Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Joint AAS-ICAS Conference in Honolulu

To celebrate its 70th anniversary, the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is holding a special joint conference with the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) in Honolulu, March 31–April 3, 2011 at the Hawai'i Convention Center, and Samurai Archives correspondents will be present, keeping you updated on all of the history, theory, and academic goodness.  Keep an eye on this blog for detailed summaries of each days events, and for a real time streaming feed of groundbreaking information direct from the floor of the conference, follow @samuraiarchives and @toranosukev via Twitter, and set up a search for #AASConference, which we'll use to tag the tweets.  We should also be recording some audio for the forthcoming podcast that will cover the conference.

Here are some highlights I am looking forward to:

Session 72: Monks of the Five Mountains & Shogunal Patronage of Zen in the Making of Muromachi Culture
In particular, Koji Ito's presentation on the Muromachi Shogun's use of monks in diplomacy looks promising.

Session 192: Negotiating One's Place in Japan's Long Sixteenth Century
This session is at the top of my list of must-see at the conference, and being the most Samurai-centric, I intend to take copious notes.  In particular I am looking forward to Luke Roberts presentation entitled 'Warrior Conflicts With Their Daimyo in Early Seventeenth Century Japan' - Dr. Roberts is the author of Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain: The Merchant Origins of Economic Nationalism in 18th-Century Tosa, and numerous interesting articles focused on Tosa province, so I assume this will involve the transition from Chosokabe to Yamanouchi leadership in Tosa province.  David Eason's presentation entitled 'This Land is My Land: Masuda Motonaga and the Politics of Territorial Redistribution in Choshu Domain', dealing with the Mori clan, also looks interesting.

Session 321: Before and After the Banquet: Culinary Discourse in Japan (1500-1900)
 This just seems generally interesting, and with presentations with titles like'Admonitions Regarding Food: Some Glimpses into the Pleasures and Dangers of Eating in Edo Period Japan' by Michael Kinski, I think it should be entertaining.

Session 541: Elite Patronage and Viewership of Japanese Art in the Age of the Toyotomi-Tokugawa Transition - sponsored by Japan Art History Forum
Toyotomi and Tokugawa in the title are enough to get me in the door, but the presentations involving caligraphy, folding screens, and other works of art look to be interesting. Not sure what will actually be there, but I assume at the very least there should be some juicy handouts.

Session 560: From Horseriders to Buddhist Devotees: China, Korea, and Japan at the Intersection of Visual Culture in the 5th-7th Centuries
Ancient Japan is still pretty mysterious to me, even after a lengthy Kofun podcast discussion that has yet to hit the airwaves (podwaves?), but it is definitely fascinating, so I'm definitely looking forward to this.

Session 614: History, Literature, and Religion: Toward a New Paradigm for Kokugaku
Kokugaku is pretty much a mystery to me, but I have seen a lecture by presenter Mark Mcnally before on a similar subject, and even though it was admittedly over my head, I did find it interesting, so I'm looking forward to his presentation 'Classifying Kokugaku: Nativism and Edo Japan', although I don't expect to make much sense of it in the long run.

Session 659: Nagasaki in the Eighteenth Century: Commercial and Institutional Change From Inside and Out
Having gone to college in Nagasaki, it was my first and most accessible introduction to Japanese history, with historical spots all over the place, including Glover Gardens and other interesting spots, so a presentation based on events in the city I used to live in should be interesting.
Those are the ones I'm most looking forward to, but with what looks like well over 100 sessions in 4 days, I'm sure some of the other ones will also be fascinating.  A few others that have caught my eye:

Religion Goes Pop: Manga and Religion in Post-1995 Japan
The Development of a Tradition: Nara Period Eminent Monks in Context
Who Counted Kin, and How: Warrior Groups,, State Regimes, and Social Boundaries in Central, East, and South Asia, c.1200-1850
New Military Technologies and Their Impact in the Indian Ocean Realm c. 1000-1600

All in all, a very full 4 days, which I will enjoy thoroughly since I'll be taking time off work to attend.  Keep an eye on the blog and the aforementioned twitter accounts for updates! 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Mongol Buffoonery: History Channel's Ancient Discoveries

One of our favorite sports is watching The History Channel's attempts at presenting programming dealing with pre-modern Japanese history. The quality of the shows tends to range from brutal (see 'Musashi') to laughable (see 'Ancient Astronauts'). Still, we feel compelled to watch-it's like watching a train wreck occur in slow motion. Even though you know things will end badly, you can't tear yourself away.

Such was the case in February 28th's broadcast of "Ancient Discoveries: Ancient Super Navies". One of the segments of the show dealt with Kublai Khan's invasions of Japan (along with his Korean and Chinese allies) in 1274 and 1281. While we stumbled across the program in the midst of airing, it showed that it was every bit the sloppy, cobbled together mess we've come to expect from History Channel. It established its credibility right off the bat by stating that Kublai Khan invaded Japan in 1274 in order to stop Japanese pirate invasions of the Asian mainland. While Khan's motivations for invading Japan are complex and a subject of some debate (usually centering on 'manifest destiny', reports of staggering Japanese wealth, or the most likely, the desire to keep Japan from aiding Khan's enemies in the Southern Song Dynasty), stopping pirate raids was not among them. This sounds like information imparted by a Korean historian (who for all the rancor shown towards Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea some 300 years later seem to forget their own invasion of Japan here)-it's a popular theory in Korea that they convinced Khan to attack Japan in revenge for the pirate raids of the mid-13th century. There's no evidence to back it up-not to mention the last pirate raid against Korea took place in 1265, some 10 years before the first invasion, hardly giving Khan a reason for aggression.

The show is using severely outdated sources for its presentation. They use the wildly exaggerated claims of 100, 000 troops for the Mongol forces and of course credit the failure of both invasions not to the tenacity of the Japanese defenders (particularly in 1281) but to the typhoons that wreaked havoc upon the Mongol fleets. Thomas Conlan, along with many Japanese historians, have convincingly demonstrated that the typhoons just 'put the exclamation point' on the Mongol defeats-the Japanese had already stopped their foes.

The History Channel even fails basic math. The origins of the word 'kamikaze' are examined (the 'divine wind' that 'stopped' the 1281 invasion), and it's stated that 500 years later the Japanese used it as their rallying cry when mounting suicide attacks against the American fleet in WWII. Actually, 500 years would put things at 1781, and unless they hope to tie this in with an 'Ancient Astronaut' theory, way, way off. Then just to show they can go the other way, while staging a demonstration of the 'zhen tian lei' (Mongol 'thunder crash bombs'), they claim that it has been 'over a thousand years' since one was detonated. Even making the dubious assumption that 1281 was the last instance of these bombs being used, that would put things at 2281-some 270 years in the future.

And while the reenactment/demonstration of the 'thunder crash bombs' is the high point of the segment, they manage to botch it as well. For starters, they make an elliptical shaped bomb rather than the round ones depicted in the Suenaga scrolls and the ones found by archaeologists. This completely changes the ballistic nature of the resulting explosion, invalidating their results. And they claim that the charge would have a '100% kill ratio within 20 feet'-oh, please. It would surely do lethal damage at random points within that perimeter, but there would be many spots not covered in the spread as well. They finish off things by stating that had the 'kamikaze' not hit, these bombs would have completely incinerated the Japanese fleet. WHAT Japanese fleet? The Japanese had a low number of small fishing boats they had commandeered from local fisherman they used to conduct raids on the Mongols, but absolutely NOTHING in the way of an organized fleet.

Finally, they roll out the Moko Shurai Ekotoba scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga as if they've been tightly guarded secrets that the History Channel has just managed to uncover at the Hakozaki Shrine. Of course, these scrolls have been a well-known Japanese national treasure for hundreds of years (with the original being held by the Imperial Household Agency) and were hand copied hundreds of times through the centuries (with the Hakozaki copy being one of these). They use the scrolls to demonstrate that the 'thunder crash bombs' were used during the battles, even though Conlan has also shown that these bombs were added to the scrolls decades after they were first drawn. Although archeological evidence has verified the existence (and presumably the usage) of the bombs among the remnants of the Mongol fleet, the scrolls originally had no evidence of them (and were later added to bring them into line with written accounts).

Other episodes of interest to followers of J-history: Ancient Secret Agents covers ninja and Ancient Special Forces spotlights the horro (the 'arrow catchers' worn on the back of elite samurai battlefield messengers). We're sure we'll run across them at some point-we can hardly wait.