Why Asia?

We are Glenn and Carol Webb. We are retired academics, now living in Palm Desert, CA, in the place shown just above our picture. We have spent most of our lives studying Asia, with Kyoto, Japan as our port of call. This blog consists primarily of essays, written by me, Glenn Taylor Webb, with the input of my wife, Carol St. John Webb. I began writing most of these essays just before we retired. Some have been published, some not. Most were first presented as lectures.

Our lives were changed by what what we experienced living in two cultures. The different ways of thinking about almost everything in Japan (and Asia in general) made us examine some of our fundamental views of life. As a history professor I had to keep a certain distance between historical events and their effects. But at this stage in my life (I'm 75) I feel like sharing with friends the impact that Japan today has had on my family as well as myself. I'm still writing things down. So take a look and let me know what you think.


Saturday, July 26, 2014



At the moment I sit down in despair at my computer, agonizing over the crisis situations I see on CNN, MSNBC, Aljazeera America and regular channels.  First, there’s the crash site in Ukraine still open to looting and tampering by pro-Russian thugs (look, I heard them, and that’s what they are!)  By all accounts (except Putin’s) they (or Russian troops) shot down a passenger plane with almost 300 innocent people aboard, 200 of them from the Netherlands.  And for over a week brutish soldiers have looted the personal effects and identities of the crash victims and refused to let experts examine the wreckage, scattered over an enormous area that includes farms and villages. 

Finally these self-proclaimed Russian freedom-fighters allowed bodies to be crudely stacked in poorly-refrigerated cattle cars and shipped to the Netherlands, where for the last two days we have watched crowds of an outraged but dignified people honor their dead as casket after casket in motorcades entered a military base for proper identification and return to loved ones.  At the same time, fragments of bodies and important airplane wreckage still have not been collected because pro-Russian troops have not allowed outside experts into the site for long enough to do their jobs.  They intend to defend the land they have occupied by force in eastern Ukraine.  The fighting is intensifying as I write this.  Carol and I are scheduled to spend most of August in Russia (mostly at the Hermitage Museum), so all of this is making us nervous.  We leave in a little over a week.

The second major crisis going on right now is between Palestinians and Israelis.  Nothing new, but the increasing number of casualties in Gaza as a result of Israel’s “target bombs” is sickening.  The 6-year Israeli land-sea-and-air embargo on Gaza is in effect imprisoning and nearly starving the population.  In response, the Hamas government built a network of tunnels that allows radical Muslim Gazans to enter Egypt and Israel to kill Jews.  It is easy to see why citizens would welcome Hamas military help.  But Israel is not going to budge on this.  And Hamas-led Palestine seems ready to fight even if every man, woman and child in Gaza is killed in the effort.  And despite the fact that few of the hundreds of rockets Hamas fires daily into Israel can penetrate the anti-missile “dome” over the country.  So the unequal casualty list to date – nearly a thousand Gazans to 35 Israelis – seems outrageous.  Two brief cease-fires have come and gone, and the shelling on both sides has resumed.  Pictures of the dead and wounded spill out of the TV screen.

From my posh ivory tower in the California desert (Del Webb Sun City Palm Desert), with almost nobody around me to talk to about anything (or not) -- other than Obama-care (devil-sent), golf, sports, houses owned and sold, hedge funds, the stock market, cruises, restaurants and ballroom dances in the area, and Obama (the Devil himself) -- I try my best to engage people in issues I am passionate about.  Those include meditation, Japanese language and customs, and then (working back in time from today) the deadly disputes in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the Americas south of Texas and America itself.  All of those issues relate to the age-old questions about God and land:  what does “He” teach and who owns what?  No wonder I was attracted to the pacific (and godless) teachings of Buddhism from an early age!

For my Facebook friends, here are two news flashes from my tower regarding (1) a movie and (2) a magazine article.  The movie is BOYHOOD by Richard Linklater, whose WAKING LIFE first knocked the breath out of me when it came out in 2001.  Most of his other films have at least made me utter a prayer of thanks for him.  But after looking at BOYHOOD for about 3 hours, Carol and I looked at each other and said nothing.  What’s to say?  This is one fine film.  I want to translate it immediately into Japanese and add it to my arsenal of teaching materials for Japanese students learning about America. 

The movie was made over a 12-year period in the life of an actual boy, Ellar Coltrane (Mason in the film) from grade school to college.  His mother is played by a brilliant Patricia Arquette, and his older sister is played by Linklater’s actual daughter, Lorelei (Samantha in the film.)  My only problem with the film is why nobody in it speaks “Texan”, but I think I know why.  First, there is a scene in which the laid-back liberal father, played flawlessly by Ethan Hawke, mercilessly (and hilariously) bad-mouths outgoing President George W. Bush.  (He even steals a McCain sign from a Texas neighbor’s yard while putting up Obama signs with his son and daughter.)  I think that scene would be very confusing if the father sounded exactly like Bush.  Also, I think most Americans (and maybe all English speakers) would tire of hearing Texan spoken for the length of a film.  Besides, Texans in the flesh can be heard in another Linklater film, “Bernie” (2011), which should satisfy anybody wanting to subject themselves to native speech.

The magazine article is by Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor to The Atlantic, and author of a fine introductory book on Japan that I used for years in some of my classes at Pepperdine in Malibu and International Christian University in Omika, Japan.  It is called “The Outnation” (1992).  The magazine article appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic, p. 20-21, and it deals with the recent troubling matter of certain Christians trying to cut themselves off from mainstream American society and laws in the name of religious freedom.  I like the article so much that I am quoting large portions of it here without comment.  Its point is very much the point of BOYHOOD, as well, in the sense that both the film and article are telling us that the youth of today may be on the right track to everything.

“I am someone who believes that religious liberty is the country’s founding freedom, the idea that made America possible.  I am also a homosexual atheist, so religious conservatives may not want my advice.  I’ll give it to them anyway.  Culturally conservative Christians are taking a pronounced turn toward social secession:  asserting both the right and the intent to sequester themselves from secular culture and norms, including the norm of nondiscrimination.  This is not a good idea.  When religion isolates itself from secular society, both sides lose, but religion loses more.
… Why the hunkering down?  When I asked around recently, a few answers came back.  One is the fear that traditional religious views, especially about marriage, will soon be condemned as no better than racism, and that religious dissenters will be driven from respectable society, denied government contracts, and passed over for jobs …
… I wonder whether religious advocates of these opt-outs have thought through the implications.  Associating Christianity with a desire – no, a determination to discriminate puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred.  They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment. 
… This much I can guarantee:  the First Church of Discrimination will find few adherents in 21st-century America.  Polls find that, year by year, Americans are growing more secular.  The trend is particularly pronounced among the young, many of whom have come to equate religion with intolerance.  Social secession will only exacerbate that trend.”