Today is the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, ending the terror that was the War in the Pacific, as it’s usually called here. During my fourteen years in Japan, I’ve travelled quite extensively and have talked with many people here about the war, whenever I could do so tactfully. Almost all Japanese I’ve talked with are glad that Japan lost the war, since it paved the way for equalization of Japanese society and real democracy. My mother-in-law especially reveres General MacArthur for his efforts to equalize Japan, taking land away from large estates and zaibatsu business cartels and distributing it to those who had no land. Sometimes these conversations can get a little weird — in rural Toyama Prefecture, I was eating with the family of a friend when their (somewhat inebriated) uncle started sobbing, “Why did giant America bring war to little Japan?” The question of why a country with the land area of Nebraska and no meaningful natural resources thought they could take on the world and somehow win is a complex one — what was Japan thinking? I think part of the answer lies in what’s known as seiyo suhai shugi (西洋崇拝主義, literally meaning “worship of the West-ism”). Ever since Japan began modernizing in the 1870s, it’s looked with great respect at the powers of Europe and America, especially the grand British Empire, another tiny island nation that managed to exert influence over the entire world. Japan wanted more than anything to become a country that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those great nations, and I believe its terrible march to war and imperialism was a case of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” taken to its most horrific extreme.
We’re in the middle of the Japanese Obon (“oh bone”) holidays, something similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S., a time when millions of people return home to their inaka (ee-NAH-KAH, their rural hometowns) to see loved ones and pay visits to the graves of family members who have passed away. Tokyo becomes a ghost town during this season, with almost every company closed for business. Unfortunately, anyone trying to use the roads during this special holiday season has to plan around the massive “U-turn,” when everyone turns around to head back into Tokyo. Already there are traffic jams of up to 40 km snaking back to the capital, and today is only the second to last day of Obon — it will be three times as bad tomorrow.
We’ve got more happy news around here: Yasu’s daughter was born this morning, a strong and healthy baby girl named Riko-chan. In Japan, babies are usually born in small “maternity hospitals” that only deliver babies, rather than maternity wards of large hospitals. There are several of these clinics in each city, and competition between them can be quite fierce — the place where our children were born lured us with full-course French cuisine for my wife while she was recuperating, and a complimentary video featuring Ultrasound footage of each of our kids as they grew in utero, and of us holding them after they were born. Japan has a lot of strong beliefs about childbirth — I might use the word “superstitions” but my wife would get mad at me. For example, for the first week after giving birth a woman is not allowed to touch water at all or it will make her blood boil (or something like that). I remember my mother-in-law bustling around the house making sure the dishes and laundry were done so my wife didn’t have to worry herself with it.
Our newest region-free DVD player, the AMW M-280 which features a 7″ screen for viewing DVDs anywhere you like, is a smash hit. The fully region-free player features long playing time on battery, and includes such extras as 32X rewind and fast forward, full remote with all controls replicated on the player itself (in case you don’t have the remote handy), the ability to output to a TV and also accept video input from another video source and display it on the screen (mobile PS2 anyone?), and more. I’ve updated the description to reflect one feature I forgot to list on Friday, a “disc memory” function that plays the disc from the last position you were watching when you turned the player off (a feature I am personally quite fond of).