Category: History

The American Occupation of Japan and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Village

The American Occupation of Japan and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Village

The 1964 Olympics had a profound impact on the urban landscape of Tokyo as the city restructured itself to host the Games. The cost of the Olympics were substantial, ballooning to nearly half a billion dollars compared to the modest 30 million dollar spending on the 1960 Rome Games. The Japanese government saw the Games as means to re-enter the global stage and present an advanced and peaceful Japan to the world. New venues were constructed while existing facilities were repurposed or renovated. However, for the Olympic Village, the housing meant for the athletes, a ready made solution presented itself to the planning committee courtesy of the American Occupation of Japan.

After Japan’s surrender on August 15 1945, 350000 U.S. troops entered the island nation as part of the Occupation force. With Tokyo devastated, housing was required for American military personnel and eventually their tens of thousands of dependents. In Shibuya a former Imperial Japanese military parade ground was turned over to U.S. authorities and renamed Washington Heights. Japanese workers built hundreds of homes and Washington Heights quickly became a small enclave of America within Tokyo. Aside from over 800 houses, Washington Heights held schools, stores, churches and all the amenities of home for the soldiers and their families. Streets were given names like Chestnut and Sycamore while Japanese citizens were not allowed within the tightly guarded community, which was separated from the rest of Shibuya.

The last remaining house of the Washington Heights complex in Yoyogi Park.

The Washington Heights military housing area remained under U.S. control even after the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco ended the Occupation a short seven years after it began and returned the Japanese government to power. Despite the end of the Occupation, the U.S. retained a sizeable number of troops within Japan, a state of affairs that was exacerbated by the ongoing Korean War. By 1961 however, the successful bid by Japan to host the 1964 Games meant that the large amount of land occupied by Washington Heights, encompassing nearly a million square meters, was needed for Olympic facilities. American military families were moved to new housing to the west of Shibuya in Chofu. Some homes were then converted into the Olympic Village for athletes while the rest of the community was leveled to make room for the new National Gymnasium and annex building, which hosted the swimming, diving and basketball events.

The National Gymnasium

Washington Heights was not the only such complex in Tokyo. Narimasu airfield in Nerima ward was similarly handed over to U.S. authorities and was transformed into the Grant Heights community for American military families. Grant Heights was also eventually returned to the Japanese government and is now the site of modern day Hikarigaoka Park and related housing developments.

High rise buildings now occupy the land where the 1964 Olympic Village and the Washington Heights military housing complex once stood.

After the Olympics the Village was demolished to make way for new construction–and despite the successful Games, erase a highly visible reminder of the American Occupation. A large swatch of land north of the National Gymnasium was turned into modern day Yoyogi Park in 1967. The only existing remnant of Washington Heights and the Olympic Village is a single house, preserved in a corner of Yoyogi Park. A commemorative plaque explains the use of the building during the Olympics and the origin of the surrounding garden but leaves out any mention of the American Occupation or of the Washington Heights complex.

The commemorative plaque in front of the sole surviving Washington Heights/Olympic Village building.

References and further reading

  • The 1964 Tokyo Olympics: A Turning Point for Japan –
  • Olympic construction transformed Tokyo –
  • Washington Heights Housing Complex –
  • A Look Back at When Tokyo was Awarded 1964 Olympics –
  • The Games of the XVIII Olympiaid Tokyo 1964: The Official Report of the Organizing Committee
Skyfall: The Fighting Temeraire

Skyfall: The Fighting Temeraire

In a scene in the 2012 film Skyfall, James Bond sits in the National Gallery, silently contemplating a painting when he is joined by Q. Q briefly remarks on the painting before identifying himself to a visibly irritated 007. While the moment serves as the introduction of the new Quartermaster, it also underscores the tension between the new and old as well as the question of Bond’s place in the modern world, major thematic components of Skyfall. This is done in part by making a connection between Bond and the ship in the painting, a familiar icon to many British.

Bond and Q contemplate obsolescence, modernity and relevance in Skyfall.

“It always makes me feel a little melancholy. A grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away for scrap. The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see?

“A bloody big ship.”

Q and Bond, Skyfall

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is a painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner, arguably one of the greatest of all British artists. The artwork itself was voted Britain’s favorite painting in a BBC radio poll in 2005. The 98 gun HMS Temeraire was built as a second rate ship of the line in 1798, one of three Neptune class vessels. She was named for a French ship captured by the British in 1759, which then served out a career in the Royal Navy under the same name. (For the curious, téméraire means “reckless” in French.) The designation “second rate” was by no means a commentary on the ships worthiness in battle but rather an indication the vessel was smaller and less expensive than the costly and valuable first rates. As such, second rate ships often sent on missions and formed the core of fleets, while the relatively rare first rate vessels were often considered too valuable to risk on anything other than the greatest of engagements.

Fun fact: The naval term “first rate” used to describe the most powerful Royal Navy ships is the origin of the modern term “first rate” to describe anything optimal or excellent.

The Temeraire served a generally quiet career, seeing a major fleet action only once at the Battle of Trafalgar. There the Temeraire was credited with saving the HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Nelson, taking on two French ships at once and emerging victorious after a bloody fight. The ships actions earned accolades and a place in the hearts and minds of the British people, as well as the nickname, “The Fighting Temeraire.”

Yet time, as Q notes, erases worldly glory. After becoming obsolete as a warship, the Temeraire passed through a number of roles, including time as a prison ship and a guard vessel. Eventually, the ship was ordered to be scrapped and was taken under tow by to the shipbreakers. While no longer viable as a warship, the fame of the Temeraire remained and thousands came to view the last days of the ship.

Turner painted the artwork in 1838. It is worth noting that Turner took artistic license with his painting, as the Temeraire was stripped of its masts and rigging and was towed by two tugs, not just one. Rather than serving as an accurate impression of the last voyage of the Temeraire, Turner imbues the painting with symbolism representing the end of an era.

The themes of the painting underscores Skyfall‘s depiction of Bond as a agent past his prime, struggling to remain relevant in a world that discards old warriors. It also mirrors the relationship between Bond and Q, evoking the idea of the new surpassing the old, reflected in Q and Bond’s testy exchange. The Temeraire being hauled away by a steamship is akin to the gap in technology in Skyfall, where Bond’s martial skills are of questionable use in a world of hackers and cybercrimes, where an errant hard drive is more dangerous than a gun. Like the Bond franchise, the Temeraire is depicted as a glorious old warship of a bygone era, while the dark, dirty steam tug of the modern world mostly obscures it on its final voyage. Unlike the Temeraire, Bond survives and redefines himself, even if it may only be to die another day.

References and further readings

  • Skyfall, 2012 – Directed by Sam Mendes
  • “Towing the Temeraire: A drawing rediscovered” –
  • Skyfall and the Importance of Thematic Clarity –
  • “Reboot, Rebirth, Repeat: Skyfall” –


The Origins of Godzilla: Castle Bravo and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru

The Origins of Godzilla: Castle Bravo and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru

Often lost in the modern fan fascination over kaiju and the status of Godzilla as a pop culture icon is the fact that the origin of the King of Monsters is inextricably bound to the atomic age, the fear of nuclear Armageddon and the anxiety over Japanese experiences during World War II. While the Godzilla films in general allegorically speak to the danger of nuclear weapons, one incident in particular served to spark the genesis of Japan’s signature monster: the 1954 Castle Bravo test and the accidental irradiation of the fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryu Maru.

The Godzilla statue in Shinjuku.

The Castle Bravo nuclear test took place on March 1, 1954 on the Bikini Atoll, a part of the Marshall Islands. It was the first attempt by the United States to detonate a dry fuel hydrogen bomb and the latest in a series of nuclear tests that had been conducted since the end of World War II. In the early morning hours of March 1st, the Castle Bravo device exploded with a force of 15 megatons, 1000 times the power of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs. The force of the explosion stunned US authorities, who vastly underestimated the destructive power of the bomb, pegging the expected output at ‘only’ 5 to 6 megatons. The bomb blasted the coral of the atoll into a fine powder which absorbed radioactivity. The ash was then blown into the air and carried by the winds. The Castle Bravo test remains the fifth most powerful nuclear explosion in history to this day.

The unexpected strength of the test combined with strong winds meant the fallout from the explosion covered a much larger area than originally anticipated. The Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru (sometimes referred to as Lucky or Fortunate Dragon Number 5) lay in the path of the fallout, although the ship was just outside of the announced danger zone. Reports indicate the ship was covered by the fallout dust, which stuck to to clothing and hair. The crew, unaware of the danger, resorted to scooping the ash off the vessel by hand. Upon their return to Japan, the 23 members of the ship’s crew were found to be suffering from acute radiation poisoning. One crew member would die a few months later from related causes. Fear over contaminated fish led Japanese authorities to bury thousands of tons of tuna.

The Daigo Fukuryū Maru inside the Exhibition Hall

The massive fallout and the plight of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru‘s crew became worldwide news, showing that the effect of a nuclear explosion was not limited to those in the area of direct damage. The widespread fallout reached Australia, Japan, parts of Europe and the United States. The Castle Bravo test galvanized anti-nuclear activists and struck a chord within Japan, already grappling with the legacy of the recent atomic bombings and the uncertain position of the country in the developing Cold War. The lingering concerns over the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were brought back to the surface by the sickened fishermen. Combined with the fallout from the test, Japan was once again threatened by the use of nuclear weapons.

Soon after the Castle Bravo test, Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was returning to Japan after a failed attempt to film a movie in Indonesia. With the unexpected impact of the Castle Bravo test and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident in mind, Tanaka quickly came up with a story provisionally titled The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea and presented it to the studio. Toho bosses approved the concept and work began on the film in April of 1954. Eventually the movie and titular monster were named Gojira (ゴジラ), a portmanteau of gorira (ゴリラ, gorilla) and kujira (, whale).

After a very rapid process of development and filming, Gojira was released in November of 1954 and a cultural phenomena was born. The connection to Castle Bravo and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru is referenced in the movie’s opening scene, which depicts the crew of a ship relaxing before a sudden blinding burst of light explodes in the distance, quickly consuming the vessel in an inferno. The ship burns as the radio operators tap out a final distress call before the vessel is lost, destroyed by a force outside of their understanding or control. The scene both calls to mind Japan’s position in regards to the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and the danger posed to all humanity. The 2014 American reboot directly incorporates a 1954 Bikini Atoll atomic explosion into its narrative, postulating that the test was actually a failed attempt to kill Godzilla. However, much of the archival footage shown is of the 1946 Baker explosion, part of the earlier Operation Crossroads tests. Little data is available from the Castle Bravo explosion, as the higher than expected power of the test vaporized the scientific equipment meant to record information.

From the opening credits of the 2014 film Godzilla.

Today, the King of Monsters is an ambassador for Japan, a pop culture icon known across the world. The general perception of Godzilla is one far removed from the sickness and destruction fresh in the minds of Japanese filmmakers in the 1950s. The Bikini Atoll remains uninhabitable due to high levels of residual radiation. The Daigo Fukuryu Maru itself was deemed safe after inspection and decontamination and returned to service on the seas. Renamed the Hayabusa Maru the ship was put to use as a training vessel until it was scheduled to be scrapped in 1967. Upon learning of the ship’s impending destruction, the governor of Tokyo intervened to save the vessel. With the original name restored, the ship is preserved inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall in a quiet park on the edge of Tokyo, a silent memorial to the unleashing of monsters both real and imagined.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall.

References and Further Readings

  • The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters – ed. by Jeffery Andrew Weinstock
  • “Godzilla’s Secret History” –
  • Official web site of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall –
  • “Castle Bravo: Fifty Years of Legend and Lore” – by Thomas Kunkle and Bryon Ristvet
  • The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki – ed. by Mark I. West
Liberty Leading the People

Liberty Leading the People


Liberty Leading the People is a painting by noted Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix. The painting celebrates the July Revolution of 1830, which saw the end of the rule of King Charles X, the younger brother of King Louis XVII, the monarch famously beheaded during the French Revolution. The July Revolution installed a constitutional monarchy under the “Citizen King” Louis-Phillippe, so named since the revolution established that as king he drew his power from the will of the people. Louis-Phillippe himself would be deposed less than two decades later in the Revolution of 1848. (Europe had a lot of revolutions in the late 18th century stretching into the mid-19th century,)

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix

As an iconic image of violent revolution, with easily adaptable imagery and a snappy title to boot, Delacroix’s painting has become embedded in popular culture. From the fluttering tricolor and the weapons in the hands of a distinct array of figures, to the bodies sprawled on the ground and the personification of Liberty in the center, all the elements are in place to depict the scene with a variety of characters from other media, often superimposing wildly differing meanings upon the piece.

Adding to the malleable nature of the painting in popular culture is the indeterminate origins of the moment depicted to most observers. Delacroix’s painting does not commemorate an actual event during the July Revolution, but rather a Romantic rendition of the revolution as a whole, just as the female figure in the center represents the concept of liberty driving the people forward rather than a real person. Given that to most non-French the July Revolution of 1830, much like the 1832 June Rebellion in Les Misérables, is not very well known and often conflated into a single broad concept of a “French Revolution,” the image is able to speak to a wide range of concepts to a viewer, both real and imagined, historical and fictional. It is untethered from a moment in history, and thus freed from the expectations and preconceptions a painting depicting a real event with real people brings with it, as occurs with other renditions of works such as Luetze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. As such, variations on Liberty Leading the People are often seen in fanart and in popular media.

Mercy Leading the People – Overwatch fan art by Arqa
From the 2015 anime series Shimoneta

The personification of Liberty remains an enduring figure in Western civilization, Originating from the Roman goddess Libertas, the image of a female embodiment of liberty has graced various American coins, while more recent incarnations include the Goddess of Democracy statue raised during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and perhaps the most well-known modern example, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Marianne, a female personification of Liberty, is the symbol of the French Republic and appears on government seals and currency. The Liberty depicted in Delacroix’s painting is a precursor to the more official version of Marianne used today.

The original painting now hangs in the Louvre; its many imitators can be found on Pixiv, Tumblr, or a meme generator near you.

Further Readings

High School Fleet: Musashi and the Harekaze

High School Fleet: Musashi and the Harekaze

As befits an anime entitled High School Fleet, warships take center stage. Two ships dominate the series, the battleship Musashi and the destroyer Harekaze.

Musashi is modeled both in name and appearance after the Japanese World War II era battleship Musashi. The Musashi and her sister ship Yamato were the largest battleships ever constructed, the result of a shipbuilding philosophy that viewed battleships as the key to naval superiority. Like the more famous Yamato, Musashi was named for an old Japanese province that once encompassed modern day Tokyo. The Musashi was designed to be capable of engaging multiple targets at once and be more than the equal of any other battleship in existence. This battleship philosophy would be proven wrong during the war as the aircraft carrier emerged as the most powerful ship on the seas. The Musashi was never involved in the kind of decisive battleship versus battleship combat envisioned by Japanese war planners and was sunk by American aircraft during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Musashi steaming in formation in episode 01 of High School Fleet

Figuring prominently in shots of the Musashi is the golden disc set into the bow. The crest is a variation of the Imperial Seal of Japan (菊の御紋 kikunogomon), the emblem of the Japanese Emperor and Imperial Family. Historically only the largest ships in the old Imperial Navy were allowed to carry the Imperial crest. Similar to the placement of the Imperial seal on army equipment, the Imperial Crest served both as a point of pride and as a reminder that the ship was the direct property of the Emperor and the crew were to conduct themselves accordingly.

As the Musashi and her sister ship Yamato were the only two vessels of their class, it is likely the battleship with the blue color scheme seen in the opening minutes of the first episode is the analogue for the Yamato. However, the Musashi and Yamato have a little known third sister ship: the Shinano (信濃). Historically, the Shinano was refitted into an aircraft carrier after Japan’s devastating losses at the Battle of Midway and sunk shortly into her maiden voyage. In Haifuri, a throwaway line indicates the Shinano is operational as a Yamato class battleship.

On the other hand the main ship of the series, the destroyer Harekaze (晴風, Clear Wind?), has no direct historical analogue. The official web site for the series describes the ship as a Kagero class destroyer, a class that served in the Japanese navy during World War II. Nineteen Kagero class ships were produced, with only one surviving the war. As seen in the first episode the Harekaze is equipped with torpedo launchers. Torpedo salvos from extreme range was a common tactic of the Imperial Navy during the war, particularly given the technical sophistication and range of the Japanese Class 93 Long Lance torpedo.

As befits the main ship of a series, there is more than meets the eye in the Harekaze. The official website makes mention of special test equipment installed on the ship and at one point in the first episode Torpedo Officer Mei Irizaki notes the Harekaze is a “high pressure” ship. This is a comment on the steam boilers that power the ship but perhaps also a reference to the three experimental high pressure boilers installed on the Shimakaze. The Shimakaze was the fastest destroyer of the war. Although terrifically fast, clocking a top speed of 40 knots, the ship proved too technically difficult to mass produce and thus remained the only vessel of her class. The Harekaze is listed as having a top speed of 37 knots, faster than the historical Kagero class but a little short of Shimakaze’s top speed. Mei further echoes the similarities by continuing on to state the Harekaze has speed but also faults.

Harekaze steaming towards a rendezvous.

By way of comparison, the Musashi displaced 72,800 tons and was over 860 feet long. A Kagero class destroyer was 2500 tons and 388 feet long.

It is worth noting both the Harekaze, Musashi and other vessels crewed by students are obviously World War II era designs, while the ships crewed by instructors follow more modern design sensibilities. The purely fictional Sarushima appears to combine the lines of modern Zumbalt class destroyers with the rear deck of a helicopter carrier or amphibious landing ship. The Toumai High instructors in episode 5 appear to be onboard modern Japanese navy Kongo or Atago class destroyers.


  • Battleship Musashi: The Making and Sinking of the World’s Biggest Battleship by Yoshimura Akira.
  • Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945 by Hansgeorg Jentschura, Dieter Jung and Peter Mickel.
The Litten and the Tiger: Chinese Folklore and Pokemon

The Litten and the Tiger: Chinese Folklore and Pokemon

The new Pokemon starts for Sun and Moon were announced a week ago. Aside from Rowlet, the round little owl which is obviously the best, the fire type Litten and the water type Popplio were also introduced. Litten bears a distinctive mark on his forehead, a mark that is influenced by Chinese folklore and the position of the tiger in Chinese culture.

Litten, one of the Sun and Moon starter Pokemon.

In Chinese mythology and folklore, the tiger is considered the king of beasts. To represent this, stylized images of the tiger are often depicted with the character 王 (wáng) on the forehead, with 王 meaning “king” in Chinese. The the stripes on the foreheads of real tigers are thought to also evoke the character 王. Due to kanji being derived from Chinese characters, 王 holds the same meaning in Japanese. As the fictional word of Pokemon is one apart from our own, placing 王 on Litten would be too much of a fourth-wall breaker, unduly challenging Pokemon’s own internal mythology. However, the altered marking serves the same purpose, as audiences aware of the the connotation will find the connection to the tiger and the symbolism of 王 readily apparent.

The Tycoon of Japan: The Japanese Origins of the Word Tycoon

The Tycoon of Japan: The Japanese Origins of the Word Tycoon

The word tycoon conjures up images of wealthy industrialists–or at the very least Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly. It may not summon the image of a Japanese warlord, yet that is the original meaning of the word. Tycoon is derived from the Japanese word taikun (大君, Great Prince), a term used to refer to the Shogun. The story how it entered the English language is one of a crisis of communication and the fancy of an American Secretary of State.

When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived off the shores of Japan in 1853, his mission was to open the country to American trade. Japan had been a closed country where foreigners were not allowed since the early 1600s under a policy of seclusion, or sankoku (鎖国). The policy was not absolute but had prevented the United States and other countries from attempting to open trade.

Upon his arrival near Edo (modern day Tokyo), Japanese officials attempted to order Perry to leave for Nagasaki, the only port that foreigners could enter. Perry refused and demanded he be allowed to deliver a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan. Japanese officials were at a loss as to how to reply to his demand as American intelligence on Japan was flawed. Although there was an Emperor, it was the Shogun who held real power in Japan. Perry however, was not to be dissuaded. He insisted his letter be accepted by emissaries of the Emperor or he would resort to violence. The Commodore had taken to heart the advice of Captain James Glynn, who had led an earlier attempt to open contact with Japan. Glynn recommended any future negotiations be backed up with a show of force. It was partly for that reason that Perry arrived with what is now modern day Tokyo Bay with four ships, two of them steam powered and belching black smoke into the skies. The black painted hulls of the squadron and black smoke gave the ships their enduring Japanese name: the kurofune (黒船), the Black Ships.

In advance of the expedition, Perry had new Paixhan guns installed on two of his ships, each one capable of lobbing explosive shells deep into Edo from his position offshore. Fire was the greatest threat the city of wood and paper faced and an assault by the American ships would devastate Edo. Japanese officials, fully aware of the damage Perry’s fleet could inflict, were at a diplomatic quandary. The Shogun was technically only a military commander, as a direct translation of the word shogun (将軍) indicated, hardly the rank Perry demanded to contact. In order to impress upon the Commodore the high rank of the Shogun, the term taikun, or Great Prince, was used. Taikun had been used before in diplomatic exchanges between the Shogun and other nations. Perry accepted the emissaries of the Great Prince and handed over his letter. He returned the next year and with the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa, Japan opened to American trade.

Perry’s mission was an immediate sensation in the United States. In recognition of his command, Congress awarded him $20000, worth $500000 in 2016 dollars. Perry spent the final years of his life writing a three volume report of the expedition entitled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. He died shortly afterwards in 1858. Excerpts of the report were published in American newspapers and the word tycoon was regularly used to refer to the leader of Japan.

Secretary of State John Hay was particularly taken with the term, as it bore with it connotations of power and the stereotypical concept of a mysterious and distant Asia. As such, he used it to refer to President Lincoln, calling him the Tycoon. From Hay’s penchant to call Lincoln the Tycoon and the repeated use of tycoon in the American press, the word entered popular culture. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the word Emperor was used for Japan’s leader. Tycoon remained in the vernacular, keeping the connotation of an important person. However, it was not until after World War I that the word came to specifically mean a business magnate.

As for Perry, his role in Japan’s opening and eventual transformation has not been forgotten. He appears occasionally in anime, such as Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei where he is portrayed as being unable to stop opening things.


  • The History Of How A Shogun’s Boast Made Lincoln A ‘Tycoon’ –
  • John Hay and John Nicolay in the White House –
  • The Capital of the Tycoon: Three Years Residence in Japan by Sir Rutherford Alcock.
Joker Game: The International Settlement and Indian Soldiers in Shanghai

Joker Game: The International Settlement and Indian Soldiers in Shanghai

As a work of historical fiction, Joker Game draws upon the reality of pre-war East Asia to frame its tale of espionage in a world on brink of war. The investigation of a bombing at the beginning of episode 4 shows the complex state of affairs that existed in 1937 Shanghai, a mirror of the international entanglements that would draw the entire world into conflict.

The site of the bombing is located in the Shanghai International Settlement. The International Settlement was a segregated section in Shanghai where many foreign citizens resided and a version of this area can be seen in the Spielberg film Empire of the Sun. In the late 1930s China was nominally an independent country, yet not completely in total control of all of its own territory. Although not a colonized nation, nor under the full dominion of an imperial power, a series of unequal treaties and concessions to foreign governments gave foreigners extraordinary rights and privileges. After Shanghai had been ceded as an open treaty port in the aftermath of China’s defeat in the First Opium War, Britain, the United States and France established settlements in the city. Forcing the defeated Qing government of China to agree to special terms, these settlements were ruled outside of Chinese jurisdiction. The British and American settlements eventually merged and other nations including Japan eventually joined what became known as the International Settlement. The international element of the settlement is evidenced by the number of flags in the center of the banner of the Shanghai Municipal Council, the Settlement’s ruling body.

An old quip about the kind of people who go to China labels them as missionaries, misfits and mercenaries. Although nations had fought the Opium War, most of the residents in China were businessmen and clergymen, with vested interests that did not always coincide with those of their governments. To avoid undue interference, the International Settlement quickly moved to set up its own government early in its existence. By 1937 it was a self governing enclave apart from China with its own military and police force, the majority of which were provided by the British government. The arrangement was not problematic, as it gave each side something out of the deal. The nature of the Settlement’s governance and status as a ceded territory explains why the bombing was being investigated by a British Inspector with Indian policemen.

With East Asia in turmoil, this international state of affairs was not to last. Japan entered into a state of war with China in 1937  Japanese forces attacked and captured Shanghai in August of that year.  It is somewhat unclear as to the date in episode 4 but given the relatively upbeat mood of the city, it is likely before the the Japanese invasion. However, dialogue does mention Nationalist Chinese bombings, so it is probably after the war began in July 1937. As tensions mounted between Japan and other powers in the region, the British withdrew the bulk of their forces in 1940. The end of the International Settlement came after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Knowing that a state of war between Japan and the US as well as other nations was imminent, Japanese solders entered the International Settlement and took control. Foreigners were sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center to be interned for the duration of the war. (Author’s note: I spent some time at the former site of the Lunghua Center. It is now a high school campus. Very little evidence of the original internment center survives, as the old blockhouses have been demolished and the few articles about the era that once existed have been removed from the school’s museum.)

In 1937 Britain had not yet descended into the twilight of empire, although there were visible and irreparable strains at the seams of imperial control. London still presided over a colonial empire over which many had famously claimed the sun never set. India had been under the direct control of the crown since the Indian Rebellion of 1857. As part of the British Empire, Indians were inducted into service in the British Indian Army. Due to its proximity to East Asia, India provided a means to deploy large numbers of troops rapidly to areas far from the metropole of Britain. Indian soldiers were used in China during the Boxer Uprising and in various theaters in both World War I and World War II. As the majority of foreign troops in Shanghai were provided by the British military, Indians formed a large part of the International Settlement’s Municipal Police and the Shanghai Defense Force.

The style of turbans worn by the Indians soldiers in the scene identify them as Sikh. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British turned to primarily recruit soldiers from what they deemed to be the “martial races.” This race-based ideology stated that people of “martial races” were well suited to be soldiers due to innate bravery and fighting ability. Sikhs were among the groups the British considered “martial races” and were thus recruited heavily.

After World War II, the British hold on India was untenable as internal and external pressures mounted. In India pro-independence sentiments could no longer be contained. At home, Britain lacked the will to continue to hold on to its empire and had begun to turn inwards towards the development of the Welfare State The days of the Raj–the name for the British rule of India–were numbered. Britain quickly began the process of relinquishing control and in 1947 the old British Raj became the new nations of India and Pakistan.


  • The British Indian Army 1860–1914 by Peter Duckers
  • Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert Bickers
  • “‘Punjabization’ in the British Indian Army 1857 – 1947 and the Advent of Military Rule in Pakistan” by Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi
  • Turbans of the Indian Army –
  • “Origin and Development of the Political System in the Shanghai International Settlement” by J.H. Haan
The Tokyo 2020 Logo and the Ichimatsu Moyou

The Tokyo 2020 Logo and the Ichimatsu Moyou

The new logo for the 2020 Tokyo was unveiled on April 25. Created by artist Asoa Tokolo, the checkered indigo blue design is based upon the traditional Japanese pattern called ichimatsu moyou.

Ichimatsu moyou (市松模様?) is named for the kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu I (佐野川 市松?) Active as an actor from 1733 until his death in 1762 at the age of forty, Ichimatsu was renown for playing young men on stage. He was also well known for his personal beauty, which garnered him many admirers. During performances in Edo in 1741, Ichimatsu used a distinct ichidatami (checkerboard) pattern on this clothing, which led to a minor fashion furor. The pattern came to be known as ichimatsu moyou after the actor.


  • Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll by Alan Pate
Joker Game: Duty, Death and the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors

Joker Game: Duty, Death and the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors

The beginning of episode 2 of Joker Game opens with a voiceover as scenes of children playing at war segue into images of adult soldiers. The opening narration is lifted from the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors (軍人勅諭), a document issued by the Meiji Emperor in 1882. The Rescript was a set of rules which formed the basis of the military code of ethics and conduct. It is often cited as instrumental in the development of the mentality and ideals that guided the creation and operation of the Japanese military. The Rescript was studied daily by soldiers while a shortened version consisting of “The Five Principles of the Soldier” had to be memorized. Troops were expected to be able to repeat the “Five Principles” verbatim, word for word, upon command. As depicted in the episode, the entire Rescript was also read aloud by soldiers on certain occasions, making the Rescript a constant and ubiquitous element of military life.

The phrase “Duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather,” highlights one of the most profound messages of the Rescript. The Rescript stressed loyalty and obedience as the prime characteristics of a soldier and that death was preferable to moral failings and dishonor. Military conditioning furthered the notion that death was a viable alternative when confronted with a dilemma that threatened the honor and standing of an soldier, something that comes into play during the search of suspected spy John Gordon’s home.

As noted by Historian Edward Drea, the values of Japanese society in 1937 were built on the acceptance of a hierarchy, aversions to public humiliation, a belief in the uniqueness of the Japanese people, and a series of allegiances that connected citizens to the Emperor. To create a soldier willing to live and die for his beliefs, military training only had to impose itself upon the social order, to overlay structure and discipline on top of existing values. Drea cites the intense nature of Imperial Army training in what he deems the “hothouse” environment of pre-war Japan as an important element in the making of a Japanese soldier. Love of family and love of country was increasingly conflated with strength of arms and loyalty to the Emperor, effectively making the Empire and military an extension of familial ties. The hierarchy of the military was a series of “little loyalties” which built all the way up to the Emperor. This was a major function of the Rescript, connecting the individual soldier to a greater extended “family” in the form of the nation and ultimately to the Emperor himself.

The pervasive national sense of duty coupled with the brutal methods of training and discipline found in the Imperial Army was aimed towards instilling unquestioning obedience.This operated in combination with what Drea refers to as a “deep fatalism” inherent in Japanese society, perhaps best exemplified by the common phrase shikata ja nai (仕方が無い) or “it can’t be helped.” Shikata ga nai is arguably a reflection of a social tendency to accept whatever comes but also not to rock the boat and rail against arbitrary or nonsensical orders and rules. Even in Emperor Hirohito’s speech announcing Japan’s surrender he asked the Japanese people to, “endure the unendurable and suffer what is not sufferable.” Although it has been noted that there were several different and powerful reasons behind the Japanese tendency to choose death rather than surrender during the war, the impact of this conditioning should not be understated. (For more on the other factors, read my previous article Bakuon!! The Siberian Internment and the Social Stigma of Surrender in WWII Japan)

The first few minutes of Joker Game effectively shows the impact of a nationalist ideology based on duty and the inherent glory of war and the military on children. The usage of the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors is integral to the episodes thematic development and to Sakuma’s transition from solider to spy. When Lt. Colonel Yuuki states choosing death is often the worst thing a spy could do, it stands in contrast to the precepts espoused by the military which offers death as a solution to an unavoidable situation–not as a problem. It is important to Sakuma’s development, as overcoming his ingrained instincts are not only overcoming personal beliefs but the weight of the intertwined expectations of both society and the military command. The act of touching the Imperial Portrait by Miyoshi during the search of Gordon’s house shows the ability of the spies to act outside of the normal rules of society, to adapt and respond to any situation. Yet this ability comes at a cost. The spies of Joker Game are not just free thinkers unbound by the strict rules of society –they are men permanently apart from their people. Lt. Col. Yuuki states the ultimate fate of the spies is a life of eternal solitude. More than any other factor it is their position as outsiders that dooms them, unable to share in the binding values of the society they serve.

References and recommended readings

  • In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army by Edward Drea
  • Selections from the Imperial Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors