Eric Tagliacozzo is a professor of history at Cornell University, and his new book In Asian Waters: Oceanic Worlds From Yemen to Yokohama outlines five centuries of maritime history in the Asian world. In this wide-ranging interview, we discussed how China created trade routes that stretched all the way to Africa’s Swahili coast, the ocean-going history of Vietnam, and the role of consumer goods, piracy, slavery, and religion in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Pacific, and beyond.
Today’s show is a conversation with Michel Paradis, attorney and author of Last Mission to Tokyo. Early in WWII the U.S. launched the Doolittle Raids against Japan, attacking the Japanese mainland for the first time. Most of the raiders were able to land safely in allied China, but some were captured by the Japanese and put on trial for the attack. After the war, the Japanese officers who put the raiders on trial were, themselves, put on trial by the Americans. Last Mission to Tokyo tells the story of that trial, and plays out like a legal thriller or detective story, except the stakes are on the level of war crimes and international relations.
Japanese occupation changed North Korea, with various citizens either collaborating with or actively resisting it. One of those resistors was a guerrilla fighter named Kim Song Ju, who would later be known as Kim Il Sung. If you believe North Korean propaganda (which you shouldn’t) Kim Il Sung was born of humble farmers and formed a secret Korean resistance during the occupation. In fact, his grandfather was a Protestant minister, he spent most of his youth in China, and the units he fought with were organized either by the Chinese or Russians.
Japan’s occupation of Korea was a gradual process. As far back as 1876 Japan approached Korea with unequal treaties that attempted to economically exploit the peninsula. In 1895 Japanese officials assassinated Korea’s Queen Min, who opposed foreign occupation and influence, and Korea subsequently declared itself an empire. However, Japan returned in 1905 with yet another treaty that stripped Korea of its sovereignty, and completely annexed the peninsula in 1910.
A statue of a dog sits outside Shibuya station in downtown Tokyo. The statue commemorates Hachiko, an Akita who walked to and from the train station every day with his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agricultural science at Tokyo Imperial University. In 1935 the professor died while at work, but Hachiko kept returning to Shibuya to wait for his master. He waited for ten year for the professor to return, until his eventual death in 1935. Like Bummer and Lazarus, Hachiko is a dog that became beloved among his community, and he is one of many dogs that have waited for their humans to return long after death.
Belief that one’s blood type affects personality is common in Japan. Dating sites, celebrity profiles, and vital statistics for fictional characters often include blood type, and belief that it affects personal attitude or character is somewhat akin to belief in astrology in the United States. The beliefs have their roots in pseudoscience from before World War Two. In the 1970s a series of Japanese self-help books claimed that understanding blood type was the key to understanding personality, and a phenomenon was born.
It’s easy for an outsider to mock beliefs in pseudoscience like this, but humans do have a persistent desire to put themselves into boxes and groups, and to assign themselves certain group characteristics. This can take the form of astrological sign or blood type, but it also shows up in online quizzes, debates about which Ninja Turtle you are, or deciding which house you’d be sorted into if you went to Hogwarts.
This week’s episode is an interview with author Bill Lascher about his upcoming book Eve of a Hundred Midnights, about two American war correspondents covering the East Asian theater of WWII. In it, Lascher details how they got into journalism, what it was like to cover wartime China, and their various encounters with and escapes from the dangers of war.
Eve of a Hundred Midnights comes out on June 21st, 2016.
Last week Asano, Lord of Ako was ordered to commit seppuku, and his newly unemployed samurai were plotting revenge on Kira, the noble whom they blamed for their lord’s death. This week, the 47 ronin extract their revenge on Kira, and the incident becomes one of the most retold narratives in Japanese history.
The image below illustrates a scene from Kanadehon Chushingura, the most famous fictionalized version of the 47 ronin story. The characters in Kanadehon Chushingura have different names than the actual historical figures whom they purport to represent, audiences in 1748 and onward would have recognized the fiction as being roughly analogous to actual events. Anymore, Chushingura refers to the entire body of media either directly about or touching on the 47 ronin incident.
One of the most famous and bloody incidents in samurai history is the story of the 47 ronin, a group of masterless samurai who extracted bloody revenge on behalf of their dead lord. The actual events of the incident are hard to parse out, as the facts of the events have been occluded by popular culture, drama, reinterpretation, and retelling. What we do know for sure is that in 1701 the daimyo of Ako (a domain near modern Osaka) was forced to kill himself after assaulting a courtier, Kira, in Edo. After the lord was dead, his various samurai were suddenly unemployed, and forty-seven of them planned revenge.
The traditional telling of the story is that Kira was supposed to instruct Asano in the ways of etiquette at the Shogun’s court, and that Asano was supposed to bribe him in order to be treated well. Kira was dissatisfied with Asano’s bribe, insulted the young lord, and, in a fit of rage, Asano drew his short sword and wounded the etiquette instructor. After Asano’s death, his samurai took it upon themselves to finish what Asano had started, and vowed to kill Kira.
The image below is a probably stylized rendering of Asano, the lord of Ako, drawing his weapon on Kira in a fit of rage.
Before Batman, before Superman, before even the Phantom, there was the Golden Bat. “Ogon Batto” (as he’s known in Japanese) is, arguably, the world’s first costumed superhero. The skull-headed, ruff-wearing, sword-wielding hero’s backstory was one that would fit in any of the wackier comics that Marvel and DC would later publish: He was a dweller of Atlantis from 10,000 years in the future, and sent back in time to fight injustice. In particular, he battled against Nazo, the evil Emperor of the Universe.
Golden Bat wasn’t a comics character. Not exactly. He was from a form of storytelling called “kamishibai,” a words-and-pictures form of public performance popular in Japan during the first half of the 20th century. Kamishibai storytellers would set up in public spaces and tell tales of samurai, ninja, pulp heroes, cowboys, and superheroes to crowds of eager children, thrilling them with outrageous tales from the worlds of history and science fiction. The medium produced, among other characters, the Golden Bat, a superhero who proceeds Clark Kent by almost a decade.
A contemporary example of kamishibai. It is, obviously, in Japanese.
Manga Kamishibai by Eric P. Nash, which collects multiple kamishibai tales from the Golden Bat and others.
In the 1590s Japan invaded Korea. The Imjin War lasted from 1592-1598, and it included all manner of land battles, guerilla skirmishes, sieges, spying, and everything else that you would expect to find in a full-on conflict. The entire war would take several episodes to cover properly, and this episode just focuses on the naval aspect, and one naval battle in particular.
Under Admiral Yi Sun-sin, the Korean navy was able to successfully rack up victories against the Japanese. Yi was an admiral with no formal military training and, for complicated political reasons, was stripped of his rank, and a rival briefly took over the Korean naval forces. That rival led the Korean navy into a disastrous battle that destroyed almost all of the Joseon Dynasty’s ships, and Admiral Yi was let out of prison to command the remnants of the Korean fleet.
At the Battle of Myeongnyang, Admiral Yi had all of thirteen ships. The Japanese had well over a hundred. With his small force, Yi managed to defeat a force larger than him by an order of magnitude, and the Battle of Myeongnyang remains, today, one of the greatest come-from-behind military victories of all time.
The Admiral was a 2014 film about the life of Admiral Yi. Reviews seem to be mixed.
Before and during World War II Japan (just like Britain, France, and the United States) had a considerable empire. The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere encompassed the Korean peninsula, several Pacific Islands, and holdings in China. Probably the strangest part of the Japan’s empire was Manchukuo, an artificial country in northern China that Japan made by (among other things) bombing a train and kidnapping the former Chinese emperor.
Listen to Manchukuo’s national anthem! It sounds like lots of other national anthems.
The New Imperialism and Post Colonial Development State: Manchukuo in Comparative Perspective is one of the better scholarly essays I read about this topic in preparation for this episode.