Category Archives: Japan

Private Markets for Food Aid

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1129-1146:

Food aid from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and other donors mitigated the worst of the famine by the late 1990s. But in an indirect and accidental way, it also energized the market ladies and traveling entrepreneurs who would give Shin sustenance, cover, and guidance in his escape to China.

Unlike any other aid recipient in the world, North Korea’s government insisted on sole authority for transporting donated food. The demand angered the United States, the largest aid donor, and it frustrated the monitoring techniques that the U.N. World Food Program had developed around the world to track aid and make sure it reached intended recipients. But since the need was so urgent and the death toll so high, the West swallowed its disgust and delivered more than one billion dollars’ worth of food to North Korea between 1995 and 2003.

During these years, refugees from North Korea arrived in the South and told government officials that they had seen donated rice, wheat, corn, vegetable oil, nonfat dry milk, fertilizer, medicine, winter clothing, blankets, bicycles, and other aid items on sale in private markets. Pictures and videos taken in the markets showed bags of grain marked as “A Gift from the American People.”

Bureaucrats, party officials, army officers, and other well-placed government elites ended up stealing about thirty percent of the aid, according to estimates by outside scholars and international aid agencies. They sold it to private traders, often for dollars or euros, and delivered the goods using government vehicles.

Without intending to do so, wealthy donor countries injected a kind of adrenaline rush into the grubby world of North Korean street trading. The lucrative theft of international food aid whetted the appetite of higher-ups for easy money as it helped transform private markets into the country’s primary economic engine.

Private markets, which today supply most of the food North Koreans eat, have become the fundamental reason why most outside experts say a catastrophic 1990s-style famine is unlikely to happen again.

The markets, though, have not come close to eliminating hunger or malnutrition. They also appear to have increased inequity, creating a chasm between those who have figured out how to trade and those who have not.

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Filed under democracy, economics, food, Japan, Korea, NGOs, U.N., U.S.

Manchuria Again a Promised Land

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1886-1905:

The capacity of the Chinese borderlands to absorb North Koreans is significant—and significantly underappreciated outside of Northeast Asia. The area is not all that foreign—or unwelcoming—to Korean-speaking migrants.

When defectors cross into China, the first “foreigners” they encounter are usually ethnic Koreans who speak the same language, eat similar food, and share some of the same cultural values. With a bit of luck, they can, like Shin, find work, shelter, and a measure of safety.

This has been going on since the late 1860s, when famine struck North Korea and starving farmers fled across the Tumen and the Yalu rivers into northeast China. Later, China’s imperial government recruited Korean farmers to create a buffer against Russian expansion, and Korea’s Choson Dynasty allowed them to depart legally. Before World War II, the Japanese who occupied the Korean Peninsula and northeast China pushed tens of thousands of Korean farmers across the border to weaken China’s hold on the region.

Nearly two million ethnic Koreans now live in China’s three northeast provinces, with the highest concentration in Jilin, which Shin entered when he crawled across the frozen river. Inside Jilin Province, China created the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where forty percent of the population is ethnic Korean and where the government subsidizes Korean-language schools and publications.

Korean speakers living in northeast China have also been an unsung force for cultural change inside North Korea. They have affected this change by watching South Korean soap operas on home satellite dishes, recording low-quality video CDs, and smuggling hundreds of thousands of them across the border into North Korea, where they sell for as little as fifteen cents, according to Rimjin-gang, the Osaka-based magazine that has informants based in the North.

South Korean soaps—which display the fast cars, opulent houses, and surging confidence of South Korea—are classified as “impure recorded visual materials” and are illegal to watch in North Korea. But they have developed a huge following in Pyongyang and other cities, where police officers assigned to confiscate the videos are reportedly watching them and where teenagers imitate the silky intonations of the Korean language as it is spoken by upper-crust stars in Seoul.

These TV programs have demolished decades of North Korean propaganda, which claims that the South is a poor, repressed, and unhappy place, and that South Koreans long for unification under the fatherly hand of the Kim dynasty.

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Filed under China, economics, Japan, Korea, labor, language, migration

Wordcatcher Tales: Baggywrinkle, 歃=Slurp

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

Baggywrinkle – The Mexican Navy’s training vessel ARM Cuauhtémoc visited Honolulu recently. It is a beautiful ship, a three-masted barque manufactured in Bilbao, Spain, in 1982, with steel hull, cables, and belaying pins, but teak deck and fine wooden railings and housings. The ship arrived and departed with most of the crew aloft, standing in the yards and shrouds, singing lively songs that carried far across the water as they set out to sea, bound for California. I was lucky enough to go aboard during its stay, to watch its theatrical departure, and to learn a new piece of nautical vocabulary from the encounter. Many of the thinner steel cables (stays) before the masts were covered with yellow baggywrinkle to prevent the sails from chafing against the metal. (Perhaps the baggywrinkle also helped ensure that no sailors would be sliced through if they fell from the rigging above—if they somehow slipped their harnesses and safety lines.)

susuru ‘slurp’ — One of my retirement hobbies is ramen research. This week I tried a new lunchtime ramen “pop-up” called Slurp on the premises of Vino wine bar at Restaurant Row (a.k.a. Waterfront Plaza) in downtown Honolulu. Their mazemen (‘mix noodles’ [not soupy]) was excellent, with Okinawan-style thick soba noodles, char siu, 5-minute egg, smoked bacon, ikura (salmon roe), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and Tokyo negi (chopped leek).

kanji for slurp

Stylized kanji for Slurp

But their logo set me off on another episode of a lifelong hobby: kanji research. It’s a cleverly employed but relatively obscure (hyougai ‘unlisted’) kanji that I had to clip from the Unicode Unihan database, where its codepoint is U+6B43. The more common kanji for susuru ‘slurp’ in Japanese is 啜, as in 啜り上げる susuri-ageru ‘suck up’ or 啜り泣く susuri-naku ‘sob, sniffle’. (But when I first checked ‘slurp’ in Google Translate on my smartphone, all I got was 吸い込む sui-komu ‘suck in’ in Japanese and 思乐普 si-le-pu in Chinese, just a hanzi rendering of the sounds of the English word.) The regular kanji 啜 for susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘mouth’ (口 kuchi) radical on its left and 4 little grasping hands (又) on the right. The restaurant Slurp has instead chosen to stylize the more obscure kanji for its logo. The kanji 歃 susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘yawning’ (欠 akubi) radical on its right. It looks a bit like a person with shoulders and one arm hanging down, beneath which the logo has added a small bowl of steaming ramen. The left side of the kanji looks as if the top of a tongue (舌) is protruding from an open-mouthed mortar (臼) with jaws and teeth.

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Filed under anglosphere, food, Japan, language

Wordcatcher Tales: Dosanko, Marimo, Pechika

Here are a few more words I picked up from our travels in Hokkaido last month and from my followup reading in Ann Irish’s book Hokkaido (McFarland, 2009).

道産子 Dosanko ‘(Hokkai)do-born-child’ – Originally applied to a particular breed of horse, the Hokkaido Pony (北海道和種 Hokkaidō washu), this term now applies to anyone or anything from Hokkaido: from prefecture-marketing antenna shops to cooking styles to streetcar types. It has become the prefecture’s brand name.

毬藻 marimo ‘ball seaweed’ (Aegagropila linnaei) – We first saw marimo on display in a small aquarium by the souvenir shops in JR Kushiro train station. They are a species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta) that forms large and velvety green balls. Colonies of such balls are only known to form in lakes in Iceland, Scotland, Estonia, and in Japan, where they are one of the many attractions of Lake Akan in Kushiro. The Japanese botanist Kawakami Tatsuhiko (川上龍彦) gave it the name marimo in 1898. Ainu names for it include torasampe (‘lake goblin’) and tokarip (‘lake roller’). English names for it include Cladophora balls, Lake balls, or Moss balls. Marimo also gave rise to a whole range of mascot merchandise under the name Marimokkori.

ペチカ pechika ‘Russian stove’ – It was in Hokkaido that I learned that Japanese ikura ‘salmon roe’ was borrowed from Russian икра (ikra), and in Irish’s book I learned of another Japanese borrowing from Russian, pechika ‘Russian stove’ from печка (pechka), the diminutive of (Русская) печь ‘(Russian) oven/stove’. The Japanese who settled Hokkaido adapted some Russian techniques to deal with the harsh northern winters, including horse-drawn sleighs with curved runners and stoves that radiated heat more effectively than the open fireplaces that were standard in traditional Japanese living/dining rooms. Those settlers included not just migrants from Honshu during Meiji times, but also refugees from Sakhalin, the Kuriles, and Manchuria after World War II ended. My impression is that Japanese pechika refers not to the large Russian ovens of clay, brick, or tile, but to smaller iron stoves, like the one in this Japanese fisherman’s workroom. Irish (p. 285) mentions “the Japanese song Pechika, which describes a family telling stories around a stove.”

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Filed under economics, Japan, language, Russia, science

Farmer-soldiers on the Hokkaido Frontier

From Hokkaido, A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan’s Northern Island, by Ann B. Irish (McFarland, 2009), pp. 115-117:

Traditional Japanese practices of government and administration were not suited to an enterprise such as pioneer settlement. Allowing freedom and adaptability rather than following set regulations—which might not fit the conditions—was not the Japanese way. Japan had no tradition of democracy. Moreover, with some Kaitakushi officials in Tokyo and others in Sapporo and the slowness of communication at the time, administration was bound to be difficult.

In 1874, the Kaitakushi [Development Commission] gained official permission to recruit ex-samurai to go to the northern island as tondenhei [屯田兵 'camp-field-soldier'], or farmer-soldiers. These former samurai whose feudal lords had not supported the Meiji Restoration now had no means of making a living; their lords encouraged emigration to Hokkaido. As early as 1854, several shogunate inspectors in Hokkaido had recommended a tondenhei system; perhaps the Russian policy of setting up Cossack outposts in Siberia inspired the scheme. The first such Hokkaido settlement appeared in 1875, when 198 farmer-soldiers and their families came to Sapporo and established homes in the Kotoni district, northwest of today’s city center. The government furnished each former samurai with eight acres of land and a house complete with a Russian stove to cope with the winter cold. The men even received cold weather uniforms. In return, the eighteen to thirty-five year old male settlers were placed in regiments and participated in military exercises (mostly in the winter, when farming tasks did not claim their immediate attention). They would turn out for military duty if needed. Thus they could help protect Hokkaido from the Russians. They carried guns and, as former samurai, swords. By the end of 1876, more than two thousand tondenhei soldier-farmers had gone to Hokkaido in the program, many simply because the Meiji Restoration had deprived them of their livelihood. Though at first only former samurai were included, later the scheme was opened to others. After the 1875 treaty settled the border with Russia, the military justification no longer seemed so important, and few more tondenhei were recruited. In 1903 they were incorporated into the nation’s army. During the years of recruitment, over seven thousand tondenhei families participated in establishing about forty villages in Hokkaido.

One very small tondenhei settlement near Sapporo only had thirty-two households, but almost all the others held between 150 and 220 families. Most of these villages were placed in the Ishikari Valley, around Sapporo and Takikawa and upstream in the Kamikawa basin, in which Asahikawa sits. A few tondenhei villages were along the coast, at Muroran and near Akkeshi and Nemuro far to the east. The eastern settlements, established from 1886 to about 1890, were planned as defense posts because Russian encroachment via the Kuril Islands seemed a possibility despite the border treaty adopted in 1875 by Japan and Russia. Three tondenhei villages were placed upstream on the Tokoro River and two on the Yubetsu, both streams emptying into the Sea of Okhotsk on Hokkaido’s northeast coast. The most prosperous area of tondenhei settlement, though, was in the Kamikawa basin [incl. Biei and Furano above Asahikawa]. Here the settlers found fertile soild and a climate suitable for farming, with hot summer weather. The tondenhei settlers cultivated northern crops, but as hardy strains of rice later became available, farmers shifted more and more of the land to rice cultivation, which dominated the area by the early twentieth century.

The tondenhei lived a regulated life, for example working a twelve hour day in the fields from April to September. During the colder part of the year, the workday would last for only eleven hours, men either clearing land or participating in military drill. Many of the tondenhei had a hard time, as they were not used to farming. But families did work together—each family recruited had to include two able-bodied members who could work in addition to the farmer-soldier—and lend a hand to each other. Some of the tondenhei served in the Russo-Japanese War.

Tondenhei settlements were more successful than other new communities in Hokkaido. The Kaitakushi set aside good land for the tondenhei villages, which also received other special benefits. Moreover, as former samurai, the farmer-soldiers were often people who could exert leadership or influence farmers who did not have such advantages. Some years later, tondenhei military units became the famed and respected Seventh Division in the Army of Japan.

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Filed under industry, Japan, labor, migration, military

The Last Major Ainu Uprising, 1789

From Hokkaido, A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan’s Northern Island, by Ann B. Irish (McFarland, 2009), p. 47:

A frightening uprising with long-lasting ramifications erupted in 1789. Just as Shakushain remains a hero to many Ainu, the shocking Wajin [= ethnic Japanese] response to the 1789 events makes them a continuing spur to Ainu nationalism. At that time, Ainu were restricted to trading at posts chartered to contractors by the Matsumae. It was often these contractors who cheated or injured the Ainu. One of the worst offenders was Hidaya Kyubei, who operated in southwest Hokkaido and on Kunashir Island in the Kurils. A Hidaya man had come to Ezo as early as 1702 and obtained permission from the Matsumae to set up a lumber business. He brought workers to Ezo with him, sent the lumber his workers cut to Honshu cities, and paid large amounts to the Matsumae for the privilege. In return, his family obtained trading posts and amassed wealth. His grandson, Hidaya Kyubei, expanded his operations, in 1774 opening a trading post on Kunashir. Over the next few years he gained more and more control over the Ainu there, until they were reduced from a self-reliant society living in a traditional manner to the near-slavery and near-starvation seen at Hidaya’s other posts. Wajin frequently threatened Ainu with death or drowned their dogs. Ainu who could no longer work were killed, it was reported. Women were raped and men who tried to resist Hidaya depredations poisoned. Even Aoshima Shunzo, an Edo official sent later to probe the conflict and its causes, found that some blame lay with the Hidaya family, who forced Ainu in their region to work at rates of remuneration impossible to support life.

In 1789, a group of young Ainu, incensed because they believed that several Ainu died after Hidaya officials had given them poisoned sake, instigated hostilities, usually known today as the Menashi-Kunashir War. Ainu attacked Wajin at the Kunashir trading post, on the Ezo mainland, and on a ship in the area, leaving seventy-one dead. The young Ainu apparently planned their assault carefully, having prepared defensive measures, but local Ainu leaders who had been away at the time of the attack returned and persuaded the rebels to desist. To the elders, good relations with Wajin remained crucially important, as Ainu livelihood depended on them. Meanwhile, news got back to the Matsumae, who sent a large force to the affected region near Cape Nosappu east of Nemuro, including troops from other domains ordered by the shogunate to aid the Matsumae. The soldiers captured the eighty-seven Ainu they felt were responsible for the outbreak. Executiions of the leaders began. One of the Ainu let out a war-cry; the Wajin soldiers reacted in panic and speared prisoners randomly, leaving thirty-seven dead. Their heads were taken for display at the Matsumae capital. Hidaya lost his contract and the Matsumae issued new regulations for trading with Ainu; some improvement may have resulted.

This was the last serious Ainu challenge to the Matsumae, but as Wajin immigration continued, so did Ainu resentment.

During our recent trip to Hokkaido, the young Japanese tour guide on our bus to Cape Nosappu told the story of this uprising on our way back to Nemuro.

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Filed under economics, Japan, migration, nationalism, war

Wordcatcher Tales: Kamataki Sagyou

fishpress-sign

How to turn herring into fertilizer

The Historical Village of Hokkaido in Sapporo had a sign showing a fish press used by Hokkaido herring fishermen to turn their (once) bounteous catches into fertilizer for farms throughout Honshu, where it was highly valued. To make the sign easier for Japanese schoolchildren to read, many words are written in kana rather than kanji, and furigana provide readings for some of the remaining kanji. Here is some of the vocabulary from that sign, starting with the title on the bottom right, then working from the top right down to the bottom left.

釜焚き作業 kama-taki sagyou ‘kettle-firing work’ [the title]

ナガシ [流し] nagashi ‘sink, drainboard’

カマド [竈] kamado ‘cooking stove’

しめ木 shime-ki ‘press-tree’

胴枕 dou-makura ‘frame-pillow’

胴ぶた dou-buta ‘frame-lid’

しめ胴 shime-dou ‘press-frame’

マッカ (しめ木をかける) makka [fork?, notch?, hook?] (shimeki o kakeru ‘to hold the press-tree’)

ロクロ [轆轤] (しめ綱を巻いてしめ木を引き下げる) rokuro ‘capstan’ (shimetsuna o maite shimeki o hikisageru ‘winding the rope to pull down the press-tree’)

toi ‘drainpipe’

ハチゴウ hachigou ‘storage tank’

If anyone has better glosses for these terms, I’d be happy to hear them.

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Filed under industry, Japan, language