The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 5. 2011
January 31, 2011
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In This Issue


This week we serve up a diverse menu: our first two articles draw on new archival research. Mark Caprio offers a fresh look at the origins of the Korean War; Geoffrey Gunn reinvestigates the Great Vietnam Famine of 1945 with an eye to the policies of the French, the Japanese and US attacking forces; Matthew Allen examine the reverse of course of American sushi landing on the beachhead of Tokyo; and Mark Selden and Wu Chieh-min examine structures of inequality in China over the last six decades.  

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Mark Caprio, Neglected Questions on the "Forgotten War": South Korea and the United States on the Eve of the Korean War


The breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s prodded open the archival doors of once closed regimes releasing interesting information on Soviet-North Korean-Chinese relations during the Cold War. Documents released from these archives contributed new evidence to enrich our understanding of old questions. One such question concerns the origins of the Korean War. Documents from these archives demonstrate an active correspondence between the three communist leaders in Northeast Asia-Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Il Sung-regarding the planning and orchestration of this war fought primarily among the two Korean states, the United States, and China.3 This new evidence has encouraged scholars to reformulate fundamental views of this war, particularly its place in Cold War history.


The timing of the documents' release-just as the Soviet-as-enemy image faded, and the post-Cold War rogue state-as-enemy image emerged-is intriguing. This new evidence's apparent support of North Korean culpability in the war's origins proved useful to those who accused North Korea of once again breaching regional peace by launching nuclear programs and other provocative activities. They strengthened calls for close vigilance lest the communist state launch a second surprise, unprovoked attack against its southern neighbor. The contribution made by these documents, however, is limited to enhanced understanding of relations between members of the northern triangle (the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea); they contribute little to understanding of the southern triangle (the United States, Japan, and South Korea).  The purpose of this paper is to address questions that require attention before we can fully understand the causes of the Korean War. These questions demand information on the interactions by members of the southern triangle prior to the outbreak of conventional war.


It is well known that South Korean President Syngman Rhee equaled his North Korean counterpart's ambitions to use military force to reunite his homeland, and that the United States was determined to prevent his doing so on his own. Were these ambitions aimed at preserving the peace, or preserving control over the war that many perceived as inevitable? If the former, why didn't the United States (along with the Soviet Union) exert greater efforts to curtail the increasing outbreaks of armed violence that took place between the two Korean states? If the latter, did intelligence gathered by agents in North Korea allow the United States a window to view Kim Il Sung's intentions? If so, how did it use this information to form a counter strategy? And, did such strategy enter into discussions between Syngman Rhee and high-level U.S. officials?



Mark E. Caprio is a professor of Korean history at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and a Japan Focus associate. He is the author of Japanese Assimilation Policy in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.

Recommended citation: Mark E. Caprio, Neglected Questions on the "Forgotten War": South Korea and the United States on the Eve of the Korean War, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 5 No 3, January 31, 2011.

 Geoffrey Gunn,  The Great Vietnamese Famine of 1944-45 Revisited

 The deaths stemming from the great famine of 1944-45, which reached its zenith in March-April 1945 in Japanese-occupied northern Vietnam, eclipsed in scale all human tragedies of the modern period in that country up until that time. The demographics vary from French estimates of 600,000-700,000 dead, to official Vietnamese numbers of 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 victims. Food security is an age-old problem, and dearth, famine, and disease have long been a scourge of mankind across the broad Eurasian landmass and beyond. While more recent understandings recognize that famines are mostly man-made, it is also true that in ecologically vulnerable zones, alongside natural disasters, war and conflict often tilts the balance between sustainability and human disaster. Allowing the contingency of natural cause as a predisposing factor for mass famine, this article revisits the Vietnam famine of 1944-45 in light of flaws in human agency (alongside willful or even deliberate neglect) as well as destabilization stemming from war and conflict. In particular, it assesses French, Japanese and US policies as they created and/or responded to famine.

Geoffrey Gunn is the author of Historical Dictionary of East Timor,  and First Globalization: The Eurasion Exchange, 1500-1800, and an Asia-Pacific Journal Coordinator.

Recommended citation: Geoffrey Gunn, The Great Vietnamese Famine of 1944-45 Revisited, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 5 No 4, January 31, 2011.

Matthew Allen and Rumi Sakamoto, Sushi Reverses Course: Consuming American Sushi in Tokyo

Sushi, not long ago a quintessentially Japanese product, has gone global. Japanese food, and sushi in particular, has experienced a surge in international popularity in recent decades. Japanese government estimates that outside of Japan there are over 20,000 Japanese restaurants, most of which either specialize in sushi or serve sushi. Some estimate the number of overseas sushi bars and restaurants to be between 14,000 and 18,000 (in comparison, the number of sushi restaurants in Japan is estimated to be around 45,000). Sushi stores today can be found across Asia, the Americas, Europe, Russia, Africa, Oceania and the Pacific. The phenomenon has accelerated rapidly since the turn of the millennium.

While sushi's global expansion has attracted the attention of Japanese and global media and a number of scholarly works address sushi's global popularity and its transformation outside Japan, little scholarly or journalistic work exists on one important facet of sushi's recent global growth - namely, the return home of transformed sushi to Japan, at times in barely recognisable forms. This paper offers an analysis of this "reverse import (gyaku yunyu)" phenomenon and its specific expression in what we refer to as "American sushi" in Tokyo as a contribution toward assessing culinary globalisation. The nascent American sushi trend brings into relief aspects of Japan-US relations that are seldom articulated in the context of discourse about food - in particular the continued symbolic dominance of the US in Japanese eyes; and it also is emblematic of how Japan engages aspects of globalisation, in this case fetishising a mundane product that has become something new in its reimported form. By focusing on this relatively recent phenomenon we also aim to contribute to and complicate the contemporary arguments that characterise cultural globalisation as a unilineal process of hybridisation, often through localisation.

Matthew Allen is professor and head of the School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong, Australia, and a Japan Focus associate. Rumi Sakamoto is a senior lecturer in the School of Asian Studies, the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a Japan Focus associate. Rumi and Matt are coeditors of Popular Culture, Globalization and Japan.

Recommended citation: Matthew Allen and Rumi Sakamoto, Sushi Reverses Course: Consuming American Sushi in Tokyo, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 5 No 2, January 31, 2011.

Read more . . . 
Mark Selden and Wu Jieh-min, The Chinese State, Incomplete Proletarianization and Structures of Inequality in Two Epochs

Revolutionaries in the 1950s offered this prospect to the Chinese people: a highly egalitarian society, the product of land reform, collectivization and nationalization, with low but gradually rising income and welfare provisions for all, would chart a course toward mutual prosperity on foundations of socialist development. The key lay in restriction of markets and transfer of the surplus to the state for investment centered in heavy industry in the cities and collective agriculture in the countryside, eventually enabling China to overcome poverty and underdevelopment. This paper assesses the nature and impact of that low consumption socialist regime then and the subsequent strategies that have sustained low consumption for labor in city and countryside in the subsequent market and capitalist transition. We locate the discussion in relation to theories of original accumulation, proletarianization, wage stagnation, and low consumption in the emerging capitalist world economy of which China has been a part since the 1970s.2 We hope to add to that discussion by exploring a range of structures that have produced incomplete proletarianization and inequality during two periods of socialist transition (1950s to 1970) and capitalist transition (1970s to present).

Mark Selden is a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Journal and Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University. . His homepage is

Wu Jieh-min is an associate professor at the Institute of Sociology and former director of the Center for Contemporary China, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan. His recent work includes "Rural Migrant Workers and China's Differential Citizenship: A Comparative-Institutional Analysis," in Martin King Whyte ed., One Country, Two Societies: Rural-Urban Inequality in Contemporary China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Recommended citation: Mark Selden and Wu Jieh-min, The Chinese State, Incomplete Proletarianization and Structures of Inequality in Two Epochs, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 5 No 1, January 31, 2011.

Read more . . . 
 What's Hot?, Truth and Reconciliation in the Republic of Korea; Unit 731 and Preserving the History of Wartime Medical Atrocities

Breaking news articles, documents, videos, contentions, and snippets from across the web that illuminate major Asia-Pacific Journal themes.

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