Posted by debito on September 13th, 2007
Hi Blog. Been stampeding through the late Edward Seidensticker’s book TOKYO RISING (borrowed from FCCJ library, but two weeks is simply not long enough for me to get through a book; I like to suck on them over months and am never faithful to one tome unless it’s really good), and these are some things that popped up for Debito.org:
One powerful force in the workings of the city and the prefecture is not entirely under the control of the prefectural government: the police. The chief of the Tokyo prefecutral police is appointed by a national police agency with the approval of the prime minister and upon the advice of a prefectural police commission, which is in effectual. None of these agencies is under the control of governor and council. Tokyo becomes a police city when it is thought necessary to guard against the embarrassment of having someone shoot at a president or a queen or a pope [or a Beatle; see more about the concert gone so badly in 1966--3000 police seated to make sure 10,000 Budoukan spectators didn't even stand up during the concert--that the Beatles never returned to Japan as a group to perform]. It has more than twice as many policemen as Osaka, though it is less than twice as large in population. The problem of police excesses is by no means limited to Tokyo–it was in Kanagawa Prefecture that a case of illegal eavesdropping was uncovered in 1986–but it is most conspicuous in the prefecture in which national embarrassments are most likely to occur. (page 169)
This might be one reason why the Tokyo Police (keishichou) seem to be much more assiduous in their Gaijin Card Checkpoints than anywhere else in the country…
There was in those days [during the Occupation] the problem of the “third nationals” [sangokujin]. It was conspicuous in the underworld and in gang squabbling. Third nationals were for practical purposes Chinese and Koreans resident in Japan [i.e. the Zainichis]. The expression put them in their place, distinguishing them both from Japanese and from the Occupation, which favored them, treating Chinese as allies and Koreans as quasi allies (enemies of the enemy). It is hard to deny that they took advantage of their position.
If the police couild not intercede in behalf of Japanese gangs that thought of themselves (or at any rate advertised themselves) as Robin Hoods and defenders of the Japanese spirit, there is much evidence that they managed to aid them surreptitiously. In the “Shimbashi Incident” of 1946, American military police and Japanese police intervened to prevent an armed battle between Chinese and Japanese gangs for control of the market. The nonbattle was in effect a victory for the Japanese. It showed the Chinese, who were progressively weaker, that they could not have everything their way even in that day of confusion and demoralization. Across the bay in Chiba, later in 1946, the police seem to have actualy encouraged a showdown between Japanese and third-national gangs. It would be the occasion, the Chiba police and the American military police agreed, for rounding up gangsters of whatever natioanlity. The Japanese police told the Japanese gangs what was to happen and invited their cooperation. The Americans do not seem to have accorded the same favor to the third nationals. The encounter took place, a few minutes of gunfire in which several men were wounded but no one was killed, and in the end only third nationals were rounded up. (page 154-155)
The most powerful force in getting [the postwar Japanese economy] moving again came fairly late. The Korean War broke out in June 1950, almost exactly at midpoint thorugh what we may call the decade of the rebuilding. For Korea it was a terrible happening, for Japan a momentous one, with little sense of the terrible… It was perhaps natural in an occupied country that had no foreign policy save to get rid of the Occupation and export things wherever possible…
Momentous the event certainly was for all that. Japanese profits from the Korean War were massive and they went into rebuilding city and land, and bring them back somewhat near, in material terms, the position that had been theirs before the folly of the forties. Procurement contracts in the remaining months of 1950 ran to $180 milion, and before the Korean War was over they ran to $2.3 billion. Production returned to and passed prewar levels. Direct Ameircan aid, which had been necessary in the immediate postwar years, now ceased to be. Brave beginnings had already been made towards putting things together again, but it was in the early fifties that matters went forward with speed and purpose… Yet it is ironic that the prosperity of a country which has renounced war (see Article IX of the postwar constitution) is founded on a war. (page 155-156)
All-in-all, in TOKYO RISING Seidensticker has created a book that is okay for those who really know something about Tokyo or Japan already (it’s a work that would thrill academic specialists in the field, but if they assigned it to their students with only incipient knowledge of Japan it would leave them nonplussed). For me, after 20 years here, it’s a decent read–it fills a lot of holes and answers a lot of lingering questions. For anyone else, it would probably be a head-scratcher. It would merely promote Japan as a land of impenetrable exotica (which is the wont of this generation of Japan specialists anyway, IMO), instead of as a land of quirks working under a mostly rational system. It takes a lot of experiences before people see the rationality. I’m sure Seidensticker himself saw it too, but he really doesn’t communicate that at all well. Too much reliance on novelists (with largely boring or uncontexted excerpts from their writings) as primary sources of information as well.
This is one of the reasons I refused to read “specialist” books on Japan for so long, until I had built up my own set of experiences from which to get the hang of this place. Now that I have gotten the hang, I find it amazing how so many books on Japan are written by those who don’t have the hang, or can’t communicate that they do.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo