A good realist view of North Korea’s recent satellite/missile launch from Selig Harrison, although it is a little out of date after today’s announcement from the DPRK that it will leave the six-party talks for good. Perhaps most disturbing about all this is his belief that Japan is edging toward being an open nuclear power rather just than a de facto nuclear state. If US hegemony continues to decline what are the chances that South Korea will also re-activate its nuclear weapons program? By 2020 it is not hard to imagine a situation where all four of the Northeast Asian states have nuclear weapons and North Korea will be far behind the other three.
April 14, 2009
May 1, 2008
(I do like the way that Japanese activists manage to use cute cartoon characters even on their union banners.)
While Pressian was on the scene for today’s events in Seoul:
(It’s interesting to note the difference between the events held by the two Korean union federations on May Day - while the more radical KCTU held a big rally against the privatisation and pro-conglomerate policies of the Lee Myung-bak government and promoted the rights of the casual workers who now make up the majority of the South Korean workforce, the conservative FKTU organised a May Day marathon… which will surely do much to promote the rights and livelihoods of its members.)
Meanwhile, here in London we just went to vote with heavy hearts… Not even the anarchists managed one of their attempted riots.
October 14, 2007
Check out the review of David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero at No Ordinary Sunshine… and then get the book. I haven’t read it yet myself, but I certainly will do now.
August 3, 2007
I seem to have been on one of my unplanned blogging holidays for the last month. Actually I’m in Korea now trying to accustom myself to the humidity, but enjoying the heat after the miserable British summer weather this year.
While I’ve been busy with other things, my new pals at No Ordinary Sun have been keeping the flag flying with a brief report on this year’s Marxism conference and some excellent recent articles in Socialist Worker on East Asian matters - one on Abe’s recent crushing defeat in the Japanese upper house elections and another by activists from Ta Hamkke on the Korean hostages kidnapped in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, on the labour front, Jamie at Two Koreas and Judy at Otherwise have been providing some good coverage of the E-Land/New Core disputes involving casualised (women) workers. The second major occupation of a supermarket owned by E-Land was broken up by riot police a couple of days ago and apparently along with unionists a large number of Ta Hamkke members were also arrested. Fortunately, they have been released this morning. There’s more on the dispute here in English.
May 25, 2007
I wonder whether far right Tokyo governor and professional crow-hater Shintaro Ishihara may fall foul of the UK’s new law against ‘glorifying terrorism’ on his next visit to London? It seems he has written and produced a new film - titled ‘For Those We Love’ - on the kamikaze pilots of WWII, that is rather keen to show them in a good light as patriotic heroes (thus helping to overcome Japan’s terrible tendency toward masochistic historytm). As the Hankyoreh notes:
…the film’s political message is simultaneously suggestive and clear, with lines like “We shall meet in death at Yasukuni Shrine,” or “We were right to start a war to liberate Asia from the whites.”
Of course, Shintaro Ishihara is having none of the comparison between kamikaze and suicide bombers:
“[It is] not a glorification of the kamikaze. It’s an ensemble youth drama with an antiwar message,” he continued. “There are those foreigners who confuse the kamikaze pilots with suicide bombers, but I want them to know that they are completely different.”
Fair enough then, it’s just a misunderstanding of us stupid foreigners.
The Guardian’s arts blog has something to say about it too, and points out that:
Hearteningly, For Those We Love seems to have had the opposite effect: despite a strong opening weekend, in which it trailed only Spider-Man 3 and Kitaro, a local kiddie fantasy, it has not only provoked disquiet among both younger audience members and those who lived through the Japanese defeat, but has also drawn uncomfortable parallels between its heroes and the similarly unquestioning, ideology-driven suicide bombers of today.
Somehow, I have a feeling it’s not going to be winning any prizes at Cannes.
UPDATE: An illustrated version of Kim Do-hyeong’s Hankyoreh article is up at the Japan Focus site.
March 27, 2007
A rather moving and shockingly detailed article is up at Japan Focus this week on the struggle of Japan’s ethnic minority communities against a recently published book espousing extremely racist views in full glossy technicolour. The ‘mook’ (magazine book) is entitled simply enough, ‘The Underground Files of Foreigner Crime’. If you have a moment, please do have a look at this - it is quite mind-boggling. But the best part is that a campaign by ‘newcomer’ bloggers in Japan actually won the day and succeeded in getting the book withdrawn by the publishers, despite the fact that it did not become a major issue in broader Japanese society and was not taken up by any of the Japanese newspapers. The first European paper to cover the story was the Guardian.
A link in Arudou Debito’s article that caught my eye led me to this article giving detailed figures on who commits crime in modern Japan. It shows that in terms of having a high crime rate ‘native’ Japanese are only beaten by people of Chinese origin and those coming from Brazil, most of whom are in fact Nikkei (ie Japanese diaspora returnees). Even more interestingly, considering that Koreans resident in Japan have long been the victims of racism, Koreans come near the bottom with a crime rate more than ten times lower than that of Japanese. Of course there are likely to be many social and structural reasons for this difference and I am certainly not drawing any conclusions about ‘innate’ or even ‘cultural’ differences between Koreans and Japanese. What it does seem to indicate though, is that regardless of how they are treated by the Japanese, Korean-Japanese (Zainichi) and other Koreans living in Japan make up something of a ‘model minority’, outdone in their aversion to crime only by the workers from the US and UK, who are by and large well off and working in business, finance or education.
As a footnote to this, it’s worth adding that I’ve seen a number of newspaper articles of the ‘Foreigner crime on the increase’ sort in the mainstream South Korean press (ie Cho-Joong-Dong) in the past. So don’t let it be said that Koreans don’t learn anything from the Japanese.
September 26, 2006
So one rightwinger takes over from another in Japan - big deal you might say. Well, maybe and maybe not. Actually just what kind of a difference Abe might mean for the East Asian geopolitical landscape, Japanese domestic political economy and the left/social movements in Korea and Japan is something I’m curious about. Hence I thought that I might try to gather together here over the next few weeks some interesting reading materials on the new Japanese PM and what he stands for.
1. Basic materials
First something entirely trivial: Abe Shinzo’s homepage which attracted attention at Digg for its use of what seems to be Unix command line gobbledigook on the front page (see above), not to mention the fact that Japan’s youngest prime-minister-in-waiting for god knows how long sits smiling behind the ultimate token of youthful hipsterism, a shiny Mac Powerbook. Actually, there is also a link there to his English profile, although the Wikipedia page on him is probably considerably more useful in this respect.
2. Japan’s shift to the right
An excellent piece from the dependable Hisane Masaki in the Asia Times looking at Abe Shinzo himself, the general shift to the right in Japan, and focusing particularly on Abe’s declared ambition of revising Japan’s ‘Peace Constitution’ so that the Japanese army can take a more proactive role in overseas operations (among other things). In a similar vein is this article from Julian Ryall for Al Jazeera. One thing that seems to come out in both of these articles is that Abe is considerably to the right of Koizumi and perhaps also less of a pragmatist. I suppose there is a chance that this will also make him less of a successful politician.
3. The economic and geopolitical background
Another in a line of great articles on Asian politics in New Left Review is this one from Taggart Murphy on ‘East Asia’s Dollars‘ and once again dear readers it’s a freebie so go ahead and read it. It focuses particularly on Japan’s role in supporting the US economy with its dollars and looks at the reasons why it continues to be so tied to the US.
4. The view from Korea
A worthwhile piece originally from the Hankyoreh in which Lee Jong-won puts Abe into the “ideological and military right” as opposed to the economic right or the realist right.
5. What will Abe do?
Right on cue Hisane Masaki provides an updated version of the analysis piece linked above on Abe and the possible direction he will take now he is in power. Clearly, when you look at this first paragraph summary, even a child could see that some of his stated goals are in a full 180 degree contradiction with one another:
Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has set forth an imposing agenda, which includes repairing strained relations with China and South Korea, revising parts of the constitution, reforming education, winning for his country a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and closing the income gap while maintaining 3% economic growth.
July 11, 2006
I know it’s a crude analogy and all that, but didn’t I say something here before about Japan becoming the Israel of East Asia? Now we get Japan threatening pre-emptive strikes against the North. Rather reminiscent of this. Not surprisingly the reaction from the South Korean government has been pretty scathing. I think they’ve noticed that this whole situation has given the Japanese right a golden opportunity to move ahead with its agenda.
There are a great many other fascinating aspects of the fallout (oh dear…) from the North Korean missile flinging exercise. Overall, there is definitely a sense of the US losing its grip on Northeast Asia as China and Russia become much more assertive geopolitically. It seems as though Russia is particularly confident, having regained control of Central Asia over the last year. And of course both countries appear to be well aware that they need to take advantage of the current difficulties of the US in the Middle East. (Can’t imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like at the upcoming G8 meeting in St Petersberg).
I should just add that although this might all seem like an intriguing game of geopolitical chess from a distance, if things were to heat up any further it would be the people of the Korean peninsula who would suffer, as usual.
June 11, 2006
Via Kerim comes this post from Pinyin News on the shapes of Japanese colonial administration buildings in Taiwan which uses Google Earth to show the very clear 日 shape (as in 日本 meaning Japan) of the presidential building and the cabinet building in Tapei. Seems the nationalists got their own back by building Taipei City Hall in the shape of 十十 (two tens).
This is interesting as a commenter on the previous post mentioned that he found it odd that Koreans would traditionally gather to support their national football team outside the colonial era City Hall in Seoul. Now, I’m not sure about the shape of the city hall but no Korean will hesitate to inform you of the fact that the now-demolished former General Government building was also built using the 日 sun character shape (and apparently designed by a German architect). Since it was built on part of the Chosŏn king’s main palace it was quite literally a case of stamping Japanese authority onto the political space of the capital. I wonder whether other Japanese colonial-era buildings in Seoul were built in the shape of particular Chinese characters. Another thing that fascinates me is the orgins of this practice of writing with buildings (archigraphy?). Is there a precedent for making buildings appear like characters from above in premodern Chinese history? Or did the Japanese come up with this strange habit in the Meiji period?
Clearly this shows there is some benefit to having a name for your country that uses nice simple characters. Try designing a building using the character 韓.
I’ve just discovered that Andrei Lankov wrote one of his regular pieces for the Korea Times on the subject of the Japanese General Government building in Seoul. While reading it I managed to get side-tracked into another linguistic issue. He mentions that the Japanese intellectual Yanagi Mineyoshi who saved parts of the Kyŏngbokkung palace from being destroyed to make way for the building was thought by the Japanese authorities to be an ethnic Korean because “the Chinese characters for his name, unlike most Japanese names, do appear in Korean”. This is a confusing statement, but what he obviously means is that because of the characters used in Yanagi’s name it could be a Korean name, and this is indeed the case. Looking at the Naver encyclopedia entry on Yanagi we can see that his name would be pronounced Yu Chong-yŏl (柳宗悅) in Korean and the surname Yanagi/Yu, meaning willow, is also a surname in Korea (in fact, according to the surname reference page in Bruce K Grant’s dictionary, it’s the seventh most common surname in Korea).