The Small Print
Faces & Places
The Goods
Tech Know
Cars & Bikes
Arts & Entertainment
Japan Beat
The Agenda
Dining Out
Table Talk
Local Flavors
International Dining
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
The Last Word
Photo of the Week
About Us
Distribution Points

775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Heup Choi

Heir apparel

The prime minister’s samurai pose spooks Korea

On New Year’s Day, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made his annual visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Just as it does every year, the incident created a diplomatic row between Japan, Korea and China. Instead of arguing about whether his visit was right or wrong, however, I would like to examine one of the episode’s neglected aspects.

In years past, whenever Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, he wore a swallow-tailed coat. This year, though, he showed up in the traditional Japanese formal attire known as haori and hakama. Korean newspaper editors seethed when they saw these clothes, and harsh words flew back and forth. “This is provocation against Korea and China,” they said.

Heup Choi is the Tokyo correspondent for the Korean-language Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

In Korea, to wear the traditional national costume known as chima chogori means to show a kind of determination. The implicit message is, “Normal people put on a suit, but I’m a patriot who loves my country. So I’ll wear the national costume rather than foreign-made clothes.” That’s why the only people who wear this attire in public are well-known Korean nationalists. What’s more, the haori and hakama are what samurai wear in movies. Korea and China, two countries leery of the reemergence of Japanese militarization, felt that in donning these clothes, Koizumi armed himself with the samurai spirit and made a war-like statement.

Korean journalists in Japan were no exception, because they firmly believe that the haori and hakama bespeak nationalism in the same way the chima chogori does. In reporting Koizumi’s visit, the Japanese media said that “officials emphasize that there were no political undertones to his visit, instead characterizing it as a traditional rite of worship.” But almost none of my colleagues took that statement seriously.

I told them, “The press says that Koizumi wore the haori and hakama because he wanted to make sure that his visit was a personal one, not an official act.”

My fellow journalists scoffed. “No way. The Japanese media deceive us with their lies.”

“Japanese nationalism is not warlike,” I said. “You shouldn’t judge this incident using Korean standards. Haori and hakama, unlike chima chogori, are not symbols that exclusively express an offensive kind of nationalism.”

“That’s bull. In movies, it’s the people who have ‘Japanese spirit’ who wear those clothes. The characters wearing attire that ‘looks like a kimono’ and carrying large swords are the samurai, and samurai are fundamentally warriors, aren’t they? Plus, traditional costumes serve as symbols of nationalism everywhere. And what do you mean, ‘Japanese nationalism is less warlike than Korean’? If Japan was a country that had a weak nationalistic spirit, Koizumi wouldn’t visit Yasukuni Shrine in the first place. It can only be seen as an assertion of militarism.”

After this exchange, one of my colleagues wrote an article supportive of Koizumi’s non-nationalist motives. However, the next day, a picture of the prime minister in his haori and hakama took up a full quarter page in our newspaper. The headline read “Memories of Militant Nation,” which was a play on the title of a popular Korean movie, Memories of Murder. But even without this explicit label, I think Korean people would have felt a chill because the image of traditional dress has such a strong impact in Korea. In the photograph, Prime Minister Koizumi was the spitting image of a movie samurai.

Interestingly, the issue of clothing also created a minor incident between Japan and China a few years ago. President Jiang Zemin, while visiting here in November 1998, wore traditional Chinese garments to a dinner party attended by the emperor. Some Japanese weeklies opined that it was impolite to wear such clothes to a function presided over by the emperor. The chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yasuo Fukuda, refuted this claim, saying, “Jiang’s garments are official dress in China and not a breach of courtesy. The media deliberately distorted public opinion.” Fukuda also suggested Jiang did well to wear traditional Chinese dress for such a sober occasion. It seems that in China, too, traditional clothing is used to express resolution.

It’s my belief that the prime minister’s wearing of the haori and hakama was a tacit peace message that said, “I want to avoid making relations with your country worse because of my visit.” At least I want to believe so. But the Korean people read it as a strongly provocative action.

Nowadays, miscommunication between different cultures occurs pretty frequently. That’s why it’s important for countries and people to make a serious effort to understand each other. Korean, Japanese and Chinese—I had thought that, even though we may not be the same, we are pretty similar. But this incident reminds me that even though we might think we comprehend each other, we sometimes don’t understand at all.