Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kinugawa Onsen

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"Kinugawa" - what an interesting name...Angry-Ogre River!

The entire economy of this little town seems rests on tourism with most of its large hotels located along the steep cliffs of the angry-ogre. Apparantly, it had seen better times - once you're out of the neat railway station, you notice that most of the buildings have this mildewed, ill-maintained look about them. But the Onsens (public baths) here definitely worth the experience!

The very thought of relaxing in a pool of 44C water, watching a full moon hiding behind the snow covered pines... :)



Nikko's Shrines

For foreigners visiting 'heritage' monuments in Japan there ought to be a caveat - "Keep your expectations low; actual sites may be substantially different from the calender pictures you may have seen!".

Perhaps my opinions have been coloured by monuments and temples in India, but in Japan there does seem to an inverse relationship between hype and reality . In 2007, I had gone to see the famous temples of Kyoto loaded with maps and guidebooks. The golden pavilion at Kinkaku-ji had turned out to be an ornate, gilded house sitting by a little pond and the 'silver pavilion', Ginkaku-ji was just one of the many cottage set amidst a pretty little garden. At the same time, the unglamorous Todaiji temple at Nara not only had an imposing presence but also the calm, meditative atmosphere one expects to see in a grand place of worship.

It was deja vu at Nikko. The temples - most of them 'National Treasures' that had been created between 1600-1800 AD to deify military dictators (Shoguns), were just over-decorated, modest-sized buildings, set on a nice hillside.

We had reached Nikko using the private Tobu line from Asakusa, Tokyo. The "Heritage Bus-Pass" (Yen 1200) we picked at Tobu-Nikko station dropped us at Omotesando, from where a short uphill walk brought us in front of the Rinno-ji Buddhist temple. A flight of stone steps takes you to the temple entrance and another set of stairs brings you below the ground level from where you look up to see three large gold-lacquered images eyeing you - Kannon (goddess of mercy & compassion), Senju (1000-armed Kannon) and Amida Nyorai.

Further up the slope from Rinno-ji is the Tosho-gu Shinto shrine, built to deify Tokugawa Iyeyasu (1543-1616), a military leader was largely responsible for unifying the warring fiefs of Japan. Apparently it took 15,000 artisans two years to finish the construction. But somehow the whole place looked garish and loud compared to Taiyuin-byo which enshrines Iyeyasu's grandson, Iemitsu(1604-51). I loved Taiyuin's quieter setting amidst towering cedars; the little cobbled courtyard where a square patch of melted snow betrayed the presence of a underground pump; and the cool wooded steps leading to a fragrant prayer chamber that had a calm meditative 'presence'.
In India grand sites sit in a sea of mediocrity - to reach Taj Mahal in Agra or the magnificent temples of South India, you have to wade through noisy, ugly & chaotic urban debris. In Japan it seems to be just the opposite - you glide through a super-efficient transportation system, forested mountains, neat stations & streets, and walk past magnificent old trees to see places that are, well, perhaps not worth the trouble.


Portraits of Nikko painted by the Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904):

"Entrance to a Temple in Nikko" (oil on canvas)
"Shinto Temple in Nikko" (oil on canvas)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Power, Culture & Coups in Africa

`We learn history not in order to know how we behave or how to succeed, but to know who we are` - Leszek Kolakowski

There is much to learn from Africa...especially when it comes to understanding the long-term impact of the `colonial hangover` that afflicts many parts of the world...

Like most former colonial territories, almost all countries in Africa are set on borders that were defined by the power struggles among the former imperial powers of Europe. During phase referred to as "Old Colonialism" (16-19 century) most rulers of Western Europe handed out 'charters' to private trading companies, with an eye on the easy profits to fill their coffers. So people who had initially set sail hoping to undercut the Arab spice traders, and to `reveal` Christianity to the pagans, turned themselves into the first generation the most unscrupulous multinational companies ever.

On top of the pile were the Dutch East India Company (aka VOC) and the English East India Company (EIC). For nearly 200 years VOC handed out an annual dividend of no less than 18% to its investors. High profitability led them to acquire quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies. The fate of entire continents hung on the decisions of the company`s board of directors sitting in Amstredam or London. (When the rise of EIC pushed the Dutch East India Company into bankrupcy in 1800, a survey revealed that the whole of Africa was being controlled by about 10,000 Europeans, 95% of whom were based in Cape Town!)

Later, during `New Colonialim`, European governments took over the operations of these MNCs. Two scholars - Friedrich Ratzel (a German geographer) and Rudolf Kjellen (Swedish political scientist), came up with the idea of the `continental block` - an idea enshrined in the Theory of Geopolitics. According to them, states should grow and evolve as blocks, with each block being self-sufficient (economically, militarily). From this, came Ratzel’s Seven Laws on the Growth of States:

  1. The space of States grows with the expansion of the population having the same culture.
  2. Territorial growth follows other aspects of development.
  3. A State grows by absorbing smaller units.
  4. The frontier is the peripheral organ of the State that reflects the strength and growth of the state; hence, it is not permanent.
  5. States in the course of their growth seek to absorb politically valuable territory.
  6. The impetus for growth comes to a primitive State from more highly developed civilization.
  7. The trend towards territorial growth is contagious and increases in the process of transmission.

These ideas provided not only the ideological backing for colonial expansion but World Wars that came much later. Blocks were to be an enlarged version of the colonies acquired by the European powers and included Africa, South & S East Asia.

Therefore in keeping with Ratzel`s `laws`, the colonies were administered in such a way that higher education was open only to the collaborating elites. This was a typical `policy of cultural assimilation` followed by the colonists with the explicit purpose of `keeping the natives as natives`, and of ruling them with this elite who identified themselves completedly with the colonial master`s. Elementary education and training in basic skills was encouraged while higher education was reserved for the elites who learnt about the history and cultural traditions of the colonial master`s, and to look down upon almost everything that was their own.

One of the few universities that provided a neutral form of higher education was Howard University in Washington DC -- an institution that encouraged a less doctrinaire higher education to people in European colonies. From this university came an Assistant Professor named Kwame Nkrumah, who was to turn around the ideology of the colonisers to start the `Pan-African Movement`. His book, `Africa Must Unite` set the tone for his campaign and was quite effective in convincing other African countries that they ought to be ruling themselves, while preserving the artificial borders that had been drawn by the colonisers.

Nkrumah returned to Gold Coast, fought and won independence from the British, and renamed the country `Ghana`. But within a few years, he was overthrown by the military and his vision of independent, economically strong Africa was tossed aside. This became the typical pattern in other new African states -- of democratic forces being overwhelmed by the armed forces. This brings us back to the question: why are there so many coup d'état`s in Africa?

A part of the answer lies in a strategy followed by the former European colonisers of dividing civilian and military power between different tribes. So even after independence, internal ethnic frictions were easily transformed into a confrontation between the military and the civilians leadership who came from different ethnic groups.

Since the former colonists continued to give generous scholarships to promising youngsters from both the military and the civil administration, they continued to weild a strong cultural influence over the ruling elite in the newly independent African countries. But still, there was a difference -- Ali Mazrui, a leading African scholar based in University of Binghamton, NY, has observed that the military leaders who mounted coup-detat in Africa were usually traditionalists, who strongly believed that African should be ruled by culturally independent people, rather than `pseudo-Europeans`.

So this combination of a power structure inherited from the colonizers (dividing power among tribes) and the lure of traditionalism proved to be a fatal combination for the new democracies. In Uganda, for instance, Idi Amin belonged to the Kakwa tribe that had been excluded from the civil power structure for generations (the forte of Acholi and Lange tribes). So when he got the chance, he ousted Milton Obote`s `pseudo-European` leadership and seized power in 1971. But once in power, it was soon apparant that politics and civil administration is not a game that a soldier can master so easily!

The same pattern was repeated in Congo (Zaire) under Mobuto, Ivory Coast under HouphouëtBoigny and other newly formed African nation-states.

So, Africa seems no different from what we see even today in much of Asia - the colonial legacy is a pretty difficult thing to overcome - especially if it has embedded itself in the minds of a ruling elite, hollowing out much of their own sense of self esteem, turning them into pathetic `brown-sahibs` whose self-worth depends on recognition and acclaim from their former masters.




Coup Traps: Why does Africa have so many Coups d’Etat? -

Colorado-U Geoplitics Course PP:

The Black Bourgeoise:

American Library of Congress - Country Studies:

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Photos taken around 7:00AM today at Ichinoya, University of Tsukuba...

Justify FullRain clouds retreat...

Iigiri - Idesia polycarpia Maxim.

The Cherry tree at Hyotaro Ike (lake), Ichinoya


Iigiri berries...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

What is the right thing to do after a conflict to prevent its recurrence?

Earlier this week, on my way to UNU-Tokyo, I had been poring through some material given out by Prof. Sukehiro Hasegawa, for his session on "Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in a Post-Conflict Society". All the four papers were about the conflict in Timor-Leste, and after going through them, I had been quite convinced that the UN had been nitpiking on legal issues at the cost of long-term peace in the region.

Or was it? Prof. Hasegawa's session turned out to be quite thought-provoking. Firstly, because he was no ivory-tower academic - he had spent most of his career in UN peace-keeping operations in Somalia, Rwanda and finally at Timor-Leste. And secondly, because he did not claim to have the right solutions for ensuring sustainable peace in intra-national or international conflicts.

The moral dilemma facing peace-keepers was illustrated with a simple example.

You are standing by a bend on a road. Just behind you, 10 school-children are
crossing the road. Next to you is an old man and suddenly you see a huge truck
hurtling down the road at 100kmph towards the schoolchildren. You have the followng three choices -
  1. Do nothing - let the truck plough into the kids;
  2. Jump in font on the truck, get run-over and - hopefully - save the 10
  3. Push the old man on the highway, raise alarm and save the kids.

Now, assume that you don't have option-2...what is the right thing to do?

According to John Rawls's 'Theory of Justice', the most important consideration is the issue of 'fairness'. You can agree to an injustice to avoid a greater injustice. But fairness and justice to whom? - the old-man or the children?

Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham has proposed a more utilitarian approach leading to "categorical justice" or "consequential justice", according to which the right thing to do was to favor the option that gave the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

In other words, option-3. Sacrifice the old man and save the then children.

And then there is the much older traditon of "retributive justice" supported by the Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi - 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. A clear predictability of rules and standards is necessary for a society to flourish. If you do not punish the guilty in a consistent manner - irrespective of his social status or 'connections' - there is no effective deterrence. (This brings to mind the pathetic record of the Indian justice system - The Sikh Massacre, 1984; the Nanda BMW hit-and-run case, the Jessica Lal murder case, Gujarat Pogrom, 2002)

In recent history, one of the most prominent opponents to the tradition of retributive justice was, of course, Nelson Mandela's 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission'. There is little doubt that this approach has been successful in dealing with the ghosts of aparthied but it is not something that is easily replicated. Unfortunately, we just don't have people with the stature of Mandela or Desmond Tutu in all the conflict zones of the world.

The UN, therefore, disagrees with Mandela's approach and is more inclined towards the idea of retributive-justice. To erase the "culture of impunity", the guilty have to be held responsible. And this is the approach that was being followed in Kosovo, Rwanda and Timor-Leste.

In the Balkans it was relatively easier to capture the "big fish" and put them on trail. In Timor, all the big-fish slipped away to Indonesia and when the Indonesian courts put them on trail, they were found to be be innocent. But of course.

One of the elements of the broader concept of a fair trial is the principle of equality of arms, which requires each party to be given a reasonable opportunity to present his or her case under conditions that do not place him or her at a substantial disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent. The prosecution and defence has to be equally balanced.

In the Indonesian courts, the difference between defence and prosection was that of an elephant and a mouse. The prosecution didn't stand a chance. (Apparantly it was just the opposite at the Timor-Leste trails, but this point was not clarified.)

Amidst all the debates and discussions, the two main parties - Timor-Leste and Indonesia - just want to leave the past behind and move on. According to the Jose Ramos-Horta, what the country needs is schools, hospitals and roads. "We don't want internationals or foreigners to come and meddle...many Timorese are fed up with so many foreigners ordering us around".

If the two affected parties don't insist on justice and retribution, why are billions being spent on the international justice system? (Japan pays $1.5b of $7.5b; USA 22% -- the numbers need to be verified).

This is again not the first time that countries are tiring of international justice. In the context of the 14 American states seeking independence from Britain, Baron Montesquieu had said that "collective interest takes precedence over the existing justice system".

Is there a better alternative to the existing process (Truth > Justice > Reconciliation > Peace) ? After WW2, there were the Nuremberg Trails in Germany and the similar trails in Japan. About 10 Japanese officers were found to be guilty and hanged, and reparations were paid to many countries. One can say that 'justice' was administered, but did it really lead to reconciliation and peace? China and Korea continue to get rankled by perceived weak link between Truth and Justice here...

So what is the right thing to do?



John Rawls -

Jeremy Bentham -

Retributive Justice -

Code of Hammurabi -

Law of Moses -

Equality of Arms -

Interview with Timor-Leste President, Jose Ramos-Horta, conducted by TVTL (21 Sep)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Natto Bachao!

"Food Crisis - Save Natto!" - this was the title of a presentation given by a classmate at UNU today.

Natto is traditional Japanese food made from fermented soya beans. Ibaraki prefecture is well known for it.

I'm not too sure if the data was reliable but it was interesting to know that only 5% of Natto consumed in Japan is made from domestically grown soybeans. Most of the beans is imported from USA (71%) and Brazil (13%) and Canada (7%).

Apparantly 4.4 billion packs of Natto is consumed every year in a country of 0.1 billion people.

However, a lot of questions came up from this presentation - What is the volume / value of soyabeans imports to Japan? How is it that imported soyabean is kosher for the Japanese when they are so touchy about rice imports?

The answers, unfortunately, were not too convincing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Covell's Music

What will happens if you enroll for a course titled "Normative Theory in Comparative Policy" delivered by a professor who loves Audrey Hepburn, cricket, Tintin comics and western classical music?

Your learn less about policy and more about music and movies! :]

Here are some of the few pearls I could gather

Half a Sixpence - musical comedy by Tommy Steele ; URL -

If the Rain's Got to Fall - URL

Mozart - Cosi fan tutte: Act II Happy is the man...sweet repo; URL -

HG Wells - "Kips" - young man, finace is fortune
Hymn - Guide me O Great Redeemer (From Ronder, Wales)

WagnerGilbert & Sullivan"All the Saints""He who would true valor seek""So long as i am singing"

"Good Fellows" - movie by Martin Scorsce
"Gone are the days" - Charles Foster

NB: What do Cliff Richards and Vivien Leigh have in common? - they were both born in India.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Timeline - Japanese History

This is just a ready reference, for the events leading Japan from a fragmented feudal entity to the modern nation-state of today.

~ 600AD – At the beginning of the seventh century, Empress Suiko sends a mission to the Sui court in China, with a memorial that began, “The offspring of heaven in the land where the sun rises offers a letter to the offspring of the heaven where the sun sets”. Perhaps the first attempt by Japan to address China on equal terms.

660 AD – Internally disunited Japan fears the specter of an expansive Tang empire in China that, in alliance with Japan’s old ememy, the Korean kingdom of Silla, destroys two other Korean kingdoms of Paekche and Koguryo.

672 AD – Silla in Korea breaks ties with Tang China and seizes control of the entire Korean peninsula…..Japan responds by borrowing Chinese central institutional models in a bid to strengthen itself.

1274 – First Mongol invasion – Kublai Khan against the Kamakura feudal government. A night after the battle of Hakata Bay (Nov. 19), a typhoon destroys the Mongol fleet (~200 ships) off the coast of Fukuoka.

1281 – Second Mongol invasion, again using hastily built Chinese ships. This time 100,000 of 140,000 men (~70%) are killed in a storm off Kyushu. The storms are christened Kamikaze (Divine Wind). The invasions forge a national identity; Militarist Rinzai Zen Buddhism of Hojo Tokimune and his Zen master Bukko, become popular.

1400's (15th Century) Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu accepts investiture by the Ming emperor and thus obtained sanction for a very profitable trade. The Shogun is criticized by the royalty.

After Yoshimitsu’s death his son – the next Shogun – discontinues relations with the Ming, almost prompting Emperor Cheng-tsu to attack Japan. The next Shogun restores diplomatic relations and official trade continues for more than a century before ending in 1547.

1467-1568: Warring States Period – complete breakdown of central authority.

1547 – Japan discontinues official trade with China

1600-1868: Tokugawa Era – Japan tries to establish its own international system by claiming a central position in East Asian sphere by asserting that the Ryukus, Korea, Siam and others were sending tributes to Japan. Peace is imposed by a coalition of feudal lords.

1641 - All Westerners are banished from Japan. For the next two centuries, Japan is free from Western influence, except for at the port of Nagasaki, which Japan allowed Dutch merchant vessels to enter on a limited basis.

1700’s – Industrial revolution begins in England

1700’s – Hideyoshi’s brief and abortive invasion of Korea in the 16th century (the first recorded instance of Japan's attempt at overseas’ conquest)

1813 – Kaiho Seiryo (Confucian scholar) comments that competition among domains had come to focus on trade in a zero-sum game akin to warfare.

1815 – The beginning of Pax Brittanica after the Napoleanic Wars. Napolean is defeated at Waterloo and now Britain emerged as the uncontested world superpower.

1836 - Henry Wheaton’s classic, “Elements of International Law” (1836 – first ed.). Reflecting values and interests of Western civilization, it leads theorists to set a “Standard of civilization” - a sort of benchmark for non-European states to be called 'civilized'. This includes (1) guaranteed rights of private property, (2) freedom of trade, travel and religion, (3) Effective system of law, courts and political organization.

1840-1842 - Opium Wars in China

1853Commodore Matthew Perry arrives with his flotilla of black-ships demanding trade – undermines the fragmented and inefficient Tokugawa regime, ultimately leading to its overthrow by warlords from Choshu and Satsuma domains.

1856-1858 - Arrow War in China – expanded the number of treaty ports in the north and the interior for Britain – after securing these, the imperialists sought to shore up the Ching government in order to maintain a stable environment for trade and investment.
- treaties signed on terms of diplomatic equality, thus ending the Chinese tration of superiority

1856 – Townsend Harris, first American diplomatic representative to Japan, arrives. Two years later, the 'Treaty of Amity & Commerce' (an unequal treaty) is signed giving the westerners' extra-territorial rights at five ports opened for trade – Hakodate, Nagasaki, Hyogo (Kobe) and Kanagawa (Yokohama).

1858-59: The Ansei Purge - 'loyalist' followers of the Mito Critique are arrested or executed under the orders of the shogunate chief councilor, Ii Naosuke.

1859: Ii Naosuke is assasinated by samurai (17 from Mito, 1 from Satsuma)

1863-64: Battle for Shimonoseki - Joint naval action by Britain, France, Netherlands and USA against the Choshu domain, in response to the imperial/loyalist 'order to expel barbarians'

1868-69: Boshin War - Civil war between the Tokugawa shogunate and the loyalist dissidents (those seeking return of political power to the imperial court)

1868: Meiji Restoration; the Meiji emperor reign - 1868-1912

1869 – 17th Nov. – Opening of the Suez canal – transition from sailing ship to steamship – London-based Intl monetary system

1871 – Newly established Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs draft the first, typical unequal treaty with China to obtain MFN concessions made to western powers. But could only obtain a Treaty of Amity – but this was the first treaty establishing Japan’s titular equality with China.

1871-1873 - Iwakura mission to Europe & America.

1876 – Japanese forces impose the Treaty of Kanghwa on the Koreans (the first such treaty)– accords Japan the privileges of open ports, extraterritoriality and tariff controls.

1880-mid: USA overtakes Britain as the world’s largest manufacturing production.

1881- Political crisis in Japan over the choice of the type of government – liberal, English-type or the more authoritarian, Prussian-style.

1891 – Russia decides to build the Trans-Siberian Railway.

1894 – Western powers recognize effectiveness of reforms and agree to sign treaties ending extra-territorial privileges in Japan.

1894 – Two weeks after revision of unequal treaties was achieved, Japan declares war on China.

1894-95: First Sino-Japanese war.

1895-1910 – Japanese penetration of Korea;

1895 - Treaty of Shimonoseki – China cedes Taiwan and recognizes Korean independence; leases Liaotung Peninsula in southern Manchuria (+ indemnity + impressive commercial concessions), to Japna. Japan becomes a full participant in the framework of imperialism;

1895, April 23 – Triple Intervention: Russia, France and Germany force Japan to retro-cede Liaotung P to China – demonstrates to Japan the need for alliances;

1902 – Anglo-Japanese Alliance – part of Britian’s effort of ‘perclusive’ imperialism to shore up its diplomatic and strategic position in East Asia through treaties with USA and Japan;

1904, Feb 8: Russo-Japanese war begins with a surprise Japanese submarine attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur;

1906-1910: Germany surpasses Britain’s manufacturing production. Britain loses lead in “second industrial revolution” in electricity, chemicals and steel;

1910 – Japan annexes Korea after brutally suppressing nascent Korean nationalism;



* Japan Rising (Kenneth Pyle, PublicAffairs in Paper)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

UN & the Gen-Next of Ethnic Cleansers

"JBT Marg" is a prominent road in New Delhi, named after one of the founders of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), and the chief architect of 'Second Yugoslavia', Josip Bronz Tito. By some strange coincidence, both the road and the leader have come to represent lost causes.

JBT Marg was a recent witness to an ill conceived and poorly executed urban transportation project (BRT Corridor) and the NAM has now become defunct. But both these are mundane, irrelevant events compared to the tragedy that has unfolded after Tito's Yugoslavia splintered into half-a-dozen small republics :

  1. Socialist Republic of Bosnia & Herzegovina (Pop.- 3.8m)
  2. Socialist Republic of Croatia (4.7m)
  3. Socialist Republic of Madeconia (2.m)
  4. Socialist Republic of Montenegro (0.6m)
  5. Socialist Republic of Serbia (9.5m) [Also Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo (1.5m) and Socialsit Autonomous Province of Vojvodina (1.9m)]
  6. Socialist Repoublic of Slovenia (1.9m)

This piece is about the rather unusual role of the United Nations in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH).

In 2007, a UNDP/Oxford study found in BiH, the lowest levels of social trust ever measured. It was "virtually non-existent" - even lower than in Iraq.

BiH gained independence in 1992, and following the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, established one of the most compex political and administrative systems in Europe. The country has 3 presidents, 13 governance units, 13 parliaments, 150 ministries and 137 municipalities...all this in a country which has a third of Delhi's population!

In an attempt to keep the three main ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Serbs and Slovaks - in good humor, the country has three different education systems. The constitution states that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teachng in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions" (Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR).

Since there are not enough schools for three different systems, there are around 50 'two schools under one roof', where two different curricula are taught and children are segregated. Sometimes the children use segregated entrances, follow separate time schedules and with little or no interaction.

A study conducted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), states that, "The current fractured having the effect of creating three separate sets of citizens, each ignorant and distrustful of the "other".

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that such a system has been supported by the UN since 1992. In 2004 alone, $24million had been spent on 500 development projects in the country*.

Why is the UN investing millions of dollars to create the next generation of ethnic-cleansers' in the Balkans?

What are the lessons here for education reform in India?


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Rise & Fall of Technology Champions

Once upon a time, Japan dominated the microprocessor's market. And then, between 2002 and 2007, as Taiwanese and South Korean appeared in the market, Japan's marketshare crashed from 75% to 34%.

So, instead of fading into the sunset, the Japanese moved to higher-value products, focusing on substrates for microprocessor units (MPUs). The 3% of substrates for MPU applications shipped in 2007 accounted for 30% of the market’s value. And this is just one example of how a slew of medium sized companies have quickly changed tack and adapted to the winds of change.

According to the Minstry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the chuken kigyo (strong, medium-sized firms) serve more than 70% of the worldwide market in at least 30 technology sectors worth more than $1 billion apiece. Their niche areas are mostly at the high-end of electronics, engineering and materials-science.

The common characteristics of Japan's technology champions were:
  • They invest handsomely in research and development (R&D).
  • Many have factories abroad for basic products but keep the high-end stuff at home—in a “black box”.
  • They often own their supply chains: chip companies that might use crystal components generally grow their own.
  • Some firms even make the very machines they use, in order to control costs, remain independent of suppliers and maintain a deep understanding of their technology.
  • Work closely with clients and solve common, thorny problems together.
  • Firms try to maintain lifetime-employment because knowledge of technology is tacit, not formal.

Just when everybody thought that it was dificult to replicate the strengths of the Japanese companies, a small Dutch company called ASML came up with a little shocker. Until 1990, Nikon and Canon dominated the the market for 'steppers' - the tools used to make computer chips. They had 65% and ASML, less than 10%. Today it is the other way around...Also along the way Japan's marketshare for solar panels dropped from 50% to 20% during the past four years.

What went wrong? Now the experts say that some the strengths were also fatal weaknesses:

  • Too many competitors, so margins are thin and there is not enough being spent for R&D. So Taiwanese,Chinese and Korean companies are catching up.
  • Tax laws actually discourage partnerships from forming.
  • The lack of shareholder pressure that lets companies focus on long-term projects removes the market discipline to boost performance and cull weak projects.
  • Vertical integration ensures supply and quality, but leads companies into non-core areas better done by others.
  • Lifetime employment keeps knowledge in-house, but firms lose flexibility, employees lose labour mobility and fresh ideas can be stifled.
  • The best technology is less prized in the fastest-growing markets—poor countries like China and India that want basic products. (Japanese makers of mobile phones have the world’s most sophisticated devices but their market share abroad is virtually nil)

Now it'll be interesting to find out how much these medium-sized companies contribute to Japan's GDP...

Japanese Companies that Dominate Hitech Niche Areas -

  • Japan Steel Works, Hokkaido: Produces huge, solid-steel vessel to contain the radioactivity in nuclear reactors. JSW produces this from a single 600T steel ingot and sells it for $150million apiece. There are 40 nuclear plants unders construction around the world, designed bya dozen companies from USA, China, France, japan and Russia. All depend on this one company.
  • Shimano: Earns around $1.5 billion a year by supplying 60-70% of the world’s bicycle gears and brakes.
  • YKK: Zip fastners - 50% of world market
    MURATA: 40% of world capacitor market.They cost somewhere between a quarter of a cent and 20 cents each, but a mobile phone may need 100 of them and a PC 1,000.
  • Nitto Denko claims to have more than 20 market-leading products, mostly for making LCD displays.
  • Mitsubishi Chemicals (the odd one here - not an SME!) commands a near monopoly in red phosphorescent materials used to make natural-white LED light bulbs.
  • Shin-Etsu enjoys the top spot for certain silicon wafers for semiconductors. Also 50% of the market for the photomask substrate, used to place patterns on semiconductors. The remaining 50% is dominated by — Covalent, NSG, AGC and Tosoh—all from Japan.
  • Kyocera leads in several integrated-circuit components.
  • NIDEC: 75% of motors for hard-disk drives in computers
  • MABUCHI: 90% of micro-motors used to adjust the rear-view mirrors in cars.
  • TEL: 80% of the etchers used in making an LCD panel.
  • COVALENT: 60% of containers that hold silicon wafers as they are turned into computer-chips. 70% of the market for carbon brushes in electric motors

Japanese companies have a similar grip on, for example, bonding material for integrated circuit packages and the lithography machines (called steppers) to make LCD panels. The semiconductor business if practically owned by Japanese companies. The process of making computer chips illustrates Japan’s dominance. Among the many steps are four in which the Japanese are indispensable:

  1. Wafer processing: SHIN-ETSU (35% of world market)
  2. Thin-film formation: NIPPON MINING & METALS manufacturs (30%) 'sputtering target material' used in Thermal Imaging Equipment;
  3. Coating, lithography and developing: TOPPAN PRINTING (40%) of 'mask/rectile' and JSR (40%) of 'photoresist' used for making electron beam lithography system and coating machine/ developer respectively.
  4. Contact and packaging: SUMITOMO BAKELITE (35%) of 'encapsulates' used for making dicing machines.

Japan's technology champions - Invisible but indispensable - The Economist, Nov. 5th 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

Honor Vs. Gunpowder

A decisive battle took place on 23 August 1514, at Chaldiran (Eastern Anatolia) between the Turks and the Persians. The Turks were led by Selim-the-Grim and the Saffavid Persians, by Shah Ismail.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this battle was that, at that time gunpowder technology was available to both the warring parties, but the Persians refused to use firearms because they considered this kind of warfare cowardly and honorless.

The Persians were, of course, routed - the swords were no match for the guns. Shah Ismail may have won the moral ground but he lost his kingdom and died a heartbroken alcoholic after his wives were given as war-booty to the Ottoman commander's.

In the long-term, the battle ruined the Shia notions of an infallible Murshid (the king as a religious head) and the Caliphate shifted to Istanbul; the Sunni's then dominated Middle-East for the next hundred years. The present-day border between Turkey and Iran was defined by this battle, as well as the reason why the capital of Persia shifted from Tabriz to Tehran.

One of the tribes that switched loyalties was the Kurds and their identity crisis continues to haunt Iraq, Iran and Turkey even today.

Seen in this perspective, it is hardly surprising that the Iranians today prefer to have the perceived safety of nuclear weapons rather than the dubious high moral ground offered by the West...

Battle of Chaldiran - Wiki

Sultan Selim the Excellent / Selim I / 'Selim the Grim' - Wiki

Islamic World to 1600 - UCalgary

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Autumn in Kanto

Mt. Fuji from Tsukuba

Tokyo Imperial Palace Moat (National Diet in the background)

Chrysanthemum Flowers at Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Contradictions of the Mallu Male

This was brilliant! :)

Nisha Susan's article in Tehelka (7 Nov.2009) -

The Malayali - The Double Life Of Bobby, Baby, Blossom, Biju And Shaji

Lost causes, alcoholism, eve-teasing, world politics, parochialism...the endless contradictions in the Malayali male.


Reference Link:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The South Korea Story

This week at UNU-Tokyo, the topic of discussion was 'Sustainablity Challenges of Korean Development'.

A Professor from International Christian University walked us through the remarkable post-WW2 story economic development in South Korea.

Using data from the Korean Development Institute (KDI) we saw an impressive array of charts and graphs showing the tranformation of an economy that moved from producing wigs and toys in the 1960's to hi-tech semoconductor chips and ship-building in the 2000's. Within fortyseven years (1960-2007), the national Per-Capita shot up from $70 to & 20,045 (286 times!); the GDP grew from $1.5 billion to $969.6 billion (646 times!); and exports, from $0.04 billion to $371.5 billion (9,287 times!!).

During this period, employment in agriculture/fisheries reduced from 63% to 9.3% and correspondingly, the share of manufacturing grew from 7.9% to 19.2% and the service sector, from 28.3% to 71.5%!

It seems quite obvious that a vast majority of farmer's grandchildren were now designing and manufacturing semiconductor chips, flat-screen TV's, ships and mobile phones. One of the keys to this transformation has been the education system in South Korea. Between 1970 and 2000 the average schooling years of the total population went up from 5 years to 11 years (During the same period, China's went up from 4 to 6 years; Japan, 7 to 9 years; and USA from 10 to 12 years). More than 80% of kids go to collge and , at present 7.7% of GDP is spent on education!

The cynics might say that there is nothing so great about transforming a country, especially when there is a dictator to ensure that technocrats had complete freedom to work through their development plans. But the world is strewn with countries under dictators (North Korea, Gabon, Etc.) who have only enriched themselves personally.

Is USA the key? - Did the American security umbrella, training and generous scholarships set the stage for transforming the country?

It will be ineresting to know the real dynamics of this change...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indoctrinating Children

An award winning documentary, "The Sweetest Embrace: Return to Afghanistan", was screened at Tsukuba-U workshop today. Directed by Najeeb Mirza, a Canadian-Afghan and sponsored by CIDA, this film was about a couple of Afghan youngsters who had been returning to their villages in Afghanistan after 16 years.

They had been taken away by the Soviets to an indoctrination camp in Tajikistan during the 1980's. The Soviets, having realised that it was going to extremely difficult to teach Afghans the virtues of communism, decided to take hundreds of six-year-old's to purpose built schools in Tajikistan and other communist block countries. As the children grew up in a foreign land, Afghanistan descended into chaos and the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

The film brought out the tragedy quite vividly. In the discussion that followed it turned out that such large scale relocation's had been going on for decades in all the East European and Central Asian Republics.

Apparently the Soviets were not the first to come up with this idea. The Ottoman Empire was based on the strength of the children taken away from newly conquered territories (the 'boy harvest' or 'Devshirme' system)to create the elite corps of soldiers and administrators - the Janissaries - who formed the backbone of the empire.

The Americans too tried doing the same thing with children from Vietnam.

Unfortunately, like most other South Asian and African countries, Afghanistan too is a creation of colonial cartographers. The Durand line arbitrarily splits the Pushto tribes between across two 'nations'. The Hazara's, Tajik's and Uzbek's view the Pathans with suspicion and animosity.

When loyalties are split along ethnic or tribal lines, the question is - how effective can foreign educated protege's be, in forging a national identity?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alex Kerr's Lost Japan

Excerpts and insights from the book, LOST JAPAN by Alex Kerr.

"Why can't the Japanese preserve what is valuable at the same time as they modernize?"

For Japan as a nation, the old world has become irrelevant; it all seems as useless as the straw raincoats and bamboo baskets abandoned by the villagers of Iya (central Shikoku).

In the West, contemporary clothing, architecture and so on have developed naturally out of European culture, so thee are fewer discrepancies between 'modern culture' and ancient culture'. The industrial revolution in Europe advanced gradually, taking place during the course of hundreds of years. This is why it was possible for thecountryside of England and France to be relatively unspoiled, why numerous medieval towns still remain, and why the residents of these historical areas still treat them with care and respect...

In contrast change came to China, Japan and Asia in a truly precipitous fashion. What's more, these changes were introduced from a completely alien culture. Consequently, modern clothing and architecture in China and Japan have nothing to do with traditional Asian culture. Although the Japanese may admire the ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara...these places have no connection with their own modern lives...these places have become cities of illusion, historical theme parks.
In East Asia there is no equivalents of Paris or Rome - Kyoto, Beijing and Bangkok have been turned into concrete jungles. Meanwhile the countryside is filled to overflowing with billboards, power lines and aluminium houses.

The use of space has everything to do with lighting. Junichiro Tanizaki's book 'Inei Raisan' (In Praise of Shadows) has become a modern points out that Japan's traditional art arose from the darkness in which people lived. For example, gold screens, which look garish in modern interiors, were designed to pick up the last struggling rays of light making their way into the dim interior of a Japanese house.

Tanizaki laments that the beauty of shadows is no longer understood in modern Japan. Anyone who has lived in an old Japanese house will know how one always feels starved of light, as if one were swimming underwater. It was the constant pressure of this darkness which drove the Japanese to create cities of neon and fluorescent lights. Brightness is a fundamental desire in modern Japan, as can be seen in its uniformly lit hotel lobbies and flashing Pachinko parlors...

Kabuki seems to have the perfect balance between the sensuality and ritual which are the two poles of Japanese culture. On one hand there is Japan's freewheeling sexuality, out of which was born the riotous 'ukioe' (floating world) of Edo: courtesans, colorful woodblock prints, cross-dressed men and women, 'naked festivals', brilliantly decorated Kimono's, etc.,

On the other hand , there is a tendency in Japan towards over-decoration, towards cheap sensuality too overt to be art. Recognising this the Japanese turn against the sensual. They polish, refine, slow down, trying to reduce art and life to its pure essentials. From this reaction were born the rituals of tea ceremony, Noh drama and Zen.

In the history of Japanese art you can see these two tendencies warring against each other. In the late Muromachi period (1333-1576), gorgeous gold screens were on the ascendant; along came the tea masters, and suddenly the aesthetic was misshapen brown tea bowls. By late Edo (1600-1867) the emphasis had swung back to courtesans and the pleasure quarters.

...Why did stagecraft develop to such a level in Japan? At the risk of oversimplification, I would say that it is because Japan is a country where the exterior is more often valued over the interior. One may see negative effects of this in many aspects of Japanese life. For instance, the fruits and vegetables in a Japanese supermarket are all flawless in color and shape as if made from wax, but they are flavourless. The importance of exterior may be seen in the conflict between 'tatemae' (officially stated position) and 'honne' (real intent), which is a staple of books written about Japan....Nevertheless, the emphasis on the surface is not without its positive side, for kabuki's unparallelled stagecraft is a direct result of such prizing of the outward.

...Focus on the 'instant' is characteristic of Japanese culture as a whole. In Chinese poetry, the poet's imagination may begin with flowers and rivers, and then leap on to the Nine Heavens to ride a dragon to Mt Kun-lun and frolic with the immortals. Japanese haiku focus of the mundane moment, as in Basho's well-known poem: 'The old pond, a frog leaps in, the sound of water'. The frog leaps into the pond, not up to heaven. There are no immortals, just 'the sound of water'...

...I am not partial to Kabuki's historical plays such as Chushingura (The Forty-seven Samurai); most of them involve tales of 'giri-ninjo', and for me there are more interesting themes. For an earlier audience, trained frantically to obey their superiors, these plays about sacrificing oneself for one's lord were truly heart-rending; it was what all Japanese did everyday of their lives, at the office or in the army. There is a moment in Chushingura when the lord has committed harakiri and is dying, but his favourite retainer, Yuranosuke, is late. Finally Yuranosuke arrives, only to see his Master expire with the words, "You were late, Yuranosuke."

Yuranosuke looks silently into his master's eyes and silently understands that he is to wreak vengeance for his lord's martyrdom. I have seen older audiences cry uncontrollably at this scene. But for people who have grown up in soft, affluent, modern Japan...resonances of personal sacrifices are growing faint.

Other Tidbits:

  • Jordan was a path-breaking textbook of Japanese language grounded in linguistic analysis. It was originally used by Diplomats and has since become known as the 'Mother of Japanese language textbooks'.
  • Nihonjinron (theories of Japaneseness) is perhaps the most extensive literatture by any country in praise of itself!
  • Hapax legomenon: characters that occur once in ancient literatureand never again. Eg., Chi for 'flute'.
  • Well Field System: A system of taxes instituted by the Sung Dynasty in China, based on the character for 'well' (#). This represented a plot of land with nine portions: the outlying portions were for peasants to cultivate by themselves and the innermost squqre was to to be cultivated communally and the proceeds given as tax to the government. The social turmoil caused by this resulted in the collaps of the Sung Dynasty afte a century.
  • Clutter & Emptyness: Living in a pile of unorganised things is a typical pattern of Japanese life...In the Muromachi Period (1333-1576), tea-masters grew weary of a life crowded with junk, and created the tearoom: one pure space with absolutely nothing in it was where they escaped the clutter. The culture of the Japanese is bracketed by the two extermes of 'clutter' and 'emptiness'. But when it comes to the middle ground of 'organised space', that is, space with objects organised for daily life, their tradition fails them.
  • Decline to Paralysis: The fall of the Japanese stock market was the biggest loss of wealth in the history of the world...the root of decline of their economy lies in the word 'cozy'. Cozy non-public bidding awards mega-projects to a few companies (Rokko island to Sumitomo Trust); cozy press-clubs hide the truth from the newspapers (the main paper, NKS aka Nikkei failed to report the truth about the crash); the fashion industry blocked out foreign competition (CFD case); film industry is dominated by two giants, Shochiku and Toho, which also own most of the movie 'peace in the marketplace' is maintained by supporting cartels which set high prices.The net result? - the Japanese public makes do with just eight TV channels and overpriced goods in the supermarket.As with other over-regulated systems, in time the conflicts with reality multiply, and the cracks begin to show. To prevent collapse, further restrictions become necessary. In the end, it becomes harder and harder to move - hence the present paralysis.
  • Bubuzuke: In the ultra-refined workd of Kyoto etiquette, if your host asks you, "Won't you stay and have some bubuzuke (tea on rice)?", this means that it is time to go!
  • Theme Parks: The new cultural attraction in Japan is European Theme Parks - Shima Spain Village in Mie prefecture; Huis ten Bosch, the Dutch town near Nagasaki. A pseudo-traditional is coming up near the gates of the Grand Shrine of Ise.
  • High-school students in Japan still wear black military uniformswith high collars and brass buttons, a style imported from Prussia in the nineteenth century.
  • Vermilion was the color of Chinese Taoism, and since the Sung Dynasty is has been revered as being sacred to the gods. In the Analects, vermilion signifies noble qualities. Confucius said, 'How regrettable when purple usurps the place of vermilion' - meaning, 'when the vulgar usurps the place of the noble'.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Emergence of Reformist Ideology in Pre-Meiji Japan (1800-1868)

Why is Japan so different from the rest of Asia?

Anybody who seeks an answer to this seemingly simple question will - quite invariably -  take stroll down by-lanes of history and find numerous references to `Meiji Restoration`, as well as the young Samurais from two peripheral domains of the Japanese archipelago - Choshu and Satsuma.

This small group of men – later called the ‘Meiji Reformers`, not only mounted a successful coup against the 250-year old Tokugawa Shogunate, but also went on to construct myths & traditions to unify a nation, and to implement a series of reforms that were to transform a resource-starved, largely feudal, agricultural society into one of the most prosperous, dynamic countries of the world.

The changes wrought by Meiji reformers were so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the nation that it played no small part in the resilience shown by the Japanese in the face of utter defeat and devastation that came as an aftermath of World War-II. How did such a small provincial group come to be regarded as the visionaries who changed the destiny of a nation?

This paper attempts to seek answers to the aforesaid questions. In doing so, it examines the life and times of the key players, starting with the first visible signs of dissidence in the Tokugawa Shogunate during the early 1800’s and culminating in the Boshin Wars and Meiji Restoration in 1868.


In the early 1800’s Japan was a largely agricultural economy with a population of about 30 million (Japan Profile, 2006). It was almost completely shut-out from the outside world by a coalition of military rulers under the Tokugawa Shogunate. This shogunate had come to power in the 1600’s after a protracted period of internal strife and turmoil (Senkoku – or the Warring States Period: 1467-1568).

Since foreign influence was perceived as one of the destabilizing factors, the rulers decided that the best way to maintain peace in the country was to keep its interaction with the outside world to an absolute minimum. Accordingly, foreign ships were barred from all the ports in the Japanese archipelago, except Nagasaki which was directly controlled by the shogunate. Feudal domains were under strict instructions to ensure that foreigners – especially European traders and proselytizers – were kept out of the archipelago.   At the same time, the Japanese themselves were forbidden to travel overseas.

The Tokugawa shogunate then undertook a series of steps to assure military and economic preponderance for itself (Najita, 1974):

  • Direct control over one-fourth of the rice yield in the country
  • Enacting stringent  laws forbidding lateral baronial alliances between the regional daimyo’s (feudal lords)
  • It allowed daimyo to retain as lords of han domains (~250), along with administrative authority in judicial, fiscal, agricultural, and educational matters .
  • Also allowed the daimyo’s to retain a separate vassalage, samurai who owed direct loyalty to them as lords of han, not to the shogun as head of the bakufu
  • Each daimyo had to visit Edo periodically and leave behind hostages (a system called Sankin kotai), forcing them to build several sumptuous mansions and for a sizable service retinue;
  • To limit mobility of the samurai class they were given the `choice` of living on land or in castle towns;
  • Retaining the unilateral prerogative to use military force against transgressors of its laws;

The Tokugawa shogunate thus managed to establish a coalition of feudal lords. Even though peace had been established after a period of protracted turmoil (Warring States Period, 1467-1568), competition persisted among the semiautonomous domains. Military traditions were preserved but the competition was increasingly of an economic sort. Each domain promoted its own version of state interest (kokueki) by through `internationally` organized commercial development. (Pyle, 2007)

The above steps, on one hand, ensured political stability to the country for about 250 years, but at the same time it made the rulers oblivious of the momentous changes were taking place on the other side of the globe. In Europe, industrial revolution in England had triggered a socio-economic transformation, as well as a severe competition for raw materials from colonies in Asia, Africa and the “New World”.

Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands had been initially at the forefront during the age of Discovery. Driven by improvements in shipbuilding technology and navigation, they had discovered new lands and returned with hoards of spices gold that spurred nations to send their ships further. Soon, other European nations followed this trend resulting in a severe competition for resources had impelled European powers across Africa and South Asia towards the hitherto unexploited markets of East Asia – especially China.

In the face of the momentous changes in Japan’s neighborhood, perhaps the only course of action to ensure survival was to was to meet the West on its own terms - i.e., to introduce modern science and technology in order to transform a traditional society on an industrial basis under the aegis of a modern nation-state .

The constraints to such a transformation were quite formidable. In natural resources, Japan appeared at a grave disadvantage - her farmlands were overcrowded; her mineral endowment was meager, except in coal and copper; It geographical location was a disadvantage with no easy access to great markets or raw materials; In terms of social capacity too it suffered the handicap of feudal traditions which, during the 250 years of isolation under the Tokugawa shogunate, had failed to create a moral basis for unity so long characteristic of China (Lockwood, 1956).

History teaches us that industrial development generally builds on agricultural expansion in the early stages. Soon it comes to depend on the creation of large metal working industries. In face of the aforementioned constraints, the crucial element was the emergence of new elite with the capacity to face realistically the situation confronting them, to identify their own personal and class interests with the cause of modernization, and to act in the role of leadership before the opportunity was lost. (ibid. 1)

The Early Reformers

During the 1800`s Japan was agrarian, semi-centralized, aristocratic, and seclusionist. Just a hundred years later, by the 1900`s, it had become unmistakably industrial, centralized, egalitarian, constitutional and expansionist.

One of the key factors that led to this transformation was the emergence of a rather radical school of thought which came to be known later as the Mito Critique. Mito was a prestigious fief in the country headed by Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860) - a young daimyo who was also a blood relative of the Shugun. Nariaki has been acutely aware, not only of the changes taking place in Japan's neighborhood, but also of the inertia and obscurantism of his own ruling class. Recognizing the imperative for change, he encouraged some of the leading writers and thinkers of the period to take residence in his fief.

Mito thus developed into an impressive academic fief by developing an eclectic framework within which to discuss political ideology and power relations. It principal writers in the early 19th century were Aizawa Seishiai (1782-1863) and Fujita Toko (1806-55). Their ideas, first applied to politics by young Nariyaki to gain advantage in bakufu (shogunate) politics. (Najita, 1974).

Aizawa developed the dualist ideas of earlier thinkers like Yamazaki Ansai, under which there was a strong identification with the imperial institution as a pure cultural ideal (normative ideal – pure and hence inactive, an object of faith to which ultimate loyalty is extended). Below the monarchy was the all-encompassing realm of practical management and action. He laid out the contours of his ideas on national transformation in Shinron (New Thesis). In this influential work of 1825, Aizawa discussed `proper techniques` of present rule:

  • The defensive capacity of the bakufu as a political and social system was questioned;
  • It asserted that encroachment of Western power throughout Far-East was inevitable;
  • As a practical strategy, it recommended that Japan must break out of seclusion and confront the threat;
  • A multi-class army and navy must be formed and modern firearms must be forged at once;
  • To enhance support from society, maximum use must be made of ethical and religious ideas, symbols, images, rituals and shrines. These should be identified with the monarchical symbol and the ideal of a continuous and national historical essence (kokukai).
  • Common people should not be feared…or merely controlled through punitive devices, but viewed as a source of social energy and, through the cultivation of `loyalty to emperor` (sonno), incorporated into the foundation of a strong country.

The shogunate`s reaction to this open challenge from its owns ranks was to implement the Tempo Reforms (1830-43) which merely reconfirmed self-sufficient agrarianism and seclusionism. Nariaki was ordered to leave Edo and remain in exile; Aizawa was sentenced to house exile and Fujita Toko was imprisoned in Edo (Najita, 1976).

It was during this scene of simmering ferment that Commodore Matthew Perry reached the shores of Japan in his famous “black ships”. Confronted with Perry’s ultimatum the bakufu, under the leadership of its Tairo (senior chief councilor) Ii Naosuke (1815-60), signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (aka Harris Treaty) was signed between the United States and Japan on July 29, 1858. It opened the ports of Edo and four other Japanese cities to American trade and granted extraterritoriality to foreigners, among other stipulations.

Despite the façade of ‘amity’ this agreement with the Americans was widely seen to be an “unequal treaty” because the concessions given by the Japanese were largely ones-sided – the Americans were in no way obliged to extend similar privileges to the Japanese themselves.

To those who supported the Mito Critique and called themselves the “loyalist faction” (kinno ha), the treaty was irrefutable proof of the incompetence of the Tokugawa shogunate in preserving the sovereignty Japan. Sensing the rising discontent in the country, Ii Naosuke responded with the Ansei Purge (1858-59) during which over a hundred loyalists were arrested or executed. Among the purged leaders were Nariaki and three other daimyo’s. Soon after the purge the dissident loyalists also responded with decisive violence when 17 samurai from Mito (and one from Satsuma) assassinated Ii Naosuke at one of the gates of the Edo castle in Tokyo.

The assassination triggered further violent actions which were led by loyalists from Choshu and Satsuma. This time the dissidents killed Western traders and refused to pay any reparations, thus forcing the bakufu to pay on their behalf. On one hand this further undermined the political authority of the bakufu, and on the other, leadership of the dissident loyalist-faction moved from Mito to the western domains of Choshu and Satsuma.

During this period of turmoil, most of the loyalists were surprisingly young men – many in just their mid-twenties and mid-thirties: Yoshida Shoin (1830-59) of Choshu became the single greatest inspiration to the activists in this period. The others were - Yoshida Sakamoto, Kusaga Genzui (1840-64), Takasugi Shinsaku (1839-67), Kido Koin (1833-77), Fujita Koshiro (1842-65), Hirano Kuniomi (1828-64), Hashimoto Sanai (1828-64), and Saigo Takamori (1827-77).

Despite the strident anti-foreigner stand taken by the leaders of Choshu and Satsuma, they were keen to learn and take advantage from the material and military superiority of the Westerners. Yoshida Shoin, for instance, tried his best to gain direct access to the Cdr. Perry’s ships in 1853. When his attempts failed and landed him in prison, he continued to spread his ideas through his students and prison-inmates, some of whom, like Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) went on to become the Prime Minister of Japan four times during the critical post-Restoration period.

Another instance of realpolitik displayed by the rebel leaders when, after being defeated by the British in a naval blockade, went on to procure battleships, guns and – most critically – military training from the Britishers.  They were also the first to institute reforms that removed restrictions from non-samurai joining the army and thus created the first multi-class fighting units in Japan. These newly armed and trained units proved to be decisive against forces of the shogunate when they attempted to subdue the rebels in two invasions of Choshu (1864, 1866).

Once it was clear that the Choshu and Satsuma could hold on their own against the numerically superior shogunate forces, it was just a matter of time before the loyalists triumphed and rose to power using the “restoration” as the rallying slogan.

The dissolution of the Tokugawa feudal order was followed by a steady consolidation of oligarchic leadership in the hands of Okubu Toshimichi (1830-78) and Kido Konin in the 1870’s and Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909), Yamagata Arimoto (1838-1922), and a handful of other men – often referred to as the Meiji Genro – in the 1880’s. (Najita, 1976)

The men from Satsuma and Choshu, not only shared their common geographical origin but also a shared understanding that the Restoration was a mandate to create, through bureaucratic means, a powerful, wealthy, and autonomous Japanese nation. Their pragmatic and realist approach was also evident in the way they dealt with their former enemies. Bakufu leader’s like Katsu Kaishu (1823-99) and commoners such as Shibuzawa Eiichi (1840-1931) were promoted to positions of great responsibility, and were responsible to creating a modern army and a banking system respectively.

Other reforms introduced by the leaders were just as dramatic – dissolution of the han system and declassing of the samurai; promotion of commercial enterprise as a means of accumulating national wealth and strength; universal education and universal military conscription; and the construction of a legal system far more decisive and effective than the one provided by the bakufu.

The persuasive skills of the oligarchs was perhaps most evident in the way they organized and implemented the Iwakura Mission to Europe and America. Once they created a critical mass of leaders who had the power of first-hand experience and conviction, the two essential conditions for adaptation and growth had been created –

  1. Innovating, enterprising leadership in technological and social change, displayed initially at the top but spreading soon throughout the population;
  2. Teamwork, discipline, solidarity in group organization, sufficient to give order and momentum to the process of change.

These change resulted in the rise of science to a high place of learning; increasing acceptance of businessmen as a part of the legitimate elite; successful control of graft and nepotism in military commands; and in industrial management (Lockwood, 1956)


It is interesting to note the critical role played by the peripheral domains in the shaping the transformation of Japan from a feudal, agrarian society to a strongly centralized, industrial nation-state. One could perhaps claim that the reformist ideology could not have achieved a relatively peaceful transformation of pre-Meiji Japan, had it not been born and nurtured at Mito – a prestigious domain close to the centre of power within the Tokugawa shogunate. At the same time, the process of transformation may not have succeeded if the leaders from domains at the Western corner of Japan – Satsuma and Choshu - had not seized the initiative as soon as the opportunity presented itself.


  • Najita, Tetsuo (1974). Japan – The Modern Nation in Historical Perspective. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  • Japan – Profile of a Nation (1999). The Kodansha Encyclopedia
  • Beauchamp, Edward R. (1976). An American Teacher in Early Meiji Japan, The University Press of Hawaii.
  • Marshall, Byron K. (1999). Learning to be Modern – Japanese Political Discourse on Education, Westview Press.
  • Lockwood, William W. Japan's Response to the West (1956),: The Contrast with China, The Johns Hopkins University Press, World Politics, Vol. 9, No. 1 pp. 37-54, Accessed on 16 Nov., 2009 from -
  • Pyle, Kenneth B. (2007). Japan Rising – The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose. Century Foundation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jha on the Chinese Worldview

Interesting thoughts from an article in Tehelka - "Confronting China - How could ancient China’s worldview pose a threat to modern India? " by Prem Shankar Jha

The European nation state came into being under the spur of capitalism. Borders were first hardened by the capitalists to keep out competing products and later by labour to restrict the sharing of the gains in productivity to the nationals of the country. Education was homogenised to meet the technical and managerial skill-requirements of an increasingly nation-wide market and production system....

...In China, the hard state developed out of a very different compulsion. This was the need to ensure the safety of the realm in a land that had no natural barriers to ingress. This required the State to ensure rapid mobility for troops and supplies and freedom from political obstacles inside the country.

...An anguished Han Chinese woman in Urumqi told the BBC (in a change of policy Beijing allowed foreign journalists into Xinjiang), “We have turned this place into a heaven. Why are these people destroying it?”

...In the Confucian scheme of things, individuals and, by implication, states that are not “reasonable” and do not respond to “kindness” are not ruled by “virtue.” They are, therefore, fit subjects for “persuasion.”

After reading article I wonder if Jha is any different from the Chinese blogger who created this huge furure with his sweeping, simplistic generalizations.

Other Articles:

Why India Fears China - Jeremy Kahn, Newsweek, 10 Oct., 2009

"...All these moves are best understood in the context of China's recent
troubles in Tibet, with Beijing increasingly concerned that any acceptance of
the 1914 border will amount to an implicit acknowledgment that Tibet was once
independent of China—a serious blow to the legitimacy of China's control over
the region and potentially other minority areas as well."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer in Ibaraki

Moss & Pines

A dragonfly takes a break


The 7:20PM Spider


"Hanabi" by the Mito River

Mt. Tsukuba on an overcast day

A turtle in the Tsuchiura Palace moat


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cicada's, Starling's, Summer!

With the rise in summer temperature, Tsukuba seems to be teeming with life!

The first time I noticed it was on my way to the municipal swimming pool, under the trees overlooking the bus-stop at Tsukuba Centre. The first sign was noise that sounded like a busy construction site and it turned out to be just a major convention of birds!

From where did they suddenly appear? Why were they all converging only a certain type of tree - was it for food? But there was no sign of seeds or fruits on the trees...My Japanese Sensei, who happened to be passing by, said that the birds are called Mugidori. I looked this up and it turns out that the common name is "Grey Starling".

And then, the Cicadas. In the woods surrounding Ichinoya they make such a huge racket in the evening that your ears begin to hurt unless you move away from the trees.

At the central library, there are instruments monitoring the disturbance caused by construction activity, and the the occasional crash of building material the noise level goes up to 75dB. Just outside the library, the cicadas are creating nearly double that sound by just by just rubbing their legs against abdominal plates (120 dB)!

If Cicadas and Starlings are congregating on the trees, another group of birds had taken over the skies in the evening. Just as the setting sun was turning the clouds into various hues of pink and while airplanes glinted high above the clouds, massive swarms of birds whirled in the skies. Numbering in thousands, these birds swoop & dive, separate & converge on such a scale that from afar, they look like massive amoebic forms in the skies...

What is the advantage of moving in this way? Is it to feed on insects flying high above? But then why would insects want to fly at that height? Is it some kind of ritual for selecting mates?