Friday, September 29, 2006

Commute (20)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tokyo Rose - siren of the wartime airwaves

Tokyo Rose died on September 26th, 2006. Or rather she didn't. The 90 year-old woman who died that day was Iva Toguri.

Her troubled tale is a sad one, a tale of racism, greed and hysteria, and you can read a summary of her life in The Times' obituary. Iva Toguri was the American woman arrested as the infamous Tokyo Rose, the seductive voice of Japanese World War 2 radio propaganda, a voice designed to make American troops go all wobbly at the knees. The fact that Tokyo Rose was a myth seemed not to bother the US authorities of the time, nor the slavering media pack, hot on the scent of a sensational scoop.
Tokyo Rose was found guilty, yet in spite of what appears an injust six year incarceration, Iva Toguri remained stoic to the end, refusing to criticize those who had hounded her. She was pardoned by the government of the country that she loved, the US, in the 1970s.

Her story has been told in great detail by Masayo Duus in Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific.

Iva Toguri's story is worth a read, if only to make you think about what actually constitutes treason in this day and age. What levels of work for the benefit of the enemy are acceptable for POWs in prison camps? What is collaboration?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Commute (19)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Three shots fired across the Inland Sea

The funeral was brief. It ended with three shots fired across the Inland Sea.

The POWs' return to the camp on Innoshima was easier, unburdened with the weight of the dead, and
our spirits were higher because of the civilized manner in which the Japanese had played their part in the affair.

I came across Terence Kelly's POW memoir Living with Japanese back in the UK. Elsewhere it has the more vivid title of By Hellship to Hiroshima.

I picked my way through it, rather than reading from cover to cover. Among the inevitably disturbing content of a Japanese POW camp memoir, other bits were there to be gleaned. Here are a few of them:

1. The myth bit: An altruistic fisherman once gave a lift across the water to a priest who wanted to get to Innoshima. Once he had set foot on the island, the priest (as they are wont to do in this country) transformed himself into 88 holy men and the island now has 88 temples (for a pilgrimage similar to the famous Shikoku one presumably).

2. The history bit: Innoshima was where the Murakami Pirates plied their trade. The Murakamis seem to be called the Murakami Navy by some sources and the Murakami Pirates by others. Perhaps they started out as pirates extorting money from all bar landlubbers and then had a mid-life crisis or something. Perhaps they preferred the crisp white uniforms? Anyway, Innoshima is, of course, playing on the "pirate potential" to boost tourism.

3. The rhyming slang bit: The POWs were visited at their camp on Innoshima by two Englishmen (accompanied by Japanese wives). They had been on Innoshima since World War 1, spoke fluent Japanese, and still had Cockney accents. Their visit , naturally, came as quite a surprise to the POWs. I wonder if their families are still there?

4. The cold rice bit: The Nippon Times of 1943 reported, for the morale of the nation, that
a rear gunner in a Japanese bomber who, having run out of ammunition, threw his lunch (a rice ball) at the attacking American fighter and brought it down.
The power of onigiri!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wagamama ... Japanese food culture home and abroad

Wagamama. What a great word! What resonance! A word that really gets the mouth working. One of those words that would feel right at home in many a language.

Wagamama, which basically means "selfish" in Japanese, is the name of the Japanese noodle chain that is taking Britain by storm. Stores opening all over the place. Taking a quick browse through the Wagamama website, I notice that the dishes' ingredients are described in a mixture of Japanese and English. Japanese food/cooking words now being bandied around in English include: teppan, yaki, udon, ramen, shiitake, soba and kamaboko.

As anybody who has spent any time in Japan knows, 90% of all conversation between Japanese nationals concerns food. On one lazy afternoon, I found all 5 terrestrial channels showing cooking programs. Not good news if you are a philistine in the kitchen. If you could delve deep into the "Japanese psyche" and find the one thing of which the Japanese are collectively most proud, I would wager (and a hefty amount too) it would be Japanese food. A few years ago, that faith in the supremacy of Japanese food would have raised a few eyebrows in the UK, and this unwithering faith used to piss me off something rotten. But, as shown by the Wagamama noodle chain, Japanese food has been gaining in popularity over the last few years and now appears to have slipped quietly into mainstream food culture in the UK.

Books on Japanese food (designed for use abroad) are no longer a rarity. One of the recent recipe success stories, specifically written for those not in Japan, is Harumi's Japanese cooking. We used it while back in Britain ... and there weren't too many complaints.

But if you are within Japan's borders, and are after a witty and informative read on Japanese food and cooking, then you can't go far wrong with my mate, John Ashburne's Lonely Planet book, World Food Japan. Cheap at half the price? Cheap at double the price? Take your pick.

A Dictionary of Japanese Food by a former colleague, Richard Hosking, is also another decent read on food culture in Japan.