Monday, March 19, 2007

A Note on Dating...

...and I do not mean how Ryū first approaches Kana.

With the blast of Continental War/World War II-related news since the beginning of the year, I am having trouble accepting the common era nomenclature of Japan. Indeed, when I read of "Japanese sex slaves", "Japanese war guilt" and "Japan's Imperial Army" I am having a heck of a hard time understanding what the words "Japan" and "Japanese" are supposed to signify. Sentences like "members of Japan's Kempeitai, many of whom were actually Korean, often meted out the worst excesses against their countrymen" fritter away into motes of sparkling dust.

Who? What? Countrymen as of when and under what system of government?

One of the primary sources of confusion seems to be uncritical acceptance of the dating system according to imperial reign names--as if the identity of the emperor defines his times. Whilst accepting the Japanese government's divisions of history shows a wonderful respect for Japan's government and the person of the Emperor, I think it shows scant respect for Japan and the Japanese people.

My proposal, which is far from fully developed in the organ of my body sometimes taken for my brain, is to junk the Japanese divisions of Tokugawa - Meiji - Taishō -Shōwa (often painfully subdivided into Early Showa and Postwar Showa) - Heisei in favor of a division along constitutional/geographic delimitation lines:

1600 to 1867.......Tokugawa State
1868 to 1945........Meiji State (or Meiji Imperial State)
1946 to present.....Second Constitution
............................(aka Contemporary Japan)

While romantics will probably lament the loss of their favorite political monikers ("Goodbye, sweet, brief flowering of Taishō demokurashii") we will also finally get over the 1945-46 caesura in the Showa era--a fountainhead of so much poisonous rhetoric about continuities between pre-1945 and post-1945 worlds.

In the face of evident geographic and government structural differences, we refer to the self-limiting and largely closed Tokugawa State, the militarily expansionist Imperial Meiji State and the peaceful rise within-Tokugawa boundaries post-1945 Second Constitution state--as "Japan". How is it that we have been willing to further compound the error by camouflaging the stark differences between these three "Japans" of the last 400 years through granting historical significance to the reign of a silent half-wit like the Taishō Emperor and the nearly interminable and ultimately grand guignol term on this planet of "Mr. Ah-so"?

Imagine the clarity of discussion when we stop talking about "Japanese war crimes" and instead talk about "Meiji State war crimes"---or if we can talk about how "Abe and many of his fellow travelers insist on reviving aspects of the Meiji State, saying that it had many virtues"--rather than the diffuse and almost idiotically essentialist "reviving the values of pre-war Japan."

Reimagining the Tokugawa, Meiji Imperial and Second Constitution "Japans" as being three different countries could also liberate the words "Japan" and "Japanese" from the cul-de-sac of Yamato minzoku and epicanthic folds to more open definitions corresponding to mass cultural movements and historically specific programs for the creation of national identity.

Again...I have not really thought through the implications of my proposal...but it is helping me deal with my disquiet over Shimomura Hakubun, Nakagawa Shōichi, Inada Tomomi, Sakurai Yoshiko and the like calling themselves Japanese patriots--all as they hack away at the Second Constitution state--the only "Japan" most of them--and the only one I--have ever known.


WDSturgeon said...

Interesting, and actually, I agree. The only thought I have initially would be to somehow delineate between early and late Meiji - or more specifically, domestic wartime Meiji vs. overseas wartime Meiji (with maybe 1905 being the dividing line). Others would request that line be moved earlier (1895), or later (1931 or even 1937).
Might be helpful...

MTC said...

When I consider that the Meiji oligarchs approved, then reversed themselves over a plan to invade Korea in 1873; sent a punitive military force to invade Taiwan in 1874; and ordered the annexation of the Ryukyuan Kingdom in 1879--it looks to me that the Meiji State was an expansionist, militarily adventurous entity from the get-go.