井の中の蛙

5/29/2011

Young Samurai: Way of the Dragon and the Battle of Osaka

The third installment of Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai series shifts modes mid-book, when the action moves from the original Harry Potter-esque bildungsroman mode to the tragic — Young Jack is on the side of the Toyotomi, as it turns out — Battle of Osaka.

[More Spoilers Ahead]1

The book is considerably longer than the first two installments, a common feature of end-of-series climaxes, and continues with the cultural and historical bad habits noted in the first two works.2 At least, being a climactic moment, many of the historical alterations are clarified — if not well justified. There are two substantial changes to the historical record, which explain most of the other distortions: postponing the Tokugawa dominion of Japan until after the Battle of Osaka, and transforming the banning of Christianity into xenophobic nationalism and a popular movement, rather than a geo-political calculation.3 And ninja. Lots of ninja. I’m going to focus on the historiographical oddities this time, though I reserve the right to note new contextual and literary failings.

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  1. I don’t really consider that a spoiler; it’s an actual event. Knowing how things turn out is fundamental to historical work. Though I must concede that Bradford’s willingness to mess with the timeline does raise some doubt. []
  2. The Way of the Warrior and The Way of the Sword. Also, the book jacket copy is unchanged. []
  3. Needless to say, the historical changes require substantial alterations to the characters of many historical figures. One can only hope that the bad pseudonyms shield young readers from connecting these caricatures with real people. At one point, the Miyamoto Musashi stand-in orders Jack to commit seppuku, then retracts it and calls it a “little joke.” (72) []

4/23/2009

A bounty of medieval symposia

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 9:40 pm

Premodernists, particularly those who focus on history, sometimes feel gloomy about the state of premodern Japanese studies in the U.S., where a number of large graduate programs have shrunk, disappeared, or fundamentally changed in emphasis in the past two decades. Some of us have even been known to eulogize the field, as if the heart of our collective endeavors had already stopped beating. Is the field more like a rotting corpse, or perhaps a mummified one? Have we been subject to cremation, leaving behind only bone fragments to be buried in an urn? Or was the corpse of the field left lying on the banks of the river, food for the crows and source of anxiety for locals, known as “wind burial”? (Thanks, PMJS!)

Two upcoming events prove that the rumors of the death of medieval Japanese studies were greatly exaggerated.
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8/10/2007

Update on Honnôji

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 5:03 pm

Professor Matthew Stavros of the University of Sydney (seen in the third photo below) wrote in response to my post on the discovery of roof tiles from Honnôji at an excavation site in Kyoto. Matthew, who is a specialist in medieval Kyoto and has participated in archaeological digs in the city, reports that archaeologists have been excavating this site, which they were almost certain was Honnôji, for some time, but lacked definitive proof. The significance of this recent find is that the roof tiles are marked with a symbol that was only used at Honnôji.

Matthew kindly provided some images from the excavation which illustrate something of the excavation process and results (after the break).

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8/7/2007

Nobunaga’s death spot, Honnôji, discovered

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 4:08 pm

Those of you who are, like me, interested in that brief era in the late 16th and early 17th centuries known as the Momoyama period (or the Azuchi-Momoyama period for sticklers) will be interested to know that archaeologists in Kyoto have discovered the first solid proof of the location of Honnôji Temple. Honnôji was of course the site of Akechi Mitsuhide’s treasonous assault on the warlord Oda Nobunaga on Tenshô 10/6/2 (or June 21st, 1582 to most of us). Mitsuhide took advantage of the relative lack of guards, henchmen, and major vassals in the vicinity to launch a major attack which resulted in the incineration of the temple and the death of Nobunaga, known to many today as the first of the three “Great Unifiers” of the late sixteenth century. According to the Asahi Shimbun, archaeologists working over the past month have discovered roof tiles and stone walls from the temple, some marked with distinctive designs used only by Honnôji.

I wish I was in Kyoto now so I could visit the site! This is one of the most famous events in Japanese history, so the discovery of material remnants of the conflict (often referred to in Japanese as the “Honnôji incident”) is significant.

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