Don’t mention the war

The Second World War is still raging.

Well bubbling along in another island dispute concerning the Kuril island chain; a grouping of volcanic islands that sit in-between Japan’s northern Hokkaido and Russian Kamchatka.

The Kuril Islands form the top part of the pacific RING OF FIRE!  The southern most mere kilometres from Hokkaido the northern most a gnats cock off of Kamchatka. The islands are currently inhabited by almost 20,000 people, mostly Russians but with some Ainu other Baltic populations. The islands are home to many Russian ‘soldiers’ known as the Border Guard Service. The islands are known for their severe weather of long stormy winters followed by short and notoriously foggy summers. It is these foggy summers and the remoteness of the islands that made them the perfect launch site for the Pearl Habour attack.

In 1855 the islands were recognised as Japanese territory. After Japan’s second world war defeat, all of its territories were occupied by the Allied forces. The Allied Powers agreed that Japan’s main islands would be under American occupation; Taiwan would fall under Chinese occupation; and that Sakhalin Island and the Kurile Islands would be occupied by the Soviet forces.

In 1951 when the San Francisco Treaty was signed the allied powers handed Japanese land back, but Russia refused to sign over the Kurils.  To this day Japan and Russia have never formalized any peace agreement, technically meaning the Second World War isn’t over.

As of 2015 Japan has been offered the southern most islands by Putin but it has refused as the offered land only counts for 7% of the disputed area.

Ushishiru Island (Yankicha in Russian)
Ushishiru Island (Yankicha in Russian)

Again, as with the Senkoku islands, this isn’t a “we miss our ancestral land!” dispute. The Kurils are surrounded by some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the North Pacific. There is also a possibility that there are oil and gas reserves. The island also has large deposits of various polymetallic ores including the rare mineral, rhenium.

In 2006, the Russian government pledged $630m to including improving energy and transport infrastructure on the Kuril island chain. The Japanese government also maintains public awareness of the dispute by allowing visits by former residents, displaced after the war to pray at their family shrines.

Today’s 日本語

Person in monkey costume hanging from tree

猿も木から落ちる (さる も き から おちる)

You can have done something a thousand times. Easily mastering it with your eyes closed, hands behind back, spinning plates.

Go to impress someone with it and mess it up so royally you have to move town, change your name, burn your finger prints off with battery acid.

Don’t Worry, as the old saying goes “even monkeys fall from trees”

The Japanese Red Army

0301_02

There are a few things that come to mind when one thinks of Japan; sushi, geisha, tea ceremony, busy street crossings, hard-line communist terrorists.

‘What?!’ You might say, ‘clearly Joekyo you are mistaken’

Well The Japanese Red Army is here to mess your stereotypes up.

Founded in 1971 by Fusako Shigenobu, the JRA was dedicated to overthrowing the Japanese government and the monarchy throughout the 70s and 80s.

Fusako had been a leading member in the Red Army Faction, a militant new-left communist group. In 1970 it teamed up with a Maoist group to form the United Red Army. Just a few months before a major purge, which left twelve members dead and started a week-long police siege, Fusako Shigenobu and a few select members had moved to Lebanon to promote International Revolutionary Solidarity, a movement which aimed to unite the different revolutionary groups throughout the world. Soon after arriving in the Middle East Shigenobu cited geographical and ideological differences with the URA as her reason for starting the Japanese Red Army. She allied the group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Fusako Shigenobu was born in 1945 in Setagaya, Tokyo. Her father had been a teacher and an Imperial Japanese Army Major stationed in Manchuria during World fusako-shigenobuWar II. Fusako became involved in activism whilst studying at Meiji University. At the time in Japan (along with the rest of the world) leftist ideology was rampant in university campuses. Fusako started protesting increases in tuition fees. She quickly rose up the ranks of the new-left movement and became one of their top leaders. Fusako Shigenobu was at one time judged to be the most feared female terrorist in the world.

The group was responsible for a large number of violent acts. In 1972 three members walked into Lod airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) in Tel Aviv and used guns and grenades to kill 26 and injure 80. Two of the attackers were killed whilst another Kozo Okamoto survived and was captured.

In 1973 the group hijacked a JAL plane bound for Tokyo and demanded the release of Kozo. When this was refused the group flew the plane to Libya, released the crew and passengers and blew the aircraft up. The JRA was involved in numerous hostage situations throughout the 70s and 80s. After the Lod massacre they became the most well-known leftist terror group in the world.

In Novemeber 2000 Shigenobu was arrested in Osaka. She was found with forged passports and $9000 in cash. It was a shock for Japanese people to see a middle aged woman in handcuffs, thumbs up shouting at reporters “I’ll fight on”. In 2006 she was sentenced to 20 years for using a forged passport, aiding a member of the JRA in obtaining a forged passport and attempted manslaughter by way of planning and commanding the hostage taking at the French embassy in The Hague in 1974. A key member of the defense at her trial was the hijacker of TWA Flight 840 (1969) and current member of the Palestinian National Council Leila Khaled.

In 2001 after the Twin Towers attack, Al-Jazeera and the AFP both received anonymous calls claiming the attack in the name of the JRA. This was debunked after Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were officially blamed.

Most of the groups members have been arrested and imprisoned. In 2015 Tsutomu Shirosaki, who had been imprisoned in Mississippi for his involvement in a mortar attack on the American Embassy in Jakarta, was arrested as he returned to Japan. He had been one of the prisoners freed in 1977 after the JRA hijacked a JAL flight from Paris to Tokyo.

The Japanese Red Army have been portrayed in books and film. In 2010 Fusako and her daughter Mei were featured in the documentary Children of the Revolution which tells the story of Shigenobu and German activist Ulrike Meinhof through the eyes of their daughters.  Mei Shigenobu is the daughter of Fusako and an unnamed Lebanese freedom fighter. She is currently a Japanese citizen working for news agencies. Fusako wrote about her experiences raising a child in Lebanon in her book I Decided to Give Birth to You Under an Apple Tree (2001).

Today the JRA have disbanded stating that having lost their base in Lebanon and the changing political environment of the world, the aims of the JRA can no longer be met by such a group.

Their successors are known as the Movement Rentai.

Today’s 日本語

めんどくさい – mendokusai

It’s Tuesday morning. The sound of your alarm pierces through the dull patter of rain at the window. The grey sky as dark and ominous as your mood. dragging yourself from the warmth of your bed you fumble for phone. AHHHH mendokusai.

It’s Friday afternoon with every passing second you can feel the weekend ahead of you, just when it seems you have a handle on the week, the finish line is in view an email comes in ‘This needs to be done by the end of the day’. AHHHH mendokusai

Sunday evening, lounging slumberous on the sofa barely taking in the meaningless TV you’ve been watching for the last four hours you glance over to see you haven’t actually done the washing up yet. AHHHHHHHHH MENDOKUSAI!

Mendokusai is an untranslatable word in Japanese. it sums up both the tiresome mundanity of a situation and the enormity of a simple task when you are in no good God-damned mood. It is probably  one of the first words any gaijin in Japan learns (beside NAMA KUDASAI!)

Type mendokusai into google translate an you will be told it means troublesome. but when you just can’t be bothered with anything, ‘tiresome’ doesn’t have the same cathartic effect as a nice long drawn-out MENDOKUSAI!

Happy Japanesing!

Today’s 日本語

わびさび wabi sabi

Wabi sabi represents the transient nature of beauty; a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

The aesthetic comes from the Buhddist Three Marks of Existence (三法印 sanbōin), impermanence, suffering and emptiness.

Many Japanese arts are in the wabi-sabi style. Pottery that is not quite symmetrical, The stark lines of ikebana flower arrangement and the rough rustic edges of a Japanese garden. Jack Dorsey the founder of Twitter is known to promote the philosophy of wabi-sabi design.

299390_10150310571478647_1347384746_n

Japan’s Secret Christians

Image
マリア観音 – Maria Kannon

In 1637 an uprising comprised of mainly Japanese peasant Catholics was brutally crushed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, with almost 37,000 rebels and supporters beheaded and buried in the ruins of their castle stronghold.

The shogunate, accusing Portugeuse settlers, implemented the Sakoku (鎖国 – Locked country) policy, limiting foreign influence and forbidding Japanese citizens from leaving. Catholic missionaries and priest were expelled and converts either killed or tortured.

This started the sect of the Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン – hidden Christian). Worshiping in secret rooms they adapted prayers learnt from memory to sound like Buddhist chants and idols of the Virgin Mary and crucifixes were built in Buddhist styles. Eucharist was performed with rice and Sake.

17th Century crucifix

Over time the original meanings of the prayers were lost and the Kakure Kirishitans beliefs became more ancestor worship based, with Christian martyrs taking the place of actual blood relations.

When religious sanctions were lifted in the mid 19th century many of the Kakure returned to the Catholic church. Only a handful remained.

In 1991, anthropologist Christal Whelan traveled the Goto Islands, southern Japan to speak with the few surviving Kakure Kirishitans. A preview of her documentary Otaiya; Japan’s Hidden Christians can be seen on Youtube.

Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi (c 825-900) was a famous and prolific waka poet. She is placed within the Thirty Six Poetry Immortals.

Komachi was renowned for her beauty and charm. As a poet, she specialized in erotic love themes, mostly about  anxiety, solitude and  passionate love. 

Komachi’s birthplace is unknown but, according to one tradition, she was born in what is now Akita Prefecture (northern Japan),  Her social status is also uncertain but she is believed to have been the daughter of a low ranking lord and subsequently become an emperor’s lady-in-waiting , possibly Emperor Ninmyō (r. 833-850).

Legends abound of Komachi in love. The most well known is a story about her relationship with a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her every night for a hundred nights, then she would become his lover. He obliged but failed once towards the end. Despairing, he fell ill and subsequently died. When Komachi learned of his death she was overcome with grief.

Komachi’s old age when she had lost her beauty, been abandoned by her former lovers, and now regrets her life, wandering around as a lonely beggar woman is also frequently portrayed in later-period literature including many noh plays. What is fiction and what is fact is the subject of debate.

Today the name Komachi still evokes the image of classical feminine  beauty  and is a popular girls name to this day

Though I go to you
ceaselessly along dream paths,
the sum of those trysts
is less than a single glimpse
granted in the waking world.

Yōkai; Rokurokubi

轆轤首 – Rokurokubi (potter wheel neck)

Rokurokubi are normal women by day, but at night they gain the ability to stretch their necks to ridiculous proportions.

It is said that rokurokubi live undetected during daylight and may even take mortal husbands trying to keep their demonic forms secret. They are tricksters by nature, however, and their compulsion to frighten and spy on human beings is hard to resist. Some rokurokubi thus resort to revealing themselves only to drunks, the sleeping, or the blind in order to satisfy these urges.

Other stories say that the rokurokubis were humans who had broken Buddhist law. They feast on the blood, favoring that of those who had also broken religious doctrine.

Yōkai; The Shirime

尻目 – Shirime (bum eye)

In the run up to halloween, I want to introduce you to the strange and wonderful world of the yōkai.

The story of the Shirime starts with a lone samurai walking to Kyoto. On hearing someone calling to him he turns to find a naked man, ass up. From where the man’s poop chute should be a HUGE GLITTERING EYE opens.

The famous haiku poet and artist Yosa Buson liked the story so much he included the Shirime in many of his yōkai pictures, like the one above.

Hisashige Tanaka

20121016-185510.jpg

Today is the 213th birthday of legendary Japanese inventor Hisashige Tanaka (田中久重).

Born in 1799 in Chikugo prefecture (modern-day Fukuoka), he invented a loom at the age of 14. By his 20’s he had become famous with aristocrats for his karakuri dolls which were capable of complex movements.

In 1834, he started his experiments in pneumatics, hydraulics and various forms of lighting based on rapeseed oil. However, he soon moved on to Kyoto, where he studied rangaku, or western learning, and astronomy. With the development of the Sonnō jōi movement, the atmosphere in Kyoto became increasingly dangerous towards foreign influences and technology, and Tanaka was invited by Sano Tsunetami to the Saga Domain in Kyūshū.

While in Saga, Tanaka designed and built Japan’s first domestically made steam locomotive and steam warship from a Dutch reference book, and a demonstration of a steam engine conducted by a Russian diplomat during his visit to Nagasaki in 1853.

He was also involved in the construction of a reverberatory furnace in Saga for the production of Armstrong guns. In 1864, he returned to Fukuoka, where he assisted in the development of modern weaponry.

In 1873, six years after the Meiji Restoration, Tanaka, by then aged 74 was asked by the Ministry of Industries to come to Tokyo to make telegraphs.

After his death in 1881, his son founded Tanaka Engineering Works The company changed its name after Tanaka’s death to Shibaura Engineering Works in 1904, and after a merger with Tokyo Denki became Tokyo Shibaura Denki, more commonly known today as Toshiba.

Today he is the Google home page.

20121016-190134.jpg