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Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

“Born to Chaos” — an Excerpt from Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

We continue our week-long feature on Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, by Phyllis Birnbaum with an excerpt from the book. In the chapter “Born to Chaos,” Birnbaum opens with the last days of Kawashima Yoshiko, while looking back at her exploits, her troubled upbringing and her conflicting legacies in China and Japan:

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of “Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy,” Part 2

Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

The following is part one of our interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army:

Q: Why begin with Yoshiko’s execution?

Phyllis Birnbaum: I didn’t want to tell Yoshiko’s story chronologically, that is, I didn’t want to write she was born, she went to school, she grew up, she died etc. I wanted to be able to jump back and forth in time, and also wanted to digress to other side issues–about what was happening in Manchuria at the time; about Emperor Puyi; about Saga Hiro, the Japanese woman married to Puyi’s brother. So telling readers about Yoshiko’s death at the very beginning is a kind of announcement that the biography is not going to be told in a “this happened, then this happened” style.

Also, as a beginning to a book, her execution is dramatic and, hopefully, catches the reader’s attention!

Q: What was Yoshiko’s attitude towards her own fame? (more…)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of “Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy,” Part 1

Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

The following is part one of our interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army:

Q: How does Yoshiko Kawashima’s life inspire such divergent, polarizing views?

Phyllis Birnbaum: Yoshiko spent her life shuttling between China and Japan, and even now her reputation is very different in these two countries; this is all the result of Yoshiko’s activities during the Second Sino-Japanese War. For the Chinese, she is still held up as a case of all-purpose evil, a traitor who schemed against China and caused damage that can never be forgotten. To this day, they blame her for starting a war in Shanghai and for otherwise assisting the Japanese occupation. They emphasize the lurid sides of her biography, pointing to the alleged childhood rape by her adoptive father as the cause of an unquenchable sexual thirst and full-scale perversion.

For Japanese, her story takes on another look entirely. In Japan, she is accepted as almost one of their own since she spent much of her youth in the country. Therefore, in Japan, they take a more wistful view of Yoshiko’s escapades. The Japanese emphasize her psychological problems—childhood woes, abandonment, solitude. The Japanese tend to forgive her wartime activities and don’t dwell on the rape rumors. They see Yoshiko as a pitiable character, wronged over and over, by her birth father, her adoptive father, the entire Japanese military establishment, and other males who took advantage of her beauty and her daring.

Q: Part of the difficulty of portraying Yoshiko seems to lie in her own affinity for toying with the truth and fabricating myths. Which traits did she tend to emphasize?

PB: Yoshiko made up different stories about herself at different times of her life. Her disregard for the truth must bring despair to the heart of any biographer. In one particularly outrageous interview, she showed such a stupendous disregard for the facts that she called into question every word she had ever uttered about her personal history. Gall unremitting, falsehoods pouring forth, Yoshiko told about how she was the daughter of the last emperor of China and had been “disguised as a boy to save her from Chinese revolutionists who went to Japan to seek her life.” She was shot three times in the Shanghai Incident and “was carried away as dead, but miraculously recovered.” Her parents were killed in the Chinese revolution of 1911, and her brothers drowned or were poisoned or stabbed. She added that she piloted airplanes, was an ace with a pistol and rifle, could write magazine articles, played musical instruments, sewed, painted, and composed Japanese poetry. Also, she was ready to assume leadership of China, if summoned.

Yoshiko’s embellishments, taken together with the wild newspaper accounts about her during her lifetime, would make the work of tracking down the facts hard enough, but there’s also the 1933 best-selling Japanese novel based on her life that many people—including the judges at her trial for treason—took as her real life story. In many people’s minds, the fictional heroine was the real-life Yoshiko. To make matters worse, Yoshiko also liked to promote this idea that she and her fictional self were identical, putting more distance between herself and the truth.

Since I wanted to write a biography, not a novel, I wanted to stick to the hard facts when available, and when these were impossible to find, I tried to show what was known, what was a fabrication, and what was somewhere in between. That way, readers, along with me, could try to figure what belonged to myth and what really happened.

(more…)

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

This week our featured book is Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army by Phyllis Birnbaum.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 17th at 1:00 pm.

Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907-1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu’s father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed.

For more on the book, here’s the chapter “Born to Chaos”:

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

A Tutorial on Japan-China Relations

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. Today, for the final day of the week’s feature, we have collected four short, helpful videos from the Council on Foreign Relations (all featuring Sheila Smith) that can serve as an introduction to some of the issues that stand between Japan and China, as well as some of the ways that Japanese and Chinese politicians are striving for a peaceful and cooperative future.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Japan-China Relations: Three Things to Know

China’s Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea

China’s Maritime Disputes: Crisis Management

China’s Maritime Disputes: Preventive Measures

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. In today’s guest post, Smith looks at recent events in Japan-China relations, and explains how they relate to her argument in Intimate Rivals.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change
Sheila A. Smith

Adjusting to the rise of China is not simply a task for diplomats or strategists. Rather, the adjustment to new centers of global economic and political influence involves a broad array of social actors.

Today, many in Japan worry about how to manage this complex task. Fishermen, scientists, oil and gas interests, and coast guards all converge on the East China Sea, and today, for the first time since World War II, their interactions could prompt an escalation of tensions to include the Japanese and Chinese militaries. But there are also interests across Japanese society that feel the impact of this transforming China, and Intimate Rivals introduces the variety of advocacies that now shape Japan’s China policy.

Today more than ever, popular perceptions are shaping Japan’s interactions with a transforming China. In polling conducted over the past decades by Genron NPO and the China Daily, Japanese respondents reveal a gradually deteriorating view of China. In the 2014 poll, 93% of respondents had a negative view of China. Even more striking is the more recent evidence in the poll of a growing concern of the possibility of military conflict with China.

Of course, Japanese and Chinese political leaders hold the key to crafting a positive relationship. Last November, after yet another extended period of diplomatic standoff, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President Xi Jinping met at the Asia Pacific Economic Community meeting in Beijing, opening the way for a resumption of a host of other government meetings that manage this relationship between Asia’s two largest nations. The two governments must address the growing interactions between their societies, solving problems from criminal prosecution to fisheries management and facilitating the travel of millions of citizens that travel back and forth between the two countries.

The photo taken of President Xi and Prime Minister Abe last fall did not suggest that this most recent round of reconciliation will be easy, but it did bring to a close an extended diplomatic estrangement that compounded the danger of maritime conflict. In the months since, Japanese and Chinese officials have begun to address the risk of unintentional incidents in the East China Sea escalating into a much more difficult crisis, and the hope is that the two nations can build a sustainable mechanism for crisis management for the maritime space between them.

While this effort to build cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing resumes, however, the legacy of this new era of contention in their relationship is most conspicuous at home. New generations of political leaders in both countries now see greater opportunity in exploiting the tensions between them. Chinese nationalism has often been seen as a function of the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to legitimize its continued leadership of an increasingly diverse and contentious society.

But in Japan too the domestic balance of interests in support of a cooperative approach to problem solving with China has shifted as Beijing and Tokyo have increasingly failed to come to agreement over their differences. This is particularly important for those issues that highlight perceived vulnerabilities. My book looks at four policy issues where this matters most for Japan’s relations with China over the past decade or so: war memory, maritime boundary management, food security, and island defense.

Contention has become more frequent in Japan’s relations with China, but upon closer inspection of these policy challenges, I find a number of reasons for the declining confidence in Japan that their government can succeed in solving problems with China. On the surface, it would seem that many Japanese see China’s rise as eclipsing Japan’s role as Asia’s leading power, and thus anxiety about Japan’s future is part of the answer. But the more important impact has been the growing belief in Japan that China is not interested in a peaceful negotiation of their differences, not only with Japan but with others as well. The intense confrontation over their island dispute seemed to bring Japan and China close to conflict, and has revealed that the longstanding political channels of communication and confidence that had grounded the relationship in the past no longer existed. The growing worry in Tokyo is that China’s leaders are more interested in undermining the global order upon which Japan has based its postwar foreign and economic strategy.

Demonstrating that Chinese and Japanese leaders are capable of building a different kind of partnership will be crucial in the years ahead. Intimate Rivals suggests that the most important task for policymakers will be to build a track record of success in finding common ground. While there is no national consensus in Japan that organizes around the strategy of confronting China, it is clear that confidence in a cooperative relationship has suffered. Rebuilding popular confidence in the governments’ ability to protect their citizens’ interests will be a challenge.

Designing new approaches to building trust between the two governments is one crucial first step. Just a few weeks ago, the head of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the Komeito, visited Beijing with the express interest of building party-to-party ties. In fact, these two Japanese political parties have had longstanding ties, but today they must forge new institutional arrangements with the current generation of China’s political leaders. Earlier generations of Japanese and Chinese political leaders negotiated the terms of their countries’ postwar peace, but today, a new generation of leaders must renew their commitment to finding common ground.

Beyond their bilateral ties, however, Japanese and Chinese leaders will also need to consider how they can work together to build regional institutions that will embed their relationship in a more stable and reliable pattern of cooperation. For all of the other Asian nations that have watched the growing tensions between Tokyo and Beijing, the past several years of contention have been alarming. Instead of investing in a future of competition, Chinese and Japanese leaders should begin to articulate and invest in pathways for cooperation that will create and sustain confidence in the region’s future.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Watch Sheila Smith discuss Intimate Rivals

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. We are happy to present an excellent discussion of Intimate Rivals hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations with Sheila A. Smith and CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Contending with China

Intimate Rivals

“Diplomacy alone has been insufficient to bridge the growing number of differences between Tokyo and Beijing. The failure to solve problems has led to growing frustration among the Japanese public. While China cannot be held accountable for all the difficulties in the relationship, adjusting to its growing influence is a new challenge for both governments.” — Sheila Smith

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Smith’s first chapter, “Contending with China.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Excerpt from Natsume Soseki’s Light and Dark, Part II

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt of short chapters ten through fifteen of Light and Dark. Read chapters one through nine here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Natsume Soseki: The Merits and Flaws of -isms

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt from our earlier Sōseki publication, the nonfiction collection The Theory of Literature. In this essay, Sōseki addresses the use of “-isms” in literature and literary theory.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

The Merits and Flaws of -isms
Natsume Sōseki

This brief essay, first published in the Asahi newspaper on July 23, 1910, constitutes one of Sōseki’s most direct responses to the literary theories of the Naturalist (shizenshugi) school of fiction, which held sway in Japanese literary circles at the time. While Naturalists advocated a confessional literature that sought to represent even the ugliest truths about human existence, Sōseki here advocates a more fluid view of literary value.

Generally what we call -isms or doctrines refer to something that a man of meticulous character has conjured up by sorting through an infinite number of facts, thereby making it easier for us to abstract them and store them neatly in the drawers of our minds. Because they are tightly bound and nicely tucked away, it is rather tedious to take them apart and tiresome to pull them out; as such, they often prove useless when needed. In this respect, most -isms are unlike the compass chariots that provide direct guidance in our daily lives and instead are mere filing cabinets created to satisfy our intellectual curiosity. They are not so much a composition as an index to one.

Simultaneously, many -isms take shape when a number of arbitrary yet similar examples are filtered through a relatively sophisticated mind and are further condensed by it. It isn’t exactly a form but more like the contours of one. It has no substance. We preserve only the contours of things and discard their substance for the same reason we carry paper money instead of coins—it is convenient for small human beings. (more…)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

John Nathan’s Introduction to Light and Dark

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. John Nathan is an internationally renowned translator and schoalar who has brought the novels of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe to English-speaking audiences. Today, we provide his Introduction to Light and Dark, in which he puts the novel into historical and literary context.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Excerpt from Natsume Sōseki’s Light and Dark

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt of the first nine short chapters of Soseki’s novel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Book Giveaway! Light and Dark: A Novel, by Natsume Sōseki

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Soseki, translated and with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Light and Dark. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on December 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature

The following is an interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. In the interview, Emmerich discusses, among other subjects, how The Tale of Genji became a classic of Japanese literature, how it changed reading habits, its place in world literature, and his first experience with the novel:

The Tale of Genji, Michael EmmerichQuestion: We tend to think of The Tale of Genji as a kind of immortal classic but in fact its history is more complicated. How did it become a national classic or emblematic of Japanese culture and literature?

Michael Emmerich: Genji was written in the early eleventh century, so of course the story of how it achieved its present status as one of the preeminent classics of both national and world literature is very long—a millennium long, in fact—and very complex. I argue that while Genji came to be regarded as a “treasure” very early on at an elite level, ordinary readers had little or no interest in the tale until surprisingly recently. The work that first managed to interest a truly popular readership in Genji—if only indirectly—was a sort of early modern graphic novel called A Fraudulent Murasaki’s Bumpkin Genji that was published over the course of thirteen years, from 1829 to 1842. The way I see it, Bumpkin Genji was crucial because it inspired for the first time in a popular readership the desire to know more about Genji, and then offered itself up as an enjoyable means of satisfying that desire, without actually having to read Genji itself. In other words, Bumpkin Genji popularized the notion of the complete translation of Genji into vernacular Japanese. Then, almost exactly a century later, from 1939 to 1941, the novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō published a translation into the Japanese of his day that became a best-seller. That was when Genji really came to be re-canonized not just as a celebrated but unread “treasure,” but as a “national classic” in the sense of “a classic of the Japanese people”—as a work for which, and to which, Japan and its citizens were somehow responsible.

Q: What has been the role of The Tale of Genji in the popularization of Japanese literature in English?

ME: Scholars have long recognized the importance of Arthur Waley’s translation of the tale, The Tale of Genji, which was issues in six volumes from 1925 to 1933. Waley’s version was widely read, and was praised by reviewers from the time its first volume appeared as one of the great works of world literature. In my book, though, I explore the role an earlier partial translation that has now been largely forgotten played in making Genji known—though less as a literary classic than as a portrait of eleventh-century Japan, and as a work by a woman writer. This translation, published in England in 1882, was done by a young Japanese named Suematsu Kenchō. At the time, the publication of a work translated from Japanese was such a rarity that it was actually considered newsworthy, and the notion that women writers had played such a crucial role in creating what is now known as classical Japanese literature made its appearance even more sensational. It’s hard to say how much of an effect the attention Genji garnered, first in 1882, then in 1925, then in 1976 with the publication of Seidensticker’s translation, and again in 2001 when Royall Tyler’s appeared, has had in popularizing Japanese literature more broadly, but I do think it has helped give people an image of Japanese literature as something worth paying attention to.

Q: How has the reception of The Tale of the Genji changed over time?

ME: To tell the truth, I’m somewhat skeptical of the notion of “reception.” In the case of Genji, hardly anyone reads it in the original classical Japanese these days, and even fewer people read it in the form in which it was originally circulated—in calligraphic manuscript rather than typeset book. Instead, most people come into contact with Genji through what I call “replacements.” Translations are perhaps the paradigmatic form of replacement, but there are all kinds of other replacements, too: digests, guides, movies, manga, artworks, designs on kimono. So many people have created so many different kinds of replacements of the tale over the millennium since it first appeared that it would take a book even to begin to explore the trajectory they have followed—as it happens, Columbia University Press has published just such a book: Envisioning the Tale of Genji, edited by Haruo Shirane—but I think one might at least say that, over the centuries, the forms Genji’s replacements take have moved further and further away from the forms in which it was first circulated.

(more…)

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Samuel Moyn: Global Intellectual Life Past and Present

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, we are cross-posting a short article by Samuel Moyn, originally published on Interdisciplines, which uses David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as an interesting portrayal of global intellectual relationships.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Global Intellectual Life Past and Present
Samuel Moyn

Adam Smith in Nagasaki

In his bestselling recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell provides a vignette of global intellectual history, as he imagines it took place in the last years of the eighteenth century at Dejima, the manmade island in Nagasaki’s harbor, which was the sole contact point between Japan and “the West” for more than two hundred years.

In Mitchell’s portrait, however, the intended isolation of the country that Dejima is supposed to secure is not working perfectly. The novel begins with the title character’s success in smuggling in his Bible – which in spite of a wave of Japanese conversion long before is now banned. He has help in doing so, thanks to the connivance of a young Japanese translator, Ogawa, with whom he strikes up a nervous friendship.

When the two first meet, instead of calling de Zoet on his illegal smuggling, the Japanese translator asks him about another book in his chest, “book of Mr. … Adamu Sumissu.” Jacob de Zoet replies: “Adam Smith?” It turns out that he is carrying a Dutch translation of Smith’s 1776 Wealth of Nations, a copy of which Ogawa had borrowed from someone else four years ago. But he had had to return it to its owner in the midst of translating it. Now he has a new copy at hand, and can finish the job.

The presence of Smith at the outset of the novel seems right, for it reminds the reader of the history of capitalism that Smith portrayed, one of whose effects was the creation of new global relationships, such as those Mitchell imagines in his depiction of Dutch commerce.
(more…)

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Japan Embraces Donald Keene

“[W]hat is perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Keene is that Japan, a racially homogeneous nation that can be politely standoffish to non-Japanese, has embraced him with such warmth.”

Chronicles of My LifeDonald Keene began teaching Japanese literature at Columbia University in 1955. Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first, he has written and translated over thirty books (many with Columbia University Press), has been awarded the Japanese Order of Culture (the first Westerner to be given this prestigious honor), and was an instrumental figure in bringing the classics of Asian literature to the attention of Western academia. Already a beloved figure in Japan, Keene earned “status approaching that of folk hero,” according to Martin Fackler in a profile in the Saturday New York Times, when he applied for and gained Japanese citizenship in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Fackler and Keene agree that the most important factor in Keene’s popularity in Japan is his genuine affection for that nation:

Dr. Keene has spent a lifetime shuttling between Japan and the United States. Taking Japanese citizenship seems a gesture that has finally bestowed upon him the one thing that eludes many Westerners who make their home and even lifelong friendships here: acceptance.

“When I first did it, I thought I’d get a flood of angry letters that ‘you are not of the Yamato race!’ but instead, they welcomed me,” said Dr. Keene, using an old name for Japan. “I think the Japanese can detect, without too much trouble, my love of Japan.”

That affection seemed especially welcome to a nation that even before last year’s triple disaster had seemed to lose confidence as it fell into a long social and economic malaise….

BUT what is perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Keene is that Japan, a racially homogeneous nation that can be politely standoffish to non-Japanese, has embraced him with such warmth. When he legally became a Japanese citizen this year, major newspapers ran photographs of him holding up a handwritten poster of his name, Kinu Donarudo, in Chinese characters. To commemorate the event, a candy company in rural Niigata announced plans to build a museum that will include an exact replica of Dr. Keene’s personal library and study from his home in New York.

He says he has been inundated by invitations to give public lectures, which are so popular that drawings are often held to see who can attend.

“I have not met a Japanese since then who has not thanked me. Except the Ministry of Justice,” he added with his typically understated humor, referring to the government office in charge of immigration.

(more…)

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

National Poetry Month: National Haiku Poetry Day

Far Beyond the Field

April is National Poetry Month, and yesterday, April 17, was National Haiku Poetry Day. In honor of the occasion, our selection today is taken from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women, an innovative anthology of haiku by female poets, edited by Makoto Ueda. Ueda selected poems from twenty poets living between the 1600s and the 2000s. We have selected a few haiku from five of the poets featured in Far Beyond the Field for today’s post.
(more…)

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

National Poetry Month Selection: Kanshi of Ema Saiko

Breeze Through Bamboo

April is National Poetry Month, and over the next three weeks, we will be posting poems from our poetry titles and from those of our distributed presses. Our second selection is taken from Hiroaki Sato’s translation of the kanshi of Ema Saiko, Breeze Through Bamboo. Kanshi is a Japanese term that refers to poems written by in classical Chinese, and Ema Saiko was famous in her lifetime as one of the best female Japanese writers of kanshi. The four poems below are a set of four poems on the four seasons. Breeze Through Bamboo is part of Columbia University Press’s Translations from the Asian Classics series.
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Friday, March 9th, 2012

Chage & Aska “Say Yes” — More from Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In “Bubblegum Music in a Postbubble Economy,” the concluding chapter to Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses the very popular Chage & Aska (C&A), whose 1991 single “Say Yes,” became a breakout hit.

Bourdaghs’s discussion focuses on the ways in which the song, reflected concern about shifting gender roles in Japan. Bourdaghs writes:

It is also hardly surprising that the lyrics reflect a celebration of heterosexual, romantic marriage. As the chorus insists, all will be right if you (the woman [kimi]) simply say yes to me (the man [boku]). But the persona of the singer is not entirely self-assured [and] betrays a touch of panic, of hysteria. The man is insisting that the woman say yes precisely because he is not certain that she will. The man tries to define for the woman her own thoughts, a paranoid stance that tries to preempt alternative and (from his perspective) undesirable responses to his proposal. The weakened stance of the male speaker can be read as another manifestation of the strategy of male feminization.

Here is a video for the song:

Later in the chapter, Bourdaghs continues his discussion of how the song reflected the political and geopolitical concerns of 1990s Japan:

(more…)

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Happy End — More from Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In the early 1970s, more Japanese rock bands started to sing in Japanese rather than English. One of the first groups to do this was the folk-rock group Happy End. Some might be familiar with the band from their song “Kaze Wo Atumete,” which was on the soundtrack for Lost in Translation. Below is a tribute video to the band, in which you can hear their song “Natsu Nandesu”:

In a discussion of the band from his book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses Happy End in the context of the politics of 1960s Japan and Japan’s struggle with its past. In this passage Bourdaghs discusses the debates and meanings surrounding Happy End’s choice to sing in Japanese:

The assertion by Happy End that rock could be sung successfully in Japanese challenged this common sense and provoked a sharp and sometimes negative response. Skeptics pointed out that the rock-in-Japanese position was self-contradictory. As one noted, “If you’re going to say, sing it in Japanese because we’re Japanese, then why don’t you just go the whole way and come out in favor of enka sung in naniwabushi style and reject rock? Neither rock in Japanese nor folk in Japanese can lay claim to any traditional lineage.”But Happy End sang in Japanese not to lay claim to an authentic tradition: the band explicitly denied that any authentic tradition was available to them. Rather, they chose to sing in a form that no reference to the past could authenticate, precisely so as to create a new authenticity in the present.

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