NYT: A Western Outpost Shrinks on a Remote Island Now in Japanese Hands; the overwriting of NJ legacies in Ogasawaras


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Hi Blog.  Many people sent me this important article, and I apologize for the amount of time it took to put it up.  Here we have a fascinating case study of how Japan still to this day decides to overwrite indigenous difference within its own land.  The case here is of the non-Wajin peoples (the Oubeikei, descendants of NJ sailors) on the outlying Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands (technically part of Tokyo-to, believe it or not).  Not content to ignore the Oubeikei as minorities in Japan (despite having Japanese citizenship yet NJ ethnic diversity), the system (as witnessed in the non-preservation of history, see below) is now in the process of overwriting them as simply non-existent, thanks to the attrition of mortality.

It’s a common tactic within the “monocultural” meme in Japan:  Simply pretend that diversity doesn’t exist in Japan, and continuously assert that NJ are an exogenous force within Japan’s history with only gaiatsu as an influence (from Commodore Perry on down).  Meanwhile, Western media (and scholarship; don’t forget the legacy of Reischauer) parrots and proliferates this fiction through canards such as the “borrowing” theory, i.e., “Japan borrows ‘things’ [never people] from the outside world and uniquely ‘Japanizes’ them.”  This is how the legacies of NJ as resident and generational contributor to Japanese society are constantly downplayed and transmuted into, e.g., “temporary English teacher”, “temporary fad sportsman”, “temporary advisor/researcher” etc. — all memes that forever see NJ and their descendants as merely exceptional and subsumable with time (as was done with the postwar appearance of “konketsuji” children of US-Japanese liaisons during The Occupation).

And Japan wants the Northern Territories (Kuriles) back?  Imagine what will happen to the Russian residents there?  It’s no longer a world where people can ignore Japan’s past destruction of cultures (cf. the Ainu, the Okinawans, the Korean Kingdom, the indigenous Formosans), but neither can the GOJ simply assume that Asian-looking minorities can be rendered invisible (as many of the Russian residents are Caucasian) like the Zainichi Koreans and Chinese, etc.  have been  Nor can one assume that NJ will be allowed to assimilate properly into Japanese society while maintaining the dignity of diversity, even as the GOJ is now considering when advocating an actual NJ migration policy.  The SOP is still, as is being witnessed below on the Ogasawaras, one of willful ignorance and othering, subsumption, and overwriting of history.

It portends ill for Japan’s future prospects as an international, multicultural, multiethnic society.  Arudou Debito


A Western Outpost Shrinks on a Remote Island Now in Japanese Hands
By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times
Published: June 10, 2012, courtesy lots of people


CHICHI JIMA, Japan — Every morning, as the sun rises over this remote Pacific Island and its tiny port with typically Japanese low-slung concrete buildings, John Washington commits a quiet act of defiance against the famously insular Japan: he hoists an American flag over his inn.

Mr. Washington, 63, whose white skin and blond hair, which is turning white, mark him as something of an outsider, is a great-great-grandson of the island’s founding father, an American sailor named Nathaniel Savory who set sail in 1830 with a band of adventurers for this island, which was known as a lawless natural wonder.

These days, Mr. Washington’s attempt to evoke that history seems increasingly like an act of desperation. His community — descendants of those settlers — is vanishing as young people leave this isolated outpost, a 25-hour ferry ride from Tokyo in a chain once known as the Bonins, or assimilate, dropping the Anglican religion and English language of their forebears.

”I feel it will all die out with my generation,” Mr. Washington said. ”They don’t teach the history of the Bonin Islands to kids, don’t teach about Nathaniel Savory. The Japanese hide these things.”

And what they are hiding, he says, is a tale as colorful and lurid as it is disputed.

Since it was settled by Mr. Savory’s American and European followers — fortune seekers, deserters, drunkards — and their Hawaiian wives, the island has been pillaged by pirates, gripped by murder and cannibalism, and tugged back and forth between Japan and the United States in their battle for supremacy in the Pacific. There was a brief revival of the island’s Western culture after World War II, when it was ruled by the United States Navy.

Even the island’s V.I.P. visitor list seems outsized for a spit of land just five miles long. It includes Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who stopped here on the 1853 voyage in which he opened Japanese ports at gunpoint, and Jack London, who visited as a 17-year-old deckhand and later wrote about the Bonins.

Today, the island is a sleepy place. Its rhythms are set by the arrival once every six days of the ferry that makes the 600-mile journey from Tokyo, which has administered Chichi Jima as part of what are now known as the Ogasawara Islands, after the United States returned them to Japan in 1968.

About 2,000 people live here, mostly Japanese from the mainland who came after the transfer. Over time, they have overwhelmed the descendants of the original settlers — known here as Obeikei, or the Westerners — who are now estimated to number fewer than 200.

Most of the Obeikei are Japanese citizens. Most of those who still speak English and retain distinctly Western or Polynesian features are over the age of 50.

In a country that prides itself on its homogeneity and avoids tackling uncomfortable situations directly, many of Chichi Jima’s Japanese residents profess to having little knowledge of or interest in the Westerners. They instead focus on running the whale-watching and diving tours for the tourists drawn to a pristine island chain that last year was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Some Japanese residents say the Westerners have made their own lot by being standoffish, using both Western and Japanese names, and pining to return to the ”Navy time” after World War II, when they had the island virtually to themselves.

An old graveyard with Christian tombstones is one of the few visible traces of the Westerners’ history. And the official account of the island’s history, presented at the village-run visitor center, plays down the Westerners’ role in settling the island.

It says the island chain was discovered in 1593 by a samurai named Sadayori Ogasawara, for whom the chain was later named. The ”Euro-American natives” are presented as little more than squatters who occupied what officials say was already Japanese territory, despite a consensus among modern Japanese and Western historians that Ogasawara never visited the islands.

”They are not the same as indigenous natives who have been here for hundreds of years,” said Kazuhiko Ishida, the island’s vice mayor. He said that while no efforts are being made to preserve the Westerners’ culture, they are not mistreated, either.

Westerners agree, but even some of those with close Japanese friends and spouses say feeling marginalized is not much better.

”They call me foreigner,” said Sutanrii Minami, 64, a tour guide who also goes by Stanley Gilley and who looks Polynesian. ”I’m not a foreigner. I was born on this island.”

What is undisputed is that the island was left largely to rule itself until 1875, when Japanese settlers and officials took over in what the historian Daniel Long calls the first act of territorial expansion by a budding Japanese empire.

”Chichi Jima was probably the only case where the island was claimed by an Asian power and the natives were English-speaking Westerners,” said Mr. Long, who has written several books on the island.

It is also agreed upon that the island was untouched when sailors’ tales of an ”uninhabited paradise” drew the 35-year-old Mr. Savory and about 20 settlers. They eked out a living selling provisions to passing Yankee whalers and British warships.

Many visiting captains remarked on the lawlessness of the island, recording tales of murder and polygamy. It also proved vulnerable to pirates, who in 1849 made off with Mr. Savory’s gold — and his wife. Witnesses later told a passing captain that the abduction was a tall tale: they said the woman, who was much younger than Mr. Savory, eagerly joined the marauders, leading them to his hidden wealth.

Islanders say that such raids may have led the settlers to peacefully accept the Japanese as rulers, who treated them with benign neglect.

That changed with the approach of World War II. Although they were not interned, the Westerners were forced to take Japanese names and were watched as possible spies. In 1944, most were evacuated along with the Japanese residents to the mainland, where they say they suffered discrimination.

”We are loyal Japanese, but they treated us as enemies when they saw the color of our faces and our eyes,” said Aisaku Ogasawara, 81, an Anglican pastor who also goes by Isaac Gonzales.

During the war, some of the Western men entered the Japanese Army, joining the garrison that defended the island. They witnessed a different horror, historians say, when eight captured American airmen were beheaded and then eaten by the starving Japanese defenders.

After the war, the United States Navy used the island for a submarine base. The Navy allowed the Western-descended settlers to return in 1946, but Japanese former residents were barred from coming back — possibly because of the nuclear warheads that historians say were stored on the island.

When the island was returned to Japan in 1968, the Westerners were given a choice of becoming either Japanese or American citizens. Many left for the United States.

Some wish that Japan and the United States had allowed them to decide the island’s future themselves.

”This island was returned without our control,” said Rokki Sebori, 52, who also goes by Rocky Savory and runs the island’s cooperative supermarket. ”We still feel in our hearts that this is our island.”

Correction: June 17, 2012, Sunday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: A picture caption last Sunday with an article about the vanishing community of Americans on Chichi Jima, a remote Pacific island that was founded by an American sailor but turned over to the Japanese in 1968, misstated the given name of a Westerner who served in the American Navy and now runs a bar in the island. He is Rance Ohira, not Lance.

21 comments on “NYT: A Western Outpost Shrinks on a Remote Island Now in Japanese Hands; the overwriting of NJ legacies in Ogasawaras

  • Let’s take a moment to reflect of Japanese Myths about their own culture:

    1: Japanese people are kind and always think about other people.

    … as long as those other people are Japanese, too. If not, then they want very little to do with you, at least on a personal level. It’s not even an Asian/non-asian thing. My GF is from Taiwan and goes to university here in Japan. When J people first meet her, they act all nice, but the moment they find out that she is NOT J, then they’re like ‘Uh, I gotta go… clean my fridge… or something…yeah, bye’

    2: Japan has a long, rich history.

    …not really. They were in the stone age besically until like 200 AD, after which 90% of all technological developements were taken/copied/stolen from the place that would become Korea and China.

    It’s amazing how little Japanese people seem to know about their own country. It’s like… they only see what they want, only regurgitate what the textbooks tell them.

    I wish there was a word for when governments/authorities make up BS facts, and repeat it to everyone over and over again until they believe it…

    Oh wait…

    — The word(s) for it is “national narrative”. Keep a sense of perspective: Every nation-state does it for promotion of a sense of community. It’s a pity the sense of community in Japan’s case is predicated upon a sense of identity so racialized that one has to be born into it.

    Source on the Stone Age claim, please.

  • It would be really very interesting to visit.

    Has anyone done so?

    The article does serve to confirm a general notion that, in general, there really is no long term acceptance for those of non-Yamato ancestry in J.

    As such, it should serve as a caution to those who have mixed ancestry children or who are themselves of mixed ancestry.

    Even in cases in which such a person is a celebrity, and thus accepted, one may need to be pessimistic regarding that celebrity’s children, if the stain of NJ origin can be discerned by J.

    The point Debito makes about the Kuriles is quite interesting.

    I believe that J would demand (or perhaps does demand?) ethnic cleansing of the islands, so that all Russians would be forced to leave.

    Indeed, the whole J fixation with those islands, and the culture of grievance held by J is interesting.

    The Russian media, even that from the region, rarely mentions it, except generally to focus on the islanders who are generally rather poor and who would be most affected by such a change.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Charuzu #2

    Yeah, but this is one of Japan’s (as Baudrillard would say) post modern confusion about identity issues.
    On the one hand you have Japan the ‘modern economic super-power, desperate for international recognition and influence’, V’s Japan the ‘helpless victim of a world order it had no hand in creating’.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito,

    Well, I’ll pass the Stone age period, but we do know that a Nara-jidai (710AD-795AD) census of of residents of Nara city showed 9 out of 10 citizens were 1st generation immigrants from one of the three Korean kingdoms (this is ever so tucked away in the Diet Library). This is also the time when kanji was introduced into Japan, along with steel, and the loom (kanji for which actual came to mean any ‘machine’ as I am sure you know), which made all those much written about heian jidai kimono possible. This mass migration of ethnic Koreans coincides with the Chinese T’ang empire’s invasion of the Three Kingdoms (of Korea).
    During the Nara era we see Chinese style conscript Japanese armies marching off into (modern) Kanto and Western Japan to crush the Emishi (who were the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan, and ethnically the same as the Ainu, although for political reasons, modern Ainu deny this link). This lead to the clearing of forests for rice-cultivation, the establishment of the Shoen system, and when that broke down during the Heian-jidai plague induced economic crisis, turned into the first samurai (landed farmer/bushi).

    The reason for this brief romp through Japanese history? Just wanted to clear up the fact that stone-age/iron-age, whatever, before the Nara-jidai, Japanese culture was something that belonged to a different ethnic group to the ‘modern’ Japanese. When modern Japanese talk about the Japanese of the Jomon jidai and such like, it’s comparable to a white Australian talking about his/her Australian culture stretching back thousand of unbroken years without recognizing the role of Captain Cook.

    For sources, please see Turnbull; Key Notes on the Samurai Tradition, Manyoshu (yes, the poetry!), and Farris; Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    @Jim – Trivia that took me far too long to find about about: as an exchange student in Nara over a decade ago, I knew what most of the place names around me meant (Kyōto = ‘capital city’; Ōsaka = ‘big hill’, etc.), but when I asked about Nara, nobody knew. Not until long afterward did I discover that Nara means ‘country’ in Korean!

    @Everybody – If you’re interested in the language spoken by the residents of the Bonin islands, check out the work of ICU professor Daniel Long. He’s written some fascinating stuff about the islands’ culture, and is more than just a ‘historian’ as mentioned in the article.

  • Thanks for sharing this article; though I skim the NYT headlines every day, somehow this one slipped past me.

    There are a lot of issues here. First, we have people of European descent being considered/called/treated as foreigners, even if they’ve been there for many generations. Reminds me of Hawaii, where someone of Asian or Pacific descent can pass for or come to be regarded as a “local” quite quickly and easily, but where a haole will always be a haole, even many generations down the line. This is obviously a problem in Japan, and one that’s directly relevant to what I imagine as your mission, Debito. The argument, ideal, or goal, that Japan should start seeing itself as more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and should start acting like it, allowing non-Japanese to become fully accepted members of Japanese society. If this is something we want for you and I (and it is), then all the more so for people who have lived in the Ogasawaras for generations, who have no other citizenship (I would imagine, in most cases) and no other experience of living, or belonging, somewhere else.

    But there are other things here, too, things that I don’t think are necessarily national-level problems. They’re still problems, I won’t argue that. But in terms of what “Japan” as a nation-state, as a government, at the national level should do…. We have the issue of a group of people with a very distinct cultural/historical/ethnic background, growing smaller, their numbers dwindling and their traditions and very identity being lost due to assimilation, and people moving away. Now, granted, assimilation is something that the Japanese government has pushed upon people since the Meiji period; homogenizing forces are something that certainly happens both at the governmental policy level, and at the discursive level of societal peer pressures. It wasn’t just Okinawans and Ainu who were forced to assimilate in the Meiji period – people of fully Japanese ethnic and cultural background living everywhere from Kagoshima to Tohoku and Hokkaido were forced to assimilate to a newly unified, homogenized, “Japanese” culture. So, that certainly factors in here. But, at the same time, there are countless groups all around the world who are dealing with these same issues. Jews in New York, and most especially Jews outside of New York, are worrying about loss of traditions, loss of Jewish identity, as people intermarry or secularize, as fewer and fewer people grow up speaking Yiddish, as fewer people engage with a synagogue and synagogues, kosher restaurants, kosher groceries and the like begin to close. This is my personal experience, from talking to people in my own community. But, Okinawans in Hawaii worry about it. Okinawans in Okinawa worry about it. Hell, even Japanese worry about it, as people leave the rural towns to move to the big cities, leaving their traditional traditions behind. There are countless cultural/ethnic groups in the world, and a great many languages, that are threatened today, due to globalization, modernization, economic forces, and a myriad of other factors – the Japanese government may be a part of it, but I don’t know that we can lay the blame squarely at its metaphorical feet.

    Finally, there is the issue of Ogasawara and its Euro-American heritage being “hidden from history.” Well, there may be government bureaucrats or textbook editors who may, for all I know, consciously have this on their agenda. But, there is also the possibility that they don’t, and that it’s simply a matter of the infeasibility of telling everyone’s story to everyone. There are serious problems with focusing on national narratives, as any student of post-colonial theory or related subjects knows. And I don’t deny that, of course, especially when it comes to Japan. In the last several decades (or longer?) in the US, the obsession with political correctness has driven us to try our best to tell the stories of minorities, of the disenfranchised, etc. To give voice to those who historically did not have voice, and in doing so to attempt to right past wrongs. But there are still logistical limitations, and a need for children to be educated in the history of their country on a national-level kind of way, and there is only so much room (or time, in classroom hours) for regional histories, minority histories, etc. … What I’m getting at is that, kneejerk reaction, complaining about Ogasawara history not being taught in “mainland” Japan strikes me as someone complaining about Hawaiian history not being taught in Vermont. Does it suck that we are, as a society, not better educated about these things? Absolutely. But is it part of some dastardly scheme? Or is it just sort of the way it plays out due to logistical limitations and such? In my high school experience, in the one year that we spent on “World History” (read: non-Western history), we barely skimmed the surface of Japanese history, let alone Korea, and Viet Nam was of course not even mentioned outside of the US History class the previous year. So, given those kinds of time limits, can we really be expected to cover every other state’s history, every region, every minority? Of course that curriculum had problems – serious problems – starting with the fact that it was way too West-centric. And I would imagine that in the years since then things have changed. But, hopefully my point comes across. Students in Tokushima can only afford to squeeze in so much Tokushima history into the limited time they have in the classroom, and now we’re complaining that Ogasawara’s history is being “hidden” from them, swept under the carpet? I’m not sure it’s as malicious as that.

    — Thanks for the thoughtful essay, Travis. Very good points made.

    Let me just take up one — the last paragraph’s “malicious” point. I would (and will) argue that it IS malicious. It is not possible, as you argue, to teach all of world history to everyone all over the world — the human condition is just too diverse for that, I agree. However, it is important for people in local areas to know their local history (as Hawaii, the place you mention and I am slowly getting to know, seems thus far to be a decent example of — having taken three different kinds of tours of the ‘Iolani Palace since getting here for a start). For example, I was primary and secondary schooled in the United States, and I got the full Binaca Blast of American national narrative just fine. However, I also got an incomplete but intellectually-titillating section on local history — such as the Iroquois and Algonquian peoples of Upstate New York (where I was raised) — meaning no denial of the existence or the effects of aboriginal or resettlement practices in New England. This is a diametric contrast to the Japanese example, which, as I inferred above (and other commenters to this blog post have mentioned), is outright lying — about the effects of non-Japanese and ethnically diverse Japanese on Japan’s history (down to the denial of Korean and Chinese influences). Not to mention that this culturally-overwriting prototype has long been extended to its colonies, invaded lands, and reclaimed lands. The monocultural, monoethnic Japanese society has always been an outright lie, and this NYT article is a good example of how Japan continues to live the lie beyond its shelf life, given this modern era of fracturing nation-states and examples of reclamation of ethnic identities.

    It is in fact possible to teach the residents of (and the people interested in) the history of the Ogasawaras and not deny that NJ influences still exist. That’s just being historically honest, and it should not be seen as an assault on Japan’s fictional homogeneity or national identity. But it is, and the legacies of generational residents are being willfully othered, overwritten and destroyed. That deserves to be decried, not seen as part of a process seen as similar to processes of natural attrition (such as the secularization of society you mentioned) seen elsewhere. I would argue there’s nothing natural about what’s going on in the Ogasawaras. It’s intensely political. And again, given that people living there for generations are being made into gaijin all over again, malicious.

  • “Keep a sense of perspective: Every nation-state does it for promotion of a sense of community.”
    That’s a tu quoque logical fallacy, Arudo. Two wrongs don’t make a right; even if everyone else does it too, that does not make the Japanese right.

    — Dude, how many years now have you been reading me? Or have you considered the context of this argument I’ve made either in this post or more elaborately in my most recent JT column? I am just saying that this is what’s done procedurally in nation-state formation. I am perhaps one of the last people who would argue that anyone is normatively “right” in doing this. Quite the opposite.

  • I’d be interested to know why Mr Washington raises that US flag every morning. Is he an American citizen? Does he want the Japanese government’s control of the islands to come to an end? The article calls it an act of “defiance”, but doesn’t explain how so.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Switch on a Japanese TV and observe how NHK obviously has an obsession with Samurai dramas, or quite obscure parts of medieval Japanese history few westerners are aware of. These shows are always idealized images, nice clean rooms, lots of spaces, focussing more on perceived or tiny differences in personality being crucial to the outcome of historical events; a kind of “Great Man of History” theory applied to soap Opera minituae. Dynasty meets the Tale of Genji. Culture is also arguably trivialized as a result.

    A post modern representation of a “golden age” of Japan. Note the lack of foreigners, though this may be coincidental. I once had an NHK producer friend who said it was impossible for me to get a part time job there as an extra as there was of course “no need for gaijin in Samurai dramas”, but I digress. (I did see one being murdered once, his screen time was about 5 seconds before falling under a samurai sword).

    Oddly, we get little more recent history, especially post war history.Recently there have been occasional movies like “Battle under Orion” which somewhat rosily portray both sides as having the same concerns, saving the lives of their men etc etc.zzzzz. Tell that one to the Okinawan victims of the Imperial Japanese Army, but I digress.

    The strangest thing I ever saw on J TV was a rare WW2 drama which I have tried to google ever since. It featured a Russian female spy who was having a love affair with a Japanese man. When it was discovered she was a spy, he was “forced” to behead her, and she said it was OK to do so. She deserved it!!

    Anyone else recall this bizarre ending??

    The only vaguely courageous or honest historical TV drama I have seen was the portayal of the Japanese wife of Pu Chieh, the brother of Manchukuo (ooh, don’t mention the war) puppet emperor Pu Yi. There was one scene where Pu Chieh confronted a murderous Japanese sergeant in the ruins of a Chinese city to save a Chinese couple. but notice how this is about individuals, human choices, just one case etc.

    NHK is the biggest vendor of national narrative and their focus is on a distant, idealized past. It is sometimes called the BBC of Japan, but this is of course a lie. I do not see a Jeremy Paxton type interviewer or critical journalism coming out of this mouth piece that does it’s best to avoid all controversy-hence the fixation with Samurai dramas and ancient history.

    It woudl be interesting to know if they have ever made a program about Japanese citizens of NJ descent in the Bonins.

  • Response to debito:


    according to this, Japanese started bronze and iron working in the latter part of 弥生時代 Yayoi jidai, which ended around 250AD. Before that, no metal working = only using rocks, clay etc = one could possibly say stone-age. To be fair, everyone has a different way of measuring stone, bronze, and iron ages, and those dates are far from set in stone (lol).

    Also, with no set writing system/language until the latter half of the first millenium, developing those techs would have been mighty difficult.

    To be fair, they MAY have just entered the bronze age by the ADs, but they were WAY behind China and Europe by a long shot.

  • Odorikakeru says:

    Mark, do you have a source for the etymology of Nara? It sounds interesting, Wikipedia and received wisdom (read: “what I was told”) says the name comes from the verb narasu, “to flatten”.
    Both sound equally plausible, but unfortunately both sound suspiciously like folk etymology, which one is right?

  • Odorikakeru says:

    Debito: I don’t want to drag this off-topic, but etymology is something I find hard to resist. Is it possible to append the following to my last post?

    A quick Google search came up with the following – http://www.geocities.ws/neue_strassenbahn/nara.html
    It’s argument against a Korean origin for “Nara” is not exactly conclusive, it doesn’t consider either local dialect or the fact that loan-words entering Japanese are sometimes shortened, as long as the shorter form can still be recognised as having the same meaning (ex.「セクハラ」).
    It =is= suggestive that the Korean explanation is the red-herring folk etymology, though.

    — Anything for an etymologist. I love bugs too. Oh wait…

  • One history-related bit of news to come to light of late is the discovery of Roman glass beads in a fifth century burial mound in Kyoto. It is very interesting to wonder whether these arrived by migrants from the mainland to Japan, or whether travelers from the Roman Empire actually made it this far east. Perhaps the legend of Shingō-mura does have some merit after all?

    Article on the discovery:

    In English:

  • Great post!

    #2 Charuzu: Like Israel after WW2, many Japanese people who now live on Ogasawara were not born there. What they call a foreigner is a person who does not look Japanese. So despite the non-ethnic Japanese citizens being natives to the island, the newcomer Japanese essentially call them “non-Japanese”, as in foreigners…

    For the most part, Japanese people have not evolved yet to see factors other than race. Evolution takes time.

    #12 Odorikakeru: You make a good point. I find it interesting that while languages around the world openly admit influences from other languages, Japanese people will adamantly deny anything Japanese came from Korea, be it food, language, culture, people or names. That’s a lot of denial.

    One thing is certain – languages around the world are constantly changing. So while a Native of London wouldn’t understand the language spoken in London a thousand five hundred years ago, I doubt the explanation of the place name “nara” has a modern day root like “narasu”. Just sayen.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Odorikakeru #13

    Re; etymology of ‘Nara’.
    I think that there will never be any conclusive evidence one way or the other about the origin of the name. If (big if) there were any contemporary documents that proved that it was from the Korean language, I am certain that Imperial era scholars would have destroyed them or hidden them in order to preserve the myth of Meiji-era Japanese racial homogeneity. Frankly, the fact that nine tenths of Nara’s population were Korea born Koreans should tell us rather a lot.

    @ MMT #14

    About the Roman glass beads.
    Two ideas;
    1. We know that Alexander’s army (and thousands of camp followers and traders) romped around the India end of the silk road, it is possible that the beads were traded over a period of a couple of hundred years until they eventually found their to ancient Japan.

    2. They were planted at the dig. This would not be the first time. J-archeologists have tampered with kofun excavations/planted ‘finds’ before in order to remove evidence of links with ancient Korea/reinforce the myth of Japanese history.

  • To see the article with pictures, the link is:


    The islands are particularly interesting to linguists due to the presence of ‘Ogasawara Mixed Language’, which is derived from English and Japanese. This emerged among the islanders due to contact between the ‘Westerners’ and the older generations of Japanese, but is now dying out (It’s not just switching between Japanese and English; it has its own norms and expressions found in neither language.) Daniel Long has written much on this; his ‘English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands’ (2007, Duke University Press) is particularly good. OML shows that originally, the different groups on the island intermingled, though the ‘Westerners’ were always heavily outnumbered. ‘Westerners’ began to naturalize in 1877, but most of them only took Japanese names when forced to under the 1940 創氏改名 law. By the post-war years, the ‘Westerners’ were stronger in Japanese than in English. [From Long.]

    Most islanders were evacuated during World War II, and the islands were occupied only by the Westerners and their ethnic-Japanese spouses between 1945 and 1968 (families including 16 children out of about 135 people), since the U.S. enforced its own [unacceptable] policy of preventing most of the ethnic-Japanese islanders from returning during that time. (Visits to graves were permitted from 1965.) [Long.] This means that any fully ethnic-Japanese resident aged between 44 and 67 this year cannot possibly have been born there. They are most likely to be one of what locals call ‘new islanders’, i.e. immigrants and temporary workers from other parts of Japan who have arrived since 1968, often to help run the tourist economy. I wonder how old Vice-Mayor Ishida is; judge for yourself at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/06/09/world/asia/20120610-ISLAND.html?ref=asia#7

    If you want to see the image that the Ogasawara administration likes to project, see its English-language history page:


    The ‘Westerners’ are mentioned only once, and it erroneously asserts that “All the citizen of the islands had not been allowed to come back to the islands until 1968, when the Ogasawara Islands were returned to Japan.” They mean, of course, the ethnic-Japanese citizens who were not spouses of ‘Westerners’. It seems that the island leaders view any and all fully ethnic-Japanese people, even those just off the boat, as having more right to the land than people of mixed heritage, despite their Japanese citizenship and presence on the islands for many generations.

  • John #17:

    You rightly say:

    “It seems that the island leaders view any and all fully ethnic-Japanese people, even those just off the boat, as having more right to the land than people of mixed heritage, despite their Japanese citizenship and presence on the islands for many generations.”

    Is that not generally true everywhere in Japan — that fully Yamato Japanese functionally have more rights than any other citizens?

    Can Japan be said to function as an ethnocracy or herrenvolk democracy?

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I was thinking the other day, before this thread was posted, “Where is the Ainu representation on TV? Why don’t we see any Ainu?”

    Indeed, why don’t we see the Ogasawarans? One would think that with all the TV programs exploring regional variations… (oh, wait – that only applies to food)

  • I agree with Andrew in Saitama. I would like to see the Ainu represented in the Japanese media. There are often programs about Hokkaido, but I have yet to see any Ainu (who identify themselves as Ainu anyway) in these programs. As for the Ogasawaras, I remember reading in National Geographic about the mixed ancestry residents of the islands. Then not to long ago I saw a program here in Japan about the Ogasawaras and I was thinking “Maybe it will show some of these residents of mixed ancestry”. But, nope. It was just basically a travel show and no visibly mixed residents (or residents who talked about having mixed ancestry) were represented. It`s too bad.


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