Saturday, October 10, 2015

10/10 in Japan: 1905 and Now

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics was on October 10, 1964. To commemorate that date, 10/10 was observed from 1966 to 1999 as a national holiday called Taiiku no Hi (Health and Sports Day in English).

(Since 2000, Sports Day has been celebrated yearly on the second Monday in October.)

A hundred and ten years ago, 10/10 was significant for another reason: The Treaty of Portsmouth, which was signed on September 5, 1905, was ratified by the Japanese Privy Council on October 10 (and in Russia four days later).

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was fought between Russia, an international power with one of the largest armies in the world, and Japan, which had only recently emerged from 250 years of isolation. That war is unique in that the warring nations fought over, and only on, the territory of two neutral countries, China and Korea.

That conflict also saw history’s greatest battles between two nations in terms of numbers of troops and ships prior to World War I. (Http:// is an excellent website about the War of 1904-05 and the peace treaty.)

President Theodore Roosevelt helped broker the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the war—and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, the first American to win that prestigious prize.

But the Japanese public was greatly upset. As some historians explain the situation, Japan won the war but lost the peace. Or as James Bradley writes in his book The Imperial Cruise (2009), “For the second war in a row, Japan had won all the battles but afterward was shamed by White Christians” (p. 303).

(Ten years earlier Japan had defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.)

Today, 110 years after the ratification of the Treaty of Portsmouth, is seems that there will not be a lot of peace/anti-war activity going on in Japan. But there were many such protests in August and September.

Last month Japan’s parliament passed a package of eleven bills, dubbed “Peace and Security Preservation Legislation,” allowing the Japanese military (now known as the Self-Defense Forces) to fight on foreign soil, something that has been banned in Japan since World War II.

The upper house of the Japanese parliament gave final approval to the controversial legislation on September 19, despite fierce attempts by opposition politicians to block the move.

Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Japanese are against the changes, and on a scale rarely seen in Japan, before the bills’ passage, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in almost daily rallies showing their strong opposition toward the bills.
August protest in front of Japan's Diet Building
Back in 1968 when I joined the faculty at Seinan Gakuin University, there were many student protests against the Vietnam War, against the upcoming (in 1970) renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty, and for the return of Okinawa to Japan.

In Aug. and Sept. this year, the protests on campus at Seinan Gakuin against the “security bills” before the Japanese Diet was mostly by faculty and staff and led by Dr. Ichiro Sudo, Dean of the Department of Theology.

Christians in Japan were among the loudest opponents of what are now enacted “security laws.” Most Christians have also been among the most vocal in opposing suggested changes to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

Article 9, in the new Constitution adopted in May 1947 and which Prime Minister Abe now seemingly wants to change, outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes.

As of 10/10/2015 many Japanese fear that Article 9 is headed for the dustbin.


  1. Japan has waited a long time for other nations to join it in a search for a peaceful path. What it has seen is the international military-industrial complex in high gear on all sides. As WW II fades into distant memory, it is not surprising that Japan is seeking to find a way into the normal way of nations. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the United States has been quietly encouraging Japan to take exactly this move.

    Some of the symbolic steps around this change have been troubling. Past atrocities have been glossed over. The Prime Minister has visited a controversial cemetery. In last week's "The Week" a short synopsis of an editorial from China's Xinhua News Agency was titled "The return of warmongering Japan." It notes that the vote to allow Japanese soldiers to fight overseas was on September 18, the 84th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China. A recent large military ship was named after one of the vessels Japan used in the invasion. An aircraft carrier was named after one of the carriers used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    So the circle comes round, as no nation has done more in recent years to incentivize Japan to rearm than China. China has flexed its military muscle very publicly as it has revived ancient territorial claims on land and sea. One of those claims directly concerns some small rocky islands claimed by both China and Japan.

    Watching the rolling posturing and actions of Russia and the United States from the Ukraine to Syria, Japan has hardly seen any model of peaceful resolution. Seeing both Russia and the United States ignore the guarantees of sovereignty given to the Ukraine after it agreed to give up its nuclear weapons after the disintegration of the USSR must have been especially troubling.

    Germany and Japan are both groping to find routes to normalization a lifetime after WW II. Both Germany's handling of the Syrian refugees and Japan's rearmament program are steps in the process. However, these countries cannot bring world peace alone. They waited a long time for the world to come to them. Now they are coming to the world. If there is to be world peace, it is the world that must do it.

    1. Thanks, Craig, for your usual substantial comments.

      As the following anonymous person wrote, the political leaders in Japan seem to think that Japan needs to give up on its "unrealistic" idealism and to join the other major nations of the world in having a "respectable" army/navy/air force and to pull its own weight in the world.

      The general public, and especially the Christians in Japan, mostly want to hold on to the ideals and to be a positive force peace in the world.

      That is a hard position to maintain, though, as you intimate.

  2. Given the unstable leadership of an aggressive North Korea, and it nuclear capability, as well as a progressively, militarily dominant China (also with nuclear capability), this is probably wise defensive move. I would not expect any US intervention should there be a conflict, since we can no longer commit to a war on two or three fronts (plus the Chinese hold much of our debt a an economic bargaining chip).

  3. Referring first to the closing statement in the article, Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson wrote,

    "That would be a great tragedy, Leroy! Thanks for giving us this important resume of peace/war activities in Japan."

  4. Thinking Friend Thomas Howell, Professor of History at William Jewell College, send the following comments that I hope will be widely read:

    "I have read 'The Imperial Cruise' and met Mr. Bradley on his visit to William Jewell College. His book 'Flags of Our Fathers' is a genuine contribution, but I cannot say the same about his latest work.

    "It is shot through with the most elementary factual errors. As quick examples, he has Japan controlling Korea until 1950, five years after it surrendered all overseas possessions, and the United States separating Panama from Venezuela (instead of Colombia). There are dozens more unacceptable in a college freshman paper.

    "In addition his analysis is almost grotesquely biased. I encourage you to check reviews of Bradley’s book by professional historians and to reconsider your description of it as 'highly regarded.'”

    1. Thomas, thanks for your candid remarks. Mainly on the basis of what you wrote, I edited out the words "highly regarded." While there are (or were) those who did regard Bradley's book highly, perhaps that was without proper recognition of the many factual errors he made in the book.

      Even though when I first heard people talking favorably about Bradley's book I considered reading it, I did not do so then. In working on this blog article, though, I checked the book out of the library and read only the section on the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.

      I did not detect anything historically inaccurate in that section--although I am not a historian such as you are. And while his use of the term "White Christians" may be a bit sensationalistic, I think it is basically accurate.

      Thanks again for your comments, and I will try to be more discerning in the books I cite, or what I say about them, in the future.

  5. Sudo-sensei, whom I mention in this article, posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

    "Thank you Seat-sensei, for mentioning our peace activities on campus. Our protest is going on:

    "Young people raise their voice also here in Fukuoka. FYM (Fukuoka Youth Movement), led by Seinan students, will continue demonstration against the "War Legislation". Next rally is scheduled on Monday, October 19."