Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Gender and security: A Tokyo Symposium

Gender and security in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

For many of us, our gender and our security (broadly defined) affect, influence and shape our lives. Daily. This is so in Japan as well. But two months each year in particular bring these issues into focus: May and August. 

In May, specifically 3 May, Japan commemorates, via public holiday, the promulgation of the 1947 Constitution, the postwar constitution drafted by the Allied forces which includes the famous Peace clause, Article 9, renouncing war and maintenance of war materiel. This year, the 70th anniversary included a special exhibition at the National Archives, where visitors got to see the original constitution, albeit behind a glass case. 

In August each year, we are reminded in the most forceful of ways of devastation caused by the dropping of atomic bombs on 6 August (Hiroshima) and 9 August (Nagasaki) and 15 August, the declaration of the end of the Pacific War and World War Two. 

For much of the time I have been a student of Japan, it was something of an example of how an economically strong country did not have to necessarily maintain an equally large military to demonstrate power as defined in most international relations textbooks. And while the merits or otherwise of Article 9 of the Constitution have always been contested, in more recent times, Prime Minister Abe has ramped up his campaign to restore Japan's military legitimacy by announcing an amendment to Article 9 which will recognise what is currently referred to as the Self-Defence Force, effectively the army, navy, and air force. Abe cites growing military tensions in the region, notably North Korea and China. Of course, if you build arms to deter arms, all you do is feed the spiral into infinite militarisation. It is an illogical path to 'peace'.

Japan's allies (including Australia) are supportive of the strengthening of arms. Commentators and analysts outside Japan speak of an inevitability of Japan re-arming and so the world ought to adjust to this reality.

Or not.

And it is in this context that symposia and like gatherings that oppose the re-arming of Japan and amendments to the Constitution are on the increase. Domestic opposition to a remilitarised, or a norm-securitised Japan, is subject of one of my ongoing research projects while based here in Tokyo. This post focusses on a symposium I attended recently, 'Security legislation and Gender', at Meiji University, 5 August 2017.

Ohwaki Masako
It was a full program, five presentations by specialists in their fields (four women, one man) and a special presentation by lawyer and former upper house member for the Japan Socialist Party, Ohwaki Masako. 

Hosted by the Japan Society of Gender and Law, the presentations had a strong legal focus. The theme was 'without peace there is no equality, without equality there is no peace'. It was attended by about 400 people, mostly women, a number of whom I have seen at similar events around Tokyo in the last year or so. There is a strong, persistent movement for peace. 

Each presentation was supplemented with detailed notes which allowed for time afterwards to read and reflect on the cases presented. 

Presentations examined the constitution and the rights it gave women at the time and the importance for women to ensure these rights are not undermined through amendments. The first paper was wide-ranging and in dealing with these constitutional issues also drew on examples of rape as a weapon in war, and what militarisation might imply. 

Another of the papers asked the question why so many conservative party women appeared to come out in support of greater militarisation. Timely given that Japan's second female defence minister Inada had resigned just the week before (resigned before she was pushed according to reports). 

Perhaps the most compelling presentation though was that given by former parliamentarian Ohwaki who introduced herself as the only member of the panel with wartime experience and memories. She is 82. Her parliamentary work included overseas delegations for peace, she gave examples though her working life of her commitment to securing peace both domestically and internationally. 

There is something compelling about the stories our elders tell about war, and peace. In Japan, during August and now increasingly so, Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, dwindling in numbers (their average age is estimated at 81) speak out about the horrors, their memories while they can. They implore the current generation of political leaders to rethink the path to militarisation, to re-arming. 

One can't help but come away from these symposia with a renewed sense of endeavour, to teach for peace to aim for it. The women at this symposium,both on the stage and in the audience, show they continue to push for it in spite of the pressure from Japan's government. 

It is a movement worth participating in. 

In a lot of my work I reflect on the words of Kant and Arendt. In her reflections on violence Hannah Arendt in the New York Review of Books (1969) noted: 

"The technical development of implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict". 

And because we are in the week of reflecting on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Pacific War, and because we seem to need reminding, Magnum photographer Rene Burri on the Nuclear Highway has captured some compelling images here. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

We're almost ready to relaunch

A note on what is happening

Later this month, I will mark a year since I left Australia to come to Japan to spend more time on my research and teaching in Japanese politics and security. It has been a most interesting year. There have been a number of times when I have been inclined to post something on the issue of the day in Australian higher education as well. 

I have deferred my views however, sandbagged for a year as it were lest my concerns be viewed through the (soggy) prism of sour grapes. Nothing could be further from the truth. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am in at present at a university in Tokyo which has a strong commitment to education and social responsibility. Anything I might have to say in reflection on the Australian higher ed system will be just that, reflection (based on some twenty years or so experience, for whatever that is worth these days). 

Let's just see how that goes. 

In the meantime, I have settled on ideas for continuing this blog while in Tokyo (you might be already familiar with my other main blog, psephy's pic of the day, where I post daily observations with photos, part of the #project365 series). 

Having spent much of this past year getting used to a new higher ed system (not that different really), new courses (all in Japanese), new students, new colleagues, I found myself with not quite as much time to write as I would have liked (nor that I would have expected). 

I have several projects on the go and new ones starting. 

1) There is my main project of Japanese security and the East Asian security community project. Living and working here for the past year has refreshed this project quite considerably. 

2) The little project that turned into a monster (but a good one): the interesting things that went on between Australia and Japan in the late 19th century. This project will start taking shape (in the form of a book) this year. 

3) I have also advanced my work on whaling and Japan-Australia relations quite considerably. That will take some solid form this year.

4) I have commenced a new project on examining the history and culture of surfing in Japan. This is one of those accidentally fortuitous projects that happen along from time to time (much in the way project 2 above was, and remains). I had decided to undertake an interesting 'side project' while in Japan, to take me out of the classroom and get me out and about. A book to write when...I wasn't writing books. I settled on surfing because I have a background as a surfer, growing up in the vicinity of beaches and swimming before I could walk (or so goes the family lore). Turned out that the International Olympic Committee determined that surfing would be one of the demonstrator sports at the 2020 games in Tokyo! Now I have a real reason to get on with it. 

5) This year will shape up as the year I properly tackle my long-held interest in women in politics in Japan. I have spent much of this year observing and note-taking and I am formulating my approach. I'm looking forward to that. 

All of these projects are of course overlaid with my ongoing work in political philosophy, in particular, reading Hannah Arendt and Kant. The more I read, the more interesting life gets. 

I will be making every effort to return to weekly posts on this blog with a view to observing and analysing the political events of the week from a Tokyo perspective. Naturally, that will include Japanese politics, but also Australian as well as other aspects as seem necessary. 

Sunday night might be the night: looking back on the week as well as anticipating what is coming. Starting time will be April: it is the new academic year and seems like a good time to reacquaint oneself with the habit of writing. (I'm also returning to Australia for the next two weeks, for a bit of a break but also to present a paper on surfing in Japan at a symposium on the Gold Coast...how life turns.)

So thank you for your patience, but we are almost ready to relaunch and ready to again offer a small contribution to the ever-growing blog-post world. 

My apologies and thanks in equal measure. 

5 March 2017. Tokyo.