Saturday, May 31, 2008

Out of Their Right Minds

In a concerted effort to prove that the revisionist/fantabulist movement is, while far from dormant, far from the actual levers of power (and reduced to exhibitionist feats of fury) LDP exile and serial plotter Hiranuma Takeo cajoled 64 members of the Diet to join him in forming yet another study group—this one intent on reintroducing the pre-1945...

wait for it...

wait for it...

orthography system.

Because when compiling the list of the causes of Japan's modern ills, a reasonable method of writing Japanese words as they are pronounced must not be allowed to escape opprobrium and condemnation.


For reasons clear only to the members of this group, which met for the first time on Wednesday (because, being Diet members, they had nothing else to do, the Diet being in session and all) reading and writing using four different symbol systems (kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji) two of which are borrowed from languages that have no morphological similarities with Japanese--is simply too easy.

What is needed to revitalize Japan is the reversal of the orthography reforms carried out under the Occupation, the ones that eliminated the superfluous "wi" and "we" kana and most of the archaic kanazukai reflecting ancient pronunciations or differentiations of homophones. The most notable escapees from reform are the uses of the "ha" and "he" kana for the particles pronounced "wa" and "e" in modern Japanese.

The goal of the Occupation-era simplification was to make reading and writing less onerous, opening the door of literacy wide for all the newly enfranchised citizens. The PRC government had similar "democratization of society through democratization of literacy" goals in carrying out its own massive simplification of Chinese characters...with the democratization bit seeming to have been not quite so successful in the Chinese case.

(Hmmm...the anti-PRC angle...)

At the May 28 inaugural meeting, Hiranuma explained the study group's raison d'être thusly:

"We say that words have the spirit of words (kotodama) in them...and in generation after generation, our ancestors took care of them. But then there were the policies of occupation and now the national language is greatly disturbed. I want to establish a movement to bring back a steadfast (shikkari to shita) national language."
It is all there: the reification of prewar society; the blame for a purported current, debased state of the national language upon the democratizing reforms of outsiders (Americans, yes you damnable, occupying, gelding Americans, I am talking about you!); the betrayal of the ancestors and antiquity; the presence of kami everywhere, even in the very words we speak...the whole, esoteric mystery-spinning, xenophobic, nostalgic, nobility, blood-and-semen worshipping authoritarianism just beneath the skin of every self-professed "conservative"...

Oh Amaterasu, can we be not spared hearing any more from these ugly minds?

Luckily, or perhaps because Amaterasu has already heard our prayers, Hiranuma managed to summon to his shindig a motley crew of the truly unusual suspects. Former Prime Minister Mori ("Japan is a land of kami with the emperor as the centerpiece") Yoshirō is the chief advisor to group. Clearly demonstrating the moral perfection of achievable through archaic orthography was the presence of the LDP's Funada "the Very Sorry Adulterer" Hajime. Watanuki Tamisuke, leader of the Japan People's Party and the leather-skinned co-owner (with Kamei Shizuka) of the Ugliest Man in the Diet Award put in appearance, together with the bat-eared Nishioka Takeo, the Democratic Party of Japan leader in the House of Councillors.

Of the above, Watanuki is to be forgiven for wishing a return of the old ways. He is a calligrapher of extraordinary talent. T'is indeed a pity that he chose politics as a profession rather than art. That he would want to restore archaic, complex written forms is understandable.

As with any Diet study group, especially one where Hiranuma plays a leading role, the press speculates as to whether or not the orthography movement is a screen for meetings leading to the formation of a hardline conservative party. Hiranuma is the chief advisor to Nakagawa Shōichi's "True (space) Conservative Policy Study Group" [Honest to Amaterasu, I am not making this up: the actual name is the "True (space) Conservative Policy Study Group"]—which clearly styles itself the kernel of a future hardline party. Hiranuma has also been claiming he can lure enough former postal rebels who lost their seats following Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro's purge of the LDP in 2005, local LDP politicians, disgruntled current LDP and DPJ Diet members on his own to field 30-strong contingent of district seat candidates in the next House of Representatives election.

It is unlikely that this orthography counterreformatory group is the core or even the shadow of a Hiranuma-led new party. Former Prime Minister Mori's presence indicates that the movement likely does not seek to break down the major divisions of the existing political order.

The sheer cussed antiquarian pointlessness of organizing a Diet study group on reestablishing the complex, anachronistic pre-Occupation written forms of words does, however, cast an interesting light on the dormant constitutional reform movement. As former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō repeated ad nauseum, Japan (and by "Japan" he meant himself and his revisionist/fantabulist allies) needs (and by "needs" he meant "is going to get") a Constitution "written by our own hands" – meaning, of course, not dictated to the surviving members of Japan's elite by outsiders (Americans, yes you damnable, occupying, gelding Americans, I am talking about you!)

Because pater and patria should not be sundered.

The formation of this new group shows that no postwar reform is spared the gelded rage of today's "true conservatives" –- no matter how useful or beneficial something may be, if the Meiji State did not have it, then out it must go. In the conservative mind, it is not just the anti-military strictures of Article 9 or the emperor's renunciation of divine and sovereign status that have impermissibly hollowed out Japan's moral center, leaving it at the mercy of the rapacious Chinese and North Koreans. The humiliating, democratizing rationalization of "spelling" by the Occupation, is destroying Japan.

No humiliation too small, no reform too rational that it will not attract the vorpal blade of the "true (space) conservative" right...


Jan Moren said...

Just a few disordered reactions, approximately as I read the post:

* Well, OK, at least I can get some use from (accidentally) learning "ゐ/ヰ" and "ゑ/ヱ". Apart from reading the label on a can of Yebisu Black of course.

* Hm, I was starting to think I was getting to grips with this Japanese language thing; about time someone moved the goalposts. Of course, as someone perpetuating Swedish as a first language, I really have no cause for complaint if another language decides to become a little more complicated.

* Didn't Germany recently go through a rather more traumatic, fully realized version of the same thing?

And isn't the French language in a permanent state of near-death, in urgent need of restoration from outside influences, according to not only a few archconservatives but from large parts of the local literate elite?

* If these people spend hours and hours writing detailed policy papers on the much-needed restoration of pre-war spelling standards, then that's hours and hours they're not spending trying to turn back the clock on anything of actual importance or realistic chance of success.

If we could only convince them that computers are a Western imperialistic tool of subjugation introduced to subjugate the true Wa of the (far-)right thinking Japanese spirit, then they'll start writing those policy papers with brushes instead of Word, and we'll be rid of them for months at a time.

We get rid of them; they get an absorbing hobby. It's a win-win situation.

Anonymous said...



Claytonian said...

you broke me, anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Forgive my impetuosity in attempting to translate the noble bard who composed the most intriguing stanzas above...

"I think that old literature has a beneficial influence on classical language, and do not think that it is at all difficult to read. In fact, there's no doubt that it encourages my friend Taiwan. Perhaps it would be better if we all spoke using Meiji language."

I guess the comment about Taiwan is related to the fact that this "Japanese" is so archaic that it is almost written in traditional Chinese, as retained in Taiwan.

It's is surely a tongue in cheek expression.

Anonymous said...

Shame on me...

"has a beneficial influence on THE ECONOMY..."

Anonymous said...



第1177號(08.5.6夕刊)(記事 目次に缺落)「缺損五十音圖の復元を(五)」


Anonymous said...

I asked you to read the series of the articles on the Japanese syllabary table carried by an e-mail magazine. But they are in Japanese. Perhaps the comment 18 in

would be helpful. You would find there what it would be to have your alphabet rectified.

MTC said...

kmns -

Thank you for all your references.

Anonymous said...

I think the new spelling system installed after the War is still in the stage of debugging. The Ministry of Education has been incessantly revising and is still revising various tables of characters to be used, (the reversal of which is not to be used) and has been revamping and stil revamping the detailed precepts about what kinds of spelling varieties of a word are permissible, why the traditiona spelling is not to be taught in some cases and permissible in some other cases. Perhaps it was rather those who were pro orthography reform that were out of their right minds. About the rationale of the system, please read the comments to
a Measure of Uncommon Decency