Shoen Uemura

uemura shoen

A couple of days ago, Google celebrated the Japanese artist Shoen Uemura with the above doodle. It was only available in certain countries:

google doodle audience

Yeah, I bought my computer in France. Ever since that’s been my default language for everything.

It was also visible in Singapore (too small to see there), which is pretty interesting because Uemura was a staunch supporter of the Japanese war effort and Singapore was one of the places on the receiving end.

From a Western point of view this comes across as kind of like having Polish Google publishing a tribute to Leni Riefenstahl, and, indeed, if the image had been published on the Korean version of Google, it would have been.

Singapore, on the other hand, has always had a far more ambivalent attitude towards Japan. For a start, Singapore had been a colony for pretty much the whole of its existence, and switching from one set of occupiers to another wasn’t that big of a deal (a large number of Indians felt the same way when the British got rid of the Mughals, something that you definitely won’t read in right-on modern history books for schools). Secondly, the Japanese were actually pretty good at running their empire – something else you don’t hear about. Certainly, they intended for their colonies to be maintained at a lower level of development than mainland Japan itself, but for pretty much all of the countries involved this was nevertheless a huge step up from where they had been previously.

In fact, in both Singapore and Taiwan, a great deal of affection remains for the Japanese empire, particularly among people who lived through it (I’ve been told more than once that the Japanese soldiers were ok really, and it was the Koreans and the Chinese that you needed to watch out for – the Allies were merely regarded as bumbling idiots).

For some reason, the opposite trend has emerged in Korea. Home to the most enthusiastic collaborators and having benefited hugely from the Japanese model, it has since veered to the opposite extreme, and currently devotes about 85% of its foreign policy resources to bitching about WWII (the other 15% goes on advertising Hallyu Wave stuff).

I’ve no idea why this is. Explanations on a postcard please.


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