English Table of Contents and Abstracts
Series 2 START Issue
From Investment to Donation, and to Prayer
The Challenge of SOLIO and Its Philosophy
Kazuma Ieiri + Daisuke Katsura + Hiroki Azuma
On the Foolishness of Evil,or the Problem of the Prison Camp and the Housing Complex
[From Heisei to Reiwa]
History Is a Family
Genichiro Takahashi + Hiroki Azuma
Nation, Gender, New Era
Takeshi Hara + Hiroki Azuma
[AI and the Humanities]
Artificial Intelligence Today and the Imagination of Science Fiction
[Roundtable] Nozomi Ohmori + Satoshi Hase + Youichiro Miyake
A Fermentation Model of Communication and Thought
[Book Guide] 15 Must-Reads Connecting AI and the Humanities
Takamitsu Yamamoto + Hiromitsu Yoshikawa
Religious Architecture and Sightseeing
Russia Today Seen from Tourism and Nationalism
Akiko Honda + Sanami Takahashi + Yoko Ueda
Detour Development Travelogue | 1 | Akira Takayama
Art and Cosmotechnics | 1 | For a Post-European Philosophy | Yuk Hui
Theory and Cold War | 1 | Right-Wing Sartre? | Alex Taek-Gwang Lee
On Other Surfaces | 8 | 1970s Art History in Myth | Yohei Kurose
On Independent States | 9 | American Dream, Soviet Dream | Kenro Hayamizu
Islam Read Askew | 1 | Islamic Pop and Europe | Yohei Matsuyama
Reviews and Prospects on the Promotion of National Prestige | 1 | Can the Symbolization of Politics Be Stopped? | Masanori Tsujita
Traveling the World in Russian | 9 | Will Art Change Local Cities? | Yoko Ueda
The Pigeon Clock of Dischronia│Afternoon IX│ Melon Uminekozawa
English Translations and Abstracts
［論考］独立国家論 第10回（最終回） 偽史と血統の『韃靼タイフーン』
English Table of Contents and Abstracts
The author visited “The Exhibition Hall of Evidence of Crimes Committed by Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army” in Pingfang, a district in Harbin, China. Unit 731 of the Kwantung Army conducted experiments on human bodies in Manchuria in the prewar era. This historical museum records these crimes.
The Museum exhibits a wealth of historical materials to demonstrate the crimes of Unit 731. At the same time, it functions as a place for prayer, which narrativizes the crimes of Unit 731, endowing the deaths of its victims with meaning. This function is crucial as long as the museum is curated by the Chinese, who were the Unit’s victims. The crimes of Unit 731 can be called a quantifying (trivializing) violence, which reduced its victims to trivial existences that could either be killed or not killed, stripping them of their names and intrinsic character and changing their existence into simple numbers. The Chinese must resist this violence. Thus, they tend to find a grand, deliberate design behind the crimes of Unit 731.
However, it is possible to say that what is truly terrifying about the crimes of Unit 731 is not their deliberateness, but shallowness and foolishness. We know that the experiments on human bodies actually yielded only few results useful for science or the military. We also know that the military doctors were petty men. We could say that the crimes were mostly meaningless—that this meaninglessness is actually the essence of these crimes. This meaninglessness does not appear in the exhibits at the Museum.
There is an important problem here. Perpetrators forget the harm that they have caused. Most of the perpetrators in Unit 731 forgot everything about their actions in postwar Japan, and were never even tried in court. Victims remember the harm by narrativizing it and endowing it with meaning. The Museum does this. But in both cases the fact that it was meaningless harm is forgotten. The meaninglessness of the harm disappears between the forgetful perpetrators and the victims who endow the harm with meaning. Then how might we remember this meaninglessness? In other words, how is it possible for perpetrators to remember evil?
Azuma focuses here on the fact that housing complexes are often built upon the sites of prison camps. The Museum in Harbin is built on the former site of Unit 731 research facilities. However, today it is surrounded by housing complexes. There is also a shopping mall and a subway station nearby. Though this might seem strange, Azuma notes that he encountered something similar in Krakow, Poland and Kiev, Ukraine. Krakow was once home to the Plaszow concentration camp. Today the site has been turned into a park surrounded by housing complexes. There is a valley called Babi Yar in Kiev. Over 30,000 Jews were murdered there in September, 1941. This, too, is surrounded by housing complexes.
Housing complexes stand on the former sites of prison camps in Harbin, Krakow, and Kiev. This landscape reveals the dual nature of the twentieth century. The twentieth century was an age filled with war and massacre during which an unprecedented number of people were killed (the age of mass death). However, at the same time, it was also an age in which the consumer society of the masses blossomed, and an unprecedented number of people lived in happiness and material satisfaction (the age of mass life). These two characteristics are deeply related both philosophically and technologically. In his Bremen lectures in 1949, Martin Heidegger proposed that Nazi extermination camps and the food industry were in essence the same. We build our peace and prosperity of today (mass life) by inheriting the legacy of a culture of doing harm (mass death). The fact that housing complexes are built on the sites of camps symbolizes this legacy.
Prison camps are sites of mass death. Perpetrators strip victims of their names and meaning; they kill them; they forget them there. Museums are sites for recovering meaning. There (the bereaved of) victims return to the victims their names and meaning; they mourn them; they remember them. However, as mentioned above, it is the meaninglessness of the harm that is forgotten in both sites. To solve the problem, Azuma suggests that we could find a clue in the fact that people have built not only museums, but also housing complexes on the sites of camps – that is, a third kind of place for our collective oblivion and memory other than the camp and the museum. That being the case, could we not say the memory of the meaninglessness of mass death becomes possible precisely at a site of mass life, the housing complex?
In this article Azuma concludes that remembering the meaninglessness of harm done, or remembering the evil of perpetrators, is made possible not by museum exhibits, but by the literature of housing complexes. Is this really true? Azuma endeavors to demonstrate it by reading Haruki Murakami’s 1994-1995 novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle as a rejoinder to Kojin Karatani’s 1989 critique. In Azuma’s reading, Murakami’s metaphor of “underground” and the “well” depict a new possibility for our collective memory of the foolishness of the evil.
To celebrate the launch of the new donation platform SOLIO, entrepreneurs Kazuma Ieiri and Daisuke Katsura, founders of the service, held a roundtable discussion with interviewer Hiroki Azuma.
SOLIO is a service for non-profit organizations (NPOs) that face challenges in collecting donations. It includes a “donation portfolio” service that allows users to donate not only to specific NPOs but to a group of organizations as a whole with the domain of activities they want to support. It is similar to a financial asset portfolio, and users can make their donation portfolios public. Ieiri and Katsura stated that this encourages the act of giving among users who cannot decide where to make donations.
In response to Azuma’s question as to why they focus on donations rather than investments, Katsura explained that social issues such as poverty and human rights can only be resolved through donations, because it is difficult to collect investments. Ieiri stated that he hoped SOLIO would help bring investments and donations closer together and thus increase the interaction between startups and NPOs that make investments and donations.
The discussants also raised the issue of the uncomfortable necessity of pursuing scalability on an extreme level in present-day capitalism as a context for the need for donations. In response to this situation, Ieiri said that he would like to build “small economic spheres” by assisting entrepreneurial enterprises launched by individuals and small- to medium-sized businesses in local communities through his crowd-funding service CAMPFIRE. Katsura stated that he found the act of donating similar to religious prayer in that it does not promise clear returns, in contrast to exchanges and investments.
In 2018, the author Genichiro Takahashi published Are You Lonesome Tonight?, a sequel to his 2001 novel, The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature. Takahashi is currently working on the third volume, Hirohito. This dialogue with Hiroki Azuma discussed the connection between history and literature, centered on this trilogy.
The dialogue opened with a discussion on the relationship between war and literature. Takahashi pointed out that in postwar Japan, Obon (a traditional season for prayer to one’s family ancestors) happens to overlap with the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. This point connects the idea of “family” (ie) to our collective memory of war.
Takahashi and Azuma share an interest in the concept of “family.” Takahashi wrote about familial history and memories in his 2018 novel, Sleep Well, Under the Trees, while Azuma headlined the possibilities of a new community in the coincidental nature of family in Genron 0: A Philosophy of the Tourist.
Modern Japanese literature was supported by a familial community of authors. However, Takahashi spoke of his personal feeling that the community of literature disappeared around 2005. This was closely connected to the rise and fall of criticism, and Takahashi wrote Are You Lonesome Tonight? under this sense of a crisis of criticism. Azuma pointed out that the collapse of literature also means the end of a modern paradigm of thought and expression. In spaces like the Internet, where quantification occurs on a large scale, literary words cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, and humans have become like animals.
Finally, Azuma stated that it is necessary to create a “half-isolated” space for the future persistence of literature. Azuma noted that this is a community of familial giving, not exchange, and Genron, as a project, is its implementation. Takahashi responded that literature is a gift, and that he attempts to connect this sense of giving with the dead in familial relationships anew through his novels. His latest historical novel, Hirohito, is the crystallization of this attempt. As the dialogue came to a close, both recognized through their own actions the necessity of recontextualizing history through the lens of family.
This dialogue discussed the Emperor System in contemporary Japan, focusing not just on the Emperor but also the Empress. The dialogue occurred in April 2019, immediately following the announcement of the new imperial era name, “Reiwa.”
First, Takeshi Hara and Hiroki Azuma confirmed the fact that the Emperor System became stronger in the Heisei era (1989-2019). Emperor Akihito of the Heisei era is generally regarded as a “liberal” emperor. However, Hara pointed out that Akihito proactively conducted imperial visits and court rituals. He and Empress Michiko often met citizens, sometimes kneeling to ordinary people and speaking with them on the same eye level. This type of gesture, which is called “Heisei style,” made the national polity stronger in a very different manner than in the Showa era – in a “micro” manner. In addition, more prayers during court rituals in Heisei cultivated a sense of state unity.
In the background of this Heisei-style was Empress Michiko. Michiko was raised in a Catholic home. Hara suggested that the Heisei style of kneeling to express her sympathy is inspired by Catholicism. According to Hara, the Showa Emperor had already shown movements toward proactively receiving Christianity in his youth. Japan’s Emperor System prolonged itself historically by taking in other religions outside of Shinto, such as Buddhism. The wedding of Akihito and Michiko, Hara stated, can be considered as an extension of this history.
Azuma pointed out that Michiko reflects the state of gender in Japanese society. She provided a breath of fresh air by choosing to raise the Imperial children themselves, as well as taking family trips and creating a “My Home,” which was not permitted before, within the Imperial Family. In this way, she became a model for Japanese housewives of the same generation. However, Azuma also pointed out that Michiko’s behavior reinforced Japan’s conservative views on women. The post-Heisei Empress Masako is a former careerwoman, who suffered because the customs of the old Imperial household did not agree with her. Hara emphasized that the issues of gender centered around Masako themselves are the key to thinking about the Reiwa Emperor System.
As a nation, Japan has long tended to mysticize the thoughts of its Emperor, but with this opening of a new era, we should also open up discussions on the Emperor System and its future into a more vernacular and social conversation.
In the midst of declarations of a new boom in artificial intelligence (AI), a roundtable discussion involving Nozomi Ohmori, book reviewer and science fiction (SF) translator; Satoshi Hase, SF writer; and Yoichiro Miyake, AI developer, was held at Genron Café. The theme of discussion was the current state of AI development and its relationship with SF’s imagination.
Miyake began the discussion by summarizing the history of AI. AI development focused on technologies that handled symbols like natural language processing until recently. However, today, technologies such as image recognition handle things other than just symbols.
Miyake also introduced the idea of real-world-oriented AI, which produces data related to the real world so that it is more recognizable to AI. In response to this, Hase submitted examples of smart cities developing in African urban centers and China, and pointed out that issues such as privacy and data governance could be raised by real-world-oriented AIs.
Miyake noted the interesting similarity between a type of game AI and smart cities. It is known as “meta-AI,” which controls all the characters’ behaviors in a given game.
In contrast, character AI, which controls individual characters, is made up of several modules and decision-making systems. Ohmori pointed out that characters in a novel resemble character AIs. Hase argued that events such as disasters in the climax of entertainment novels play a role similar to meta-AI, which coordinates the movements of character AIs.
Miyake admitted his study is highly influenced by SF’s imagination. This includes various other images of AI which are different from those developed in the mainstream of AI study in Europe or US, which only defines intelligence as the capacity of symbols and languages’ control. Ohmori pointed out that some important authors from Isaac Asimov to Ted Chiang came from the periphery of European culture and that their imagination could be influenced by their origins.