Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fitting Tribute. US Navy Names New Destoryer after Japanese-American Hero.

On May 23rd, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the naming of one of two new Arleigh Burke-class Destroyers (DDG) after the late US Senator Daniel Inouye. We celebrate this as a high honor upon many honors bestowed upon the late Medal of Honor recipient and former US Senator of Hawaii. DDG-118 will bear the name of this most distinguished Japanese-American who fought bravely in the Legendary All Nisei 442nd "Go for Broke" Regimental Combat Team who saved the Lost Battalion of the 141st Infantry who were surrounded by the Germans. After leaving the Army he would go on to have a successful political career first with two terms in the House and then the rest of his career until the time of his death in the Senate. It is said that the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer is one of the most formidable and advanced surface ships in the world. A fitting tribute to the late Distinguished Senator and war hero that inspired so many.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Japanese Woman's Tragic Death A Tale Stranger Than Fiction

Every so now and then, you come across one of those stories that are stranger than fiction. In this case, we discovered this one by purely accident while watching one of our favorite films from the 1990's FARGO. If you are familiar with the 1996 film by Joel & Ethan Coen, you'll recall the plot in which a bumbling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (brilliantly played by William H. Macy hires a pair of thugs to kidnap his wife in order to extort money from his wealthy father in law. As the plot thickens, Jerry's plans go horribly wrong and bodies begin to pile up before Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi) buries the million dollar ransom in a briefcase in the snow along a desolate snow covered highway. That is where the movie ends and the tragic true story begins.

We had seen FARGO dozens of times and amused ourselves with the Minnesota accents of Marge Gunderson (played by Francis McDormand) but it wasn't until one curious uneventful night that we bothered to watch the special features portion that came with the movie did we encounter this strange and tragic tale now associated with this film. Talk about pure accident! Normally, we would have been all over this but we had no idea that this even occurred much less had since elevated to urban myth and semi-legend. But there it was!  It was revealed that on  November 15th 2001, five years after the successful premiere of Fargo, the body of Tatako Konishi 28 of Tokyo was found dead in the snow near Detroit Lakes North Dakota. The story which had buzzed around the internet for sometime and drew some international attention then somewhat forgotten had caught our attention. As revealed this poor office worker flew from Japan to Minnesota with little English skills, a useless pocket translator, and a hand drawn map which she showed Police of a road with a tree indicating that she was after the fictitious ransom money from the movie Fargo. The Police tried to convince her that the movie was pure fiction but she had flown halfway around the world to find this money. Or did She?

Evidently this story and it's connection to the Oscar Winning Coen Brothers Film drew the fascination of others such as film maker Paul Berczeller who sought to document the strange tragic tale of Tatako Konishi and perhaps shed some light on what really happened. Paul Berczeller went to great lengths to solve this mystery and in the end managed to produce a fine documentary film that loosely borrowed it' title from Fargo's opening disclaimer entitled "This Is A True Story."

What Paul Berczeller found was indeed a true yet tragic tale of a young Japanese girl who moved to Tokyo from the countryside to work at a travel agency. When that agency went out of business, the girl slid into deep depression and isolation ignoring the local men who sought to befriend her. So far so sad? Not yet! As it turns out this girl had been seeing an American Businessman. A married one at that who left her to go work in Singapore. According to her passport, she had visited the United States three times prior to her death and each time to the same Great Lakes Region. Now why she told police she was looking for the fictitious ransom money from the movie is anyone's guess. As this story circulated around the internet, it had been billed as "Death by Fargo." Instantly, people made the knee jerk reaction assuming Miss Konishi had come to North Dakota under some delusion unable to separate reality from the fictional tale of the Coen Brother's invention. But after reading Paul Berczeller's article posted in the UK Guardian and seeing his short documentary, we can conclude that Miss Konishi's death had little if anything to do with the film. Anyone who says the blame lies with the Joel & Ethan Coen are jumping to conclusions. We appreciate the hard investigative work of Paul Berczeller and his actress who recreated the last days of Tatako Konishi's final days and going so far as to follow her final footsteps in the snow. If you are a fan of the movie Fargo or have heard of this sad tale of a heartbroken woman who allegedly came to North Dakota in search of a fabled treasure only to be found face down in the snow. It was sad to hear of her final letter home to her mother in which she wrote "By the time you receive this I will be dead. Please forgive my disloyalty." Such poetry, so Japanese and yet so curious. If you agree, we believe you will be most interested in Paul Berczeller's documentary. It is not available on YouTube so we can not embed this but you can view this by the following link. This is a True Story. We at American Mishima found this fascinating and well worth viewing this final tribute to a broken heart lost in the snow.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Abenomics or Better Polices for Working Families?

In Japan, they are calling it Abenomics. On our side of the Pacific we would just call this smart. The focus of the embedded video is on Prime Minister Abe's call for more women in the work force bypassing Japan's age old cultural norms of women being forced out after childbirth. What we see from this is a change for the better where companies have become more friendly towards women or parents in general who have children providing them better work options in which both childcare and productivity can still be achieved something we have little of here. As a parent, we would like to see more companies in the US learn from this Japanese model and take a more pragmatic approach to the issue of childcare and working families. While Japan has not solved all of it's economic problems with better childcare for it's workforce, it's new found approach by the Abe Government to encourage more parent friendly work situations is most encouraging and if successful will help Japan and perhaps one day inspire to change the draconian policies that exist here in the US where it's the company or nothing. Perhaps given the hostile bipartisan divide in Washington that is asking too much of our dollar oriented society where we have right wing politicians who fight for the rights of companies over the rights of it's workers on the ridiculous and highly abused notion by TeaPublicans  of preserving "freedoms." But one can only hope that they could someday learn.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Revisionist History or Continued Controversy?

There has been a lot of talk recently about "Comfort Women" who suffered at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. This has long been a subject of controversy and debate by those of us who were not around during the 1930's-1940's. Most recently from the right wing Mayor of Osaka who says these women were not sex slaves. He went on to further compare the US Occupation period and US Involvement in Viet Nam as a comparison. While there is little written about what Americans were doing in during the Occupation of Post War Japan, it's doubtful our country abducted women to be forced to work as sex slaves which is what Wartime Imperial Japan has long been accused of. As the son of a Viet Nam veteran I can say yes our troops visited brothels there but none of them run by our own government so to Mr. Hashimoto we say his comparison to our soldiers in Viet Nam to Korean sex slaves is crazy. Now please understand, we are not here to re-fight WWII, nor are we here to make excuses. It is generally believed here in the west that these war time human rights violations did occur. A friend of ours really got upset with us saying these old women are just lying. Anyone who has taken a course in statistics will tell you that if you find a group comprised of test subjects from different countries all collectively saying the same thing, chances are as in this case some 80,000 women are not lying. The truth is out there. Of course the counter argument is how come these so called victims did not speak out? Where's the proof? I say talk to any German who witnessed the raping of Berliners after the Soviets invaded. The shame of rape is unspeakable for those who endured it much less survived it. So much so that many women who have survived rape often commit suicide. It is possible In Asia, women are even less likely to speak publicly of this shame leaving only the loud taunts of nay-sayers in the wake of their silence. To us in the west it is as outrageous as Holocaust Denial. While we at American Mishima are very Pro-Japanese, we can not and will not give carte blanche nor parley war crimes from any country including our own. We understand that in Japan, such events be it the truth or otherwise are not part of their historical record taught to younger generations. So much of what happened during the war both good and bad are as if they never happened. It surprises us every year when NHK will send reporters to Hiroshima to interview High School Students about the atomic bomb. Most were completely unaware that where they stood people were once vaporized. The idea is so horrifying and incredible they do not believe it. So in one sense, those of us born after 1950 should expect opinions based on the information made available to them. But this is not the sole domain of Japan nor uniquely a Japanese problem. We find similar revisionist or historical omissions of what took place during those years happened here. Unless you read books written by Japanese-Americans, you won't find much about how they were stripped of everything they owned and forced to board trains to concentration camps. Oh hell no! Sounds like Nazi Germany right? But yes it happened here. Albeit, Manzanar was no Auschwitz, it was still a shameful event that should not have happened. So going back to Comfort Women, so few are still alive. Japan has made monetary amends and set up a fund of ~¥79,643,790,000 which amounts to around $1 Billion Dollars. Of course, no amount of cash can erase the shame or painful memories. And at this age there are likely fewer than 5000 of these women left alive hence their silence is easily drowned out by those who vehemently claim this never happened or they did this willingly. It is possible that "Comfort Women" from Japan may have done this as some means of survival or national duty. Statistics say we can not rule that out. Japan like every other country had it's red light districts so that's entirely possible that some Japanese women may have done this willingly. The problem is we have never seen or heard from any Japanese woman who may have volunteered and by now likely never will. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that History is a set of lies men have agreed upon. And so it may. It's not our responsibility to convince Mr. Hashimoto. He's entitled to his own opinion whether we agree with him or not. For the most part we do not and in others we feel his English has mistranslated or confused some things. We are pleased that Mr. Abe's Government does not share his views and wishes he would quietly keep them to himself. It's not in Japan's interests to debate revisionist history. Comfort Women as terrible as the accounts of Korean and Chinese survivors claim was only a facet of an ugly period run by people who do not represent Japan today. The Japanese people of today could not have done such a thing nor any of the other war time atrocities particularly those in Nanking. That generation had grown up under military dictatorship and was not ready to be the Japanese we know today. Regardless of that little known fact here in the west, there's just no excuse for war crimes and other human rights violations. As much as we like to defend Japan, such actions are indefensible. It's often said war brings out the worst in us. While they do preach in Japan that war is bad, they never really explain in depth to the younger post war generations why it is such or what their country once did during that war. And perhaps they are not ready to. It's not for us Americans to say. Time heals most wounds or so we're told. Japan has come a long way. While the path never truly ends, we hope that a future generation will get Japan there.