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The Kurile Island Dispute and the World of Women's Fashion


In order to find source material for a current research mission, I rescued a huge stack of women’s fashion magazines awaiting trash pickup and gave them a new home (thus, the Can Cam post.) Minutes ago, I was making my way through the April issue of the triumphantly bland With when I spotted the odd yellow advert pictured at right. The red text warns, “The Northern Territories were decided as Japan’s islands.” (in smaller black text, “150 years earlier in the 1855 Japan-Russia Amity Treaty”). For those not up-to-date on Japan’s desperate claims to various tiny islands in their environs, this ad refers to the Kuril(e) Islands above Hokkaido, seized by Stalin at the end of WWII.

Today, these islands have no Japanese residents and are mostly oversized volcanic rocks, but Japan wants these suckers back. And the government will take out ads in women’s fashion monthlies until all the Japanese people understand that their government totally called those islands 150 years ago on the diplomatic playground! Japan didn’t spend all that manpower eradicating the Ainu for nothing!

Now back to the latest installment of “How to Dedicate Your Room with Wicker Baskets”…

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

19 Responses

  1. r. Says:

    well speaking of wicker…at least the japanese govt. doesn’t agree with some people out there who seem to think that chicks can’t be into both cutting edge interior decor AND realpolitik!

  2. marxy Says:

    That’s a solid point.

  3. Momus Says:

    Nice to see you standing up for Stalin’s land grabs… can we call you Neostalinisme now?

  4. r. Says:

    Points for the most non-responsive posting of your life, Nick! Interesting how you manage to totally avoid the main question of the CONTEXT (women’s magazine) in which this add was found! Bravo, you artful dodger! Enter Neoanachronism!

  5. marxy Says:

    I think Momus should look into taking up NeoAinuism.

  6. farley Says:

    Wait, who paid for this advert?
    And of course you know Ainu aren’t eliminated… But a site that is always searching for subcultures or alternative ways of interpreting Japanese society should pay some attention to contemporary Ainu culture and community. I was in Hokkaido for a short visit and was especially interested in Ainu music and textiles, both of which seem to have contemporary incarnations. But after coming back to Tokyo I couldn’t find any of this music in any of the larger record stores. (Sales = success, remember?) In a time where comparisons are being made between Japan and China it is interesting to see the differences in how the two nations treat indeginous ethnic minorities. China continues to repress separatists and encourage people from the coastal regions to move into area such as Tibet and Xinjiang, but average Chinese are quick to point out that China is ethnically diverse, and enjoy the various cultures (at least superficially) at restaurants and through tourism. On the other hand Japan’s governmental policy towards Ainu seems better by comparison although they do not have any truely progressive policies (at least to the extent of my very limited knowledge), but the average person does not give them much thought, or at least does not seem to include Ainu in their conception of Japan. To be fair – I have met Japanese who are very interested in Ainu, and most people seem to have good attitides.
    Here is just one example of an Ainu musician;
    mp3 here:

  7. r. Says:

    I mean, obviously the REAL issue at stake here isn’t that old chestnutt about a “structurally disenfranchised” Ainu people. The true cause celebre is unmistakably “Slow Life and Semantic Architecture” as Nick has already proven on his blog.

  8. marxy Says:

    Actually, I have few solid opinions about the Kurile dispute. The Japanese took them from the Ainu. Japan lost its empire as punishment for starting (and losing) a war in Asia. Russia ruthlessly kicked out the Japanese and Ainu living there. Japan seems a little pathetic in its mini-Imperialistic over-obsession with taking back the Kuriles and Senkaku Island. Japan may be right in its claims, but it seems to be one of those petty historical issues, crying over the spilt milk of lost empire.

  9. r. Says:

    farley said: And of course you know Ainu aren’t eliminated…

    robert says: Yeah, I guess they are kind of making a comeback. I mean, there was the big “Million Ainu March” the other day in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. With their placards and songs of freedom, I think they defiantly stated their strong NeoAinuist position.

  10. marxy Says:

    According to the Wickedpedia, there are less than 1000 native Ainu speakers, and only a handful use Ainu everyday.

  11. r. Says:

    and of course the ainu also have a big presence in the public media sphere thanks to some very politically correct PSA’s made possible in part by the selfless efforts of the activist Ainu Eyes Hiroshi:

  12. Juni Says:

    “Japan may be right in its claims, but it seems to be one of those petty historical issues, crying over the spilt milk of lost empire.

    I think this is a serious issue because of the “Exclusive Economic Zone” that extends out from the Kurile islands. So this is actually rational behaviour on the part of the government, like promoting Gross National Cool, or starting colonial conquests.

  13. Sameer Says:

    Why do the Russian guys in the cartoon panels have huge noses? Is this some kind of “shifty Jews” trope?

  14. porandojin Says:

    I think there’s smth like gas or this kind of natural resource there and the islands are not so tiny anyway … but Japanese are naive if they think Russians will ever get rid off any of their country’s territories … In contrary what Momus believes I think Russia is becoming more and more nationalistic and schouvinistic every year so giving back the isladns to ‘the yellow’ /which they hate even more than ‘blacks’/Azers, Chechens, Igushes/ would be a political and moral suicide even to macho Putin … Similar claims has also Finland /Karelia territories or smth/ but I don’t believe in their luck either … Such things should have been done 10 years ago with Ieltsin …

  15. marxy Says:

    So this is actually rational behaviour on the part of the government, like promoting Gross National Cool, or starting colonial conquests.

    This is a good point, but I think the Japanese government will be as inept at winning the islands back as promoting Gross National Cool.

    (By the way, I just read a really interesting Japanese paper on Gross National Cool and will post something about it soon).

  16. nate Says:

    totally useless aside, but the middle school 2nd year english text books feature a trip to an ainu restaurant. Chep Ruibe is eaten, Ainu greetings and textile patterns are shared, and a good time is had by all.
    Something similar occurs with a chinese person and a kenyan person.

  17. Dave Says:

    Juni is right – it’s really a dispute about the rich fishing grounds north of Hokkaido. (Although the guy I know who works up there in the government food safety/regulation business has said to me that if the Japanese got it, he believed they would overfish it and mess up the fishery.)

    I understand it’s usual to see Russian fishermen in the north of Hokkaido- there is some kind of visa deal so they don’t have to go through passport control etc. all the time.

    Incidentally Stalin did just unilaterally grab the islands right at the end of WWII (sometime between the official surrender of Japan and the Allies/Macarthur taking control I believe.) It is an injustice, unlike much of the other nonsense that goes on.

    So is there GNC per capita, or is it a scale-independent thing, more like life expectancy?

  18. marxy Says:

    I’m sympathetic to these pro-Japanese Kurile arguments, but the spectre of right-wing nationalism generally tarnishes it for me. I showed a Japanese woman the Kurile ad, and she immediately said, 「右翼っぽい!」

    This brings us back to the old problem: who’s worse Stalinist Russia, Communist China, or Neo-nationalist Japanese Uyoku? Isn’t there some sort of trustworthy party in the middle of these miscreants?

  19. ndkent Says:

    Issues of fishing rights, off-shore resources and where borders are drawn hinge over ownership of islands. The islands aren’t that tiny and they are very much on Japan’s “doorstep”.

    The Ainu topic is romantic though entirely a red herring

    FWIW Japan is not (at present?) claiming the enormous sounthern half of Sakkhalin island which was former territory and had serious Japanese settlement in the early 20th Century.

    The publicity seems valid. It’s merely a special interest group publicizing an issue to keep it in view. Clearly Japanese support for unpopular U.S. goals is a factor. The U.S. more or less gave away the territory as a reward, I believe the thinking is the U.S. might just as easily give the territory back as a reward. It never mattered before that the U.S. was for all intents a third party in the matter.

    You can go into into all sorts of claims and counterclaims as to who is owner and who is occupier. It does seem like quite a freebee for the Russians. Japan got talked into a staus quo deal on territory during peace negoiations in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. They won the war but United States talked them into a peace agreement that resembled a stalemate rather than a win. They wound up with I believe less territory than before they won that conflict. For instance only half of Sakkhalin Island. Clearly that interplay with a newly coined imperialist power (United States) as a negotiator had a long impact on further diplomatic dealings with Asian and Western powers. I take 1905 as the formal coming out for the U.S.A. as an international power. A sort of “We’d like our membership card now. See how we’ve denied Japan international club membership.”

    The current post-war ceeding of the islands to the Soviets has to do with Roosevelt-Stalin negotiations while the war was still in progress. The islands were payment for Stalin committing to engage Japan, presumably support for a U.S. led land invasion after European hostilities had ended. In hindsight that arrangement wasn’t needed.

    For instance I understand someday Vietnam may be a major player in oil and gas export if in fact oil prices go the way they are going and China who understands these matters too loses their counterclaim to various partially submerged rocks.