Author Topic: Shōgun  (Read 786 times)

ZeaLitY

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Shōgun
« on: March 22, 2007, 12:36:36 am »
I typed this in a rush because I'll be gone for a few days. After reading, you might want to look up William Adams on Wikipedia, the man who inspired the character of Blackthorne. There are typos below and other errors, as I hardly had any time to type it in the first place.

~

I have finished reading Shōgun after eight days. It's 1200 pages, and I've had a lot of forced free time away from the internet during the last week. This post will contain spoilers, so I do not advise you to read it if you aim on experiencing it for yourself.

The novel concerns John Blackthorne, an English sailor marooned at Japan. He finds his way into the court of Toranaga (Tokugawa Ieyasu) and struggles to survive amidst conflicts of religion and state in 1600. You probably guessed this, but the novel contrasts east and west culture. Blackthorne, an Englishman, comes from a young country struggling to make its name in a world dominated by the Spanish alliance. His civilization is one of high aspirations and venal ambitions rooted in filthy conditions and living, though still slowly abandoning its feudal shackles. Toranaga and the Japanese are the opposite -- they are civilized, ritualized, and ancient, and suffer only internal strife as they war for the title of Shogun or, for Hideyoshi's son, the title of Taiko. Where Western culture explodes upon the new world like a young, cantankerous adventurer, Japanese culture passionately wars in fealty to rules and honor codes which have dominated life for thousands of years. Blackthorne is at the middle, wanted or hated by all sides and religions, including the Jesuits and Portuguese -- who at this period of time have entered Japan to trade and proselytize.

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Page 159

You're English, the hated heretic and anti-Christ. Catholics own this world. They owned it. Now we and the Dutch're going to smash them.

What nonsense it all is! Catholic and Protestant and Calivinist and Lutherist any every other shitist. You should have been born Catholic. It was only fate that took your father to Holland where he met a woman, Anneke van Droste, who because his wife and he saw Spanish Catholics and Spanish priests and the Inquisition for the first time. I'm glad he had his eyes opened, Blackthorne thought. I'm glad mine are open.

Blackthorne is very resistant to Japanese culture at first, desiring only to return to London. His surviving crewmates are later revealed to be the same, despising all Japanese and living among the burakumin so that they have easy access to meat. As he opens up to bathing and understands the cleanliness and order of Japanese society and living, he startlingly remembers his old life:

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Page 697 / 698

"So sorry...it was just...you're all so clean and we're filthy and it's all such a waste, countless millions, me too, all my life...and only because we don't know any better! Christ Jesus, what a waste! It's the priests -- they're educated and the educators, priests own all the schools, do all the teaching, always in the name of God, filth in the name of God...It's the truth!"

He struggles to adapt, and gains the favor of Toranaga, chief regent of the realm who plots to become Shogun. Toranaga is a consummate leader. He enjoys life, actively falconing, participating in Noh plays, laughing, drinking, and savoring moments and experiences with a measure of life's true value. He is renowned for his patience, and is able to sit and meditate to create elaborate intrigue and machinations towards his ends. This patience is his principle asset -- aside from occasional lapses of anger, he is able to play any role he chooses to his inferiors and enemies, deceiving both foes and friends (who in turn deceive foes via their resulting actions) to bring about his desires. Toranaga's acumen in leading men is striking; he is capable of delivering grand speeches and rallies, appearing to be a most rigid adherent of the samurai code. Yet with this gusto, he is careful and calculating, albeit not cold -- his personality is still jovial, and it is precisely because his qualities in command allow him to realize goals and enjoy experiences and creations he personally willed. Toranaga is still undoubtedly Japanese; he performs the same motions and speaks the same words as his ancestors and kinsmen. However, his mind is decidedly open and curious; this is what allows him to ultimately become Shogun.

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Page 748

How baffling it was that even the most cunning and clever people would frequently see only what they wanted to see, and would rarely look beyond the thinnest of facades. Or they would ignore reality, dismissing it as the facade. And then, when their whole world fell to pieces and they were on their knees slitting their bellies or cutting their throats, or cast out into the freezing world, they would tear their topknots or rend their clothes and bewail their karma, blaming gods or kami or luck or their lords or husbands or vassals -- anything or anyone -- but never themselves.

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Page 1150

"Sire, put your trust in --" Alvito caught himself, then said sincerely, "Please excuse me, Sire, but I feel with all my heart that f you put your trust in God, He will help you."
"I do, but more in Toranaga..."

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Page 1153

As they passed the heads on the shore he saw Tsukku-san cross himself in fear and he thought, how stupid to be so superstitious -- and to be afraid of nothing.

Where others would blindly go to suicide or allow pride to cloud vision, Toranaga takes everything in stride and thinks with the same collected frame of mind concerning any subject. Honor, duty, and death exist to him, but he is transcendent of it. They are tools for his use, not chains to bind him and dictate his behavior. It is this open-mindedness that makes him succeed where others fail. Though his countless legions are mired in tradition and death, Toranaga lives. He waits patiently and plots for lofty achievements each day, knowing when he sleeps at night that he can pick up in the "Grand Game" tomorrow refreshed. He is unpredictable. And when considering his moves, he allows no puffery to affect his judgment.

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Page 901

"Have you ever known me to make a final decision about anything?"

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Page 1145

"Yes. Of course yes." Toranaga retched again and spat out the phlegm, treading water, and thought, that will teach you to be smug. That's your second mistake today. Then he saw the wreck. "Come on, I'll race your!" he called out to his guard.

A race with Toranaga meant a race. Once one of his generals had deliberately allowed hi to win, hoping to gain favor. That mistake cost the an everything.

Toranaga's warmth allows him to value life and not be utterly ruthless and therefore self-destructive.

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Page 1162

Life is so sad, he told himself, weary of men and Osaka and gaes that brought so much suffering to the living, however great the stakes.

This analysis of Toranaga is important, because it's part of the East vs. West issue. The West is floundering but alive, seeking to tame all wild corners of the earth. But the Japanese way of life -- their recognized reason for living as spoken by Toranaga in jest, is:

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Page 1040

"Duty, discipline, and death."

Brother Michael echoes this view on the ritualized way of life present in the East:

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Page 1114

You are a worthy samurai. And you have a quality that's rare here: unpredictability. The Taiko had it, Toranaga-sama has it too. You see, usually we're a very predictable people.

This seems to be the chief criticism of civilization by the book on whole. East and West both follow dogma. The West follows religious dogma, and live in horrible conditions and ruin societies via pure avarice (Mesoamerica is mentioned). The East follows its own ancestors and traditions, viewing life as essentially sad and hopeless, and accepting "karma" and death meekly. Bushido is adhered to the letter of the law, causing much bloodshed and wasted life and erecting a society where those who disrupt civilization via constantly civil war are granted fiefs over those who sustain it by trade and agriculture. All is governed by this sense of death and sadness. Passion and desire are stifled in obeisance to this horrid set of rules, which Blackthorne criticizes as well upon first witnessing seppuku. Here, a samurai named Omi mourns the loss of a courtier, but quickly changes heart:

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Page 1190

He knew that he had left all his life's passion, and everything that he had adored, at her feet. He was sure he would never know passion again, the spirit-joining ecstasy that ignited man and woman. But this did not displease him. On the contrary, he thought with a newfound icy clarity, I bless Toranaga for releasing me from servitude. Now nothing binds me. Neither father nor mother nor Kiku. Now I can be patient too. I' twenty-one, I'm almost daiyo of Izu, and I've a world to conquer.

Toranaga is ultimately subject to it as well. His careful intrigues and eight-fold fences around his true intentions leave him with one friend in the world -- Blackthorne, the Anjin-san. He enjoys falconing and assuming control over Japan's destiny, but he is still left only with this man, and would not have had even him had the ship not crashed upon the beach.

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Page 1205

I saved your life, which you wanted even above your ship. Fifty times or omre I've had to consider giving your life away but so far I've always managed to avoid it. I hope to continue to do that. Why? This is a day for truth, neh? The answer is because you make me laugh and I need a friend. I daren't make friends among my own people, or among the Portuguese. Yes, I will whisper it down a well at noon but only when I'm certain I'm alone, that I need one friend.

Here is where the blanket criticism of dogma differs. The East has had civilization long before the West, and though both are chained to certain dogmatic beliefs, the East is moreover in bondage. As Blackthorne's appointed consort said to his lover,

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Page 1194

I beg you to protect him in Osaka, Mariko-san. So sorry, he's not like us, not civilized like us, poor man. His nirvana is life and not death.

Therein lies the key to all. Japan stood for two-hundred more years after Sengoku Jidai, and though men like Toranaga had a chance to continue modernization (as Blackthorne / William Adams suggested), it was ultimately not pursued until Commodore Perry provided a rude awakening and the Meiji Restoration occurred. The English and Europeans may live in filth; they may have wrecked Rome and allowed ancient Greece to wither, but they are still alive and pursuing life. They are less bound in life; the ropes tying their hands are less tight. Bushido and other traditions seem to dominate Eastern life. Yet the West is free; men are able to make their own fortunes, and though prideful kings, queens, and religious leaders largely arbitrate affairs, they are doing so for new and unusual interests following the end of the Medeival period. Yet the Japanese here have no motivation to improve -- the tea ceremony, wa, Zen Buddhism, all of it dictates absolutely how life should be lived. There is no escaping fate; it is ingrained to the very core of one's being in such a society. The core values of having "three hearts and six faces", accepting death at any time, and sticking to ancient ways of living are inescapable.

But on the other side of the world, Blackthorne and others are signing up to expeditionary voyages. Drake is cutting through the New World; the roots of sea dogs are digging, and innovation is burgeoning. The East has always had literacy, cleanliness, and order, but it is stagnant -- it is deeply engraved upon life, even today. The rule of Japan is, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered in." The JET teacher who authored Gaijin-Smash has made this his chief criticism as well. Yet in the West, despite the rough starts and the fact that the Celtic were still knifing each other in peat bogs while Eastern courtiers played artful songs in gilded palaces, has continued to maintain evolutionary spirit and desire for life. As said in that quote, the West's nirvana is life, not death.

Blackthorne and Toranaga are both fusions. Toranaga is open to the idea of having a modernized navy, and learns much from Blackthorne; his unpredictability hints at Western-like aspirations. Blackthorne, on the other hand, learns the merits of living cleanly and supporting the order and honor of Japanese society. Both are successful because both take the best of both worlds and apply them. Clavell still seems to argue that the West surpasses due to its creative and desirous spirit, but he makes the point that one can take the merits of both. This was Bruce Lee's message as well. He scathingly criticized tradition and the very concept of a martial "art", noting that humans all had two arms and two legs and as long as someone didn't sprout a third, combat would always be the same. This is the message, perhaps. Shōgun illuminates faults in both cultures, and suggests that open-mindedness is the key to unlocking the best of both and achieving higher humanity.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2007, 01:41:08 am by ZeaLitY »

ZeaLitY

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2007, 01:36:23 am »
Bump so it'll show up in forumers' "Recent Unread Topics".

ZeaLitY

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2007, 01:57:02 am »
Weeell, now that we have a new bevy of users, maybe one's read Shogun and will notice this now.

Mystic Frog King

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2007, 07:13:53 pm »
Haven't read the book, and as such didn't read more than a third of the post for fear of spoilers.

So I wiki'd it. It's a historical novel, about the rise of some shogun or other to power and shown through the eyes of an English sailor? If that summary was inaccurate, please tell me but that was what I got from skimming the wikipedia article. I may have to pick this up sometime- I assume you recommend it due to that long post you have there on it? =P

ZeaLitY

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2007, 07:34:08 pm »
Yes; it's based on the resolution of the warring states period and a true story about how an English sailor crashed in Japan in the general neighborhood of the events.

Mystic Frog King

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2007, 06:07:54 pm »
Yes; it's based on the resolution of the warring states period and a true story about how an English sailor crashed in Japan in the general neighborhood of the events.

Ah, is it an accurate-ish portrayal?

Because if there's all sorts of facts wrong then I'm sort of put off it. But I will look it up next time I go to a book shop.

ZeaLitY

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2007, 07:00:39 pm »
Mostly. The names are changed. but unless you majored in Japanese history, it won't matter.

Romana

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2007, 08:21:46 pm »
This is sounding very interesting... I'll have to look into it.

Silver

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2007, 01:16:58 pm »
Good book, isn't it?

Mind you, I've never exactly felt a burning need to go in and pick it all apart like you have, but I've got a good many years ahead of me yet that I may still do so.

V_Translanka

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2007, 08:26:27 pm »
I knew the name sounded familiar! Isn't that by the same guy/guys or something that did Lone Wolf & Cub? Man, LW&C is awesome...it's supposed to be really accurate historically as well from what they say...



Ogami Ittō is one badass mofo.

ZeaLitY

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Re: Shōgun
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2008, 11:17:09 pm »
Well, another famous bump since this is the anniversary.