Archive for April, 2013

Blue Sky Markets: Part Three

April 26, 2013

The theme being highlighted here are the Blue Sky Markets, which were a commonplace in Post-WW11 Japan during the years of Macarthur’s shogunate (1945-1951). Anywhere from 17,000 to 20,000 black markets (depending on your choice of authority) sprang up, often, within days of Hirohito’s capitulation.

osaka citizens listening
Osaka citizens listening to Hirohito’s speech.

Two Yamato Race understatements in his weasel-word speech:

…..the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude

And the feudal emperor worshippers, militarists and industrialists showed their real solicitude towards a general populace now living in hovels: they took control of vast amounts of materials which had been hoarded for the anticipated last ditch Battle on the Mainland, and made their fortunes by diverting these materials into the Black Market. Medicines, penicillin, metals, cement, gold and jewellery and just about everything else required for plain survival and/or economic reconstruction.

The peasantry, hitherto the expendables at the bottom of the feudal order, now enjoyed a sense of empowerment as they traded food to starving city dwellers for anything of real value. Sort of ironical as they had been previously been exploited to the hilt, with their young men being drafted into the army as cannon fodder, while young rural women were sold into prostitution by their parents. In Tokyo Ground Xero, the serial murder and rapist Kodaira Yoshio was able to lure his female victims into isolated spots by promising to introduce them to farmers selling cheap rice.

Blue Sky Markets: Part Two: Reading.

April 13, 2013

If you’ve read John Dower’s beyond brilliant Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WW11, you would have encountered images similar to below. You can find a critical review of Dower’s book – albeit one which ignores his path breaking analysis of the transformations within Japanese popular culture (movies, style, cabaret, pulp novels and magazines HERE – and HERE is a good synopsis on prostitution based on Dower’s work. The latter is the most interesting blog I’ve come across for ages, and look forward to having a good flick thru. Recommended, if only for its historic b/w photos.

Blackmarket in Shimbasi.

Blackmarket in Shimbasi.

One of the main settings in Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace.
Blue Sky market in Okinawa

Blue Sky market in Okinawa

Hollywood in Japan

Love it. Pepe Le Moko – first film deconstructed in Narrative Studies.
Hollywood in Japan1Hollywood in Japan
Pan Pan Pan Pan

pan pan1 And, the ironic image of Pan Pan

Post WW11 Ground Zero.
Many horsemen of the apocalypse stalked the land. Epidemic diseases. Psychological trauma. Widespread starvation. Wholesale corruption by govt officials and industrialists. Millions of now despised ex-soldiers and former colonists returned to the mother country with zero prospects. Women selling their bodies for a couple of rice balls (“That is when I sank into the despised profession of being a ‘a woman of the night'”[Mizoguchi]). And, as in all Hobbesian societies, the blackmarket ruled what was left of a devastated economy.

Some 20,000 of what were termed Blue Sky markets sprang up across Japan to meet every social need. Not surprisingly, all this offered great advancement opportunities for Yakuza gangs, who now found themselves clashing with previously ‘untouchable’ communities of Koreans, Formosans and Chinese in black-market turf wars.

You can read a chapter of The Yakuza by David Kaplan @ Alec Dubro (University of California Press, 3003), by hitting up UCAP and opening the PDF file right side. It is well worth the effort, as they stress the deep continuities in Japanese society, the symbiotic relationship between militarism, big business and yakuza mob activities on the domestic front. Post WW11, Yakuza gangs functioned as de facto instruments of government, being involved in running markets, fire brigades, unions, real estate, building construction, tax collection departments, the ubiquitous entertainment industry, etc. Which is to say that gang criminality was completely institutionalised.

2013 updates on recent accommodations between the Yakuza, the police and the political sphere can be read HERE and HERE. While both reads uncover nothing that is not common knowledge, they do provide excellent overviews.

(And on a lighter note, the HQ of the Yamaguchi-gumi family was/is situated next to the Australian Embassy. The Oz Ambassador lodged a complaint with the Tokyo govt in the 90s. Apparently, while gazing out of his master of the universe office, he would see the guards patrolling the grounds routinely pissing on shrubs and fences. A quiet message was sent and the ambassador’s dignity was restored.)

SCAP’s (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) – ie Macarthur and the Americans – social engineering designed to demilitarise, democratise, empower workers and women etc produced quite limited, superficial results. Harry Emerson Wildes (Typhoon in Tokyo 1954), a political adviser to SCAP, who also had a hand in drafting the new Japanese Constitution, resigned in 1946 claiming that the new political parties were little more than hooligan gangs. Finally, a surprising fact is that Macarthur made sure that the Army of Occupation (Shinchu Gun) for the most part consisted of newly minted troops fresh from the US, rather than veterans of the Pacific campaign, thus removing the hate and payback factor.

The end result of the above ploy by Macarthur led to massive fraternisation between the Victors and local communities, which is to say that the prostitution business expanded exponentially. And if Blue Sky markets constituted capitalism in its rawest form, corruption among the Occupation forces also became the norm. As Robert Whiting writes in Tokyo Underworld:

“…., the soldiers stationed in Japan each month remitted to the United States a sum that exceeded their total payroll. When the Bank of Japan entrusted the United States Army with 800,000 carats of diamonds, the diamonds simply vanished. When the Tokyo police force handed over its guns to the Americans, the entire armoury somehow disappeared”.

You can read a tremendous chapter of Whiting’s book HERE, which vividly illustrates the points above.

The black market was probably the most important institution in any Japanese city or town. A loci of all the power relationships then existing in Japanese society, and a site where demand met supply in their most brutal form.

Not surprisingly, the black market – Shimbasi in this case – features prominently in Tokyo Ground Zero by David Peace (Faber @ Faber 2007). A police procedural with plotlines and characters which incorporate most of the themes mentioned above, even though it involves unravelling the activities of the serial killer Kodaira Yoshio, who honed his murderous skills with the Japanese army in Manchuria.

The Guardian provides a good account of Peace’s writing technique, which I found plain annoying. The last thing the literary world needs now is more of the James Ellroy noir style. Nonetheless, gripping plot and behind the scene machinations right up these with anything found in Ellroy’s LA Quartet.

Finishing Part Three. Blue Sky Markets: Cinema.

Blue Sky Markets: Part One

April 10, 2013

All bloggers have a tendency to recycle and, in this case the process provides an opportunity to focus on a number of cinematic, historical and fictional texts which have provided much pleasure over the past few years, providing the grist for my first attempt to write about:

Kenji Mizoguchi the great Japanese auteur/director of women’s point-of-view movies, and

The birth of Japanese film noir in the form of Akira Kurosawa’s 1949 masterpiece Stray Dog which morphed into a brief discussion of a couple of path breaking yakuza movies HERE.

Also recycling a couple of previously written paragraphs simply because I can. If you want professional reviews, you will of course go to Midnight Eye: Visions of Japanese Cinema, unquestionably the most erudite site on Japanese cinema, and do your own homework. There are also a number of other quality resources on the net which I will link.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to congratulate Justrecently’s Weblog/China on his completion of five years of blogging and essential Chinese-English translation work.

Rockabilly Archaeology: Part Three.

April 4, 2013

To pilfer from an earlier post:

Train lyrics encompass all the most endearing themes central to great songs – rootlessness and Manifest Destiny, love, lust and romance, significant meetings and departures, outlaws and ladies (loosely termed), hobos and travel lust, fast trains, slow trains, last trains and every variant inbetween.
opening one
Trains play a metaphoric role in a mythic US landscape, and probably have bugger all connection to reality. But do they provide grist for the art of great song writing.
opening two
Wicki provides a list of song referencing trains HERE, and if you can’t add another dozen, you obviously grew up on diet of Queen, Oasis and rap and are therefore doomed to a future of self-harm and deserved suicide.
Now there are a lot of really dark songs, Long Black Veil and The Dark End of the Street being at the top of my list.

James Carr’s version with truly subline backing by the Muscle Shoals studio musicians.
We also have Hank Williams Travelling Man, which is surely an essay on his short and troubled life. And despite some negative reviews, I thoroughly recommend Chet Flippo’s semi-fictional biography Your Cheating Heart.

God, I fucking hate youtubes pre-song advertising.
Its time to finish this post: rain, birdsong and other distractions outside notwithstanding.
Recall that in a previous part of this series, I mentioned that musicians didn’t regard themselves as genre specific artists, and they hopped musical boundaries without considering the matter. Rock and roll, rockabilly, country, pop and gospel comfortably co-existed in most Southern musicians play lists.
Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio were perfect examples, and this link is by far the best available on the net.

JBalbun Burnette hailed from Memphis and was a contemporary of young Presley: they attended different high schools. A truly tremendous voice which covers a wide register. Not a velvety or as playful as Presleys or as thin as Chris Isaaks. And no slouch in the yelp and hiccuping department either. They might look like rubes in their early photos, but were cutting edge musicians in their day.

Its time to crank up the Stereo, although I’ve been sampling from a brilliant collection off the pc.
Train Kept a Rolling all Night Long covered by millions and written by Kay, Bradshaw and Mann in 1951.

High velocity rockabilly.

Well, we made a stop in Albuquerque
She musta thought
I was a real cool jerk
Got off the train, and put her hands up
Lookin’ so good, I couldn’t let her go
But I just couldn’t tell her so

I’m in heat, I’m in love
But I just couldn’t tell her

Honey Hush written by Joe Turner.

The killer sound of the bass line was due to a loose valve in the amplifier, a fact which befuddled numerous wannabe guitarists including Clapton. (See first link.)
Equally at home singing blues. Chains of Love every bit as good as Bobby Bland’s version.

And I leave you with Midnight Train which begins as a ballad before segueing into a rockabilly conclusion. At first I though his vocal delivery was rather naïve but after a lot of listens, decided he really nailed this narrative of pure despair.

I left my gal sad and lonely, left her standing in the rain
I went down to the railroad, I caught myself a midnight train
I beat my way into Texas, landed in a gambling town
I got myself into trouble, I shot the county sheriff down
Oh Lord, I shot the county sheriff down
They put the handcuffs on me, tied me with a ball and chain
They took me to El Paso, they tied me with a ball and chain
These prisonbars all around me, no-one to call my bail
My heart’s sad and so lonely, I want to get out of this jail
Oh Lord, I want to get out of this jail
The jury read the verdict, murder in the first degree
The judge said, take this prisoner to the penitentiary
They put the handcuffs on me, tied me with a ball and chain
I’d left my home forever and I’ll never see my gal again
Oh Lord, I’ll never see my gal again

Touch Me. Totally killer vocals. Also covered by The Cramps.

I was going to finish with a brief account of rockabilly’s transmigration to Japan and Finland, but that will have to await another day.