Thursday, June 3, 2021

Invasion of the Academic Body-snatchers: Kyoto University and Ancestral Okinawan Remains

 Perhaps part of the sensitivity of Okinawan citizens to the matter of human remains being relocated without identification or respect (as part of the foundation for yet another American military base) might be explained by the fact that this is not the first time.

In the late 1920s and mid 1930s, several academics from the University of Kyoto are said to have broken into Okinawan graves and removed human bones for research (presumably) to the Kyoto campus. 

As is the case with zoological specimens generally, the bones are stored in drawers, with labels of particulars of provenance, and so on. There is no honour and no respect accorded to the Ryukyu dead in this treatment, according to descendants who are campaigning for repatriation of their ancestors' remains.

Here is an English-language interview sponsored by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. Here is a posting by the redoubtable Catharine Jane Fisher, whose blog  link can be seen on the right-hand side of the page you are reading. Ms Fisher conducted an interview with Mr Tsuyoshi Tamagushiku, whose ancestors comprise part of the stolen remains.

I have often in my years seen a dynamic I call "Because we can" (A neuro-linguistic cousin to "The end justifies the means") operating in some of the worst travesties of cruel human behaviour toward those most vulnerable. In politics, examples are literally legion, but in scientific endeavour, there is just as much callous cruelty apparent, if we but look through a certain lens. In Canada, the experiments on nutrition (or rather, malnutrition) and Indigenous residential school children, as well as the horrific work of Dr Ewan Cameron are but two of the worst examples.

It is time for the bones to come home. It is time for a lot of things to change in Okinawa...

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Okinawa: Reducing the Burden

 Elsewhere here I have mentioned that 70%+ of the American military presence in Japan is concentrated in Okinawa. A recent Japan Times article uses the word "burden" in relation to this presence.

 Okinawa's prefectural governor has officially served notice to Japan and the United States that he wants this burden reduced.

 Read about it here.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Surveying Japan's Population

 The Japan Times English-language newspaper reported recently that a survey of some 3000 persons over 18 years of age on a variety of Japanese constitutional topics reported a divided population. This may or may not be surprising, but the main questions in the survey concerned amending (or not) Japan's constitution in light of the pandemic and potential future emergencies.

Here is the link to the article.

Of interest to us is the cluster of questions around Article 9. It seems that 51% feel that Article 9 needs to be amended, while a slightly lesser percentage feels it is unnecessary to do so. Of course, that nearly half of those surveyed feel that Article 9 needs to be amended is potentially worrisome--we do not know from the news report why the respondents feel as they do.

Other answers to the survey's questions reflect a somewhat sharper divide between those who feel the government needs to have greater emergency powers in times like these (57%)  and those who feel that the government has adequate authority now.  

Why the survey now? Monday, May 3, is Constitutional Memorial Day in Japan. The current constitution has not been amended since 1947, when it was instituted. Perhaps sections of it need to be amended. Hopefully not Article 9.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Yoshi Kuzume, promoting peace one T-shirt at a time


Professor Yoshi Kuzume of Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan, is a passionate believer in the effect of Article 9 on Japan and potentially the world. Since 2004, when she joined the Article 9 Association founded by Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, Yoshi has arranged giveaways of colourful T-shirts printed with the text of Article 9 in both Japanese and English.

Kenzaburo Oe founded the association because of efforts by right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revise the constitution and nullify Article 9's prohibition of aggressive military presence and war as a solution to international problems. Abe has already proven partly successful by his securing of Japan's involvement in the Iraq War by providing logistical support. Indeed, considerable pressure is being exerted by conservative nationalists in Japan to not only gut Article 9, but revise the contents of elementary and secondary school text books. Accounts of the Second World War in the books feature downplaying or ignoring the Empire's belligerence and atrocities, edging close to whitewashing Japan's aggression, according to several reports by concerned citizens and groups.  

To Yoshi and the Association, Article 9's statements have never been more important.

Her modus operandi is worthy of note. While she orders the shirts and gives them away personally where possible (pre-COVID), she has created a system of contacts and sponsors among Association members. When we ordered 2 shirts (without charge, I might add), Yoshi communicated with the Association members to find two people who would sponsor the shirts. Having found them, Yoshi arranged not only the shirts but response cards in English and Japanese:

The above is a sample. We are to return the cards to Yoshi, who will see to their distribution to the sponsors. 

We have found that the shirts arouse curiosity in people who see them, and create an opportunity to for us speak about Article 9. At least one who saw the shirts is communicating with Yoshi directly to order one for his grand daughter.  

As of this writing, Yoshi has distributed thousands of these T shirts, and will continue to fill orders for them, as supplies last. Here is her e-mail:


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Last Mission of Kaname Harada

Kaname Harada woke up sweating. Increasingly, the middle-aged Japanese farmer was experiencing nightmares, horrific visions of the faces of terrified young airmen hurtling toward their doom in fiery crashes. Kaname (pronounced Kah-Nah-May) had killed every one of them in combat as a Zero fighter pilot during the Second World War.

Furthermore, he bore terrible memories of being on a hospital ship with horrifically wounded soldiers, none of whom were being treated. The ship's doctor ignored them as he treated Kaname's wounds, saying, “You just have to discard guns with a bent barrel.”

Kaname thought at the time, “We aren’t human beings. We’re like a weapon or ammunition...That’s the reality of being on the front line.”

Kaname Harada was among an elite group of Imperial Japanese pilots. Like his contemporary, Saburo Sakai, Kaname was an “ace”, having shot down an estimated 19 American airplanes up until he himself was shot down and badly injured in 1942. He had been involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour and in the Battle of Midway. After his injuries, he became a flying instructor, eventually even training kamikaze pilots, for the remainder of the war.

Although he became a successful dairy farmer afterwards, the nightmares stemming from his war experience haunted him, exhausting him spiritually and physically.

I realized the war had turned me into a killer of men.” he said later. “And that was not the kind of person I wanted to be.” What was he to do? he wondered.

If you want to atone for the lives you have taken, what better way is there than to nurture new lives?” his wife suggested. They opened a kindergarten in 1969. His nightmares vanished. Kaname worked as principal of the school until he retired in the late 1980s, though he maintained a presence in the facility afterwards.

The first incarnation of my life was as a ruthless killer. I still live with a sense of sin over those I killed. I chased them and shot them down—such a horrible thing to do,” he said in a later interview. “Now, I go to the kindergarten every day and interact with the children. I want to nurture kind and considerate hearts in all of them.”

During those years, he also made it a point to visit former aerial foes in the UK and USA. All of these activities helped heal his psychological pain, but a rocking chair retirement was not to be. In his 70s, Kaname realized that Japan was experiencing an ominous evolution in its politics.

Kaname Harada had been like many veterans of war: he had chosen not to talk about his experiences for a long time. But one day, in 1991, he heard one of the children in his kindergarten speak of the televised images of the Gulf War, as “beautiful like fireworks”. Kaname realized that that child—perhaps many children—had no real idea of what they were seeing and could find the horror of actual war rendered as harmless and somehow “beautiful”.

There were more alarming signs of a change in outlook in Japan.

In recent years, especially under Prime Minster Kinzuo Abe, Japan has swung politically to the right. Abe is keenly interested in gutting Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which specifically forbids Japan from entering into any conflict for other than self-defense. To this end, Japan's military is limited to a defensive role, a fact which irks many Japanese conservatives. Japan itself has struggled with its role as an oppressive empire before and during the Second World War. As the realities of the war recede in memory, a number of younger Japanese want to see the country become militarily strong again. More than a few are agitating for a return of the Empire as a reflection of growing Japanese nationalism and the threat of North Korean militarism.

However, many Japanese wish to see Article 9 preserved and for Japan to remain as a peaceful power in the world. Among them was Kaname Harada.

He did not mince words about those who wanted to return to a militarily strong Japan: “these politicians were born after the war, and so they don’t understand it must be avoided at all costs. In this respect, they are like our prewar leaders."

The former fighter pilot took on a new mission: to speak up, tell the truth about war to younger generations. Despite his 70+ years of age, he spoke publicly at every venue he could. Kaname continued well into his '90s, despite the growing frailty of his aging.

His eloquent pleas to remind his people of the dangers of reawakening nationalistic militarism and of the horrors of war itself drew a wide audience in Japan. Despite his age, Kaname became a sought-after public speaker. He continued this practice for most of the rest of his life.

In his late 90s, unable to speak publicly any longer, Kaname retired from what had become his third vocation. At some point in 2011, he was approached by film maker Zero Mori in Nagano, his city of residence. Mori visited the elderly Kaname many times, then broached the idea of making a documentary about his war experiences, especially as so many of those who had lived through or participated in the war were now deceased. Kaname readily agreed.

The documentary, titled Each and Every Battlefield, premiered in 2015 and has had good audience numbers. Kaname lived to see himself on screen pleading with his country to remain a peaceful presence in the world.

He died in 2016, having completed his last mission to the best of his ability.

--copyright Peter Fergus-Moore 2017

Back on course from a digression: A Tale of two Rooms

 Room 4 is mostly dark. 

So is another room many kilometres to the north of Room 4. The northern room is situated in the Bikki Atelier 3Moa, a museum housing the art and workshops of renowned Ainu artist, Hisao "Bikki" Sunazawa. The northern one is hosted by the village of Otoineppu, Hokkaido, Japan.

Each room is populated with ghosts. One set of ghosts is agitated, disturbed. The other, calm and welcoming.

In the Bikki Atelier 3Moa, you walk into a room with three dark walls, with a fourth grey one, barely visible. The fourth grey wall has a tree, or at least a crudely-chiseled trunk, atop which is a horizontal cross beam. The only light in the room is a small spot on the tree itself. In fact, the room is called Dialogue with the Tree. You hear running water, as though it is perpetually spring. There is a shallow pool at the base of the tree. And you hear a quiet voice beneath the sound of the running water, speaking gently to you in the Ainu language. The words are those of welcome and calm. Peace.

Room 4 is one of five rooms at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Museum, located in Itoman City in southern Okinawa. Each room speaks about the Battle of Okinawa from different perspectives: the battle itself, the progress of the battle, and more. 

 Two rooms speak about the civilians in particular: Room 3 is the Battleground of Hell, with mockups of caves that civilians and Japanese soldiers madly dashed to and hid in, to escape the onslaught of the US forces. These are caves where Japanese soldiers murdered or forced suicides of Okinawan civilians.

All the above is spoken from the 3rd person, if you will.

Room 4 is different: it is from the first person. The personal testimonies.

Inside are a dozen of so lecterns each illuminated by its own spotlight. Each has a sizeable book open to reveal a story or series of stories of Okinawan civilians caught in the maelstrom of battle.

This from the commentary on the Museum web site:

"There remains little material evidence to tell what actually befell the civilian victims during the Battle. Only persons who could tell the truth on behalf of those residents who died against their will are the survivors on the Battle, whose minds had long been closed to others because of their tormenting memories of the war, gradually started to talk about their experiences in order that their testimonies may be passed on to the future generations. These testimonies speak the very truth of history." --copyright, Okinawa Prefectural Peace Museum

In a word or two, devastating. Devastating experiences, devastating memories. 

Certainly, the visitor is welcome. In fact, the more visitors who take in the exhibits, the better. Memories are so volatile and contexts shift with time. And now, the government of Japan and forces on the far right are looking to gut Article 9 and restore at least the sense of Empire and aggressive capability. 

 I have been fortunate to be in the room of the Dialogue with the Tree in Otoineppu, Hokkaido, but have not been able to visit the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Museum. But I can think of a large number of people--certain politicians, especially--who really must make that visit on my behalf.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Why Something Thousands of Kilometres Away Involving People You Don't Know is Important--and yes, I will invoke John Donne...

If you are wondering what relevance, if any, all this has for you--rest easy. I am not judging you, or about to spew a jeremiad in your general direction. 


Without mentioning the stress and pressure of COVID-19++ (which I guess I just did), I can say that there is the stark difference in geography and everyday life between you reader, and the events in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, and China. It is a stretch to imagine that, despite our platitudes about being one human family etc etc., we don't usually see these folks or have a conversation with them every day in our neighbourhoods. There is a language difference for most of us which renders all but the most basic of concepts, such as a simple daily greeting, as opaque to us as the surface of the moon. These folks are strangers to us, as we are to them. I struggle with it, too. All the time. I like to think, in my brighter moments, that it keeps me honest.

OK, so let's look at self interest, because that is a well-oiled door to other realities for most people.

The East Asian region is potentially very unstable, and at least two countries have nuclear capability. Nuclear capability is the monster in the closet--release it, and the entire house vapourizes. It's in everyone's interest to keep the lid on the nuclear demon, and it is a delicate balancing act between the negative approach (sanctions, threats, trade embargoes, etc) and the positive approach (diplomacy, appeals to mutual interest, etc). Keeping up with the back and forth of all this calls for a fair amount of intentional reading, and as the events of recent years have taught us, information sources are best read critically and carefully.  

This is especially important given some people's tendency to blame China for the presence of COVID-19 in our lives. That's fear talking, and understandably so. But in reality, #19 and its subsequent contagions (yes, there will be more--in our current way of doing economics, we are bound to encounter yet another and another such, because we are penetrating farther and farther into areas previously left alone, and encountering viruses that are all too happy to have a new and unprotected host) could pop up literally anywhere, and for the reasons mentioned in the bracketed statements. So, setting aside suspicion and anger at East Asia, let's keep in mind that we ourselves, with our lifestyles influence world affairs, for better and for worse.

In light of the above, even though we are a relatively very small power, our voice can and does make a difference, hopefully for the better. For you and I, that means informing ourselves and then tapping our local Member of Parliament on the shoulder now and again. Our communications are noted, and the more of them in any given direction, the more they are noted. If you get a reply from your MP, well done! Even if it is to say in so many words that they are on it and you don't need to worry.

I said self interest, didn't I? Although the United States is our predominant trading partner, there is a whack of trade between East Asian countries and ourselves. Do you drive a Mitsubishi? Nissan? Have a Daiwoo tv? Sony? Yep. And those folks are eating food products made from western Canadian wheat and building with  Canadian lumber. And actually, if you were to look a bit further, you'd find that even when countries are yelling at other (diplomatically), trade between them is booming away. Except for the odd hiccup. 

So, if you want to continue to buy these pieces of hardware and dig the latest K-Pop sensation, it is a good idea to keep good relations with East Asia, help the situation remain stable. Right?

Next posting: beyond self interest, and the appearance of Mr. Donne...


Invasion of the Academic Body-snatchers: Kyoto University and Ancestral Okinawan Remains

 Perhaps part of the sensitivity of Okinawan citizens to the matter of human remains being relocated without identification or respect (as p...