Friday, December 18, 2009

‘Superior Title, Inferior Book’-Kenneth Swope’s “A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail”

Kenneth Swope’s new book on the Bunroku/Keicho No Eki (the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597) carries the title of another Japanese name for the conflict: “A Dragon’s Head and A Serpent’s Tail”, referring to something that has an impressive beginning but no real end. It’s an inspired title, easily the best among English language books on the war (if only because Stephen Turnbull’s publishers nixed the ‘Hunting the Tiger’ title Turnbull had originally planned for ‘Samurai Invasion’). In homage to Swope’s articles that have a ‘dual’ title (such as ‘Yi Said, Li Said’ or ‘Crouching Tigers, Secret Weapons’) we’ve went the same route and called this review ‘Superior Title, Inferior Book’. Disappointingly, the book has failed to even begin to live up to the expectations many had for it when Swope promoted it in his critiques of other English language books on the war. It’s a work written with no small amount of bias and many errors of fact and interpretation.

For the most part, one cannot fault Swope for a poor research ethic. There are fully 26 pages of works citied as sources, providing many excellent avenues of study for readers. As will be discussed later, the preponderance of Chinese sources works against it to a degree. For his Japanese sources, Swope relies too heavily on gunkimono (Japanese war tales, mixing fiction with reality and usually greatly exaggerated). He states that Chinese and Korean sources address supply, intelligence, and planning far more than Japanese accounts which stress the exploits of individual warriors. This is a direct result of relying on gunkimono-had Swope sought out letters and reports used by individual daimyo, he would have found them to be much the same as the reports of their mainland Asian foes. In another example, Swope uses as a source “Matsura Hoin Seikan Nikki”, a gunkimono written by descendants of Matsura Shigenobu (one of Konishi Yukinaga’s sub-commanders in the 1st Division). Here, Swope states “When he finally arrived at Nagoya, Hideyoshi stoked the troops’ battle lust with another bombastic speech…At the sound of a gong, the sails fluttered, and the vessels launched in unison, firing flaming arrows into the sky to mark their departure”. Well, obviously Swope is here using pejorative language when describing the Japanese (something he does throughout the book-more on that later), but that’s not the point. The point is that Hideyoshi was nowhere near Nagoya when the Matsura and the invasion force departed. Letters and other contemporary documents show he was still well over a week away. The “Matsura Hoin” was a history put together almost 300 years after the fact. It was written to not only play to the extreme anti-Korean sentiment of the Meiji era, but also to link the Matsura family with Hideyoshi (whose reputation was once again in favor during the Meiji period, both as a symbol of anti-Tokugawa rule and for his invasions of Korea). But again, Swope’s reliance on and inability to evaluate gunkimono (and using Meiji period gunkimono on top of that) results in presenting fantasy as fact. These contemporary letters and reports are harder to find than Korean or especially Chinese ones-matters of war were largely left up to individual daimyo rather than filtered through a bureaucracy and ending up in one place. Hence, the most reliable Japanese records tend to be scattered throughout museums, temples, and individual collections-but they’re out there and would have made far better sources.

Swope also uses secondary sources such as James Murdoch’s “A History of Japan” or George Sansom’s “A History of Japan” for descriptions and background. These works are considered outdated by the Japanese historical community and (in Murdoch’s case) largely of only historiographical use. Swope also curiously addresses sources and issues that haven’t been advanced by academia for many years-most notably the claim that the Japanese lost the war only due to the death of Hideyoshi, something that no scholar has seriously considered for years. Does anyone else consider Sansom a ‘modern’ writer? Despite all this, Swope has certainly done his homework and brought quite a bit of material to the table.

However, research is only the beginning-how it is used and interpreted is by far the most important part of the academic equation. Swope falls well short in this aspect, making the evidence fit his foredrawn conclusion (that the Ming army was a highly advanced and capable war machine that was the primary cause of the Japanese defeat) rather than let the facts lead him to one. While he examines Japanese sources with a critical eye (as well he should), this rarely extends to Ming sources which are almost always accepted at face value. Given the fact that Ming battle reports and memorials are well known to be every bit as self-serving and exaggerated as Japanese records (illustrated in his text by lies that were so huge, even the Chinese felt the need to investigate them), his faith in them is rather unwarranted. Swope further ‘gilds the lily’ by his choices of language and presentation when dealing with either side. For example, Swope writes about two different sieges-both situations where the defenders were sorely outnumbered and bereft of supplies, but in one case being the Chinese and the other the Japanese. Of the Chinese defenders of Namwon Swope writes “The overmatched defenders somehow managed to hold out against incredible odds for four days”, but the Japanese defenders of Ulsan are dismissed as “crumbling and they were on the verge of capitulating”. One would never suspect that the Chinese were routed by the Japanese in both battles. Among other superlatives, the Ming are routinely described by Swope as ‘heroic’, ‘superior’, ‘valiant’, ‘crushing’, and seemingly possessing nothing but ‘crack troops’. This type of wordplay glorifying the Ming and downplaying the Japanese (and also the Ming’s Korean allies) unfortunately infests the book and works to undermine Swope’s credibility. Swope states that the 2nd invasion “might have been avoided entirely had it not been for the pride of Hideyoshi and Sonjo, both of whom were too stubborn to yield to their rival.” Including Hideyoshi is completely justified. But not only was Sonjo completely left out of the peace negotiations, Swope ignores the fact that it was Ming inflexibility and pride combined with Hideyoshi’s that led to the second Japanese assault. The Ming are given virtually all the credit for the defeat of the Japanese forces in Korea-even though the Japanese were already defeated by the time the Ming found time to aid the Koreans. The Korean navy in concert with the Korean Righteous Armies and guerillas had strangled Japanese supply lines, stopped the Japanese assault, confined it to a narrow corridor, and begun to chip away at Japanese gains. Combined with some of the roughest terrain on Earth, the harsh Korean winter, and rampant disease, the Japanese defeat was just a matter of time. While there is no doubt the Ming numbers and presence sped up this process, to give them the lion’s share of the victory is a dubious proposition (especially since, outside of Chiksan, they were routinely defeated by the Japanese in most land engagements and performed poorly in those they managed to win, such as at Pyongyang).

The book leaves itself open to virtually all the criticism Swope leveled at other books dealing with the Bunroku/Keicho No Eki-these being primarily Stephen Turnbull’s “Samurai Invasion” and Samuel Hawley’s “The Imjin War”. Swope calls both Turnbull and Hawley to task for writing from an isolated perspective (Turnbull from the Japanese, Hawley from the Korean) and chastises them for using primarily Japanese and Korean sources. However, Swope comes right out and admits his work is written “primarily from the Ming perspective and relies far more on Chinese sources than those produced by Koreans and Japanese”. Further, while neither Turnbull nor Hawley seem to have a nationalistic agenda in mind, as discussed above it appears that Swope does. Turnbull is accused of “glossing over Japanese atrocities by blaming them on ‘lesser soldiers not in the first rank of samurai heroes.’” Swope does the same thing with Ming atrocities against their Korean allies, admitting to misconduct by the lower ranks but emphasizing (largely unconvincingly) that officers attempted to keep these under control. It's rather difficult to believe Ming officers weren't heavily involved with atrocities against the Koreans when the heads they presented to their superiors as trophies often included those of Korean peasant women. One can visualize a sheepish Ming officer mumbling "Gee, how'd THAT get in there?". And finally, in the course of a particularly vicious review left on Amazon for Hawley’s ‘Imjin War’, Swope calls Hawley’s book “little more than a basic narrative”. Swope admits his book is “to present a narrative of The First Great East Asian War for the broader community of military historians.” Turnbull and Hawley, meet the pot to your kettles.

Based on the text, it seems Swope has little more than a basic understanding of Japanese history. The book has a liberal dose of errors to confirm this, including small ones (such as stating that Akechi Mitsuhide forced Oda Nobunaga to commit seppuku, when in fact no one knows for certain how Nobunaga died) and medium sized ones (such as stating that Hideyori was Hideyoshi’s first son-he was actually his second, and the death of Hideyoshi’s first son was a major factor in the Taiko’s fawning upon Hideyori). There are larger errors as well, such as Swope claiming that Neo-Confucianism was introduced to Japan by Korean scholars kidnapped in the course of the war. By that time Neo-Confucianism had been around Japan for centuries (since the early Kamakura period, 1185-1333) with members of the Imperial Court such as the Fujiwara and other Japanese scholars of Chinese culture holding forth on it for the edification of various nobles and daimyo. However, it manifests itself most prominently in Swope’s apparent lack of knowledge of Japanese battle tactics. Time and time again we are told that the Japanese altered their tactics out of fear of the Ming army and the might of their artillery. For example, Swope states that “The Battle Of Pyongyang convinced them (the Japanese) that they could not go head to head with the Ming when the latter could bring their big guns to bear…For the rest of the war, the Japanese preferred to use ambushes and hit-and-run tactics against the Chinese.” He goes on to state that in response to Chinese artillery the Japanese preferred to fight from fortified positions. This was nothing new-the Japanese had been fighting this way for years and these tactics were in no way adopted in response to the Ming army. Ambushes, hit-and-run attacks with mounted archers, and surprise attacks had long been a favored weapon in the Japanese arsenal (dating back to at least the gunkimono of the 10th century). Preferring to fight from defensive positions also goes back that far, and became increasingly prevalent in response to the increasingly large number of firearms being used in the later years of the Sengoku. After Nagashino proved the strength of a well thought out defensive position manned with gunners (even as few as 1000 or less, according to some accounts), Japanese warfare increasingly had become a contest to see who could lure who out of their fortifications first. The defensive mentality of the Japanese is illustrated by the fact that at Pyongyang they fought from a fortified, defensive position-BEFORE they had encountered the supposed might of Ming artillery (and rendering Swope’s argument invalid). Their approach remained roughly the same throughout the war-the only real difference between Pyongyang and Ulsan or Sachon is that the Japanese were using Korean fortifications in the former, and their own better designed and more effective structures in the latter. Swope would have been well served to have had a scholar well versed in Japanese history read his manuscript before publication-many of these errors and misconceptions could have been prevented. This underlines one of the major roadblocks to a ‘definitive’ history of the Korean Invasions-it would be difficult to find a scholar with outstanding knowledge of the history of the three major parties. To date, the three major works have all been written from the perspective of one or the other.

Nomenclature also seems to be a problem for the book. Swope states that the Shimazu wajou (a Japanese-style castle built in Korea) on Cheju Island (containing 2000 men) had 105 artillery pieces. Yes, 105. It would make for an interesting study to see if there existed 105 pieces of what is traditionally considered artillery (a mounted gun, either in an emplacement or carriage) across the whole of Japan in 1593, much less in a small coastal fort staffed by only 2000 men in Korea. Instead, it appears that only one of the guns would be properly considered artillery (and was most likely a captured Korean gun at that) with the rest being the heavier gauge arquebus that many Japanese units had (and that were occasionally fired from improvised emplacements). This calls into question whether the figures given for Ming artillery use the same rather loose definition.

Problems extend to all facets of the book, ranging from largely useless maps to poorly-formatted endnotes. Most of the maps only show city locations, not troop movements, and the couple that do so look (quite) a bit like maps seen in Turnbull’s book. The maps are poorly coordinated with the text-there are plenty of locations and names plotted that are not mentioned in the text, but many that do appear in the text aren’t noted on the maps. Names used on the maps do not always match with the ones used by Swope (one would presume they’re using different methods of Romanization). Dates used on the maps differ from the text, one appearing to use the Chinese calendar and the other the Western calendar. There are also several maps of China proper that have little to do with the Korean conflict. Swope uses endnotes rather than the more scholarly footnotes, making it inconvenient to check and note sources. He also uses ‘block endnotes’-every citation within a paragraph is listed in a combined entry, at times making it difficult to tell which source a quote or statistic is coming from. Many times facts pertinent to a discussion are hidden this way, such as a Chinese account of a Japanese envoy telling them that Oda Nobunaga had slain the King Of Japan (Swope correctly states this as being false in the endnotes, but would have been better served doing so in the text). There are also the inevitable typos and grammar errors that work their way into any work of this size-for example, Song Yingchang (Ming military commissioner of Korea in 1592-1593) is spelled Sang Yingchang on page 301. And while not an error per se, the use of anachronistic words such as ‘blitzkrieg’ and ‘kulturepolitik’ in referring to the conflict does seem more in keeping with a popular rather than a scholarly account. Style wise, Swope repeats certain words and phrases over and over…and over and over and over. Some of these include ‘superior’, ‘crushed’, ‘heroic’, ‘crack troops’, and ‘rained bullets’. The book has also been criticized for reading like a chapter of a biography of the Wanli Emperor rather than an account of the Korean invasions.

Swope at times even mangles Chinese and Korean history. He states that Chinese commander Song Yingchang led troops into battle at Pyongyang. According to the "Ming Shi" (History Of The Ming) as well as Song's own letters, Song at no time was present in Korea. Swope is inconsistent with his Romanization of Korean proper and place names. He also seems to have 'picked and choosed' his Korean sources with an eye on glorifying the Ming-for example, he heavily leans on "Record Of A Rebuilt Tributary State", written by a Korean author who was known to have sung the praises of the Ming more than any other contemporary. But well known Korean sources that were critical of the Ming such as "Veritable Records Of The Choson Dynasty" are never mentioned, let alone used. This further points to only the evidence that supports his central thesis being presented.

This isn’t to say that the book is completely without merit. It does give some interesting insights into the bureaucracy of the Ming and their methods for raising, supplying, and deploying troops. It paints an excellent picture of the difficulties involved in fielding and transporting armies of this era in Asian history and the massive effect that supply had on strategy-an aspect of warfare that is too often passed over and downplayed in many histories. The overwhelming bureaucracy of the Ming and the involvement of civilian officials in warfare goes a long way towards explaining the substandard performance of the Ming army during the course of the conflict. When combined with the constant arguing with their Korean allies, it’s a miracle they were able to accomplish anything at all. Swope also takes some of the shine off the legend of Korean Admiral Yi, something which was sorely needed in English language treatments of the war. While Yi was indeed a major factor in the conflict and a master motivator who maximized the huge advantage his ships and armaments gave him, there’s little question his role has been glorified and overblown. Swope gives concrete examples where the legend did not quite match up with reality. There's a handy list of figures playing a part in the conflict with a short description of the part they played or office they held. Swope has a seven page listing of Chinese characters for many of the place and proper names used in the text, a great aid for those searching for more information and far preferable to including them piecemeal in the text (although it's touched by the error bug too, as when Mouri Hidemoto's name is given an additional spurious kanji character).

As is, “A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail” forms the weakest corner of a triangle comprised also of Turnbull’s “Samurai Invasion” and Hawley’s “The Imjin War”. Perhaps those enamored of the Wanli Emperor and convinced of the incredible fighting prowess of the Ming will find it a ‘must-have’-but in Swope’s words (if not his context), “Those seeking a serious and nuanced understanding of this conflict should best look elsewhere.” We found it a major disappointment-a biased and largely uncritical book with little to add that had not already been said by Turnbull or Hawley. The lack of new information is particularly galling in the light of Swope’s promises and hints that his much heralded Chinese sources would shed a whole new light on the war. In effect, all they did was prove that Ming officers and bureaucrats were easily the match of the Japanese and Admiral Yi in glorifying and exaggerating their accomplishments, and as quick to blame others for failures as the Japanese and Koreans. Swope also makes an unconvincing argument that the war should be considered “The First Great East Asian War”-do we really need another name for a conflict that has a dozen or more already? This book is destined to become the Chinese history counterpart to the Korea-centric “Admiral Yi and His Turtleboat Armada” (although, to be fair, not quite THAT bad). It is better than Turnbull’s 96-page stinker for Osprey, “The Samurai Invasion of Korea”, but not Turnbull’s original “Samurai Invasion” (which remains the strongest English language work on the war from a purely military standpoint). Hawley’s Imjin War, even with its assorted flaws, remains the best overall treatment of the conflict. Reading all three and getting each perspective would likely give the reader a solid overview of the war. However, the position of “Definitive English Language Account of Hideyoshi’s Korean Invasions” remains unclaimed and open. Any takers?

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's Tough Being A Man-Animeigo's Tora-san DVD Set

While there have been some long-lived film franchises in the West (most notably James Bond, Friday the 13th, and various other horror films), it's hard to believe that a series could make it to 48 films-all starring the same actor in the lead role. Animeigo's new four film "Tora-san" DVD boxed set is the first time that this iconic film series has been presented on home video for Western audiences. Actor Atsumi Kiyoshi made the character of Kuruma Torajio his own, and came to identify with the part so much that he turned down parts in other films that he thought might cause backlash against Tora-san. The series began in 1969 and only ended in 1996 with Atsumi's death. In between, Japanese audiences looking to capture the feeling of nostalgia these films were infused with filled theaters twice a year (or once, during the later years of the series) and helped keep Shochiku studios afloat during some tough times in the Japanese film industry.

The first film in the set is "Our Lovable Tramp". The Japanese title for this 1969 release, Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo ('It's Tough Being A Man') became the umbrella title for the entire series. As with most initial films of a series, this one is notable for establishing the main characters, their backstory, and the locale. Here Tora-san, a rough-around-the-edges peddler who had left home at an early age after a fight with his father, decides to return to Shibamata in Tokyo after 20 years. His parents and older brother have all passed away, but his sister Sakura is still living there with 'Uncle' and 'Auntie'. Tora-san attempts to reestablish himself with them, but his loutish behavior ruins Sakura's miai (a meeting that introduces the proposed partners in an arranged marriage). Also introduced is the group of workers in the factory next door that play a big part in the series-one of them, Hiroshi, is taken to task by Tora-san for showing too much interest in his sister. Tora's now-and-future flunkies (it's hard to imagine someone less capable than Tora, but there you go), Noboru and Gen, are introduced. And of course, it wouldn't be a Tora-san film if Tora didn't fall hard for a woman he can't have-in this case, Fuyuko, the daughter of the local temple's chief priest, Gozen-sama (a wonderful performance by Ryu Chishu). The humor's not as pronounced in the first film as it would become in later entries, and it plays largely like a drama. It does have its moments, though, especially during the miai's dinner and with Tora-san chasing after Fuyuko with an inflatable Nara souvenir deer.

Also released in 1969 was "Tora-san's Cherished Mother" (Zoku Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo). As explained in the first film, Tora's birth mother was a geisha and Tora himself was a 'mistake' made by his father. Tora learns that she has retired from being a geisha and is running a hotel in Kyoto. With visions of the perfect reunion playing in his head, he sets out for Kyoto to find her. He's aided by Natsuko, the daughter of his old schoolteacher, Sanpo. The elegant older woman Tora meets outside the hotel proves to be everything he had anticipated-but he's in for a big surprise. The humor in the second film is much more obvious with Tora faking injuries to win Natsuko's sympathy, having drinking bouts with Sanpo, finding himself in a kitchy "Love Hotel" with a nervous Fuyuko, and having to deal with a mother that turned out to be not what he had envisioned.

1970 saw the debut of the third film, "Tora-san: His Tender Love" (Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo: Futen No Tora). Once again, Tora leaves home when the attempts of his family to arrange a marriage for him result in Tora reuniting the woman with her real love. Tora takes up a position working at a hot springs resort to get closer to its owner, Oshizu. By now, you KNOW this relationship is not going to end well for Tora, but getting to that point is half the fun. Amazing coincidences abound-Tora's Auntie and Uncle just happen to take a vacation at the same resort that Tora's working at. The biker that Tora faces off with on a bridge turns out to be Oshizu's brother. Tora's character continues to become softer around the edges, a bit more sentimental, and a little less combative.

Rounding out the set is 1970's "Tora-san's Grand Scheme" (Shin Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo). Tora has hit it big at the racetrack and wants to use his winnings to send his Auntie and Uncle on their dream vacation to Hawaii. Of course, this doesn't come off as planned, and circumstances dictate that Tora and his family are unable to turn over a captured burglar to the police without losing face because of it. Tora again comes off looking like an idiot, and insult is added to injury when his family rents out his room to a schoolteacher after he once again takes to the road. Tora is incensed until he falls in love with the sexy young teacher, becoming smote to the point of taking part in the activities of her kindergarten-aged class. Could this be the one? Well, probably not, but Tora continues to become more of a nice guy with every passing movie-definitely not the same guy that slapped his sister across the face in part one.

It was a good decision on Animeigo's part to release the first four films together. This allows the real strengths and appeal of the Tora-san series to shine through, something that likely would not have been the case if only the first one had been released. The Tora-san series gives a real sense of family-the actors playing the different parts tended to stay with the roles and appear throughout the series, led by Atsumi's record-breaking feat of starring in all 48 films. In many ways, it's much like a TV series-the characters are the main attraction, and the plots become somewhat incidental to watching them. The Tora-san films are tough to classify-they're not straightforward dramas, but they're not really comedies. They have elements of romances, but don't quite fit that genre either. They don't have much in the way of action, and aside from the odd kaiju in a dream sequence, not much in the way of special effects either. What is it that gave them the massive appeal they have for Japanese audiences?

Over the course of the 27 years of the series, we watch the different members get married, have children, change jobs, go through personal problems, all the while against the shifting backdrop of four different decades of Tokyo-in one case (Sakura's son), the same actor plays the part from infancy to adulthood, lending it an air of watching a real family's life play out. In a country featuring festivals (most notably the Obon festivals in July and August) where everyone is encouraged to return to their hometowns and an entire song genre devoted to invoking a feeling of nostalgia (enka), it's easy to see where Tora-san's appeal to a Japanese audience would be. The nostalgic aspect is reinforced by bits and motifs that appear in each film-Tora's opening monologue about his birth and background, the same goofy song the workers next door try to use to impress women, many of Tora's stock phrases (such as his tired refrain, "It's tough being a man"), and the description of Tora's face as being 'like a sandal'. The simpler times where family meant more than possessions and the old ways of Japanese life had not been somewhat cast aside for Western ways were a big attraction for the average Japanese viewer. Interestingly, while many Westerners seem to think that the sentimental Japan of Tora-san's world never really existed, we can vouch that even in a big city like Kyoto, many neighborhoods just like this one are still around (Stuart Galbraith mentions the same thing on his commentary-wonder what part of Kyoto he lives in?). While watching the films, we were struck by the similarities. Perhaps getting a glimpse of Japanese culture in transition will be a major area of interest for many Western audiences checking out the films.

Another aspect of the Tora-san series that Japanese moviegoers enjoyed was living vicariously through Tora. In a society that largely stresses proper, polite, and understated behavior, Tora was the nail that sticks out. While he continuously was hammered back down, he never let it keep him down for long-even using his misfortunes as fodder for funny stories on a train or ship that made him the center of attention. His occupation as an itinerant peddler allowed him to travel all over Japan at his whim, completely free from the day to day routine of the average Japanese. One reviewer has even mentioned that the films function as a sort of travelogue, with Tora turning up virtually everywhere in Japan during the 48 films.

It's interesting watching Atsumi's character subtly transform through the four films. After having been away from family for twenty years, Tora initially fancies himself as a tough, yakuza style guy with a hard attitude. As he begins to integrate more with his real family and build closer relationships, it slowly begins to soften. The Tora of film four is noticeably kinder and less grating than the one seen in the first film-but sadly for him, no more successful with the ladies. Atsumi rarely misses a step as Tora-everything about the character rings true, no matter how absurd or wild his actions might seem. The rest of the cast is equally at home with their characters.

Extras for the four-disc set are of Animeigo's typical high quality, although discs two through four appear a bit short on them (especially when compared to disc one's haul). There's a well written 28 page booklet with essays on the series by many well-known Japanese film scholars such as Michael Jeck, Donald Richie, Stuart Galbraith IV, Kevin Thomas, and others. It also includes a message from the director of all but two of the Tora-san films, Yamada Yoji (who is best known around the Samurai Archives for his recent 'Samurai Trilogy' of films). Disc One includes a commentary on the film and the series as a whole by Stuart Galbraith IV, and he does an outstanding job. Galbraith has a real feel for and understanding of Japanese culture, giving weight to most of his observations. The program notes for disc one are extensive as well, and in them Animeigo does its best to explain some of the comedic wordplay Tora-san routinely engages in. This is probably the one aspect of the films that will be hardest for Western audiences to enjoy, so it might be helpful to check out the program notes first before watching the film. There's an interactive map (which unfortunately is the same for all four discs) showing Tora-san's travels and also a detailed map of his hometown in Shibamata in Tokyo. Rounding things out on disc one are cast and crew bios, trailers, and an image gallery. Discs two through four have program notes (although as previously mentioned these are somewhat abbreviated-I can't believe Animeigo didn't bite at the oppotunity to explain a 'Love Hotel' for Disc Two!), the map, bios, trailers, and image galleries. Animeigo has even beefed up their always outstanding subtitles-disc one has an option for experimental 'basic subtitles' that make for faster reading for those new to foreign films.

In any type of continuing series, the question usually boils down to one thing: will the viewer be looking forward to the next installment? In our case, the answer was a definite YES-we found Tora-san's little corner of Tokyo fascinating, charming, and full of surprises. His friends and family could easily have been the people from our neighborhood in Kyoto. We hope that the series hits it big with Western audiences so that we can continue following the antics of 'Japan's Most Beloved Loser' and his family for, say, 44 more films. Tora-san might be a loser, but the DVD set is a sure winner. You can buy the boxed set directly from Animeigo or at Amazon.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Selling Sekigahara: The Legacy Of The Taiga Drama

One of the more popular manifestations of pop culture history in Japan is the yearly Taiga Drama produced by national public TV station NHK. Beginning in 1963 and usually based on popular historical novels, they’ve featured virtually every period of Japanese history. They can range from sticking to history closely (2000’s Aoi Tokugawa Sandai) to deviating wildly from it (2003’s Musashi). This year’s drama, Tenchijin, falls in between the two extremes as far as historical accuracy goes. The story of Uesugi vassal Naoe Kanetsugu seems to have proven popular among both Japanese audiences and Western ones alike. With a new hour long episode every week of the year, it provides something for Japanese history buffs to look forward to on a regular basis. Most Taigas have a short ‘historical’ segment at the end, providing background on one of the personalities or places featured during the main body of the episode, helping to spark curiosity and boost tourism. These short segments reinforce the mini-boom of interest in the subject matter that Taigas create, with documentary programs, books, biographies, movies, video games (there have actually been licensed video games based on the official Taigas), board games, and all sorts of novelty merchandise being created to cash in on heightened awareness. Tenchijin is no different, not only making Naoe a ‘star’, but also popularizing his cohort Ishida Mitsunari. Ishida was the ill-fated commander of the so-called ‘Army of the West’ opposing the eventual victor Tokugawa Ieyasu and his ‘Army of the East’ in the Sekigahara campaign. Sekigahara was also the epitome of Naoe’s career, as he and the Uesugi clan played a major part in how the campaign in the northeast played out. This past October was the anniversary of Sekigahara, and late September saw a slew of new books, games, and the like released to tie in with Tenchijin (although not as many as were seen during the battle’s 400th anniversary in 2000 in conjunction with the Aoi Tokugawa Sandai Taiga). This week, we’re going to be taking a look at some of these Japanese language releases.

Most Shogun-ki readers will be familiar with Rekishi Gunzou, Gakken’s lavishly illustrated pop culture ‘mooks’ (a hybrid of a magazine/book). They’ve produced many mooks dealing with Sekigahara over the years (and reprinting a lot of the same stuff with a new title), but this September added a new twist to Sekigahara. They released ‘Sekigahara No Tatakai (関ヶ原の戦い, Battle of Sekigahara)’…in 3-D. Yes, there’s a pair of 3-D glasses bound into the book with a large fold-out map that features a 3-D view of the battlefield complete with troop positions. This is the only part of the 96 page book to get the 3-D treatment-but the combination of maps of the campaign and the battle, gorgeous artwork, photos of artifacts, and engaging text make it an entertaining and fun read. There’s a four page timeline of events from the campaign along with the page numbers in the book where they’re examined. There are over three dozen maps (divided among traditional ‘plain’ maps and bird’s eye views of the battles in progress), and every aspect of the campaign is covered. Whether you want to know about the activities of Kato and Kuroda in Kyushu, Hidetada’s dalliance with the Sanada at Ueda Castle, the battles around the Maeda holdings in Kaga, the many castle sieges, or the fighting between the Uesugi and Date factions in northeast Japan, you’ll find them all multiply mapped out. There are extensive sidebars that examine the key figures and commanders of the campaign as well. For lesser known figures, there’s an additional section full of mini-biographies. Finally, the reverse side of the large 3-D fold out map shows the layout of Sekigahara today along with rail stations and directions to tourist attractions on the battlefield, each of which has an accompanying photograph. This little treasure is cover priced at ¥1300.

Released a bit earlier this year was a similar work, Kessen Sekigahara (決戦関ヶ原, Decisive Battle of Sekigahara), #11 in Futabasha’s series of mooks that recreate Japanese history through the use of computer graphics. In many aspects it’s similar to the aforementioned Rekishi Gunzou volume-heavy on illustrations and light on text. However, the maps and battlefield tableaus are recreated using CG and miniatures, giving things a more realistic look. It focuses more on the actual battle than the Gakken book, but gives you a real feel for how it played out. You’ll be put right behind the barricades in Ishida’s camp and in the middle of the Shimazu’s escape through the ranks of the Eastern Army. The view from the Tokugawa headquarters that takes in the entire battlefield and all the troops scattered about is not only gorgeous, but helpful for understanding Japanese tactical warfare. The castles that took part in the sieges surrounding the campaign such as Osaka and Fushimi are elaborately rendered and ‘reconstructed’ in CG. Many Sekigahara painted screens are broken down and examined in detail. There are illustrations of individual troop types and the gear they would carry. It also contains artwork similar to that used for Osprey books-these feature key points from the battle, such as Ieyasu biting his nails waiting for Kobayakawa to defect, Mitsunari receiving news of the inaction of the Mouri and Kobayakawa, and the escape of the Shimazu troops after the battle had been lost by the Western Army. It also has great ‘regular’ maps in the back showing what area of Japan was controlled by which daimyo at the time of the battle, along with a chart showing their holdings, wealth, troops they could muster, and other information. This book also has a ‘tourism’ section; however, it shows many of the sites associated with the campaign rather than just the battlefield. While smaller than the Gakken book at 52 pages, it’s priced to sell at ¥933.

Sekigahara has been a favorite subject of gamers in both Japan and the West. With two upcoming games by GMT and Hexasim, the battle has produced 20 (at least) full blown highly detailed tabletop simulations/games. September saw the release of three-and two of them were to be found in the pages of Game Journal #32 (put out by Simulation Journal in Japan). Sekigahara Taisakusen: Sekigahara He No Michi (関ヶ原大作戦:関ヶ原への道, Sekigahara Grand Strategy: Road to Sekigahara) recreates the broader campaign, stretching from Osaka castle and the satellite castle battles in the west to the campaign pitting the Uesugi against the Date in the northeast. It’s a hex based simulation with 90 step-based counters (color coded into the Tokugawa, Eastern Army Allies, Ishida’s Army Of The West, and potential Western Army Defectors, each with clan mon) and 16 cards used to introduce random events into the game. Nyuusatsukyuu Sekigahara (入札級関ヶ原) covers the actual battle of Sekigahara itself, and its title is a clever play on words-it can mean ‘Bid For Rank Sekigahara’ but can also be read as ‘Bid For Decapitated Heads Sekigahara’ (referring to the severed heads of slain enemies presented by samurai to their lords). The game’s best feature is a well done two piece map of the Sekigahara battlefield that includes the areas off to the east that saw only a small amount of fighting (which are often left out by other games). This better simulates the precarious position Ieyasu put his forces into during the battle, and the potential disaster that awaited him if the Mouri stationed at this rear had been better motivated. No cards in this game, but a few more step-based counters (99) in a huge variety of colors with clan mon on each. This too is a traditional hex based game, eschewing the trend towards going to area or point-to-point movement systems. The order of battle is detailed and well done, with a good amount of differentiation. It’ll prove useful for armchair generals who want to compare the varying strengths of each contingent. The ever-shifting alliances in the power struggle are also a key feature of the game. There are really nine factions at work here-the Eastern Army frontline forces (largely composed of former Toyotomi retainers), Ieyasu’s contingent, the Eastern army ‘road’ troops at the army’s rear, the main Western army, the Kobayakawa, the Shimazu, the Kikkawa, the ‘Mouri Group’ east of the main battlefield, and the Western army turncoats that historically defected when Kobayakawa did. Gameplay tends to run along historical lines, so the Western Army faces more of a challenge.

Both games are of low-to-moderate complexity and consequently play smoothly, with Nyuusatsukyuu Sekigahara being an exciting nail-biter (just like Ieyasu was said to do during the battle!). The magazine also includes a number of historical articles on Sekigahara and the forces and personalities involved along with a multi-page Manga that offers up gameplay tips-you get a chance to read about the actual history and then replay it. The designers weigh in with their thoughts on the two games. There’s a look back at other Sekigahara wargames produced over the years and an article on the classic game ‘Sengoku Daimyo’. Reviews and features of other wargames and simulations round out the 84 page issue-at ¥3600, it’s a particularly good value for Sengoku simulation aficionados.

Japanese History War Game Quarterly #3: Sekigahara Seneki (関ヶ原戦役, Sekigahara Campaign) was also released in September, and features a simple recreation of the campaign in a point-to-point movement format. It’s an ideal game for those new to the Japanese language-the rules are written with the intention of being short and easy to understand. Games play out quickly and tend to have a high fun factor, not getting too bogged down in number-crunching and looking up rules. While the map is somewhat unattractive (being largely a series of holding boxes), the 80 game counters are excellent. They’re organized by clans and contain leader units-they can also be flipped over to switch sides. They’re color coded into different factions-Ieyasu’s main force (although many can and will defect), the Date, the Maeda, the Satake, and Mitsunari’s main force (also with many potential defectors). 30 cards are used to liven up the game. The production quality of the magazine is outstanding-it’s squarebound in stiff covers, has a plastic bubble and baggies for easy storage, and the magazine and rules are bound into the side of the book across from the bubble. Unique to this publication, there’s a full color Manga strip that runs in the margins of the rulebook explaining some of the game’s subtleties and strategies (and where the goofy female main character always ends up screwing over the serious male lead character). The entire 32 page magazine is given over to articles dealing with Sekigahara, and also includes a section spotlighting many Japanese movies and TV shows about the battle. It also uses illustrations of the game map and counters to show how the historical campaign unfolded. JHWGQ’s goal of producing low-complexity, quick and easy to play games has proven so popular that it’s already spawned a companion magazine that features warfare the world over. It weighs in at ¥2800. It looks like the upcoming JHWGQ #4 is going to be a simulation of the 47 Ronin’s assault on Lord Kira’s mansion on a single man scale (timed to be out around the anniversary of the conflict). I can only speculate that it’ll be a simulation of the fictional accounts of the raid, since historically it was a huge 47 to 4/5 mismatch.

We’ve only covered a fraction of the books and items released in Japan in celebration of Tenchijin and Sekigahara, but enough to show the influence and attraction the Taiga drama has on Japanese audiences. Next year’s Taiga focuses on the wildly popular Bakumatsu figure Sakamoto Ryoma, and the media frenzy for it is already getting warmed up as detailed on the Samurai Archives. Japanese History War Game Quarterly has already run a game on the Shinsengumi-maybe this year they’ll have one that features their foe Ryoma shooting his way out of the Teradaya. Hopefully it won’t have optional ‘Romulus Rulz’ for fist-pounding and snickering…

Monday, November 09, 2009

Brushed by the Hand of Death-Black Rain

Black Rain is Director Imamura Shohei’s award winning 1989 film of the August 5th, 1945 atom bombing of Hiroshima and the survivors of the blast. Based on a story by Ibuse Masuji, it stars Tanaka Yoshiko as Yasuko, Kitamura Kazuo as Shizuma Shigematsu, and Ichihara Etsuko as Shizuma Shigeko. Imamura was known for his over the top films, but Black Rain is a subdued masterpiece. Shot in black and white, it resembles both in tone and style many films released during the 1950’s, giving it a real period feel. While Black Rain’s many awards are too many to list here, they range from the Japan Academy Prize to the Cannes Festival and include multiple wins for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. It’s an excellent new addition to Animeigo’s growing DVD lineup of non-samurai Japanese films.

The film begins with young Yasuko being sent to the county near Hiroshima to live with her aunt and uncle, Shizuma Shigeko and Shigematsu, to avoid forced conscription into factory labor. Mr. Shizuma boards a train and heads off to work, although the city has been blanketed by leaflets from American planes heralding upcoming destruction for the city. When the American bomber Enola Gay drops the first atomic bomb at 8:15, Shigematsu is on the fringes of the blast and fireball. He survives with some minor burns and returns home to his wife. Being further away from ground zero, their house is damaged but not completely destroyed. They decide to wait and see if Yasuko will attempt to join them, and make plans to escape the battered remnants of the city.

When Yasuko’s face is streaked black (the black rain of the title, being contaminated by the radioactive ash thrown up by the blast) in a rainstorm as she is attempting to join her aunt and uncle by boat, it gives one the eerie feeling that the hand of Death has just brushed her face. The scenes of the devastation in Hiroshima and the attendant chaos as burned survivors try to pick their way through the rubble of the city are appropriately nightmarish. They’re made all the more sobering and chilling by the fact that, unlike most post-apocalyptic films, these events really happened-and the historical reality was much, much worse. The mushroom cloud that puzzles onlookers, the almost surreal devastation of the city, the deadly live wires that seem to hem the characters in at every path, poisoned water, and the blackened corpses of burned victims everywhere rival anything from the worst horror movie. The scenes of devastation, the hospitals full of burn and radiation victims, and the air of stunned hopelessness also bring to mind similar ones seen in the original 1954 Godzilla (particularly the original Japanese ‘Gojira’ without Raymond Burr). Flashbacks of the post-bombing Hiroshima (focusing on the Shizuma’s escape, rescue efforts, and Shigematsu’s hasty recruitment as a makeshift Buddhist priest to hold services for the dead) continue to appear throughout the movie, much like a recurring nightmare-shadowing the omnipresent threat of radiation sickness the survivors face.

Five years later, Mr. and Mrs. Shizuma and Yasuko all appear to be fine, although Mr. Shizuma (as being primary victims of the blast) has been told to not engage in any strenuous activity. Mr. Shizuma spends his days fishing for carp with other hibakusha (‘explosion affected people’) who have received the same instructions, and a favorite topic of conversation is the rarely-seen giant carp that has lived in the lake for years (interestingly enough, drinking the blood of a carp is presented as a homeopathic cure in the film). Besides the flash (the name given by Japanese to the blast) survivors, there are other victims of the war in town. Yuichi, a member of the Nikaku (Japanese soldiers strapped full of explosives who would sacrifice themselves to destroy American tanks), relives a harrowing episode when an Allied tank passed right over the top of him in battle whenever he hears the sound of an engine. This causes trouble for the townspeople in addition to putting Yuichi’s life at risk when he throws himself in front of all manner of vehicles. His neighbors display a high level of compassion when dealing with him, as he’s a harmless sculptor of Jizo statues the majority of the time. The Shizuma’s lot is made more difficult by the increasing senility of their elderly mother, who believes Yasuko is her daughter. They fear for her health, not knowing that soon she’ll be the healthiest member of the household.

The primary focus of the Shizuma is to find Yasuko a husband before their radiation sickness claims them. The status of the family as flash survivors causes them to be social pariahs on one level, Yasuko in particular being treated as damaged goods. The family even takes her to a doctor and has her health certified as perfect in an effort to remove the doubts from potential bridegrooms and their families. While most of Yauko’s omiai (meet and greets, part of the old fashioned style of arranged Japanese marriages) suitors fall by the wayside as soon as they find out she’s a survivor of the flash, she eventually does find a man who’s willing to accept her as she is-but while Yasuko is more than happy with him and the prospect of marriage, he isn’t quite what the Shizuma had in mind for her (class distinctions were still an issue in Japan at this time). However, they are won over both by Yasuko’s feelings for him and the devotion he shows to her.

The secondary victims (soldiers who had entered the city in a rescue effort) in the town die, leaving Mr. Shizuma to wonder why he and his wife are still alive, having been primary victims. Meanwhile, Yasuko has fallen victim as well-she secretly attempts to treat an ulcer on her body so as not to worry her aunt and uncle. Her radiation sickness begins to become more and more obvious, with swatches of her beautiful black hair falling out. More villagers die from sickness. Yasuko struggles out to the lake with her Uncle and witnesses the fabled giant carp leaping out of the water-sending her into a delirious state of excitement and bringing her sickness to a peak. Some will find the eventual resolution of her situation and the resultant ending a bit frustrating, but it encapsulates the film’s message well-that of an uncertain future where humanity has some difficult choices to make. Perhaps this is illustrated best in the scene where Mr. Shizuma is listening to a radio broadcast giving the hourly news as Yasuko is treated for radiation poisoning. It announces that US President Harry Truman isn’t counting out using the atom bomb against the Chinese in the Korean War and that he’s leaving the decision over its deployment to the general in command. Shizuma resignedly turns off the radio and mumbles that ‘Humans are obstinate creatures’.

Any “horrors of war” movie carries with it the risk of lapsing into over the top melodrama, but that’s not the case with Black Rain. The performances are for the most part wonderfully under control and understated, lending them an air of authenticity and realism. Simple actions such as the Shizuma’s daily ritual of setting their clock to the nightly news symbolize the efforts of the survivors to bring a measure of normalcy and control back to their lives. But even then, there are constant reminders as the news is filled with stories of warfare in nearby Korea and the anti-nuclear Stockholm Proclamation of 1950. A subplot concerning a ‘party girl’ returning to the village to escape her yakuza boyfriend illustrates a growing disconnect between the war survivors and a new generation of more self centered and privileged Japanese youth who have never known suffering. The score by Takemitsu Toru fits the mood of the film perfectly, the composer having written it to specifically match each scene. It makes great use of silence and doesn’t feel the need to fill every moment with music. The focus is on the plight of the radiation victims (many of whom were only exposed when entering Hiroshima after the blast in rescue efforts, becoming ‘entry victims’) and how they deal with the fate that they suspect is coming their way. They have the unenviable fate of having to live with its effects every day of their lives-in effect, being biological time bombs who don’t know when or if the radiation will take its toll on their bodies. To its credit, Black Rain doesn’t attempt to take the easy way out and paint the Americans as evil or the Japanese as innocent victims-the closest it comes to this is when one character asks another why the Americans felt the need to use the bomb. It isn’t so much ‘Why did they do this to us?’ as it is ‘Didn’t they realize we were already defeated?’. As Mr. Shizuma aptly sums it up, ‘An unjust peace is better than a just war’.

Adding to the package is the incredible collection of extras Animeigo has put together. There are of course the detailed historical notes that one has come to expect from their discs, along with the requisite still gallery, cast and crew bios, and trailer. The historical notes give an in-depth perspective of the bombing of Hiroshima, the rescue efforts afterwards, strange side effects of the atom bomb (such as the ‘shadow pictures’ left upon objects by the flash), and the efforts by the US military to keep the effects of the bombing under wraps. There’s also a Multimedia Vault that collects several films and newsreels produced during the war and immediately afterward, both for public consumption in the US and for the Armed Forces. If Black Rain didn’t bring the bombing home, these clips surely will. Interestingly enough, while the media produced for public consumption involves large doses of gloating over the defeat of the Japanese and the destruction brought down upon them, the films done for the military are sober, serious, and respectful. In particular, ‘My Japan’ (a War Bond drive film made by the US Treasury, ostensibly narrated by a stereotypical evil Japanese) is brutal to modern eyes. ‘Our Enemies the Japanese’ and the Universal Newsreel ‘Atom Blast at Hiroshima’ are not far behind (however, it should be pointed out Japanese propaganda films were just as racist and jingoistic-as well as every other nation’s during WWII). Rounding the vault out are some photos of the destruction, US President Harry Truman’s radio speech concerning the atom bomb on August 6th, and the US Army-produced ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’. Finally, there are interviews with Assistant Director Miike Takashi and actress Tanaka Yoshiko. An interesting point brought up in Yoshiko’s interview is that director Imamura kept them all sequestered in the small town where filming took place in an effort to keep them from eating well in the city. This maintained Yasuko’s starved and radiation wasted appearance.

Perhaps the most interesting extra is the alternate ending. Most alternate endings on DVD’s are pretty short and basic, but this one runs almost 20 minutes. It’s shot in color to give it a more ‘contemporary’ feel since it takes place 15 years after the main body of the film. Yasuko has survived her bout with radiation poisoning but health problems have continued to dog her, and she seems to have a massive dose of survivor’s guilt as well. She decides to leave the man she loves and embark upon a pilgrimage to honor the souls of the victims of the flash-a pilgrimage that she seemingly does not expect to return from. Accompanied by another presumed survivor of the flash, they set out upon the famous ’88 temple’ circuit on the island of Shikoku. Watching the two’s progress is truly heart-wrenching. On the way they are harassed and ridiculed by their own people and their health deteriorates at a steady pace. Dirty, disheveled, and with bleeding feet they struggle to make it from one stop on the circuit to the next. The last stop on the journey is pulled off in a touching and almost surrealistic way that seems to bring peace to everyone-but the final scene shows that perhaps even the people of Japan have begun to forget and trivialize the bombing. While the alternate ending certainly delivers an impact, we believe the correct choice was made in keeping the one the film uses. Some things are best left unresolved and left for the viewer to work out for themselves.

Black Rain is an important film that everyone should see-just as a reminder of the very real cost to humanity that warfare entails. It puts a face on what all too often are glossed over and depersonalized as cold statistics on a report. 70-80,000 were killed instantly (30% of the city), with that number rising to 90-140,000 by the end of 1945. Perhaps 200,000 had fallen victim by 1950. But the story of these three people somehow brings things into focus more clearly. There are still many hibakusha alive in Japan today, and still suffering. In a day and age where original documentation by American combat photographers of the destruction of Hiroshima was found in a trash heap, Black Rain is a powerful film that will stay with you long after the ending and give the viewer much to reflect upon. Give it a try when you’re in the mood for a serious, thought provoking movie. You can get Black Rain directly from Animeigo or through Amazon.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Shogun Coffee

While Pepsi Shiso may be a liquid car wreck in a bottle, Tokugawa Shogun Coffee, sold by Saza Coffee, is nothing short of heaven in a mug. Now some of you are probably scratching your heads wondering what the heck “Shogun Coffee” is. Is this some sort of gimmick meant to cash in on the “history” boom that is sweeping across Japan? No, it isn’t and this is all about really good coffee with a pedigreed history!

The story starts in 1867, as the turmoil of the Bakumatsu period was reaching fever pitch. The 15th and last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu, was desperately trying to modernize the Bakufu’s finances and military capabilities. For this, he turned to the French, who at the time were led by Emperor Napoleon III, who dreamed of expanding France’s sphere of influence in Asia. Nothing against France, but perhaps the Shogunate’s decision to rely on France wasn’t the wisest choice, as things didn’t really work out that well for both parties’ positions in Japan. However, you can’t blame the Tokugawa for looking to France over Britain when it came to the culinary arts. Besides pork, there was another item in France’s culinary arsenal that captivated Yoshinobu, and that was coffee. Although the Saza coffee site says coffee was officially introduced to Japan in 1867, I have a hunch it probably wasn’t something extraordinary new to the Japanese ruling elite, as the Dutch were exporting it by the ton from their holdings in Indonesia and had probably been presented to the court of the Shogun via the Dutch settlement in Nagasaki. Perhaps even Perry served some to visitors to his squadron of Black Ships. Who knows? However, French roast coffee was something new, strong and quite powerful. Yoshinobu apparently liked it, and he soon arranged to have French roast coffee served at all diplomatic functions involving the Western powers.

It also seems that Yoshinobu’s younger brother, Akitake, who traveled to France for the World Expo in Paris with the famed industrialist Shibusawa Eiichi, seemed to also enjoy this coffee on their steamship voyage to Europe. Notes on how the beans were roasted must have been written down, as one of Yoshinobu’s direct descendants, Tokugawa Yoshitomo, is roasting some mighty fine beans and selling it through Saza Coffee’s internet site. (Unfortunately, they don’t ship outside of Japan).

Curious to try “Shogun” Coffee”, I ordered a 200 gram pack at a cost of 1,800 yen. Not cheap by any means, but would you expect small batch roasted premium coffee fit for a shogun to be priced and marketed as a budget brand? I think not! Needless to say, my small stock of Shogun Coffee did not last long at all as I couldn’t get enough of it. Shogun Coffee is an enjoyable, full-bodied robust roast, loaded with high-octane caffeine—just what one needs when starting the day. The boldness of the brew really is what gets you after your first sip, but it is also surprisingly velvety smooth, like some of the estate-grown private label coffees from Kona that you can get at premium restaurants and hotels in Hawaii. I think the closest thing I’ve had to this would be one of the vintage Eddie Sakamoto coffees that are available at Alan Wong’s restaurant on King Street in Honolulu.

Again, this coffee is really good, and I am lamenting the fact that I am all out of it. And perhaps I just inadvertently solved a mystery, right here and now. Just why did Yoshinobu flee from Osaka Castle in the dead of night after the defeat of the Shogunal forces at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi? Could it be that he expended the stock of coffee that he had brought with from Edo and needed to get back to Edo, where a hefty supply was readily available? I’m starting to think so, and I also think it’s time for me to replenish my own supply!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pepsi Shiso - Liquid Car Crash in a Bottle

Setting aside Japanese history for a moment, I thought I'd delve into quirky Japanese drinks. Tonight, after a great time at a good Korean restaurant, our group stopped at Don Quijote - the pseudo-Japanese superstore in Honolulu to pick up some things. We made the rounds, from eggplants to overpriced bread to a hot chocolate debate, to a giant grotesque block of uncut luncheon-meat, to the meaning of the date on a package of ground beef (packing date or expiration?), through the fish to the Nabe supplies.

On a whim, we stopped in the Japanese drink aisle with the bend-over-and-take-it prices, and perused the aisle. And there it was. Pepsi Shiso ("Shiso" being known as "Perilla" to the rest of the world). The green hourglass shaped bottle with twisting groves in the plastic evokes images of an ancient Egyptian artifact; subtle curves topped off with an attractive white cap that belies the true nature of the emerald liquid trapped beneath.

Having had Pepsi Shiso misrepresented to me by my compatriots as "good", I spent the money I got selling a kidney on the black market for one bottle, certain it would be worth it. So eager to try this mystical green nectar, I opened it at the register, and tried it.

In every man's life, there is a moment - a moment where everything changes, a moment you never forget. A moment that changes your perception of life and reality. A bookmark tagged in your mind, burned forever which you will compare everything that happened before, and after. This was my moment. So many things ran through my mind at that moment. I lived an entire lifetime in seconds. The smell, and then taste, of Pepsi Shiso sent dormant neurons firing in all directions. I saw entire universes born and die, and stars form, explode, and re-form. I saw eternity in a clear plastic bottle. At that moment, I realized how long eternity is, particularly how long it would be, with Pepsi Shiso.

The Japanese are typically famous for taking something and making it better. Oh, the irony. You just can't take something that is marginal at best, liquify it, and assume it is going to be better. After all, what is the essence of bad? Pepsi Shiso takes everything that is good about Shiso- the wrapped mochi, anko - and throws it away, leaving just the limp, damp shiso leaf. Take an unsweetened bottle of Sprite, add some green food coloring, chew a shiso leaf, spit the juice into the bottle, and voila, you have Pepsi Shiso. It is truly horrendous, but shockingly like a liquid car crash in a bottle - horrifying and disturbing, but at the same time... it's hard to pull your lips away. It consists of mainly three things - the very authentic, overpowering shiso smell that emanates from the bottle, the very light carbonated base, and the brutal shiso slap in the face. Shiso "juice" was not meant to be consumed. I don't really think it was meant to be eaten either, but that's another story altogether. It leaves you feeling slightly disturbed, and with an aftertaste that feels very much like you have chewed a shiso leaf and maybe some sugar. In a sense, it's sort of like natto - it can be eaten, and many people eat it, but most people really don't want to. Just because something can be eaten doesn't mean it should be. You wouldn't drink crabgrass tea, and you probably wouldn't drink cilantro juice, and Pepsi Shiso falls into this category. Just because you can make something, doesn't mean you should. Look at the Segway and the Snuggie.

For such an attractive bottle and intriguing concept, it is shockingly horrid stuff. I will keep the bottle, just like Tupac kept the bullets that almost killed him the first time, as a reminder of what is and what should never be. Even Chinchin Tea seems almost drinkable now. Almost.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview With Historian/Professor Karl Friday

Karl Friday is Professor of Japanese History at the University of Georgia. Receiving his MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Kansas, Professor Friday went on to a second MA along with a PHD at Stanford. He's also studied or conducted research at the University of Tsukuba and the University of Tokyo along with Yonsei and Ewha Universities in Korea. He started teaching at the University of San Diego and has been ensconced at the University of Georgia since 1990 (along with a year as a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii). He’s the author of "Hired Swords", "Legacies of the Sword", "Samurai, Warfare, and the State in Early Medieval Japan", and his most recent work, "The First Samurai". He’s also published many excellent articles such as "Bushido or Bull?", "Valorous Butchers", "Pushing Beyond the Pale: the Yamato Conquest of the Emishi and Northern Japan", and the recent essay "Lordship Interdicted" in the book "Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries". In addition to his work in academia, he’s also accomplished in both Japanese and Korean martial arts. He holds a shihan/menkyo kaiden ranking (making him both a "one generation model instructor" and a "licensed full initiate") from Kashima-Shinryu, as well as being Kaicho (President) and Kokusai Kyokucho (International Bureau Chief) of the the Kashima-Shinryu Federation of Martial Sciences (the Japanese organization the governs instruction in the art). The Samurai Archives recently spoke with Professor Friday on his projects past, present, and future-an interview that exceeded even our high expectations. In the following article, the "SA" is Tatsunoshi (Randy Schadel) and KF is, of course, Karl Friday. Thanks to forum members Owari No Utsuke and Bad Monk for submitting questions.

SA: Greetings, Professor Friday. We at the Samurai Archives are privileged to have such a well-respected and groundbreaking historian join us here at the Shogun-ki. We have a varied membership coming from all nationalities and backgrounds, and just as many different motivations for becoming interested in the study of pre-modern Japanese history. What was it that sparked your interest in the field of Japanese studies, and how did you come to specialize in the Heian period?

KF: I got into Japanese studies more-or-less by accident-two accidents, actually. When I was a sophomore, I was trying to enroll for classes and discovered that two of the courses I had planned to take that term were both full. At that point I decided that I might as well start working on my foreign language requirement. I had already developed an interest in Chinese philosophy, as a result of some combination of my interest in martial art (I’d been practicing Tang Soo Do, a variant form of Tae Kwon Do, for about a year by then) and the philosophy major I had begun working toward. I decided to take Japanese, rather than Chinese, because someone had (incorrectly, as I later learned!) told me that if you learn to read Japanese you can also read Chinese, and because back then, you couldn’t go to mainland China yet, and so I figured that spoken/modern Japanese would be more useful.

By the end of my second semester, I was really getting into Japanese, but I discovered that the second-year Japanese course in the fall would conflict with a couple of courses I needed for my major. To get around that, I decided to take second year Japanese through the intensive program KU offered during the summer. By the end of the summer, I realized that I was already planning to take most of the courses I would need for a Japanese major, so I ended up switching majors from Philosophy to Japanese.

I didn’t really focus on History until my PhD. Before that, I was doing fairly broadly-cast Japanese and East Asian Studies coursework. In fact, I cast my MA thesis project in a way that could lead to PhD work in either literature or history, but by the time I’d finished that project, I’d decided that History was really where my heart was. Samurai culture and institutions had been central to my interests from the getgo, and I also had a strong attraction to the Heian period. In the end, I decided to specialize in premodern history rather than the early modern (Tokugawa) period largely because of my (naïve and stupid, as it turned out!) assumption that the smaller number of people working in pre-1600 studies would translate into better job opportunities.

When I went to Stanford, I had originally thought I might try to do my dissertation on some aspect of Japanese-Korean interaction or comparative history, but later decided instead to work on the beginnings of the samurai-start from the start, as it were. When I formulated the project, I expected that I’d be centering my attention on the Heian period, and probably including a short summary of the ritsuryō military and its “collapse” in the introduction or somewhere. But as I got into my research, I realized that the received wisdom was all wrong on where the samurai came from, and that the evolution of the ritsuryō system and the state’s military/police system was really the central issue.

That was really the only time, other than a brief follow-up project on the emishi “pacification” wars of the late 8th century, that I’ve done much on the Nara period. Most of my work since then has been on Heian and Kamakura.

SA: “Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan" was your first book and introduced the theme that runs throughout much of your work: that the Imperial Court of the Nara/Heian periods, far from becoming weak and ineffectual (losing its power to the warrior class in the process), willingly delegated warfare to the ‘professionals’ and was quite effective in retaining control over them. What were the major factors in the decision for the government to move away from the conscription of the Ritsuryo codes of the 8th century?

KF: The idea that the court-centered polity wasn’t hollowing out during the Heian period didn’t start or end with my work, it’s been the general theme pushed by specialists in the period since the 70s. All I’ve really added to the discussion was a closer look at where and how the samurai fit into all this.

Until about a generation ago, the Heian period was traditionally portrayed as an era of tremendous cultural flowering juxtaposed against institutional breakdown, as the institutions of the ritsuryō state were abandoned bit by bit. This picture came from three places. First, scholars were seduced by apparent similarities between medieval Japan and Europe, and by expectations colored by conceptions of the conditions that produced European knights and lords. Second, because the most accessible sources of information on the Heian court were literary classics like Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, scholars tended to take depictions of the court and courtier lives in these tales literally. And third, lacking detailed studies on the origins and operations of the three shogunates-the Kamakura, Muromachi and Tokugawa regimes-historians simply assumed that all three were “warrior governments,” playing similar roles in ruling the country, equated the creation of a shogunate with the existence of a “feudal” state governed by warriors, and posited the Gempei War (1180-85) and the founding of the Kamakura shogunate as marking the end of meaningful court rule and the onset of a “feudal” medieval era.

Regime change that fundamental can’t, of course, just happen overnight-picture Microsoft and Google having a corporate war, and the winner suddenly emerging as the real government of the US-and so historians looked backward, to the Heian period, for the changes and developments that presaged the inauguration of a warrior regime. They developed a picture of an effete, idyllic central aristocracy preoccupied by art, fashion and romantic liaisons, and without interest in governing-especially outside the capital-while a hardier class of armed landholders took over the countryside, eventually awoke to the fact that they, not the courtiers in the capital, were actually running most of the country, and brushed the court aside. And they (the historians, not the warriors) assumed that all of these changes stemmed from Japan’s failed attempt (in the 7th century) to turn itself into a miniature China-thoughtlessly adopting Chinese institutions of government that were just too sophisticated for Japan at the time.

But scholarship on traditional Japan has grown spectacularly over the past four decades, in terms of both sophistication and volume. This is particularly true in the West, where an unprecedented number of researchers specializing in the premodern and early modern periods have entered the field. The new research is marked by a shift in methodology from dependence on literary and narrative sources to reliance on documents, a shift in focus from the political and cultural history of elites to a broader examination of social structures, and by a blow-by-blow reexamination-and rejection-of many of the key tenets of what was once the received wisdom.

Beginning with John Hall, in the 60s; and continuing with Jeff Mass, Cappy Hurst, Neil Kiley, Ken Grossberg, Peter Arnesen, Bob Borgen and others, in the 70s and 80s, historians developed a signally different picture of the Nara, Heian and Kamakura periods. The notions that the ritsuryō system was a failure, that courtiers were aloof fops unengaged in governing, and the samurai had achieved virtually independent control over the countryside by late Heian times were overturned. Upon more careful examination using more reliable source materials, it became clear that the court was able to maintain tight constraints on political and economic activities throughout the Heian period and that provincial warriors were just beginning to break out of these constraints during the Kamakura period.

The curious thing was that, until Wayne Farris and I stumbled into the topic (completely independently, but coincidentally at exactly the same time), no one had gone back to reexamine Nara-Heian military evolution and where the samurai came from.

My argument is that the changes to the military system that (eventually) produced the samurai closely paralleled the general evolution of government in Japan between the founding of the ritsuryō state in the late 7th century and the mid-Heian period. That process involved two closely related trends.

The first was a retreat from the court’s initial obsession with direct central control over all functions of government, countrywide, to an emphasis on maintaining centralized authority while delegating responsibility for many of the workaday functions of administration.

The second is usually summarized as the privatization of the workings of government, or more accurately, as the blurring of lines separating the public and private persona of those who carried out the affairs of governance. Basically, government posts-and the tasks assigned them-came to be closely associated with certain houses; and key government functions came to be performed through personal, rather than formal public, channels; rendering it harder and harder to draw clean lines between “public” and “private” rights and responsibilities.

To understand what happened to the ritsuryō military, it’s important to remember where it came from and why. Centralization and restructuring of the military was a major element of the state-reformation process, which was itself the product of the ascendant royal court’s efforts to strengthen its power over the largely-autonomous regional chieftains who ruled most of the country. One of the things that made this sort of centralization and reform palatable to the regional nobles was widespread apprehension over the growing might of Tang China, which had been engaged since the early 600s in one of the greatest military expansions in Chinese history.

So the ritsuryō military system was created with two principal threats in mind: a Chinese invasion and regional insurrections led by the old provincial chieftains. The architects of the new state seized on large-scale, direct mobilization of the peasantry as a key part of the answer to both, creating a system that enabled the court to create loyalist armies of daunting volume, thereby effectively closing the door on provincial challenges to central power or authority, and giving the state as large an army as possible, in order to fend off the foreign invasion everyone was worried about. It was actually a fairly ingenious system, based on a militia structure making it possible for a tiny country like Japan to muster large-scale fighting forces when necessary, without bankrupting its economic and agricultural base-as a large standing army would have. But the system was also the product of all-too-often conflicting priorities, and accordingly, incorporated some unhappy compromises; and the original foibles of the system were exacerbated by changing conditions.

One of the problems the government faced was enforcing its conscription laws. Under the ritsuryō polity, military conscription had simply been one component of the state’s tax requirements; induction rosters were compiled from the same population registers that were used to levy all other forms of tax. Which meant that any peasant efforts to evade taxes also placed them beyond the reach of the conscription authorities.

An even bigger issue, though, was the fundamental tactical limitations of the ritsuryō armies. The ritsuryō architects had opted for size at the expense of the elite technology of the age, constructing a force composed primarily of infantry, while the premier military technology of the day was mounted archery-largely because of the logistical difficulties involved in trying to produce cavalrymen out of short-term conscripts.

By the middle decades of the 8th century, the political climate-domestic and foreign-had changed enough to render the provincial regiments anachronistic and superfluous in most of the country. The danger of violent challenges to the central polity from the regional nobility disappeared almost immediately, as former provincial chieftains came to accept the imperial state structure as the arena in which they would compete for power and influence, and the Chinese invasion the Japanese had feared simply never materialized. That meant that the martial needs of the vast majority of the country now centered on the capture of criminals and similar policing functions. Huge infantry units based on peasant militia units were neither necessary nor well-suited to this type of work. What were needed were small, highly mobile squads that could be assembled with a minimum of delay and sent out to pursue raiding bandits. In the meantime, diminishing military need for the regiments encouraged officers and provincial officials to misuse the conscripts who manned them-borrowing them, for example, for free labor on their personal homes and properties

The court response to these challenges reflects a new realization that it was cheaper and more efficient to rely on privately-trained and equipped elites than to continue to attempt to draft and train the general population. Accordingly, troops mustered from the peasantry played smaller and smaller roles in state military planning, while the role of elites expanded steadily across the eighth century. The provincial regiments were first supplemented by new types of forces, and then, in 792, eliminated entirely in all but a handful of provinces. In their place the court created a series of new military posts and titles that legitimized the use of personal martial resources on behalf of the state. In essence, the court moved from a conscripted, publicly-trained military force to one composed of professional mercenaries.

SA: The chapter on “Peasants and Professionals” in “Hired Swords” is particularly interesting. Why did Emperors and Empresses such as Shomu or Shotoku feel it necessary to add new units to the then-traditional “Five Guards” of the Imperial Court?

KF: Now there’s a question I haven’t thought about in a while! Basically, the impetus here came from two sources.

The first relates to the same bundle of factors I outlined in my answer to the previous question. The original goefu (“Five Guards”) units that defended the palace and policed the capital were staffed from two very different sources. Three (the Right and Left Eijifu and the Emonfu) drew their manpower from peasant conscripts selected from the provincial militias; the other two (the Right and Left Hyōefu) were composed of troops selected from among the “sons and younger brothers” of the provincial and lower central nobility. The problems with the militias in the provinces also applied to the central military institutions. And, of course, after most of the provincial regiments had been abolished (in 792); peasant draftees were no longer readily available for service at court.

The second factor at play here was the nature of the power structure at court, and the direction of its evolution. While the ritsuryō polity was, in theory, an absolute monarchy real power took a much more oligarchic form, in which emperors, powerful courtier houses, and major shrines and temples all competed for control of the court. In this struggle, attempts at intimidation were commonplace and even attempted coups and assassinations weren’t terribly unusual.

This made control of martial resources of one sort or another an important asset. Accordingly, first the court nobility and then the shrines and temples began to assemble private military forces and to press for control of state military resources-recruiting men with martial talents into the ranks of their household service and staffing the command posts in the central guard units with their own relatives and lackies.

Emperors were, in fact, at a disadvantage here. The Five Guards were the military forces of the state as a corporate whole, not the personal military of the sovereign; control of them was a function of the same competition that determined power at court in general. The imperial house recognized this danger almost before the ink was dry on the ritsuryō codes and responded by creating new units, outside the Five Guards, that could function as its own Praetorian Guards.

The problem with that strategy, however, was that reigning emperors were purely public figures-unlike other courtiers, who had both public and private identities-and so the new military units the imperial house created tended very quickly to lose their Praetorian Guard character and become indistinguishable in character from other public military units, dominated by the Fujiwara and other great noble houses. Nevertheless, successive emperors kept trying, creating one new unit after another. By 765, there were eight distinct guard units in the capital, which was obviously more military than was needed, so the court began streamlining the system-combining, reorganizing, and renaming. The end product became known as the Rokuefu, or “Six Guards” (the Left and Right Kon’efu, the Left and Right Emonfu, and the Left and Right Hyōefu), which continued without major formal changes down to the modern era.

SA: An interesting weapon that has been lost to history but seemed to be quite effective was the Oyumi (a large crossbow), which is described in “Hired Swords” as a largely defensive weapon. What made it primarily defensive-was it the large size and difficulties in using it ‘on the fly’? Why didn’t handheld crossbows catch on with Japanese troops as they did in other countries?

KF: The basic problem involved in trying to describe the rise and fall of the ōyumi is that no one really knows what this weapon was. We have no surviving examples, no clear descriptions, and no illustrations of the weapon to go by. The term itself translates as “big bow,” and the Chinese character used to write it means “crossbow.” There are also a few references in various sources, to “hand crossbows” (te-ōyumi or shudo). Put together with various cryptic references to using the weapon or training with it, this suggests that the weapon in question was some kind of oversized, frame-mounted crossbow, like the Roman ballista, perhaps capable of launching volleys of arrows or stones in a single shoot (the same character most commonly read as “ōyumi” is also sometimes glossed as ishi-yumi, or “stone bow,” in some late Heian and early Kamakura period sources).

It is, of course, not inconceivable that ōyumi were simply hand-held crossbows of the sort that were the mainstays of Chinese infantries from the Warring States era onward, but this seems very unlikely. One problem here is the specific references to te-ōyumi-what could these be, if regular ōyumi were also hand-held weapons? Another is the fact that to date archeologists have found only one trigger mechanism for a hand-crossbow, despite more than a century of digging, which suggests that these weapons couldn’t have been very common in Japan. A third problem is the name for the weapon: “ōyumi” literally means “great bow,” while hand-held cross bows would actually have been smaller than regular Japanese bows. And a fourth issue is that positing more than an incidental presence for hand-held crossbows in 7th and 8th century military forces necessitates an explanation for their virtual disappearance during the early 10th century.

Given what the privately-armed warriors of later centuries were able to purchase from artisans in the capital, it’s hard to believe that production difficulties could have precluded samurai ownership of hand-crossbows, had they wished to acquire them. European knights were, after all, able to obtain crossbows under conditions far less favorable to the manufacture of sophisticated, high technology machinery than those faced by Heian warriors. And samurai did, in fact, appear to have made sporadic use of ōyumi as late as the 12th century.

It seems likely, then, that ōyumi were ballista-like weapons that served as a kind of artillery- sort of like cannons in early modern warfare. If that’s the case, then similar tactical advantages and limitations apply. Large, platform-mounted weapons of this sort are handy in sieges (for both sides) and useful to armies trying to hold a defensive position. But they aren’t terribly mobile, so they aren’t much use on the offensive against an enemy that runs away.
A rough analogy here would be the water cannons used by modern police. They’re quite useful for breaking up riots and such, but they aren’t of much good when you’re trying to catch a couple of guys robbing a liquor store-by the time you can get them set up, the bad guys have run away.

As to why hand-held crossbows never caught on, again we can only speculate. But the answer seems pretty straightforward. Crossbows have serious tactical limitations. Most designs are difficult or impossible to cock and reload while walking, running or riding on horseback, which makes them better-suited to defense, siegecraft and naval warfare than to offensive tactics on land. They are, moreover, much slower to reload and shoot than ordinary bows, which means a reduced volume of missiles that can be directed at a charging-or fleeing-enemy host, while it is within effective range. And their greater power than ordinary bows doesn’t always translate into longer range, because while a regular bow can be angled upward, and shot to its maximum range with reasonable accuracy, a crossbow can’t be elevated very far without the stock obscuring the archer’s aim (the crossbow is largely a line-of-sight weapon).

The upshot is that crossbows are really only effective when deployed in mass, by troops trained to shoot in some coordinated manner. Maintaining this degree of order would have been difficult for ritsuryō era Japanese armies, which were composed of militia units filled by conscripts who served only thirty or forty days a year on active duty. And it would have been impossible for the privatized warriors of the Heian and Kamakura periods.

SA: While the warrior bands of the Heian era had much in common with the so-called clans of the Sengoku, what allowed them to be controlled so effectively by the Imperial Court whereas the warriors of the Sengoku were not? Was it largely a question of the Court playing off bushi against each other, or were there other factors?

KF: One caveat first: You need to be careful about that term “clan,” even as applied to the Sengoku era. There have never been clans, in the anthropological sense of that term, in Japan-or rather, extended clan-like family units have never been meaningful socio-political units. The daimyō-led organizations that get labeled “clans” in movie subtitles were much more broadly-structured political/economic organizations. Historians usually call them “domains.” Japanese sources do label them by the name of the daimyō house around which they were formed-the Takeda-ke, Uesugi-ke, etc.-but the translation of “ke” here should be “house,” not “clan.”

Samurai did make use of kinship ties-both real and fictive-and terminology suggestive of familial connections-kenin (“houseman”), ie no ko (“child of the house”), and the like-as a device for building and strengthening warrior alliances, but these efforts were more symbolic than efficacious. The bottom line is that, ideology to the contrary, kinship was never much of a guarantee of harmony in premodern Japanese society. Conflict, even out-and-out warfare, between in-laws, cousins, uncles and nephews, and even brothers was a near-constant theme of Japanese history. In practical terms, cohesion worked only within the smallest kinship units, that is, within nuclear families-houses, not clans.

Ok, so back to the heart of the question: The short answer is yes, Heian warriors remained under control because the court was able to play them against one another. But that just begs the larger question of why the court could do this during the Heian period and not later. And the short answer to that is that Heian warriors needed the court, and centralized authority, as much as the court needed them, but that arrangement broke down and shifted during the 13th century and later.

The political, social and economic order of the Heian period needs to be understood in terms of interplay between rural and urban elites, and balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces. By the 10th century, private warriors had a monopoly over the means of armed force, and the court was rapidly fashioning a new working arrangement with warriors leaders and other elite residents of the countryside-one that relied heavily on personal relationships and private resources, offered provincial administrators expanded freedom of action and opportunities for profit, and yet maintained the basic social, political and economic hierarchies of the imperial state. Rather than signaling the imminent collapse of court rule, however, these accommodations preserved, prolonged and, in many ways, enhanced it, by co-opting provincial ambitions to serve the center. Freedom of local action was not the same as independence, or even autonomy, because the warriors themselves simply didn’t think in those terms yet.

Heian Japan remained firmly under civil authority and the idea of a warrior order was still more nascent than real. Far from being incipient provincial warlords chafing under courtier domination, 10th, 11th, and 12th century warrior leaders were men with one foot in the countryside and the other firmly planted in the capital-“bridging figures,” in the words of the late Jeffrey Mass-for whom the profession of arms was primarily a means to an end-a foot in the door toward civil rank and office. Their career goals-their hopes and dreams-pointed toward service to, rather than freedom from, the court. Consequently, whenever warriors stepped too far out of line, the court was always able to find peers and rivals more conservative in their ambitions and assessments of the odds against successful rebellion, to subdue them.

The balance began to shift, however, with the creation of the Kamakura shogunate. One way to understand the first shogunate, its relationships to the imperial court and to samurai in the countryside, and its role in governing Japan is to think of it as a kind of warriors’ union. Before the creation of the shogunate, warriors in the provinces were merely local government administrators or caretakers for estates that belonged to court nobles or temples. The court kept them politically weak by playing them against one another. By insulating an elite subgroup of the country’s provincial warriors from direct court control or employ, the shogunate ensured that samurai could no longer be managed by playing them against one another. In the long run, this created a mechanism for unraveling the fabric of centralized authority.

The existence of the shogunate rested on two competing obligations: On the one hand, it had a mandate from the court to maintain order in the provinces-to keep its own men under control and to use them to defend the court. This is what made the regime legal, and formed the basis of its national authority. On the other, the shogunate’s ability to carry out this mandate depended on the continuing support of its followers, which in turn hinged on its support of their ambitions for greater freedom from court control. Kamakura vassals across the country quickly learned to take advantage of this situation, manipulating their special status to lay stronger and more personal claims to their lands-and the people on them. Real power over the countryside spun off slowly but steadily from the center to the hands of local figures, and a new warrior-dominated system of authority absorbed the older, courtier-dominated one. By the 14th century, this evolution had progressed to the point where the most successful of the shogunate’s provincial vassals had begun to question the value of continued submission to Kamakura at all, and the regime fell in 1333.

For most of the fourteenth century, the existence of rival imperial courts, each claiming identical-and exclusive-authority offered warriors a choice of customers to whom to market their support. Leading warriors shifted sides repeatedly, in response to advantages and opportunities of the moment, playing each court off the other in much the same way that the court had once kept warriors weak by pitting them against one another. As this happened, it took a predictably heavy toll on central authority.

SA: It’s very uncommon to see an academic historian (as opposed to a ‘pop culture’ historian) who has had extensive training in traditional Japanese martial arts. Has your experience in this field led to insights in your published works? How have these arts evolved and changed since the days of extensive warfare in the Sengoku?

KF: I think that having some kind of hands-on experience with traditional weapons is useful in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways to historians looking at military topics. Having field experience with an army in combat would also be very helpful-although, for better or worse, I don’t have that.

Certainly actual involvement with bugei ryūha (martial training organizations) is crucial to meaningful analysis of the workings-the anatomy and physiology-of traditional martial art. These are very kabalistic organizations and the only way to really understand what they do and what they’re attempting to do is to experience it.

My work on samurai and military history has led me to some interesting realizations about the history of the bugei as well.

The conventional wisdom on Japanese martial art (ryūha bugei) ties its evolution closely to the history of warfare. It starts from the premise that systems and schools of martial art originally developed as tools for passing on workaday battlefield skills, in response to intensified demand for skilled fighting men spawned by the onset of the Sengoku age. Warriors hoping to survive and prosper on late medieval battlefields began to seek instruction from talented veterans, who in turn began to codify their knowledge and methodize its study. Thus bugei ryūha emerged more-or-less directly from the exigencies of medieval warfare. But-so goes the tale-the two-and-a-half-century Pax Tokugawa that began in 1600 brought fundamental changes to the practice of martial art. Instruction became professionalized, and in some cases, commercialized; training periods became longer, curricula were formalized; and elaborate systems of student ranks developed. Most significantly, however, the motives and goals underlying bugei practice were recast. Samurai, who no longer expected to spend time on the battlefield, sought and found a more relevant rationale for studying martial art, approaching it not simply as a means to proficiency in combat, as their ancestors had, but as a means to spiritual cultivation of the self.

This is basically the story I summarized in my Legacies of the Sword book. It begins from the logical assumption that ryūha bugei originated as an instrument for ordinary military training, and evolved from there into budō, a means to broader self-development and self-realization. But there are some problems with this picture that become clear if you juxtapose it against recent research on medieval warfare.

It‘s clear, first of all, that ryūha bugei couldn’t have accounted for more than a tiny portion of sixteenth-century military training. There were at most a few dozen ryūha around during the 16th century, but armies of that era regularly mobilized tens of thousands of men. In order for even a fraction of sengoku warriors to have learned their craft through one or more ryūha, each and every ryūha of the period would need to have trained at least several hundred students a year. Ryūha bugei must, therefore, have been a specialized activity, pursued by only a minute percentage of Sengoku warriors.

An even bigger issue, however, is the applicability of the skills that late medieval bugeisha concentrated on developing to sixteenth-century warfare. For one thing, strategy and tactics were shifting, from the 15th century onward-precisely the period in which bugei ryūha began to appear-from reliance on individual warriors and small group tactics to disciplined group tactical maneuver. Which means that ryūha bugei, focusing on developing prowess in personal combat, emerged and flourished in almost inverse proportion to the value of skilled individual fighters on the battlefield.

All of the recent scholarship on late medieval warfare, moreover, argues that swords never became a key battlefield armament in Japan-that they were, rather, supplementary weapons, analogous to the sidearms worn by modern soldiers. While swords were carried in combat, they were used far more often in street fights, robberies, assassinations and other (off-battlefield) civil disturbances. Missile weapons-arrows, rocks, and later bullets-dominated battles, throughout the medieval period.

On the other hand, almost all of the ryūha that date back to the sengoku period or earlier claim that swordsmanship played a central role in their training, right from the start. Tsukahara Bokuden, Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami, Iizasa Chōisai, Itō Ittōsai, Yagyū Muneyoshi, Miyamoto Musashi and other founders of martial art schools were (are) all best known for their prowess as swordsmen.

Initially, I wondered if the place of swordsmanship in medieval martial art represented a major piece of counter-evidence to the new consensus on late medieval warfare. After all, if bugei ryūha started out as systems to train warriors for the battlefield, and made swordsmanship central to their arts, wouldn’t that suggest that swords were more important to medieval warfare than the new scholarship would have us believe?

After wrestling with that question for quite a while, it finally struck me that the problem might lie in the first premise of this argument. All of the questions that were bothering me (why did bugei ryūha emerge at a time when generalship was rapidly coming to overshadow personal martial skills as the decisive element in battle, and the key to a successful military career? Why were there so few ryūha around during the Sengoku era, and why did they proliferate so rapidly during the early Tokugawa period, after the age of wars had passed? And why was swordsmanship so prominent in even the earliest bugei ryūha?) become much easier to answer if you just set aside the premise that bugei ryūha originated as instruments for teaching the workaday techniques of the battlefield. And the truth of the matter is that there’s little basis for that hoary assumption, beyond the fact that war was endemic in Japan when the first martial art schools appeared. The received wisdom rests, in other words, on what amounts to a post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy.

It seems likely, then, that ryūha bugei and the pedagogical devices associated with it aimed from the start at conveying more abstract ideals of self-development and enlightenment. That is, that ryūha bugei was an abstraction of military science, not merely an application of it. It fostered character traits and tactical acumen that made those who practiced it better warriors, but its goals and ideals were more akin to those of liberal education than vocational training. In other words, bugeisha, even during the Sengoku era, had more in common with Olympic marksmanship competitors-training with specialized weapons to develop esoteric levels of skill under particularized conditions-than with Marine riflemen. They also had as much-perhaps more-in common with Tokugawa era and modern martial artists than with the ordinary warriors of their own day.

Basically, I’m arguing that there was no fundamental shift of purpose in martial art education between the late sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. Tokugawa era budō represented not a metamorphosis of late medieval martial art, but the maturation of it. Ryūha bugei itself constituted a new phenomenon-a derivative, not a linear improvement, of earlier, more prosaic military training.

(For the full argument, see my “Off the Warpath” piece, in Alex Bennett’s Budo Perspectives [Auckland, New Zealand: Kendo World Publications, 2005], 249-68.)

SA: In “Legacies of the Sword” (a study of Kashima-Shinryu written with Seki Humitake), you make the point that many traditional Japanese martial arts use the language of Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism (and Neo-Confucianism), and Taoism to describe their arts because “…shrines and temples were the vehicles through which the Japanese conceptualized their universe, and they provided the only terminology for questions of physical science or philosophy”. In effect, religious terms were used to describe very ordinary and “down-to-earth” pieces of information. Have the trappings of religious language perhaps put too much emphasis on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of sword training, overriding their original primary role of training fighting men and warriors?

KF: Yes and no. As I suggested in my answer to the previous question, I doubt that formalized martial art training ever had a primary function of training fighting men for combat. It was always about something bigger-or more abstract, anyway. This is why swordsmanship could be so central to ryūha bugei: swordsmanship represented a symbolic sine qua non of personal combat: the favored weapon for off-battlefield dueling, and a kind of michi within a michi for bugeisha, then as now. It’s also why martial art training evolved so rapidly during the early decades of the Tokugawa period: Specialization, formalization, and idealization of ryūha bugei weren’t inherently deleterious to military preparedness, because this form of martial training had never been about readying troops for war. Military science writ large continued in other forms (particularly the emerging science of gungaku) while martial art schools continued to focus on personal development.

That said, budō training was never-until the modern era, anyway, part and parcel to Zen or any other religious practice. It was a separate-parallel-path (michi) to self-development, one that had its own internal logic. Martial artists borrowed both vocabulary and concepts from Buddhism, Taoism, and native religious traditions, but very few cast what they were doing as an expression of any of these traditions.

Moreover, the distinction between the physical and the spiritual that this question’s premised on is Western and artificial. Traditional Japanese worldview and pedagogy doesn’t separate mind, body and spirit the way that post-Cartesian Western thought does. In the traditional Japanese context, distinguishing between physical and spiritual factors in training is roughly equivalent to making distinctions between internal factors (muscle control, focus, concentration, strength, timing, etc.) and external ones (gravity, wind, etc.) in, say, learning to shoot an arrow. You can separate them for analytical purposes, but they’re really all part of the same big package. In traditional bugei conceptualization, what we describe as “spiritual development” is an essential component of developing high levels of skill in fighting.

That’s the really cool thing about the underlying premises of traditional Japanese martial art: To really master violence, you have to get yourself to a place where you utterly transcend it. Fighting is a natural phenomenon like any other; the more closely and optimally your movements and tactics harmonize with the principles of natural law, the better your performance in combat. On one level, this is a simple deduction, as obvious as the advantages of shooting arrows with rather than against a strong wind. But the worldview of premodern Japan didn’t distinguish physics from metaphysics. So to the samurai, the difference between corporeal and spiritual considerations in martial training was simply a matter of the level of sophistication and expertise at which the task was to be approached.

SA: In the Western world, Zen is usually viewed as encompassing the whole of Japanese Buddhism. It’s also often presented as being the single biggest philosophical influence on samurai culture. As “Legacies of the Sword” points out, bugei are “compatible with any religious affiliation or lack thereof”. Do you feel the impact of Zen on Japanese martial arts and samurai culture has been exaggerated in the West while the influence of esoteric Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Shinto, and the like, have been largely ignored?

KF: Certainly this is true of most of the literature on Japanese martial arts aimed at popular audiences. Most of the recent work, particularly the stuff written by scholars and people directly involved in classical (koryū) arts has pretty much left this fallacy behind, though.

SA: “Samurai, Warfare, and the State in Early Medieval Japan” is probably your best known book and (along with the work done by Thomas Conlan) radically changed the way Western academia viewed the way that samurai went to war. Particularly interesting were the ‘nuts and bolts’ discussions of the tactics used by individual samurai, such as why a mounted bowman would want to keep the enemy on his left side, or how the physical attributes of Japanese horses precluded the types of cavalry charges one would see in an American western. How difficult was it to piece together these practical tactics from the sparse sources at hand? What caused you to be skeptical of the ‘honorable name announcing/arrow exchange’ model as presented in the war tales of the period?

KF: The broad outlines, and even many of the details, of individual and group tactics are pretty clear, if you just read the sources with reasonable care. Some of the details, though, take a lot of reading between the lines and speculating. The patterns of maneuver and options available to warriors trying to approach an enemy I outlined fall into the latter category. They’re really just conclusions derived by reasoning from basic points and principals that are clear in the sources (the weight and construction of armor, the abilities of Japanese ponies, the nature of bows and arrows, the preference for keeping opponents to your right while approaching on their left, and the like).

The “honorable name announcing/arrow exchange model” is really just a silly old canard, invented more-or-less from whole cloth by earlier historians. Not only does it make no sense whatsoever when considered in light of practical matters on the battlefield-how, for example, could dozens (much less hundreds) of warriors milling about on battlefields possibly identify appropriate opponents while everyone is shouting at everyone else?-but it also runs contrary to the anything-goes approach to warfare portrayed in accounts (even literary ones) of Heian warriors.

At the same time, having heroes boast of their pedigrees and accomplishments at the onset of combat, a narrative device known as “naming one’s name,” is a very natural literary embellishment, common in epic literature throughout the world.

Those factors alone ought to make us skeptical about how often warriors actually engaged in reciting their CVs and pedigrees at one another. Add to that the fact that there are no examples of this behavior (beyond simple references to warriors “shouting their names”) in any sources written before the 14th century, and you really have grounds for suspicion.

What’s more, even in later medieval literary accounts, instances of resume reading are a lot less common than customary reconstructions of early medieval warfare would have us to believe. In the Kakuichi-bon Heike monogatari (the most elaborately-embellished version of the text), for example, there are only 19 incidents, 13 of which appear in the same chapter, during the battle at Ichinotani, and three of which are by the same individual, delivered within minutes of one another. And none of these incidents had anything to do with warriors pairing off to fight one another-almost all of them involved warriors either waiting outside or inside fortifications, taunting the enemy.

What’s happened, over the years, is that historians’ have simply accepted the premise that early samurai warfare was ritualistic and governed by gentlemanly rules, and allowed the blinders imposed by preconceptions to restrict their views of their sources, and preclude consideration of alternative interpretations. Historians who have identified and endeavored to explain ritual and formality on early medieval battlefields have done so because they expected to find it there.

SA: Over the years, what has the critical reaction been to your downplaying of the historical veracity of ‘honorable combat and the unbreakable code of bushido’, and the evidence presented that the samurai considered ambushes, treachery, fire attacks, slaughter of civilians, and other underhanded behavior to be perfectly acceptable? Do you have any interesting stories concerning the reactions of those who might have been suffering from ‘Bullshido Denial’?

KF: I suspect that there must be a fair number of people out there who are unhappy with the idea that the early samurai were just as practical, and no more romantic or ritualized in their behavior, than later samurai or warriors in other times and places, but I haven’t really taken any fire on this that I can think of. The reviews and citations I’ve seen have all been positive (on these points, at least!). So have the reactions of audiences when I’ve lectured on the subject.

SA: Why were fortifications of the Heian and Kamakura eras largely ‘purpose built’ structures thrown up quickly and just as quickly abandoned? Why weren’t more permanent structures such as those seen in the Sengoku (whether yamashiro or Azuchi-type) favored?

KF: Permanent castles, of the sort you see in Japan during the Sengoku period, are generally a reaction to a need for on-going defense-an on-going atmosphere of more-or-less constant warfare (or threat thereof)-and/or a symbol of political authority. Neither of those conditions really applied to Heian or Kamakura Japan.

Both periods were really pretty peaceful, over all. Warriors simply didn’t feel the need to heavily fortify their homes. Military power was, moreover, not a source of political power, so there was little or no symbolic value to living in a castle. (In fact, the opposite was probably true: living behind fortifications would have made a warrior look weak and afraid of something, which would suggest a lack of political clout.) Heian and Kamakura warriors lived-for the most part-like other rural elites, because they identified with their non-warrior peers, and wanted to be identified with them.

There were some permanent-or at least potentially permanent-fortifications constructed during the Heian and Kamakura periods-the forts in the northeast during the Former Nine Years’ and Latter Three Years’ Wars, or the Taira fortress at Ichinotani during the Gempei War, for example-but tactically and strategically speaking, late Heian and early Kamakura fortifications were defensive lines, not castles or forts intended to provide long-term safe haven for armies ensconced within. Their purpose was to concentrate campaigns and battles: to slow enemy advances, thwart raiding tactics, control selection of the battleground, restrict cavalry maneuver, and enhance the ability of foot soldiers to compete with horsemen.

In the 14th century, during the Nambokuchō wars, Kusunoki Masashige and other Go-Daigo loyalists followers introduced a new tactical paradigm for fortifications as rallying points, sanctuaries, and symbols of resistance. While most twelfth- and thirteenth-century defense works had been constructed across or adjacent to roads, beachheads and other travel arteries, Masashige and his allies ensconced themselves in remote mountain citadels, whose purpose and presence defied Kamakura authority, and served as a beacon to other recruits. Compact enough to be easily defended on all exposures, and located on terrain sufficiently treacherous to render them difficult to approach quickly or in large numbers, these forts weren’t easy to take by direct assault, which meant that relatively small numbers of warriors could tie up sizeable enemy forces for long periods, buying time and credibility for Go-Daigo’s cause, and whittling away at the morale of Kamakura’s troops.

That wasn’t, of course, an entirely new tactic; Abe Yoritoki and his son, Sadatō, had done something fairly similar during the Former Nine Years’ War of 1055 to 1062. Yoritoki’s principal strategy for this campaign was to strategy throughout the conflict centered on ensconcing himself and his followers behind walls, in hopes of outlasting Minamoto Yoriyoshi’s patience and resolve, playing on the eagerness of Yoriyoshi’s government troops to get back as soon as possible to their own lands and affairs.

But Yoritoki’s and Sadatō’s fate in this conflict illustrate the pitfalls of this sort of strategy: it’s hard to hide this way forever. If the other side doesn’t lose interest, it can probably outlast either your resolve or your supplies. In Sadatō’s case, he eventually got impatient and came out to fight.

Masashige (and his allies) was up to something slightly different, since he was trying to keep a cause, rather than just himself, alive. By establishing large numbers of forts (and sometimes abandoning old ones for new ones, before the old ones fell) he kept a metaphorical flag flying that signaled that Kamakura was not, in fact, invincible. He was really playing off widespread dissatisfaction with the shogunate among both Kamakura vassals and other warriors, hoping that if he could maintain the credibility of Go-Daigo’s crusade against the shogunate for long enough, warriors would start rallying to his side. But this was pretty much a novel situation-the circumstances Masashige was attempting to exploit hadn’t existed in previous conflicts.

SA: “Samurai, Warfare, and the State” also questions the idea that samurai armies were from top to bottom largely a collection of uncoordinated individuals on the field of battle out only for their own glory, showing that at the lower levels they were comprised of units of warriors that trained extensively together and who displayed a high degree of cooperation. What prevented the cohesiveness of these smaller bands from manifesting itself across larger groups?

KF: Mostly political circumstances. Heian and Kamakura era armies were temporary, irregular assemblages, constructed through complex private military networks. Warriors knit together needed forces by calling on the members of small core bands of fighting men, subordinate allies, and (unless the conflict was a purely private affair) military officers of provincial governments. The troops involved were bound to their commanders by short-term contractual promises of rewards, rather than by standing obligations to service.
That meant that commanders had few, if any, opportunities to drill with their troops in large-scale, coordinated group tactics, and made it impossible to field disciplined and well-articulated armies. Samurai lacked the resources to gather larger numbers of troops and maintain them while they train or fight together long enough to develop enough unit cohesion to engage in large-scale group tactics until well into the 15th century.

SA: Your latest book, "The First Samurai: The Life And Legend Of The Warrior Rebel Taira Masakado" was not only an excellent biography but also a well done account of the political and economic conditions and background that the rebellion played itself out upon. From the title, cover, and packaging, it appeared to have been aimed at a more general audience than is the norm for most scholarly books. Was this your intent when writing it? If so, how did your writing style and approach differ from something written with academia in mind?

KF: The First Samurai was written for John Wiley & Sons, which is a semi-academic trade press, so my mandate here was explicitly to produce something that would appeal to a general audience. I was after something that would serve some of the same functions as good historical fiction, informing readers about the period while entertaining them with a good story. I was also trying-I’m not sure how successfully-to straddle the fence, writing with a focus and in a style that would interest and entertain real people while still maintaining academic credibility and value.
SA: The picture you paint of Masakado is that of a 'reluctant rebel'-someone who did not have rebellion in mind when he launched his initial attacks and was somewhat painted into a corner by circumstances. It seemed he was actually rather happy operating within the framework of the Heian Imperial state. Given that, how did he end up being seen as a rebel while fighting what he saw as being personal, locally based conflicts?

KF: I’m not sure that Masakado, and other provincial warrior leaders like him, were actually happy within the framework of the state so much as they were resigned to it. Which is to say that they weren’t necessarily big fans of the System, and they were putting a lot of energy into working the system and working around it, but they weren’t looking for opportunities to overthrow it either.

In modern terms, they were like middle class office workers, business owners and the such. On the one hand, folks in the middle may have a lot of resentment for the wealthy-particularly the hereditary wealthy-and for the way the system is stacked in their favor. They don’t particularly like paying taxes; they’re fed up with lazy, stupid or corrupt politicians; and they’re annoyed at doing all the work that makes it possible for the top 2% of the population to collect 80% of the wealth produced. BUT, they rarely lean toward revolutionary ideas. Their aspirations aim toward rising in the system, not taking it down. They are, after all, in the middle, and have no desire to fall back into the lower economic classes, and they understand (even if only subconsciously) that they’re also beneficiaries of the system, at the expense of the poor. They’re also generally pretty well ideologically indoctrinated into the system, and generally tend to see it as flawed-and often very unfair-but still the best alternative out there. They want the safety and security (personal and economic) that the system provides for them, and don’t want to give that up. And they generally believe that rocking the proverbial boat is more likely to cost them what they already have than to get them more.

Provincial and other warrior leaders were in pretty much the same situation during the Heian period.

Masakado did actually end up rebelling against the court, but the process was almost accidental, and his rebellion seems to have been a gamble at creating a negotiating position for himself, rather than a sincere attempt to break away from court authority. His historical reputation as a rebel probably stems from both the fact that he lost, and the fact that he came so close.

His troubles began as a series of spats with relatives and local rivals, during which he took great pains to stay within the good graces of the law. His undoing came when he got mixed up-through a very complex set of circumstances-in a local quarrel involving one of his allies in Hitachi province that resulted in-again through a complicated sequence of events-his troops occupying and looting the provincial capital. That put Masakado unequivocally on the wrong side of the law.
In traditional accounts, Masakado at this point just went crazy, taking over the provincial headquarters in seven other eastern provinces and declaring himself to be a New Emperor in the east. But the declaration of a new kingdom (and his title of New Emperor) appear only in a literary account of his adventures, and can’t be corroborated by more reliable sources. And there’s another way to read his advance from Hitachi to the rest of the East: He was trying to strengthen his hand in order to negotiate a pardon for the fiasco in Hitachi.

As Bob Dylan pointed out, “Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king.” Having already crossed the line into rebellion against the state by his actions in Hitachi, Masakado was in trouble. But he kept negotiating for a pardon, even as he was gathering up the keys to the provincial capitals over the rest of the east, which strongly suggests that what he really wanted was simply to make himself formidable enough that the court would have to deal with him, rather than simply take him out. Other warrior leaders-including Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of the first shogunate-followed pretty much the same strategy successfully. The difference between Masakado’s case and Yoritomo’s was mostly one of luck and circumstances, so Masakado lost while Yoritomo pulled it off.

Masakado has gone down in history as a rebel in part because he lost, and in part because of the fact that he scared the bejesus out of the court, which responded with hysterical proclamations of his evil acts and the need to destroy him. Shōmonki, the literary chronicle that shaped his reputation for posterity, was written for a court audience and therefore played to this vision and these sympathies.

Masakado’s insurrection,and that of Taira Tadatsune a century later, also play well into both the old scenario of a rising warrior class in the provinces just waiting for the right chance to take over-which makes Masakado a harbinger of medieval things to come-and the predilection of Marxist historians in Japan to cast things in terms of seething class conflict-on-going battle between the central government and provincial elites. Masakado fits either story better as a rebel than as a middle manager trying to keep the IRS from throwing him in jail.

SA: You use an interesting comparison of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Masakado to illustrate that a vassal could successfully rebel against the state and then once again be welcomed back under its banner-providing that one could put together a string of victories impressive enough to merit being taken as a serious enough threat by the Imperial Court. This helps to reinforce your theory that the Heian court managed to keep itself at the center of things and exert a great measure of control on the warriors-rather than wanting to form their own new state, most rebels were really looking more to improve their individual positions under it. Why did Masakado fail at this while Yoritomo succeeded, despite a long string of impressive victories? Did he perhaps try to overreach himself?

KF: It was mostly a matter of luck and circumstances. One of the things Yoritomo had working in his favor was and additional two centuries of evolution of the system, giving him a larger undercurrent of warrior resentment of the status quo to tap into. The other was the absence of alternatives-there really was no more palatable choice available to send against him as champion of the court, making rapprochement with Yoritomo the lesser of several evils. Initially the court was even less happy with Yoritomo’s enemies, Taira Kiyomori and his sons, than they were with Yoritomo, and welcomed his efforts to get rid of them. Later, the court did try to commission rivals to take Yoritomo down-first his cousin Yoshinaka and then his brother Yoshitsune-but Yoshinaka turned out to be an even bigger pain than Yoritomo (so the court ended up turning back to Yoritomo to get rid of Yoshinaka) and Yoritomo was able to out-maneuver Yoshitsune.

SA: Your essay in "Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries" is somewhat of a sequel to "The First Samurai"-"Lordship Interdicted: Taira no Tadatsune and the Limited Horizons of Warrior Ambition". This details the rebellion of Taira no Tadatsune-a descendant of Taira Masakado who was the ancestor of the Chiba daimyo line. Once again, it shows how a simple personal dispute escalated into a rebellion-but seemingly was far more serious and much more destructive than Masakado's, laying waste to large portions of Shimosa, Awa, and Kazusa. How did this scorched earth policy contribute not only to Tadatsune's early success in staving off the Imperial Court but also his eventual surrender and execution, as well as help ensure that his family line was allowed to continue (and eventually, as the Chiba, control Shimosa for hundreds of years)?

KF: Heian military campaigns focused on the destruction or apprehension of opposing warriors. The objective-the definition of victory-entailed eliminating the enemy, rather than simply occupying his lands or driving him off them. That meant that Tadatsune didn’t need to crush the “government army” sent against him, only to hold it off and to survive. And he was able to achieve this by denying it a base of operations anywhere on the easily quarantined Bōsō peninsula or access to the resources of any of the provincial governments there, forcing the commander, Taira Naokata, to stage his operations from Hitachi and Musashi. Tadatsune appears to have concentrated on keeping Naokata perpetually at bay-denying him both a base of operations on the peninsula and a decisive confrontation-while Naokata presumably spent a good part of his time and energy burning crops and homes belonging to Tadatsune’s supporters, in an effort to force him to stand and fight.

Later reports of the devastation in the peninsula suggest that fighting must have been brutal, and nearly continuous between the closing months of 1028 and the summer of 1030. In spite of this, clearly neither Tadatsune nor Naokata and his allies were able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other. By middle of 1029, the court was becoming impatient with Naokata’s lack of measurable progress-especially in light of the destruction in the provinces and the disruption to the flow of taxes and other revenues to the capital-and was considering replacing him. In 1030 they recalled him and replaced him with Minamoto Yorinobu.

Yorinobu’s appointment represented a fundamental shift in the court’s strategy for the campaign. Naokata was a personal rival to Tadatsune. And while his personal interest in Tadatsune’s downfall probably contributed to his enthusiasm for the fight, it also served to put Tadatsune’s back against the proverbial wall, making the conflict a matter of familial honor and leaving him no graceful way to negotiate with the government’s commander on the scene. His only option, then, other than a galling surrender to a hereditary enemy, was to stand fast, while attempting to maneuver around Naokata-over his head-through his patrons in the capital. When the court proved unreceptive to these overtures, and Naokata proved unable to crush Tadatsune militarily, the conflict settled into a seemingly interminable-and highly destructive-stalemate.

Yorinobu, on the other hand, seems to have established some sort of master-retainer relationship with Tadatsune a couple of decades earlier. By replacing Naokata with Yorinobu, then, the court was offering Tadatsune an honorable out-a means of negotiated surrender. By this time, Tadatsune was also tired of the fight and the stalemate. And so, recognizing this opportunity for what it was, Tadatsune unstrung his bow, and prepared to come to terms with the court. As it worked out, though, Tadatsune died (apparently of illness) en route to meet with Yorinobu to surrender.

In the aftermath, court opinion was deeply divided over whether Tadatsune’s sons Tsunemasa and Tsunechika should be run to ground, because they were technically still in rebellion, or simply left alone, as a matter of expedience. Eventually, the latter view prevailed. The court diplomatically concluded that Tsunemasa and Tsunechika had originally intended to surrender with their father, but that when Tadatsune died in route to the capital, they had become concerned about being put in prison, and thus becoming unable to perform the proper mourning rites for him, and, that the two deserved time to conduct these rituals, and let the matter drop.

Ironically, the exhausted condition of the provinces brought about by Tadatsune’s war-making-the very conditions that forced him to capitulate-served the interests of his descendents in the long run. They were a principal factor in the Council of State’s decision to let not-quite-sleeping dogs lie with respect to Tsunemasa and Tsunechika, which, along with its decision to return Tadatsune’s head to his followers rather than keep it on display, amounted to a kind of pardon for Tadatsune and his heirs. This in turn ensured that, unlike those of Masakado-whose rebellion ended with the virtual extinction of his line-the fortunes of Tadatsune’s family were not ended by his war. His sons remained powerful landholders in the Bōsō area, where their descendents resurfaced in the history books a century later, under the surname Chiba, as key players in the Gempei War (on Yoritomo’s side).

SA: As an educator, what do you feel have been some of your more impressive success stories? What do you find most gratifying about teaching? What sort of disappointments have you encountered? Do you see the movement in academia away from pre-modern Japanese studies towards modern studies reversing itself at some point?

KF: I do a lot of teaching, and a lot of different kinds of teaching-history, martial art, scuba and other things. What’s most rewarding, and what I enjoy most, is the process of helping people open new doors for themselves-exposing them to new worlds, new ideas, new ways of thinking, or helping them develop new skills.

My biggest career disappointment has been that, with the exception of my one year as visiting professor in Hawaii, I’ve never been able to teach as part of a team-to be part of a program. Here at UGA, I’m affiliated with what is for all practical purposes an American History department, and I’m the only faculty member on campus with an actual degree in Japanese studies, in any field. My role in the department boils down to teaching novelty courses that students take to fulfill the distribution requirements for courses in multiple geographic areas or courses on premodern history. I get no opportunities to work with graduate students and no chances to do advanced work even with undergraduates. We do get students seriously interested in Japan studies here, but we don’t have the program to support that interest. Ironically, I often find myself trying to persuade the students I’d most like to have in my classes that they should transfer to some other school, where their interests would be better served.

Sadly, I’m afraid that I’m not terribly optimistic about the future of medieval and classical studies in the US. The student interest-at least at the undergraduate level-is still there, but faculty support is minimal and fading. History departments are increasingly focused on modern history (at UGA 16 of a total of 34 full-time faculty work primarily on the 20th century-nine of them on the post WWII period-and seven more work in largely in the 19th century; a colleague admonished me a few years ago that “you’ll never get anywhere in this department unless you get past your obsession with premodern stuff”), and even area studies departments are losing ground to political and financial constituents who want to see more of themselves in the curriculum. Predicting is always a risky business, but I frankly don’t see any reason to expect any of that to change in near future.

SA: You’ve been featured on several television documentaries, particularly those on History Channel, that deal with the samurai. How does your approach to preparing for these shows differ from writing? Have you ever had a problem with something you’ve said being taken out of context, or cut together in a way that misrepresents your viewpoint?

KF: Dealing with TV people-and the media in general-is always fun, but it can be frustrating too. The problem is, of course, that they’re looking primarily for an entertaining story, and for a simple one, while history is mostly about complexities. When you’re doing interviews for TV and the media, you have to concentrate on being very brief-which, as you can probably tell from my answers to the questions above, I’m not very good at-and on sound bites. That’s always challenging, and can be a lot of fun.

The level of frustration involved depends largely on the producers and writers you’re working with. Most that I’ve dealt with are pretty earnest about wanting accuracy-albeit rarely at the expense of brevity or a good story line-and most really do listen to their experts. Some, however, have trouble understanding why historical interpretation changes over time and are reluctant to let go of outdated sources and ideas. And at least a couple have been addicted to erroneous information and just won’t let anyone change their minds about it. I’ve had one or two incidents where something I’ve said or something one of the other talking heads for a program said has been used to support exactly the opposite of the point I (or they) was (were) actually making. (Better not to go into specifics here . . . ) Quite a few of my colleagues refuse to do TV history programs for just this reason. But I operate on the better-to-light-a-single-candle principle. And besides, I’m a ham.

SA: What projects are you currently working on that we can expect to see in the foreseeable future? Have you considered writing any ‘family histories’ for clans such as the Taira or Hojo, or perhaps the early development of clans that were to achieve their greatest notoriety in the Sengoku (such as the Takeda or Shimazu)?

KF: I’m currently working on editing a textbook on premodern and early modern Japan that will be a collection of 30-some state-of-the art essays by 20-some authors-the best names in the field-so it should be quite something, when it all comes together. It's for Greenview, and will be called, "Japan Emerging: Introductory Essays on Premodern History." We're looking at a release date somewhere during late 2011. I’m also just getting into a new project on Minamoto Yoshitsune, which should be, like the First Samurai book, kind of a biography that showcases the period.

SA: Your books on warfare have been extremely influential on the current crop of historians specializing in military matters. What are some of the recent books and authors (either Western or Japanese) that you have found particularly enjoyable and informative? Whose work has made the greatest impact on you and helped develop your approach to history?

KF: My biggest influences were probably my two principal teachers, Jeff Mass and Cappy (G. Cameron) Hurst. But the field (premodern Japan) is small enough in English that I try to use and keep up with everything. In Japanese, I’ve found work by Amino Yoshihiko, Suzuki Masaya, Kawaii Yasushi, Kondō Yoshikazu, Fukuda Toyohiko, Hayashi Rokurō, Hodate Michuhisa, Yasuda Motohisa Fujimoto Masayuki, Gomi Fumihiko, Ishii Susumu, Sasama Yoshihiko, Seki Yukihiko, Noguchi Minoru, Shimomukai Tatsuhiko, Takahashi Masaaki, Toda Yoshimi, Uwayokote Masataka, and Takahashi Tomio particularly useful. I’ve also drawn a lot of help from work by Bernard Bachrach, Michael Waltzer, John Keegan, Otto Brunner, Kelly Devries, Michael Howard, James Turner Johnson, Stephen Morillo, Nagahara Keiji, Joseph Needham, Matthew Strickland, and others, in European military history.

SA: Thanks, Professor Friday, for your time and expertise. This has been a very illuminating discussion and we look forward to seeing those new books!

All of Professor Friday's books can be purchased on Amazon through the SA Store by clicking on the book titles in the article.