Gintama and the denial of one’s own atrocities

I recently started watching Gintama on Crunchyroll. It’s a very funny show about a guy named Gintoki who lives by his own odd code of honor while performing odd jobs to get by. He seems lazy and unreliable, but he’s always true to himself and his friends. The show is filled with references to other anime like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Prince of Tennis, and probably many more I don’t recognize. Overall I have really been enjoying it.

However, as the story continues further into the overarching premise, I’m more and more aware of the obvious allegory. While at first I simply thought of it as an interesting intellectual exercise, it’s become more troubling to me in light of recent events.

In a nutshell, the plot of Gintama is this: in the Edo period, when Japan was known as the nation of samurai and Tokyo was still called Edo, aliens came to Earth and subjugated the people. The opening narration mentions that the aliens forced Japan to “open their country” and also that they cowed the government through a show of superior force (they fired a huge beam weapon and at least partially destroyed a castle). Subsequently a “no sword” law was enforced, and all the former samurai were forced to find other ways to support themselves, often unsuccessfully. Now the aliens live among the people of Edo, blatantly oppressing them, hiding behind diplomatic immunity.

The parallels with Japanese history are pretty obvious, if you omit certain inconvenient facts. The “opening” of the country recalls Commodore Perry’s black ships, which frightened Japan into agreeing to trade freely with other nations for the first time. The show of force and sword ban bring to mind Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the subsequent signing of the US-mandated constitution forbidding Japan to engage in warlike activities, including the formation of an army. And the aliens’ oppression of the Edo people calls to mind the Occupation.

What there aren’t parallels for, at least not yet, are the atrocities Japan itself committed in its history. The closest thing are the wars the Edo people fought for over ten years trying to cast the aliens out…but in the context of Gintama, this war is honorable, as the warriors are the victims, not the aggressors. The Anti-Foreigner group that Gin’s war buddy Katsura runs, which depending on your perspective can be called a terrorist group or a group of freedom fighters, seems like something more out of modern Middle Eastern history than Japan’s.

Through all of this, Edo is painted as the victim. And yet the similarities to Japan’s history are too striking to be coincidence.

At first, I thought there wasn’t really much harm in this. It’s an anime. It’s for fun. It’s an interesting story. I’m still not sure the author is trying to make a political statement with his premise. But I do wonder if this premise doesn’t indicate something about Japanese culture, about people’s perceptions about their country and history.

The mayor of Nagoya recently stated that he’s not sure that the rape of Nanjing actually happened. From the Japan Times:

Speaking Monday to a group of Chinese Communist Party members from Nanjing, Kawamura said he was skeptical about whether the Imperial Japanese Army actually raped and slaughtered thousands of Nanjing residents during the war.

[…]

“I don’t have any intentions of retracting my comments or apologizing,” Kawamura told reporters Wednesday.

[…]

Disputes over the Nanjing Massacre are a constant source of friction in Sino-Japanese relations, and Kawamura’s comments are merely another example of the skewed perceptions held by Japan’s politicans.

This made me wonder if the premise of Gintama doesn’t imply a sort of culture of denial, a general feeling that Japan is a blameless victim.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in Japan. Recently, a Japanese translator I follow on Twitter posted a picture from the American History museum in Washington, DC. It was a board on which visitors could stick up Post-It notes with their thoughts about the US’s use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Among the varied opinions, I spotted this one and others like it:

Well…they did attack PEARL HARBOR.

In this case, rather than deny the atrocities happened, people are trying to justify them, but it comes down to the same thing: people seeing what “they” did as horribly wrong, but what “we” did as right and proper. Anything can be acceptable if you assume righteousness is on your side: war, rape, torture, profiteering, prejudice, ignorance, silence.

Everyone wants to believe they are doing the right thing. It can hurt to take a step back and evaluate whether or not that’s really true.

Do we have anything to gain from entertainment that perpetuates our feeling of self-righteousness? Wouldn’t it be better to improve ourselves?

Edit March 22: Tofugu has an interesting post about Japanese textbooks that goes along well with this topic.

ACTA and TPP: The new(?) threat

Shortly after the SOPA blackout, I became aware of ACTA–the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. This is a treaty, negotiated in secret among various nations, whose ostensible purpose is to protect copyright. I then started hearing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, purported to be even worse.

Despite the fact that many people are only now hearing about ACTA and TPP, these treaties have been around for awhile.

In a move that completely flouts the open style of government he claims to support, President Obama signed ACTA back in October, without getting public or legislative approval. Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, and Singapore also signed at that time. Many countries in the EU signed the agreement in Tokyo two days ago, but EU countries can still fight the ratification procedure. Here in the US, it’s currently unclear if what Obama did is constitutional, or whether the treaty must be approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, there’s the TPP, whose purpose, among myriad other things, seems to be to cover all the digital copyright stuff that was negotiated out of ACTA. Here is more information on the TPP from TechDirt, which has been following its evolution as best as you can follow the evolution of something being developed in near-absolute secrecy. Here’s a slightly dated rundown by the EFF. Most terrifying, given that like ACTA this treaty is being negotiated by people who are not our elected representatives, is this:

All signatory countries will be required to conform their domestic laws and policies to the provisions of the Agreement.

So basically these people, with no transparency, no input from citizens or democratically-elected officials, are rewriting global laws?

Just whose purposes are being served here?

E.D. Kain at Forbes has a discussion of how ACTA has evolved and how TPP continues to be developed in secret. Here’s a line that struck home with me–it’s an obvious allusion to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

If lawmakers start baking restrictive IP laws into larger bills – maybe stitching them into defense funding bills, for instance – it may become increasingly difficult to see what’s happening.

The NDAA included a rider authorizing the indefinite detainment of US citizens by the military without trial. Attaching this egregious infringement of Constitutional rights as a rider on the military budget essentially held all military personnel and employees hostage; unsigned, it would have left them without any money as the new year started. The choice ended up being “unpaid soldiers” or “loss of liberty, with a note saying we promise never to actually do this”. The latter was chosen. (The author of this piece would say I’m being too generous to the president. Maybe I am. Time will tell.)

Obviously, riders are one effective way to get something passed that wouldn’t normally pass, and as Kain points out, this will surely be a tactic used in future intellectual property fights. But ACTA and the TPP bypass legislation completely, and they are shrouded in secrecy. We barely even know what’s going on before it’s happening to us.

If you’re interested in taking action on these issues, here are a few links that might help.

One thing that seems evident is that these treaties, developed in secret and intended to alter intellectual property law across the globe, are being backed by major copyright holders. Big corporations. The entertainment industry, to be blunt. I’ve already written on what I think they should be doing rather than trying to change the law to protect their dying business practices, but perhaps I was being too charitable. That they have wormed their way this far into not only our government, but governments around the world, is unconscionable.

I’ve heard that some are planning a complete media boycott for the month of March, to hit the proponents of this sort of legislation where it really hurts. Honestly, I’m not sure a month-long mass boycott is as plausible as a day-long internet blackout, but it certainly seems like the right strategy against executives who seem to only understand money.

Could you go a whole month without buying entertainment from big companies? No cable, no Netflix, no movie dates, no iTunes…heck, maybe a month off might prove which services you actually need and which ones you don’t even miss. And you could take the opportunity to discover some independent creators, people who just make good stuff and make it easy for people to buy it.

It could work. You could save some money. You could directly benefit actual content creators instead of middlemen. And you might help get big entertainment companies out of our government.

What do you think?

Foresight

The Associated Press has looked into the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. Good.

Quake risk to reactors greater than thought

Okay, not so good.

The nation’s nuclear regulator believes a quarter of America’s reactors may need modifications to make them safer.

Fabulous!

I’m not particularly surprised, though. Humans are not forward-thinking. We have trouble with the big picture; it’s easier to live day to day. I’ve seen this repeatedly in my own life, in my reluctance to take chances even when they aren’t that big a risk and will almost certainly improve my situation. We’re creatures of habit. We get comfortable and we don’t want to break out of that zone. Or we do, but we feel trapped because we’re afraid. We’re more afraid of the change than of the danger of not changing.

Someday our complacency may well spell our doom.

Sometimes we fix things. Here’s a cool article from National Geographic (with wonderful NatGeo writing style) about the removal of some superfluous dams that endanger an ecosystem:

Largest U.S. Dam Removal to Restore Salmon Runs

In Washington State‘s Olympic Peninsula, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe still tell stories of a time when the Elwha River was so full of salmon that a person could cross from one bank to the other by walking atop the thrashing bodies of fish struggling to move upstream.

No one has attempted such a feat since two dams were built, near the mouth of the river, in the early 20th century, blocking salmon runs.

But on September 15, officials in Olympic National Park will begin the long process of dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River.

The article points out that the dams weren’t built in a forward-thinking way, and it was the residents’ “fear of change” that kept them in place for four decades after it was first proposed they be removed. I’m glad it’s finally being done…but this is a far more forgiving situation than, say, nuclear power plant problems. With disasters like Fukushima, I hardly think we have 40 years to correct our mistakes.

Up until recently I was a staunch supporter of nuclear power. Even in the days and weeks after Fukushima I was an apologist. But as time passed and more and more problems surfaced, my enthusiasm faded. I still believe that nuclear power is, in theory, a good option for cleaner energy. But I’m not so sure I trust humanity to be the custodians of that power just yet. Given our tendency to let things go, to maintain the status quo, to only improve when we’re forced to, I’m not sure nuclear power is worth the risk. Knowing how humanity is likely to take care of–or not take care of, to be perfectly honest–its nuclear power plants, supporting the continuance of nuclear power is essentially rubber-stamping future deaths due to accidents like Fukushima.

I guess the question is, how many deaths, and what kinds of death, are most acceptable? It’s not like coal doesn’t kill, after all. Perhaps coal is easier to swallow because those deaths are more…containable? (I still wonder whether or not we actually comprehend all the dangers of radiation.)

How do you make these decisions, when you know that pretty much no matter what, someone’s going to die as a result of your choice?

Alvin Greene

I’m fascinated by Alvin Greene’s win in the South Carolina Democratic Primary for US Senate. So many weird perspectives are coming out thanks to this unprecedented election. This is just one of the bizarre things I’ve read (from the Charleston Post and Courier):

State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who lost his gubernatorial bid Tuesday, said race could have played a role. The Democratic primary electorate is majority black, as is Greene, but not Rawl. “Vic Rawl had money, but he didn’t have enough. He wasn’t able to identify himself with black voters,” Ford said. “No white folks have an ‘e’ on the end of Green. The blacks after they left the plantation couldn’t spell, and they threw an ‘e’ on the end.”

"The agriculture ministry is not in charge of Gundam"

Japan officials warned over Wikipedia

A Japanese bureaucrat has been reprimanded for shirking his duties to make hundreds of Wikipedia contributions about toy robots, officials said Friday.

The agriculture ministry said the bureaucrat, whose name was not released, contributed 260 times to the Japanese-language Wikipedia entry on Gundam, a popular, long-running animated series about giant robots that has spun off intricate toys popular among children and adults who belong to the so-called “otaku culture” of fascination with comic books, animation and robots.

“The agriculture ministry is not in charge of Gundam,” ministry official Tsutomu Shimomura said.

The agriculture ministry verbally reprimanded five other bureaucrats who contributed to entries on movies, typographical mistakes in billboard signs and local politics. The six employees together made 408 entries on the popular Internet encyclopedia from ministry computers since 2003.

The ministry did not object to employees making limited contributions on World Trade Organization and free trade agreements.

Published
Categorized as News Tagged ,

Today’s Overuse of an Expression Award goes to: Breck Mickelson, Nicholasville

They’re talking about putting a huge Jack Nicklaus signature golf course over off US 68 in western Nicholasville. (Ugh. They only just finished the lane expansion over there…) It would be a golfing community, similar to The River in North Augusta, with houses and townhomes averaging $500,000 apiece.

Breck Mickelson, a Nicholasville resident, is understandably perturbed.

“We didn’t want to live in the city. That’s why we moved out here.”

I’m with Breck, really. US 68 (aka Harrodsburg Road, aka my favorite way to get to my parents’ house) has gone to crap in recent years, with construction (notably Southland Christian Church, which seemingly quadrupled in size) and added lanes out the wazoo.

I actually used to be a proponent of widening Harrodsburg Road, and it really does help traffic congestion to have those extra lanes, but now I think I was short-sighted. With Harrodsburg widened, now people are going to want to build up all along it, just like what happened to Nicholasville Road. We’ll lose ancient farmhouses and traditional stone fencing. We’ll lose old trees and rolling farmland. We’ll gain…shopping outlets, and a golf course? (There’s already a golf course along Harrodsburg, thank you very much.)

So yes, I am with Breck Mickelson. I agree with him 100%. And when he said,

We need 660 houses in Jessamine County like we need a hole in the head.

I thought that was pretty clever.

But then he said,

We need more traffic on Harrodsburg Road like we need a hole in the head.

Now come on, Mr. Mickelson. I know that redundancy can be powerful, but the cliche “like we need a hole in the head” is powerful enough. Redundancy only cheapens the sentiment.

In this instance, we need redundancy like we need a hole in the head.

(See what I did there?)

It’s the end of the freaking world

Or at least it feels that way, here lately.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, completely destroying New Orleans. 1,242 people died.

Typhoons in the pacific have killed over 200 people this year so far.

Hurricane Stan decimated Central America, tipping off floods and mudslides that have left 616 people dead, with many more missing and likely dead.

A huge earthquake killed over 3000 over 20,000 people in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

And, lest we forget, at the end of last year the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

I just feel so powerless. Really, ultimately, what can we do to protect ourselves–from dying individually, and from extinction in general? No matter how hard you try to be safe, ultimately there’s just no way of knowing whether or not your apartment will burn up tomorrow, or be washed away in a flood, or be toppled by an earthquake, or be smashed to bits in a tornado. Is there really anything we can do? Have we caused these weather systems? Can we alter them? How?

Published
Categorized as News

International organization seeking talented designers for print and video projects.

Must be creative, organized, and discreet. Your projects will include music videos, comedy shorts, news articles, and other media. You will work with existing video footage and statements and produce sleek multimedia packages that will be seen the world over.

GREAT BENEFITS include: the chance to watch the deaths of many infidels, diverse projects to flesh out your portfolio. Possible martyrdom opportunities for enthusiastic individuals!

APPLY NOW!

Published
Categorized as News

Now that’s just dangerous

Nissan has created a car that makes it easy to back out of parking spaces–you just pivot the entire cabin 360 degrees and drive straight out.

Such moves are possible because Pivo’s steering, wheels and other parts are controlled electronically by wireless, or electronic signals, not mechanical links between the cabin and the vehicle’s chassis.

“This is a cute car for people who have problems parking,” said Nissan Motor Co. chief designer Masato Inoue.

I’m sure it’ll be very cute when there’s a wireless “hiccup” and the car careens into a wall! Seriously, after having used a wireless keyboard and mouse and having dealt with signal drops on wireless internet while sitting in the same room as the router, I’m not sure I would trust wireless technology to control things as important as steering a moving car.

Then again, it’s a tiny electric car that probably won’t see use outside Japan, so I doubt it’ll exceed 25 mph…

Published
Categorized as News

Catching up

A lot of news has been happening since my own personal tragedy, and I’ve not been posting about it for various reasons. Now’s the time to get back on track.

To start, here’s a bunch of stuff about Japan.

BoingBoing: Japan sees first-ever decrease in coins

Dealing with the coinage is one of the more interesting aspects of being in Japan.

BoingBoing: Japanese universities offering classes/programs in manga

I wonder how much of a learning curve there is for those classes. Are students expected to be Japanese people who have grown up reading the manga?

BoingBoing: Japan’s coolest vending machines

Because the world can’t get enough of the Japanese vending machine.

BoingBoing: Japanese lobster-vending machine

This is just bizarre. But okay.

Global Voices Online: Hitler comparisons

I haven’t actually read this yet, but it would appear that a blogger is drawing a comparison between Hitler’s Germany and Koizumi’s Japan. He/she is worried about the possible “remilitarization” of the country after Koizumi’s sweeping victory concerning the postal reforms. Given that Koizumi is leaving the prime minister position next year, and given that the postal reforms will help Japan immensely by chewing out some pork barrel projects, I’m not sure where this person is coming from, but again, I haven’t read the article ;P

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: Japan cattle wranglers tie hopes to ‘dream’ beef (Reuters)

Beefy.

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: Smokers Welcome at ‘Sin City’ in Japan (AP)

I think this is highly appropriate.

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: Japanese woman calls cops over unreliable hitman (Reuters)

This news item made my day.

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: Japan Noodle Maker to Film TV Ad in Space (AP)

After the creation of ramen that could be eaten in space, this is a no-brainer.

Here are a couple of non-Japan Asian news stories:

CNN: Starbucks shop opens at Great Wall

Someday there will be a Starbucks on the top of Mount Everest. (If there’s not one there already…)

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: N.Korea introduces first ‘credit card’ (Reuters)

I just love the first sentence:

North Korea announced on Friday the introduction of the Stalinist country’s first credit card, but just how it would work was unclear.

Yahoo! News: Oddly Enough: Shanghai Publishes Guide to Spot Beggars (AP)

:>

Now, to finish this huge Japan/Asian roundup, I’d like to mention my favorite Japan blogs:

Sushicam is fun as always. Not only are Jeff’s pictures superb, but he’s always ready with a witty comment, such as the following:

Japanese TV is quite a bit different from American TV. First of all, its done almost entirely in Japanese… (tries to keep a straight face…fails..)

;>

I am way behind on Justin Klein’s blog, and that’s because he writes uberposts and fills them with awesome pictures. Definitely worth a read if you want an in-depth look at Kyoto and the other places he’s visited.

I have really been enjoying Miklos Fejer’s blog, Miyakonojo. His is more slice of life than anything else, which I love, and his writing is clean and clever. Something very exciting is happening for him right now, and I’m thrilled that I get to read about it.

And that’s it for now. Sometime soon I hope to catch up on my Japan News, which I haven’t been reading at all (sorry, Japundit!).

Published
Categorized as News

I think I’d get claustrophobic

Two divers are going to live underwater for 10 days, entering a special dry chamber every five hours to take care of business but otherwise living life like fish. I love how Reuters ends the article:

Asked what she would miss most, Mensa exclaimed: “The telephone. No, I’ll miss everything a bit”.

After some thought, she said: “The ground and the air”.

Will they be able to tell if her brain function is affected?

Published
Categorized as News

Ben Stein’s response to the "blame Bush for everything" camp

Via Snopes, I found the article “Get Off His Back“, written by Ben Stein on September 2 and updated on the 4th. It was nice to see rational thinking getting some play on the Internet for a change.

4.) There is no overwhelming evidence that global warming exists as a man-made phenomenon. There is no clear-cut evidence that global warming even exists. There is no clear evidence that if it does exist it makes hurricanes more powerful or makes them aim at cities with large numbers of poor people. If global warming is a real phenomenon, which it may well be, it started long before George Bush was inaugurated, and would not have been affected at all by the Kyoto treaty, considering that Kyoto does not cover the world’s worst polluters — China, India, and Brazil. In a word, George Bush had zero to do with causing this hurricane. To speculate otherwise is belief in sorcery.

5.) George Bush had nothing to do with the hurricane contingency plans for New Orleans. Those are drawn up by New Orleans and Louisiana. In any event, the plans were perfectly good: mandatory evacuation. It is in no way at all George Bush’s fault that about 20 percent of New Orleans neglected to follow the plan. It is not his fault that many persons in New Orleans were too confused to realize how dangerous the hurricane would be. They were certainly warned. It’s not George Bush’s fault that there were sick people and old people and people without cars in New Orleans. His job description does not include making sure every adult in America has a car, is in good health, has good sense, and is mobile.

[…]

8.) George Bush is rushing every bit of help he can to New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama as soon as he can. He is not a magician. It takes time to organize huge convoys of food and now they are starting to arrive. That they get in at all considering the lawlessness of the city is a miracle of bravery and organization.

9.) There is not the slightest evidence at all that the war in Iraq has diminished the response of the government to the emergency. To say otherwise is pure slander.

10.) If the energy the news media puts into blaming Bush for an Act of God worsened by stupendous incompetence by the New Orleans city authorities and the malevolence of the criminals of the city were directed to helping the morale of the nation, we would all be a lot better off.

Published
Categorized as News

Satellite images of Katrina damage

I have to admit, what with dealing with losing all my possessions and trying to adjust to living with the in-laws and getting used to my new job, I haven’t been extraordinarily attentive to the situation in the Gulf. It’s been in my periphery–I was aware on an academic level that things were terrible, but I had never truly comprehended.

This totally blew my mind.

Just look at that. Zoom in on it. The houses are like little islands in a sea. Look at the bridge surfacing out of the lake that is New Orleans, then slipping back under the water.

It’s horrific.

(And yes, it is much worse than what I’ve been through, as several people have mentioned.)

I have a friend who was living in Biloxi, MS last I heard. I don’t know what the situation is in that city, or even if she is still there. Margaret, I have no idea if you ever read this thing, but if you’re out there I’d appreciate a note–I’ve lost your email address.