Thursday, December 25, 2014

10,000 sing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" — Japan's Beloved Anthem of Peace

This is a video of the Osaka "Number Nine Chorus" of 10,000 singers who perform "Ode to Joy" every December. The soloists and orchestra are professionals; however the rest are singers from the community.

The Japanese love of "Ode to Joy," the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, began during the First World War, when German prisoners of war performed the Ninth Symphony for the first time in Japan in 1918.

In Europe, exactly one hundred years ago, German, French, and British soldiers engaged in a spontaneous holiday ceasefire, emerging from the trenches to exchange food, drink, and even play soccer, sharing a brief moment of humanity during the brutality of war.

The Japanese nickname for the uplifting movement — "Daiku" ("Number 9") — alludes to Article 9, the Japanese Constitution's Peace Clause which outlaws war as a means of conflict resolution.  Beethoven's  lyrics are from a poem celebrating human unity by Frederick Schiller.  The 19th-century century German philosopher was preoccupied by the quest for freedom and human rights. Like many of his era (which spanned the American Revolution), he championed political ideals based not on coercion and tyrannical brute force, but instead by reason, goodwill, dialogue, and democratic process.

Worldwide, "Ode to Joy" has long been considered a peace anthem, a song of resistance to not just war, but also state repression. Chilean democracy demonstrators sang the song during PInochet's dictatorship. Chinese protesters sang it during the march on Tiananmen Square. This year, the music and lyrics are even more meaningful to the Japanese and Okinawan supporters of democracy and Article 9, the Japanese Constitution's Peace Clause.

...Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us onward
In the triumph song of life...

Human rights attorney Scott Horton tells us that Beethoven was drawn to Schiller's writings because the composer longed for liberty, however omitted the "deeper, more political charge" of the final stanzas of "Ode to Joy" to veil his challenge to the repressive Hapsburg regime from which he received patronage.
...the work is radical and blatantly political in its orientation–it envisions a world without monarchs at a time when the distant colonies of North America alone offered the alternative. It imagines a world whose nations live in peace with one another, embracing the dignity of their species as a fundamental principle, and democracy as the central chord of their organization. Its long appeal to Beethoven lay in just this intensely subversive, revolutionary core. To start with, as Leonard Bernstein reminded his audiences, the poem was originally an “Ode to Freedom” and the word “Joy” (Freude instead of Freiheit, added to the third pillar, Freundschaft [Friendship] came as a substitute for the more overtly political theme...

Beethoven reckoned, of course, that his audience knew the whole text, just as he knew it, by heart. He was by then a crotchety old man, Beethoven, but he knew the power of a dream, and he inspired millions with it, to the chagrin of his Hapsburg sponsors.

Schiller’s words are perfectly fused with Beethoven’s music. It may indeed be the most successful marriage in the whole shared space of poetry and music. It is a message of striking universality which transcends the boundaries of time and culture. It is well measured in fact to certain turningpoints in the human experience.
Some of the lines from Schiller's poem omitted from "Ode to Joy":

...Persist with courage, millions!
Stand firm for a better world!
...Deliver us from tyrants’ chains...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Plaintiffs argue historic case to save dugongs & preserve Okinawan cultural heritage - first hearing in San Francisco federal court on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014

Ryukyu Postal’s stamp to commemorate the dugong's designation as a natural monument in 1966 
(courtesy of Save the Dugong Campaign Center)

American, Okinawan and Japanese conservation groups argued their historic case today, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, in U.S. federal court, seeking to halt construction of a U.S. military port and airstrip at a biodiverse coral reef and dugong habitat in northern Okinawa. The planned U.S. training base expansion would destroy Okinawa's best coral reef and pave over some of the last remaining habitat for critically endangered Okinawa dugongs, ancient cultural icons for the Okinawan people and marine mammals related to manatees. The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the equivalent of the U.S. National Historic Protection Act.

Via The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice:
This is the first hearing in a historic lawsuit brought by American and Japanese conservation groups under a provision of the National Historic Preservation Act that requires the United States to avoid or mitigate any harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has listed dugongs as “critically endangered,” and the animals are also on the U.S. endangered species list. In 1997 it was estimated that there may have been as few as 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world; more recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the latest in a long-running controversy over the expansion of a U.S. Marine air base at Okinawa’s Henoko Bay. Preliminary construction [survey drilling] on the base began earlier this year.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation, Save The Dugong Foundation, Anna Shimabukuro, Takuma Higashionna, and Yoshikazu Makishi, is arguing today that the court should review the U.S. Department of Defense’s flawed efforts to examine the harm the expansion will cause for the Okinawa dugong, and stop the Department of Defense from allowing construction of the new airstrip until it has made meaningful attempts to avoid or mitigate that harm.

“Our folktales tell us that gods from Niraikanai [afar] come to our islands riding on the backs of dugongs and the dugongs ensure the abundance of food from the sea,” said Takuma Higashionna, an Okinawan scuba-diving guide who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Today, leaving their feeding trails in the construction site, I believe, our dugongs are warning us that this sea will no longer provide us with such abundance if the base is constructed. The U.S. government must realize that the Okinawa dugong is a treasure for Okinawa and for the world.”

“The law requires that the Defense Department cannot allow this military base expansion project to go forward until it has made efforts to understand and minimize its effects on the dugong,” said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. “When another country’s culture, heritage and revered endangered species are at stake, the U.S. must at the very least follow the law.”

“Okinawa dugongs can only live in shallow waters and are at high risk of going extinct. These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists. Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Background: In July conservation groups filed a lawsuit, supplemental to a 2003 suit, seeking to require the U.S. Department of Defense to stop construction activities on the new U.S. Marine base airstrip at Henoko Bay until it conducts an in-depth analysis aimed at avoiding or mitigating harm the expansion will cause for the Okinawa dugong.

The Japanese Ministry of the Environment lists dugongs as “critically endangered,” and the animals are also on the U.S. endangered species list. In 1997 it was estimated that there might be as few as 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world; more recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa.

Although the Defense Department acknowledges that this information is “not sufficient,” and despite the precariously low dugong population even under the most conservative estimates, the Defense Department has authorized construction of the new base.
Five years ago, more than 400 environmental conservation, animal protection, peace and justice groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, asked President Obama to cancel the planned landfill and base construction at the Okinawan dugong habitat.

At the time, the US government announced that it would reconsider plan in light of the massive local and worldwide opposition to the project. In 2008, the US federal court
found the US Dept of Defense in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. The court required the DoD to meet with plaintiffs and negotiate on the issue of mitigating harm to dugongs. This did not happen, hence this year's new lawsuit, which was filed July 31, 2014,  in the same court on behalf of the original Dugong Lawsuit plaintiffs.

The waters off Henoko, Okinawa are the last remaining northernmost home of the dugong. In 1955, the dugong was designated as a protected cultural monument by the then autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture, because of its status as a revered and sacred animal among native Okinawans. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Journalists, legal experts, & filmmakers condemn State Secrets Law's chilling effect on freedom of expression & freedom of press; Japan's rating drops from 22nd to 59th on World Press Freedom Index

Japanese Army cavalrymen parade in front of the Kabukiza Theater, Ginza, Tokyo,1938

Justin McCurry, "Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law: Officials who leak 'special state secrets' and journalists who seek to obtain them could face prison if bill is approved this week," Guardian:
Under a special state secrets bill expected to pass on Friday, public officials and private citizens who leak "special state secrets" face prison terms of up to 10 years, while journalists who seek to obtain the classified information could get up to five years.

Critics of the new law say it marks a return to the days of prewar and wartime Japanese militarism, when the state used the Peace Preservation Act to arrest and imprison political opponents.

"It is a threat to democracy," said Keiichi Kiriyama, an editorial writer for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, adding that the legislation would "have a chilling effect on public servants, who could become wary about giving the information" to journalists...

Abe, who does not have to fight an election for another three years, is expected to push ahead with his nationalist agenda, including constitutional reforms that would end the military's purely defensive role.

The secrecy bill's hasty passage through the lower house has been marked by noisy public demonstrations and opposition from journalists, lawyers, politicians, academics and scientists, as well as film directors and manga artists concerned about freedom of expression...

"There are few specifics in the law, which means it can be used to hide whatever the government wishes to keep away from public scrutiny," said Mizuho Fukushima, an opposition MP.

"In its current form, the prime minister can decide by himself what constitutes a secret."
Matthew Carney, "Critics fear Japan's democracy is 'regressing' as government introduces laws to keep state secrets," Australian Broadcasting Company:
In 2009 investigative journalist Masakatsu Ota uncovered a top secret deal between Japan and United States that allowed nuclear weapons to be brought into Japan during the Cold War...

"A key person in government confirmed it for the first time and the reports triggered an inquiry," he said...

Under the new secrecy laws exposes like Ota's will be much harder to do...

Experts have described the laws as extreme and part of prime minister Shinzo Abe's wider agenda to revise Japan's constitution...

Law Professor Lawrence Repeta from Tokyo's Meiji University said the government had a lot of power.

"They say the right to freedom of speech should only be respected when it doesn't disturb public order," he said...

The majority are against the laws and at protests across the country over the weekend people called for them to be scrapped...

Another protester said Japan was heading back to its militarist past with these new laws.

"When Japan headed to militarism, people were arrested if they showed opposition, that's the scariest thing. Democracy has not matured yet, but it's been developing and I want to stop this move," the protester said.

Already the government is set to classify half a million documents as state secrets.

Critics have said the real danger of these laws will see the government ultimately deciding what is secret and the definitions can be vague.
"Protest statements issued as state secrets law takes effect," via Asahi:
Organizations representing journalists, legal experts and the entertainment industry issued statements calling for the abolishment of the state secrets protection law that they say will trample on the people’s right to know...

The Japan Congress of Journalists’ statement issued on Dec. 9 said the law would “cover the people’s eyes, ears and mouth and usurp their freedom of the press and speech.”

The statement listed a number of problems with the law: the range of documents classified as state secrets could expand without limit; the government can continually extend the period a document is classified as a state secret; and journalists and human rights activists could be punished under the law.

The Japan Civil Liberties Union, consisting of lawyers and legal scholars, issued a statement on Dec. 8 protesting the law because “it inappropriately restricts citizens’ right to know.”

...A group of individuals connected with the movie industry, including directors Yoji Yamada and Isao Takahata, also issued a statement Dec. 9 calling for the law’s annulment...

The statement also touched upon the history of the movie industry before and during World War II when the government forced the production of movies that supported Japan’s war effort.

The statement was made “from a strong feeling of creating a society that never again goes to war and to never again be complicit in the production of movies that stir up war sentiment.”
Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan Freedom of the Press Committee Japan Investigative Journalism Awards and Special Freedom Of Press Prizes Press Release, December 10, 2014:
Reporters Without Borders has called it, “an unprecedented threat to freedom of information.” The organization’s World Press Freedom Index for 2014 has just dropped Japan to number 59 on its list, below countries like Serbia and Chile. This marks a precipitous fall; Japan was ranked as high as 22 in 2012. Clearly, even international observers are becoming increasingly concerned about the direction of media freedom here.

The law provides for prison terms of up to ten years, not only for government insiders who leak information regarded as “secret,” but also for those, including journalists, who encourage them to do so. In other words, according to experts, even asking persistently about a “secret” could be a crime punishable with up to five years in jail.

The secrecy law, unprecedented in Japan’s postwar history, was forced through the Diet over the objections of critics who pointed out its many deficiencies. While the law was still under consideration, the FCCJ released a statement expressing our concerns...