Daily Archives: 27 December 2003

Speaking of Mongol Invasions …

Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj has succeeded where Kublai Khan failed. Fighting under the name Asashoryu, he has conquered the (less and less) insular world of Japanese sumo. He was promoted to the highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion) upon the retirement of Musashimaru, the last of the two Hawai‘i yokozuna. This marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. (By strange coincidence, Musashimaru bears an uncanny resemblance to Saigo Takamori!)

Judging from the results of the Kyushu basho in November 2003, however, Tokyo-born Japanese wrestler Tochiazuma may soon be promoted to yokozuna, especially if he wins the January basho in his hometown.

Almost 50 foreign-born wrestlers are in the various ranks of sumo, with Mongolians the largest contingent, numbering nearly 30.

The November [2002] Kyushu basho was dominated by foreign-born wrestlers. While Asashoryu took the trophy in the makuuchi division (upper division), South Korean-born Kasugao defeated Mongolian-born Asasekiryu for the title in the juryo division (second division). This was the first time that foreign-born wrestlers had ever won both the makuuchi and juryo divisions in the same basho. And in the lower jonidan class, Mongolian-born Tokitenku finished first as well.

One up-and-coming foreigner to watch is Kokkai (‘Black Sea’), Tsaguria Levan from the Republic of Georgia, who makes his major league (makuuchi division) debut in the January 2004 basho. Perhaps the most fun to watch of the Mongolians is Kyokushuzan, nicknamed “supermarket of tricks“–just like his near namesake and former Oshima stablemate, Kyokudozan, who retired in 1996.

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The "Most Invaded Territory" Sweepstakes

Perhaps because of Korea’s undeniably horrific experiences during the 20th century, many Koreans seem to believe that their country has been uniquely victimized and invaded more than anywhere else on earth–well over 2,000 times if one counts every border clash and pirate raid, as some assiduous victimologists have done. Reputable professional historians dispute this quite vigorously, although everyone agrees about the terrible destruction wrought by the Hideyoshi invasions in the late 16th century and Mongol invasion during the early 13th century. My own strictly amateur assessment of the broader context follows.

In the global competition for the prize of “most invaded territory” in history, I suspect Korea would be eliminated in the early rounds, even within its favored “most invaded peninsula” division. The competition in the “most invaded steppe” division is far more brutal. Even within the Eurasian peninsula division, the Anatolian, Balkan, Italian, and Iberian peninsulas have certainly compiled far more impressive records than the Korean peninsula, especially if one includes coastal piracy. Sure, the Korean peninsula has been invaded more often than the Japanese archipelago over the last couple of millennia, but both are in the bush leagues in the global scheme of things. In the “most invaded archipelago” division, Japan would probably not even be invited to the tournament, despite its devastating defeat in World War II.

UPDATE: Even the hard-nosed Marmot was putting his money on Korea.

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Hidden Christians, Last Samurai, and Gun Runners

The Christmas edition of the New York Times carried an article about Japan’s hidden Christians that intersects with other threads in the history of Kyushu, Japan’s southwesternmost main island.

Christianity came to Japan with St. Francis Xavier in 1549, during a time of weak central government. Spreading fast through southern Japan, Christianity counted as many as 750,000 converts, or 10 percent of the population, by the 1630’s. Today, by contrast, about 1 percent of Japan’s 127 million people are Christians.

Alarmed by Spain’s colonization and conversion of the neighboring Philippines, Hideyoshi, the general who united Japan in the late 16th century, banned Christianity and ordered the expulsion of missionaries as early as 1587.

Hideyoshi went on to invade in Korea in 1592 and again in 1598, wreaking considerable havoc and kidnapping the Korean craftsmen responsible for introducing exquisite Arita porcelain techniques in Japan. A desire to emulate Hideyoshi’s imperial adventures in Korea was the real motivation for Saigo Takamori‘s rebellion in 1877 that inspired the movie The Last Samurai. Saigo was the lord of Satsuma, the feudal domain that managed to run its own foreign policy even during the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), conquering the Ryukyus (Okinawa) in 1609 and exploiting its extensive trade network to build up its wealth and later modernize its own weaponry. In fact, gun-running from Nagasaki was a key factor in enabling the three southern domains of Satsuma (in the far south of Kyushu), Choshu (in the far southwest of Honshu), and Tosa (on the south side of Shikoku) to overthrow the Tokugawa and restore the Meiji emperor to power in 1868. During the 1877 Satsuma rebellion, according to the Russo-Japanese War Research Society:

The samurai were armed with Enfield muzzle loading rifles and could fire approximately one round per minute. Their artillery consisted of 28 mountain guns, 2 field guns (15.84 pounders), and 30 assorted mortars.

Before the Tokugawa shoguns pacified Japan and sealed it off from the outer world during the early 1600s, the archipelago had gone through a long period of anarchy and warfare, the Sengoku or “warring states” era (1467-1615). No wonder ordinary Japanese people were so open to Christianity and new ideas. Their own elite warriors had gone berserk. After pacification, some of the surplus warriors apparently found work overseas. According to Giles Milton’s account in Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, Japanese mercenaries helped the Dutch East India Company fight the Portuguese in the Spice Islands in 1608. In 1609, the Dutch showed up in Japan, seeking to break the Portuguese trade monopoly there. The Shogunate was increasingly suspicious of the Portuguese missionaries and their growing flock of converts. After martyring many Christians and suppressing the 1637-38 Shimabara Rebellion in a heavily Christian area near Nagasaki, the Shogunate expelled the Portuguese and moved the Dutch trading post (or “factory”) to the artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay. The remaining Christians went underground, adapted their rituals, and remained hidden until Japan began reopening to the outside world in the 1850s.

As the country opened up, the Nagasaki foreign settlement flourished, attracting not only a British arms merchant and a Romanian Jewish innkeeper, but also American doctors and a sizable Italian community that indirectly inspired Puccini to write his opera Madama Butterfly, which debuted in 1904.

Although Tokyo people may think of Kyushu as being the back of beyond, it was Japan’s most important crossroads with the outside world for many centuries.

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Filed under cinema, Japan, Korea