Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cultural Capitol

(not "Capital," or is it a play on words?)

Check out my article in the latest issue of the Tufts Traveler magazine!  Got a photo spread too!  Download the latest issue.

Also check out my Japanese blog if you're interested, though you'll need a Mixi account to access it.  I have a Russian blog too (you'll need a VKontakte account to access it), though it hasn't been updated in a while.  That may change late next week, though almost certainly not before then.

Today I approached some unusual people on campus who were drumming up support for their upcoming rally downtown against the American military base in Okinawa.  It appeared that I had caught them off guard, and I got the sense that they hadn't actually talked to any real American people before.  Fortunately, my Japanese has gotten good enough now so that I was able to express my own opinions and find out exactly what their views are.  Although their posters all over certain regions of campus do seem generally anti-American (and Japanese students who study here also seem to have that impression of this group), that is apparently not, in fact, the case.  They support the tens of thousands of other Japanese who are actively against the base's presence, and generally believe that the base should be relocated elsewhere.  Furthermore, they are against the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they believe that troops should be withdrawn immediately, subsequently blaming Obama for continuing a failed war. 
(NY Times article)
LA Times article, from an earlier time when it seemed that the earlier agreement with Hatoyama to relocate the base to a new location on the island could still hold water, so to speak.  Clearly the US isn't "making the case" very well.

Grievances against the base include not only the right of sovereignty; it is a stereotype that American soldiers are sometimes not so "considerate" so to speak--that is to say, there have been incidents including rape and the "accidental" death of a local man.  When I visited the Marine base at Iwakuni last month, I learned that soldiers there get into trouble on a basically weekly basis, and they have to go and apologize for it all the time.  That all being said, it is not well understood why the USA needs or wants the base(s) at all.  True, there is the fuzzy issue of "Asian Security," but perhaps it more closely relates to the sphere of American influence, both military and cultural, and of course likewise economical.  Moreover, in the city of Naha for example (the largest in, and the capital of, Okinawa), the American military presence brings big money to local businesses.  Still, there has been more and more friction with the locals recently, and it doesn't wear too well.

All in all it was an educational experience to speak with these people and try to explain that the situation in Afghanistan has become rather too complicated to simply leave.  They're not "anti-America" or "anti-American," they told me, but seeing their posters in some places with pictures of thousands of people chanting against the wishes of my home government can certainly make me feel a bit uncomfortable.  As I left, I reminded them that it's good to talk about things, that there are several other Americans on campus here, and that it ought to be a good idea to talk with them.

A quick comment on circle culture at the university here.
I grew up feeling encouraged to cultivate many different interests, in fact to such an extent that I felt I was often spreading myself too thin.  Here, most students are in one circle (just one, though occasionally two), so that means one activity to focus on.  It seems to me different from the usual way in America to cultivate various "liberal arts" though neither approach is necessarily better.  The upside of the Japanese way is clear: cultivation of dedication, a chance to get really good at something, opportunity to become close with a singular group of friends who share a common interest.  It's something I vaguely sensed before I came here actually, and something I wanted to try.  So far so good, though coming from my home perspective of wanting to do as much as possible, it's a bit difficult to do everything.

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