Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Neogeography Digging Up Japan's Painful Past

This post was also described by reader and blogger FantomPlanet as "Google Earth now a harbinger of Japanese sectarian hatred"

One of the neat things Google Earth can do is overlay old maps on the globe. There are many academic and regular benefits to being to easily overlay old maps on top of each other and current spatial data. However, like elsewhere, Google Earth's overlaying ability has great potential to be misused.

Maps are a window into the cartographer's worldview and the cartographer's culture. What a map shows, ignores, and labels says much about what a culture values. Feudal Japanese maps (now available for overlay) map sure to mark where "Eta" lived. The Eta (aka
Burakumin) were social outcasts because they did the dirty work for society. They were the undertakers, executioners, etc. The cultural stain of these people have become sins of the father and is passed down generation to generation. Over time many people became to forgot about who were Eta or where the Eta lived. However, today there is fear that mass releasing maps showing where the Eta lived will revive old bigotries.

Some are calling for removing these old maps so no one can know about the location of Eta. This is not what should be done. The culture needs to rise above and realize 1) sins of father do not apply and 2) there is no shame in doing the dirty work of the feudal society. Instead of worrying about people misusing Google Earth one should worry about what is wrong with one's culture and how to fix the problem.

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

There is also a fair bit of arbitrary definitions of "clean" here. Recently there was a movie that made a splash throughout east Asia - Departuers - which had as its job humanizing undertakers.

While the person's perspective had changed by the end of the movie, one Chinese close to me commented that "Don't these people [undertakers] feel shame?"- which was a perspective that I found it hard to take.