1942: British troops in Southeast Asia needed to guard their positions against Japanese night attacks. An obvious defence was to rig up perimeter wires that would light signal lamps when breached by enemy soldiers. Less obvious was the correct thickness of the wires. Too thin and they would break accidentally; too thick and they would be spotted by the enemy.
Tag archive: Japan
1925: Shortly after immigrating to the United States, Inagaki Etsu witnessed something she had never seen in Japan – a man kissing a woman. In A Daughter of the Samurai, she described how her train had come to a halt, and a man had rushed on board, thrown his arms around a passenger and kissed her several times. “And she did not mind it, but blushed and laughed, and they went off together.” The young Japanese traveller, nonplussed, had recalled her mother’s words: “I have heard, my daughter, that it is the custom for foreign people to lick each other as dogs do.”
Source: Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai (1933), p. 184
1971: The journalist Nomi Masahiko wasn’t the first to suggest that blood type influences personality, but the popularity of his book Understanding Affinity by Blood Type gave the theory a big boost in Japan. People with type A blood – so the theory goes – are sensible but stubborn; those with type B are creative but selfish; type ABs are sociable but indecisive; and Os are optimistic but arrogant.
1963: Ozu Yasujirō, the Japanese film-maker who directed Tokyo Story, died of cancer on the evening of his 60th birthday. His ashes were buried in the grounds of Engaku temple in Kamakura, beneath a tombstone that bears no name, no dates, no lengthy inscription, just a single character:
which means “nothingness”.
Source: Donald Richie, Ozu (1974), p. 252
1950: The United States expected imports from postwar Japan would be limited to knick-knacks, quaint oriental goods and not much else. At a party in Tokyo, President Harry Truman’s special envoy John Foster Dulles suggested that there might be a market in the United States for Japanese-made shirts, pyjamas and cocktail napkins.
Source: John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), p. 312
1945: One of the many victims of the Second World War was the Wake Island rail, a flightless land bird that scuttled about the remote Pacific atoll, but was found nowhere else. Japanese forces occupied Wake at the beginning of hostilities. When the garrison’s supply route was cut, starving soldiers hunted the rail to extinction.
Source: Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (2000), pp. 127–8
1994: Why the sudden appearance, in Japanese backstreets and alleys, of clusters of plastic bottles filled with water?
To ward off unwanted cats. Householders believed the cats would be frightened by their distorted reflections as they walked past. A sort of feline hall of mirrors.
Source: James M. Vardaman, Jr., and Michiko Sasaki Vardaman, Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained (1995), pp. 19–20
1985: On the first day of the year, 29 passengers and crew died when an Eastern Air Lines plane flew into the side of a mountain in Bolivia. Six weeks later, an Iberia airliner struck a television antenna near Bilbao, in northern Spain; 148 people died. A terrorist bomb exploded on an Air India jumbo jet over the north Atlantic on 23 June, killing all 329 people on board. On 12 August, in what was shaping up to be a bad year for air accidents, a Japan Airlines jumbo jet on a domestic flight went out of control after its tail sheared off. The aircraft crashed in mountains west of Tokyo; 520 died, four survived. On 12 December, 248 U.S. servicemen, heading home for Christmas, together with eight crew, perished when their Arrow Air plane came down shortly after takeoff from Gander, in Newfoundland. Total fatalities for the year: 2,962.
1941: The attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted Donald Keene’s Japanese studies at Columbia University. Japanese in the United States were classified as enemy aliens, and the day after the attack, New York police detained Keene’s teacher, Tsunoda Ryūsaku. Japanese residents were suspected of gathering information about American defence facilities, although the most serious evidence against Tsunoda seems to have been that “he had been observed taking long walks without a dog”.
Source: Donald Keene, The Blue-Eyed Tarōkaja: A Donald Keene Anthology, ed. J. Thomas Rimer (1996), pp. 8–9
1923: The massive earthquake that struck Tokyo, Yokohama and surrounding areas on 1 September killed as many as 140,000 people, injured 100,000 and damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 3 million. The tremors themselves destroyed less than 1 per cent of homes in the Japanese capital, but fires that raged for almost two days destroyed a further 62 per cent.
Stunned by the magnitude of the disaster, many Japanese believed rumours that Koreans were deliberately starting fires, looting shops and houses, and poisoning wells. Gangs of Japanese vigilantes, egged on by irresponsible government announcements, attacked Koreans. The police reported that 231 Koreans were killed and 43 injured.
Source: Michael Weiner, The Origins of the Korean Community in Japan 1910–1923 (1989), chap. 6
1910: The Japanese colonial authorities in Korea emphasized the peninsula’s links with Japan and stamped down on Korean language and culture. The Japanese cherry was promoted while the rose of Sharon, or mugunghwa, was eradicated because of its nationalist connotations.
1986: The explosion of the Chernobyl reactor released 400 times as much radioactive material into the atmosphere as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, Ten Years after Chernobyl: What Do We Really Know? (1997), p. 8
1987: Japan’s former agriculture minister Hata Tsutomu told a luncheon on Capitol Hill that the United States should not expect his country to suddenly step up imports of American beef.
Hata cited as “fact” that Japanese people find it more difficult to digest beef as they have longer intestines than Americans. Centuries of eating a diet heavily reliant on grains had lengthened Japanese digestive tracts, Hata claimed; consequently any beef consumed would remain in the intestines longer and be more likely to spoil.
1975: On 16 January, the kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII died from tetrodotoxin poisoning. The actor, designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government, ate four servings of puffer fish livers in the apparent belief that his body would tolerate the highly toxic organs. He was wrong. Hours after the meal in a Kyoto restaurant he died of convulsions and paralysis.
Source: The Japan Times, 17 January 1975
1964: Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila won the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics less than six weeks after an operation to remove his appendix.
Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), pp. 294–5
1968: In the restaurant at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Noël Coward overheard one American globetrotter explain to another: “I found out what that white stuff was we had in Japan. It was rice.”
Source: Cole Lesley, The Life of Noël Coward (1976), p. 463
1950: In the early 1950s, bull semen was conveyed around Japan by carrier pigeon.
Source: Asahi Evening News, 14 September 1997