Pictured above: today’s guest is Hiroyuki Hamada, left, with host Jeff J. Brown on the right.
Downloadable SoundCloud podcast (also at the bottom of this page), as well as being syndicated on iTunes and Stitcher Radio (links below),
A s a close collaborator with Patrice Greanville, Editor-in-Chief at The Greanville Post (https://www.greanvillepost.com), he will often copy me on email correspondence with other writers. One string caught my immediate attention, since it was about Japan. This country being very central to China’s modern history, I immediately invited Joseph Essertier and Hiroyuki Hamada, the two Japan experts in the conversation, to interview with me on China Rising Radio Sinoland. Joseph joined me recently (http://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/04/03/become-a-japan-expert-in-one-hour-with-joseph-essertier-on-china-rising-radio-sinoland-180402/ and https://www.greanvillepost.com/2018/04/15/become-a-japan-expert-in-one-hour-with-joseph-essertier-on-china-rising-radio-sinoland/). The response was huge, as I discovered that Japan fascinated many people, not just me.
Now, Hiroyuki Hamada has kindly agreed to join me in a written interview. He is an accomplished artist. I will let his website speak on his artistic behalf (www.hiroyukihamada.com). I encourage you to take a look at his portfolio, it’s quite impressive, but if you don’t make it there, here is his synopsis:
Hiroyuki Hamada (b. 1968, Tokyo) has exhibited throughout the United States and in Europe and is represented by Bookstein Projects. He has been awarded various residencies including those at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Edward F. Albee Foundation/William Flanagan Memorial Creative Person’s Center, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the MacDowell Colony. Hamada’s work has been featured in various publications, including Stokstad and Cothren’s widely used art history text book Art: A Brief History (Pearson). In 1998 he was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and he has been a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship twice, in 2009 and 2017. Hamada lives and works in East Hampton, New York.
Hiroyuki is also a talented essayist and as you will read in our interview, I am equally impressed with his plume as I am with his brush.
Here are a few of his pieces. He has others at The Greanville Post and Counterpunch:
With that background, please join me in a fascinating, informative and reflective interview with Hiroyuki Hamada…
Jeff J. Brown Question #1: Hiroyuki, when we moved to the United States in 2001, my wife and I were able to experience firsthand how US culture affects new immigrants, ours being our two young daughters who had lived in China and France their whole lives. It was an amazing process to observe. My wife and I continued to speak French to them, in hopes of them keeping up their mother tongue, but the social pressure to acculturate and “be Americans” was a powerful force in their lives. They were ashamed of their “Frenchness”, refused to speak it with us, with each other, and being younger, in a matter of months completely forgot how to speak French. For the next nine years (when we moved back to China in 2010), I continued to speak French with them, which meant they could understand it, but they lost their speech. Often in public, they would chastise me for speaking French to them, saying they were embarrassed. I felt vindicated when two summers ago, they returned to France and fell in love with their birthplace all over again, are now both speaking French and are proud of their bi-culturalness and bi-nationality.
You moved to the United States from Japan when you were 18 and are now fifty years old. Reading your excellent essays, I get the impression that your immigrant status plays a big part of who you are and that in spite of Uncle Sam’s cultural conformity sledgehammer, you still feel tremendous ties to your motherland. Please share with China Rising Radio Sinoland’s fans if you can relate to any of my family’s immigrant experiences and how you feel about the US’s notion of being “the melting pot of the world that welcomes everybody”.
Hiroyuki Hamada Answer #1: Well my boys–they are 11 and 14 now–look like Asian kids so I guess there is no point in hiding about it. Lol. And they quickly learned that people are treated differently according to their backgrounds. Of course, it broke my heart to learn some of the things they’ve gone through, but I think they are managing it very well. We have a huge Latino population in our area and half the kids at school are from various Latin American countries. So, it is not really a peculiar thing to be a foreigner for them. And interestingly, both of them showed interest in learning Japanese a couple years ago and I’ve been taking them for weekend lessons since then. I was the one who neglected to teach them Japanese, and I feel quite bad. Perhaps I was timid about enforcing “foreigness” to my children because of how it can be perceived. I am always impressed by people like you who keep up with what you can offer to your children.
I think American people can be very generous and warm hearted. I’ve met many wonderful American people. And I think that partly has to do with the unfortunate history of slavery and settler colonialism. I do believe that there certainly is a sentiment to amend the atrocities and inhumanity which still remain as a steep hierarchy in our society. But this really doesn’t go away, as long as people don’t face the fact that there is no fundamental difference in what slavery and colonialism did and what US imperialism is doing today. They both basically come down to a gated community building effort for certain people.
And I also think that the US has been quite generous in giving opportunities to aspiring people, regardless of nationality, color of skin, gender, ethnicity and so on in many occasions, but they also can end up serving the same thing within the imperial framework. Look at how UN Ambassador Nikki Haley “bravely” disputes international laws, common sense, and the last remaining drop of decency and morality in US foreign policies in order to stand for the inhumanity and criminality of the US government. She’s quite spectacular in that regard, and someone like her gets rewarded tremendously.
So, the problem for the US is that it’s an empire. It needs to do some colonizing, corporatizing and militarizing, just enough to keep paying for the 900 military bases across the globe and 17 spy agencies to keep the world’s population sort of at gunpoint–so that people in other countries don’t get too assertive about colonizing being done to them. And that’s very expensive as you would imagine. And also, that doesn’t go with the idea of the “melting pot”. It does generate animosity toward foreigners, immigrants and so on.
Also, there is a structural issue with an empire regarding its economic distribution. In order for the system to operate smoothly according to the values, beliefs and norms of the ruling class, enormous wealth must be allocated for the ruling class which has to have the subject population indoctrinated to self-serving imperialist narratives. A huge amount of resources goes into corporate media, educational institutions, the legal system, politicians, NGOs and the rest of the institutions that prop up the entire culture and social structure. So naturally, there isn’t much left for the people, and of course this helps put people against each other, fighting over the leftovers. People must struggle to keep their heads above water, otherwise they might end up like “others” who live on streets or in prisons. And that of course reinforces the hierarchy by dehumanizing the poor and powerless, perpetuating the legacy of slavery and settler colonialism. Being an Asian of course does give me more opportunities to directly observe racism, xenophobia and so on. But those things are not always fatal—although they certainly can be. And the likelihood of them not being fatal increases if one can achieve a better economic status. So, it gives a tremendous incentive for those who are likely to be at the bottom of the social layers to follow the money, as well as the rest of the social values, beliefs and norms, even if the system is made to exploit them. It’s a very sophisticated scheme if you think about it. It works much better than slavery or feudalism, and it is reflected in the fact that a mere 8 people own the bottom half of the world’s wealth.
But of course, we must remember that the whole thing is extremely wasteful, a very dangerous, exploitive scheme cornering our species into the risk of nuclear wars and climate change, while depriving humanity from vast numbers of people.
JJB Q#2: Your essays have a wonderfully refreshing and often acerbic take on your homeland, Japan and your adopted country, the United States. I have both US and French nationalities and bitterly denounce Western empire on both sides of the Atlantic. You seem to be equally disgusted with both your countries’ modern histories, as I am with mine.
This happened while you were living in the United States. Please walk us through the process of when and how you accepted the truth about Japan and the US. Did you become disillusioned with one, while holding out hope for the other, only to realize that they were two peas in the imperialist pod? Or did empire’s global Big Lie come crashing down at the same time on both sides of the Pacific for you?
The former happened to me. I first stared evil in the face when I painfully accepted just how revolting was and is the US’s history and current behavior. But, for a number of years I held out hope that “socialist and humane” Europe would, deus ex machina, cross the global stage and like a great white knight, save humanity. Then the rape and plunder of Ukraine happened in 2014 and I realized that the Old Continent is just as morally debased as the US and the rest of Eurangloland.
HH A#2: I was born in Japan in 1968. My generation of Japanese people were taught that Japan was a bad-bad imperial country that invaded many other Asian countries and the US was the democratic savior that brought economic prosperity and peace to Japan after the war. The reality, however, was that imperial Japan had been incorporated into the US empire as a division of the capitalist economic center in Asia. Corporate interests have guided the lives of the Japanese people within the framework of western economic/military hegemony. Right next to China, North Korea and USSR, Japan was supposed to be a model case of how capitalism can function well. But in reality, the prosperity was propped up by the Korean War, Vietnam War and other colonial meddling, as well as austerity measures and rough working conditions— known as Karoshi (overwork death). Also, it was really interesting to hear your guest speaker Joseph Essertier talking about a Marxist planned economy by Japanese bureaucrats kick starting the economic success of Japan, which totally makes sense as we observe how China is doing today (http://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/04/03/become-a-japan-expert-in-one-hour-with-joseph-essertier-on-china-rising-radio-sinoland-180402/). However, the situation has been changing as western hegemony continues to surround China and Russia with military power to contain the Chinese economy. Japan is fortifying islands around Okinawa, changing its regulations to allow its military to operate with US forces and so on.
I grew up right outside of Tokyo in a typical suburban household of two parents and two younger sisters. As a teenager I somehow sensed that the corporate framework to maximize profits and efficiency, while sacrificing the needs and functions of human beings to be absurd and meaningless. Perhaps I was a bit more sensitive than most people. I started to drink heavily, and I stopped attending high school. I felt hopeless and the world didn’t really motivate me to be constructive in any meaningful ways. I basically didn’t find a reason to be a part of it, since it didn’t accept me as who I was and respect me for what I was. But at the time I didn’t really understand what was going on.
This really didn’t change until I became serious about making art in the US. I think art making has given me a way to perceive the world for what it is. I found a way to harmonize myself to my surroundings in a cohesive, meaningful and authentic way, and being able to share the results with others has become a great gift for me. I’ve felt that I found a way to contribute to experiences of being human. The creative process also taught me how to see prominent momentums and trajectories within complex interactions of elements.
And then, the Internet came, and it started to provide me with facts, analyses and insights of many who were willing to speak truth and to seek alternatives to what we were forced to accept as “normal”. This of course, has allowed me to get in touch with many people who I would call my teachers in expanding my world view. My learning process has given me many clues to understand the world and why I felt hopeless as a teenager, as I learned about the true dynamics of Japan and the US, imperialism, capitalism, socialism and so on. So, it took me a while to come to see the way I see the world today.
JJB Q#3: One of the striking observations I discovered in your writings is the eerie similarities between Japan’s and the US’s imperial history. Both countries raped and plundered a continent, while exterminating tens of millions of citizens in these areas. Japan has one viable political party, the Liberal Democrats. The US has the Capitalist-Corporate Party, be it Democrat or Republican. The CIA helps keep both political systems in power and in check in the two countries and both serve their corporate elites before considering the common folk. Both countries’ governments and peoples live in total denial about their genocidal imperial histories and work overtime to idealize and glorify the extermination of untold millions of fellow humans. Both rabidly hate communism and socialism, while having successfully expunged these political-economic alternatives from having any voice in society. Both countries have Potemkin “free presses”, with Orwellian, corporate-government control of the media. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s grandfather was a dyed in the wool fascist before World War II, who become Japan’s prime minister. Joseph Bush was a dyed in the wool fascist, whose son George H. and grandson George W. became presidents of the United States. Both countries’ mafias play a huge part in supporting their governments’ many hidden crimes.
I could go on with a number of other commonalities, but what all this rumination got me to thinking is how predictable and repetitive fascism and imperialism are. Your descriptions of Japan, even today, reinforced my belief that the United States – and now Japan – are already fascist countries hiding under a sheep’s skin of “freedom and democracy”.
Am I exaggerating, Hiroyuki? Or do Japan and the US have a way to go before we can say without uncertainty, that they out of the closet fascist states? One excellent point of reference is a great list of indicators, called, The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism (http://rense.com/general37/fascism.htm).
HH A#3: According to the list in the above article, many countries in western hegemony can be counted as fascist countries for sure, or at least have some elements of them. Also, as I indicated above, the people at the bottom of society have been experiencing enormous oppressions for generations. So, if we are willing to see our society as having a structural issue to exploit and subjugate “others” constantly, literally in a fascist mode, and to see it as a reason why we are cornered into wars and climate change, then seeing “fascism” as something which might come in the future seems inaccurate and not helpful at all in bringing about necessary changes. It can ultimately function as a device to raise the level of fear to augment authoritarian rules.
And getting back to American people being nice and generous, they just can’t express those feelings of caring and love in constructive ways, as long as they are embracing imperialism. I mean, that’s like saying someone is a great guy, although he owns a few slaves and shoots Indians occasionally. We need to change our mode of thinking so that imperialism and wealth accumulation as guiding principles are as shameful as slavery or colonialism. The thing is that when you throw anything into the hierarchical system shaped by money and violence, the good will always turns into something else–like, people wanting to stop violence and drugs would end up supporting police violence, mass incarceration and gentrification, or people longing for peace and democracy would end up supporting colonial wars, regime change operations and so on. And it’s the people who end up being exploited by their own ignorance and complacency. Basically, the people have been more or less conditioned to consume values, beliefs and norms of the dominant class without the material substance of their “success”–sort of like people watching reality TV shows of rich and famous, while worrying about getting sick or being hungry. And you get a reality TV show host as the President as well. It’s pretty surreal, but that’s what’s going on.
So, there is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy and contradiction in the US. And unfortunately, I think, imperialism is so normalized that many people don’t even realize that it’s a part of their identity. That’s why it’s so easy for some of them to demonize certain people–Russian, Chinese, Iranian or whoever–when it is signaled by the establishment. And that sort of thing has been very painful to see, as we’ve gone through the time after 9/11 and the current neo-McCarthyism against Russia. And while all this is going on, people are somehow blind to imperialism, as if admitting it would destroy their own identities. And I think it would for many people.
And in addition to this fear of cognitive dissonance, there is also a fear of retribution—the fear of slave owners against a slave rebellion. The mentality is obvious in how some police officers react to black youth for example. This is expressed against people from the Middle East as well. People do know millions have died in those colonial wars and drones have been assassinating innocent civilians and engaging in extrajudicial mass killings. So, when they are told that Muslims are destroying our ways of life and they are bad and violent, people do recognize that some Muslims might indeed have reasons to retaliate. And again, the whole thing doesn’t turn out like that if people truly regard all of us to be equal and recognize that the colonial wars inflicted by western powers have been wrong—again, people are forced to consume a belief of the ruling class–the fear of retribution–while being subjected to the oppression themselves. People in the Middle East or anywhere else do want to live peacefully. And if their homes aren’t destroyed by west backed terrorists, west backed dictatorships and so on, they don’t have to join the enormous number of refugees flooding the world today.
And yes, the tendency extends to any countries that are under the influence of the western hegemony. And particularly for Japan and the US, it echoes the fact that the Japanese empire had been incorporated into the US imperial agenda in the Pacific. The parallel between the countries is indeed striking. I’ve read that weapons used in the Civil War were sold to Japan, which, in turn, were used to bring about the end of Tokugawa shogun rule—the beginning of the imperial Japan. Capitalism works systematically, and it needs to work that way to be effective at all.
JJB Q#4: In your writings, you use words and phrases that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else, and they are terrific. For the US’s egregious and unnecessary atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you wrote, 1) Uncle Sam showed off who was top dog by incinerating two cities’ worth of people”. Incinerate. That is so graphic and so true what happened. To describe Western capitalism and empire, you use phrases like, 2) the hierarchy of money and violence; imperialist hierarchy; capitalist hierarchy, 3) neo-feudal world of money and violence, 4) You equate Eurangloland’s democracy, freedom and justice with corporatism, colonialism and militarism, 5) I love your, The inherent dichotomy of the capitalist paradox that it can only serve humanity by sacrificing humanity itself.
I’m especially intrigued by your concept of the West being a hierarchy. Do you think that this comes from being Asian, where social hierarchies are so prevalent across the whole region? I understand that in Japanese, verb conjugations and word declinations change, according to the hierarchical status of the person you are engaging, relative to your level. The other phrase that fascinates me is your association of money with violence.
Please expound as much as you want on your above five numbered phrases.
HH A#4: I think corporal punishment given to school kids when I was growing up in Japan taught me how a hierarchical order can be maintained for the sake of having the order. The resulting order can operate without meeting the needs and desires of subject populations, sort of like schools or prisons. And capitalist society also maintains itself by economic punishment. What’s prominent about an order maintained by fear, threats, violence and so on, is that it forms itself regardless of each individual’s intrinsic connection to self, to others, to communities, to nature and so on. It is a way to form a social structure, but it is also an effective way to detach subject populations from their true human nature. This is a crucial step in commodifying basic human rights to be turned into profit. This is why capitalism is so effective in forming and perpetuating a hierarchical order while dehumanizing the population drastically, without even their knowledge. I think we as a species should be able to do better than that. The survival of our species depends on it, I think.
Also, the art making process has taught me that in order to come up with a profound solution for a given work, one needs a certain amount of humility, ability to observe elements, openness to accept change, willingness to trust, accept unknown elements, patience to learn the systematic mechanism and so on. These conditions often contradict each other, and they push and pull each other in the process, however, the key to grasping a working mechanism is to understand how the elements act according to their intrinsic characters and their guiding rules. They do not come to a profound formation according to the punitive measures of a master mind. I mean, I can just chop up my canvas and sell them as materials, but that would not realize the potential of the elements. So, what I sense is that we need to incorporate that sort of building process in our society, which truly accounts for the needs of the people, in order to go beyond the neo-feudal hierarchy of exploitation and subjugation. The harmonious whole, with its meaningful mechanism to move our beings does not result from an authoritarian coercion. Having honest dialogues with facts placed in objective historical contexts can be a good start for us, I believe. As an artist I can feel that there would be profound results waiting for us.
JJB Q#5: It is so refreshing to see a writer unflinchingly accept the fact that Eurangloland pulls off false flags nonstop. You write about false flags with phrases such as, Fear-based governance; The US establishment continues to use nefarious events to make a point that it can do whatever it wishes and (False flags) guarantee the government can do anything with impunity. You mentioned John F. Kennedy’s government murder and it’s true, they could have given JFK something to cause a heart attack. But no, America’s elites killed him in front of the whole world, to show that they are all powerful and we are all powerless.
Japan created one of the most history-changing false flags in China, in 1931, the Mukden Incident, giving the Japanese Imperial Army the pretext to invade China.
Please flesh out your thoughts on the Eurangloland’s addiction to false flags and also, since 1931, do you think the Japanese elites have pulled off any more?
HH A#5: I can’t think of any in particular… I think it’s always risky to dwell on the false flag events themselves because they function to install fear and doubt, while giving a justification to act outside of accepted norms. Speculating on those in a sensational fashion without facts can raise the level of fear and doubt, which in turn augments and legitimizes authoritarian rules. Although, it is also extremely important to realize that false flag events and propaganda lies have been certainly planned and executed to perpetuate authoritarian structures. One thing that’s certain is that the establishment has fully utilized, for example, 9/11 to inflict colonial violence against Middle Eastern countries and has done away with legal protections for human rights of the domestic population. Many people also speculate about the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Again, one thing that’s for sure is that the momentum of fear and instability has been utilized by the Japanese government to remilitarize Japan and tighten up austerity measures. I think what we must not fail to understand, again, is that our history indicates that a system functions as an authoritarian hierarchy when it’s maintained by fear, threats and violence.
JJB Q#6: Please share with us recommended artists and writers who inspire you and who are not afraid to speak truth to Eurangloland’s suffocating imperial tyranny.
HH A#6: I value social media posts by John Steppling, Luciana Bohne, Phil Rockstroh, Christopher Black, Simon Wood, Danny Haiphong, Margaret Kimberley, Ray Hosseini, Sinan Kaso Shaibani, Gregory Barrett, Danica Niketic among many others. I’ve also learned tremendously from John Pilger, Michael Parenti, William Blum, Glen Ford and others. I like reading what Richard D. Wolff has to say about economic solutions. Andre Vltchek provides us with a relentless revolutionary angle. The Moon of Alabama always provides valuable insights and information. Cory Morningstar and Forrest Palmer are doing an excellent job at The Wrong Kind of Green in dissecting the cutting-edge schemes of the capitalist hierarchy. I have tremendous respect for Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Tim Anderson, Sarah Abed, Janice Kortkamp and others who have done tremendous work on Syria. For China related topics I refer to Dennis Etler’s Facebook posts, Rebecca Chan’s 21SilkRd and China Rising. But I also think that in order to cultivate an accurate perception of reality, we need to be exposed to many angles. Quite often insightful angles are hidden between the lines of mainstream media reports. Also, there are quite many writers, journalists and activists who I might not always agree with, but I certainly respect and value their opinions as well. I am certainly missing many other people I should mention here.
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