Yamasaki Toyoko, NHK, and JACL

"Futatsu no sokoku" and "Sanga moyu"

By William Wetherall

Drafted April 1984
Posted 26 January 2006

These notes were written in preparation for writing
"Dual nationals caught in a storm over their Mt. Fuji inheritance" in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 124(23), 7 June 1984, pages 40-42

Related articles
Futatsu no sokoku: Japan's pop "Roots" fails to cast new light on minority problems (FEER 1983-10-13)
Sanga moyu: Dual nationals caught in a storm over their Mt. Fuji inheritance (FEER 1984-06-07)
NHK's Sanga moyu: Revisionist history goes prime-time (Earlier draft of FEER 1984-06-07)
Two letters to Clifford Uyeda: Correspondence concerning Yamasaki, NHK, and JACL (1984)

Yamasaki is a professional writer, though not the kind that writes books. Rather she writes installments for weekly magazines that are eventually published in book form -- after a certain amount (but very little) rewriting. Weekly magazine fiction is basically a commuter entertainment genre, and so she must come up with a fairly self-contained episode every week. And because these episodes are written to fit a more-or-less fixed amount of space, the novels turn out to be rather episodic, with lots of repetition to keep the irregular reader informed of what's going on.

Most of Yamasaki's novels have been blockbusters, and some have been longer than Futatsu no sokoku. They have generally dealt with contemporary issues involving high drama, like corruption in business and government, or conflicts between ambition and ethics in the medical profession, and they have proven lucrative material for movie and TV adaptations.

Given her impressive track record as an mass-media story teller, it is only natural that she also wrote Futatsu no sokoku with the screen and tube in mind. And given her propensity to use her novels as vehicles for social criticism, it is not surprising that she put considerable thought into the "message" she wanted to convey through her story.

One important difference between Yamasaki Toyoko's Futatsu no sokoku and NHK's Sanga moyu is the depiction of minorities in Japan. Yamasaki virtually ignores them, while NHK goes out of its way to balance the picture -- but characteristically gets its all wrong.

Yamasaki stated on 5 August 1983, before the Japan Chapter of Japanese American Citizen's League (JAC) at the former Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, as follows:

As for Japan, [the Japanese] are a homogeneous people, and in the manner of America other ethnic groups do not exist [Nihon wa tan'itsu kokumin de arimashite, Amerika no yo ni taminzoku ga arimasen, orimasen].

While she observes in her novel and elsewhere that Japanese committed atrocities in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, she has stated in a published roundtable discussion with NHK chief producer Kondo Susumu, popular culture commentator Osaki Hokki, and actor Matsumoto Koshiro (who plays Kenji Amoh), that "what kind of policies the Japanese government had concerning emigrants [imin] is an important omission in my novel." When Osaki suggests that "the government's emigrant measures were near to being a 'non-policy' [musaku]", Yamasaki agrees and adds:

From the very beginning there was [no policy] at all, was there? I'd like the shout, 'What were you doing for us?' to be included in the drama." In the same discussion, she observes that "Certainly in the history of premodern and modern Japan, emigrants [imin] and the problem of the colonies [shokuminchi no mondai] are omitted.

In the third volume of the novel, Yamasaki briefly mentions the fact that wartime foreign minister Togo Shigenori was a descendant of Koreans who immigrated to Japan. However, she adds that "the way Japanese even now look askance at wartime foreign minister Togo Shigenori's Korean ancestry is different from the way that whites discriminate against the yellow race." The reader is told in no uncertain terms that Japanese feel about minorities today as they did before the war when, "with moist feelings peculiar to Japanese people, they looked askance at the nisei as children of emigrants, and disparaged Chinese with derogative names."

The alleged "differences" in racial discrimination, much less the nature of the "most feelings" that are supposed to be characterize Japanese discrimination, are never explained.

Unlike the novel, the TV adaptation introduces a character named Chang Meiling, a "Chinese girl" (Chugokujin musume) played by Agnes Chan, whose legal name is Ch'en Meiling (same characters for personal name). Meiling was orphaned in Japan when her parents were murdered by "Japanese" (Nipponjin) in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1 September 1923, and was raised by the proprietor of the Ginza coffee shop where she works as a waitress.