JIN-344 -- Thoughts on Culture Day

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 344
Friday November 4, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Thoughts on Culture Day
1. Once the Meiji Emperor's birthday
2. A Doubtful "Resolution for World Peace"

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+++ VIEWPOINT: Thoughts on Culture Day
1. Once the Meiji Emperor's birthday

It was in 1948 that November 3 became Culture Day. Previously this
national holiday was celebrated as Meiji Setsu, the birthday of the
Meiji emperor. But celebration of the Chrysanthemum Throne,
tarnished by accusations of war guilt, did not sit well with the
Occupation Authorities. Culture Day was born.

Two years earlier, in 1946, the year after Japan's defeat in the
Second World War, the Meiji Constitution was replaced by
the Japanese Constitution. The following day headlines in the
"Asahi," a left-of-center daily, read, "A Historic Day," "A Road
to the Rebirth of Peace," "100,000 Gather for Celebratory
Ceremony in Imperial Palace Plaza."

Yuzo Yamamoto (1887 - 1974), a novelist and playwright,
contributed to the "Asahi" a piece in which he opined, "Japan
has renounced the right to wage war; however, because Japan
is by nature a militaristic country, there is no guarantee that it
will not go berserk again."

Yamamoto was familiar with the arguments of men like Hugh
Byas, an Englishman who had been a NYT correspondent in
Tokyo. In his book "The Japanese Enemy: His Power and His
Vulnerability," written during the war, Byas said: "The argument
that Japan is an incorrigibly militaristic country is simplistic in
that it ignores history....Japanese history shows that the
Japanese people are the most unadventurous race. There
is not a single Genghis Khan or Columbus in Japan."

But, Yamamoto pointed out that whenever the Japanese coveted
foreign territory, the badly botched the attempt. He adduced as
examples Hideyoshi's invasion of the Korean peninsula in the
16th century, and, more recently, Japan's dispatch of troops to
Siberia in the 1930s and its southward expansion from 1941.
He concluded that these debacles explained the long stretches
during which Japan refrained from foreign adventures. "I want to
think herein lies the Japanese national character." He added that
renouncing of war was "Japan's resolution for world peace."

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2. A Doubtful "Resolution for World Peace"

Japan, under the US military umbrella, has enjoyed peace during
the 60 years since 1945. But it has by its own volition come to
possess one of the world's most lethal military arsenals. Now that
Japan bristles with military weaponry, its "resolution for world
peace" might be called into doubt.

Meanwhile, there is a movement to restore the original name of the
November 3 holiday, Meiji Setsu, or the Meiji Emperor's Birthday.
A proponent of this restoration, "The Forum for Restoring Meiji
Setsu and Showa Setsu," argues that today many Japanese
don't even know the origins of the holidays and that their
continuation as Culture Day and Green Day (formerly Hirohito's
birthday) is tantamount to the suppression of the relationship
between Japanese history and the emperor, with the result that
the people, without knowing the holidays' actual significance
or whom they celebrate, are set adrift in a sea of ignorance.

Rightist politicians are in sympathy with the Forum's objectives.
But reverting to the original names would meet with a firestorm
of opposition from the left. Furthermore, the Japanese people
seem indifferent to the issue and simply glad to have a holiday,
a break from the daily grind of commute and office.

This November 3 is a crystalline autumn day.... off to relish it.

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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