JIN-406 -- A Postscript on the Comfort Women

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 406
Wednesday March 14, 2007 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: 1. A Postscript on the Comfort Women
2. Notes on O-hanami

1. A Postscript on the Comfort Women

The previous JIN advocated the impaneling of a multinational
commission to investigate the facts concerning Japanese
government involvement in the sexual exploitation of Asian
women during the Second World War, the so-called comfort

The day after JIN was posted, Prime Minister Abe endorsed
an investigation into the historical facts. I'm not
suggesting the Prime Minister reads JIN. For one thing, a
search of the subscriber base did not turn up Shinzo Abe.
For another, the PM called for an investigation by the
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), while JIN recommended a
blue-ribbon commission composed of scholars, lawyers, and
retired diplomats and military officers in Japan and the
countries of origin of the comfort women. An LDP-spearheaded
investigation is like putting the fox in charge of guarding
the henhouse.

After all, the LDP includes the Group of Lawmakers for
Considering Japan's Prospects and History Education,
chaired by Nariaki Nakayama, a former Minister of
Education, which wants to revise the acknowledgement of
Japanese government involvement in wartime sexual
enslavement made by Yohei Kono, a former Chief Cabinet
Secretary, in 1993.

The final report of the LDP investigators will be eagerly
awaited by people not only in Japan but in the rest of East
Asia. I hope its content is not predictable.

2. Notes on O-hanami

The other day someone sent me an email saying they were
going to view the cherry blossoms at the Tokyo Metropolitan
Teien Art Museum and asking me my o-hanami plans. I didn't
have any, and the following morning, March 13, I saw a
short essay in the "Nikkei", the respected financial daily,
on the subject of sakura, or cherry, blossoms. I was
bemused, because even on a floral theme the paper managed to
crunch numbers and touch on mechanisms and systems. A
condensed version of the essay with commentary follows.

According to the Meteorological Office's forecast, cherry
trees (someiyoshino) in Shizuoka Prefecture will be the
first in the nation to break bud. The buds on branches last
summer, after exposure to the piercing chill of winter,
swell as the weather warms and open as the temperature
nears 20 degrees Celsius.

The sakura's blossoming mechanism is activated by
colder-than-normal air. That mechanism will switch on
earlier in Shizuoka, where this past winter's coldest gale
blew, than in Kagoshima, where the average temperature is
high but the drop in temperature was late. Of course, the
sakura will blossom earlier in Shizuoka.

Still the sakura contains mysteries. Why, for example, do
the countless buds magnificently blossom all together?
Florigen, the flowering hormone postulated by Russian plant
physiologist Mikhail Chailakhyan in 1937, is still not well
understood. Some scientists have even hypothesized that
florigen does not exist, but rather the presence of multiple
hormones in the proper ratio triggers flowering. However,
recent research on Arabidopsis (thaliana) suggests florigen
does exist. The latest theory is that the
blossom-triggering substance exists in leaves and must
pass from them before buds can blossom.

The "Manyoshu" (Collection of a Myriad Leaves; 600 - 759)
contains 118 poems on the theme of ume (plum) blossoms and
only 48 on cherry blossoms. Indeed the Heian nobility was
enraptured by fragrant pink and white blossom of the ume.

The essay concludes by asking Agricultural Minister
Matsuoka, "the plant and tree czar," which he prefers, the
ume or sakura.

The relative numbers of poems on plum and sakura themes
were reversed in the "Kokin Wakashu" (c. 920). During the
feudal period, beginning two centuries later, the samurai
were wont to see in the transient bloom of the cherry a
metaphor for their own lives-glorious but doomed to end
shortly. The hoi polloi later turned o-hanami into an orgy
of drinking and eating beneath the blossom. And such it

I still haven't decided where to view the cherry blossoms
this year. But I've got to decide soon. Global warming has
moved up what the Meteorological Office dubs the "sakura
zensen," or cherry blossom front.

-- Burritt Sabin

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