Daibutsu, Kamakura

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

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.