Friday, May 05, 2017

'Tokyo: A Biography' (2016). From the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake to Fukushima

Stephen Mansfield, Tokyo: A Biography. Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2016).

Imperial Japan took control of all of Korea in 1910, exploiting its resources. After the 1923 earthquake and its resultant fires, Korean workers in Japan became targets of Japanese nationalists (Japan First types). "Koreans were convenient scapegoats, and were easily sought out in slums where they lived by members of the police force, the notorious Black Dragon Society, military sports clubs, or anyone with a personal grudge or score to settle . . . lacking rational judgement or orderly deportment, [they] dragged Koreans from their homes and workplaces and hacked them to death. Others were strung up on telegraph poles or boiled alive in drums. Those who failed impromptu linguistic tests in Japanese were sentenced in mock trials and beheaded."  (Tokyo, pages 107-108). Also targeted were socialists, feminists, and other social reformers. 

By the 1930s, with dissenting voices suppressed or crushed, Japan as a whole became increasingly militaristic and jingoistic; its leadership became increasingly reckless. 

When Japanese forces seized Nanjing/Nanking, China, in December, 1937, they began a wholesale slaughter of its inhabitants -- killing as many as 300,000 civilians. 

The writer Iris Shun-Ru Chang (1968-2004), committed suicide seven years after completing The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997) and other works. She had been severely depressed, and no wonder why.
When the Japanese and Anglo-American Empires violently collided into each other, the scope of the Asia-Pacific War widened and deepened. More and more people were consumed, by the millions. 

Yet there was still a flicker of dissent among some Japanese. "Not everyone was keen to make the sacrifice and go to the front line. Prohibitions on tattooing were introduced during the war as a response to an increasing number of young men seeking ways to avoid conscription. People wearing tattoos were considered noncomformists who might spread dissent among the military ranks." (Tokyo, pages 126-127).  

Naturally, many writers and artists were dubious of the war and Japanese militarization, too. Nagai Kafu wrote: "However cruel and arbitrary the methods of the government may be, they cannot restrain the imagination, While there is life, there will be freedom." (Quoted in Tokyo, page 127). 

But like the Japanese military, the American military, too, became increasingly vicious. By early 1945, "the Americans [were] now bent on causing mass casualties to civilian populations as they later would with Hiroshima and Nagasaki," exploding napalm to "extract a maximum death toll. . . the first of America's high-tech massacres" and "slaughter bombings." (Tokyo, page 130).

After Japan's surrender, the American Occupation began. In immediate response, the Relaxation and Amusement Association (RAA) was formed to "entertain" American military personnel with "comfort stations" and brothels, which were also given euphemisms such as "Tea Shop Sanitation" and "Café Associations." These were large-scale operations with some 70,000 organized "comfort women" and tens of thousands of freelancing or yakuza-(gangster)-run "panpan girls." For the many gay servicemen, there were dansho and a quick blooming of gay bars. (Tokyo, pages 140-141). Very little of this seems to have made its way into celebrations of "America's Greatest Generation" -- or family histories. For most, apparently, what happened in Tokyo stayed in Tokyo.

Galloping through the Cold War, Godzilla movies came out amid understandable atomic jitters (Hiroshima and Nagasaki being very close in the rear-view mirror); and Japan's economy took off, thanks in part to servicing American military efforts in Korea and Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s respectively, and while showcasing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. By the 1980s, Japan's economy was swaggering, at least until the next bust. Though Americans back in the USA feared the pointed competition from Japanese companies, they were all the while buying more Japanese cars and electronics.  

In 1995, Tokyo was again traumatized, this time by the Doomsday Cult Aum Shinrikyo / "Supreme Truth," which used sarin nerve gas to attack the subway system. This was the same kind of gas recently used in Syria to attack Syrian villagers. In the Tokyo attack, 5,000 people were sickened and twelve died outright. (Tokyo, page 181).

Jumping to March 11, 2011, the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami caused an accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, a horrendous and toxic radiation event still ongoing in 2017. Fukushima is situated about 150 miles (200+ kilometers) from Tokyo. (Tokyo, page 183).

Arriving at today, May 5, 2017, Fukushima is still a dangerous and daunting problem, but Tokyo is also under threat from a possible North Korean missile attack. For Tokyo, the fun never stops! 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

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