Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Interesting article by Mike Rogers describing the influence of the popular Japanese TV drama Oshin and mustached Japanese soldiers in Iraq. Also some interesting perspectives about the ability to identify with suffering and Japan's relationship with the Middle East.

Alright, think about Oshin. Think about that story and that kind of suffering. I don't think Americans can relate to that. Of course Japanese can.

And, get this: Oshin has been broadcast in most Middle Eastern countries for at least the last 12 years. Iran? Sure. According to the Nikkei Shimbun News Oshin scores a remarkable 82% viewer rating; Iraq? Of course 76.7%; Thailand? 81.6%; China!? I thought most Chinese people hate Japanese because of the war! Yeah, well, maybe so, but they love Oshin! 75.9% viewer rating in China; Poland? 70%.

Gee, I wonder if the people in the Middle East can relate to this kind of starvation, suffering, and pain? Of course they can.

Which brings me to the next part of this puzzle: The Japanese military has ordered all troops in Iraq to grow beards and moustaches. Weird, eh? Well, no... Smart. Besides understanding the ways of society in the Middle-East, Oshin's husband has a moustache. Don't believe me? Check this out:

* Japanese army opts for new form of camouflage

Via Bob


Joi, I don't even know where to start. The Japanese are making numerous mistakes in Iraq, and they son't be made up for by growing some facial hair.

Joi, I don't even know where to start. The Japanese are making numerous mistakes in Iraq, and they won't be made up for by growing some facial hair.

Hmmm, so abetting an invasion of a sovereign nation is ok if you're growing facial hair and handing out soccer balls?

Let's invade America, shave, and hand out frisbees.

Mustapha, don't you think that frisbees are still a little too useful? Recreation (to burn off all those excess calories) -and- a serving dish. Someone might almost think you care!

Will your first move be to organize a government that has nothing to do with the culture and society, or will you award sole source contracts to your cronies?

So, yes, one of the first mistakes of Japan in Iraq is to militarize the mission, rather than providing real humanitarian assistance (independently of the CPA).

Michael: that's a hard question to answer ;)

Hmmm, whether to first set up a "democracy" where direct voting isn't allowed because the likely result isn't palatable, or award a few more non-bidder contracts to Halliburton.

How about combining the two? Get Halliburton to organize a sham election with only Karzai-like puppets allowed to stand.

Amazing how people (especially in the blogosphere) whine about the phony Irani elections and the "masses" expressing themselves with blogs (especially so-called Iranis living in California), but I've yet to see any (Western) blogs advocating swift and impartial elections in Iraq.

I am a firm believer that Westerners, no matter what their intentions, have no business in any country but their own. Would this little philanthropic trip to Africa be justified, for example, in assisting gay Kenyans to set up blogs? Westerners have a nasty habit of assuming their particular views are "universal", even when they try to clear themselves of biases. After all when the British came to my homeland they came professing a desire to civilise the place; and some of them were no doubt sincere. I see little difference between them and Joi and his merry band trying to "help" Africa.

People starving, dying of disease, and an intrepid group is trying to set up free WiFi in villages without electricity or clean water?

Cultural biases indeed!

>Joi, I don't even know where to
>start. The Japanese are making
>numerous mistakes in Iraq, and
>they son't be made up for by
>growing some facial hair.

So what does it matter, when the U.S. troops does slightly worse in there? Isn't that slight difference the point of the quoted article? What do you think about it?

So I take it killing 2-3 million people is considered in vogue for the rest of the world? Oh, and there WMD's. What do you call Sarin and VX that killed the Kurds back in the 80's?

So I take it killing 2-3 million people is considered in vogue for the rest of the world? Oh, and there are WMD's. What do you call Sarin and VX that killed the Kurds back in the 80's?


I used to think the discussions were interesting and reasoned here. Now, it just looks like a bunch of extreme liberals patting each other on the back. I guess the more moderate people have taken off...

Interesting post though, Joichi. I find it very provocative to see Japanese with beards and moustaches, since they connote for me more individuality and expression, which have been hammered out of Japanese culture over the last 50 years... Look at old pre-war photos and you'll see a lot more interesting facial hair... ;)

Chomper: and let's see, which Western government was desperately trying to brush the massacre of Kurds under the rug in the 80's?

Mixing up with Westerners is death. They used Saddam against the Iranis, not giving a hoot about his murders of either Kurds or Arabs. Then when he bagan to get delusions of independence from them they changed their tune overnight killed hundreds of thousands in the first gulf war.

Westerners use other people for their own ends. Mixing with them is death.

I think that was an excellent idea to blend in with the locals.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" something like that...

now, how about ppl like me who can't grow that much beard??

I have to say that if Iraq is the first time Jieitai troops have left Japan, then it's not the greatest start. Doing some *real* humanitarian work for the UN would have been a better one.

Of course a lot of Japanese people have just seen this as the Japanese government continuing to suck up to the USA and have no real foreign policy of its own. In that case the Jieitai is just a political pawn and I suppose Japan could be seen as 'aiding and abetting' what is happening in Iraq. So maybe the Jieitai mission, like the moustaches, is a kind of throwback to an imperial era.

(Of course, despite the fact that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and no real reason to believe Iraq posed a credible threat, and the fact that (no matter what some say) you don't invade a country just to get rid of a cruel dictator and instill democracy, there is worthwhile work being done by *some* people from the USA and other nations in Iraq. Even if the reason for being there is a completely stupid one.)

The headscarves worn by women, and the banning of pork and alcohol, in the Jieitai base may not be bad idea. It at least displays a lack of arrogance by the Japanese military, and respect for the 'host' (occupied) country. As for the mustaches.... well growing them to look like the Iraquis strikes me as bizarre. Even if the moustaches make them look more 'Iraqi', I would imagine the military uniforms (and guns?) would probably set them apart from the locals pretty well!

I'm not sure whether to attribute the fact that people accept such stupid arbitrary orders to the Japanese themselves (who seem to be well accustomed to dumb, illogical rules in certain circumstances) or to the army (likewise.)

it's funny that you don't mention the U.S. in your comment, because the said article is definitely written for people in the U.S. to read it... I can understand your point, but then why Japan = humanitarian operation and the U.S. = police operation? If you are all against army in Iraq, that's OK, all of those army should go back their own country, the U.S. or Japanm, but in the meantime, what it hurts to grow moustaches? I think sharp knife is always better than crude knife.

I wasn't really saying that Japan's work is humanitarian, and the US is a police operation. Rather I was differentiating between what a lot of UN work is, and what the US is doing in Iraq.

UN troops usually go into a country at the invitation of the state itself - if not, then usually because a large number of surrounding countries, and other countries on the Security Council agree that it's a good idea for the sake of regional stability. My big example would be East Timor, but there are plenty of other countries as well with UN forces. As I understand it, the general population in East Timor is *glad* to have peacekeeping troops in the country, and that the government of East Timor wants UN troops to stay there.

Iraq, on the other hand, was invaded by the USA. Only a very few countries agreed with this, and as it turns out, the rationale invasion was based on false information. The USA and other military units there are an occupying force. They are staying in Iraq even though many Iraqis want them to leave. The occupation itself is being run to US objectives - for example, proper elections aren't going to be held too soon, because the US doesn't like the results that are expected.

(Of course, if all the occupying military forces in Iraq just disappeared, I imagine that there would be some fighting for a few weeks or months before a new regime took over. Of course there is no guarantee that the regime is going to be any better than Hussein's old regime - so for the time being, occupying Iraq with a military force isn't necessarily a bad idea.)

What I am suggesting is that sending your military force out with the UN as in the first example is a good idea. Sending the Jieitai out to support the American occupation of Iraq, which is mostly run to US interests rather than Iraqi ones, isn't necessarily as good an idea.

(I'm not saying that everything the UN does is necessarily good either - I'm just saying that some of the stuff UN forces do is often more worthwhile than the US invading countries for their own national interest.)

As for moustaches or not - basically I just think that it's more or less irrelevant, and the Japanese troops should concentrate on things that actually matter, like learning the language of the people they are surrounded by.