Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

I Sink; Therefore I Was

Posted in General, On This Day on June 4th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

June 4, 1942:  Zen and the Art of Aircraft Carrier Maintenance

According to the best-sellers list from 30 years ago, the Japanese were expected to be running the universe by now. The Yen was almighty, and the rest of the world was simply Japan’s outer islands. Any aspiring entrepreneur was told to think like a samurai–except for the hara-kiri. Corporations restructured themselves on the basis of two viewings of “Yojimbo.”

Of course, we now know that the Chinese will dominate the world. (No, it was not a case of mistaken identity. There is a physical difference between the Chinese and Japanese; the Japanese dress better.) The Japanese may actually have overworked themselves into their decline. While putting in 80 hours a week at the job, they forgot to reproduce. Perhaps a 15 minute “coppy” break in the work day could have replenished the demographics; unfortunately, the Japanese sense of hygiene must have been a detriment. Japan now has a dwindling population.

No, the Japanese “invincibility” of the Eighties was simply that they were methodical. They knew a good idea when they stole one. Think of all the Japanese inventions. That didn’t take long. But consider how they successfully developed and marketed those products. If you would like an American television set, go to the Smithsonian. In fact, Japan was the first to use cheap Chinese labor for manufacturing. (The Chinese also know a good idea when they steal it.)

The Japanese are thoroughly methodical but they have no talent for improvisation. How many Japanese comedians do you know? At an open-mike night in a Tokyo club, people would reenact their favorite scenes from Kabuki. This lack of spontaneity would explain why Kurosawa made so few comedies and why the Japanese lost the battle of Midway.

On this day in 1942, a Japanese fleet found itself totally disoriented (sorry but I couldn’t resist) by the presence of a smaller American force at Midway. The Japanese were surprised to find three evidently hostile aircraft carriers confronting them. No doubt, the Japanese would have liked a few days to contemplate the petals of a chrysanthemum and develop a brilliant strategy in a haiku. But we Americans are always in a rush–fighting a two-front war can be hectic–so we rather brusquely sank four Japanese carriers. Apparently, Zen is not a good defense.

If the Japanese were a more spontaneous people, they would not been so stupefied by the surprises of war. Did they think that they had a monopoly on surprise attacks? Admiral Yamamoto did graduate work at Harvard but apparently none at the Lampoon. Just imagine if the Japanese fleet at Midway had been commanded instead by a Groucho Marx. The Japanese could have quickly reacted and reduced the American fleet to the equivalent of Margaret Dumont.

But the Japanese mind lacked that flexibility. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants when wearing a kimono.

The Name Game

Posted in General, On This Day on February 3rd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

February 3, 1867:  Mutsuhito Begins His Nameless Reign

Happy 143rd anniversary to Japan’s Emperor Mutsuhito. He actually was the Mikado when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the operetta. Aside from not ordering ninjas to assassinate the D’Oyly Carte Company, Mutsuhito should be remembered for two remarkable achievements.

First, during his reign (1867-1912), Japan transformed itself from a feudal backwater into a world power. It mastered four centuries of industrial developments and military advances in just four decades. In 1853, during his father’s reign, Japan had capitulated to a squadron of gunboats from a third-rate power known as the United States. By 1905, after humiliating China and Russia in a series of wars, Japan was the master of East Asia. And in 1941…well, that may have been overreaching.

Second, even more remarkably, Mutsuhito never married into Queen Victoria’s family. How many royal lines can say that!

So, why haven’t you heard of Mutsuhito? Because no one calls him that. It was his name but the Japanese have a strange custom. When an Emperor dies, his reign is given an official title and the Emperor is then known only by that name. Upon his death, he and his reign were named Meiji. It means “Enlightened Rule.” And historians refer to him as that.

Remember his grandson Hirohito? Well, you shouldn’t. He now is officially known as Showa, “Enlightened Peace.”

Imagine if we applied that custom to our presidents, renaming them for their era. So our last eight presidents would be officially designated as Watergate, Pardon, Hostages, Glasnost, Kuwait, Monica, Catastrophe and Hope Cleanup.

Your RDA of Infamy

Posted in General on December 7th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

December 7, 1941:  A Date Which Will Embarrass Sony

So, why did Japan attack America?  Was it vengeance for “Madame Butterfly”?  While that attack certainly would have been justified–how dare that tenor cad Lieutenant Pinkerton abandon his devoted, pregnant geisha–Japan would have had just as much reason to attack Italy.  Imagine 300 Japanese planes bombing La Scala; the problem would be scheduling the attack for the right opera.  The strategy only works for “Madame Butterfly.”  An attack during a performance of “Aida” might not even be noticed; the Japanese bombers would be upstaged by the parade of elephants.  The bombing of “Turandot” might be considered a welcome and light-hearted distraction for the public.  (Puccini died before finishing “Turandot”, and so usually does the audience.)

Japan really was outraged by the Immigration Act of 1924, which completely banned further entry to America by any Asians.  The Japanese agreed that the Chinese, Filipinos, Indians and the rest were inferior; but seeing themselves as the rightful masters of Asia,  the Japanese expected more deferential treatment.  Yet, that affront to Japanese dignity, while not forgotten, did not incite the war with America.

No, the reason for attacking Pearl Harbor was to conquer Indonesia.  Rube Goldberg could have been a samurai tactician.  To conquer China, Japan needed gasoline.  Indonesia–then known as the Dutch East Indies–was the closest source of petroleum in Asia.  Rather than haggle over petroleum exports, the Japanese simply preferred to seize the entire Dutch colony.  But the Netherlands were allied to Britain, and the British base in Singapore offered substantial protection to the Dutch East Indies.  So Singapore would have to be taken before Japan could secure the Dutch East Indies and its oil fields.  War with Britain was inevitable.  (If only those damn oil fields had been in French Indo-China, its colonial administrators were collaborating with the Germans and would also have accommodated the Japanese.)  But Britain was allied to the United States, and so a war with America would seem inevitable.  But a fair fight against the American giant was impossible; besides the Samurai Code really did not require fairness or even a declaration of war.  So Japanese would launch a surprise attack on the American bases in the Pacific, in order to attack Singapore, in order to seize the Dutch East Indies, in order to keep slaughtering the Chinese.

And the Japanese plan worked.  However, the Japanese may have underestimated how the Americans would respond.  In hindsight, bombing La Scala would have been wiser.

And from the archives, another event on this day: http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2008/12/07/december-7th-valet-forge/

I Sink; Therefore I Was

Posted in General, On This Day on June 4th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

According to the best-sellers list from 20 years ago, the Japanese were expected to be running the universe by now. The Yen was almighty, and the rest of the world was simply Japan’s outer islands. Any aspiring entrepreneur was told to think like a samurai–except for the hara-kiri. Corporations restructured themselves on the basis of two viewings of “Yojimbo.”

Of course, we now know that the Chinese will dominate the world. (No, it was not a case of mistaken identity. There is a physical difference between the Chinese and Japanese; the Japanese dress better.) The Japanese may actually have overworked. While putting in 80 hours a week at the job, they forgot to reproduce. Perhaps a 15 minute “coppy” break in the work day could have replenished the demographics; unfortunately, the Japanese sense of hygiene must have been a detriment. Japan now has a dwindling population.

No, the Japanese “invincibility” of the Eighties was simply that they were methodical. They knew a good idea when they stole one. Think of all the Japanese inventions. That didn’t take long. But consider how they successfully developed and marketed those products. If you would like an American television set, go to the Smithsonian. In fact, Japan was the first to use cheap Chinese labor for manufacturing. (The Chinese also know a good idea when they steal it.)

The Japanese are thoroughly methodical but they have no talent for improvision. How many Japanese comedians do you know? At an open-mike night in a Tokyo club, people would reenact their favorite scenes from Kabuki. This lack of spontaneity would explain why Kirosawa made so few comedies and why the Japanese lost the battle of Midway.

On this day in 1942, a Japanese fleet found itself totally disoriented (sorry but I couldn’t resist) by the presence of a smaller American force at Midway. The Japanese were surprised to find three evidently hostile aircraft carriers confronting them. No doubt, the Japanese would have liked a few days to contemplate the petals of a chrysanthemum and develop a brilliant strategy in a haiku. But we Americans are always in a rush–fighting a two-front war can be hectic–so we rather brusquely sank four Japanese carriers. Apparently, Zen is not a good defense.

If the Japanese were a more spontaneous people, they would not been so stupified by the surprises of war. Did they think that they had a monopoly on surprise attacks? Admiral Yamamoto did graduate work at Harvard but apparently none at the Lampoon. Just imagine if the Japanese fleet at Midway had been commanded instead by a Groucho Marx. The Japanese could have quickly reacted and reduced the American fleet to the equivalent of Margaret Dumont.

But the Japanese mind lacked that flexibility. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants when wearing a kimono.