Why is the Japanese parliament called the Diet?

Not only have I always wondered this, I’ve had my Japanese students asking me. However, only now got round to researching it. I did already know most of this Wikipedia entry:

“The word diet derives from Latin and was a common name for an assembly in medieval Germany. The Meiji constitution was largely based on the form of constitutional monarchy found in nineteenth century Prussia and the new Diet was modeled partly on the German Reichstag…”

but that still leaves open the question of whether foreign commentators invented the expressions (like “bullet train”) or if the Japanese people setting the Diet up chose the description of it in English (the Japanese expression “kokkai” always being used when speaking that language).

In either case, I wonder if they didn’t choose the word “parliament” because they didn’t want it to sound like a real parliament, given the powers of the Emperor and in the case of Westerners perhaps their unwillingness to accept that an Asian country could run a real democracy.

Why do Japanese farmers have so much electoral power?

Believe it or not, it’s the Americans’ fault again:

“disparities in Japan’s election system have long favored conservative rural districts over urban ones by giving them a disproportinately large number of representatives in the Diet, Japan’s Parliament. Those inequalities… date from U.S. occupation policies after World War II aimed at turning farmers into a powerful anti-Communist voting bloc”

From this weekend’s International Herald Tribune

Why did the Tokugawa Japanese trade with the Chinese through the Dutch?

This interesting little nugget was also in the episode of the Radio 4 programme In Our Time that I mentioned in the last post. Apparently, the Chinese refused to trade directly without the Japanese taking on their previous tributary position of being (theoretical) vassals.

Why sakoku?

Despite one incredibly waffly professor, I learnt quite a lot from this BBC radio programme on the policy of closing Japan to (most) foreign contacts in the Edo period. One thing that it wasn’t such an unusual policy because the Chinese had attempted to do the same more than once before. They also mentioned that because Japan was self-sufficient most imports were fripperies, something frowned on in zen-inspired samurai bushido culture. The main reason, however, seems to be that unrestricted trade would have enriched the rather independent-minded Kyushu daimyo lords.

Why “university potato” (daigaku imo)?

It’s long struck me as an odd name, and finally got round to looking at the daigaku imo Wikipedia page. Alternative explanations given are:

- In the Taisho period university students in the Kanda area of Tokyo liked eating it

- In early Showa period Tokyo University students made and sold it to help support themselves

- There was a popular shop for this dish in front of the main gate of Tokyo University

 

Why did the Japanese go to Brazil?

… home of the largest population of Japanese outside Japan.

The main answer is that unlike most other places, the Brazilians let the Japanese in:

“At first, Brazilian farmers used African slave labour in the coffee plantations, but in 1850, the slave traffic was abolished in Brazil. To solve the labour shortage, the Brazilian elite decided to attract European immigrants to work in the coffee plantations. The government and farmers offered to pay European immigrants’ passage. The plan encouraged millions of Europeans, most of them Italians, to migrate to Brazil. However, once in Brazil, the immigrants received very low salaries and worked in poor conditions, similar to the conditions faced by the black slaves: long working hours and frequent ill-treatment by their bosses. Because of this, in 1902, Italy enacted Decree Prinetti, prohibiting subsidized immigration to Brazil.

The end of feudalism in Japan generated great poverty in the rural population, so many Japanese began to emigrate in search of better living conditions. In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil.

Japanese immigrants began arriving in 1908, as a result of the decrease in the Italian immigration to Brazil and a new labour shortage on the coffee plantations.

In the 1930s Japanese industrialisation had significantly boosted the population. However prospects for Japanese people to immigrate to other countries were limited. The US had banned non-white immigration, on the basis that they would not integrate into society; these laws were specifically targeting the Japanese. At the same time in Australia the White Australia Policy prevented the immigration of non-whites to Australia.”

From an absolutely fascinating page on Wikipedia here:

Japanese Brazilians

Why did samurai follow Zen?

I’d always assumed it was the discipline of meditation, standing under waterfalls etc that was the main appeal to the militaristic samurai, but this passage on its appeal to the totally unmilitaristic Chinese aristocrats suggests the often idle Tokugawa-era samurai might have had other reasons:

“during the prosperous period of Tang China, the spontaneous, aesthetic spirit of Chan Buddhism appealed to the elite, who had ample leisure time to pursue sudden enlightenment, not necessarily through the monk’s strict regimen of meditation, but through experiencing art and poetry, or merely communing with nature”

Buddhism A History by Noble Ross Reat pg 157

Why did Nobunaga and Hideyoshi attack Buddhist sects?

I’d always assumed it was because Confucianism more suited the philosophy and needs of military strongmen, but apparently the reasons were even more directly military:

“‘The Tendai establishment on Mt Hiei was razed to ashes by Nobunaga in 1571 because of its participation in an unsuccessful military alliance against the strongman… After Nobunaga was assassinated in 1582, his ally Hideyoshi took charge of the campaign to unify Japan… In 1584, an army of fifteen thousand Shingon troops unwisely attacked Hideyoshi’s stronghold in Osaka”

Buddhism: A History by Noble Ross Reat pg 213

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 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.

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