Saturday, 25 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 9

One notch beyond obsessional behaviours, are obsessional behaviours that follow a credo. Some may call them cults. In Japan, despite the average salaryman’s more apparent devotion to material forms of devoutness, there are over 180,000 legally registered religions that he may, if the spirit moves him, sign on with. The objects of their worship vary widely; many are simply bizarre.
There is the now defunct Ho No Hana Sampogyo ‘Flower Of Buddhist Teaching’ foot-reading cult of Hogen Fukunaga, the successor of Jesus and Buddha, who targeted housewives and hospital patients for huge sums of reflexological cash, for the privilege of getting the ‘powers of heaven’ flowing again.
There is Ajiki Tenkei’s Yamato No Miya ‘Temple Of Japan’ water cult, who not only heard Buddha ordering her to save mankind, but received a message from a Venusian alien named Telebeyt (messenger of A Lah, ruler of the universe), who taught her how to make ‘pyramid-powered water,’ from a sacred spring in her hometown, and a most lucrative mind-cleansing gift for the more earthbound.
There is chicken farmer Miyozo Yamagishi’s rural utopian hippie ‘Yamagishi Society’ legume cult, whose resident adherents are required to sell organic vegetables and dairy products, donate all their earthly possessions, and relinquish their children over the age of five, when samurai education began, to live in a self-regulating segregated all-kids commune. Bathing is optional.
There is the PL Kyodan ‘Church Of Perfect Liberty’ golf cult, whose members are taught to express themselves artistically. It has numerous golf ranges, with an all-girl dormitory at its headquarters, where female students work as part-time caddies to support themselves through high school.
There is the ‘Life Space Movement’ dead body cult of accountant Koji Takahashi, who followed an Indian healer through six thousand years of countless reincarnations, to learn the craft. Unfortunately, in 1999, he tried to heal a long-time cult member who had become comatose, and then died, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Takahashi had the victim’s son transfer him from the hospital to a hotel room, where he continued therapy. Decomposition was interpreted as part of the recovery process. Four months later, hotel staff called police, who found a cult vigil, and a mummified corpse. A judge sentenced Takahashi to prison, for the crime of failing basic biology.
There is the ‘Pana-Wave Laboratory’ cult founded by a former English teacher Yuko Chino, who combined elements of Christianity, Buddhism and science fiction into a doomsday paranoia that communist electromagnetic waves would cause a change in the planet’s poles, and environment disaster. In 2002, members wearing white sheets and surgical masks for protection, travelled across the country in a caravan of white vans (their steering wheels bandaged in white), eating only cup-ramen, and never bathing. They occupied a road in a mountainous area west of Tokyo, lined trees and bushes and guardrails and damn near everything else with white fabric and protective stickers, and prepared for the coming apocalypse. Television crews were allowed to approach only if similarly garbed in white. It never happened.
There is the Sokka Gakkai quasi-Buddhist tearful Tina Turner cult, whose ex-members are followed and harassed by church members, the Kofuku-No-Kagaku ‘Happy Science’ Japanese Buddhist-materialist military cult of businessman Ryuho Okawa, the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front bombing cult, and their attack on Mitsubishi company headquarters which killed eight people, and the Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan ‘World True Light Civilization Religious Organization,’ whose ancient Japanese emperor had apparently taught the Jews to speak Hebrew. 
The mother of all Japanese cults, however, was the Aum Shinrikyo ‘Supreme Truth’ sect. It was founded, initially and not inappropriately, in 1984, as a syncretism of Yoga, Nostradamus, and Christianity, by Shoko Asahara, in his 
one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo's Shibuya ward, with Asahara playing the role of Christ. But Jesus saw dark conspiracies everywhere, promulgated by the Dutch, the British Royal Family, Freemasons, rival Japanese religions, and of course, the Jews. Asahara would take upon himself the world’s sins, and, in fact, other worlds as well, particularly enamoured with Isaac Asimov's science fiction Foundation Trilogy ‘depicting as it does an elite group of spiritually evolved scientists forced to go underground during an age of barbarism so as to prepare themselves for the moment... when they will emerge to rebuild civilization.’ His supposedly humble lifestyle included an armoured Mercedes-Benz, which he needed for ‘traffic safety.’
Bizarre initiation rituals often involved the use of hallucinogens, shock therapy, being hung upside down, and one in which they paid to drink Asahara’s dirty bathwater, otherwise known as Miracle Pond.
In the late 1980s, the group began attracting accusations of deception of recruits, holding cult members against their will, and extorting money from them. Asahara had begun his destructive career as a peddler of make believe when he made $200,000 by selling Almighty Medicine- tangerine peel in alcohol- at $7000 a dose to desperately ill elderly people. His hospital patients were forced to pay exorbitant medical bills. 
After one of the believers was murdered in 1989, an anti-cult lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, and his wife and child went missing from their Yokohama home. They had been injected with potassium chloride, strangled, teeth smashed to frustrate identification, and hidden in metal drums in three separate rural areas in three different prefectures. Their bed sheets were burned, and the tools dropped in the ocean. Their bodies would not be found until the perpetrators revealed the locations after their capture six years later.
In 1992, Aum's ‘Construction Minister,’ Kiyohide Hayakawa, began frequent visits to Russia, to acquire military hardware, including AK74s, a Mi-17 military helicopter, and components for a nuclear bomb. The following year, the cult purchased the million Australian acres of Banjawarn Station, on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert, and then it got weird. On the night of 28 May 1993, a ‘huge red coloured flare’ shot skyward into the dark sky. A loud explosive blast was heard over 250 kilometres away, and the ground shook so violently that the few long-distance truck driver and gold prospector witnesses were knocked to the ground while standing around a campfire. The event had the force of two thousand tons of TNT, 170 times larger than the largest mining explosion ever recorded in the Australian region, a seventh of the blast power that leveled Hiroshima. Bill Bryson, apparently not quite as humorous as your humble story-teller, had said of Australia that it was a country ‘so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world's first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.’
A month later the local aboriginal community chairwoman living near the sheep station, Phyllis Thomas, said that she and other Aborigines saw five people wearing full-length protective suits and helmets. A month after that a team of Aum scientists landed in Australia with mining equipment (a mechanical ditch digger, picks, petrol generators, gas masks,
respirators, and shovels) and an assortment of chemicals (hydrochloric acid and ammonium chloride and sodium sulphate and perchloric acid) in mislabeled containers marked as hand soap. They paid over $20,000 in excess baggage fees and a Customs duty of over $15,000. The chemicals were seized, but a new supply of chemicals, and computers and laboratory equipment were purchased in Australia.
By the end of 1993, the cult was manufacturing the nerve agents sarin and VX. Long after they sold Banjawarn Station in October 1994, 29 sheep carcasses were discovered, with sarin residue.
By 1995, Aum Shinrikyo could claim 40,000 members worldwide, and over 9,000 members in Japan, a considerable number of which were young graduates from Japan's elite universities. In February, a 69 year-old brother of a disciple was kidnapped off a Tokyo street, taken to an Aum compound near Mount Fuji, his body destroyed in a microwave-powered incinerator before being disposed of in a nearby lake.
During the Monday morning rush hour of 20 March 1995, Aum released sarin gas in a coordinated attack on five trains of the Tokyo subway, killing 13 commuters, seriously injuring 54, and affecting 980 more. One woman, whose contact lenses fused to her pupils had to have both her eyes surgically removed.  Police conducted huge simultaneous raids on cult compounds across the country.  At the group’s headquarters at the foot of Mount Fuji, they found the Russian Mi-17 military helicopter, explosives, biological warfare agents (including anthrax and Ebola from Zaire), and chemical stockpiles that could have potentially produced enough sarin to kill four million people. Police also found laboratories to manufacture LSD, methamphetamine, and a crude form of truth serum, a safe containing millions of dollars in gold and cash, and lockup cells, many still containing prisoners.
But it wasn’t over. On 30 March 1995, the chief of the National Police Agency, Takaji Kunimatsu, was shot four times near his house in Tokyo. On April 23, one of Yamaguchi-gumi’s organic vegetables stabbed to death the head of Aum’s ‘Ministry of Science,’ in front of the cameras and notepads of a hundred reporters. Twelve days later, a burning bag was discovered in a toilet in Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. It contained a hydrogen cyanide device which, had it not been extinguished, would have released enough gas into the ventilation system to kill 20,000 commuters. Several other undetonated cyanide devices were found at other locations in the subway. A day after that the cult mailed a parcel bomb to Yukio Aoshima, the governor of Tokyo, blowing off the fingers of his secretary's hand, and the police finally found Shoko Asahara, hiding within a wall of a cult building.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 8

    ‘There are, if I may so say, three powerful spirits, which have from 
     time to time, moved on  the face of the waters, and given a 
     predominant impulse to the moral sentiments and energies of 
     mankind. These are the spirits of liberty, of religion, and of honor.’
                                                            Hallam, Europe in the Middle Ages

The liberty part was a non-starter. The honour part was implicit. But the religious part, for the samurai, was a problem.
Buddhism and Zen, and to a lesser extent Confucianism and Shinto, had influenced samurai culture. Shinto would get them into trouble with the outside world. Confucianism would get them into trouble with each other. Buddhism would get them into trouble with themselves.
Francis Xavier, on his first visit in the mid1500s, had observed a ‘natural goodness’ of the Japanese, ‘among barbarous nations.’ They are of a kindly disposition, not at all given to cheating, wonderfully desirous of honour and rank. Honour with them is placed above everything else.
Shinto was unique Japanese ‘way of the gods,’ and would become the subliminal justification for actions abroad. Confucianism emphasized loyalty a samurai was required to show his daimyô, and the importance of the lord-retainer relationship. But Buddhism, while bringing samurai warriors the Zen meditation process for calming their minds, also brought them conflicted feelings about killing.

           ‘When Ichiin resided in the Toba Palace, an osprey flew in and 
           caught fish in the pond every day. One day he decided to have it 
           shot, and asked if there was anyone suitable for the job in the 
           Warriors’ Office. Mutsuru happened to be there. When 
           summoned, he was given this imperial order: “An osprey has 
           attached itself to this pond and catches many fish. Shoot it. 
           However, it would be cruel to kill it. His Majesty’s wish is to have 
           neither the bird nor the fish killed. Find an appropriate scheme to 
           do the work.” There was no way Mutsuru could decline the order. 
           He left at once and soon returned with a bow and an arrow. The 
           arrow was fork-tipped. Standing near the edge of the pond, he 
           waited for the osprey to come. As expected, it flew in. It caught a 
           carp and was flying up when Mutsuru shot at it with a full-drawn 
           bow. The arrow hit its target but the osprey flew away. The carp 
           dropped to the pond and floated with its white belly up. When 
           Mutsuru tugged the fish in and offered it for an imperial 
           inspection, it turned out that the osprey’s foot clutching the carp 
           had been severed. Its foot was severed, but it didn’t die that 
           instant. The fish, too, did not die even though it had been clawed 
           by the bird. In accordance with the order that neither the bird nor 
           the fish be killed, Mutsuru had worked out this scheme.’

Faced with the prospect of continued reincarnation and rebirth, some samurai gave up violence and became Buddhist monks. Some were killed as they came to terms with these realizations on the battlefield. Still others would survive by maintaining their ignorance about Buddhism until they were older. 

           ‘It is a great mistake for a young samurai to learn about 
          Buddhism. The reason is that he will see things in two ways. A 
          person who does not set himself in just one direction will be of no 
          value at all. It is fine for retired old men to learn about Buddhism 
          as a diversion, but if a warrior makes loyalty and filial piety one 
          load, and courage and compassion another, and carries these 
          twenty-four hours a day, until his shoulders wear out, he will be a 
                Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

And what of our modern salaryman, what is his religion? One of the things that makes Japan so strange and fascinating is that, because of its historical isolation, from both official policy and its instinctive resistance to European cultural imperialism and the Christian missionary activity that had envenomated the rest of the world, its people are wired differently. I could only guess what was going on deep in the minds of the shiny suits in my carriage. I knew that there were still profound influences from Confucius and Buddha, and Shinto and Zen. But an influence is not a faith, and nowhere near the whole enchilada.
Some salarymen invest their souls in otaku, a form of intense specialized geekiness or nerdity. They become otariimen, appearing quite ordinary at work, but otherwise unable to relate to reality, self-identify with one of at least a dozen esoteric subcultures when they escape- manga Japanese comics, idol otaku, travel otaku, PC otaku, video game otaku, automobile otaku, animation (anime) otaku, mobile IT equipment otaku, audio-visual equipment otaku, camera otaku, fashion otaku, or railway otaku. Not just a hobby.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 7

So how golden must be the life of the new successful salaryman candidate? Not so much. During the boom years of the late 1980's, Japanese corporations hired with abandon, often locking students into future jobs while they were still college juniors. The practice was called aotagai, harvesting the rice while it is still green. But now, companies are heavily over-staffed with general white-collar workers. Worse, many firms no longer hire Shinsotsu system ‘regular’ employees. Corporations are now more often willing to fire employees to lower costs, and salarymen are increasingly pressured to abandon their benefits, to demonstrate their dedication to the company. They are perpetually processed through Hansei self-reflection, a bizarre Japanese hybrid of Western Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) and Maoist Chinese struggle sessions. If a manager or engineer claims that there were not any problems with a project, they are reminded that ‘no problem is a problem,’ and castigated for inadequately evaluating, in the necessary effort to find improvement. Salarymen have become grass-eaters, avoiding stress, controlling risk and grazing contentedly in their home pasture. Diligent but unoriginal, lacking initiative and competitiveness, they are increasingly disparaged as shachiku corporate livestock, or kaisha no inu corporate dogs. Their own terminology defines them- Naitei, hitting the glass ceiling, Sasen, moving down a step, Fundoshi wo Shimeru, tightening your loincloth, Wakai, making honorable concessions, Heso wo Mageru, bending the bellybutton, Itami Wake, sharing the pain, Otsukare Sama, above and beyond the call, Renchishin, avoiding shame, Ryuko, fashions and fads, Sabetsu Go, taboo language, Sabisu, more than service, Mon, wearing company colors, Happo Bijin, keeping your slate clean, Seiza, sitting correctly, Sunao-Sa, the meek survive, Hiru Andon, no light in the eyes...
The samurai aristocratic diversions of poetry and Zen gardens and tea ceremony and flower viewing and ink painting have little cultural equivalents in the lives of modern salarymen. Recreation does not flourish in an atmosphere of too little time, and no creation.
When critical thinking begins to seed in the mind of an individual part of the corporate entity, it is converted by a chemical process into alcohol, and mahjong and karaoke and pornography, and golf. But in a working world of clinically depressed breadwinners even more competitive than the educational one it parasitizes, in a nation of burst economic bubbles, in a universe of hypergravitational social pressures acting in a vacuum of individual expression, golf is simply the last fairway before suicide. And In the Land of the Rising Sun, the handicap is up to seventy people a day.

               ‘It's as if Japanese men, all to aware that deep inside 
                they'd like to stomp Tokyo flat, breathe fire, 
                and do truly terrible and disgusting things to women,   
                have built themselves the most beautiful of prisons 
                for their rampaging ids. 
                Instead of indulging their fantasies, they focus 
                on food, or landscaping, or the perfect cup of tea- 
                or a single slab of o-toro tuna- 
                letting  themselves go only at baseball games 
                and office parties.’
                                                                Anthony Bourdain

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 6

The samurai code of honour and discipline and morality that had embodied was recodifed and romanticized in Bushidō, Soul of Japan, on the Monterrey, California coast in 1900, by the Quaker pacifist who died in the hospital down the road from my house on Vancouver Island. Inazō Nitobe had envisioned and essentially reinvented the bushidō code as constituted by seven virtues- Rectitude, Courage, Honesty, Benevolence, Respect, Honour, Loyalty, Filial piety, Wisdom, and Care for the aged. Samurai were more complicated than the modern image of a self-sacrificing warrior class. The myth often differed from the reality. Though they were at times the honour-bound fighters of legend, they were also disloyal and treacherous and cowardly gold-hungry mercenaries, pirates, travelers, Christians, politicians, murderers, and vagabonds.
Bushidō had entered the boardroom, through the same door as our salaryman’s suits had, with Konosuke Matsushita, the deceased entrepreneur of the Matsushita Electric Company, and his Seven Spirits of 1933- Service to the public, Fairness and honesty, Teamwork for the common cause, Uniting effort for improvement, Courtesy and humility, Accordance with natural laws, Gratitude for blessings. A more cynical rendition of salaryman Bushidō is the Nintendo Eightfold Path, demanding Subservience to The Company (Long working hours, Wage Slavery, Death by Overwork, Suicide when failing The Company), Subservience of the female (Find lady and Molest lady, Marry lady and bear children with lady), and Avoidance of contact with Gaijin (Wrong speech, Wrong action).
Samurai education began at the tender age of 5, at the local village schools, with the older male family members of the family conducting the teaching. 
The emphasis, understandably, was on military training. Swordsmanship and archery were essential skills, and early samurai spent years mastering the art of being able to fire their bows at moving targets while on horseback. 
To study Sun Tzu's Art of War and the lessons of history, they needed a high level of proficiency in kanji. Bushidō etiquette inculcated a sense of samurai honor, and a code of behavior that would help them avoid the insufferable experience of shame. They were instructed in mathematics, and medicine (to heal battle wounds). Samurai children were sent on arduous errands through cemeteries or to witness executions, to purge them of any fear of death.

            ‘There is a way of bringing up the child of a samurai. From the 
             time of infancy one should encourage bravery and avoid trivially 
             frightening or teasing the child. If a person is affected by 
             cowardice as a child, it remains a lifetime scar. It is a mistake 
             for parents to thoughtlessly make their children dread 
             lightening, or to have them not go into dark places, or to tell 
             them frightening things in order to stop them from crying. 
             Furthermore, a child will become timid if he is scolded 
                    Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

They studied religion, astronomy, art and literature and poetry and calligraphy and monochrome ink painting and flower arranging and tea ceremony and Zen gardens. The majority of samurai were very well educated, formulated on principles of servitude.
The education of my semiconscious salarymen had been no less rigorous, and started just as early. Education in Japan is compulsory from kindergarten to middle school. Unlike the ancestral heritage that guaranteed samurai job security, in the big tree shade of the right daimyô warlord, the ‘employment-for-life’ shelter of the modern warrior would only come with his hiring by a corporation. Whereas education was the result of genetic fortune in feudal times, it is now the tortured means through which a modern salaryman earned his ticket to the middle class. The process followed an equally true Japanese Jo-ha-kyu cadence of a long slow education at one of the few right schools, an accelerated search for an offer of employment in the fourth year of university, and a swift climactic resolution to their quest on graduation.
The stress of this competition for lifetime employment is extreme, and responsible in no small way for the high suicide rate that afflicts Japanese culture. From the beginning of their education, students feel that if they fall behind in school or don’t do well that they are letting their parents down. Over ninety per cent who finish the normal six-hour school day, attend an after hours and weekend Juku cram school five times a week, to gain whatever advantage they can. Over ninety-four per cent of students go on to higher education. University is a three-year memorization hellish preparation for a string of exams that will decide the student’s entire future. 
The culmination of every candidate’s efforts is decided on April Fools day, in the system of Shinsotsu-Ikkatsu-Saiyō ‘simultaneous recruiting of new graduates.’ Over the preceding year, successful candidates will have already chosen a company. They will have taken the requisite ‘aptitude tests,’ and appeared at corporate seminars, job exhibitions, and various other organization events, in their identical ‘recruit suits,’ a navy blue suit, white shirt and diagonally striped tie for men, and a white blouse, navy blue jacket and skirt and plain black shoes for women. The idea is to demonstrate one's ability to conform to the group. Deru Kui Ha Utareru. The stake that sticks up gets hammered down.
Most companies pay little attention to academic records or a student's university experiences, and prefer to train new employees according to company standards. Promotions tend to go to those who attended the same Japanese schools as their bosses. Students often sign on without knowing what their jobs will be.
But things are much worse for the unselected. Japanese companies hire fresh graduates who they can indoctrinate in their corporate culture, assuming that anyone with experience elsewhere will bring bad habits. The selection process is so age-based precisely because every year they have a new batch of graduates to pick from. Japanese companies penalize students who study overseas or have already graduated. Students who are unsuccessful in attaining a job offer upon graduating often opt to stay in school, sidelined in extended studies, or in part-time jobs, or on unemployment benefits. If you don't get hired the year you're graduating, you'll probably never get a good, permanent job. If you miss out, then that's the rest of your life- a Lost Generation, a lifetime of low-paying, temporary or part-time dead-end employment. Their wages may be as little as 40% of a regular employee's pay, with no job security, no training, no biannual bonuses, no transport allowance, no company pension, no subsidized insurance and no paid holidays. 
They wear jumpsuits of different colours according to their employment status, the alphas and epsilons of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and are often obliged to pay more for meals at the company canteen. It is almost understandable that twenty per cent of Japanese college students think about committing suicide during the job-hunting process.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 5

   ‘The Japanese have a high opinion of themselves because they think no 
    other nation can compare with them as regards weapons and valour, 
    and so they look down on all foreigners. They greatly prize and value 
    their arms, and prefer to have good weapons, decorated with gold and 
    silver, more than anything else in the world... Never in my life have I 
    met people who rely so much on their arms.’ 
                                                                      St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

The era of the samurai may have fallen over Seneca’s Cliff, but the code of honour and discipline and morality they embodied would endure. 
I looked out at what they had become, down the aisle of our carriage. Salarymen warriors, standing or sitting, were glued to their screens, or unconscious- distracted or dead. The standing ones had a dilemma- hold on to their briefcases and cell phone illuminations, or hang on to a strap or a bar so they wouldn’t fall. Most tried to balance without support, paralyzed by the prospect of missing a single tweet in the twilight. Some wore sterilized surgical masks, and some of those looked very samurai. In the old days, instead of surfing the web, they wrote on their iron war fans. The weaponry, from samurai to sararīman, had changed.
Early samurai were archers, fighting on foot or horseback with yumi long bows. An asymmetric composite bow of bamboo, wood, rattan and leather, it had an range of 330 feet, usually fired from behind a large mobile wooden tate shield, but also could be used from horseback, because of its shape. Swords were for finishing off wounded enemies. The Mongol invasions taught the samurai to make more use of swords and naginata curve-bladed poles and yari spears. Warriors wore two swords, together called daisho, ‘big and small.’ The katana was a curved blade over two feet long, and used for slashing, and the wakizashi, between one to two feet, was for stabbing. In the late 16th century, non-samurai were forbidden to wear the daisho.
There were also hardwood staff weapons, clubs and truncheons, and vicious kusari chain weapons, ending in weights or scythes.
Arms and tactics continued to evolve quickly.  As inexpensive organized ashigaru foot troop movements began to overwhelm efforts of individual bravery, the spear displaced the naginata. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s mounted warriors, the ‘Seven Spears of Shizugatake,’ completely decimated his opponent’s sword-armed samurai in the Battle of Shizugatake. The appearance of the tanegashima Japanese matchlock during the Warring States period finished off the long bow. Its use had been easily taught, en masse, to the new peasant armies. By the end of the 16th century, there were more firearms in Japan than in many European nations but, once the quarter millennium of the Tokugawa shogunate was firmly established, firearm production ceased with the peace. 
Cannons became part of the samurai armory in the 1570s, often mounted in castles or on ships, and used predominantly as anti-personnel weapons. The technology of the first kunikuzushi swivel-breech loaders, nicknamed the ‘province destroyers,’ improved over the next fifty years, from firing shot of ten random ounces to eighteen accurate pounds.
Samurai wore full lamellar body-armor in battle. Early yoroi protection was made from small individual iron or leather kozane scales, bound together into small strips, coated with lacquer, and laced together with silk or leather to form a complete set of dō chest armor. In the 1500s, due to the advent of firearms, the need for additional protection brought Tosei-gusoku iron plate armor.  But samurai armor, unlike that worn by European knights, was designed first for mobility. The right hand was often left without an armored sleeve to allow maximum movement. The US Army based its first modern flak jacket on samurai armor. 
The strangest and most convoluted component was the kabuto, the riveted metal horned helmet, faceplate, and Darth Vader neck guard, which defended against arrows and swords coming from all angles. Many helmets also featured ornaments and attachable pieces, including a mustachioed demonic mengu mask, which protected the face and frightened the enemy. When the Satsuma Rebellion was crushed, the last samurai were replaced by a national conscription army, and their armor by uniforms.
Down the aisle of public transport narcolepsy, was my modern army of samurai salarymen, their uniforms uniform in full sartorial stylish splendor. It was all the fault of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, our second giant samurai who had emerged from the Warring State era of Japanese history. Hideyoshi instituted group punishments for crimes. Anyone who committed an offence could be guaranteed that their whole family, their neighbours, and the head of the community would be severely walloped. Japanese society became tight and rigid, and strangers were unwelcome, because they posed a real risk to the community for any wrongdoing. I could still feel the harmonic resonance. When the emperor started wearing a swallowtail coat instead of a kimono, suits became symbols of Japanese political power and wealth. The standard salaryman uniform of the Aoyama Trading black suit, worn to a worn-out shine, provided safety both in its legacy of collective feudal clan anonymity, and the sharp projection of competence in contract and commerce. The suit means business.
But it also means that the men in black suffer in the summer heat. This was made worse by the government that, in 2005, enacted their ‘Cool Biz,’ campaign. In an effort to reduce national energy consumption, office thermostats were set no less than 28 degrees Celsius (82.4F), and employees were encouraged not to wear jackets and ties in order to better bear the heat waves. While it caught on government offices, the feudal propriety of the business environment was less accepting of a more relaxed dress code. Instead, Japanese chindōgu innovative instinct produced cooling gel inserts, infrared-blocking fabrics, and even air-conditioned suits, with an inflation vent in the side that could balloon you into a clown. 
The comatose salaryman samurai uniform is accessorized with scuffed black lace-up dress shoes, a fraying black briefcase, an unobtrusive silver watch, glasses, an unconvincing sporting comb over haircut, and a ¥100 tie, in any colour but black. While black is the colour of experience (karate belts for example), it is also the colour of death and sorrow, which is why black ties are traditionally only worn for funerals. Underneath it all is a crisp white shirt, which he may have bought at the private manga cafe in the morning

Monday, 20 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 4

In the 900s, weak Heian emperors lost control of rural Japan to the provincial warrior class that, until then, had been mainly relatives or financial dependents of their landowner lords. By 1100, the samurai held effective military and political power over much of Japan. The weak imperial line received a fatal blow in 1156, when Emperor Toba died without a clear successor, and his sons destroyed each other in the Hogen Rebellion civil war.  Two samurai clans, the Minamoto and Taira, filled the vacuum, and fought each another for dominance, in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160. The Taira won the first round, banished the defeated Minamoto from the capital at Kyoto, and established the first samurai-led military dictatorship.
But the Minamoto came back from their exile stronghold in Kamakura, and won against the Taira in the five year Genpei War that ended in 1185. Minamoto no Yoritomo established the Kamakura Shogunate, and relegated the emperor to a figurehead role. The Minamotos ruled much of Japan until 1333, a reign contested by other samurai clans and, in 1274 and 1281, invasion fleets from the Mongol ruler of Yuan China, Kublai Khan. Luckily for the Kamakura, a Kamikaze Divine Wind took care of both the Mongol armadas. Unluckily, unable to offer land or riches to the other samurai leaders who rallied to Japan's defense, the weakened shogunate was overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo in 1333. This Kemmu Restoration of imperial power lasted only three years, until Ashikaga Takauji reasserted samurai rule. But Ashikaga was weaker than the Kamakura had been and the regional daimyô constables developed considerable power, meddling in shogunate power and succession. In 1467, squabbling erupted into the decade-long Ônin War. Thousands died, Kyoto was burned to the ground, and a hundred years of chaotic and violent Sengoku, or ‘Warring States’ conflict traumatized the country. 
Order was finally restored by a serial assumption of power by the three giant samurai of Japanese history. In 1568, the warlord Oda Nobunaga marched into Kyoto. Fourteen years later he was assassinated by one of his generals, and another, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, finished the unification and ruled as kampaku regent, until his own death from bubonic plague, during his second invasion of Korea in 1598. The man that emerged from his Edo castle stronghold to become shogun, brought peace and stability for a quarter of a millennium, and set the culture in stone. Tokugawa Ieyasu, from his position of extreme power, domesticated the samurai, forcing them to either serve their lords in the cities, or give up their swords and farm, paradoxically transforming a society of governing warriors into a hereditary class of cultured bureaucrats. Never comprising more than ten percent of Japan’s population, their pay was measured in koku, 180 liters of rice, the amount necessary to feed a man for a year.
The southern kamikaze inflection point of Jo-ha-kyu samurai history arrived with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Emperor replaced them with a conscripted army five years later, and four years after that, defeated their Satsuma Rebellion and feudal system, in the last suicidal charge of the Battle of Shiroyama. 

                                              ‘Let others hail the rising sun:
                                               I bow to that whose course is run’
                                                                       David Garrick 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Into the Rising Sun 3

                           ‘A whole is what has a beginning and
                           middle and end.’



The history of the Samurai is the history of Japan. The exact moment of creation is unclear, but a class of highly skilled warriors appeared after Emperor Kōtoku’s Taika Reforms in 646. A village is composed of fifty households, and over each village shall be placed a headman. The reorganization of society was designed to support an elaborate Chinese-like empire. Property redistribution and heavy new taxes forced many small farmers to sell their land, and work as tenant farmers. The few emerging dominant large landholders amassed power and wealth, and created a feudal system similar to one halfway around the world. As in medieval Europe, the new feudal lords needed warriors to defend their riches, and the samurai was born. Originally calling themselves bushi, from the Han Chinese bu-, ‘to stop,’ and -shi, ‘a spear,’ the ancient soldiers from the north of Japan were renowned for being ‘able to keep the peace, either by literary or military means, but predominantly by the latter.’ Their aristocratic clan masters began to call them saburau, ‘those who wait on and serve, in close attendance to nobility,’ and the first recorded reference to the word samurai appeared in the early tenth century, in the Kokinshū, the first imperial anthology of poetry.

                              ‘Ask for your master's umbrella
                              The dews 'neath the trees of Miyagino
                              Are thicker than rain.’

With each change of train, Robyn and I began to get a sense of the rhythms and precision of the late Kisei Rasshu homeward rush. The painted marks along the edge of the platforms specified the exact points at which the doors would open, and the optimal number of people who could expect to be successful in boarding. The motion of our car followed a repetitive pattern- a slow beginning, a gradual acceleration, and a sudden ending in the next station. It was not a metaphor, it was several. The Greek shape of Aristotle’s three-act stories, honed by a Roman refinement that would explain why decline is faster than growth. 

       ‘It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our
        selves and our
works if all things should perish as
        slowly as they come into being;
but as it is, increases
        are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is
                          Lucius Annæus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

But ‘Seneca’s Cliff’ had been known in Japan for centuries before its Western recognition, as the universal modulation pattern in the movement of all things. One of the nine aesthetics, Jo-ha-kyu was the tempo of slow setup, an accelerated quest, and a swift urgent climactic termination. It was the cadence of our train, and all the classical Japanese arts- of Gagaku court music, of tea ceremony, of theatre drama (Noh and Kabuki and Jōruri), of poetry (renga and renku), of martial arts (kendō and jujitsu), and even of the surfers we would watch the next day. Most fascinating of all, it traced the curve of Samurai history.