The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 32. 2014    

August 11, 2014    
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In This Issue
Hiroshi Mitani revisits the historical memory debates that continue to divide East Asian nations at a time of growing geopolitical conflict. If readers of the Journal wondered when our authors might find cause to praise the Abe administration, read on. Andrew DeWit lauds the twin possibilities of expanded female labor force participation in a reborn timber industry and new technologies that could transform the face of Japanese cities at CLT wooden towers replace steel and concrete. The Pentagon's stonewalling about  Agent Orange pollution in Okinawa takes yet another hit in Jon Mitchell's reportage on the unearthing of Vietnam era Dow Chemical containers. Piaster profiteering is a theme that linked the French and American wars in Vietnam and helps explain the failure of both efforts to crush revolutionary challengers. In the recent wave of demonstrations in response to PM Abe's assaults on the Japanese Constitution, many have wondered: where are the youth? Noriko Manabe traces the rise of youth opposition movements on a scale not witnessed since the 1960 Ampo struggles.

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Hiroshi Mitani          
Why Do We Still Need to Talk About
"Historical Understanding" in East Asia?
 Translated and Introduced by Andrew Gordon       
In Japan today, a spirit of "dislike China; hate Korea" is widespread. Since the summer of 2012, when territorial disputes over the small Senkaku/Diaoyu and Takeshima/Dokto islands became the focus of diplomatic struggle with neighboring East Asian countries, a view has spread in Japan that denies the need to keep talking about historical understanding of the first half of the twentieth century. People are closing their ears to voices from neighboring countries that criticize Japan for a history now 70 or more years in the past.

Hiroshi Mitani is among a few historians in Japan to have thrown themselves fully and creatively into the effort to create a foundation of human and intellectual connections that might enable shared understanding of the tragic modern history of empire and war in Asia. This essay introduces and translates into English Mitani's response to so-called "reconciliation exhaustion" and the larger problem of historical understanding. Is there any road toward reconciliation other than creating and remembering new narratives on a different level, narratives which can be shared by all of us?  


Hiroshi Mitani teaches the modern history of Japan and East Asia at University of Tokyo. Among his many works are Toward a History Beyond Borders: Contentious Issues in Sino-Japanese Relations (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2012).


Andrew Gordon teaches modern Japanese history at Harvard University. He is the author of A Modern History of Japan and the editor of Postwar Japan as History. His most recent book is Fabricating Consumers: The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan 


Andrew DeWit
Three Cheers for Abe's High-Tech CLT Wooden Arrow: The Future of Japanese Construction

A recent Bloomberg article reports that 3000 women are entering the wood business in a variety of capacities, including as lumberjacks.  Japanese women continue to make inroads in construction, higher education and other areas. But their below 70% rate of employment, between 25 and 54 years of age, is lowest among the world's wealthiest countries, and they tend to be concentrated in gendered occupations and held back from managerial positions.  


There are multiple good reasons to put more Japanese women (and men) to work in the nation's forests and on forest-related technology. This piece offers commentary on Japan's shifting forestry work demographics in relation to promising new technologies such as the "cross-laminated timber," or CLT. The sight of women wielding chain saws might further cut through deeply entrenched stereotypes, and may also help keep younger women in the 896 cities, towns and villages that face "extinction" by 2040 due to the continuing flight of young women to Tokyo and the other large city-regions.


Andrew DeWit is Professor in Rikkyo University's School of Policy Studies. His recent publications include "Climate Change and the Military Role in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response," in Paul Bacon and Christopher Hobson (eds) Human Security and Japan's Triple Disaster (Routledge, 2014).

Jon Mitchell      

All Agent Orange ingredients Unearthed at U.S. military dumpsite on Okinawa

More than six months after dozens of rusty chemical barrels were unearthed from former U.S. military land in Okinawa City, their contents have been identified - and they appear to offer conclusive proof that the toxic Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange was buried on the island. This article interrogates the Pentagon's ongoing denial that Agent Orange was ever present on Okinawa, despite testimony from more than 250 U.S. veterans who claim they were sickened by the defoliant on the island during the Vietnam War era.

The author also sheds light on the deepening concerns among U.S. parents whose children attend two on-base schools adjacent to the dumpsite. Growing public anger over military contamination has finally prompted Washington and Tokyo to take action.   
Jon Mitchell is a visiting researcher at the International Peace Research Institute of Meiji Gakuin University.  A Japanese-language book based upon his research into Agent Orange on Okinawa is scheduled for publication in Tokyo in 2014.    


Jonathan Marshall      
Dirty Wars: French and American Piaster Profiteering in Indochina, 1945-75

The French Socialist leader Léon Blum once expressed disappointment in "the exasperating individualism of the French people, their weakness for rackets . . . a corrupt state of mind spreading throughout every class of society, and despair because of it." The American experience in Vietnam suggests there was nothing especially unique about the moral failings of the French colonial powers: piaster profits did not cause the two Indochina wars, but they did initially sustain-and then powerfully undermine-both the French and American operations.

This account is the first to explore the remarkable continuity and disastrous impact over more than two decades of the French and American experiences with currency corruption. The author taps long-forgotten published accounts, including the findings of several parliamentary and congressional investigations, as well as unpublished State Department files, FBI records and other government and private archives that shed new light on the intersection of war, politics and crime

onathan V. Marshall is an independent scholar living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published five books, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).       


Noriko Manabe       
Uprising: Music, youth, and protest against the policies of the Abe Shinzō government

The December 2013 passage of the Act on Protection of Specified Secrets in Japan was a turning point for many antinuclear and anti-discrimination activists, causing them to shift their energies to protesting Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's policies. This law, which would jail people for inquiring about state secrets even if those secrets had not been so identified, has been flagged by the UN Human Rights Council and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations as compromising the people's right to know and undermining democracy.

This article presents the sights and sounds of performances critical of Abe's policies, featuring the role of youth in spearheading many protests. Musicians have been giving performances criticizing the Abe administration in demonstrations, festivals, and recordings. These performances show continuity in performance practices and personal networks with the antinuclear movement: References to recent Japanese movements keep their spirit alive; references to global movements infer similarities that the protesters recognize between historical issues and problems with Abe's policies. 

Noriko Manabe is Assistant Professor of Music and Associated Faculty in East Asian Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of  The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Music, Media, and the Antinuclear Movement in Post-Fukushima Japan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).