Times-Square Samurai: or The Improbable Japanese Occupation of New York

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Californians also saw the chance for a strategic alliance, invoking the legality of Southern discrimination to justify anti-Japanese measures. After the period of relative calm that accompanied the American-Japanese World War I alliance, a flurry of new anti-Japanese groups emerged in California.

Although the anti-Japanese movement failed to pass official anti-Japanese legislation at the national level until , it did succeed in getting multiple laws passed at the state level in both California and Hawaii. The former saw the passage of Alien Land Acts in and , which, although largely ineffective, attempted to prevent the Issei from owning land in the state For this reason, the anti-Japanese movement in Hawaii revolved around labor disputes rather than exclusion, at least up until the s when Filipinos replaced Japanese as the major source of contract-labor.

Within this different context, however, it is clear that the white planters perceived the Japanese in racially derogatory terms similar to those of the mainland anti-Japanese movement. The state legislature moved to define criminal syndicalism in , passed the Anarchistic Publications Act in , and put through a picketing and protection-of-labor statue in , all in an effort to quash Japanese organized labor As early as , a plan had been drawn up for the implementation of martial law on the islands should war with Japan break out.

The plan also stipulated selective internment of suspected Japanese collaborators - for which purpose lists of community leaders and people seen consorting with Japanese sailors were continually drawn up — and registration of all enemy aliens The extent of American distrust of Japanese immigrants apparent in these reports indicates that something beyond standard intelligence gathering was at play. Very clearly, it was racism. For many Americans of the interwar era, the Japanese simply were not 52 Okihiro, Japanese ethnicity was thus a human qualitative criterion, an unchangeable racial essence whose presence was negative for and threatening to America.

This was precisely the line of thinking employed by Army General John L. The actual internment of the Issei and Nisei is well-documented in scholarly literature and need not be reviewed here. It will be sufficient to say that the internment of more than , Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens was not an anomalous occurrence.

From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima

World War II certainly deepened anti-Japanese sentiment in many Americans and likely engendered it in many others, but, as we have seen, an impassioned streak of anti-Japanese racism had already been at work in America for decades. Inasmuch as World War II removed any inhibition about voicing anti-Japanese rhetoric, however, it is instructive to see just what Americans said about Japan and its people during the war. In the government-sponsored movie series Why We Fight, which was required viewing for millions of U.

The quote is exemplary of the unnerving, insectile quality Americans frequently attributed to the Japanese. Army, 63 minutes, Another popular conceptual trope was the Japanese as madmen or children. Looking at descriptions of the Japanese by four hundred years of Western observers, Dower concludes that the types of inhuman, subhuman, and lesser-human categorizations employed by Americans to describe the Japanese during the war drew on a rich history of racist imagery and vocabulary Following the stunning Japanese successes at Pearl Harbor and in the South Pacific during the early part of the war, however, Americans formulated a new conception of the Japanese, wherein they became superhuman monsters or robots.

The Japanese were now conceived of as having a terrifying, ineluctable strength. Cartoonists began to depict the enemy as a King Kong- like gorilla or a fanatical superman Whether subhuman, inhuman, lesser-human, or 62 Ibid. In the first half of the twentieth century, Americans evinced a persistent and deeply racist anti-Japanese sentiment that tied-in to a broader, historically-rooted anti- Oriental feeling, that was substantiated in legislation at both state and national levels, and that came to a fever-pitch during World War II.

With this in mind, it is clear that the appearance of any Japanese institution or cultural activity in America would have seemed improbable and deplorable to most Americans in The depth of anti-Japanese sentiment should have obviated the kind of widespread interest in Zen Buddhism that occurred during the s. What is more, many Americans believed that Japanese Buddhism had contributed both to the actual mobilization of the Japanese war effort and to the underlying national ethos that carried Japan into war.

Inasmuch as this thesis deals primarily with American views of Japanese Buddhism, a thorough review of the actual history of Japanese Buddhism during the war is less important than how Americans perceived the religion during the time period.

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As a background for those perceptions, however, it will be instructive to review some of the actual events and trends in the relationship between Japanese Buddhism and the government in the period from the Meiji Era through World War II. Zen centers and prominent American teachers, had espoused a nationalist, militarist, anti-Semitic standpoint in his wartime writings caused many in the American Zen community to feel a deep sense of uncertainty about the lineages and teachers to whom they had turned for spiritual instruction. Whether attempting to protect itself from the militant Shintoism of the Meiji rulers, refiguring itself in the face of an aggressive modernity, or simply succumbing to the appeal of Japanese nationalism, Japanese Buddhism, including Zen, time and again lent its weight to the cause of Japanese imperialism and ideological aggression.

In May of , amidst a full-scale attack on Buddhism by the newly constituted Meiji regime, the Buddhist leaders of the Hongan-ji temple complex began lobbying the government for the chance to aid in the colonization of the northerly Hokkaido Islands. Thus, in the 68 Victoria, Brian Daizen.

Second, there was a striking pattern of conciliatory action on the part of Japanese Buddhists toward a suspicious and often hostile Meiji government.

The Second World War in Asia and the Pacific, 1941–45

Indeed, the lessons of the persecution Japanese Buddhists underwent at the hands of the Japanese government from to would reverberate right through World War II. Having been hurt by their government, the Buddhists sought to appease it. To this end, the Meiji regime sought to sever its connections to previous political leadership, and it promulgated a reformulated Shinto that apotheosized the Emperor and placed Japan at the spiritual center of a teleological conception of human history.

Buddhism was thus framed as antagonistic to government aims in two ways. For a government attempting the wholesale revision of the Japanese polity, Buddhism stood in the way because of its association with Tokugawa power and its vitality as a popular religion. Using as a template the efforts of anti-Buddhist domainal governments such as Mito, Satsuma, and Tsuwano, in the early months of the Meiji rulers began the systematic persecution of Buddhism in Japan Interestingly, one of the most damaging attacks made by the government on Japanese Buddhism was the simple removal of previous laws.

In that the separation of monastic vows from state law could not but produce a radical reconfiguration of the Buddhist power structure, this short, seemingly innocuous state 70 Ketelaar, The government no longer saw the pressing need to eradicate Buddhism from Japan, and in fact started to 75 Ibid. It was in this vein that the Meiji regime officially decreed State Shinto to be the national doctrine, and not a religion, in This rather brilliant move allowed the government to stop attacking Buddhism as a rival to Shinto and instead attempt to use it for mobilization and colonization efforts.

That the Meiji anti-Buddhist position was short lived and quickly reversed, however, does not mean that it did not effect deep changes in Japanese Buddhism. In its attempt to vitiate Buddhist institutions and to revoke the social and cultural capital of the Buddhist clergy, the government had proven itself willing and able to do serious damage to Japanese Buddhism.

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In short, the foremost political legacy of the Meiji attack on Buddhism was Buddhist complicity. As I shall discuss later, the reforms and trends in Japanese Buddhism need to be understood in the context of the sundry challenges that the Western incursion and the on-set of modernity posed to Buddhism and virtually all other Japanese institutions and social structures. In addition, the end of the official attack on Buddhism did not mean an end to attacks by private thinkers.

Indeed, Buddhism continued to be framed as archaic and burdensome by numerous Japanese writers, and thus felt the need to persist in its efforts at self-defense. It is the highest ideal of man. Japan is a lover of peace, so even if she goes to war, it is always a war for peace…. In advocating peace and racial equality, we must not forget the state we belong to. Real peace cannot be expected if we forget our state in our love of mankind… If we forget our duty to country, no matter how we advocate the love of mankind, there will be no real peace.

The Buddhists and the War In investigating American perceptions of Japanese Buddhism during World War II, it is important to remember that the United States of the early s was a very different place than that of today. Whereas in it is commonplace to hear that the Dalai Lama is speaking in the U.

The first six chapters of the book were published in , the last two in the edition. Certainly there were a small number of American Buddhists and Buddhologists at the time, but for the average American, Buddhism remained an exotic, unknown religion with no pertinence to American life. With this in mind, it would be overstating the case to say that anti-Buddhist sentiment was pervasive in wartime perceptions of Japan.

American thinking about the Japanese was, on the whole, far too racist and stereotyped to allow for much complex or accurate analysis of their religious or other motivations. Nonetheless, inasmuch as Americans understood that Japan was a majority Buddhist country with a deep Buddhist tradition, it was assumed that Buddhism was to some degree complicit or active in the Japanese war effort As Dower so clearly demonstrates, Japan loomed as a monolithic, malevolent entity in the American mind.

Perhaps the three most prevalent of these 83 Very few Americans in the s understood the complexly syncretized nature of Japanese popular religion, what with its intermixing of Buddhist and Shinto practices and beliefs. In both the high and middle-brow media-coverage from the time period, however, it is made clear that Buddhism played a role in the religious lives and worldviews of most Japanese, or at least contributed in important ways to the Japanese ethos. In my research I ran across a number of less informed and shorter articles on the topic in more popular outlets such as Time and The New York Times.

While publications with broader readerships did run articles on the topic, it is hard to say with certainty how many of their readers would have taken note of it. Inasmuch as the average American viewed Japan as monolithically evil, however, all things Japanese were tainted with suspicion. Buddhism was not the lead villain in the story of the Pacific War; it did, however, figure in American thinking about the nature of the Japanese menace. Quoting from Dower: whereas racism in the West was markedly characterized by denigration of others, the Japanese were preoccupied far more exclusively with elevating themselves…This intense self-preoccupation ultimately led to the propagation of an elaborate mythohistory which emphasized the divine origins of the Japanese imperial line and the exceptional racial and cultural homogeneity of the Japanese people.

It is thus that the Civil Affairs Handbook includes a discussion of Buddhism in its treatment of Japanese religion and nationalism. As the handbook was intended to aid in planning and executing the postwar occupation of Japan, it is certain that the administrators involved in that endeavor read it. I am uncertain how widely it was read by regular soldiers.

Hereafter C. Adherents of Zen are, therefore, particularly effective in accomplishing Japanese purposes. In this section of the Civil Affairs Handbook for Japan, then, there is much to unpack concerning American military perceptions of Japanese Buddhism.


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There is the association between Buddhist missionary efforts and Japanese attempts to pacify and control conquered populations. Zen, as the Canadian historian of Japan E. Norman wrote during the war years, facilitated killing. Returning to the handbook, we find that some of its other sections cite further evidence implicating Buddhism in the war. Thus, military analysts associated public submission to Japanese government demands with a fatalist atmosphere attributable to Buddhism. All in all, in that the Civil Affairs Handbook was intended to help guide the postwar occupation of Japan, it is clear that the American military suspected it would have to monitor Buddhist activity during that time period.

Where the piece on Buddhist fatalism in section one and the account of Zen equanimity in section fifteen may bespeak a certain naivety, or at least lack of historical awareness, in the military writing on Japanese Buddhism, another mention of the tie between Zen and bushido found in the handbook is conspicuously well-informed.

It appears to me that this section of the handbook is so much more accurate than the rest because it is essentially a book report on Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism, a book 93 C. Holtom, one of the foremost American experts on Japanese religions at that time Covering the pre-modern history of Shinto, its establishment as the national doctrine in the Meiji Era, and its place in the modern Japanese worldview, Holtom gives a knowledgeable and balanced account of State Shinto.

The book is cited in the sections on Shinto and Buddhism, quoted several times, and amply paraphrased. If State Shinto was the villain, Japanese Buddhism was every bit its henchman. The success and even the survival of Buddhism within the national environment are attributed to an extraordinary adaptability to the prior interests of the state. Deliberate and far-reaching accommodation was practiced from the beginning, and today, when the greatest crisis of all Japanese history confronts the nation, the resources of Buddhism are already marshaled to the single service of the new order in the Far East.

As evidence for this assertion, he writes that The high priests of the different Buddhist sects have certified their patriotism by public worship at the Meiji Shrine, the Yasukuni Shrine, the Grand Imperial Shrine of Ise, and elsewhere and thus have set good examples to their followers. Buddhism has accepted the doctrine that the emperor is the direct descendant of the sun-goddess and is thereby divinely authorized to rule as god manifested in human form…The temples are 98 Holtom, D.

The various sects have carried out extensive educational programs for strengthening the movement for the cultural unification of Asia and the economic and military protection of the nation…Temples have been used extensively for funeral services for the soldier dead.

Priests have taken prominent parts in the dedication of war memorials and have ministered widely to the needs of soldiers in the field. Most American commentators evinced a less sophisticated and complete understanding of Japanese Buddhism during the war than did Holtom. By the time the war arrived, there was already in place the belief that Buddhism and other Japanese religions were central to the identity of modern Japan. As far back as the early s, as the U. An Asia magazine article of by L.