Erenlai - Roy Berman
Roy Berman

Roy Berman

Roy Berman was born and raised in New Jersey, in the suburbs of New York City. He has studied in Kyoto, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan and visited a number of other countries. He is currently studying in an MA course at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Education, researching the history of colonial education in Taiwan and the Philippines.

He also runs a group blog mainly devoted to Japanese and East Asian politics and history which can be found at www.mutantfrog.com.

週四, 18 三月 2010 18:52

Remnants of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan's education system

Roy Berman, scholar in history of education in Asia and specialist in Japanese colonial period textbooks, talks about the legacy that Japan left in Taiwan's education system.

The first democratically elected president of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), received his Bachelors degree from Kyoto University, Japan. Tsai Pei-huo (蔡培火), who flourished as a scholar under the Japanese, tried three times to create a writing system for the Taiwanese language using Zhuyin (bopomofo), Romanisation and Japanese. Furthermore the first universities in Taiwan were established by the Japanese and according to Roy, the buildings and campuses a lot more traditional than most in Japan.

 

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週四, 18 三月 2010 18:31

Foreign students in Asia: Japan

Here, Roy Berman, who is familiar with top level academia in both the US and Japan, talks about his experiences at Kyoto University and more generally the Japanese higher education system.

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週三, 17 三月 2010 12:47

The Japanese textbook controversy

Roy Berman, scholar in history of education in Asia and specialist in Japanese colonial period textbooks, shares his thoughts on the great textbook controversy in which Japan is still embroiled. (Image: Cover of the history book published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform)


週二, 23 六月 2009 20:27

The Shrine of Cutting Bonds

Shinto Shrines (Jinja:神社 or sometimes Jingu:神宮 in Japanese) tend to be full of wooden prayer tablets (ema:絵馬), which can generally be bought for a few hundred yen, allowing the patron to write a prayer to the kami (神god, spirit) of that particular shrine, hang it on the ema rack, and hope for the best. Although some shrines are known for having specialties, such as education (specifically, passing exams), romance, health, etc. most shrines tend to have a pretty repetitive mixture of prayers based on these commonplace themes. There are exceptions though, with the best I have run across being Kyoto’s Yasui Engiri Jinja (安井の縁切り神社, official name is Yasui Konpiragu:安井金比羅宮).

While you may find an occasional prayer for good grades or such by someone who doesn’t quite realize where they are, the majority of ema at Engiri Jinja, appropriately enough, contain prayers related to the theme of engiri, literally meaning “cutting of bonds”-which is commonly used today in reference to the ending of relationships, especially romantic ones. The first part of the word, en (縁) has a few different meanings, including “edge” or “porch-like area in old Japanese buildings”, but most importantly the Buddhist concept of pratyaya which I have not read up on but has something to do with causation, and by extension is taken in reference to such concepts as “fate”, “destiny”, “familial bond”, or “relationship”. The second part, giri or kiri (切り) simply means to cut or sever. This concept of severing “en” originally meant something more along the lines of cutting away the threads of negative destiny to relieve one’s bad luck, but today has come to refer primarily to the more conceptually simple act of severing personal relationships.

Roy_shrine2Every ema at Engiri Jinja is a story, with many variations on the general theme including people praying for their own bad relationship to end, people hoping for a friend or relative to break off a bad relationship, jealous people hoping for the object of their affection to break up with their current partner, and even a few people following the old-fashioned meaning of “cutting away” their general bad luck.

Amusingly, the shrine has attracted a cluster of love hotels, which seems to me somewhat counter-intuitive. Who is really going to be turned on by the idea of being brought to a hotel to have sex right next to a shrine devoted to the ending of relationships? Are these half-dozen or so hotels exclusively used by couples in self-acknowledged illicit relationships, stopping by Engiri Jinga to fill out a quick prayer card hoping for their official partner to let them go easily before going into the hotel for some passion?

(Photos by R. Berman)

週一, 16 二月 2009 20:41

Stimulus or investment? Japan vs. USA

Ever since the start of our current financial disaster various economists and pundits have been comparing first the US banking problems with Japan’s, and then more recently the infrastructure-heavy stimulus program with Japan’s construction state. NYT has a substantial article that easily marks the most high profile comparison yet. I’m certainly no economist and I’m not even taking the time to look at numbers right now, but my quick take on the issue is that the comparison is being significantly overblown, but it is still a very worthwhile comparison to make, so that Japan’s various successes and mistakes can be absorbed as lessons. See the following summation of Japan’s massive pork spending:

“Dr. Ihori of the University of Tokyo did a survey of public works in the 1990s, concluding that the spending created almost no additional economic growth. Instead of spreading beneficial ripple effects across the economy, he found that the spending actually led to declines in business investment by driving out private investors. He also said job creation was too narrowly focused in the construction industry in rural areas to give much benefit to the overall economy.

He agreed with other critics that the 1990s stimulus failed because too much of it went to roads and bridges, overbuilding this already heavily developed nation. Critics also said decisions on how to spend the money were made behind closed doors by bureaucrats, politicians and the construction industry, and often reflected political considerations more than economic. Dr. Ihori said the United States appeared to be striking a better balance by investing in new energy and information-technology infrastructure as well as replacing aging infrastructure.”

Japan’s huge boom in public works spending was less a national stimulus program than a gigantic rural welfare program of pork-barrel projects designed to prop up the ailing LDP in its long decline. The money was largely directed not to the areas where it would benefit the largest number of people, but the areas where it would benefit the largest number of politicians. This was not done entirely out purely cynical political motives but also due to a genuine desire to arrest the decline of the rural regions themselves, in the face of continuing urbanization and a decline in Japan’s traditional and lionized (if anachronistic) agricultural lifestyle. Regardless of intent, a huge proportion (I won’t use words like “most” without looking at actual numerical research) of the spending was “stimulus” but not “investment”.

I am very, very wary of the general principal of “economic stimulus.” I am not opposed to government spending, or even large amounts of government spending, as long as it is being spent on something that is actually necessary or build further value in the future, i.e. services or investment. I think this attitude should be obvious from the mass transit funding letter I wrote and posted in my blog.

In short, I worry that the discussions on spending currently ongoing in Washington may turn into a series of worthless boondoggle projects oriented at unpopulated rural areas, combined with random tax cuts and other expenditures poorly aimed at short-term (i.e. one election cycle) economic recovery, while continuing to ignore the trillions of dollars in outstanding repairs or upgrades as well as vital new investment that the country needs. I think it’s safe to say that politicians are going to spend this money. The question is, what will it buy us? Would we rather have a bunch of bridges to nowhere, vacant museums and amusement parks in virtually deserted rural towns, and paved-over mountain tops, or would we rather have a modern electrical grid, mass transit that at least meets late 20th century standards if not 21st century, a safe and reliable water system, bridges rated to not collapse, and maybe even an adequate system of public health care?

 



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