Sunday, 18 Nov 2018

The Magic of Old Japan

Old Japan

The Magic of Old Japan

Flavour Not Ingredients

If history were a cake, the individual contests between historians would be the ingredients, the complex parts that make up the whole ‘meal’ of history, while the myths, legends, stories, anecdotes and traditions would be the ‘flavour’. There are plenty of volumes out there with competitive arguments, debates, analysis and historiography, but this book is not one of them. This book is the smell of a scone from a wood-lit stove, it is the waft of bacon in the morning and the aroma of port and cheese – it is the flavour of the story of Old Japan.

The Magic of Old Japan - photo 1

Old Japan

The historical basis for this book are the numerous records of European travellers who have been visiting Japan since the 1500s – those men and women who travelled the gruelling seas and passed entire continents by way of tall ship to arrive in the famed land of the barbarian knights with their savage scimitars. These special accounts are stored in uniformed rows of books in university libraries, packed away in college journals or found in now long out of print diaries.

The Magic of Old Japan - photo 2

Old Japan

They range from Jesuit accounts of the 1500s, to ships’ logs and seamen’s diaries, to diplomats’ journals and travellers’ letters, all of them the thoughts, statements and recordings of those people who saw the samurai for real and who witnessed such times with their own eyes. From these accounts I have taken the mysterious, the interesting, the exciting and the curious and laid them out here for readers to enjoy in a bite-sized manner.

The Magic of Old Japan - photo 3

Old Japan

Each chapter holds an array of small sections which in turn hold the essence of the above accounts, removing the laborious but highlighting those parts that are worth remembering. In addition to this are extracts and assimilations from various academic journals and books that hold key and fascinating ideas about Old Japan but which are locked between long and complex arguments. It is there, inside that space where the interesting is encased in the stonework of historical debate, that I have searched out the best elements and brought them together to form the essence of Japan – a touch of warm nostalgia of days long gone. I want this aroma of old ways to waft over the world as copies of this book reach its far corners, and I wish to spread the experience of a lost world, the accounts and tales to be shared and passed on, generation after generation.

The Magic of Old Japan - photo 4

Old Japan

Japan, being a most ancient and traditional land, has deep enriched soil filled with the memories of linked generations. The echo of their stories continues down the ages and is brought to the modern world, through these bygone travellers in Japan, and is laid out for you here to relish and enjoy.

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Old Japan

Travellers in Japan 

Japan is always considered to have been a ‘closed country’ but this was actually a relatively later affair in its history. Before the 1600s, Japan was very much open to trade and influence from others, even having a large Christian community. Many Western travellers came to Old Japan, all of whom have a great story to tell and in some cases witnessed a great deal of samurai ways and found themselves in Japan in the most exciting times.

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Old Japan

Examples of these are Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary who landed in Old Japan in 1549 at the height of the warring periods and who wrote fascinating accounts of his times there, and João Rodrigues in the late 1500s, another missionary who wrote extensively on Japanese ways and retired to Macao in the 1600s. Luís Fróis, who arrived in Old Japan in 1563 as a missionary, wrote many letters and histories; he died in 1597 while still in the country.

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Old Japan

Not only missionaries but also sailors such as Richard Cocks, an Englishman who stayed in Japan for trade, who wrote an extensive diary on life in Japan and died on the way back to England in 1624. The famous William Adams, the first Englishman to arrive in Old Japan in 1600, became a samurai and close retainer of the shogun, married a Japanese woman and became the lord of a small area (the novel Shogun by James Clavell is loosely based on his life, and was the inspiration for the television series Shogun). Of course, when the country closed its borders, the number of visitors decreased and then accounts began again in the 1800s when Japan started to open, or at least think about opening, for trade.

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Old Japan

Diplomats such as Sir Harry Parkes and Townsend Harris began to involve themselves with the Japanese government and the samurai. This even included the sad tale of Henricus (Henry) Heusken, a diplomat and assistant to Townsend Harris, who was assassinated in 1861 at the age of 28. Finally, Lord Algernon Bertram Mitford – second secretary to the British Legation working in Japan from the 1860s – recorded and published much information on Japanese culture and history, presented the Japanese Emperor with the Order of the Garter, was a prominent figure in the changing landscape and was instrumental in bringing Old Japan to the modern era.

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Old Japan

He will be mentioned in this book simply as Mitford. All of these people had great stories to tell and, with a small amount of ‘digging’, some fascinating facts about Japanese ways and culture come to the surface, and through these eyewitnesses we see Japan fill with colour.

The Magic of Old Japan - photo 10

Old Japan

To be continued…

 

“Old Japan: Secrets from the Shores of the Samurai”

Antony Cummins

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