July 15, 2023

Alien encounters

In Shogun, James Clavell's Blackthorne, standing in for the real Will Adams, is shipwrecked in Japan in the year 1600. He encounters an entirely different culture from his own, but one at a similar level of social and economic development. He would have recognized the feudal structures of the society from the start.

The warlords of the Sengoku period made the most of the firearms imported by Portuguese traders. Briefly toward the end of the 16th century, Japan had the biggest arms industry in the world. Militarily on a par with any European power, Japan was never colonized.

Over the following two and a half centuries, the shogunate's strictly-enforced sakoku (isolationist) policies did keep Japan from getting involved in any land wars in Asia. But while the culture developed in meaningful ways, Japan as an industrial power remained stuck in the 16th century.

The arrival of Commodore Perry's Black Ships, sporting technology three centuries ahead of Japan, triggered a huge social upheaval and kicked off the Meiji Restoration. Ryomaden well illustrates what an encounter with starfaring aliens might be like, including how quickly the Japanese adopted that technology.

Along with everybody else, Ryoma Sakamoto was completely overwhelmed upon seeing the steam-powered Black Ships for the first time. His second reaction was, "I want one of those." And he would get himself one.

Both a businessman and a revolutionary, Ryoma Sakamoto deserves comparison to Alexander Hamilton. Alas, like Hamilton, he died young. The identity of his assassin remains a mystery to this day. At the time, the crime was pinned on Kondo Isami and the Shinsengumi, though others also later confessed.

Negotiating by day and killing each other by night was common practice in Kyoto politics at the time.

Singer and actor Masaharu Fukuyama does well in the lead role, starting off the series as an affable Prince Hal, leading an aimless existence until Perry's Black Ships arrive and throw the country into turmoil. Not long thereafter, Ryoma crosses paths with Shoin Yoshida, the fiery Patrick Henry of the Meiji Restoration.

The sonno joi ("Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians!") movement took root soon thereafter. In a rare break with precedence, according to which the emperor took no part in politics, Emperor Komei (father of Emperor Meiji) supported the movement, placing the shogunate in an increasingly untenable political position.

Ryoma negotiated the Satcho Alliance between two once bitter enemies, the Choshu domain, the ideological center of the Restoration, and the powerful Satsuma domain. Now facing a unified opposition armed with modern British weaponry (thanks to the help of Thomas Blake Glover), the shogunate's days were numbered.

For an alternate perspective on the same events, Atsuhime follows the life of Tenshoin, the adopted daughter of the governor (daimyo) of Satsuma. Hoping to become the power behind the throne, he arranged a marriage between her and Iesada Tokugawa, the third-to-last shogun.

Unfortunately, Iesada proved to be utterly incompetent, and all that effort failed to change the policies that ultimately doomed the regime. But Tenshoin was later instrumental in negotating the peaceful surrender of Edo Castle during the Boshin War. The only major conflict in the city was a daylong skirmish at Ueno.

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# posted by Blogger Sophia
7/16/2023 8:31 AM   
Thank you for the informative post, Eugene. :)