Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm sitting in an airport lounge remembering a story I should have blogged earlier. A few weeks ago when I was in the city of Aizu in Fukushima, Japan, there was a panel discussion which included the mayor of Aizu. Aizu is famous for being one of the places of the final resistance against the anti-samurai Meji government after Admiral Perry triggered the opening of Japan. It's a famous story involving young solders watching their castle fall after a long siege and committing ritual suicide. It also involves betrayal by their former allies, the Satsuma clan. The story also involves the Choshu clan which lead the rebellion against the Shogunate/Bakufu. At the time, the Choshu clan had been terrorizing Kyoto, bombing the imperial palace and trying to "steal the Emperor". The history of this period is way too complicated for me to describe in a short post, but suffice it to say that the people of Aizu feel that the people of Choshu are enemies since the days when the Aizu clan was trying to protect the Emperor from the Choshu clan and that the Satsuma people were turncoats.

The panel discussion involved a letter from the major of the city that would have been the capital of Choshu asking the governor of Aizu whether they could forget the past and just get along. The incidents were over 130 years ago. There was a heated debated that involved a lot of cheering and jeering from the audience, but it was clear that Aizu would not forgive these two clans and that most people in the audience didn't even trust many of the politicians such as Koizumi and Abe because they were from Choshu and Satsuma. The panel pointed out that it was it was the victim that should reach out for peace, not the aggressors. One of the panelists pointed out that Koreans have mentioned that it will take 200 years to forgive Japan for its aggression. Considering the fact that Aizu still can't forgive the Choshu after 130 years, I can understand why the Chinese and the Koreans still can't forgive the Japanese.

The conclusion of the panel was that there would be no "forgiveness" but that "dialog" should continue. It was interesting for me to see how much animosity and local patriotism still exists in a country that appears so homogeneous to the outside. It is probably important for outsiders to understand these sorts of things and for reporters to discuss them as well.

Another anecdote that was mentioned several times was that the bodies of the Aizu soldiers were left for months on the battle ground before they were tended to and in the end were not buried in Yasukuni Shrine with other Japanese war dead. Therefore the Aizu people have a much different opinion about the prime minister's visits to the shrine and still hold the "new government" of Japan in disdain.


Based on what I know about Korea I think 200 years is rather optimistic. No kidding.

Your story is inaccurate. The final battle of the Boshin Wars was not at Aizu, it was the Battle of Hakodate.

Charles: You are right. Sorry! I'll edit it now.

I don't think anyone's buried at Yasukuni. The people you're talking of are enshrined there, probably.

there's not a single person still alive i'm assuming from the previous betrayal, so no one has a personal memory of the situation. therefore, all the animosity is handed down like a precious tradition to the next generation - like a family recipe. this is true of so many cultures, so why do we hand down anger and hatred in this way like a gift? because we think that anger protects us from future abuse? makes us stronger? just seems to make us more rigid and thereby more brittle.

i wonder if the zen or shinto priests would be able to help clarify these mistaken views of ossified strength. when pride turns from uplifting to stone, it only causes us to sink.

But the resentment is still understandable (or even causal) b/c they are related to those who were betrayed by blood, territory, or history.
I think there is more than the animosity simply being handed down.

Boo: They are not enshrined there at Yasukuni... or at least that's what they told me. ;-)

Great post, Joi.

Yes. I was in Aizu in 2001, invited for a conference (how come you japanese have so much money to invite obscure researchers I don't know). On the last of the 10 days staying I went to the youth hostel in the town nearby. There I met the son of the youth hostel, who was very interested in my tai ji. I on my part was very interested in everything about Japan. He drove me for a whole day through shrines and beautiful countriside. And he basically told me the same story. The soldiers body left to rot, and the people unable to forget and let go, generation after generation, because of thet. But 130 years is not a lot of time. The grandfather of our grandfather lived at that time. So we potentially know someone who knew someone who had suffered that. The social network does not just extend far away with few hops. It also extends long time ago with few hops.


P.S. I think you should install cocomment. It's the kind of tool I would expect on your blog. :)

Remember, here in Aizu-Wakamatsu, it`s not called "The Meji Restoration"`s called "The Meji Revolution"