikawa Kenichi. King of the cross-dressing enka singers. Apparently that was a thing back in the '70s?
Nakibushi – crying song (whose merit is measured by its ability to elicit tears)
Naniwa – bushi : Osaka song
Roukyoku (narrative song)
kae-uta (substitution song): a parody, where lyrics are substituted.
Shouka- school songs composed to introduce japanese children to western music
Rokyoku is a narrative art accompanied by the shamisen, and was perfected at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912).
Onkai – scale
yonanuki onkai ( asian sounding pentatonic scale)
ryuukouka! This just means “ japanese-sounding pop music on 78 rpm records.”
Serifu – lines (in a play) narrative spoken word interludes (in songs)
enkashi (enka singer/caller)
yuri – a vocal ornamentation influenced by American blues – a vibrato-like swinging of the voice.
Kobushi – a crying-waah-sounding vibrato more traditional ornamentation.
Jigoe – chest voice, natural voice
Uragoe : head voice, falsetto
Hanagoe – nasal voice
Damigoe – gravelly, blues- or metal-ly voice
Kosei – originality, individuality of a performance.
Miren – lingering affection, and its evil twin
Urami – lifelong, smouldering resentment
Furusato – my old home town (sometimes it means “Japan the way it used to be in the good old days”)
Taishuu bunka – working class culture
Ki wo terawazu ni – without showing off anything new.
Tejaku-sake : pouring yourself a drink of booze (kind of brutal because traditionally people are supposed to pour drinks for their friends)
joruri, sekkyo-bushi (chants of Buddhist tales)
saimon-gatari (chants of traditional literature and worldly episodes).
tanka (narration). Fushi is the chanting part where the performer sings about the situation or feelings of characters, while tanka is the dialogue part where the performer plays the role of each character.
http://www.japanlink.co.jp/ka/home.html5 comments Tags: enka, kata —
Like the last book report – "INSIDE THE KAISHA", THE JAPANESE MIND attempts to explain Japanese behavior so as to avoid "culture shock" and misunderstandings. Unlike INSIDE THE KAISHA, THE JAPANESE MIND is a huge mess.
THE JAPANESE MIND is a book that succeeds by failing! If you read it, at first you’re struck by how confusing and poorly written it is, how it tries to do 6 things and does none of them well. Half the information is redundant, and the other half so esoteric it’s not useful.
But if you read the introduction, the introduction explains HOW the book was made – the context and the decisions that shaped the form of the book.
And once you understand that, you realize that the book has a LOT to teach you: all the failures of the book are the results of classic Japanese decision making. By looking at the failures you can learn a lot about Japanese way-of-thought.
"Inside the Kaisha" TELLs you, but "The Japanese Mind" straight-up SHOWS you.
See,THE JAPANESE MIND had a lot of goals:
Originally, each chapter was a senior thesis about "Japanese Culture" by a Japanese student of International Studies. So one goal was to be a thesis for the students..
Then the teachers decided to make the theses into a textbook to teach foreign students about Japanese culture .Despite the somewhat confusing and improper English – and despite the fact that students shouldn’t be teaching classes.
The "book about Japanese culture” idea then expanded to be a sort of “how-to” manual which would try to teach foreigners common cultural misunderstandings and how to avoid them . . . based on learning about flower arranging and "the Japanese spiritual connection to seasons"??? Well, yes! Because the first two ideas were still in effect, they didn't get tossed when the book changed direction. Why would they? Silly gaijin!
Finally, the thesis/ textbook / how-to manual was expanded in scope once again: it’s not only for foreigners who wanted to larn bout Japan, but for OTHER JAPANESE STUDENTS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES who wanted to learn “what foreigners think of Japan” while practicing their English reading skills. Thus you wind up with “study questions” that make no sense to foreign students, since they are directed at Japanese students of international studies who happen to be reading in English.
So now let's see how the failure of this book can teach us about Japan. Note how I'm applying the concepts from INSIDE THE KAISHA to explain the failures of INSIDE THE JAPANESE MIND.
ONE: the importance of kata and process over logic!
Almost every chapter begins by saying “Japan used to be a society based on rice farming which required all the villagers to work together, thus prioritizing the society over the individual.” No evidence is used for this, let alone comparing Japan to other countries where they cultivate rice. So as an explanation for the various unique Japanese customs in the book, it’s a failure! But as an illustration of KATA (every chapter has to have the same format even if it’s redundant) and the Japanese idea of EXPLANATIONS DON’T NEED TO BE GROUNDED IN LOGIC AS LONG AS THEY FOLLOW THE CORRECT FORMAT, it’s great!
TWO: the MONTAGE:
Instead of deciding to discard certain goals or kata, they just pile more and more goals on top of each other, producing a MONTAGE. And I know I discussed montage in the previous article, but there's so much to say, and this book provides such a rad example of montage-gone wrong.
Here’s some examples of montage (or layering, for those of you who are not pretentious) from Japanese history:
1 – language (hiragana, kanji, katakana, and now engrish . . . .ok sure American english is a mutt language, but we just take individual words, nighongo layers entire SYSTEMS which have to be individually learned)
2 – religions (buddhist funerals, Christian weddings, Shinto seasonal rituals)
3- fashions (not just the many-layered kimono, but the the famous ‘I’M wearing stuff from 4 countries I don’t even know the names of at once” montage of harajuku girls etc.)
4- Japanese science being historically shitty at inventing new technology but a world leader at synthesizing existing technologies into rad new combo-products: watches with calculators! Microwaves with electric stoves built in!
5- keitais with too many features, all poorly planned, because if one company introduces a new feature, all the other companies have to save face by "keeping up" (even if their version of the feature is just a sad little eraserhead baby of a feature)
7 –world war two : the army wanted to invade Russia, the navy wanted a sea war in southeast asia. The emperor (most powerful man EVER) couldn’t decide between them, and let them go their separate ways, even though this lack of a coordinated strategy cost japan the war.
8 – meiji constitution : layering an absolute monarchy/theocracy over a constitutional democracy, which was a totally futile idea, since they mix like oil and coups d'etat.
9 – wrapping candy in four layers of packaging?!?
So as a textbook THE JAPANESE MIND sucks, but as an example of MONTAGE, it’s ideal!
It’s a senior thesis essay , oh plus a textbook for foreigners studying Japanese, oh and plus a guidebook for how to avoid cultural shock, oh plus a textbook for Japanese students studying foreigners studying Japanese! Plus it has a built-in microwave and over 14 different screen-savers.
And where does the uniquely Japanese montage come from?
I'll tell you where it DOESN'T come from : " shinto syncretism” – everyone started out animist, after all!
SO where, then?
Three :LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY AT THE TOP.
This is a concept that I don't have a clear handle on. I keep finding examples of it, but have yet to come across a book or a theory that explains why it is such a feature of Japanese decision making. I'm just going to try my best to explain it, but if anyone else has any thoughts or recommended books, please let me know.
The best example of "lack of responsibility at the top" is that world-war-II anecdote above! Even the most powerful man in the world couldn’t decide between his army and navy! This isn’t just because of the usual “Japanese are too polite to say ‘No’” thing.And it's different from the way powerful people all over the world are unaccountable.
Powerful people can rule with an iron fist, but Hitler and Mussolini (not to mention Goldman and the Pope) tend to be responsible, in the sense that the top guy says, "DO AS I SAY, DO IT THIS WAY, I MADE THIS DECISION, ME ALONE, AND THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE TO OBEY." so, being un-accountable is different from being un-responsible.
Japanese groups have a hard time abandoning outdated protocols. The juniors can’t ask the leaders "Do we still need this procedure anymore?" or "Isn't that a terrible idea?" because it’s insubordinate, and the leaders can’t trim unwanted procedures, because what if it turns out later that they cut the wrong one? It would be embarrassing! So the goals / features / procedures keep growing and accreting. Even leaders are powerless against processes once set in motion. The leaders ARE held responsible, but their responsibility only extends to making sure the process is done correctly. It doesn’t extend to the final result of the project – whether it’s an epic war in Asia or a simple textbook.
Actually, I don't have a good reason why the leaders can't single-handedly change or cut layers.
But anyway in the case of this book, nobody ever said, “Let’s just pick one or two goals and do them well.”
FOUR : COLORING INSIDE THE LINES.
This is kind of a cliché about Japanese so I won’t bother to explain it.
How the cliché manifests itself in the book, though, is pretty amusing. A lot of student/authors didn’t want to tackle anything controversial, anything that would make Japan look bad. So there’s a lot of chapters on “the Japanese sense of the seasons” or “haragei : the implicit communication” , “arranged marriages”, and “buddhist funerals”, not to mention “wabi sabi”, which it turns out is some esoteric aesthetic concept of ancient clay-pot makers. Useful?
As a book of traditional culture, that would have been fine. But as a book about common misunderstandings between foreigners and Japanese, forget it! Even the students that DID try to tackle important topics, like ambiguity or honne vs. tatemae, do so in a very shy way.
However, on the good side: they do systematically present both the good points and bad points of each Japanese concept, and they do systematically compare their own country to other countries as a way of illustrating uniqueness.
If there’s a profusion of “safe, but irrelevant” topics, there’s a lack of “outside the box” topics. Lots of interesting, unique, relevant topics are ignored simply because Japanese education stifles creativity.
For example: how Japanese education stifles creativity! That would have made a great chapter! The inability to handle lateral thinking or open-ended questions, the difficulty of thinking without a model to guide you. That’s really characteristic of Japan but since it doesn’t have a name or a famous book about it, it’s not included.
Or, “being rude by being excessively polite” : that’s another CLASSIC Japanese tactic. Or “Being in your own little world doing your makeup on the subway.” There should have been three chapters on that.
Once again, the COLORING INSIDE THE LINES approach makes for a sub-standard textbook, but as an EXAMPLE of how Japanese people think, it’s pretty great!
FINALLY : FIVE : THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
This should self-explanatory. Only by understanding the context in which the book is written can you learn anything from it.
7 comments Tags: kata, layering, montage —
If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes dirt on TEPCO and Fukushima power plant, go to japan subculture right now. Author Jake Adelstein is killing it with article after article.
Also: I'm working on a couple of things.
Does anyone know any really depressing "the nail that sticks up will get hammered down" type Japanese kotowaza (proverbs)?
And, for those of you who read Japanese, does anybody have a recommendation for books about ijime or the treatment of ethnic miniorities (burakumin / zainichi nihonjin / etc) ?
Those are the two big tabboo topics that I haven't tackled yet in 9 years of doing this site.
I really need to translate books on both those subjects, but of course since I suck at reading Japanese, i can't read 10 books and pick the best one to translate. I have to somehow find the best book FIRST.
Any help from you or your Japanese pals would be greatly appreciated.
Picture me reading one of those “How to Do Business The Japanese Way” books! Not only did I read it, I fuckin’ enjoyed the hell out of it. What the hell, man?
Their method is straight-up balls to the wall : You know the old saying, “You don’t really know your own country and culture until you go somewhere else”? Well, Yoshimura and Anderson interviewed TONS of Japanese businessmen who had come to the USA to get business degrees. These guys all have a) experience in Japanese companies, and b) live in America and so they understand how Japan looks to foreigners, and can therefore articulate point "a".
Yoshimura is a former businessman turned corporate anthropologist, so (unlike the usual authors of these kinds of books) he knows what kinds of questions to ask the businessmen. Most white writers would start with “Why are you people so hard to deal with?”, but Yoshimura starts with “OK, so what are the top misunderstandings you have when dealing with gaijin, and what would you prefer them to do in those situations?”
And Yoshimura acknowledges that their answers vary widely, it’s not like all Japanese think the same way. But he tries to take their answers of “At MY company we do it like this,” “Well at MY company we rock it like THAT” and look for common ground, or what he insists on calling “deeper behaviorial mechanisms.”
Also – as you can guess from how positive my review is – a surprising amount of their findings apply in everyday situations outside of the office.
They don’t care if their conclusions make other American “Doing Business The Japanese Way” books look like incorrect jerkwads. They don’t care if their conclusions make Japanese companies look like psycho brainwashing camps. They don’t care if their book is taken seriously by academic anthropology people. They don’t care about the “tea ceremonies/ flower arranging/ rice-growing agricultural” cultural roots of Japanese culture . . .
All they want to do is make it easier to communicate and lessen the misunderstandings. They often warn the reader, “Look, I know it is tempting to just dismiss this custom as racist or hypocritical, but if you dismiss it without understanding it, you won’t learn how to predict how a Japanese person will act in that situation. Which is why you bought the book, buddy.”
In other words, it's like they have the same attitude I had when I made KANJIDAMAGE. They’re like, “Later for all the bullshit, we just want to solve the readers’ everyday problems.”
I'll try to summarize their conclusions (at least the conclusions that probably apply in general Japanese society)
When it comes to behavior, Japanese learn inductively, not deductively.
Which is to say, instead of starting with a set of core principles that apply in all cases (think Ten Commandments!), they start by bonding deeply with a boss or upper-classperson and imitating that person’s behavior.
For example, instead of “OK given that I have a core belief of ‘don’t ever steal’, should I download an MP3? Using logic, I will deduce how the core belief applies in this situation.” Japanese is like, “What would my mentor do in this context?”
This east/west, induction/deduction distinction has all sorts of other effects: a public education where you aren’t taught how to think critically or answer open-ended questions, a culture where superiors aren’t supposed to explain the reasons for their decisions, and so forth.
This concept comes up so often in every book on Japan, there’s a name for it: SITUATIONAL MORALITY. What might be polite in one situation is rude in another, and this drives westerners crazy.
But even though the “situational morality” is kind of a cliché, this book is the first book that actually explains it from the Japanese point of view: the first book where I said to myself, “Oh, maybe if I was raised in that environment I’d do that, too!” instead of “Man, you guys are nuts.”
To start with, situations have at least three components: reference group, rank, and context.
Reference group is basically what Noboru and Anderson call the “insider/outsider” thing. But again, this book takes a cliché and makes it interesting by dealing with nuances: REFERENCE GROUP CHANGES DEPENDING ON CONTEXT.
For example, inside the company (let's call it Hirohito Footgear), the accounting team views each other as insiders, and fuck the other departments. But if you’re talking about the industry in general, the accountant will switch his reference group to: I’m on the side of my Hirohito vs. those other rival companies. And of course if you’re talking about international matters, they’ll widen their reference group appropriately: all us Japanese shoe-makers vs. the foreign shoe-makers.
The most common example in the book of how context changes reference groups: GETTING CAUGHT! Company A and government ministry B are insiders together UNTIL THEY GET CAUGHT DOING SOMETHING ILLEGAL, at which point ministry B says, “Huh? Company A? Never heard of ‘em. Fuck those jerkwads! !” What most of the world would call “being a backstabbing cowardly fuck”, in the Japanese corporate mindset, is simply called “getting caught changes the context. Situational morality, in your face!”
So in any given situation, you could pick one of several reference groups to belong to- your department, your company, your gender, your country, etc. And “thinking like a Japanese” means knowing which one to pick.
As a bonus, Noboru and Anderson throw in THE TRUE MEANING OF INSIDER/OUTSIDER: Once a salaryman knows who is is reference group in a given situation, he knows whose expectations he must meet to avoid social embarrassment.
“So deeply ingrained is this need to meet social expectations that the salaryman habitually asks himself what a person in his position is supposed to do, not what he thinks or how he feels.”
In other words, you don't have one single "real" identity, your shit is in a constant state of flux, depending on the context. You get your identity based on your role relative to the people around you.
Rank is just like America, but formalized in the language: Nihongo forces you to choose whether you are talking up or down to someone – do you speak informally, slightly formal or super formal. and if super formal, do you use the humble or arrogant form of formal? You can't not choose! One particular story illustrates this point in the most aggravating manner possible:
“I was assigned to be the deputy branch manager in London. Where the branch manager was one year younger than I, but he’d just been promoted ahead of me. Our families had known each other for a long time, but when my wife happened to meet his wife on the street in London, my wife started to talk to her as she always had. The wife of the branch manager replied, “In our company,does seniority prevail over positions?””
In other words, "Why are you not using the humble, formal grammar, you peasant?"
Japanese are obsessed with rank! They rank companies, universities, ministries, baseball teams, hosts, prostitutes, everything. But at the same time, they really frown upon people who flaunt their wealth or superior rank, since that is regarded as making the lower-ranking people feel inferior ON PURPOSE. Class distinctions – ornate offices, special parking spots, executive cafetearias – are rare. The gap between highest and lowest paid employees is far narrower.
Why? because of the odd Japanese belief that the lower people have the same vested interests as the bosses (not something we believe in America!). The bosses use their superior power to make sure things go well for the little people, Daddy taking care of the kids-style. This is supposed to make the lower people feel good about being low, and make’em not rebel, make ‘em try their best.
But flaunting one’s prestige fucks up this whole deal by saying "My vested interests are NOT yours – you're working for the good of the firm, I'm working for my yacht and mercedes." This is a great example of how this book takes two seemingly contradictory things and shows clearly how they are actually part of a single deeper cultural, uh, cultural. . . thingy.
Hierarchy breeds conflict in America, but in Japan hierarchy EASES conflict: if everyone knows their place, there’s no need to fight. But if two people come at each other like “I’m the boss!” “No, me!” Then there’s trouble.
Also: your rank, your prestige, depends on what group you are in, much more so than what you personally have accomplished. Like if you were last in your class at a prestigious university, you’ll get your ass kissed, but if you invented cold fusion at community college, it’s like *pfft* whatever man.
Japanese salarymen tend to trust their boss the most – since he’s the model for appropriate behavior, like a mentor. They tend to be most competitive with their co-workers, since they are all competing for promotions, and trying to out-work each other. Trust is vertical, not horizontal.
Context is like, are you talking in the office, or at the bar afterwards? At the bar it’s appropriate to be vulgar, sexist, to wear one’s tie as a headband, to complain at length about your hooker or mistress, to sing along with the guitar solo from Stairway to Heaven . . .as well as to talk about the important corporate secrets that it would be un-professional to divulge in the office. Whereas Americans are more like, “You’re schizophrenic, and plus WTF you’re not supposed to cheat on your wife.”
quoting from the book: “Many Japanese profess an honest belief in free trade while backing import restrictions on rice. What could seem more duplicitous to the outsider? To the Japanese it is perfectly understandable that rice should constitute a special case, because self-sufficiceny in the staple of the Japanese diet is a matter of national policy.”
A popular phrase describes this behavior: soron-sansei, kakuron-hantai. “ in general , yes, in this case, no.”
OK, so much for situational morality and context.
1 – Don’t generalize about the “Japanese mentality” or think the way Japanese people act is because of their personality: Japanese guys don’t want to work until midnight any more than you do. They don’t want to obey their superiors blindly because they are soul-less robots. It’s just the culture: there’s a lot more penalties for breaking taboos in Japan. But if you start a new company that lets guys come to work naked and leave at 2 PM, without penalties, then guys will take advantage of it. Samurai spirit has nothing to do with it.
2 – the most important thing is : meeting expectations of reference group. And – put another way – avoiding surprises, which are almost as embarrassing as outright failure! That's why Japanese take a comparatively long time to make friends or corporate partners: they want the "trial period" to be suuuuper long to test if you FOR SURE are not going to surprise them (and then ensure that after you ARE friends/partners, you've put in so much effort / time already that you can't possibly back out, thus ensuring your mutual dependence, and preventing those pesky surprises!) Put another way, To Japanese, the American attitude towards friendship is crazy: Americans share too much with strangers and are only a bit more forthcoming with their closest friends.
3 – Appropriate spirit and correct process is more important than results and profits.And a related point: Winning is less important than not losing! Embarrassment and all that.
Once again, Noboru and Anderson take semi-racist clichés like “Japanese favor the group-over-individual” and lend substance to them by explaining the context AND listing plenty of specific examples.
“A slaryman won’t have his bonus doubled for successfully increasing his kaisha’s market share. On the other hand, if the firm loses market share, it can adversely affect his career.”
“Those who carry out a process are not blamed for unexpectedly poor results. Conversely those who get results do not automatically receive accolades.”
In contrast to morality (situational), the way of doing things is fucking set in stone.
“There seems to be a kata (correct form) for everything – even for actions like eating, reading, and writing. You learn by emulating your sensei in all things. The archetypal example is martial arts training. In the west, martial arts books and videos often break karate or judo moves into a series of steps, describing in great detail how to combine them properly. In contrast, the Japanese approach is holistic. A novice is expected to imitate the movement of the sensei exactly, though the sensei seldom explains in detail what he is doing. The student does not study diagrams or follow a checklist- he or she simply tries to behave exactly like the model.”
That paragraph just explained why my Japanese school sucked so bad!
Here's another great quote, about a hypothetical bank (a composite of many interviewees' banks)
“ Ringo bank’s training program is designed to mold subordinates who follow a process that their superiors can trust – that is, to be predictable. If outcomes were all that mattered, Japanese firms would simply hire the most capbable people. Instead, they use social networks based on school ties to identify people with appropriate attitudes, paying more attention to extracurricular activities than academic performance. Then they pass down a company way to do things- ecahange business s cards, talk over the elephone, conduct business with customers, and so forth. This emphasis on doing eveyrhitng the company way often seems Orwellian to westerners.”
“This mode of learning frequently produces dysfunctional results. For example, third-rate American baseball player often star in the Japanese professional leagues. One reason is that they find Japanese hitting and pitching completely predicable and easy to defeat, if one is willing to be a little unorthodox. Japanese players learn how to throw catch and bat through tens of thousands of repetitions, striving faithfully to imitate the style of their coaches. More than one American player has bemusedly reported that coaches will tell a batter who is leading the team in hitting that his form is all wrong and must be changed.”
Another example of "process and predictability over profits" (again, set at the hypothetical Ringo bank):
One February morning, the departmental controller called Hiro , whose job was trading American stocks, into his office. “What the hell did you do yesterday?” he screamed at Hiro. “I made some trades and lost some money,” Hiro replied. The controller was far more irritated than the actual loss seemed to justify.
It turned out that, two days previously, the controller had negotiated with the department manager a revised budget that could be achieved if the department sat tightly on its present positions. Hiro’s loss had damaged the plan. The controller said to Hiro, “Meeting the budget is our top priority. The budget of each department aggregates to the budget of the bank. You’d better understand that you’re ruining this process.”
Hiro replied, “As a trader, my job is to go into the market and try to make money. We still have almost two months before our fiscal year ends. Are you saying that I shouldn’t even make money because it will affect the budget?”
Yes,” answered the controller, “that’s exactly what I’m saying!”
(actually this is the example that made me buy the book in the first place!)
Here’s one reason proper procedure is more important than success:
The kaisha cannot punish an employee for one bad year, or five bad years, if it expects the person to be part of the organization fo three decades. On the other hand, the kaisha doesn’t want to reward someone for great success in wone eyar because it doesn't know if he will be successful over 25 years.
Incidentally, lifetime employment is a practice initiated after the second world war by Japan’s American occupiers!!! Not some samurai, traditional thing. Who knew? I’m telling you, this book is genius!
“In business, though, Americans . . . want clear and simple reasons why a particular decision was reached. Unfortunately, Japanese managers have difficulty explaining why, because they are following a model (kata), not reasoning through a justification. Junior Japanese salarymen encounter the same problem: they never learn why a particular authorization is needed, or why a document has to be prepared a particular way. In fact, Yoshio Suzuki, president of the prestigious Nomura Research Institute, concluded that the concept of accountability in Japan is a serious defect in the system, because it means only willingness to accept blame, not providing an explanation for one’s behavior.”
(See above, Japanese reason inductively, not deductively)
“We receive numerous proposals and suggestions from headquarters, and many of them don’t make sense because headquarters doesn't understand Japanese markets. The problem Japanese managers have in responding to those suggestions is they are not good at logically arguing, or coming up with alternatives to dodge nonsensical ideas. Consequently, two types of Japanese managers emerge. One rejects almost everything coming from the USA. This type of manager becomes isolated. The other type blindly accepts whatever comes from America. Managers of this type are well accepted by headquarters, but Tokyo people have to waste a lot of time on ideas that make nonsense in the Japanese market. I have seldom sen a Japanese manager who can handle this efficiently and properly.”
“One of the junior executives we interviewed recalled an occasion on which his office’s paper shredder overheated. Concerned about the possibility of fire in a building full of paper, senior managers put out the word that all electrical plugs should be disconnected before the employees went home. When the salaryman’s boss told him to pull the plug of his PC, he asked why, because PCs never overheat. Only an inexperienced salaryman would have bothered to question in the first place whether the directive applied to PCs. The junior reasoned that there had to be logical purpose behind unplugging everything, that purpose being to avoid fires, and this clearly did not apply to PCs. His boss, whoever was conditioned to follow the model, regardless of whether the original reason for an action still applied. Once a model is established, the basis for evaluating correct behavior is simply whether or not an employee is following the model (kata).”
When you put the KATA thing together with the DON'T ASK WHY thing plus the LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY AT THE TOP thing together with the PROCESS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN RESULTS thing, you get a very Japanese phenomenon:
LAYERS AND LAYERS OF TRADITIONS/ OFFICE PROCEDURES / ACTUAL LAYERS (kimono, wrapping of food) that NOBODY KNOWS THE REASONS FOR ANYMORE, but, better safe than sorry, right?
This phenomenon is, as most things in this book a headache, but can sometimes be good: the famous Japanese youth fashions and pop culture, which "layer" tons of things, both foreign and domestic, in a bewildering array of montages.
This way of arguing is an example of Kankyo-seibi: Literally “shaping the environment.” Or as we say, framing the debate.
Because Japanese reasoning is so context-driven, she who controls the context, controls the debate. That’s one way to influence your Japanese pals or bosses. Explain the situation in terms of “You’ll stand out from the crowd if. . . ! You’ll let your team down if. . . ! you’ll risk falling behind your competitors if. . . .”
Everyone knows that Japanese are into “harmony” and all decisions are made by “consensus” which sounds really sweet. But in fact:
Consensus doesn’t really mean people agree under the surface. The salaryman will – before the big meeting- go to all the other guys and sort of ask which way they want to vote. Then he’ll vote accordingly. So ‘consensus’ might well mean that maybe 40% of the people think the decision is bullshit! But those 40% also know they’re in the minority and therefore to fight would be to lose. Losing is more embarrassing than turning your back on your principles. And universal principles are a western concept anyway.
Harmony doesn’t mean trust. It just means the absence of fighting. Actually people at a company might only trust one or two other employees. Foreigners who trust Japanese are going to get burned. Or, as the authors put it: “Those who behave as if trust in is an emotional value instead of a by-product of social controls usually end up feeling violated by by the Japanese.” Doing the right thing is just a by-product of social controls and context, and contexts change. Like if someone gets caught (see above!).
Therefore, harmony is just a side-effect of a system that punishes minority opinion and arguing. It’s not like Japanese LIKE harmony, it’s not like they lack their own opinions, compared to Westerners.
Here's another example of harmony-gone-wrong:
Flat Rock (a Mazda plant run by Japanese in America) was run as a lean, just-in-time operation. There was no one to pick up slack. If a team member were sick or had a family emergency, no temporary help would be sent to replace him or her, the team would have to find a way to pick up the extra load. And if YOUR team slowed down due to Jimmy’s kid having cancer, the whole assembly line slowed down, affecting everyone else at the whole plant. That’s how Americans found out why Japanese work such long hours. Everyone gets punished if one person doesn’t show up for work. Hey Jimmy! Your cancer kid is fucking up everyone else on your team!
And on the other hand: a team who finds a way to work more efficiently ALSO fucks up everyone else, by sending TOO MANY cars down the production line. The other teams either have to streamline their OWN processes, or else work longer hours to match the production of the first team.
Meaning, Japanese aren’t just ambiguous out of politeness. They do it on purpose. And not just to mess with gaijin’s heads. They do it to mess with each others’ heads!
In the case of the company, the boss will just hint vaguely about wanting to invest in plastic, knowing that the underlings have a responsibility to research and prepare 100 reports about every possible plastic and every possible market for selling it in. And THAT’S why Japanese businessmen work so late!
Turns out it’s not just, “I have to work until the boss leaves the office to keep up appearances.” They’re there working on these bullshit reports.
In other words, the ambiguity has 2 benefits for the bosses: it maximizes the work that they get out of their employees, and it doesn’t commit them to a specific action until the final meeting, which reduces the risk of them making a blunder. If the boss were to tell the salryman, “Specifically make a plan for selling Tupperware in Belize, and nothing else!”, and then it turns out that Belizians (Belizoids?) hate Tupperware,the boss is gonna look like a tool in front of everyone.
And not looking like a tool is more important than efficiency.
There is , of course, a saying for this: IF THE BOSS SAYS ONE, THE SALARYMAN HEARS TEN. As in, 2,3,4,5. and so on.
"Salarimen survive by anticipating contingencies. Overpreparation is one of the major reasons why Jaapanes work such long hours".
Now I’m going to switch focus. The stuff above was “stuff that can help you understand your Japanese friends better.”
The quotes below are just random examples of the whole “Japan’s wild capitalist-communist, iron-triangle" thing, to help you understand politics better.
“Focusing on attitude or process has occasionally proven disasterous for the nation.” In order to illustrate this, Noboru and Anderson describe a Japanese book about WWII:
“The authors uncover some obvious tactical mistakes, and ask why they were repeated again and again. Their conclusion is that the leadership of the military evaluated the spirit of officers when deciding whom to promote, ignoring whether they possessed the skills or an objective understanding of the situation. Although Japan had been at war with china for 10 years before pearl harbor, there was no objective evaluation of combat performance, no mechanism to evaluate what worked and what did not. Consequently the military failed to learn from its mistakes. If a general met defeat, what mattered is that he died well. The leadership simply sent out more generals and more soldiers with the right attitude, relying on their samurai spirit to prevail despite the fact that the tactics had proved disasterous time and again.”
Moving to post-war times, industries are ranked like this: the TOP 5 companies, and then THE REST OF THE LITTLE COMPANIES.
Regular Japanese know who the top 5 companies (or 4 or 6 or whatever) in any given field the way Americans know sports teams.
The top companies are based on market share, which is why Japanese companies obsess over market share more than profits.
The TOP 5 are insiders not just with each other (they don’t try to force each other out of business, they don’t have price wars etc) but more importantly, they are insiders WITH THE GOVERNMENT MINISTRY IN CHARGE OF THAT INDUSTRY. They get to advise the ministry of what rules to make, the ministry gives the TOP 5 (but not little companies or consumers) insider information: what plans it has for next year. And the ministry will basically form a little cartel along with the top 5 to regulate competition and prices. Plus: hookers for everyone at the "business meetings"!
“The key to understanding when one may trust a Japanese company and when one may not, lies in knowing what would cause the firm social embarrassment. When the context shifts, a company is perfectly capable of behaving in ways that westerners would consider perfidous.
"To take one illustration, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry guided oil industry pricing. The ministry provided an estimate of production which became a target. Individual oil companies were supposed to pro-rate their output according to MITI’s forecaset. MITI encouraged the coil companies to form a cartel without asking directly, forging a formal agreement, or documenting its action. The entire system eventually became a public scandal. The fair trade commission indicted oil companies for price fixing. Members of the oil industry were deeply upset because they felt they had only been carrying out MITI’s wishes. MITI refused to accept responsibility.”
Japaense cartels are not designed to maximize profits, but to prevent competition which would lead to everyone going bankrupt:
“In the 1970s, competition among paint manufacturers became so intense that the entire industry was worn out by price wars. Competitors began meeting and forming a reference group, and the ten largest started meeting to fix the price of paint.”
The government’s role as a mediator of competition is illustrated in this incident with the chemical industry.
“At the time of the second “oil shock” in 1979, the chemical industry over-invested, leaving it with huge excess capacity. By ordinary market logic, someone should have gone bankrupt. However, MITI stepped in an allocated capacity among the firms. The chemical manufacturers simply depreciated the excess capacity. Every company had to write down investments, taking huge losses. Because all other competitors were doing the same thing and the losses were not fatal for any company, this was acceptable.”
“One salaryman talked to us about the structure of his industry, in which trading companies buy a product from manufacturers and resell it to their customers.
They have established an unwritten custom that a single representative company from the group buys the product from the manufacturers and distributes it to the other insiders at a negotiated price that is the same for all.
Once, a firm in this reference group violated the model and underbid the agreed-upon industry representative.
The insiders punished the firm the next year by excluding it from the redistribution agreement, costing the renegade its entire business for a year.
One obvious question is why manufacturers support the buyers’ practice. If the manufacturers rewarded defectors, this arrangement would collapse quickly.
The answer: the buyers give the manufacturers predictability, placing bids even if they cannot find enough customers for the prrduct.
The price is set only after resale: if the trading companies can find buyers, prices will be set to divide the profits: if not, prices will be set to split the losses.
In this case, the manufacturers valued predicatabilty enough to help the buyers punish the defector, even though the defector’s crime was to offer the manufacturers a higher price.”
“Japanese firms view their direct rivals as insiders only when operating overseas or when coordinated by a government ministry. A good example of the latter case is a scandal that recently broke concerning government construction contracts.
Such jobs are awarded through competitive bidding. Although there are many construction companies in Japan, the ministry of Construction decides who can participate in the bid. Naturally once a reference group is created, social expectations take hold and firms are anxious to model their behavior on what they think others expect. Within the chosen circle of bidders, they talk among themselves ang agree who will bid what amount. The winning bid is pegged to the sponsoring ministry’s budget for the project.
“In the west, if bids always exactly equaled government expectations, watchdog groups would suspect corruption. In Japan, minimizing the possibility of embarrassment is paramount. Recall that such embarrassment stems from failing to meet the expectations of a reference group.
A bid below the budgeted amount would embarrass the bureaucrat who estimated the project cost, by signalling that he had made a mistake. Consequently government officials communicated what they have budgeted for the project and discouraged from bidding below this figure. The winner subcontracts out parts of the job to its rivals, sharing part of the profit.”
“For many years, Nomura, the world’s largest brokerage firm, was a favorite of the Ministry of Finance. When the economy was bad, Nomura leaned on its clients saying, “If you don’t buy these government bonds that you don’t want, we will (fuck you up)!” By doing favors, Nomura was able to influence administrative policy and use the ministry’s information-gathering resources to gain a vital edge on its rivals.”
“When the Tokyo stock exchange dropped after the bubble burst, Nomura found itself losing money for its key clients, other Japanese companies. Among other things, these important customers had accepted those (bullshit government bonds).
In consultation with the Ministry, Nomura and other major Japanese securities dealers , Nomura and other major Japanese securities dealers decided to make up their largest customers’ losses. (see here how the crisis caused the reference group to widen from (nomura+ministry) to (top 5 companies + ministry))
The ministry worried that if these losses were not made good, Japan’s largest firms might liquidate their holdings and drive the market down further. When the policy became public knowledge, a scandal ensued because the losses of smaller customers were not covered. The scandal was compounded because one of the large customers helped out in this was was clearly controlled by the yakuza.”
Prestige over profit:
“if Hino, Japan’s largest truck maker, were to lose 5 percent of the Japanese market to a Euro rival, it would be stinging defeat, even if Hino simultaneously gained 5 percent of the much larger Euro market.”
“Often, corporate rivalry becomes myopic, as firms strive so hard to achieve slight superiority that they disregard consumers! For instance, during the bubble economy, many manufacturers producing goods such as cars or appliances kept adding new functions to their products to differentiate themselves from rivals. Prices increased accordingly, and as the economy entered a recession, these products didn’t sell well. It turned out that customers didnt really value all of these features. The recession laid bare the extent to which these firms simply tried to match or surpass their rivals’ new features without listening closely to customer needs.”
(the concept of montage, or layering entire systems over one another, is something I’m really hip on these days: like how they have English words in katakana, and Japanese words in hiragana, AND Chinese words. Or how they have Buddhist funerals, Christians weddings, and Shinto seasonal rituals at the same time).
"Japan produces thousands of PhDs who are unable to find work that builds on their scientific training. This phenomenon is referred to in Japan as “overdoctoring”. Newly minted PhDs often work without pay in their thesis adviser’s lab, while their mentors try to help them find places in a comeptititive academic labor market. Japanese firms hire comparatively few of Japan’s PhDs, partly because they look with suspicion on the professional socialization of scientists, and partly because they do not have a model for taking in new employees approaching the age of thirty."
MITI’s (ministry of technology's ) greatest successes have been short-term, focused programs aimed at catching up with the world leader in a parituclar tencnology. But their track record for inventing new stuff is terrible.
Here's why Japanese science industry is all fucked up.
All the different ministries have their own R&D groups working on the same shit, and because of insider/outsider rivalries, they don’t share information. They are primarily concerned with not falling behind the other groups (not losing is more important than winning!) rather than striking out on their own in new territories.
As a result, Japan’s government agencies have a track record of backing the wrong horse, spending millions to push Japanese science into isolated backwaters. Once they get an idea, they have to keep funding it, even if it’s outdated. Kata are great at producing swords and clay pots, but not so useful in the goal-changes-every-week cutting edge of science.
"The strength of Japan lies in synthesizing things that already exist. For example, a typically Japanese innovation is a coffeemaker with a grinder and timer built in. At a preset time it can grind the beans and brew the roast. Cordless telephones with answering machines. Combination micraowave and electric overns, watches with a video game built in, and a watches with an English dictionary built in."
AKA. . . . the montage!
MITI issues a white paper in 1986 making this synthesis/montage official state policy:
"In this paper, MITI pblished what it called a “interindustry technology fusion index”, af our-by-four matrix showinghow four industry clusters – electrical, machinery, metal, chemical – were investing in research that might overlap. Miti announced that it would fund fusion projects."
OK, here's the last TV punchline mp3 posts for a while.
256 quotes from Sealab. Because that's what I do to unwind from reading esoteric Shinto textbooks.1 comment Tags: tv —
The Critic was a short-lived cartoon back in the '90s. I just re-watched it, and now realize it was not very good. Way too sentimental, not vulgar enough, and the basic idea (animated film critic reviews parodies of Hollywood movies) was never funny even the first time: Hollywood is so boring even parodies of it are boring. Same thing with Elvis and Guns-n-roses. Some things are not even interesting when you mock them. Anyway, that didn't stop me from watching every episode and sound-capturing the punch-lines. There was plenty of absurd, non-sequitur humor hidden away in this series. Especially with dude's dad, a george bush-Sr. clone that said stuff like " SPEAKING AS THE FIRST BLACK FEMALE PRESIDENT OF THE KU KLUX KLAN , i'D JUST LIKE TO SAY. . .. AMERICA SUCKS!"
Don'T forget I also previously posted my soundbites from . . .
and . ..No comments Tags: tv shows —
Between Musashi Sakai and Kouenji!
above, this nutty MC Escher building is an architectural firm! the "BOW STUDIO." Talk about getting high on your own supply.
Below, this building is not only interesting, but all the tenants are ALSO interesting:
an English prep school, a mental health clinic, another architectural firm, a software firm, a sheet-music transcription service, and a "scenario clinic"!!
Laputa theatre in Asagaya. No relation to the Miyazaki film?
a1 comment Tags: asagaya, chuo, chuo line, kichijoji —