Shogun by James Clavell

shogun book coverShogun has been one of my favorite novels for years. I had read the book back in the 80’s (a couple times) but had watched the mini series (released in 1980) dozens of times since then. I decided to re-read the book this year when I noticed the Kindle version was available.

Shogun tells the story of Pilot Major John Blackthorn and his time in Japan during the year 1600. After sailing across the Pacific ocean, Blackthorn’s ship is damaged on the coast of Japan. The crew are taken prisoner and accused of being pirates.

Blackthorn find himself in the middle of a power struggle between two powerful Japanese daimyos (lords) which is complicated by the presence of Jesuit (Society of Jesus) priests and Portuguese traders. The Portuguese and Jesuits see Blackthorn as a threat to their monopoly of trade between China and Japan and take steps to limit his influence. Against all odds, Blackthorn gains the respect of Lord Toranaga, is awarded the rank of Samurai and comes to appreciate Japanese culture and society. I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article for an extensive summary of the plot and characters.

Learning from Shogun

I found a wonderful pdf document from on the Columbia University website named Learning from Shogun. In the preface the editor tells us, “Shogun provides a wealth of factual information about Japanese history and culture, information which is probably new to the majority of its readers.” The document contains essays about the history, the clash of cultures, the religion, politics and economy of the time plus Blackthorn’s efforts to learn Japanese.

William Adams and John Blackthorn

In essay one, by Henry Smith, we learn that the character John Blackthorn is based on a man named William Adams who sailed to Japan by way of the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean. Smith tells us that Adams was “undeniably the ‘first Englishman in Japan,’ indeed probably the first Englishman to settle in Asia.” (Pg. 2). Smith explains that what little we know about Adams time in Japan “comes from six letters which he wrote back to England and which miraculously survived among the records of e British East India Company. Scattered other bits of information are available from the correspondence and other diaries of other Englishmen in Japan in the years 1613-20 and a few more details from Japanese records”. (Pg. 2)

Like Blackthorn, Adams also arrived in Japan with most of his crew dead and in poor health. Adams was also accused of bring a pirate. Smith goes on to say,

But somehow Adams managed to survive not only the slander of the Portuguese, but also the treachery of two members of his crew, and soon found himself being transported to Osaka to meet with the “king”—who turned out to be Tokugawa Ieyasu.

This is similar to what happened to Blackthorn when Lord Toranaga sent a ship to bring him to Osaka castle for an audience.

Trade, Diplomacy and Religion

Essay five is titled Trade and Diplomacy in the Era of Shogun. This essay by Ronald Toby confirms that James Clavell accurately portrayed the political and religious tensions between the Japanese and Europeans during the year 1600. Toby writes, “Only sixty years before ‘John Blackthorn’ arrived, Japan had been reached by the furthest extension of The European Age of Discovery, fist by Portuguese traders then by Jesuit missionaries, who cam east from Africa and India.” He goes on to say, “As a result of a half century of Jesuit proselytization (to induce someone to convert to one’s faith) the Iberian’s of the Counter-Refromation were deeply entrenched, with several hundred thousand converts to Catholicism and a critical role in Japan’s external trade to support their position.” The Portuguese and Jesuits were Catholic. So as a Protestant from England, Blackthorn had landed in hostile territory from both a religious and political perspective.It’s no surprise that he was quickly labeled as a heretic.  Blackthorn and the English were defiantly a threat to the Portuguese and Jesuit control of the lucrative trade with Japan. Clavell was also accurate that there were a fair percentage of Christian converts in Japan at the time. I was surprised to learn there were so many Christian’s in Japan at the time.

Toby also observes that “Japan was excluded, by Chinese law, from direct access to the markets of China.” (Page 54) Toby writes, “Direct access to China was now out of the question. This gave the Portuguese, based in Macao on the south coast of China since the 1550’s, an even more important role in Japan’s foreign trade.” Once again Clavell has added drama to Shogun by understanding the threat that an Englishman like Blackthorn would have to the Portuguese (and Jesuit) trade monopoly in Japan.

The Struggle for the Shogunate in 1600

Essay six in Learning from Shogun, by Henry Smith, discusses the struggle for the Shogunate. A Shogun was “the military dictator of Japan during the period from 1185 to 1868 (with exceptions).

As I had hoped, Clavell based the plot and Japanese characters in Shogun on actual events from the late 15 and early 1600’s.  Smith writes,

“Hideyoshi’s (The Taiko) death in the autumn of 1598 created the highly unstable political situation which provides the stage for the drama of 1600—both in Shogun and in reality. Since Hideyori (“Yaemon” in 1600—both in Shogun and in reality. Since Hideyori (“Yaemon” in the novel), the Taiko’s heir by his consort Lady Yodo (“Lady Ochiba”), was only a child of five at the time, a council of five “Regents” (in Japanese, tairo, literally “great elder”) had been set up to govern until he came of age.”

Smith tells us, “In Shogun, the author takes the general political situation of 1600 as the basis for his plot, although he makes no attempt at a very precise correspondences.”

An article on History.com tells us, “After Hideyoshi’s death resulted in a power struggle among the daimyo, Ieyasu triumphed in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and became shogun to Japan’s imperial court in 1603.”

Since William Adams actually visited Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ieyasu became Shogun it seems to me that Clavell based the character Yoshi Toranaga on Ieyasu.

In Learning from Shogun, Henry Smith writes, “only the scheming ‘Ishido’ has a clear model. This was Ishida Mitsunari, whi was indeed an inveterate plotter and implacable enemy of Tokugawa Ieyasu.” (Pg. 56)

Blackthorn’s efforts to Learn Japanese

Essay nine, by Susan Matisoff, discusses Blackthorn’s efforts to learn Japanese. She writes, “and there’s much to be praised in Clavell’s decision to take the readers along on Blackthorne’s odyssey into an unfamiliar language.” (pg. 80) I agree with her! Picking up some words and phrases along with Blackthorn as he learns about Japan and Japanese culture is one of my favorite aspects of the story.

I was a little disappointed to learn that Clavell got many aspects of the Japanese language wrong in the novel. Matisoff tells us, ” A Japanese language review of the book (Hokubei mainichi shimbun, May 28, 1980) calls the language “classroom Japanese,” objecting to the over politeness of some of the common phrases like wakarimasu ka (“do you understand?”), ” (Pg. 81). Matisoff explains, “Although there are occasional correct, complex Japanese sentences in Shogun which must result from Clavell’s asking a Japanese how to say such and such, much of the Japanese reflects not a “classroom” but a “phrasebook” approach to the language.” (Pg. 81).

Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

I just finished reading the book Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. As the title indicates, he was the first person to circumnavigate the earth while sailing alone.  By no means did he take the most direct route. He pretty much followed the trade winds and major currents.

He made plenty of stops, which made for an interesting story. He would often stay for a week or more at places he stopped at. In some cases it was because he enjoyed his time with the people he met. In other cases he was waiting for the trade winds and weather to improve. It took him about three years to complete the 46,000 mile journey.

I created a Google Map with his major stops and dates that he arrived at each place.

Examples of his adventures include:

  • Early in the trip Captain Slocum got so sick that he imagined he spoke to the ghost of the Pilot of Christopher Columbus’s ship, the Pinta.
  • His ship was chased by pirates off the coast of Morocco. Watch  Colin Hazlehurst’s recreation of the trip using Google Earth.
  • The Spray ran around on a beach in Uruguay.
  • Natives in the Strait of Magellan tried to board the Spray at night. They left when they stepped on the carpet tacks he had spread on the deck to surprise them. Later they chased him in their canoes and he had to shoot his rifle at them in order to scare them off.
  • He survived a horrendous storm on the west end of the Strait of Magellan near Cape Pillar and got blown south. He had to sail back to Punta Arenas (a port in the Strait) then try again to sail through the maze of island into the Pacific.
  • His sails got shredded in the Pacific Ocean during a storm.

As I mentioned earlier, Slocum made visited many remote and exotic places along the way in addition to major ports of call. Many of the people he met had heard of his journey and were happy to invite him to stay. He met Fanny Stevenson (the wife of author Robert Louis Stevenson) at Samoa. He met the explorer Henry M. Stanley in East Africa and many other prominent people of the era.

I am amazed at the amount of information and resources about the book and Captain Slocum’s journey are the Web.

  • There is a website with the domain name joshuaslocum.com about his life and the journey.
  • I found a wonderful 45 minute documentary video about his life, the Spray and his journey on YouTube.
  • I discovered a wonderful YouTube playlist showing the Spray in Google Earth sailing each leg of the journey.

I recommend this wonderful story to anyone who enjoys history, sailing or adventure stories.

Luoyang Bridge, Quanzhou, China

During my last day in Quanzhou I took a bike ride on Fenghai Road with the goal to visit Luoyang Bridge. The bridge is one of the four ancient bridges in China and is a major attraction in Quanzhou.

Luoyang Bridge
Luoyang Bridge from the Qiaonon Community side of the river.

The Travel China Guide Website says, “Construction of the Luoyang Bridge started in 1053 and was completed in 1059. The project of building the bridge was led by Cai Xiang, the governor of Quanzhou who was also one of the four famous calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Built with granite, the bridge features ship-like piers and a unique method of reinforcing the foundation.” Essentially they raised oysters near the piers so the liquid they “secreted would help to bind the piers and the footstones together.”

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-2

Each end of the bridge has two statues on either side of the bridge. I had to stop for a minute to admire the impressive workmanship that went into them.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-3

Partway across the bridge there is a small building surrounded by trees, statues and stone tables inscribed with Chinese characters. The ChinaCulture.org Website says, “Many stone tablets from past dynasties were erected near the middle pavilion on the Luoyang Bridge, including stone statues of pagodas and warriors.

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After a pleasant stop at the middle pavilion I continued my journey across the bridge. I wanted to get a closer look at the stature on the far side. I suspected it is a statue of Cai Xiang, who led the project to build the bridge.

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Statue of Cai Xiang

I enjoyed some wonderful views (a bit hazy but still nice) of the Quanzhou skyline during my walk back across the bridge.

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Like so many things in Quanzhou, this photo showing the modern skyline with the bridge and fishing boats is an interesting combination of the old and the new.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-11

I would like to visit the bridge again when the sun is out and the sky is blue so I can take more photographs. It would also be nice to see the bridge at low tide so I can see the “ship like piers” mentioned in the Travel China Guide website.

 

Qingyuan Mountain Hike in Quanzhou, China

One of the best adventures during my trip to Quanzhou was an early morning hike up Qingyuan Mountain. The mountain is favorite destination of locals and tourists alike. We arrived early so we would be there before the crowds. It was still dark as we started up the path. Eventually the “trail” became more of a staircase than a path. Climbing the stairs was a good workout. After an hour or so of hiking we arrived at Sky Lake. It was a beautiful little lake with an impressive visitors center on one side and function hall on the other. Much to my disappointment (I was hoping for a hot drink), the visitors center was not open yet. I was also looking forward to seeing the black swans and white swans that lived at the lake. Apparently it was even too early for the swans.

 

Sky Lake and the visitors center.
Sky Lake and the visitors center.

We continued past the lake where we noticed a sign for the Qingyuan Cave. We followed the trail to the cave, which took us higher towards the summit. Instead of an actual cave we found a small temple complex. A sign explained that the temple was built over or on the site of the cave, which made me happy since the temple site was very nice.

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Not only was the temple beautiful, the view from the temple was fantastic.

Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River
Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River.

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Upon going back down the mountain we discovered the red roofed buildings in the photo above served hot tea and food.

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Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-15

We were hungry and thirsty so this place was a welcome site. We got a package of tea, a tea pot, a thermos of hot water and a small heater to keep the tea pot warm for 15 yuan. Much of the food looked strange (like chicken feet) or was not what I would consider breakfast food (like yams) and stuff I could not even identify. We did find some red grapes, orange slices and french fries to eat which tasted pretty damn good to us at that point. It was just cool enough outside so the hot tea really hit the spot.

On they way down the mountain we got some fantastic views of Quanzhou near West Lake Park.

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The large modern looking building near the lake is the China Museum of Fujian-Taiwan Kinship. We stopped there for a short time on our way back to World City.

We took a different trail down the mountain so that we would end up at the Laojun Rock. Along the trail we observed numerous inscriptions carved into the rocks. The characters where painted red to make them easier for visitors to read. I think they were part of the Qi Feng Inscriptions mentioned on the Travel China Guide website.

Stone Statue of Laozi

Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi
Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi

The Laojun Rock is a beautiful statue in a very peaceful garden setting with a nice view of the mountain in the background. There is an incense burner in the viewing area which adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the exhibit.

The Qingyuan Mountain Website tells us, “The Song-Dynasty statue represents a man with a long beard-believed to be the philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder and Saint of Taoism.” China Culture.org mentions, “He is credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Dao De Jing” also known as Tao Te Ching.

Qingyuan Mountain would definitely on the list of places to visit again during another visit to Quanzhou.

Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, China

The first major sightseeing stop during my trip to China was the Kaiyan Temple in Quanzhou. It is an ancient Buddhist temple that was built in the year 685 during the Tang Dynasty. We took a cab which dropped us off at the West Street gate. There were a bunch of street vendors set up near the gate selling incense and other items. Once we went through the gate we were surrounded by bushes, hedges and ancient mulberry trees.

The temple grounds also has two ancient stone pagodas. The west pagoda is close enough to the gate to capture our interest right away. An article on the Website, China Through A Lens says,

The Twin Pagodas in Quanzhou rank the highest pair among Chinas stone pagodas. The west pagoda is called Renshou and the east one, Zhenguo. They stand on each side of the main hall of Kaiyuan Temple, some two hundred meters from each other.

Renshou Pagoda was originally a wooden structure constructed in 916 during the Five Dynasties. After it burnt down twice during the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt, first of brick, then of stone. Its appearance and structure are basically the same as those of Zhenguo Pagoda, but it is only 44.6 meters high, or 4.18 meters lower, and was built ten years earlier.

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Jennifer with the Renshou Pagoda in the background.

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Close up of the carvings on the first level

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Looking to the Zhenguo Pagoda at the east end of the temple grounds.

The sign at the gate explains why there are so many mulberry trees on the grounds. Legend says, “the land upon which the Quanzhou Kaiyuan monastery was built was originally an orchard of mulberry trees owned by Huang Shougong. Tradition holds that Mr. Shougong dreamed that a monk begged him to have his land as a temple. He replied, ‘If my mulberry trees bloomed lotus blossoms I’ll grant you the land.’ A few days later the mulberry trees really bloomed lotus blossoms.”

The smell of incense filled the air and  as we entered the temple courtyard.

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We just stood still for a minute and took in the scene. People were lighting incense sticks and placing them in a ornate iron incense burner in the middle of the courtyard. Unfortunately it started to rain which put a damper on my photography.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-8

Jennifer and I wandered over to the main hall of the temple.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-9

The Wikipedia article tells us the main hall is known as the Mahavira Hall. Inside is the statue of the Vairocana Buddha. We were standing in the doorway admiring the statue of the Buddha when a monk walked by. I was surprised when he stopped and spoke enough English to invite us inside. After going inside I pointed to my camera and the statue in an attempt to ask him if I could take some photos. Much to my disappointment, he shook his head no.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-10

The architecture on the backside of the temple was just as impressive. The back courtyard had a small incense burner plus covered boxes filled with dozens of burning candles. By that time it was raining harder, forcing us to keep under cover as much as possible.

In addition to people selling incense there were lots of people with disabilities asking visitors for donations. We approached a side gate that was crowded with beggars and vendors. One of the lady vendors gave me gave me a sample of the berries she was selling. It looked like a large blackberry and tasted great. It was not until I got home that I discovered that it was a Mulberry that she gave me. I wish I had taken the time to buy some from her.

I plan to go back during another trip on a day when the weather is better so I can take more photographs and learn more about the place.

 

Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th)

Rifleman Harris book coverBack in the summer I read an interesting historical non-fiction book titled, Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th). It’s the memoir of  Benjamin Randell Harris during his service the British Army during the Peninsular War Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars.

I downloaded this book from Google Books (for free) because I read that author, Bernard Cornwell, used this memoir as inspiration for the Richard Sharpe series. Since I have enjoyed many of the books in the series, I was curious to read the “source” material.

Rifleman Harris shares his experiences while participating in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen, the Peninsula War in 1808 and the Walcheren Campaign (Netherlands) in 1809. After reading this story I was able to see where Cornwell used Harris’ experiences for his research and story inspiration.

Rifleman Harris first saw action during the Bombardment of Copenhagen. In the book, Sharpe’s Prey, Richard also participates in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen.

In 1808 Harris was sent to Portugal during the Peninsular War Campaign and saw action fighting the French at Rolica and Vimeiro. In the book Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe also fights against the French at Roliça and Vimeiro.

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you are fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

Resources

Wikipedia Article: The Recollections of Rifleman Harris

Wikipedia Article: Sharpe (novel series)

Full Text eBook: https://archive.org/details/recollectionsofr00harr

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I just finished The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. It’s based on the historic battle between the British and American forces from Massachusetts in 1779. The British captured the village of Castine, Maine and started building a fort with the goal of establishing the colony of New Ireland. The Colony of Massachusetts created the Penobscot Expedition to attack the fort and remove the British. The American forces failed miserably.

The story was no “cliff hanger” since I read the history and know how the battle ended. However, it was interesting to read about the leadership issues and bad decisions that led to the expedition’s embarrassing failure.

The Fort by Bernard CornwellThe Wikipedia article tells us, “The Americans landed troops in late July and attempted to establish a siege of Fort George in a series of actions that were seriously hampered by disagreements over control of the expedition between land forces commander Brigadier General Solomon Lovell and the expedition’s overall commander, Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who was subsequently dismissed from the Navy for ineptness and failure to effectively prosecute the mission.”

When the American forces arrived, the British had not yet finished building Fort George. They were as vulnerable as they were ever going to be. The American forces should have attacked right away.

General Lovell was convinced that he could not attack without naval support from Commodore Saltonstall to engage the British ships in the harbor. Commodore Saltonstall would not attack the British ships in the harbor because he was afraid of cannon fire from the fort and lack of room to maneuver his ships in the confines of the harbor.

General Lovell made a pretty good move by taking the high ground near Fort George and capturing a British artillery battery on Cross Island ( now named Nautilus Island). He screwed up big time when he dug in for a short siege rather than attack right after establishing the beach head. Commodore Saltonstall eventually agreed to attack the British ships in the harbor if Lovell would launch a coordinated land attack on the fort. Saltonstall had just started the navel attack when he got word that the British reinforcements had been sighted in Penobscot Bay. He ordered his ships to turn around at the last minute and prepared to retreat up the Penobscot River. General Lovell was wise enough to abort the land attack and get the troops back to the ships just in time.

The Wikipedia article says, “A committee of inquiry blamed the American failure on poor coordination between land and sea forces and on Commodore Saltonstall’s failure to engage the British naval forces. Saltonstall was declared to be primarily responsible for the debacle, and he was court-martialed, found guilty, and dismissed from military service.” and that, “Peleg Wadsworth, who mitigated the damage by organizing a retreat, was not charged in the court martial.”

One of the interesting facts I picked up while reading this books is that Paul Revere (of the midnight ride) was a member of the Penobscot Expedition. In fact, he was in command of the artillery. As Cornwell tells the story, Revere only played a minor part of the leadership problem that doomed the expedition. However, he did not conduct himself as well as he could have. Perhaps he recognized the growing problems and wanted to make it out alive.

Revere and his men were put ashore on the west bank of the Penobscot River. He had to return to Boston by land, which was a long trek in 1779. The Wikipedia article tells us, “Paul Revere, who commanded the artillery in the expedition, was accused of disobedience and cowardice. This resulted in his dismissal from the militia, even though he was later cleared of the charges.”

Previous to reading this book I didn’t know about this battle, so I learned something new about both Maine and Revolutionary War history.