Tuesday, August 31, 2004
The author does not lapse into an arraignment of those who committed atrocities or those who spread stories of atrocities which were never committed. He recognizes the fact that all war is an atrocity and that isolated cruelties undoubtedly do occur. But any unbiased observer cannot help arriving at the conclusion that most atrocity stories are exaggerations....But only the scholar within the walls of the ivory tower dares to point out this danger. The public and its leaders in each war insist on following the same path. History may not repeat itself, but man as such certainly engages in tiresome repetition.
There's actually some debate now about how widespread German atrocities were during World War I, but it seems likely that U.S. and British propaganda exaggerated the extent and frequency of German attacks on innocent women and children. There's an icky, exploitative, sometimes quasi-pornographic tone to a lot of those stories, and thyey were probably calculated to appeal to contemporary sensibilities. If there's a lesson to be learned from World War I propaganda, it's that you should take those stories with a grain of salt.
The problem is that the lesson didn't apply in 1942. The atrocity stories trickling out of German-occupied territories weren't exaggerated.
One of the frequently-voiced justifications for studying history is that we can learn from the past, that people who ignore history are destined to repeat it. But it's just as true that those who study history risk drawing false analogies.
Anyway, today a nurse-type person asked me if I'd been out of the country recently, and I told him I'd been to Japan. And he said, I kid you not, "Japan is in Asia, right?" I am usually not sympathetic to those who whine about the ignorance of young people these days, but sheesh. How is it possible not to know whether Japan is in Asia?
Monday, August 30, 2004
Friday, August 27, 2004
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. You are a
mystery novel dealing with theology, especially
with catholic vs liberal issues. You search
wisdom and knowledge endlessly, feeling that
learning is essential in life.
Which literature classic are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
Should I be more pleased with this or ashamed that I've never read the book?
Anyway, I have so much to say about my trip to Japan that I don't know where to begin. I think I won't try to discuss it in any systematic way: I won't give you a day-by-day report of what I did and saw, for instance. I'm just going to post whatever comes to mind.
So anyway, you know that thing I said about how Sapporo is easily negotiable and Tokyo is not? Well it turns out I may have slandared Tokyo a bit. Only a bit, though, because truth be told, Tokyo is very hard to navigate. For instance, the addresses make no sense. It's not just that I am an ignorant foreigner and therefore don't understand how addresses work: Japanese people can't make heads or tails out of addresses, either. Global positioning systems are popular in Japan not because they're a neat gizmo, but because it's extremely difficult to find anything. But I probably tend to exaggerate this, because it turns out that my brother's neighborhood, Jiyugaoka, is one of the most confusing neighborhoods in Tokyo. It's apparently a bit notorious, and my brother said that it took him two months to stop getting lost.
Anyway, Jiyugaoka is a very cool neighborhood. The guidebook describes it as "hippy", but I can't quite see what they're talking about. (The guidebook is a few years old, and maybe the neighborhood has changed.) For one thing, it's a little upscale to be "hippy". My brother says that it is known as a "ladies neighborhood," which kind of makes a bit of sense. If you were a reasonably-wealthy at-home mother, this would be a nice place to take your kiddies. There are many shops, including a bunch of little boutiques that sell all manner of adorableness like baby clothes and toys. There are lots of little coffee places where you can buy the kiddies a sweet when they get tired of shopping. And there's the Anpanman store. (And can I just say that I could not dislike a country where the big superheroes are anthropomorphized breakfast food.) It's much less hectic than more famous neighborhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku, and it's a good place to stay in Tokyo if you want a nice, non-overwhelming experience.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
- When the Rough Guide calls something "quiet", what they really mean is "utterly deserted, and probably for a good reason."
- Eel tastes really, really good. I mean, seriously good. I think I have a new favorite food.
- On a related note, Japan has terrific food, but it's probably not a great place to travel if you're a vegetarian.
- Japanese Olympic coverage is every bit as jingoistic as American. But there are fewer human interest stories, which is probably good, since I can't understand what anyone is saying anyway.
As you can tell, I am learning many important things while on my summer vacation. Will post more when I have more time.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
I am currently in Tokyo, but most of the trip so far has been spent in Hokkaido, which is the northernmost part of Japan. It's actually quite close to Russia. To Japanese people, it's very unusual and exotic, and I was extremely excited about going to this exotic part of Japan. But it turns out that what makes it exotic to Japanese people makes it seem, well, a lot like Kansas (with maybe some West Virginia thrown in) to someone from the U.S. Part of it is that in this very crowded country, Hokkaido is a land of wide open spaces, large-scale farming, and a whole lot of trees. But it's not entirely coincidental that the island looks like the American Midwest, because when the Japanese took over Hokkaido, they hired a bunch of American experts to come in and help them deal with the Japanese "frontier." (This frontier came with its own equivilent of Native Americans, the Ainu, who are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. The Ainu show up in museum exhibits filled with "Ainu artifacts" and in kitschy tourist souvenirs, but there's absolutely no evidence of them as living, breathing, modern people, at least in the stuff designed for tourists and visitors. My brother claims that the Japanese are "not good at that kind of thing." I'm not sure what kind of thing he means, but it's sad to say that North American tourist spots actually look good by comparison when it comes to discussions of indigenous people.) The result of this American input is that Hokkaido's very cool main city, Sapporo, is laid out on a grid like New York or Chicago (and if you've ever tried to get around in Tokyo, you know what a blessing that is), and the farm buildings have a definite North American look. Also, there are lots of ski resorts, which are built to look like Swiss chalets. Anyway, it's all very pretty, but not as spectacular to me as it would be to a person who lived in Tokyo, where there are no forrests or wide open spaces.
So now I'm back in Tokyo, which is big and difficult to navigate and pretty amazing. I think I'm having a weird Tokyo tourist experience. My brother speaks the language and can help me get around, so I don't think it's as disorienting as it would be if I were on my own. Will write more about this later!