Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Empire Built With Greed and Sacrifice

Risk and sacrifice are essential if one is going to make great changes within a short period of time.  When Japan was forced to thrust open its doors to western powers in the mid-nineteenth century, the Japanese people had a choice: to succumb to foreign influence or to refuse to lose themselves and to push back.

They pushed back.

But risk and sacrifice had to be a part of the energy behind that push.  There are many groups that gave of themselves to make it possible, but the group that stood out to me was women.  The victimization of women is an important part of history, but it is incredibly difficult to teach to teenagers in a sensitive but realistic way is a challenge that history teachers must face.

Background Information
For more information on the history behind Japan's journey from a private mysterious samurai culture filled with tradition to a technologically advanced world power that bombed Pearl Harbor, check out these resources:
Unconditional Expansion
Long before Japan chose a side in the World War II conflict, the small island nation had to look for resources abroad in order to keep up with the western imperial powers (Great Britain, United States, France, etc.).  They looked nearby to the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, and China.  In the Mimura essay, she sums up the Japanese army's strategy to build an empire.
The army, on the other hand, found itself bogged down occupying Taiwan, Korea (taken as a colony in 1910), and especially Manchuria, where the army protected Japanese mines, factories, railroads, and large communities of settlers. Eager to demonstrate their power, unwilling to wait for diplomacy, and convinced that their allies in Tokyo would back them, Japanese army officers planned an incident which would force the Japanese government to seize Manchuria.  Despite advance warning of the plot, the High command in Tokyo was unwilling to take action against its own men until it was too late.  On September 18, 1931, a bomb blast on a Japanese railroad triggered a well-prepared attack in which all of northeast China was seized.  By spring, large parts of Mongolia also lay in Japanese hands, and for the next six years, by treaty and by aggressive action on the ground, Japan took over piece after piece of northern China.
Japanese soldiers were hungry for the resources, land, and reputation that they wanted for themselves and for their nation.  They were not even willing to wait for word from thier own government when it came to opportunities they saw for growing their nation's global footprint.

While the soldiers spent months and years away from home fighting for their country, they became greedy. The Nanjing Massacre is the most famous example of mass murder and war rape.  In an essay by Mark Seldon
Major Gen. Sasaki Toichi confided to his diary on December 13:
. . . our detachment alone must have taken care of over 20,000. Later, the enemy surrendered in the thousands. Frenzied troops--rebuffing efforts by superiors to restrain them--finished off these POWs one after another. . . . men would yell, ‘Kill the whole damn lot!” after recalling the past ten days of bloody fighting in which so many buddies had shed so much blood.’”
The killing at Nanjing was not limited to captured Chinese soldiers. Large numbers of civilians were raped and/or killed. Lt. Gen. Okamura Yasuji, who in 1938 became commander of the 10th Army, recalled “that tens of thousands of acts of violence, such as looting and rape, took place against civilians during the assault on Nanjing. Second, front-line troops indulged in the evil practice of executing POWs on the pretext of [lacking] rations.”
Controversial photo of massacre victims on the shore of the Yangtze River with a Japanese soldier standing nearby.
Why were Japanese soldiers committing these horrifying war atrocities?  Some of the commanding officers thought that separation from home, family, and women could be one of the reasons.  They proposed the idea of comfort women.  

Comfort Women
Often through trickery, women from Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere were forced to become sexual servants for Japanese soldiers in Asia and the Pacific. Primary sources tell heartbreaking stories of women who were forced into brothels for as many as 8 years.
For more primary accounts see the Digital Museum.
Many of these women were victimized while their husbands were away at war.  When their husbands returned they could not tell them what had happened and lived with the secrets for the rest of their lives.  Other young women were kidnapped while their parents were working or were away.  These unwilling women made the ultimate sacrifice.  Their stories are not told often enough, but they are doing their best to gain recognition and compensation, although neither will make up for what they dealt with.

So how do we as teachers tell this important part of history while being sensitive?  We don't want to make history class engaging only because they are enthralled by horrifying human stories that remind them of Hollywood movie scripts, but we don't want to be dishonest and sugarcoat the truth.  Perhaps an appropriate mix of historical context, primary accounts, and present-day connections, like in this post, is the best approach.

This post is a reflection based on the author's coursework through Primary Source in an online class called Japan and the World.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fascination with Far Flung Faces

Human beings tend to either fear what they don't understand or to make their own far-fetched assumptions. In 18th and 19th centuries, this was certainly true between Americans and Japanese.  Some of the interpretations of the culture and people across the Pacific are comical.  The best way to help our students understand this historical perspective is through the eyes of the people who were living at the time.  Visual primary sources are the go-to resource.  All of the primary source images in this post are from John W. Dower's essay "Black Ships and Samurai" on MIT's Visualizing Cultures database.

Historical Perspective
I love these simple charts from The Historical Thinking Project. Both would be helpful when implementing this lesson.
  • The first helps students to put aside their modern bias because they have grown up in a time of instant communication and technological fashion.
  • The second helps students compare historical perspectives that are at odds with one another, even when the creators of each source were living at the same time and saw the same things.
Perplexing People
People of Forty-Two Lands
In the 18th century the Japanese were mostly closed off from the outside world by decree from the Tokugawa Shogunate, the military government that controlled the nation of islands.  One 1703 account portrayed North America as "a country cold and large... with many lions, elephants, tiger, leopards and brown and white bears."  Moreover, the people of North American were depicted as fantastical creatures with giants holes through their torsos, multiple pairs of arms and legs, and feathers from head to toe in a scroll from 1720 entitled "People of Forty-Two Lands."

Japan and the Japanese
The Americans were no less guilty of exaggerating their descriptions of what they did not understand. In 1852 a small book, Japan and the Japanese, was published to help Americans understand what the Perry Expedition would face when they arrived in Japan.  Rather than accomplish its goal, the book only helped to further confuse Americans.  The two images that flank the cover with the title show the Japanese engaged in idol worship, something Christian Americans of the 19th century would have seen as barbaric and primitive.  On the bottom left "The Habit of Japanese Soldiers" inaccurately depicts samurai in flowing Chinese robes and feathered garb.  Finally, and most hilariously, "A Japanese Lady of Quality" shows a woman walking in public covered with a tented umbrella cone held by an attendant behind her.

American Arrival
"Carrying the 'Gospel of God' to the Heathen" and a Japanese artist's American warship.
Although the Japanese had some word of steamships and gunboats from the Dutch and a few other source prior to the arrival of the Perry Expedition in 1853, they were mostly unprepared for the reality that would face them as they looked upon the "Black Ships" in Edo Bay.  In the illustrations above, the Japanese depiction of Perry's ship as a monster demonstrates the horror many citizens experienced from the shore. It is especially poignant when compared with the American artist's perspective beside it.  

The American piece is titled with the Protestant view of the purpose behind Perry's trip.  As with all missions of Manifest Destiny, any other purpose was overshadowed by the responsibility to save the souls of the poor Godless heathens.  Indeed, the heavenly sky seems to beckon the ship, a marvel of American engineering, out to sea so that it can teach the heathens on the opposite shore about the gifts of American ingenuity and the Christian faith.  Of course, President Fillmore's real motivation was to provide stranded whalers with safe haven and a place to refuel their ships with coal.  The desire to open up trade in the future was also important to him.  The mission was all about economic gain and expanding American influence abroad in an age of imperialism.  The American people wanted to feel as though this mission was a moral responsibility, though, and art like the painting above helped perpetuate that myth.

In Dower's essay he interprets the Japanese perspective this way:
The ship's hull is pitch black, smoke belches from its funnel, the figurehead on the bow is a leering monster, portholes high on the stern glower like the eyes of an apparition, the ship's sides bristle with rows of cannon, and gunfire streaks like a searchlight from a gun near the bow as well as from another, unseen, at the stern.

The piece is such a powerful way to help students understand how people who heard about and witnessed the same expedition to interpret it so differently.

"Old Bruin" or "Old Hog"
After exploring the bay for a few days, Perry and his entourage arrived on shore.  There is no shortage of artistic interpretations from the Japanese.  They are especially interesting to look at when compared with daguerreotypes of Perry taken less than a year after his return.  Even his nicknames demonstrate a difference of opinion as to whether he was a hero or a barbarian.  Perry's crew affectionately called the Mexican War hero "Old Bruin" while crewmen of the Japanese squadron chose more insulting names such as "Old Hog."
Perry kawaraban 1854 and daguerreotype 1852
Perry woodblock 1854 and Mathew Brady daguerreotype 1856
When compared side by side the Japanese interpretation of Perry is clearly skewed, but when historical perspective is added it is not surprising that the Japanese were startled at his physical appearance when paired with the policies he was touting from the American president.  There are more interpreted images with excessive facial hair and wrinkled skin at MIT's website.

The larger lesson of teaching students about historical perspective is an important goal for any scholar of history, but the content information to be gained from these images is also incredibly valuable. The Japanese culture was rich and the world had much to gain from it, but without seeking to understand the truth about one another, the Americans and the Japanese made incorrect and often comical assumptions about the culture across the Pacific.

This post is a reflection based on the author's coursework through Primary Source in an online class called Japan and the World.

Monday, July 1, 2013

From Decades of War to Decadence for Warriors

Tokugawa Ieyasu truly was the ultimate warrior.  He was able to unite Japan in the early 1600s after decades upon decades of fighting between competing warlords.  He did this with a combination of strategic alliances, patient planning, and fierce loyalty to his family name.  Ieyasu's rise to power was his life's work and he built a military empire that was meant to last with strict structures and social classes in place.

Government and Social Hierarchy
The Tokugawa shogunate was a huge bureacracy, but unlike the inefficient double-dipping politicians we think of when bureaucracy is mentioned in the present day, the Tokugawa regime had a clear system of authority and everyone knew their role.  Most never questioned the authority of the shogun.  Society was divided into 5 classes, with the two at the top being of samurai stock and education.  Ieyasu himself defined the levels of society best as documented in the early seventeenth century:
one who maintains his 
farmer’s toil 
proverbial ...He
the summer 
the seed
finally to
then becomes the 
for the 
artisan’s occupation 
is to 
make and
wares and
for the
goods so
Social/economic/political roles were clearly defined.  There was little room for conflict.  Since the warrior-elite had few battles to fight in Tokugawa Japan, the samurai spent their time "maintaining their martial discipline" as Ieyasu prescribed (in theory at least) and patronizing the arts.

Drama and Theater
Noh had a long history in Japan before the Tokugawa government came to be.  But it gained status once Hidetada, Ieyasu's son and successor, made it law that Noh was one of the official arts of the shogunate.  Performance troops were licensed and Noh gained popularity among both elites and commoners.  The Noh stage is simple and there are no large set props.  The actors, chorus, and musicians appear on stage together.  The music is simplified, like the set, so that the message can be conveyed through nuances in words and music.

Noh Stage from The-Noh
Noh theater is perhaps most well-known for its masks.  There are several categories such as elders, demons, men, women, and spirits.  Within each category, there are specific eye shapes, nose sizes, and expressions that are meant to show the audience about the nuanced background of each character on stage.
To read more about masks see The-Noh
Noh is reserved, detailed, and simple so that the distractions are stripped away.  It follows the philosophy of the elite in Edo, Japan.  Kabuki was in stark contrast.

Kabuki performers were eccentric, flamboyant, and were undoubtedly outcasts of the strict structure of Tokugawa society.  The art form was seen as counter cultural by the shogunate and was therefore suppressed and limited to certain districts of big cities, much like prostitution.  But, since merchants were still socially inferior even though they were becoming economically superior to even some samurai, it was a perfect way to spend money in a way that reflected their frustration with their lot in life.  The video below provides a 4 and a half minute introduction to the art form.

Kabuki was created by a Shinto priestess, but today only males can be performers and play both male and female characters on stage. It was created to express the frustration of the lower classes with the strict rules of society in 1603, just as the Tokugawa regime was establishing peace and setting nonnegotiable guidelines to live by.  Kabuki actors wear elaborate colorful make up, a noticeable difference from the bland masks what emphasize shape and expression over color on a Noh stage.
Actors use distinctive shadow painting.
Theater for All
The two types of theater are reflective of the two types of society under the Tokugawa regime.  Commoners lived very differently from the elite.  Warriors were without a war and were enjoying the arts that high society had to offer, including Noh.  Commoners were toiling and paying taxes and needed their own artistic outlet.  Kabuki was perfect.  Using the arts to teach about a culture and society is a great way to give students a more complete picture of a people they know little about.

This post is a reflection based on the author's coursework through Primary Source in an online class called Japan and the World.
For other arts that reflected Japan's society in this era:
Experience Chanoyu: The Japanese Art of Tea
The Floating World of Ukiyo-e and How to Read a Woodblock Print
Basho, Master of the Haikai and Haiku Forms