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Stuff I Think I Know About Japan
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This is from Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, by John W. Dower. Chizuko's photo is from page 57; the text is from the following pages. Anything in brackets I added to clarify things.

Watanabe Chizuko, aged seven, December, 1946. She is the girl in front with the white sash around her neck.
In December 1946, Kuramitsu [Toshio, director of the Kamoi Repatriation Center in Uraga] recorded a conversation he had with Watanabe Chizuko, a seven-year-old girl who was among the first group of orphans to return from Manchuria. Of thirty-six children aged four to twelve, twenty-three including Chizuko were immediately hospitalized. Most of them suffered from scabies and malnutrition, and four had severe cases of tuberculosis. A photograph of Watanabe Chizuko had appeared in many newspapers that covered the arrival of the orphans. She was singled out because she had arrived with the by-then familiar white box that contained ashes of the dead hanging by a sash around her neck. Kuramitsu found the little girl sitting up on an adult-size bed, the box of ashes on a nearby shelf next to a small doll. He recorded a bit of his conversation with her:
"Where did your father die?"
"Your mother?"
"Your little sister Sadako?"

The place names marked successive stages in Chizuko's long journey from Manchuria. It is a Japanese custom to give the deceased a posthumous Buddhist name. Because nothing was written on the box on the shelf but a single such name, Kuramatsu could not tell whether it contained Chizuko's father's, mother's, or sister's ashes, or perhaps a mixture of all of them.

Chizuko's family had settled in Manchuria, the northeastern part of China that Japan siezed in 1931. Mukden was the capital (today it is called "Shenyang" and is a center of China's aviation industry). Manchuria was taken by a Russian army in the final days of the war; they took their time leaving. Karafuto is a large island north of Hokkaido; the Russians call it Sakhalin. Japan had the southern half of this island but had to give it to Russia at the end of the war. Sasebo is a port city on the southern island of Kyushu.

Japan has a traditional history that is supposed to go back at least to the legendary first Emperor Jimmu, whose reign is the base of the traditional calendar (660 BC). It is interesting but not really history; Japan's earliest writings are from the early middle ages.  Japan borrowed a lot from China and even Korea, which developed sophisticated civilization first and probably passed on many of the things it had learned from China.

The Japanese language, although written using characters borrowed from China, is closely related to only one other language, Korean. It may be related to the language of the Ainu, an aboriginal people of Japan. They live mostly in the north now, and have many non-Japanese characteristics, like heavier beards and, on occasion, hair that is not black and eyes that are not brown. Some linguists have proposed a distant relationship between Japanese and Finnish, so I guess that would mean Linux is really popular in Japan . . .

Incidentally, some ethnologists are suggesting a close relationship between the Ainu and the Native Americans, or at least closer than between the Native Americans and any other known group of people native to the Old World. However, it is doubtful that any people of purely Ainu ancestry remain in Japan.

One thing that dna research has more or less proved is that there are more Ainu genes among the samurai class of Japan than people descended from commoners. A possible explanation is that Oda Nobunaga created many new samurai from his victorious armies, and he was not that picky about exactly who he would allow to fight for him. This revalation was not a terribly popular one in Japan, at least among people claiming samurai descent.

Once they got the knack of writing, it did not take the Japanese that long to begin innovating. The first novel anywhere, The Tale of Genji, was written by the Lady Murasaki about a thousand years ago. At least for nobles, Japanese life was refined indeed, especially compared to barbaric places like England.

In 1905, Admiral Togo sank most of the Imperial Russian Navy at the Battle of Tsushima. His flagship, the battleship Mikasa, is preserved as a memorial in Japan. During the Battle, Togo allowed no one else to have any metal object on their person on his bridge lest it disturb the compass. However, the Admiral wore a katana that had been presented to him by his emperor, Mutsuhito, the Meiji emperor.

In that same 1905 battle, a young ensign commanding a gun battery in a cruiser (the Niishin, I think) lost two fingers to a Russian shell. In later years, geisha would refer to him as "old 80-sen" because they gave him a 20% discount on the normal one-yen fee for a manicure. By that time, he had changed his name from Takanoafter being adopted by a noble family who had no male heir. 80-sen became Yamamoto Isoroku, who commanded the Combined Fleet on December 8, 1941--or December 7, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where Yamamoto opened what is called the Pacific War in Japan. Yamamoto was such a brilliant leader that Admiral Halsey, upon discovering Yamamoto was to visit a base within range of American fighters, sent out a squadron to shoot down his plane. They succeeded, sometime in April of 1943. Must-read: Yamamoto: The Man who Menaced America, if you can find it. Edwin P. Hoyt has written a more recent biography of Yamamoto that is also well worth reading. 80-sen spent some time in America, and was said to be a sharp poker player.

Those TV antennas that everyone used to have on their roofs before cable and satellite dishes came along are called Yagi antennas, after their inventor. Dr. Yagi was brilliant and world-famous, but he was a "nail that stuck up." His efforts to provide Japan with better radar during the Pacific War were not supported strongly soon enough, rather fortunately for our side.

Japan has only had four emperors since 1868. Deceased emperors are generally referred to by their reign-names. Hirohito, the emperor during the Pacific War, was the Showa emperor. His father was the Taisho emperor, and his grandfather was the Meiji emperor. Dates are sometimes given as "Showa-10" for the tenth year of the Showa era. I do not know the reign name of the current emperor, Akihito, but it was chosen by the Diet, Japan's parliament. Akihito is the eldest son of Hirohito, who reigned during WWII and long after.

The Emperor of Japan uses a unique personal pronoun to refer to himself. That is, he has a special version of "I/me" that no one else uses, a step up from the royal "we" employed by monarchs of the European tradition.

In the sixties, the air pollution in Tokyo was so bad that an entrepreneur set up coin-operated oxygen dispensers.

The traditional costume of Japanese brides is this: a red kimono (the color for Chinese brides) worn under a white kimono, and a wide white headdress. The white does not signify purity, as in the West; it is the color of mourning in the Far East, or at least used to be. The bride wears mourning because her family is "dying" to her as she is given over to her husband's. The wide headdress is to "hide the horns of jealousy." Now you know why Mamoru gets away with so much flirting . . .

However . . . a common arrangement in a Japanese household is for the husband to hand his wife his pay envelope, still sealed. She gives him an allowance, like the other kids . . .

The notorious "love hotels" of Japan are used mostly by married couples. Many Japanese still live in tiny apartments with no privacy, so they go elsewhere for activities they don't want to share with Grandma and the kids. For a very funny, very Japanese look at the problems of a man running a chain of love hotels, see A Taxing Woman. It's a later film by Juzo Itami, the director of Tampopo.

Japanese drive on the left side of the road because the Samurai walked on the left side of the road so that their swords, worn on their left, would never accidentally touch. If they did, the only honorable thing to do was try to kill one another . . .

Recently, the status food in Japan was tuna eyes. A tuna is such a large fish, a can normally holds only one eye.

After Pearl Harbor, William Randolph Hearst fled San Simeon because he was afraid the Japanese would land troops from a submarine to come after him. The fear was not entirely baseless; Hearst had used his papers to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment for decades, and was a major force behind the "relocation" of Japanese-Americans into camps during the war. All right, I know it's really about Hearst, but it's one of the more interesting factoids you pick up on the mansion tours. Takes eight hours to do them all.

Many Japanese are fond of Brazilian and other Latin American music and dance. Maybe that explains why so many of the Monsters of the Day remind me of Carmen Miranda . . .

The yen, once derided, is now a much more inflation-resistant currency than our dollar. If you had converted your dollars into yen about 1960, you could convert them back to about three times as many dollars today. But why would you want to?

The Yamato, Admiral Yamamoto's last flagship, was nearly twice as large as the largest U.S. battleship extant at Pearl Harbor, and was half again as large as the Iowa class, the largest battleships we actually built. Captain Hara, a distinguished destroyer man, berated her as an enormous waste of resources, noting that one of the gun turrets weighed more and cost more than any of the destroyers he commanded in battle. However, he sailed with her escort group on her final, futile sortie toward Okinawa in the last months of the war. His flagship, a light cruiser, was sunk, but he was one of the few survivors picked up after the U.S. planes left. The U.S. Navy sent more planes to attack the Yamato than Japan had sent against the eight battleships caught in Pearl Harbor. The last command of the Yamato's captain was to turn the ship north, because "a dying man faces the north." With her sister Musashi (sunk earlier), Yamato was the largest battleship ever built. Of course, we all know Yamato will be salvaged one day to fight again . . . To read more of this, look for A Glorious Way to Die and Hara's autobiography, which is imaginatively titled Japanese Destroyer Captain in the English translation.

Captain Hara got translated into English because of John F. Kennedy. Hara was commanding the Amagiri when it rammed and sank PT-109. Hara had no idea Kennedy was in his way that night. PT boats never sank any major warships in the war, incidentally, despite John Wayne in They Were Expendable and all those McHale's Navy reruns you saw on Nick at Night.

Tokyo has been mostly destroyed twice in this century, really, first by an earthquake and fires in 1922, and then by American bombers in 1945. No wonder it's always still there when Godzilla returns; the Japanese have so much experience in rebuilding it.

There is a legend that an American ad agency once proposed this slogan to a Japanese company: "From those wonderful folks who brought you Pearl Harbor." If true, the company should have been Mitsubishi, because they made the Zero, or Reisen. It was the Type 0 because 1940, the year it was accepted, was the turn of a century in the Japanese calendar. Mitsubishi also made the monitor I'm using as I type this, and the TV I watch Sailor Moon on.

Unlike some other Americanisms Japan adopted after losing WWII, baseball established itself there quite a long time ago. The Japanese continued to play it through World War II. The Thought Police (kempei tai) insisted on using a made-up Japanese name for the game, though, vice beisubaru.

Tokyo means "eastern capitol," and was the seat of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The emperors, who often lived in poverty, resided in Kyoto, the "western capitol," until the Meiji restoration of 1868, when the Shogunate was abolished. Tokyo was "Edo" before the Tokugawa (it was their home town). Fires were so common in old Tokyo that its inhabitants called them "flowers of Edo."

There is much laudable tradition about the geisha, but the facts are grimmer. Geisha were mostly poor farm girls who were handed over by their families in exchange for "loans" the girls could never hope to pay off. During the tumultuous Thirties, some Japanese troops spontaneously seized some of these unfortunates from their masters and returned them to their families. IMHO, geisha are one tradition that should be allowed to vanish . . .

American Dream Stories Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4 Angel of Death Shades of Difference MTV Naru's Girl
My Links Fanfiction Links Authors in Archives Sailor Earths Other Links
Other Stuff About Japan Fan Art HTML Webrings Updates Main Index

If you dispute any of these factoids, Email me about it. I will always stand for correction, especially of any names I have mispelled.

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