How did Japanese imperialism come about?

The writer of the introduction of the book I’m reading at the moment* seems to be hinting that it progressed naturally from the army’s role in suppressing domestic dissent such as supporters of the Tokugawa shogunate. If true, it would have interesting parallels with the Spanish Reconquista and subsequent empire. Another similarity would be a country trying to move from intense regionalism towards some kind of nationalist mission. Quite similar to the US moving from finishing off the Wild West and then moving further west to Hawaii and then the Philippines as well.

*The Sino-Japanese War and the Birth of Japanese Nationalism by Saya Makito, foreword by Mitani Hiroshi

Why do Japanese bins not tell you what burnable means?

At the moment in Tokyo, what is burnable in Bunkyo-ku might well be unburnable in Shinjuku-ku ten metres away, but 99% of the bins just say “burnable” and “unburnable” on them. How on earth would one know what that means in each case??

Why did Tokugawa Ieyasu quit two years after becoming shogun?

I’d always read that it was just part of the Japanese process of people quitting to be the real power behind the throne, something that still goes on today, but the book I’m reading at the moment has the much more convincing theory was that it was to establish the Tokugawas as a ruling family by his son taking over as soon as possible.

Why is the kanji for gentleman “male child”?

being 男子 (danshi), with the female equivalent being 女子 (joshi) – as often seen on toilets.

I have no idea, but it does seem to be part of a broader pattern because the other thing you could literally translate as “male child” (男の子 – otoko no ko) also seems to be used much more widely than the actual word for child (子供 – kodomo).

Why would anyone think that Japanese learners have problems with bit/ beat, sit/ seat etc?

Apparently it gets a mention in Lado’s 1957 classic Linguistics Across Cultures and I once came across someone trying to prove something fundamental by teaching Japanese students these sounds.

It’s true that in Japanese they rely only on length to distinguish between the two most similar vowels to “ship” and “sheep” whereas in English the mouth position is also different. However, in eight years of daily conversations in all kinds of levels of English in Japan I can’t remember a single incident of those sounds causing miscommunication in either direction, whereas it was every day or even every lesson in Spain, where there is no short vowel/ long vowel distinction at all.

I know nowadays it is fashionable to argue that the length differences in English vowels are unimportant or even absent in some circumstances (just as it is fashionable to argue that voiced/ unvoiced is a useless or even false distinction), but my experiences of communicating and teaching suggest otherwise. It can help Spanish students to concentrate on the wider spread mouth of “cheap” and “sleep”, given the problems they have with vowel length, but even one second of class time spent on this in Japan is completely wasted. To the authors of that pointless study – try teaching Japanese consonant clusters instead, will you?

Why do the Japanese say “national language” (kokugo)?

In Language and Society in Japan Nanette Gottlieb argues fairly persuasively that it is mainly used by nationalists for nationalistic reasons, and that more neutral and leftwing people prefer the term “Nihongo”.  As the school syllabus still uses “kokugo” but NHK uses “Nihongo”, I think that one word gives quite an insight into where Japanese society is right now.

How could anyone who has visited Tokyo still think that the Japanese love nature?

… as many Japanese and foreign authors still seem to.

For one thing, it depends who you are comparing them to:

“The plane from Shanghai flew low enough over Japan for me to see the landscape clearly. Japan seemed incredibly green after China, where trees were a rarity. In fact, the trees visible from an airplane in China were usually those planted around Japanese shrines” Chronicles of My Life by Donald Keene pg 53

and while a Japanese garden might seem very artificial and contrived compared to an English one, it is certainly more natural than an Italian or French style garden or park.


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