Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Holiday Greetings

“I think State threw a dart at the calendar...” was my friend Dan’s analysis of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement recognizing Children’s Day in Japan. No one could remember when last, if ever, State recognized this Japanese holiday. 

The press release on May 4th read:
It is my pleasure to offer warm wishes to boys and girls in Japan on the May 5 occasion of Children’s Day. On this holiday, Japanese families celebrate the joys of childhood and family life. Children are, indeed, a national treasure, and both the United States and Japan share a strong commitment to childhood health, safety, and education. It is a responsibility for all of us to work together to ensure the protection of children. It is our hope that one day children from all countries will be able to celebrate the carefree joys that children in Japan celebrate today.
State’s press office said the statement was merely part of a new policy of recognizing selected “seasonal holidays” around the world. He is probably right, but like most things Japanese what seem innocuous are not.

Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi, こどもの日 ) is an annual Japanese national holiday. It is on May 5, the fifth day of the fifth month, and is part of the Golden Week. It is a day set aside to respect children's personalities and to celebrate their happiness.

It was designated a National holiday by the Occupation authorities in 1948 as part of the effort to eliminate militarism from Japan. The day was originally called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句), and was celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th moon in the lunar calendar. It is the festival for boys and warriors. The holiday’s symbols are the carp and the samurai helmet. The carp is supposed to symbolize success and the helmet is self-explanatory.

It is common today in Japan to see figures of Colonel Sanders standing in front of KFC in full samurai regalia for the holiday. This definitely makes you think twice about the benefits of globalization.

In addition, to the historical issues that surround this holiday, it is possible that Tokyo may read the Secretary’s statement as having some contemporary message. It does come on the heels of North Korea Freedom Week where rightist Japanese Diet members and Abductee representatives traipsed around Washington pleading for stronger sanctions against North Korea. Maybe the Children's Day message was a nod to the Adductee families.

On the other hand, pressure has been mounting from Congress for the State Department and the White House to take a strong tack with Japan regarding the child abduction issue. Draft resolutions are floating around Congress asking for action. The Secretary did mention the issue in her talks with officials in Japan. Last month, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and his chief of staff joined a protest on child abduction outside the Japanese Embassy. 

It was a cold and windy night for a candle light vigil, and although he received no publicity the Congressman stayed with the small group of heartbroken fathers for the duration. Maybe the message was a finger wag to the Foreign Ministry to speed up signing the Hague Convention.

And maybe it just meant nothing and was merely an ill-considered gesture.

Later: Sources say that there was simply no policy message of any sort intended. The holiday greeting is merely part of a new policy initiative to celebrate random cultural holidays with other nations of the world. Sources were annoyed that I thought it was ill-considered. Ok, how about a bit careless.


  1. I can't believe Clinton made such a statement. She should be aware that Japan is the only G-7 nation that has not signed the Hague and they are the only G-7 nation that has not passed laws making it illegal to possess child pornography. The Japanese government doesn't care about children. I think the police do a great job protecting selective people (wealthy and government officials) by not acting, not making arresting, losing evidence, or just ignoring information. The police also go out of their way to make life difficult for foreigners in Japan. Arudou Debito does a good job exposing Japan's injustice. The solution to this problem is quite simple. Japan responds to public embarrasement. If the G-7 governments would make public statements to the press Japan would quickly address these problematic issues of child abduction and child pornography.

  2. Interesting points Kevin. Sure, Japan's not as obsessed about child porn and the fear of perverts as in the UK and US (children still WALK TO SCHOOL ON THEIR OWN here too, imagine a society that condones that!) but last time I checked, there were laws protecting kids. Child porn is illegal and perverts are just as hated here as anywhere else.

    By the way, the police are uniformly (geddit?) incompetent, not just when it comes to women and children. Oh, and cops protecting the powerful to the detriment of the meek is not a uniquely Japanese problem. That's not to say Japan has it right on many issues, child abduction and gender equality issues for example sure lag behind their treatment in the West.

    Our Man's showing his age, actually what he meant to comment on was that while this is officially children's day, everyone here "knows" it is in fact to celebrate boys (as Madam Chairperson pointed out, the warriors) so girls are routinely ignored in this holiday (their day is in March, methinks) though Girls' Day is not a national holiday. Hardly fair, but anyway... Clinton's comments could mean anything, but probably mean nothing.

  3. The colonel in a samurai get up? I live 50 m from a KFC and I've only seen the colonel as Santa. Anyone else in Nippon have anything to offer on this weighty issue? Pictures?

    Girls' day: Hina Matsuri 3/3 methinks....

    On a slightly different note, thank you for the background on Kodomo no hi / Tango no sekku. I was mulling over the reconfiguration of Midori no hi to Showa no hi and what that means or doesn't, the weight of history, tradition.

  4. Man in Abiko, I have a question for you. I have noticed over the 3 years I have lived in Japan that the people here don't really complain about things they don't like. For example if the people of Japan can't stand perverts and child porn then why isn't some group raising hell, protesting, or filing complaints, are filing a law suit? It is hard to change things in Japan but someone should have the passion to try.

  5. I think there is also a matter of definition.

    Many things Americans might find odd or simply wrong would not be defined that way in Japan.

    There appears to be in Japan a greater acceptance of what Americans would say is incest or pornography.

    Part of this is awareness of women's place in society and the harm some "cultural" practices of male dominance have on women. Japan views are different from the G7 on these issues.

  6. Ohhhhhhhhhhh! There IS a Colonel Sanders samurai picture right at the top of the article! My bad!

  7. Methinks we're in danger of losing the sight of the wood for the trees here with all these generalisations, but, Kevin, you answered your own question yourself, folk don't tend to kick up a public stink about things that really bother them here. A lawsuit? That's a very American way to do battle. The Japanese way is to sulk and then ostracise. But there we go generalising again.

    Greater acceptance of incest, Madam A? Surely not. It's not a topic that folk talk about here, but certainly is not accepted. Can the land that is home to Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and all that lot (for example) really believe it is in a position to preach to Japan about morality in the family?

  8. This might be of interest to y'all.


  9. Where have you been My Man?
    This is a bit of old news, indeed I thought of mentioning it in my previous reply. I always liked the part where the company says "these are only for a domestic audience..."

    Anyway, My Man you better stop playing those video games and get back to your reporting, as I said the Titans have disappeared and you are what we are left with.

  10. Video games? Too new-fangled for Our Man. Speaking of where-have-you-been, it's been a week and no posts from your good self. Nothing happening inside the Beltway these days worth a post?


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