The Japan Forum Special Issue that grew out of the Borders of Memory conference in December 2016 if finally about to see the light of day.
It consists of four excellent articles on the Maizuru Repatriation Museum, Miike (one of the 23 Meiji Industrial Sites recognized in 2015), Ainu remains and the new Ainu Museum at Shiraoi (scheduled to open in April 2020), and the Okinawa Peace Park.
The end of April saw the Association for Borderlands Studies hold its Annual Meeting in San Diego, providing a perfect setting for the themes with which the conference sought to grapple. The increasing salience of Asia’s border for their study globally was apparent in the two panels in which KUBS participated. The first, organized by Po-Yi Hung of National Taiwan University, brought together a collection of papers that considered the role of the borders in everyday life in East Asia, and featured Akihiro Iwashita, Naomi Chi, Yu-Hsiu Lien and myself.
The second was based around the Jean Monnet Network grant comparing Migration and Border Policies in the EU, Canada, and Japan, which was established under the Borders in Globalization project headed by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly of the University of Victoria. The panel built upon the results of Workshops which had been held in Strasbourg, Brussels, Ottawa, Hokkaido, and Victoria over the previous three years, and provided an opportunity for Oliver Schmidtke, Birte Wassenberg, Naomi Chi and myself to set out what we had learned and reflected upon during the course of these workshops. Each of the three teams is producing a series of special issues and edited collections on their own area of study, while also contributing to the comparative work emerging through the project.
San Diego itself was a pleasant enough city,
in the somewhat identikit West Coast mould of Vancouver or Seattle, but was more interesting when viewed both as a borderland and as a city defined by the border fence that runs between itself and the Mexican City of Tijuana to the south.
This was not just for the great craft beer, but also reflected the ways in which the border exists in daily life, and how it is experienced for large sections for the population. One place where this was particularly apparent was at Chicano Park, a small community space beneath freeway off-ramps that was home to a beautiful series of murals proclaiming allegiance to a broader Mexican or indigenous identity. Painted up since the 1970s, the murals spoke to a sense of cross-border community being maintained in the heart of the old Mexican Barrio in San Diego. Yet one gardener’s story of how money for park maintenance was being siphoned off by the park’s management sadly reflects the ways in which community cohesion is increasingly hostage to private interests.
Fortunately, the ABS Meeting anticipated the interest in discovering the border by its participants, and in partnership with El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), arranged a tour across the border and series of events on the other side.
The pedestrian border crossing appears to have been designed as a paradigmatic representation of contemporary border trends, all exposed metal, barbed wire, cameras, and the incessantly channeling of human bodies along specific, well-defined tracks.
A more spontaneous, emotionally-charged version of the border was made available to us at the end of the trip, as we were taken to the famous section of border fence initially constructed by Clinton at the coast. While the US side of this section is a deliberately abandoned area of sand dunes and scrub, euphemistically labelled an ‘International Park’ on the map whilst being circled by border patrol agents and helicopters overhead, on the Mexican side, as appears to be the common pattern, the border is built right up to and, in a sense, taken possession of.
A border space at once haunting, celebratory and defiant.
On August 28-30 2018, I was lucky enough to visit the islands of Ishigaki and Hateruma in Okinawa. These two islands are part of the southernmost group of islands in the prefecture, collectively known as the Yaeyamas.
The trip formed part of a project being conducted by a six-member group led by Professor Koji Furukawa, of Chukyo University, which was looking to undertake “Comparative border research on island countries and regions of the Asia-Pacific: the Yaeyamas and Palau”. This research was funded for the years 2018-2019 by a Ryukyu University Research Institute for Islands and Sustainability (RIIS) Research Grant. Within the project, I was granted responsibility for examining notions of War Memory and Heritage, which allowed for me to examine these areas through the lens provided by the concept of Borders of Memory.
However, my interest in these marginal spaces of the nation is not limited to their material capture in heritage memorials, and also includes how such spaces operate and exist within the national imagination today. This is particularly through examining infrastructure, the various means through which island spaces are tied into the state’s national body, whether through (mothballed) airports or something as banal as manhole covers.
The existence of this island of Hateruma as the edge of the nation comes also to be tied into more global questions, as the island hosts a key institution of Japan’s Center for Global Environmental Research, monitoring environmental change, particularly changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, from this remote corner of the nation (see on this http://db.cger.nies.go.jp/gem/en/warm/Ground/st01.html).
Particularly interesting is the way in which the spatially- and temporally-distinct ways in which these islands relate to the national and prefectural stories that they reference in their heritage. One aspect of this is the invocation of Hateruma as Japan’s southernmost point, a claim which obviously ignores not only the prefecture’s forceful incorporation in 1879, but the 35 years of American military rule after 1945. The ending of the latter is celebrated in a number of monument’s at the island’s southern point, most notably in the serpentine sculpture that ties stones from all of Japan’s prefectures to Hateruma’s soil.
The Yaeyamas are also distinguished by their memory of the War itself. The cataclysmic carnage of Okinawa’s experience is well-known, but the Yaeyama tragedy was distinct, with the forced removal of the island group’s population to malaria-infested areas and subsequent deaths of many of them. This is commemorated in the small Peace Museum in Ishigaki, latterly run as a branch museum of the main institution on Okinawa itself, as well as at a relatively new monument in Banna Park on Ishigaki Island.
Conveniently reflecting the ambiguity of notions of Japan in thinking about the Yaeyamas, a few weeks before our visit had seen an incident of vandalism occur at yet another monument at the southernmost point of Hateruma Island, with the scars still clearly visible on its flag. This conveniently captures the complex and contradictory ways in which the nation, and the island’s place in them, comes to be memorialized in the present.
Hot on the heels of last week’s succulent offering, our 13th Border Bite is a substantial morsel from Ed Pulford, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University, who provides us with a tasty treat in his analysis of the remote Hokkaido town of Nemuro’s position at the centre of Japan’s leading edge, its Northern Territories dispute with Russia. Touching on the malleability of political space, importance of vision and cognition, and paradoxical position of Nemuro within this dispute, where it both decries and depends upon its place at the border, there is plenty for everyone to get their teeth into. We hope you enjoy.
Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman’s critical examination of “Mizoram as ‘cultural connector’ in India’s Look East/Act East Policy” analyzes the ruination and latent potential of connectivity in the Northeast Indian state, as seen from the India-Myanmar border crossing of Rih.
Ed Pulford, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at Hokkaido University, interviews authors on their work for the New Books Network, including a recent edited volume by Juan Zhang and Martin Saxer that examines The Art of Neighbouring: Making Relations Across China’s Borders (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).
Listen to Ed’s careful questioning of the editors understandings of China’s borders and borderlands HERE.
On October 1, Edward Boyle and Jabin Thomas Jacob participated in a Workshop organized by Rohan D’Souza at Kyoto University, which brought together 7 speakers for a really focused discussion, primarily on India’s Northeast and the surrounding neighbourhood. With thanks to Rohan for organizing the event, and Kyushu University for Wakaba Challenge grant that facilitated Jabin and my participation.
For some photos of the event and the subsequent dinner, see HERE.
(with thanks to Patrick and Aimee-Linh at Yogascapes)