Japan, according to “The Wolverine”

“Our islands are long and thin. The trains only run in two directions.”
Shingen Yashida

One of the movies I chose to watch on the flight to Japan was “The Wolverine”. It’s a bad, bad movie, with even more Oriental stereotypes per square inch than Last Samurai’s “traditional Japanese village” sequence. Since whatever little of the plot there was failed to pull me in at all, I had ample time to focus on the particularly shoddy job the Wolverine does of Japanese geography. Wolverine’s escapades around Japan are far more intriguing than even Thor’s famous Tube journey from Charing Cross to Greenwich in three short stops.

Here’s a (badly drawn) map of what Wolverine’s Japan looks like, based on what’s said and shown in the movie:

Wolverine

PEDANT’S NOTES (contain Spoilers):
(PS: I know geography is never a strong point in action movies, but usually the action itself is distracting enough not to care about it. In Wolverine, it wasn’t.)

1. All of Japan’s city centres are, apparently, perfectly walkable. It’s about 8km from Tokyo Tower to Ueno Station. Wolverine and Mariko run all the way (Mariko in her wedding kimono). Also, the Tokyo Tower can be visible from any point in the city.

2. There are no bullet trains from Ueno to Osaka. Why they couldn’t just run to Tokyo Station (which is half-way to Ueno) will remain a mystery.

3. Since there is no public transport in Wolverine’s Japan, he and Mariko must walk again, a few miles from Shin Osaka station to the “centre”, where they stumble upon an unexpected clone of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower.

4. There is never any sense of Japan consisting of several islands, rather than one long one. Japan’s main geographical regions are “The South” (Osaka and Nagasaki) and “The North” (where the Yashida research facility is). As mentioned above, Japan is a one-dimensional place, with only one railway line running along it. No wonder Shingen is so angry with his lackeys.

5. The distances covered are not explained, but we do get one glimpse into how long it takes to travel between major cities, when Yukio takes Logan in her Audi all the way from Nagasaki to Tokyo in a matter of one cut-scene, and doesn’t even manage to explain him her visions along the way. In reality, the non-stop journey would take the best part of the day (also: how fast is that Audi? Logan mentions earlier that the bullet train runs at 400-500km/h, and yet it’s easier to get back to Tokyo in Yukio’s car)

6. The only actual distance mentioned in the movie is the ominously uttered “500 km” from Tokyo to Black Clan Village. It’s so far away that even the weather changes from summer to winter. Never mind that Logan and Yukio just drove some 1200 km from Nagasaki apparently without even having time to talk.

Sensei’s Death: Yoshida Shoin

Yoshida Shoin and the Black Ships
Yoshida Shoin and the Black Ships

 

On 21st November 1859, a 29-year old youth knelt down before the Edo executioner, calm and proud, clothes straight and clean. He asked for a piece of paper to write down the final message:

Parents’ love for their child is greater than that of a child to his parents
How will my parents grieve to hear of today?

Such were the last words of Yoshida Shoin, a teacher, a poet, a conspirator – a revolutionary. One of the many larger-than-life characters spawned by the chaotic Bakumatsu period, Yoshida was among the most tragic, and most influential ones. His candle shone brief, but bright, and ignited the flames that burned the old order into cinders from which modern Japan sprouted.

Bakumatsu, the end of Shogun’s Japan, was not a calm time. Political disagreements were more likely to be resolved with a sword’s blade or the blast of a cannon rather than debate. Born in this environment, Yoshida Shoin’s legacy was an unlikely one, but proved far more resilient than that of any of his more militant peers. For Yoshida was no warrior; all his students remember him in the same way: fragile, quiet, peaceful. But make no mistake: he was no peace-lover, not the MLK or Gandhi of his time. He was strong-willed and determined to overthrow the Shogunate’s corrupt rule, with violence if need be.

shoin_yoshida[1]That he managed to achieve so much before his untimely death, was a mark of his singular genius. A scholar of Chinese philosophy since the age of 8, advisor to the daimyo of Choshu at the age of 18, student of the great Sakuma Shozan at the age of 20, at the age of 27 he returned to his home town of Hagi – after witnessing personally the arrival of Perry’s Black Ships and various spells of imprisonment by the Shogunate officials – to establish a private school, based on Western patterns. In there, he taught not only modern economics, politics and art of war, but first and foremost he tried to instill in his students the dream of social equality and democracy: a dream of a nation not divided into immovable castes of warriors, merchants and peasants, but one where men of all classes can participate in the body politic freely, under the benevolent command of the Imperial government – ideas revolutionary not only in Japan at the time.

His teaching lasted less than two years, but, in the familiar, Christ-like pattern, those last two years of his life, ending in a violent death, were far more important than anything else he had done before. He may have died himself, executed for taking part in a minor assassination plot which never came to fruition – but his students – his disciples – from that period were instrumental in the revolution that swept the Shogun, and everything that happened after that. Their names are carved into the Japanese history forever, and are familiar to anyone with even passing interest in the Meiji era (though not all are remembered fondly today, especially by Japan’s neighbours). Takasugi Shinsaku, founder of Japan’s first modern troops, the kiheitaiIto Hirobumi, Japan’s first and, some say, greatest Prime Minister; Yamagata Aritomo and Omura Masujiro, the two fathers of Japanese armed forces; Kido Takayoshi, the great reformer and constitutionalist; Nomura Yasushi, Minister of Interior in Ito’s cabinet; Inoue Kaoru, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the same. And many others, some of whom did not live long enough to make such an impact, but who were nonetheless crucial in the events of the period. All they had in common was one thing: they all were, at one point or other, students of a 28-year old man from Hagi, Yoshida Shoin.

Yoshida's statue in Shimoda
Yoshida’s statue in Shimoda

Waiting for the executioner’s sword in a prison cell in Edo, Yoshida foretold his unending legacy clearly, in the poem written two days before his death:

Even if my body falls on the Musashi Plain *)
The spirit of Yamato will remain forever.

*) Musashi Plain is archaic and poetic name for the area around Edo/Tokyo

Related: Birthday Boys – Keisuke Ito and Philipp Von Siebold

On Living In the Wrong Neighborhood in Japan

I’m researching the Eta (or Burakumin, as they are known these days) for a chapter in my next book, and this post says probably the most about the subject, in a succinct form. A worthy read.

This Japanese Life.

hamlet

Imagine moving to a neighborhood and finding that suddenly, your friends and family are ashamed of you. Employers turn you down when you tell them your address, your fiancee tells you her family is threatening to disown her if she marries you.

It sounds like a literary allegory for racism, but for 2-3 million people known as burakujyumin in Japan, it’s a historic precedent. Burakumin were once part of a broader despised caste, but now refers increasingly to sections of cities where that caste once lived, and the jobs that caste once had.

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Blog Tour Day 12 – Great Women of Japan

Day 12 of the blog tour: guest post “Great Women of Japan”:

Buffy’s Ramblings

Previous hosts:

March 1st- Love in a Book (Book Soundtrack)

March 2nd- Deal Sharing Aunt (Review/Giveaway)

March 3rd- Musings of a Writing Reader (Extended Excerpt/Giveaway)

March 4th- KMN Books (Guest Post/Giveaway)

March 5th- Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews (Interview)

March 6th- Happy Tails and Tales (Review/Giveaway)

March 8th- Sweet n’ Sassi (Review/Giveaway)

March 9th- Books and Tales

March 10th- Free eBooks Daily (Spotlight/Giveaway)

March 11th- Simply Infatuated (Book Soundtrack/Giveaway)

March 12th- Buffy’s Ramblings (Guest Post/Giveaway)

Remaining hosts:

March 13th- Tamara’s One Stop Indie Shop (Book Soundtrack)

March 14th- A Bibliophiles Thoughts on Books (Excerpt/Giveaway)

March 15th- I am, Indeed (Review/Giveaway)

March 16th- Paranormal Romance Fans for Life (Guest Post/Giveaway)

March 17th- A Book Lover’s Library (Review)

March 18th- C.S. Jameson (Guest Post)

March 19th- Pink Fluffy Hearts: Diary of a Coffee Addict (Interview/Giveaway)

March 20th- Books and their Wordly Realm (Spotlight)

March 21st- Scribbler’s Sojourn (Guest Post/Giveaway)

March 22nd- The Avid Reader (Book Soundtrack/Giveaway)

March 23rd- YA Books of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Review/Giveaway)

March 24th- Waiting on Sunday to Drown (Book Soundtrack)

March 25th- PrincessReviews (Review/Giveaway)

March 26th- Froggarita’s Bookcase (Interview)

March 27th- HDWPbooks (Review)

March 28th- Mightier Than the Sword (Guest Post)

March 29th- Book Addict (Guest Post)

March 30th- The Many Muses of MaryLynn (Review/Giveaway)

Birthday Boys – Keisuke Ito and Philipp Von Siebold

Dutch_trader_watching_an_incoming_VOC_ship_at_Dejima_by_Kawahara_Keiga
A man from Dejima, his wife and his child. Could be von Siebold himself.

Two very important people were born on February 17th and February 18th. Important for Japan, for science – and for the events described in my “The Year of the Dragon” books.

Bundespost_Philipp_Franz_von_SieboldIn 1796, on February 17th, a child was born into the family of von Siebolds, Wurzburg doctors and professors of medicine. Christened Philipp Franz Balthasar, the boy studied natural sciences under some of the best names at the time, and by 1820, he became a medical doctor.

A friend invited him to join the Dutch Navy, and in 1822 Philipp Von Siebold embarked on his first journey to the Orient, on board of a Dutch frigate Ariana. It was to be the most important decision of his life; while recovering from illness at the Batavian governor’s villa, he impressed his peers so much they invited him to visit the secret jewel in the Dutch colonial crown: the Dejima Outpost in Japan.

Dejima, where von Siebold spent seven years of his life (modern reconstruction)
Dejima, where von Siebold spent seven years of his life (modern reconstruction)
Kusumoto Otaki
Kusumoto Otaki

He arrived in Nagasaki on August 11, 1823 as the new resident physician and scientist. The mutual first impressions must have been great: von Siebold stayed in Japan for the next seven years, establishing a medical school and teaching modern Western science to 50 students; in turn, the Japanese taught him their customs, and welcomed him among themselves as equal. Eventually, as often happened with the lonely residents of Dejima far away from home, he found love: a Nagasaki woman by the name of Otaki.

Monument to Carl von Thunberg, von Siebold's predecessor, set up by von Siebold himself.
Monument to Carl von Thunberg, von Siebold’s predecessor, set up by von Siebold himself.
Oine
Oine

Siebold’s legacy today lies mostly in his botanical interests; his collection of Japanese flora was unparalleled at the time. His name is remembered in many of the plant species he first described for the benefit of the West. Alas, his varied interests proved his downfall, when in 1826 he was discovered to be in possession of detailed maps of Japan and accused of spying. In 1829 he was forced to leave Nagasaki, abandoning his wife and his two year old daughter, Ine. He had to wait thirty years before the transforming Japan allowed him to return. By then, Ine had grown up to become Japan’s first female doctor, and established a gynecology clinic in Nagasaki.

Von Siebold's gardens at Dejima
Von Siebold’s gardens at Dejima
Ito Keisuke
Ito Keisuke

One of Siebold’s 50 students was another birthday boy: Keisuke Ito. Born February 18th in 1803 in Nagoya, thanks to the knowledge he had gained in Nagasaki and his own talent, Keisuke became one of early modern Japan’s most prominent physicians. In 1852 he returned to his homeland to study smallpox – and developed an effective vaccine to the disease which ravaged Japan for centuries, killing peasants and Emperors alike. In 1868 he established a medical school in Nagoya which formed the basis of what is now Nagoya University. By the time he died at the grand age of 98 (only two years before the death of his mentor’s daughter), he was a baron and the professor of University of Tokyo; his long life having spanned the age of greatest change and turmoil in Japan’s history.

Happy Birthday, Phillip Von Siebold!

Happy Birthday, Keisuke Ito!

All work and no play… January projects.

JanuaryJanuary so far is proving one of the busiest months.

Apart from finishing Draft 3 of “The Rising Tide” I’ve launched two major online projects since New Year. It’s been exhausting, but at least I’m finally doing fun things 🙂

The first project is “Today in Japan’s History“: daily Nihon Rekishitweets, FB and G+ posts on Japan’s History, on the day it happened. You can read more about the project here. At the moment I’ve gathered over 1500 facts, amounting to an average of 4-5 posts a day. Do follow please if you find that sort of thing interesting 🙂

The second project, launched today, is “Kobo Book Hub“: a site for promoting Kobo books. There’s a lot of these for Kindle, but not many for Kobo, so I’m here to fill out the niche. Right now it’s just listing books in three price categories, but I expect to be adding new features as the site grows. If you have a book on Kobo, please fill out the submission form. For a while all books are accepted free of charge 🙂

Yaldā Advent Calendar 2012 – Day 18 – a visit to Chinzei

XVIII

Another photo gallery today, from my “research trip” to Kyushu. This time it’s various places that show up in the books from all around the island.

It was a strange feeling, to visit the places I wrote about – still, largely, unchanged and recognizable. There really is a hot spring and guesthouse in front of Aso shrine in Hitoyoshi; the forests around Kirishima Shrine are dark and mysterious; Jochibyo stairs are terrifyingly creepy.

There were a few more monuments of famous persons around: the Japanese love putting bronze statues of anyone even remotely famous. And of course, the entire journey took only a few days on fast trains, instead of walking on foot for weeks 🙂

Yaldā Advent Calendar 2012 – Day 11 – a visit to Kiyo

roman-letters_6I

Day 11. Today something a bit different – a photo gallery.

 

 

 

 

This summer I went to Kyushu, Japan, to see how places I’ve written about in “The Shadow of Black Wings” look like today.

Many locations are still standing or are easily identifiable. Naturally, the Suwa Shrine is still sprawling majestically over the city’s northern district, not far from the largely reconstructed Magistrate. The location of the Keisuke house is fictional (although not the family) but the hill district near Sofukuji Temple is still criss-crossed by a labyrinth of indecipherable narrow streets.

The Takashima Residence was, sadly, blown away by the nuclear bomb, and only the foundations remain. The island of Dejima is being painstakingly reconstructed, and you can walk its streets freely – it’s now one of the city’s main tourist attractions. It’s also no longer an island.

Fukusaya Bakery is now a noble institution, with tiny bits of moist cake sold at extortionate prices.

Japanese Adventure :)

Finally! After rather failed experiments with Google Books and Rakuten Kobo, my books are properly available in Japan!

Starting today, Amazon Kindle Store is open in Japan. I found all my books there already. KDP-side of the business is not open yet – I can’t see any rankings or can’t set the prices. It’s nice to see the automatically set prices are rounded up to hundreds of yen. I think 300 JPY is a fair and competitive price 🙂

Below is the message to my Japanese readers, and links to purchase “The Year of the Dragon” novels. You can find my other books on the widgets to the left.

                                                                                       

一六才の ウェールズ人の ドラゴンライダーは ふしぎな 大和に 行きます。ドラゴン。。。ミステリー。。。まほう。。。
せんそう、そして しんぜん。

日本人の皆さん、こんにちわ!(/^▽^)/

私は ジェームズ カルブレイスで、ポーランド人です。今 ロンドンに住んでいます。

『The Year of the Dragon』は 私の ファンタジー と スチームパンクの本の シリーズ です。

『The Year of the Dragon』は
第1巻『The Shadow of Black Wings
Kindle版:2012年6月 ペーパーバック: 2012年7月
第2巻『The Warrior’s Soul
Kindle版:2012年8月 ペーパーバック: 2012年10月
第3巻『The Islands in the Mist
Kindle版:2012年10月
第4巻『The Rising Tide』
Kindle版:2013年

本は amazon.co.jp と Kobo 楽天に ある。

一六才の ウェールズ人の ドラゴンライダーは ふしぎな 大和に 行きます。

ドラゴン。。。ミステリー。。。まほう。。。せんそう、そして しんぜん。

それを ご覧ください!

よろしくおねがいします
ジェームズ カルブレイス

Suntory 2011 Earthquake Message CM – all versions

Once in a while the Japanese release a public service commercial that is simply breath-taking in its sincerity and pure emotion – like the fantastic Kyushu Shinkansen CM from last spring. For a nation so stereotypically introverted and reserved, these short movies are like a beam of light shining into the viewer’s soul.

The 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami had resulted, of course, in a number of such messages, from companies, corporations, artists and normal people. The one I found particularly tugging on my heart-strings, however, was the below set of Suntory commercials. The premise was simple: get as many Japanese celebrities as you can and get them to sing a line each from two of Kyu Sakamoto‘s greatest hits: “Ue no muite arukou” (also known as Sukiyaki Song) and “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o”. A sort of TV ad-style Live Aid. For your (and mostly mine) convenience, I have gathered all the versions of the two ads here. Try to see how many celebrities can you recognise! 🙂 Continue reading “Suntory 2011 Earthquake Message CM – all versions”