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2009/05/27

Burakumin - are the Japanese still uncivilised?

Skeletons from the mass graves of the Nanking massacre victims, uncovered.
I read this fascinating post in Slashdot today - Google Earth Raises Discrimination Issue In Japan
- which says:
"The Times (UK) reports that by allowing old maps to be overlaid on satellite images of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, Google has unwittingly created a visual tool that has prolonged an ancient discrimination, says a lobbying group established to protect the human rights of three million burakumin, members of the sub-class condemned by the old feudal system in Japan to unclean jobs associated with death and dirt. 'We tend to think of maps as factual, like a satellite picture, but maps are never neutral, they always have a certain point of view,' says David Rumsey, a US map collector. Some Japanese companies actively screen out burakumin-linked job seekers, and some families hire private investigators to dig into the ancestry of fiances to make sure there is no burakumin taint. Because there is nothing physical to differentiate burakumin from other Japanese and because there are no clues in their names or accent, the only way of establishing whether or not they are burakumin is by tracing their family. By publishing the locations of burakumin ghettos with the modern street maps, the quest to trace ancestry is made easier, says Toru Matsuoka, an opposition MP and member of the Buraku Liberation League. Under pressure to diffuse criticism, Google has asked the owners of the woodblock print maps to remove the legend that identifies the ghetto with an old term, extremely offensive in modern usage, that translates loosely as 'scum town.' 'We had not acknowledged the seriousness of the map, but we do take this matter seriously,' says Yoshito Funabashi, a Google spokesman." The ancient Japanese caste system was made illegal 150 years ago, but silent discrimination remains. The issue is complicated by allegations of mob connections in the burakumin anti-discrimination organizations."
This made me ponder on the Japanese. I never could figure out why the Japs sometimes seemed to have such an alien culture - civilisation for them sometimes seems to be just a thin superficial veneer. Take a look at a few points (following) picked out from Japan's modern history - surely no civilised race could do these things? Yet they categorically did, and today are even trying to deny and write some of these things out of their history books. Until they can confront their history, the Japanese, it seems, will remain unable to live with the reality of what horrors the Japanese were and are still capable of.

1. The Rape of Nanking (or The Nanking Massacre) - only 80 years ago
  • The massacre of people of the Nanking (Nanjing) area seems to have been carried out in retribution for the Chinese having dared to resist invading Japanese forces. Between Dec. 1937 and Feb. 1938, an estimated 300,000 Chinese people - mostly civilians and including men, women and children - were variously raped, bayoneted or otherwise horrifically killed, individually and en masse., with their bodies often left rotting in the street for all to see. In an eerie anticipation of the German Nazi SS fascination for record-keeping of the Jews massacred during the Holocaust, the Japanese soldiers seemed to revel in having photos of themselves taken with their victims or their victims' corpses.
  • The verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East reads in part:
"Approximately 20,000 cases occurred within the city during the first month of the occupation...The total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking during the first six weeks was over 200,000. ... These figures do not take into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning or by throwing into the Yangtze River or otherwise disposed by Japanese."
  • The number of 200,000 was largely based on the records of several humanitarian and charity organisations that started burying bodies a week to four months after the massacre began. A summary of these records was published which demonstrated that six charity groups buried a total of 195,240 bodies between Dec. 1937 and Oct. 1938. (Detailed burial records are available.)
From the Tribunal's verdict, the number of 200,000:
  • (a) did not include victims whose bodies were disposed of by the Japanese (as was common in the early stages of the massacre) or by individual Chinese - other than the charity groups;
  • (b) did not include the number of those who were massacred after the first six weeks.
Therefore, the number 200,000 is probably a conservative number. Adding in estimates or known numbers of the people murdered in smaller scale killings and whose bodies had been buried by other people, then the estimate is that over 300,000 Chinese people were massacred in Nanjing.

2. World War II atrocities - only 70 years ago
(The following examples are by no means exhaustive, but you will get the general idea.)

Example #1 - The Death Railway: The building in 1943 of one of the railway bridges over the Mae Klong river.
From the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
"The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre."

Example #2 - Bamboo:
Japanese inventiveness brings new uses to bamboo - thin slivers are inserted under a torture victim's nails, thus causing excruciating agony.

Example #3 - Japanese "Comfort" women:
(sex slaves for the Japanese troops)
In what is the largest recorded example of systematic rape in history, from about 1933 until the end of WWII, the Japanese military forcibly enslaved and conscripted an estimated 200,000 non-Japanese girls and women to work in "Comfort Stations" or brothels where Japanese soldiers could receive sex on demand. Frequently tricked or lured from their homes with promises of high-paying factory work, these women, most of whom came from countries like Korea and the Philippines (which were under Japanese rule at the time), were imprisoned in the comfort stations for as long as eight years, received no money for their services and suffered torture or even death if they refused to comply with the soldiers' demands. Because many of them were killed as the defeated Japanese troops vacated their encampments, and because those who survived were too traumatized and ashamed to speak of their experience, the history of the comfort women remained largely unknown until 1991, when one survivor spoke out and brought the attention of human rights activists to the women's plight. In the book Comfort Women Speak,the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues compiled an oral history comprised of interviews with 19 surviving comfort women, who describe their ordeals in harrowing detail. They were routinely underfed, maltreated, and forced to service up to 50 soldiers a day. While their responses to their experience range from anger to resignation, all feel that their lives were permanently blighted as a result. These testimonies made a powerful case for the apologies and reparations that the Japanese government has yet to grant.

Example #4 - Okinawa civilian suicides:
With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by the fanatical Japanese soldiers who told locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote in 2007:
"There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers (to blow themselves up)."
Some of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some of them threw themselves and their family members from the cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides. Film footage taken by the American forces shows civilians coming out of hiding from a seaside cliff-top cave and hurling themselves off the cliff, with the American soldiers powerless to reach them and stop them.

Understanding:
So, with the Slashdot post, we can now perhaps begin to understand a little more about these "aliens" on our doorstep. The post seems to indicate that, for the Japanese, the concept of the development/improvement of the individual cannot operate across class/caste boundaries - a similar problem exists in the Indian culture and caste system (e.g., once a Dhalit, always a Dhalit).

It's not just that this is/was holding back the development and civilising of Japanese society. It seems that other things that were holding them back maybe still are. For example, the peace with Japan and the rest of the world might not have been so effective and long-lasting if the Americans had not identified and addressed two systemic causal problems in Japanese society - the Shinto religion and the emperor's state rites, both being embedded in the Japanese paradigm, along with "patriotism". The politicisation of Shinto was typified by a Japanese Ministry of Education ruling of 1932 which acknowledged that Shinto shrines were non-religious establishments for fostering patriotism. State Shinto became a mouthpiece for the militarist regime of the 1930s. After Japan's defeat in 1945 the American Occupation authorities decreed Shinto's disestablishment, ending State Shinto. The emperor's state rites were re-categorised as the private rites of the imperial family.

End of problem - apparently.

Wrong. The persistence (QED) in modern Japanese society of the old caste prejudice against burakumin would seem to indicate that the essential Japanese paradigm has remained little changed. It is rock solid. Until it does change, the effective civilising of the Japanese would arguably be impossible.
History shows that where the lessons of history are not learned, then history will repeat.

For example, the Germans in their drive to world domination, had to be put down a second time, after they rose from the ashes of World War I, and it was only after a monumental effort and loss of human life that the Allies and the Russians managed to combine forces to subdue them and thus end World War II that the Germans had started.

If the Japanese similarly rise from the ashes of World War II, then what if the rest of the world does not have the resources or the willpower to collaborate and confront and put the Japs down again? Could this happen? Maybe - e.g., consider the Chamberlinesque appeasment attitudes of some country leaders towards the Islamic terrorist threat, post 9/11, which forced the US to more or less go it alone with relatively minimal help from its old Allies - except for the British and some old Commonwealth support. Maybe we are beginning to lose our collective human "bottle" for recognising and confronting resurrected recent and ancient evil.
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1 comment:

  1. for the example #3 they didnt use much Japanese females...they mostly used Korea / Chinese females

    ReplyDelete