Saturday, March 21, 2015


My dad used to play silly mind-games with people, pretending to test out their intelligence, though really he was just satirising the kind of useless and pointless knowledge that enables people to win pub quizzes and television game-shows. Top of his list was: “Can you name the four main islands of Japan?” No one in my family gets beyond the age of seven without having the answer embedded: Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido. There are actually six thousand, eight hundred and fifty islands that make up Japan, but mercifully he didn’t expect anyone to know the names of any but the main four (if you really, really, really are nerdy enough that you want to know them, go to, but assume, this being wikipedia, that there are errors).

Other facts that he might have included are the information that 20% of the world’s earthquakes take place in Japan, that no less than three tectonic plates converge there, and that Mount Fuji, its major volcano, is still active, all of which places Japan at the top of another list – the one being presented to God by those who wish to challenge the intelligence of his design.

Today Japan counts among the “nice” countries of the world, though this is really only a self-inflicted punishment for having previously been one of its more nasty ones, though that was itself only a self-inflicted punishment for having previously spent several centuries in total isolation from the world, being extremely nice to foreigners by having nothing to do with them externally, and never letting them inside. 

The land which originally called itself Wa or Wakoku was, for a thousand years, known as Nihon, a feudal monarchy of samurai warriors and much Chinese and even more Buddhist influence. That changed on March 31st 1854, when the incident that should be known as "Madame Butterfly" took place; an American fleet, led by Commodore Matthew Perry, unofficially invaded, and imposed on the Japanese the Convention of Kanagawa, which required them to open branches of Starbucks and McDonalds in every town and village, and to send not less than one million camera owners abroad every year in search of things to photograph. 

This breaking of Japanese isolationism led to the Meiji Revolution (either Reform, or Renewal, depending on your political position, but not to be confused with Reform and Renewal in Judaism, which depend on your spiritual position), which took power in Japan back from the ZenBuddhistOcracy that had effectively controlled the land for a millennium, and made the Emperor once again the Emperor. Given that there is no point being an Emperor if you do not have an Empire, the self-determining monarchy determined that it wanted one. Fighting on the side of the Allies in World War One enabled the Emperor to build a modern military, and consolidate Japanese territories beyond the islands, a practice it continued after the Armistice, seizing, for example, Manchuria from the Chinese in 1931 (for which it was forced to resign from the League of Nations), and signing an Anti-Comintern Pact with Hitler in 1936, and a Tripartite Pact with Hitler and Mussolini in 1940 (for which it was thrown out of the unofficial league of civilised nations, though it needed the 1941 Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact to complete that process). Having now declared itself amongst the barbarians, Japan did what barbarians most like to do, which is to show off the small size of their dysfunctional penises and the large size of their tatooed abdomens, a practice also known as "machismo". China was the first to be attacked (Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1939), but this was just a warm-up. French IndoChina came next, in 1940, but this was just a rehearsal. The US airbase at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked on December 7th 1941, and the rest is history; though it could also be said that the Americans deserved it, given that it was American foreign policy in the form of Commodore Perry that started the trouble in the first place. As far as American foreign policy is concerned, it was ever thus.

One of the great problems of history is that we look back at the world as it was then through the lens of the world as it is now, and so it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to drop an atom, let alone a hydrogen bomb as well, on those nice, charming people the Japanese, who write haikus and make sushi and who have introduced both tantric yoga and teriyaki sauce into western culture. The explanation of the latter lies in the former – the dropping of the bombs lit up more than just the heavens in 1945. Rebuilding afterwards, the Emperor was retired into a ceremonial role, the 1947 constitution made the US constitution look old-fashioned and conservative, the military factories and bases, both for land and sea aggression, were converted into high-tech manufacturing, and the military itself was banished to anything but peace-keeping activities and cleaning up the debris after earthquakes and tsunamis; though be warned, there are significant voices inside Japan today who regard the demilitarisation of the military as nothing less than a “kamikaze” action by the government, and when they say “kamikaze” they are not ordering a cocktail that is equal parts vodka, triple sec and lime juice – or perhaps they are! Webster’s Dictionary defines “kamikaze” as being “charged with the suicidal mission of crashing an aircraft laden with explosives into an enemy target”. This is also the definition used for “9/11”.

Marks For: Ryoku

Marks Against: Hachi

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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