Undead in Taiwan

Complicating Taiwan’s love affair with Japan



  • SEP 3, 2016

    This month, the Ama (grandma) Museum will open in Taipei. It will be a venue dedicated to Taiwan’s wartime “comfort women” who provided sexual services under duress at Japanese military brothels.

The opening of such a museum is surprising because Taiwanese tend to have a more favorable view of their experience under Japanese colonial rule than South Koreans, and a recent poll conducted by Japan’s Interchange Association in Taipei — the de facto Japanese Embassy — found that Japan is Taiwan’s favorite country. These positive perceptions will probably persist regardless of the Ama Museum, a teaching and reconciliation center, but it is another sign that Japan’s history of sexual slavery can not be erased.

Why now? The museum’s opening comes on the heels of the December 2015 deal between Tokyo and Seoul, which requires Japan to provide ¥1 billion to assist Korea’s few remaining victims.

During a March ceremony dedicating the Ama Museum, Taiwan’s outgoing Kuomintang (KMT) president Ma Ying-jeou invoked the South Korea-Japan agreement, stating, “Taiwanese comfort women were Japanese citizens during the war. And they deserve equal treatment.”

Is Taiwan also seeking a payout? Kang Shu-hwa, executive director of the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation (TWRF), which opened the new museum, demurs. Since 1992, the TWRF has been actively addressing the issue of wartime forced prostitution by helping the women involved obtain financial support from the Taiwanese government and seeking justice in the Japanese judicial system by arranging pro-bono legal services.

Planning for the Ama Museum began a decade ago after TWRF had exhausted all legal avenues. To avoid accusations of political manipulation, Kang says she has not taken any donations from the KMT or affiliated organizations. Overall, the KMT has a pro-Beijing bias, and taking donations from it would suggest the museum is being used to fight bilateral history wars. Kang says she has no such intention.

In 1992, TWRF opened a hotline to help identify former comfort women and certified 58 survivors out of an estimated total of 1,000 Taiwanese involved; today, only three remain. They all came from poor families and were often recruited through deception, intimidation and coercion, but in some cases desperate families sold their daughters to brokers. Kang told me that these families were required to cooperate with a directive from the Japanese colonial government aimed at mobilizing young unmarried women for the war effort.

A powerful documentary produced with TWRF in 1998, “A Secret Buried for Fifty Years,” presents the stories of 14 of these women — some as young as 15 at the time. They were told their job would involve cleaning and cooking, but they were also required to provide sex. The stigma of forced prostitution left them traumatized and unable to reach out for moral support or consolation.

Many Taiwanese women were sent to Japanese military brothels (called “comfort stations”) around Southeast Asia. They were virtual prisoners and thus enslaved as sex workers. Survival was a grim ordeal, but their nightmare continued after returning home as they coped with lingering physical and mental wounds. In the documentary, we meet a woman who shared her past with her husband, only to find that he could not handle his jealousy and promptly divorced her. Others just hid their secrets while raising a family and some just avoided marriage.

Kang says that many Taiwanese wrongly assume these women were prostitutes. Japanese, she believes, have also been misled by manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi’s baseless portrayal of Taiwanese comfort women volunteering to console Japanese soldiers in his manga series “Senso-ron.” Kang says there is too much attention on how women were recruited when the main educational focus should be on how they were systematically mistreated, denied freedom and basic human rights.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the country’s first female leader, has taken steps to address historical grievances, but not the system of wartime forced prostitution. Kang hopes Tsai will, but was disheartened when Taiwan’s Premier Lin Chuan remarked in July that Taiwanese women volunteered to become “comfort women.” He later apologized for his remarks, suggesting that his view does not pass public muster. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party seeks close ties with Japan to counterbalance China, however, so it’s unclear how far she will go on an issue that remains marginal in public discourse.

Kang wants to focus attention on the human rights violations of the “comfort women” system that persist with contemporary human trafficking. Back in 1995, the TWRF successfully lobbied the Taiwanese government to provide funds for survivors, all of whom rejected the compensation the Japanese government was offering through the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF). This support came under President Lee Teng-hui, often considered to be one of Taiwan’s most pro-Japanese leaders.

Beginning in 1998, TWRF backed lawsuits filed in Japan demanding compensation for Taiwan’s surviving victims, but in 2005 the Supreme Court upheld rulings that rejected the case due to the statute of limitations. It was then that Kang decided to establish a museum — its recent opening has nothing to do with Japan’s 2015 settlement with South Korea.

Raising money for the museum has taken time because many firms don’t want to antagonize Japanese business partners, but Kang finally reached her goal, thanks in part to donations from Japan.

The spacious 500 square-meter museum occupies a restored two-story brick building located in one of the downtown areas frequented by Japanese tourists. The first-floor coffee shop and education center opens on Sept. 20 while the permanent exhibition on comfort women opens on Dec. 10, International Human Right’s Day. Currently, TWRF has no plans to sponsor a comfort women statue, which is welcome news for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe given that his tenure as Japan’s leader has coincided with an international boom in such memorials.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan.

The undead surrender

The act of giving up the empire is perhaps the most undead part of Japan's undead empire. Not only is the Showa emperor's speech replayed and recounted everywhere, over and over again, the transformations triggered by this last act of imperialism are very much with us today in myriad and powerful forms. 

Master recording of Emperor’s WWII surrender speech to be released


  • JUL 9, 2015

    The Imperial Household Agency plans to make public for the first time the original vinyl master recordings of Emperor Hirohito’s historic speech in which he declared Japan’s surrender in World War II, agency officials said Thursday.

The exhibition next month of the original discs as well as a new digitally remastered version of the recording will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, recorded the address on Aug. 14, 1945, at a building of the agency’s predecessor. It was broadcast at noon on the radio the following day.

Five vinyl records of the speech are in the Imperial family’s archives.

The agency is also considering displaying photos of a bomb shelter at Emperor Hirohito’s residence. The shelter was where the government met on Aug. 14, 1945, for a meeting in which the Emperor decided to end the war.

The original article is here

Undead empire in Singapore

The current state of Syonan Jinja, the great Shinto shrine built by the Japanese Empire in Syonan (Singapore) in 1942, is characteristic of the undead empire. The shrine is at once an official heritage site but is also kept as invisible and inaccessible as possible. See this little video.

The struggle over regional power is undead.

'We have short memories': Japan unites with former foes to resist China's empire of sand

It was American soldiers held captive by Japanese troops during the second world war who first dug through the thick, damp mud to build an airstrip on the Philippine island of Palawan.

Now, in 2015, two spy planes, one Japanese and one American, stand side by side on that same runway.

Conducting joint training activities with the US-supported Philippine Navy this month, the Japanese have finally made it back — this time with smiles and handshakes — to join up with their former enemies and resist a common foe:China.

All three countries contest Beijing’s land reclamation on islands in the disputed South China Sea, where it has built military installations to help bolster its claim. The Philippines argues it owns some of these islands while Tokyo and Washington fear China’s expanding influence in the region — and the potential for it to block a key sea route for roughly £3.17tn in trade.

These fears have brought 21 sweating Japanese pilots and engineers in grass-green jumpsuits back to Palawan this week, where they mingled and posed for selfies on the runway with their Filipino counterparts, in darker, greyer attire at Antonio Bautista air base.

It was first time the Japanese military had conducted training operations in the south-east Asian country since Imperial Japan surrendered in 1945 following a three-year occupation of the Philippines. Their troops were pushed out by Americans allied with guerrilla Filipino resistance forces.

A joint-mission in a Japanese P3-C Orion surveillance plane with a smaller Philippine Navy Islander aircraft over the South China Sea on Tuesday was sold by Philippines Lieutenant Commander Lued Lincuna as practice for potential humanitarian coordination, not to resist China.

But the message to Beijing is clear — a symbolic and historic partnership against China’s role in waters 80 miles off the west coast of Palawan, an island state in the Philippines on the edge of the South China Sea.

“We are conducting this exercise to enhance our interoperability, which means once we are joined, we go together,” Lincuna said at the air base, surrounded by dense tropical forrest. “It is the first time we fly together,” he said, adding that the exercise was conducted “outside territorial waters” west of Palawan. That means the South China Sea.

 Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commander Hiromi Hamano (right) and Philippine Marine Colonel Jonas Lumawag (centre) shake hands after a joint training activity at Antonio Bautista air base. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

China is furious and the state news agency Xinhua this week ran an editorial piece calling Japan’s arrival in the Philippines as “the latest sequel to Tokyo’s meddling in the South China Sea.”

“By muddying the waters in the South China Sea, Tokyo also aims to divert increasingly intensive global attention on Japan’s lack of remorse over its atrocities during World War II, nearly 70 years after its surrender,” it said.

“Japan, which is not a party to the disputes in South China Sea, should abandon all attempts to stir waves in the area.”

But in the Philippines, where the older generation remembers hiding in the jungle from passing battalions of Japanese troops and vine-covered stone plaques honour those killed in massacres, the presence of Japanese boots has, interestingly, not stirred similar outrage.

“We Filipinos have very short memories,” joked one woman in Puerto Princesa, the town where the air base is located. Some also have Japanese blood — the children of Filipino women and Japanese soldiers who were based here.

As the Allies retook the Philippines, isolated Japanese soldiers fled into the dense, mountainous jungle and only emerged years later. On Palawan island, locals joke there might still be some hiding, waiting for the world to move on while unaware of the the fact that it has.

And with the military complaining that it is one of the weakest in Asia, the Philippines feels it needs Tokyo as a buffer against China, two months before the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

In Puerto Princesa, locals wear t-shirts stating “The Spratlys will never be conquered,” referring to the band of islands closest to the Philippines where Chinese warships now patrol.

 Shop worker Jennifer Berto holds a Spratly Island t-shirt in Puerto Princesa. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

Jennifer Berto, who works in a clothes and jewellery shop, says her graphic design artist made Spratly t-shirts following high demand from locals and American tourists.

“This is our new design,” she said at her shop in Puerto Princesa, holding a t-shirt with “Spratly belongs to us” written on it.

“People on Palawan support the navy because the islands are in the west Philippine sea,” she said.

She had not heard of the Japanese operation but was pleased they were here. “How nice,” she said, smiling.

The Philippine defence secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, said this week that Japan should become further involved with Manila’s military, arguing for a visiting forces agreement which would allow Japanese troops to be stationed in the Philippines, similar to a deal with Washington, which has naval ships in Filipino ports.

“It would be ironic if we cannot do exercises with Japanese forces when Japan is one of the only two countries – the other one being the United States – which are strategic partners of the Philippines,” Gazmin said on Wednesday.

An end to Japanese pacifism

For Japan, its militarised return to the world stage is a cautious one. After its defeat, Japan’s 1947 constitution — which was largely written by US occupation officials — forbade the formation of a traditional military force. The country has a self defence force which is restricted to protecting the mainland. This has been used only when conflicts abroad are considered a potential threat at home and Japan has deployed troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The push to restart its military after so many years of pacifism is down to one man: Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who defied public opinion a year ago to overturn the country’s defence policy and make it easier for troops to fight overseas.

Abe and his supporters want to go even further, arguing for a more active military in the wake of China’s assertiveness. China and Japan have their own dispute over the Senkakus – known in China as the Diaoyu Islands – in the East China Sea. And although Japan does not claim any islands in the South China Sea it wants to make sure the area is not controlled by Beijing.

Ian Storey, from Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, says roughly 85% to 90% of Japan’s energy supplies come through the South China Sea which Tokyo fears could be blocked by Beijing.

“Any threat to the maritime trade through the South China Sea seems existential to the Japanese,” he said on the phone from Singapore.

“We’ll see a continuation of this trend. This dispute is a long way from being resolved. Japan will continue to step up its support for the Philippines and Vietnam and maybe some other countries in south-east Asia.”

Vietnam sends message to China with bid to buy fighter jets and drones

Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan also claim islands in the South China Sea, while China claims most. The naval corridor is thought to have oil and gas reserves. And Tokyo has also promised patrol boats to Vietnam, which itself is looking to pump up its military hardware to deter China.

“The Japanese can honestly say this is not about the South China Sea, this about south-east Asian nations improving their maritime security. But of course, it’s really about improving their capacity to be able to know what’s going on,” Storey says.

A New War of Bravado

Japan’s return to the South China Sea, where the carcasses of world war two ships lie in its reefs, has compounded a crisis that has led to the militarisation of all countries involved.

The risk of conflict is significant. Seventy Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a 1988 naval battle with China over the Johnson South Reef. And in 2001, a Chinese F-8 fighter collided with a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane. In May this year, Chinese and Vietnamese ships collided as Beijing tried to set up an oil rig.

Oil survey ships operating in Reed Bank, close to the Philippines, have increasingly been harassed by Chinese vessels and Manila is beefing up its military in the area, increasing the threat of conflict.

At the forefront of this is Oyster Bay, a naturally protected cove with a deep harbour capable of hosting large warships. On the western side of Palawan, the bay’s biggest selling point is that it opens directly into the South China Sea. President Benigno Aquino has called the area the “frontline of our territorial defence operations”.

A Philippine fishing boat sails to Oyster Bay, the site of a proposed naval base on the edge of the South China Sea. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

Philippine officials say the bay, which is protected from the monsoons by its high mountains, will be used to host the country’s two large warships and act as a strategic base for the United States to rotate troops and ships, who are presently stuck on the other side of the island.

A new security pact signed during a visit by the US president, Barack Obama, last year should also allow a greater American military presence on Filipino soil, including on expanded bases.

Oyster Bay is only accessible by sea but once a connecting road is complete, officials say the major work can be done.

Fishermen who live deep in a mangrove-lined inlet took the Guardian out into Ulugan Bay, which leads to Oyster Bay. They did this in small “pump boats”, a 15-foot canoe with two stabilising bamboo stalk, fish in the area which is full of coral reefs and protected waters.

The fishermen say the navy has warned them not to approach the inlet, although several still anchor nearby to catch fish living in the cove. Two Philippine Navy patrol boats cruised in the area during the trip.

Inside Oyster Bay, a concrete jetty and landing platform stretches out into the deepest waters in order for bigger ships to dock. A boathouse and a water tank are all that have been built until the road is finished and construction can begin. A snake hung from a overhanging tree and birds skimmed the calm water.

The site of a proposed Philippine naval base at Oyster Bay, Palawan Island. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

Further back in the dense jungle the Guardian found a number of workmen.

Cement trucks roared down the roughly three miles of paved road, and labourers, wiping their faces with dusty t-shirts, mixed concrete while furiously pushing ahead to complete the road so Oyster Bay naval base can be built.

This appears to be a race against time.

A hundred miles out to sea, China is working fast, dredging thousands of tonnes of sand from the seabed to create islands.

The Philippines and its allies have been showing their strength this week, flying over the South China Sea and conducting military exercises. Many hope that is remains just a show but the militarisation of the area is a tinder box.

“If we see more Japanese aircraft and ships operating in the area,” says Yoel Sano, Head of Political Risk at BMI Research, “then there will – mainly by law of numbers – be a greater likelihood of some sort of ‘incident’ or clash between them and their Chinese counterparts.”

Undead losses


BY KAY ITOI 2/20/05 AT 7:00 PM

Eisei Miki, the head monk of Kakurinji Temple in the western Japanese city of Kakogawa, still shivers with anger when he describes the robbery the temple suffered in 2002. Among the stolen goods: one particularly important painting of the Amida Buddha from Korea's Koryo period (918-1392), which the temple had treasured for hundreds of years. Caught last October, the two Koreans responsible for the theft insisted they were on a mission to reclaim pieces of Korean history, which had been appropriated by the Japanese. Worse, the Korean media and public bought the argument. "Have you heard of anything more ridiculous?" asks Miki.

His frustration embodies yet another thorny controversy embroiling Japan and the Korean peninsula: to whom do hundreds of thousands of ancient Korean artifacts in Japan rightfully belong? Koreans accuse the Japanese of plundering the artwork, mostly during their 36-year occupation of the peninsula, and they blame their own government for not seeking the objects' return. Most Japanese consider the issue a dead one, resolved by the 1965 Japan-Korea Treaty, which led to the return of some 1,400 items. To be sure, not all the works were looted; Kakurinji Temple, for instance, received the painting--probably as a gift--long before the Japanese invasion. Nor was the settlement in the 1960s definitive, as it neglected artifacts in Japanese private collections as well as those originating in North Korea. But with cultural relations between Japan and South Korea warming, experts are hoping the dispute can finally be resolved.

Japan is hardly unique in having made off with treasures from a former colony. The best European museums would be empty without looted art. But the size of the haul is astounding. Eighty percent of all Korean Buddhist paintings are believed to be in Japan. And, says Seoul art historian Kwon Cheeyun, "35,000 Korean art objects and 30,000 rare books have been confirmed to be there, too." That's only the tip of the iceberg: much more is believed to be hidden away in private collections.

Historians believe Japan carried away the bulk of its Korean cultural assets during two aggressions: the 16th-century invasion of the Korean peninsula and its 20th-century occupation. Determining legal ownership is far more difficult than with the art looted by the Nazis, for instance. "It's almost impossible to trace the provenance" of centuries-old artifacts, says Toshiyuki Kono, a law professor at Kyushu University. Besides, the Japanese annexation was internationally recognized in 1910; relocating Korean artifacts within "Japanese territory" was lawful at the time. Furthermore, Japan didn't sign the 30-year-old UNESCO convention to prevent trafficking of stolen artifacts until 2003.

To Korea's annoyance, Japan holds many items of particular value. More than 1,000 bronze, gold and celadon pieces owned by the late businessman Takenosuke Ogura now make up the core of the Tokyo National Museum's Korean section. Another precious item is a two-meter-tall stone tablet, originally built in northern Korea to commemorate the country's repelling of the 16th-century Japanese invasion. The work sits in Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese politicians occasionally enrage Koreans and Chinese by paying respects to the war dead enshrined there. Last month, South Korea's former prime minister, Lee Han Dong, launched a campaign in Seoul to seek its repatriation. "For both Koreas," says Joo Dong Jin, a civil activist working for the campaign, it is a matter of "national spirit and pride." Yasukuni will return the piece, says a shrine spokesman, once both North Korea and South Korea make official requests through the Japanese government.

While officials on both sides drag their feet, citizens are driving the repatriation movement. Yoon Sung Jong set up Korea's Citizens' Committee for Cultural Heritage Return Movement in 2002 to run promotional exhibits, seminars and a Web site calling for the return of the artifacts. Several Japanese collectors have voluntarily donated their holdings to South Korean museums. The Tenri Central Library in Nara, western Japan, loaned a 1447 painting titled "Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land" by the 15th-century Korean master An Gyeon to Seoul exhibitions in 1986 and 1996. Considered one of the most significant Korean paintings of all time, Yoon says the work should hang in Korea. The library, however, maintains that it has never been formally asked for the return of the painting--and declines to say whether it would return the work if it were.

Generational change is also helping soothe tensions. The subject of looted art remains most sensitive to older Koreans. "We are the first generation [of experts] who can be objective," says Hideo Yoshii, a 40-year-old archaeologist with Kyoto University. Young Korean scholars like Pai Hyung Il, an archeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, give Japanese credit for first discovering beauty in items like the peninsula's celadon porcelains, which Koreans previously ignored in favor of Chinese antiques, which they considered more valuable. To Pai, demanding the repatriation of all Korean items isn't realistic. Another young academic, Tokyo arts professor Yoko Hayashi, who recently conducted the first comprehensive study of the situation proposes promoting privately held relics exhibits, joint research by the two countries and long-term loans of Japan-owned Korean treasures to Korea.

Still, the issue will not be quickly resolved. And the Kakurinji Temple's painting is still missing--though the Korean thieves were sentenced to jail after a Korean judge failed to buy their patriotic defense. Still, Miki, the head monk, holds no grudges against Koreans. His temple was, after all, founded by a Korean monk in the sixth century and occasionally sponsors events promoting Korean arts. "Our temple is like the oldest symbol of Japan-Korea friendship," he says. That friendship is, once again, being sorely tested.