Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tokugawa Ieyasu and Nikko Shrine

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ieyasu Tokugawa was born in the warring states period. He survived the chaos, defeated his rivals and unified the entire nation. Ieyasu was assigned the title Seii-taishogun (Great generalissimo) in 1603 by the Emperor and established the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakufu) in Edo (Tokyo). In 1605, Ieyasu retired and his son Hidetada became shogun. However, Ieyasu watched the nation closely even after he retired.

Prior to his death, Ieyasu left a last instruction for after he passed. "Enshrine my dead body in Mt. Kuno (His hometown in Shizuoka prefecture) for the first year after my death. Then, build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as a God. I will be the guardian of Japan."

Ieyasu was dead on April 17th, 1616, when he was 75 years old. The Shrine was constructed in Nikko and the divine designation "Tosho-Daigongen" was given to it by the Imperial court. He was enshrined in accordance with his last will.

Ieyasu aimed to be the guardian of Japan. Nikko is located north of Edo and the north was considered as a taboo direction, where demons would come from. Therefore, Ieyasu wanted to place himself in the taboo direction in order to protect Japan from the evil things. He hoped for a long life of the Tokugawa government and for eternal peace.

Although, Ieyasu wanted "a small shrine," the third shogun Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson, reformed the shrine into today's opulent buildings. Most of the existing buildings were built in this period of reformation. According to the Tokugawa government reports, it cost 40,000,000,000 yen in the equivalent of today's currency. It took tens of thousands of artisans approximately two years to complete construction. Thirty-five buildings were reformed in that period which ended in 1636.

Yomeimon Gate

Ieyasu's remains are enshrined in this bronze pagoda.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Original Kamikaze

Pretty much everyone has heard of the name Kamikaze and of the suicide pilots of World War II that went by that name. Many people also know that the name Kamikaze, which means divine wind, comes from the typhoon that destroyed the Mongol fleet in 1274 and 1281. The Mongols were attempting to invade Japan but their massive fleets carrying tens of thousands of warriors were destroyed by typhoons. The Japanese came to call these miracle winds the "Divine Wind".

However, the suicide pilots of WWII were not the first suicide attackers to use that name. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many samurai were angry with how the new Meiji government was acting. The government had abolished their privileged status under the old feudal order, eliminated their financial stipend, and created a conscript army of commoners.

The final and ultimate insult for most samurai came when the government outlawed the wearing of swords. The wearing of swords was probably the most sacred symbol of the samurai. These acts lead to several minor and major rebellions against the new imperial Meiji government. One of the most famous and bizarre was that of the Shimpuren Rebellion.

The Shimpuren was an extremist and xenophobic political society of ex-samurai led by Otaguro Tomoo. The group also was called "The League of the Divine Wind". They wanted to not only halt the changes in the country, they wanted to turn back the clock and eradicate everything western such as western clothes, the western calendar, and even the use of western weapons.

The group believed that they were givin divine authorization to lead an uprising. On October 24, 1876, Otaguro led 200 men in revolt. They attacked the government garrison at the Kumamoto castle and showing no mercy to the new conscript government soldiers, the Kamikaze slaughtered some 300 men of the garrison using only their samurai swords. Another group attacked and killed the governor of the prefecture.

However, after the remaining garrison soldiers overcame their surprise at the attack, superior numbers and the superior firepower of the defenders modern weapons turned the tide. The rebels were decimated and Otaguro was badly wounded. He asked one of his followers to cut off his head. Many of Otaguro's followers followed by committing seppuku.

Many of the rebels that died were in their teens or early twenties, indicating that their devotion to samurai traditions was based more on a romanticism of an imaginary past rather then on actual experience. The same could also be said of the last Kamikaze in 1945 who also based their ideals on the romantic images of bushido and the samurai from centuries before.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Palanquin Exhibition at Edo-Tokyo Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Museum is currently holding an exhibition of palanquins from the Edo period.  This coincides with the exhibition of the famous Atsuhime's palanquin at the Sackler Museum in Washington D.C.

This exhibition will display palanquins used in the Edo period, particularly for women. These palanquins of the Edo period go by the names such as “Kago”, “Koshi”.

Palanquins for women had never been collected and displayed together before until this exhibition.  This in spite of the fact that they are also of a large size and artistically outstanding. Ten palanquins, including five from the Edo-Tokyo museum collection, will be displayed in this exhibition.

Not surprisingly, the owners of these palanquins were exalted persons. Parades of these palanquins used to symbolize their owner’s power. This was experienced in all the castle towns throughout the country. However, Edo had much larger numbers of palanquins and the parade of these palanquins is not comparable with the ones at the provincial castle towns.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

The movie of the same name is loosely based on these events from the rebellion that Saigo led.

The book is about one of the most important samurai during the time of the Meiji Restoration. Other than Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo was possibly the person more responsible then any other for the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Saigo Takamori was a low level samurai from Satsuma domain. He rose to importance and eventually was one of the leaders of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogun. Saigo led the imperial armies to victory over the Tokugawa forces in 1868. Later, he was one of the top statesmen in the new Meiji government.

Saigo retired in the early 1870's and returned to rural life in Satsuma. Saigo was a proponent of the Confucian philosophy of benevolent and caring governance. He promoted a mix of traditional values and the adoption of the good aspects of modern society from the west.

However, Saigo began to become disillusioned with the new Meiji government. He felt they were not sufficiently preserving the cultural values of Japan in their race to modernize and adopt western cultural practices. The final blow came when the the Meiji government stripped the samurai of all that made them samurai--tradition, honor, glory, and feudal privilege.

When the government outlawed the carrying of swords, many samurai throughout Japan, and especially in Satsuma, could take no more and they rebelled. The largest and last of the rebellions was led by Saigo Takamori in 1877. Saigo's rebels fought the Imperial army throughout the southern Kyushu area.

But their fight was hopeless from the beginning. The Imperial army was to large and to well equipped. Saigo and his last band of holdouts were defeated on a hill outside of Kagoshima city. In true samurai spirit, with defeat certain and Saigo wounded, he had his head cutoff by one of his last samurai fighters.

This was a good book. It not only describes the history of the time but also goes in to some detail Saigo's philosophy.

The book I read about Aizu referenced this rebellion.  Many of the Aizu samurai revelled in the government crushing Saigo's Rebellion.  Many Aizu samurai joined the Meiji Government forces to fight Saigo and his rebels.  They felt that this was their chance to avenge what happened to Aizu.  When in it was announced that the rebellion was crushed and Saigo was dead, there was much celebrating among the former Aizu samurai.

Japanese seek to scrap Google's Street View

A group of Japanese journalists, professors and lawyers demanded Friday that the US Internet search giant Google scrap its "Street View" service in Japan, saying it violates people's privacy.

Google launched Street View in the United States last year, providing pictures of panoramic all-around street-level views at locations on its online maps.

The service was expanded to 12 major cities in Japan in August and six cities in France in October.

The group said it sent a petition to Google's Japanese subsidiary, demanding an end to the Street View service in Japan.

They wrote that Street View "constitutes violent infringement on citizens' privacy by photographing residential areas, including community roads, and publishing their images without the consent of communities and citizens."

They complained that via the Internet, Street View was distributing private information "more easily, widely, massively and permanently than ordinary cameras and surveillance cameras do."

Local municipalities in Tokyo and Osaka have already appealed to the national government to take action against the site.

The Google Japanese unit earlier said it was blurring the faces of people seen in Street View scenes by special technology and that it would delete the pictures of people and buildings upon request.

Japan has stricter protections on privacy in public than in the United States, with Japanese able to stop their pictures from being used against their will. 


 Violent infringement on citizens privacy?  A bit extreme I think.  I like the street view.  Since people are out on a public street, it should not matter.  Just don't pick your nose out on a public street, especially if you see a vehicle with a camera on top of it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Atsuhime's palanquin in Washington D.C.

Princess Atsu's (Atsuhime) palanquin will be displayed at the Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Palanquins were used as transportation during the Tokugawa period of Japanese history, which ended in 1868. High-ranking Japanese nobility sat in the fancy compartments, and as many as six bearers carried it through the streets.

The palanquin was purchased in 1984 by curator Ann Yonemura. Yonemura knew that the palanquin belonged to a high-ranking noblewoman, since only the elite were permitted such rich transportation. But it wasn’t until this year, as reported in the January issue of Smithsonian magazine, that she figured out who the palanquin was made for.

A document found in the Japanese National Archives listed the items that had been made for the 1856 marriage between shogun Tokugawa Iesada and Princess Atsuhime. She would have sat in it, and six bearers would have carried her through the streets from her parents’ home to her new husband’s.

But Atsuhume was more than just a shogun’s third wife. Her husband died two years after their marriage, making her a widow at 23. Undaunted, Atsuhime renamed herself Tenshoin. When the Tokugawa clan resigned the shogunate and imperial rule resumed, Princess Atsuhime remained a force in politics, advancing her family’s position. Her life spanned the birth of a modern, powerful Japan. Atsuhime’s fascinating story is the subject of a 50-episode drama, currently airing on the Japanese public TV network NHK.

Below is description of the upcoming exhibition at the Sackler Gallery of Art from the museum website:

March 21–April 9, 2009
Freer Gallery of Art
In 1856 Princess Atsuhime married Tokugawa Iesada (1824–58), the thirteenth shogun of the Tokugawa family that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. The princess rode in this Japanese ceremonial palanquin, carried by six bearers, as part of her wedding procession. Its fifteen-foot beam and wood exterior are coated in black lacquer and lavishly decorated in gold using the maki-e technique. Gold and silver powders were applied to the lacquer to create designs, such as the circular family crests that identify the prestigious families of the bride and groom. Decorated like a miniature palace room, the interior space was a private area intended primarily for the bride's appreciation. Paintings on gold-leafed paper embellish the interior walls. Three paintings depict scenes from the Japanese literary classic The Tale of Genji, written in the eleventh century by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman like the bride herself.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery acquired this palanquin in 1985, but the identity of the bride for whom it was created remained unknown. Princess Atsuhime's connection to the palanquin was not discovered until this year, when Shin'ichi Saito, curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, completed extensive research of historical documents in the Japanese National Archives. The first recent international showing of the palanquin will be at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum (December 16–February 1, 2009). The palanquin then returns to the Sackler Gallery in the spring of 2009 and will be on view during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 28–April 12, 2009).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remembering Aizu - The Testament of Shiba Goro

I recently finished this book which describes the years following the Meiji Restoration through the eyes of a young Aizu samurai boy, Shiba Goro. Aizu was a domain that was extremely loyal to the Tokugawa Shogun. Aizu was located in present day Fukushima prefecture. You can see the rebuilt replica of the old castle of the Lord of Aizu in the city of Aizuwakamatsu.

I visited this castle in 2004 (see previous post). At the time I did not know the history of the castle or of Aizu. It was after reading about the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun's and the restoration of the Emperor that I realized the importance of the Aizu domain. The domain of Aizu was actually one of the principal players during the turmoil of the 1860s and the Meiji Restoration. Aizu was on the losing side.

Too bad this goofy looking guy got in the picture.

However, Aizu fared much worse than other domains that had sided with the Shogun. After the fall of the Shogun at the hands of the Imperial forces, most domains pledged there allegiance to the Emperor. A few Northern domains resisted longer but they to eventually surrendered. None of these domains were treated harshly however. Except that of Aizu.

Why was Aizu treated so harshly? During the turbulent 1860s, the heart of the conflict between the Loyalist for the Emperor and the supporters of the Shogun was centered in Kyoto. Violence was spiraling out of control. Assassinations were an almost daily occurrence. And most of the violence was directed at the supporters and officials of the Shogun.

Aizu, as a most loyal supporter of the Shogun, was asked by the Shogunate to become the "Protector of Kyoto". It was Aizu's job to bring order to the ancient capital. Aizu decided to fight fire with fire. One of the things they did was create a special police force under the direction of the Lord of Aizu. This force was called the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi and other forces under the command of the Lord of Aizu used whatever means were necessary to crush the rebellious ronin that were roaming the streets of Kyoto. Many hundreds were killed at the hands of these police squads during this time.

For this reason, the victorious Imperial forces, and in particular the domains of Choshu and Satsuma, had bitter hatred for Aizu and they punished them severely.

This is a relatively short book but it was enjoyable. Shiba was only 10 when the Imperial armies came to Aizu. He escaped to his aunts home where he later learned that as Aizu was being overrun, his mother and sisters committed seppuku. Shiba's samurai brothers and father were fighting at Aizu castle. He thought they all had been lost. But the castle defenders actually eventually surrendered.

All the Aizu samurai men including ten year-old Shiba and his father and brothers were sent off to prison camps. Later, they were given a new domain in the far North. But it was inhospitable and the Aizu samurai were not prepared to be farmers and endure the harsh winters. According to the book, many died from starvation. No other domain that fought against the Imperial forces had to be subjected to this treatment. Over the years, many of the former Aizu returned to their old domain which had become Fukushima prefecture.

I have read in various places that even into the 20th century, there were those in Aizuwakamatsu that still held bitter feelings toward the Choshu and Satsuma people for how they treated the Aizu.

Shiba later entered military training school. He then had a long career in the Japanese military serving in the Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war. And later retiring from the military.

In August 1945 after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Shiba Goro attempted suicide and died 4 months later from his wounds.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Important Moments In Japanese History

The Choshu/Satsuma alliance and the abdication of the Shogun.

Katsura Kogoro, the military chief of Choshu han, and Saigo Takamori, the commander in chief of Satsuma forces, shook hands. The once bitter rivals had united.

The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, the first union between any of the clans since the establishment of the Tokugawa Bakufu two and a half centuries before, was finally realized on January 21, 1866, the result of a yearlong struggle by Sakamoto Ryoma. The alliance, which formed the most powerful military force in the nation, was a turning point in Japanese history, and the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu.

October 1867. The Shogun had met with dozens of feudal lords. Ryoma and his followers were waitng at their hideout. What would the Shogun do? Finally, a letter was delivered. Everyone watched anxiously as Ryoma opened it and read it to himself. He held the letter so close to his face that the others could not see his expression but they could tell he was weeping.

"What does it say?" they gasped. Ryoma read the letter out loud in stunned amazement, 'The Shogun has indicated that he will restore the political power to the Imperial Court."

Everyone remained silent, mesmerized by what they had just heard. Ryoma handed the letter to the others. "Now I understand the true intentions of the Shogun," he said in a loud wail. "He's really made the right decision. I swear I would die for him now." Ryoma was ready to give his life for the man whom until moments before he had been prepared to kill, because it was this man, the former Shogun, whom Ryoma now considered the savior of the nation. For Ryoma, he now felt that a bloody civil war had been avoided.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

J TV Dramas: Atsuhime & Shinsengumi

I have been watching the NHK drama "Atsuhime". Here in Los Angeles it is playing on a local cable channel. Before I had even heard of the show, I had been reading about the time period in Japanese history that the show covers.

The first episode was pretty cool because I kept saying to myself, "I know that character". I have read about the people portrayed in the show including Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo Takamori, Katsu Kaishu, Tokugawa Yoshinobu and others. It seems to be a pretty amazing coincidence that this show is airing at the same time as I have been reading so much about this time period in Japanese history.

The show is pretty good but some of the characters do not live up to what I expect. They have been made to seem silly or a little goofy. I think this is common in these types of Japanese dramas. The actor portrays Sakamoto Ryoma in a fairly silly or goofy way. Even more so Saigo Takamori. The real Saigo was a man over 6 feet tall and with a strong but quiet or reserved personality. But the actor also portrays him in funny and silly way. And the actor is short. Not what I would expect from what I have read about Saigo, who was the inspiration for the movie "The Last Samurai."

However, I still like these Japanese historical dramas. Of course since I am interested in history, especially Japanese history, that is why they are interesting.

I also watched most of the year-long TV drama "Shinsengumi" from several years ago. I think the characters and the story lines and the costumes are all really interesting. But, also with the Shinsengumi drama, the characters were certainly not portrayed very accurately in my opinion. It is pretty much a historical fact that Kondo Isami, the leader of the Shinsengumi, was a brutal man that was responsible for the violent and bloody deaths of many enemies of the Shogun. But the television show portrayed him as a friendly, ethical, honorable man. Certainly not based completely in reality. It is true that Kondo was very loyal to the Shogun. An honorable trait. But, of course, he displayed that loyalty with brutal violence.

I know Korean dramas have also been popular in Japan. I watched a Korean drama a couple of years ago that was also really popular in Japan. I really got into it. It was called "Dae Jang Geum" or "Jewel in the Palace". I first saw it while visiting Japan for several weeks in 2006. But it was dubbed in Japanese. Even so it looked interesting.

What I did not like is that the show was dubbed in Japanese. I don't like dubbing. I prefer subtitles and I prefer to hear the actors real voice. You get a much better feeling of the character if you hear the actors actual voice rather then a dubbed voice.

I lucked out though. After returning to Los Angeles, the show started playing on an Asian cable channel with English subtitles. They were doing marathon weekend showings and I DVR'd it and watched the entire series. Great show.

(12/15/08) Note:
I believe the TV show made an error regarding the scene where Ryoma was killed. It showed Ryoma with his handgun. But according to the books I have read, Ryoma did not have it. He had given it to his sister. He was without his gun when he was attacked the second and final time where he died.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Trade: My Sword for your Gun

The Samurai Sakamoto Ryoma attended a meeting along with his comrade Ito Shinosuke with the Consul General of Britain as well as several other samurai. Following the meeting, they all stood up to shake each others hands and Ryoma followed suit.

Ryoma, extending his hand to the British official, and with a wide smile uttered with an incomprehensible pronunciation the English word "trade." As he spoke he reached for his sword, and offered it in exchange for the Smith and Wesson, at which the Englishmen naturally stepped back and drew his revolver; but as Ryoma had still not drawn his blade, the dumbfounded Briton soon realized that this smiling samurai meant no harm.

Ryoma broke out in laughter, and said, "Ito-san, ask him if he'll trade his pistol for my sword."

The Englishman declined Ryoma's offer, but was nevertheless impressed with this odd samurai who would trade what other men of the two-sworded class considered their soul for a Smith and Wesson.

Sometime later, Ryoma was presented with a gift from Takasugi Shinsaku, the founder of a corps of Loyalists from Choshu domain called the Extraordinary Corps. The gift. A Smith and Wesson revolver Model #2. Ryoma spun the cylinder, wild-eyed, like a child playing with a much longed-after toy.

"Is it loaded?" he asked. "I think so," said Takasugi. Ryoma stood up, walked over to the window. "It's funny," he said, cocking the hammer, closing one eye, and taking careful aim at the sky. "All those years we've spent practicing with the sword, when this thing is so much easier to use, and more effective too." Ryoma fired a shot. "It is loaded!" he roared. "I'm sure it will come in very useful someday."

It did come in useful as Ryoma used it to fight off would be assassins in the first attack on his life. Unfortunately it would not help him the second time he was attacked. He did not have his revolver as he had given it to his sister as a gift after seeing her for the first time in many years since he left Tosa.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crazy pictures of crazy Japanese people

If you have followed or lived in Japan for a while, you have probably seen many crazy and disturbing pictures or witnessed firsthand some pretty bizarre "only in Japan" things.  Paul Hartrick over at paulhartrick.com has posted some pretty funny AND disturbing pictures of people in Japan.  Definitely some of the most hilarious and bizarre pictures I have seen yet and I have seen some pretty strange people in Japan.

The eyelash lady reminds me of some horror movie like Sadako from Ringu.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keanu Reeves as a samurai?

It is being reported that Keanu Reeves may become a samurai in a new movie about the famous Japanese story of the 47 Ronin.  I don't know about this choice.  Keanu was ok as a "chosen one" in the Matrix movies but I don't see him as a samurai.  Couldn't they have found a more appropriate actor then he.  

What I liked about The Last Samurai or Letters from Iwo Jima was that the Japanese characters spoke Japanese.  I can't really get into historical movies about non-English speaking figures where all the characters in the movie speak English such as the new Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie where all the Germans speak English.  I assume that Keanu does not speak Japanese so the movie will be in English.

Can anybody think of some other actors that would be more appropriate for this movie?  Below is a brief description of the 47 Ronin story.  I am currently reading a book about the 5th Tokugawa Shogun Tsunayoshi.  It was during his reign that this event occurred and the book covers it so I will write more about the 47 Ronin later.

The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin, also known as the Forty-seven Samurai,took place in Japan at the start of the eighteenth century. The tale has been described as the country's "national legend." It recounts the most famous case involving the samurai code of honor, bushidō.

The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (became ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no Suke. The ronin avenged their master's honor after patiently waiting and planning for over a year to kill Kira. In turn, the ronin were themselves forced to commit seppuku — as they had known they would be — for committing the crime of murder. With little embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should persevere in their daily lives. The popularity of the almost mythical tale was only enhanced by rapid modernization during the Meiji era of Japanese history, when many people in Japan longed for a return to their cultural roots.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Old School Haikyo

I found these cool haikyo photos from here.

They are from an old school somewhere in the Kanto area. What is interesting are some of the objects that were left behind long ago.

A pair of shoes and other items.

Appears to be tablets of medication.

An old record player.

A microscope oddly placed on an old bed.

A music amplifier.

An old projector.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

U.S. is no Japan

At least when it comes to the current economic problems faced by the United States when compared to Japan's economic crisis during the Lost Decade of the 1990's.  This is according to economist Carl Weinberg

I have heard this comparison before and they are similar.  Both Japan and the United States had massive real estate bubbles.  I believe Japan's was more in the commercial sector while in the USA, it was based in the residential real estate sector.  They both spread to the financial sector resulting in massive losses and failures in the banking and financial industry.

But what I have also heard and read several times recently, and repeated by Mr. Weinberg, is that how Japan and the United States dealt with their economic and banking problem was and is quite different.  Below are some quotes from Mr. Weinberg that explains the differences in how Japan and the US dealt with the crisis.

"What happened in Japan was a more serious crippling of its banking sector followed by inept policies aimed at covering up imbalances in the system, not addressing them," Mr. Weinberg wrote. "Policy makers today are doing the right thing, which is to bridge the credit crunch and to rehabilitate the institutions. Today's episode will be long — longer by far than a normal downturn — but it will not be catastrophic."

The Japanese  banks were sitting on a mountain of non-performing loans that was as big as GDP, Mr. Weinberg wrote. They couldn't write off the loans or they would go bust. The government provided new accounting rules instead of new capital to support the system. Banks couldn't lend, borrowers couldn't get any money.

"In the current financial crisis, bank problems are being addressed by both generous liquidity to keep them afloat and public and private capital injections to speed up the healing of balance sheets," he added. Borrowers remain generally creditworthy and there is important fiscal stimulus coming on stream which Japan did not get around to until well into the collapse.

"The enormous insolvencies and policy errors Japan endured in the 1990s are not being repeated, so we do not see many parallels between them and what everyone is experiencing today," he said. 

The problems in the US are bad, worse than in decades.  But they probably won't be as bad as what happened in Japan and it will be nowhere near as bad as it was in the Great Depression.  People and the media need to stop throwing around the big D word because it is not going to happen and only creates more fear.  But of course fear is what sells newspapers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

About Nikko - The Ishidorii

The Ishidorii is a stone torii gate that was originally dedicated in 1618. It is 9 meters tall and the pillars at the base have a diameter of 3.6 meters. The Ishidorii is considered one of the three best stone torii gates in Japan. It is the biggest among the stone-made torii gates from the Edo period. The other two gates are located at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and the Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura.

Emperor Gomizunoo (1596-1680) wrote "Tosho-daigongen" (Divine designation of Ieyasu Tokugawa) which is on the frame on the upper part of the Ishidorii. The main material for the gate is granite which was produced in Fukuoka prefecture. The gate is made up of 15 pieces of the stone material. Each piece is connected by an axle, and the crossmembers have cavities to reduce the weight. The gate also was designed with earthquake resistant features. The joint of the cross members slipped during a 1949 earthquake but they shifted back into place during subsequent aftershocks. (Nikko Tourist Association)

This is a pretty impressive gate. It is at the top of a long series of wide steps which are at the top end of a short dirt road within the Toshogu temple complex. In 2004, I attended the annual 1000 Samurai Procession Festival. I was at the bottom end of the road looking back up towards the Ishidorii. The 1000 samurai bagan their procession near the gate and proceeded down the road. This event occurred on a Sunday. On Saturday, there was a demonstration where horse-mounted samurai road full-speed up the road without using their hands to guide the horse. They were using both of their hands to fire a bow and arrow at targets as they flew by at full speed. They guided their horses with their legs. (Previous post on this festival).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top Japanese pitcher close to deal with Red Sox

The AP reports Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa moved a step closer to signing with the Boston Red Sox after rejecting offers from three other major league teams.

The 22-year-old right-hander contacted the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves on Friday to reject their offers, Kyodo News agency reported Friday.

Tazawa is expected to hold a news conference early next week to announce his decision. He reportedly received offers from the Rangers, Braves, Mariners and Red Sox.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whale Wars

There is a new series from the Animal Planet channel. It is a TV show that follows the environmentalists that harass and attack the Japanese whaling ships.

Let me state that I am not happy about the killing of whales. But I am also not happy with the extreme environmental activists. The "eco warriors" or the "eco terrorists". I put these whale activists in these categories. Eco terrorists. They break the law and engage in dangerous activity in order to try and stop the legal whaling activities.

I sent an email to animal planet stating that I did not agree with their TV show which I told them glorified these illegal eco terrorist activities. Below is the Animal Planets response to my email:

Dear Viewer,

Thank you for contacting Animal Planet.

Last winter, Animal Planet's producers were embedded with the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society, a non-violent conservation group that uses hardline
tactics in stopping alleged illegal whaling activities, founded by former
Greenpeace member Paul Watson. The new television series, entitled WHALE
WARS, is an intimate character study of the members of the organization on
how far would they go to stop this practice.

Several much-disputed and internationally publicized incidents unfolded
during the filming, including two Sea Shepherd crew members boarding and
being held by a Japanese vessel, as well as when Watson claimed to have
been shot during an encounter with another Japanese ship – a claim the
Japanese whalers adamantly deny. Watson, who was wearing a protective
vest, was unharmed in the situation.

Animal Planet showcase these events, the challenges, missteps, mishaps and
more in WHALE WARS spotlighting this global conservation issue that has
several nations at odds over the practice of whaling in oceanic
territories. In allowing viewers to get a closer look, Animal Planet in
no way endorses Sea Shepherd or their controversial tactics but thinks it
is important for viewers to judge for themselves. By the outpouring of
responses, it appears that is exactly what viewers are doing.

Thank you for your interest in our programming.


Viewer Relations
Animal Planet

The advertisements for the new TV show clearly glorify the activists. The ads have some of the eco whale activists speaking of their cause while emotional music plays and scenes play of their dangerous and "heroic" activity. It seems to me Animal Planet appears to be is endorsing their activity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Life of the Great Sakamoto Ryoma

I could write pages on Sakamoto Ryoma but I will just list some of his high points and accomplishments.

Ryoma was a samurai from the Tosa domain. He abandoned his domain in 1862 to join the Loyalists fighting to restore the emperor to power, overthrow the Tokugawa Shogun and expel the foreigners.

In 1862, Ryoma decided to assassinate Katsu Kaishu. Katsu was a high ranking officer in the Tokugawa government. He was the commander of the ship "Kanrin-maru" on it's first mission to the U.S., sent by the shogun for the purpose of signing the Japan-U.S. commercial treaty. He was, perhaps, the most progressive person in the Shoguns government. His ideas on communicating with foreigners and his apparent support of the shogun aroused the anger of the Loyalists.

Katsu apparently knew of Ryoma's true intentions and persuaded him to listen to his views before taking any action. As Katsu later wrote, Ryoma did listen, admitted his true purpose, and said, "I am ashamed of my narrow-minded bigotry and beg you to let me became your disciple." After that, Ryoma introduced his friends to Katsu. It was an abrupt change in Ryoma's philosophy that led him to become a trusted mentor of Katsu. Katsu was convinced that Japan should have a navy for protection from other countries. But Katsu also knew that Tokugawa regime was weak.

Katsu persuaded the shogun to establish a naval school in Kobe. Katsu soon appointed Ryoma as a head of the new school.

In 1864, Japan continued to destabilize. The Choshu clan had bombed Dutch ships, the Satsuma clan had fought with the British at Kagoshima, and more assassinations had taken place. Later the two clans were attacked by a western allied forces. Satsuma and Choshu suffered humiliating defeats which forced them to realize the power of the west.

In 1864, Ryoma with about 20 friends started the "Kameyama Shachu" (the company) which would later become known as the "kaientai" (Naval Auxiliary Force). The kaientai is sometimes called Japan's first corporation. Ryoma modeled his corporation on foreign corporations with shareholders and investors. The company was used to aid Choshu and other domains with guns and other weapons to fight the Tokugawa.

Although Satsuma and Choshu were both rivals of the Tokugawa, they were also bitter rivals to each other. Ryoma began working hard to unite these to rival clans. He knew that if Satsuma and Choshu were united, they would be strong enough to defeat the Shogun. Ryoma finally realized his dream by convincing these two clans to unite in 1866.

The following day, Ryoma was staying at an inn where his girlfriend Oryo worked. The government learned of his negotiations with the two clans and sent soldiers to attack him. Over 20 soldiers broke into the house. Ryoma earlier had obtained a revolver and he used it against his attackers but his fingers were so badly wounded in the sword fight that he could no longer shoot. Ryoma escaped out the back and to safety at the Satsuma mansion in Kyoto where his wounds were nursed. After this event, Ryoma married Oryo.

In 1867, one of Ryoma's commercial ships was sunk negligiently by the Kii clan, who were relatives of the Shogun. Ryoma began negotiations with the Kii clan to try to secure funds for its replacement. Ryoma had become very familiar with international maritime law and Ryoma wanted this to be the first accident resolved by using maritime law in Japan. He succeeded in obtaining a rather large sum of money from Kii. The Kii clan was humiliated and Ryoma became famous.

Ryoma was now one of the most influential people in Japan, even though he was just a "lowly ronin".

Ryoma now believed that avoiding a bloody civil war was necessary to avoid foreign subjugation. He came to believe that the best plan to avoid war would be for the Shogun to relinquish power to the emperor peacefully. Ryoma told Goto Shojiro, a Tosa official, his idea and he in turn relayed it to the Tosa lord, who thus became the first to formally ask the Shogun to resign.

Ryoma's ideas for a new government were outlined in his Eight Point Plan. He suggested that power should be returned to the emperor and that the value of gold and silver be equalized with that of other countries. Ryoma made a list of the new government officials which was read by Saigo Takamori of Satsuma who wondered why Ryoma did not put himself on the list. Ryoma then told him, "I don't like the red tape and I have a dream that I will have business with western countries using my ships."

Stunningly, the shogun accepted Ryoma's plan to return his authority to the emperor in October of 1867. Sakamoto Ryoma's great efforts over the last five years led to the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogun, who's family had ruled for over 250 years.

In November of 1867, Ryoma was in Kyoto with his friend Nakaoka Shintaro. On the 15th they were both assassinated at a soy sauce shop called Omiya. Ryoma was 33. It was never proven clearly who assassinated Ryoma but many believe it was Kii domain in revenge for their humiliation in the ship sinking affair.

What was unique about Ryoma compared to many other leading men during this time in Japanese history, Ryoma thought of equality and freedom and he hated the class distinctions that existed in Japan.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Black Ships

It is well known that the intrusions of the western powers in the 1850's helped trigger the eventual collapse of the Tokugawa Shogun's. In particular, it was the Black Ships of the United States in 1853 commanded by Commodore Perry.

In a carefully calculated act of intimidation, Perry led a squadron of four warships into Edo Bay. Perry's command ship was a state-of-the-art steamship. At more then 2,400 tons, it overmatched at least 15 Japanese ships put together. The American ships entered Edo Bay at nearly nine knots, leaving the shogunal navy scrambling in their wake.

Shogunal officials were astonished by the ships' armaments. Observing from shore, Kagawa Eizaemon, an aide to the Uraga magistrate, counted about seventy large-caliber cannons. The shogunate had roughly 100 cannons around Edo Bay, but only 11 of these were of comparible caliber.

With four ships Perry had outgunned Japan's supreme warlord. Stunned, shogunal forces were forced to receive President Fillmore's "request" for a treaty with the United States. Perry had "invaded" Japan without firing a shot.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New from Japan to the USA

One of the things that I like about visiting Japan is seeing products or services that you don't see in the United States. And due to my time spent in Japan, sometimes I will see a new product in the United States that I had previously seen in Japan where most Americans would never realize that.

UNIQLO is one. I have been to UNIQLO many times during my visits to Japan and have some clothes from there when I am lucky enough to find some that fit my 6 foot 3 inch frame. A couple of years ago UNIQLO started to make a move into the US market when they opened one or two stores back East. They have yet to move out to the West coast yet and it may be a while before that happens due to the economy.

More recently, Family Mart has been expanding in to the US. Although they are not the traditional convenience store formats that you see in Japan. They have opened many outlets in the downtown Los Angeles area but they are a more upscale style convenience store and stores are not called Family Mart but are called Famima. You guessed it, a combination of the name Family Mart.

And within the last year or so, Gulliver has now come across the ocean to California. I am not sure if Gulliver is all over Japan but if you are not familiar with it, they are a used car dealership. I had seen the funny looking Gulliver signs all over Tochigi and now there is a Gulliver in Torrance California.

And yesterday, I saw a TV ad for Yakult. A beverage from Japan. This is same Yakult as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball team. I remember seeing Yakult TV ads and on store shelves in Japan. I have never had it though but it is some sort of milk-like product. One thing that is interesting is that the bottles of Yakult here in the US are really tiny but a little bigger then the bottles in Japan.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toyota vs GM

GM is expected to lose almost $16 billion this year. GM is laying off tens of thousands of employees. The company is BEGGING for money from the Feds. Yet the CEO of GM makes many, many millions of dollars in compensation per year.

While Toyota is also struggling in the difficult economy, Toyota is projected to EARN about $5 billion this year. When Toyota shut down their Tundra full-size pickup factory in Texas for about 6 weeks earlier this year, they did not lay anyone off. The factory employees STILL earned there regular salary WHILE participating in community service projects sponsored by Toyota around the city of San Antonio, Texas. Toyota, and no other Japanese car company, are asking for help from the Japanese government. AND, the president of Toyota makes a very reasonable and well deserved salary of $1 million per year.

It's easy to see which company is well run and which one is not and only makes excuses.

Where would it stop. If aid is given to the Detroit automakers, then will the airlines come begging next? Then home builder companies, insurance companies, big and small retailers? They will also say we need government help also.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

About Nikko - Karadou-torii

This torii gate is called the Karadou-torii. The famous Yomeimon Gate is seen in the background. The 3rd Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu spent approximately 200,000,000 yen in today's currency for the construction of this torii gate.

This torii gate is unusual in that it is made of bronze which is also why it cost so much. What is also unusual is that a lotus flower is carved on the foot of the pillars. It is unusual because the lotus flower is associated with buddhism while torii gates are asscoiated with Shinto Shrines.

That is one way to tell a Shinto shrine from a Buddhist temple if there is a torii gate located at the entrance.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Satsumaimo, the Japanese sweet potato. Do you know where the name satsumaimo comes from?

The domain of Satsuma.

Satsuma was one of the powerful outside feudal domains during the Edo period. Satsuma was one of the domains that fought against and lost to Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603.

However, Satsuma remained a powerful outside domain. Although the domains were forbidden by the Tokugawa Shoguns to engage in foreign trade, Satsuma domain did not abide by this rule. Satsuma engaged in much international trading during the Edo period (1603-1868), including with China, where they originally imported sweet potato's from.  Later, Satsuma became famous for growing the sweet potato's in their domain.

Hence, the name, satsumaimo.

$850 Christmas Chicken

I guess the current worldwide economic crisis has not affected averyone.

In Japan, $850 Christmas chicken defies recession

For those in Japan willing to splurge this Christmas despite a looming recession, a department store is offering truffle-stuffed roast chickens for 84,000 yen ($847) apiece.

Takashimaya Co has started taking orders for 12 capons to be flown in from Landes, France in time for Christmas Eve and filled with black truffles, foie gras, white sausage and chestnuts.

“People may think it's expensive, but it would be perfect for a party,” said a spokeswoman at Takashimaya.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Art of War

Sun Tzu's classic, "The Art of War" has obviously been around along time. It recently, in the last 5 or 10 years, has become popular again. Interpretations of the old Chinese book have been written to help people to become successful in life, or business or other areas.

The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, also read this book. According to the book, "The Last Shogun" by Ryotaro Shiba, Yoshinobu was rereading the classic book during his last days in power. Yoshinobu used the book to try and help him better understand his enemy, the leader of the Satsuma forces.

Amazing to think that a historic book used today by business professionals, executives, and other leaders was also used by the Japan's last shogun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Last Shogun Remembered

The last Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, lived out the rest of his life in quiet seclusion. He rarely talked about the events that led to his defeat at the hands of the Imperial loyalists, specifically the domains of Choshu and Satsuma. He also refused to see any but a few close associates from that time. Yoshinobu was afraid to talk. He was afraid that if he opened his mouth, inevitably some of what he said would be charged with bitterness.

Eventually, Yoshinobu did speak revealing what he felt about the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Satsuma he hated till his dying days, but against the ultranationalistic Choshu he never bore any grudge. This is how Yoshinobu explained it in old age:

Choshu had a kind of innocence. From the first, they held high their anti-Tokugawa banner, making it clear that they were our enemy. That's what I liked about them. Satsuma was different. Until the very end, they were touting kobu gattai (union of the imperial court and the shogunate), making out that they were my ally, and adopting a conciliatory tone--only to turn at the last possible moment, draw out a gleaming dagger, and stab the bakufu (shogunate) in the heart. Such craftiness is an abomination.

It was not until near the end of his life that he finally agreed to a meeting with the Emperor of Japan. In 1898, he met with Emperor Meiji. By this time, the imperial court regarded Yoshinobu highly. Many believed that due to Yoshinobu handing over power peacefully, that he was the greatest contributor to the establishment of the Meiji government. They felt he should now be honored.

His hosts were the emperor and empress. They wanted to treat him as a member of their family. The empress waited on him herself, filling his sake cup.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Melamine-tainted dough spurs Saizeriya to give pizza refunds

From the Japan Times. Melamine-tainted dough spurs Saizeriya to give pizza refunds

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Saizeriya Co., a restaurant chain offering low-cost Italian food, said Tuesday it will pay refunds to customers who ate its pizzas after the made-in-China dough was found to be tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Oh man! I ate at this restaurant in 2006. The article states that the contaminated dough was used over a recent 8-day period. Makes me wonder how many other times they may have used tainted melamine dough or other products.

One of the things I liked about this restaurant was that you can get a decent amount of yummy food for a very reasonable price. I hope it is not just because they were buying cheap dough.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Last Shogun

I just knocked of another book. The Last Shogun by Ryotaro Shiba. It is about the life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Shogun in Japanese history. I enjoyed it. It really showed that impossible situation that he was in trying to save the Tokugawa Shogunate and why he eventually abdicated.

I have conflicted feelings about Yoshinobu. On one hand I understand why he chose not to fight aggresively against his enemies. His situation was bleak and he wanted to avoid civil war and ultimatelty he did not want to be branded as an imperial enemy.

On the other hand, I also feel that he gave up too easily and the final days of his rule are dominated by what would seem to be cowardice. His loyal followers were desparate to fight back to preserve the shogunate but what did Yoshinobu do? He snuck out the back of Osaka Castle abandoning his loyal samurai who were prepared to fight to the death for him. He fled back to Edo (Tokyo).

Yoshinobu's enemies, mainly the domains of Satsuma and Choshu, knew this about him. They knew that he was terrified of being branded as a traitor to the Emperor. They knew that he did not what to be placed in history alongside the Ashikaga shoguns of the 14th century who overthrew the Emperor Go-Daigo and were forever branded as traitors to the emperor.

Satsuma and Choshu were bitter enemies of the Tokugawa shogunate ever since their defeat in 1600 at the famous battle of Sekigahara. They held that grudge for over 250 years. Finally they had their chance. They took control of the imperial court and therefore the new young emperor Meiji. They moved to have the court declare the Tokugawa and Yoshinobu as enemies of the emperor.

The final deciding battle between the Tokugawa forces and the armies of Satsuma and Choshu occurred at Tobu-Fushimi just south of Kyoto in 1868. The Tokugawa forces suffered a bitter defeat. But Yoshinobu's loyal followers still felt they could counterattack and be victorious. They were seething for battle. And they might have been right. The Tokugawa army still had thousands of soldiers in reserve in Osaka and vastly outnumbered the Satsuma and Choshu forces.

But Yoshinobu tricked his followers. He told them that, "Yes!" "We will fight". However, he snuck out the back of Osaka Castle and fled home to Edo. Without their leader, the Tokugawa forces disintigrated. When Yoshinobu finally arived in Edo, he was met by Katsu Kaishu, the former Tokugawa commissioner of warships. Yoshinobu, with tears in his eyes, said to Katsu "They carried the brocade banner."

The brocade banner. The banner of the Imperial House. It was carried by the armies of Satsuma and Choshu at the battle of Tobu-Fushimi announcing that they were now the Imperial Army. The first time in 800 years that the brocade banner was carried by an Army.

Yoshinobu's biggest fear had happened. He was a traitor to the Emperor. This he could not accept so he fled. He fled to Edo where he eventually agreed to a complete surrender to the Imperial forces. Yoshinobu was eventually pardoned by the new Imperial government. Many give credit to Yoshinobu for not dragging out a bloody civil war which would have weakened Japan and probably led to subjugation by the Western Powers.

Yoshinobu lived out a quiet life from that point. He died in 1913, the last Shogun of Japan.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mr. Aso's Latent Power

Once again, Aso is talking about Japan's latent power. Latent is defined as unrealized or not presently visible. In Aso's 2nd email newsletter, he again talks about Japan's latent power. In his message he states, "Japanese people should have more confidence in their latent powers. Japan must be "strong and bright." I hope to expand upon these ideas through this weekly e-mail magazine, and this issue marks its official inauguration."

It seems to me that Aso feels that Japan is a sleeping giant? Once the Japanese people realize their latent power, the nation will awake and become "strong and bright".

I think Japan's future will be strong and bright. I guess I actually can agree to Mr. Aso's idea about latent power. Japan just needs to figure out how to remain a "strong and bright" nation in the face of a declining and aging population and growing international political and economic competition.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Real Emperor of Japan?

Is the current emperor of Japan the true and legitimate emperor?

From 1333 to 1336, the emperor Go-Daigo attempted to reassert imperial authority against the Kamakura Shogun. This was called the Kenmu Restoration. The conflict between Go-Daigo and the shogunate centered on succession to the imperial throne. Whereas Go-Daigo demanded the authority to name his own heir, the shogunate insisted on maintaining a 13th century compromise whereby two rival branches of the imperial line would succeed to the throne in turn.

Go-Daigo refused to compromise, and in 1331 he launched a coup against the shogunate. The coup failed and Go-Daigo was sent into internal exile. Go-Daigo's warrior supporters reorganized and destroyed the shogunate in 1333. Once in power however, Go-Daigo showed little appreciation for his warrior allies. In the name of imperial rule he sought to strengthen central control at the expense of the regional authority of the warrior class.

In a striking miscalculation he named as shogun his own son, slighting the generals who had restored him to the throne. This disregard for warrior privilege alienated Go-Daigo's supporters and undermined his government. In 1335, Ashikaga Takauji, one of Go-Daigo's allies, drove him from Kyoto and installed as emperor a member of the rival lineage. Three years later Takauji arranged his own appointment as shogun, founding the Ashikaga shogunate, the 2nd of Japan's three shogun dynasties.

Go-Daigo continued to have supporters who defended his imperial line, known as the Southern Court and they fought against the Ashikaga shogunate. The imperial succession dispute was resolved in 1392, but the resolution represented a victory for the Northern Court. The two lines again agreed to alternate succession, but in practice the Northern line never relinquished control.

The current Japanese emperor descends from the Northern Court. The Southern Court effectively vanished.

(The Last Samurai-The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Last Bloody Years of the Samurai

Samurai Sketches: From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun

This book by Romulus Hillsborough, contains short stories of famous samurai during the bloody death throes of the Tokugawa Shogunate at the eve of the Meiji Resotoration. They describe samurai on both sides of the bloody conflict, those that supported the restoration of the emperor and those that were loyal to the Shogun.

These were the last true samurai of Japan. The warrior class of samurai had ruled Japan for a thousand years. There loyalty and devotion were unmatched. They were willing to kill for their beliefs. They were also willing to die. And this book explains that vividly. If you read this book, be warned, it can be gruesome and detailed in its explanation of the violence of that time.

One of the most famous samurai of this time was Sakamoto Ryoma. He was a ronin from Tosa. A masterless samurai. He left his domain of Tosa to join other ronin in Kyoto in the struggle to overthrow the Shogun and restore the emperor to power.

One day Ryoma encountered a friend. The man wore a long sword. Ryoma took one look at the sword, and said, "That sword is too long. If you get caught in close quarters, you won't be able to draw the blade." Showing the man his own sword, Ryoma said, "This is a better length."

Soon after, the man replaced his long sword with a shorter one, and showed it to Ryoma. Laughing, Ryoma produced a pistol from his breast pocket, and with a wide grin on his face said, "This is the weapon I've been using lately." The two friends met again some time later, when Ryoma took from his pocket a book of international law. "In the future," he said, "we are going to have to learn more than just the art of war. I've been reading this recently, and it is so very interesting."

Sakamoto Ryoma was assassinated in 1867 by samurai supporters of the Shogun, just months before the fall of the Shogun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Japanese businessman Kazuyoshi Miura found dead in jail cell

A Japanese businessman accused of conspiring to have his wife murdered 27 years ago in Los Angeles hanged himself in his jail cell overnight, a few hours after he arrived in the United States to face charges. (Los Angeles Times)

This Japanese businessman was accused of plotting the murder of his wife here in Los Angeles back in 1981. A Los Angeles Police detective had been searching for him since 1988.

Incredibly, in February, Miura foolishly wrote on his blog about plans to visit the U.S. territory of Saipan. He was arrested there on the 1988 warrant as he tried to return to Japan. He was brought back to Los Angeles to face trial.

But that won't happen now. Kazuyoshi Miura, 61, was found in his cell about 9:40 p.m. Friday by a jail officer during a routine inspection. He had used a piece of his shirt as a makeshift ligature and he committed suicide.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Army of Toshogu

Toshogu Shrine in Nikko is the famous mausoleum of the great Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who unified Japan under Tokugawa rule for 250 years. The House of Tokugawa finally collapsed in 1868 under the onslaught of Imperial forces. Oppositionists continued to fight for the Shogun through early 1868.

The Oppositionists fought battles as they retreated North from Edo (Tokyo). One of the Opposition units was lead by Shinsengumi commander Hijikata Toshizo. They marched under a great white banner emblazoned with the Chinese characters Tosho Daigongen, an alternate name for the Toshogu Shrine of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Hijikata's Tosho Daigongen unit fought and captured Utsunomiya Castle but were driven from the castle in a major offensive by Imperial forces. Hijikata and his Army of Toshogu eventually were defeated on the northern island of Ezo (Hokkaido).

Hopefully this will give those visiting Nikko more feeling of the historical significance of the Toshogu Shrine rather then just thinking of Nikko as another Japanese tourist destination full of temples and shrines.

Statue of Shinsengumi Commander Hijikata Toshizo

Monday, October 06, 2008

Taro Aso's first email newsletter

I received the first email newsletter from new Prime Minister Taro Aso. In it he introduces himself and explains the responsibilities he faces.

"The grave responsibility of the premiership has fallen upon
my shoulders, and I feel its weight keenly."

I would have used the word "great" responsibility rather then grave but maybe that is just a translation difference.

"I believe my mission is nothing less than to revive Japan,
making it once again a strong and bright nation."

Bright as in smart or bright as in you need to put on sunglasses when visiting Japan?

"I believe in the latent power of Japan."

Japan's power exists but cannot be seen is what he is saying. What does he mean by that?

"I hope each and every one of you will think of yourselves as members
of the Aso Cabinet, and share with me your frank opinions. Together,
let us energize Japan."

I hereby am resigning my post in the Aso cabinet.

What position do you hold in Mr. Aso's cabinet?

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Republic of Ezo

Did you know that after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, those opposed to the Imperial Restoration retreated to the North and formed the Republic of Ezo? Where is Ezo? Ezo is Hokkaido. At least that was what Hokkaido was called at that time.

As the Imperial Armies continued to move East and then North, the opposition forces retreated. Several Northern Han's or Domain's formed a union including Aizu, Sendai and several others. Along with the remnants of the Shinsengumi, they fought a series of battles against the Imperial Army into 1869.

Most of the northern Han's fell after the battle of Aizu and they declared their allegiance to the Emperor. The remaining opposition forces retreated to Ezo (Hokkaido) where they defeated a small contingent of Imperial soldiers at the Matsumae Han castle.

In December 1868, the opposition forces declared independence and created the Republic of Ezo. They elected a President and a Vice President. However, by January 1869, the Imperial Army massed over 16,000 troops for a final confrontation with the opposition forces. several thousand Imperial soldiers crossed the strait to Hakodate and the last of the opposition forces and Shinsengumi Samurai surrendered on May 18, 1869.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Shinsengumi - The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps

Shinsengumi - The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps

This book was written by Romulus Hillsborough and it describes the Shinsengumi during the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

You may have heard of the Shinsengumi. They are famous in Japan and there have been many movies and television shows made about this group.

The leaders of the Shinsengumi, Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo, are among the most celebrated men in Japanese history.

Prologue to the book

By the end of 1862, hordes of renegade samurai had abandoned their clans to fight under the banner of Imperial Loyalism. These warriors, derogatorily called ronin, had transformed the streets of the Imperial Capital into a sea of blood. The ronin were determined to overthrow the shogun's regime, which had ruled for 250 years.

Screaming "Heavan's Revenge," they weilded their swords with a vengeance upon their enemies. Terror reigned. Assassination was a nightly occurrence.

The authorities were determined to rein in the chaos and terror. A band of swordsmen was formed. They were given the name Shinsengumi - Newly Selected Corps - and commissioned to restore law and order to the Imperial Capital. They were reviled and revered, they were known alternately as ronin hunters, wolves, murderers, thugs, band of assassins, and eventually the most dreaded security force in Japanese history.

Their official mission was to protect the shogun; but their assigned purpose was single and clear, to eliminate the ronin who would overthrow the shogun's government. Endowed with an official sanction and unsurpassed propensity to kill, the men of the Shinsengumi swaggered through the ancient city streets. Under their trademark banner of "sincerity," their presence and even their very named evoked terror among the terrorists, as an entire nation reeled around them.

I will write some more about the Shinsengumi in additional posts. I also plan on reading two other books by this author about this time period.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Shogun

I just finished reading the book "The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu". This book explains what led to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun in 1868 and the restoration of the Emperor.

The Tokugawa Bakufu or Shoganate lasted over 250 years until its collapse in 1868. As many know, the foreign intrusion was a major factor in its demise. But by itself it was not the reason for the collapse. It was the culmination of several things that finally occurred at the same time that led to it. From the foreigners to fiscal and economic crisis to political crisis and lack of strong leadership. The foreign intrusion just provided the spark. There were many people in Japan who felt the Bakufu had disgraced Japan by giving into the barbarians. The coalition of samurai, some powerful domains, and the Imperial Court finally defeated the Tokugawa Bakufu.

The fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate was one of the great events in Asian and world history. It changed Japan from a nation of isolation to a nation that now had to not only prevent its subjugation at the hands of world powers but to become a world power themselves.

I have read several books on Japanese history. What I have come to believe is the linkage from the fall of the Tokugawa Shoguns all the way through Japan's eventual destruction in 1945. This may be an oversimplification but this is how I see how Japan moved from 1868 to 1945.

In the 1860s, Japan was officially isolated from the rest of the world. But the world was changing. Foreign powers were exerting their influence in Asia. America, France, Russia, England and others were using their power to control China and other parts of Asia. Then in 1853, the American's came to Japan in their black ships. Later, England and France threatened, and sometimes used, force to get the Shogunate to open up and forcing the Bakufu to sign unequal treaties.

With the fall of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor in 1868, Japan went on a rapid program of economic and military development in order to withstand the foreign powers and eventually to grow Japan's influence in Asia.

This led to Japan's first major confrontation with a foreign power in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. Japan defeated Russia in that war and gained the title of a world power. All this in a little over 30 years.

From that, Japan continued its goal of competing against the other powers by subjugating Korea, China and the rest of Asia and all of this ultimately led to World War II.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Epic Financial Crisis

The massive financial crisis in the US affects the entire world including Japan.

This quote below from MSNBC pretty much sums it up:

Our greed, folly and ineptitude are to blame. So is a willful refusal to acknowledge that there is no free lunch and that what goes up must come down. We have officially ruined what it took us a hundred years to build: the credibility of Wall Street and dollar-centric commerce.

We have seen this before in the Savings and Loan crisis of the 80's and other booms and busts.  But this is the mother of all examples of the incredible amount of greed.  It is disgusting, especially when we read about the corporate execs from these companies getting millions in bonuses or golden parachutes.  Sickening.