Monthly Archives: September 2009
Clouds on the Hill
Ryotaro Shiba, a prominent writer of historical fiction, serialised the novel Clouds on the Hill (Saka no Ue no Kumo) from 1968 to 1972. He was a master at hunting down those people in Japanese history whose lives spanned crucial events and critical issues. In the case of Clouds on the Hill, he focussed on the Akiyama brothers, two boys from Matsuyama (see last blog entry) who witnessed the rapid modernisation of Japan, joined the new-look military, attained high military rank, one in the army and the other in the navy.
Graves on the Hill
A tram-ride away from the main train station in Matsuyama, set on the side of a hill, there is an array of 98 stone pillars, each bearing the name of a long-dead foreigner. All were Russian prisoners of war, held by the Japanese from 1904-5.
Some 4000 “Russians” were interned in Japan as the war went on. Louis Seaman, a reporter from the Daily Mail, was scandalised at how many of them weren’t really Russians at all:
For several years, I have been writing a column in Neo magazine called Manga Snapshot. Every month I take a different Japanese comics anthology magazine and literally take it apart, examining everything from the paper quality to the adverts. There are so many comics magazines in Japan that despite running now for four years, Manga Snapshot has yet to repeat a title. I’ve covered all the usual magazines for boys and girls and housewives, and the usual niches like romance and war comics, but also weirder areas. Detective stories for lonely Goths, educational golfing magazine containing nothing but manga about golf, a magazine entirely devoted to mahjong… several of these were reprinted in the Schoolgirl Milky Crisis book, and in the event that there is a Schoolgirl Milky Crisis 2, there will be many more of them.
From the People Who Brought You Pearl Harbor
WW2 has become a stripped-down fable of Star Wars proportions – a few brave heroes, taking on a force of terrifying evil against impossible odds. On the Good Side, the rag-tag hard-pressed Alliance. On the Bad Side, the dark empire, with its storm troopers and its nice uniforms. The good guys win, and the good guys are us.
This doesn’t work in Japan.
Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn is a biography of the journalist and writer who eventually became a Japanese citizen, and who wrote so many books about the country before his death in 1904. For someone who witnessed Japan’s passage into the modern age, and did so much to inform the West about it, Hearn is strangely absent from college reading lists. His name only cropped up once in my entire university career, and that was in a folktale that would have raised a chuckle from Hearn himself. The ghost of Lafcadio Hearn is used to scare young undergraduates in Japanese, to warn them of the dangers of benevolent racism, and to prevent them from dying, as he is alleged to have done, from a broken heart when Japan failed to live up to expectations.