Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Port Said to Yokohama

June 10 2015

or, East of Suez

“[…] Aden, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Penang, Bangkok, Saïgon, Hue, Hanoi, Hong-Kong, Shanghai, their names roll on the tongue savourily […]”

Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour, A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong, 1930.

That shore-hugging list may not correspond exactly to anything on a real timetable. The Mediterranean to Japan would have taken perhaps four weeks with these stops.

Penang should come before Singapore. If anywhere is missing, it is Colombo. And the first stop after Aden could have been Karachi.

So the imperial journey might have touched Port Said, Aden, Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Madras, Calcutta, Rangoon, Penang, Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, Hue, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Yokohama. Hanoi’s port was actually Haiphong, 65 miles downstream on the Red River delta.

The cities between Siam and China in Maugham’s list correspond to the three divisions of the old Vietnam: Cochinchina’s capital was Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Annam’s was Hue (Huế), Tonking’s was Hanoi.

AE5Y2B White Man Burden is to teach cleanliness described in a Pears Soap advertisement 1890s

The romance of simple maps

June 3 2015

The less a map contains, the more it involves you. This is also true of PowerPoint presentations. (Above all, historical maps should not contain arrows.)

Looking at the Sea of Japan map (separate window), you think of the straits which Dutch, Russian and French sailors navigated; of the Jesuits whom the Japanese had confined to the mainland; of Peter the Great’s prospectors, Russian settlers, alarmed shoguns; wonder who, if anyone, ever travelled overland from the Strait of Tartary to Vladivostok; realise why North Korea is an unruly client of China, not Russia; ask yourself why such a small part of the Japanese population faces that sea; see what Japanese generals stared at in 1900: Korea, the colonial temptation; Manchuria, the sphere of influence (was that phrase already used?), separated from the sea only by a thin strip of Korea and Russia; Russia, the alien superpower whom they were about to defeat as they had already defeated their giant, enfeebled and estranged cultural parent China.

Gibbon and the defence of America

May 30 2015

Gibbon’s confidence [General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West in Vol VI] in the inviolability of an American asylum for the Western Civilization would have been justified if – but only if – the aggressor’s part had been played in reality by those arrested Nomad riders [Nomadism is one of Toynbee’s “arrested civilizations”] who had been cast for it in Gibbon’s imagination. If the Continental Power that was under suspicion in A.D. 1952 of entertaining designs of world-wide conquest had been, once again, the Mongols, the peoples of the Western World would assuredly have had better reason this time for counting on the survival of their own distinctive culture than they had had in A.D. 1238, when they had been facing the prospect of a Mongol occupation of the West European peninsula of Asia without having any reassuring Transatlantic asylum at their backs. In A.D. 1952 they could have taken comfort in reminding themselves that in A.D. 1281 the forces of a Mongol Empire, which at that date had been mistress of the Continent from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea, had been thrown back ignominiously from the beaches of Japan; for a cavalry Power which had proved impotent to conquer a cluster of small islands separated from the Continent by only a hundred miles of sea at the nearest point would have had no prospect, if she had occupied the European coastline of the Continent that the Germans held in June 1940, of being able to conquer the great island of North America on the farther side of a nearly two thousand-miles-broad Atlantic Ocean, or even the sister island of South America, which was divided by not less than sixteen hundred miles of sea from the Continent at the Straits of Dakar, where the westward bulge of Africa approached closest to the eastward bulge of Brazil. Indeed, the fiasco of Qubilay Khan’s attempt on Japan suggests that even the twenty-miles-wide Straits of Dover, which had foiled Napoleon and foiled Hitler when the local Continental war-lord of the day had had the whole of Europe under his command, might have proved impassable for Qubilay Khan in spite of his commanding the Asiatic mass as well as the European extremity of the Continent. But the historic immunity of the isles from conquest by Continental war-lords had been due to the comparative innocuousness of even a sedentary community’s most formidable weapons of offence until a hundred years and more after the date at which Gibbon had been writing; and no one who had lived through the war of A.D. 1939-45 could be blind to the truth that, since then, times had changed. The weapons with which Hitler had come within an ace of conquering Britain, and with which the combined forces of the United States and the British Commonwealth had succeeded thereafter in conquering Hitler’s vaunted Festung Europa, were indications that in a future world war the conquest of North America might not be beyond the reach of a Power controlling the aggregate resources of the Old World and capable of forging this incomparably vast store of war potential into unprecedentedly potent weapons through a mastery of an ever improving Western technology.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Alan Macfarlane online

April 30 2015

Anthropologist and historian who writes about England, Nepal, China, Japan. Professor Emeritus at King’s College, Cambridge.



Digital Himalaya

His extraordinary YouTube account

His home page

On this blog (from YouTube): differences between Oxford and Cambridge; interviewing Christopher Bayly


World Oral Literature Project.


Interviewing a Cambridge street sweeper and authority on the town, Allan Brigham, in 2013.

Reading a May 2000 lecture given at Downing College, Cambridge on FW Maitland, the great legal and constitutional historian and thinker, author of Domesday Book and Beyond and The Constitutional History of England, in 2013.

Another Maitland lecture, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, November 2001.

(Trivia: it was the Maitlands with whom Tchaikovsky, between whose Julian and Gregorian 175th birthdays we now are, stayed at Downing in the early summer of 1893, a few months before his death, to receive an honorary doctorate from Cambridge. He found them “the most charmingly sympathetic of people – and moreover, Russophiles, which is a great rarity in England”.)

Reading a 2005 lecture given at University of California, Berkeley on the political thinkers Yukichi Fukuzawa and Masao Maruyama in 2013. One can see here his interest in Bayly’s work.

Reading a 1996 talk given at the Institute of Historical Research on Fernand Braudel (bibliography) in 2013; it’s a pity he is not a slightly more engaging speaker:

Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg

February 20 2015

The order of Second World War bombing raids by the number of immediate fatalities is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg?

… A discovery and a question from the post before last.

Bombing Dresden

February 18 2015

Was the firebombing of Dresden by the British and Americans the worst thing done before Hiroshima? The British had the larger role.

RAF Bomber Command (1936-68) was led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris from February 22 1942 to September 15 1945. Churchill wrote, after the main raids on Dresden: 

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies. … We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.”

He seems to have had moral doubts as well, but did not press his intervention.

In 1963, the holocaust-denier David Irving published The Destruction of DresdenThe Queen Mother, on the other hand, who lived for the rest of her days on a reputation gained by a visit to the blitzed East End, admired “Bomber Harris”.

According to, the ten most destructive campaigns were as follows. The periods in question are of different lengths. In one case, the raids were conducted by Germans. In the other cases by the Americans and/or British. In descending order of total deaths by city (not by raid):

1.  Tokyo, November 1944-August 1945, 100,000 plus killed

USAAF. (Minor raid in April 1942.) Raid of March 9-10 1945 is considered the single most destructive conventional bombing raid in history. 

2.  Hamburg, September 1939-April 1945, 42,600 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most severe raid ever on a European city came from a combined force during the last week of July 1943. The British conducted the night raids, the Americans the day raids.

3.  Dresden, October 1944-April 1945, 25,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most destructive raid came from a combined force (RAF majority) February 13-15 1945.

4.  Berlin, 1940-45, 20,000-50,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. 363 raids.

5.  London, September 1940-May 1941, 20,000 killed

The Blitz.

6.  Swinoujscie, March 12 1945, 5,000-23,000 killed

USAAF. Raid on Polish city and port.

7.  Pforzheim, April 1944-March 1945, 21,200 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF February 23 1945.

8.  Darmstadt, September 1943-February 1945, 12,300 killed

RAF. Main raid September 11-12 1944.

9.  Kassel, February 1942-March 1945, 10,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF October 22-23 1943.

10.  Osaka, March-August 1945, 10,000 killed

USAAF. Main raid March 13-14 1945.

So the order is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg? Because Irving wrote a book?

The Germans area-bombed or firebombed parts of London and Coventry in 1940. Bomber Command was authorised before the Blitz, on May 15 1940, to attack German targets east of the Rhine. It began area-bombing Germany in early 1942. This was supposed to undermine the morale of the civilian population and in particular of industrial workers. Factories were no longer the main targets.

The Americans had a policy of precision bombing in Europe and yet firebombed Japan. But on a few occasions, particularly towards the end of the war, they firebombed cities in Germany such as Dresden and Berlin in support of the British. That caused disquiet in the American ranks and was never the general policy as it was in Japan. The double standard was surely racist.

Victor Gregg was born in London in 1919, joined the army in 1937 and served with the Rifle Brigade in India and Palestine and in the Western Desert. He was taken prisoner at the Arnhem and was awaiting execution in Dresden when the raids happened. He is alive and outspoken on the bombing:

Old posts:

Aerial bombing

Bombing Japan

Lie in the dark and listen.

Greece and Japan

January 18 2015

I can’t exactly explain what I mean by Japanese culture being classical, but you feel it very strongly indeed when you go into the temples. They feel like Greek temples, retranslated into wood.

Perhaps it was a matter of ritual being pristine, not yet turned to metaphor or acting or symbol.

Greek temple architecture in stone had evolved out of wooden structures.

Noh, with its masks, choruses, music and strongly ritualistic elements is often compared with Greek drama.

When I lived in Tokyo in 1990-91, a lonely water-seller (he must have been the last in the city) used to walk through the Kamiyacho area where my office was. His strange cry seemed to come from a remote world and to have nothing at all to do with the modern life around him.

Japanese premodern culture is a survival, not a bogus revival.

Judging by the sound and atmosphere of his Sinfonía de Antígona (1933), which uses Greek modes, the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez felt a connection between classical Greece and the pre-Spanish civilisations of Mexico. YouTube.

Japanese and Greek music both used the pentatonic scale.

Letter to Gilbert Murray, probably from Nagoya, November 10 1929

Abandoned virtuosity 2

September 14 2014

First post.

Primitive African art (it was called primitive), therefore, was the second non-European subverter of Europe’s academic tradition. It dealt the death blow. The first subversive influence, starting half a century earlier, had been the more widely-, sometimes unconsciously-assimilated art of Japan. Toynbee constantly writes about the impact of the West on Japan in the nineteenth century, but he never once mentions the influence out of Japan, which operated at a high-cultural, not a political, economic or religious level.

He never mentions Ife, nor shows any taste for the primitive. On the contrary, in 1939 he sees European engagement with barbarous African art only as a sign of a loss of vitality in Europe’s own art.

He cannot see modern art as a revitalised art. I don’t think his visual or musical sensibilities were highly developed; they were in any case Victorian. Victorians of his background and education were not known for visual or musical sophistication. He can think only of a breakdown.

One could make a fascinating anthology of reactionary writing about modern art, and especially about jazz. High learning, high culture were opposed to popular culture and to barbarous art. The mish-mash of high and low that almost all educated people embrace today was outside his and his generation’s experience. There are Economist pieces about modern mish-mash here and here.

In a late dialogue, Toynbee says:

“Recreation” in the present-day Western sense has always seemed to me to be an unhealthy regression to childishness. I have therefore despised it, and I believe I have been right.

European art wasn’t moribund in 1900. It was vital because it was changing. Artists, even relatively conservative ones, were caught up in a great movement. Academic establishments were becoming trivial or dull. (Even Brahms could seem dull, and when Britten said that he played Brahms once a year to remind himself how bad he was, and a friend of mine spoke to me about “eine verdammt tote Musik” without naming a composer, they perhaps had at the back of their minds some of his late piano pieces. I suspect Britten of thinking of opus 117, no 1. Re-enter rhythm with the Rite of Spring and jazz.)

In Vol IV “Benin” meant barbarism in art. But he had modified his views slightly by the time he got to Vol IX.

The Kingdom of Benin, including the site of the modern Benin City, was in modern Nigeria, east of Ife, and further east of the country called Benin. It was destroyed by the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 (last post). The only reason the new country called Benin has that name is that Dahomey was not considered neutral for all ethnic groups; and Benin referred to the Bight or Bay, not to the Edo kingdom.

I am sure he would have gone on to study African history had he lived longer. A travel book called Between Niger and Nile, published in 1965, does not count, and he does not seem to have noticed Ife, though he warmed to Nigeria. He spoke loudly and consistently against white settlement in Kenya and apartheid in South Africa and in the US, and was quoted approvingly by Malcolm X in his autobiography for having referred, in the New York Times on September 29 1963, to the white race as the “bleached” race. Perhaps he would even have come to see something in African art worth absorbing, but before post-colonialism it was thought reasonable to place cultural attitudes in a different compartment from racial and colonial ones.

Experiences, OUP, 1969

Abandoned virtuosity

September 11 2014

We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.

From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.

See an old post on dated pessimism.

Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.

Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.

For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.

In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.

Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.

Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).

We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?

The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely

the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.

Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.

The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.

So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theories. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.


The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.

Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.

The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). […]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.

Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?

Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.

It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.

Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.

This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.

So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?

More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.

Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.

Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.

A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:

In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.

He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.

In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:

Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.

They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?

Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.

And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:

The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [ says 1907].

Picasso, Woman with a Fan,1907

Archaism in art (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972

A useful word

July 23 2014


積ん読 (hiragana つんどく, romaji tsundoku)


(informal) leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books


積む (tsumu, to pile up) + 読 (doku, to read), punning on 積んでおく (tsundeoku, to leave piled up)

Via Wiktionary.

Kamikaze letters

February 27 2014

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC news, February 26.

Industrial epigoni

December 9 2013

There are certain alarming indications […] that England in our day is paying her penalty for the perilous honour of having been the first country to achieve the Industrial Revolution.

In our day the country that gave birth to the Industrial System of production is a by-word for its technological conservatism; and its arch-conservatives are not the surviving representatives of the pre-industrial dispensation in those rare patches of the English country-side that have contrived to resist the penetrating and pervasive influence of a latter-day English world of mines and mills. On the contrary, they are the colliers and the textile-manufacturers whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers were the pioneers in the discovery of our modern industrial technique. These pioneers led the way in the Industrial Revolution not only for England but for the World; and it is evidently just for this reason that the epigoni are now making themselves notorious for an êthos which is the exact antithesis of the adventurous, experimental, adaptable, creative spirit that made the pioneers’ fortune. The epigoni cannot believe that all is not “for the best” in a technique which gave its inventors a virtual monopoly of the world market for industrial products for the greater part of a century; and even the belief that they are still living “in the best of all possible worlds” for British manufacturers dies singularly hard in the face of a growing array of increasingly successful foreign competitors. It is now more than half a century since Germany and the United States – relieved, by the outcome of the wars of 1861-71, from their former handicaps of geographical disunity and political preoccupation – first entered the lists of the industrial tournament and threw down the gauntlet to Great Britain; and since the war of 1914-18 the ranks of Great Britain’s industrial competitors have been joined by Japan, who was an alter orbis, unacquainted with any form of Western technique, until “the eighteen-sixties”, and even by France, who missed her opportunity, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of making the inventions which Great Britain then invented, and winning the rewards which Great Britain duly won, because she then allowed Napoleon to recall her from a new industrial adventure to the old enterprise – already proved barren by a series of abortive essays – of establishing a political hegemony over Europe by military force. Yet even this formidable and ubiquitous competition with which the ci-devant “Workshop of the World” is now confronted has not led the British manufacturer to overhaul the technique by which his ancestors once made an easy conquest of a virgin world market; and a fortiori it has not led him to adopt the technique through which his ancestors’ English monopoly has been successfully disputed by his own foreign competitors.

These German, American, and Japanese poachers upon old English industrial preserves have had to face the problem of forcing an entry into a field already occupied by the English pioneers; and they have solved it by working out new kinds of technique which the Englishman had never thought of – or needed to think of – before their intrusion upon the scene: for instance, the technique of co-ordinating under a single management all the successive economic processes from the production of the raw materials to the marketing of the manufactured product, and the technique of procuring an unprecedentedly intimate and effective co-operation between the producer and the financier and between a nationally organized industry and the national Government. Like the English pioneers in their heyday, the present foreign competitors of the English epigoni have been free from the handicap of inheriting an older technique with a record of past efficacity which invites its present possessors to continue to bow down and worship it; and so, like the English pioneers, they have been free to make creative inventions. It is the English epigoni – in contrast to both their English predecessors and their foreign contemporaries – who are captivated by the idolization of an ephemeral technique; and the seriousness of the handicap can be gauged by the plight in which our English industry finds itself to-day.

In this light we can see that Great Britain is suffering doubly from her success, since 1914, in avoiding both the two calamities of invasion and inflation which have overtaken France and Germany respectively. It is not only that these two industrial competitors of hers have been positively strengthened by the stimulus of blows to which they have effectively responded. From the English point of view it is perhaps even more serious that Great Britain herself, in escaping these blows, has lost a golden opportunity of relieving herself from the incubus of her own industrial past. She might have faced an industrially rejuvenated France and Germany with less cause for apprehension if only the same stroke of Fortune which has reinvigorated them had at the same time shattered the British idol of an obsolete pioneer technique.

In other words, she failed to develop a coherent industrial policy. Her later industrialists were amateurs who did not fully understand or respect the craftsman and engineer. They were ignorant of science. The class system widened the gulf between them and their workforces.

The complacent “idolization of an ephemeral technique” is one of many forms of idolatry that Toynbee considers.

Correlli Barnett is a historian of, inter alia, Britain’s industrial decline. Pride and Fall sequence (the last paragraph but one is not a summary of its arguments):

The Collapse of British Power, Methuen, 1972

The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation, Macmillan, 1986

The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50, Macmillan, 1995

The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future, Macmillan, 2001

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

The Kamakura shogunate

November 28 2013

In Japan the period 935-1185 saw a progressive transfer of power and wealth from the exotic Imperial Court at Kyoto to provincial barons, and a concomitant lapse from domestic peace into civil disorder. The peace of the capital itself was disturbed more and more frequently and rudely by incursions of the armed forces of adjacent Buddhist monasteries. A civil war between two provincial families of Imperial descent, the Taira and the Minamoto, culminated in 1185 in the victory of Yoritomo Minamoto and his establishment of an effective dictatorship over the whole of Japan from a base at Kamakura – just beyond the southwestern extremity of the Kanto, the biggest of the rare plains on the main island, Honshu. [An hour out of Tokyo by train.] The Imperial Court and its sophisticated culture were allowed to survive at Kyoto, but the Kyoto Government was deprived of effective power. De facto, the Imperial Government at Kyoto had been controlled by regents belonging to the Fujiwara family since at least as early as 858, and, after Yoritomo Minamoto’s death in 1199, the regency for the Bakufu (military government) of the Shogun (Commander-in-Chief) at Kamakura was acquired in 1203 by the Hojo family, who stayed in the saddle till 1333 and maintained effectively, till about 1284, the regime that Yoritomo Minamoto had instituted.

Japan had never before been so efficiently governed as she was from 1185 to 1284, and the gross national product increased, though there was also an increase in the inequality of its distribution. Japan was fortunate in having a strong government during this century; for the Mongols invaded Japan in 1274, and again in 1281, after the completion of their conquest of the Sung Empire in 1279. On both occasions Japanese valour was assisted by storms that made havoc of the invaders’ ships. In 1274 the Mongols’ expeditionary force was small, and it broke off its attack after only one day’s fighting. In 1281 the invading force was on a large scale, and the attack was kept up for two months [before it was repulsed].

The military government of Kamakura was more in tune than the civil government at Kyoto with the cultural and social conditions of twelfth-century and thirteenth-century Japan. Yoritomo Minamoto and the Hojo regents who carried on his regime at Kamakura had contemporaries who played a corresponding role in the field of religion. The earliest forms of Mahayana Buddhism that were introduced into Japan via China and Korea were abstruse in their metaphysics – though some monasteries of these sects became crudely militaristic in their practice on Japanese soil. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Buddhism was presented to the Japanese people in simplified forms in which it was comprehensible and congenial to wider circles. A sect of Zen (Ch’an, Dhyana) Buddhism was introduced into Kamakura in 1191. The Zen spiritual technique of achieving sudden enlightenment through severely disciplined meditation was attractive to the soldiers [samurai].

Zen was the Japanese variant, introduced under the Kamakura shogunate, of Chán, a Chinese school of Mahayana Buddhism which emphasised dhyana, concentrated meditation.

Honen (1135-1212) [Jōdo-shū school] and Shinran (1173-1262) [Jōdo Shinshū school] appealed to the masses by concentrating on the repetition of the name of the bodhisattva Amida (Amitabha) as a talisman for securing admission, after death, to the “Pure Land”, Amida’s paradise.


Nichiren (1222-82) concentrated on chanting the praise of the Lotus Sutra. He was more akin to the ninth-century-B.C. Israelite prophets Elijah and Elisha than to any traditional Buddhist sage. Nichiren combated all other Buddhist sects, intervened actively in politics, got into trouble with the Bakufu, but won popularity by preaching resistance to the Mongols. Each of these twelfth-century and thirteenth-century Japanese simplified forms of Buddhism still had numerous adherents in the 1970s.

Toynbee himself, at the end of his life, knew and recorded a dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda.

Ikeda in his youth had joined a lay organisation founded in 1930 which propagated Nichiren Buddhism among the urban rootless called Soka Gakkai. In 1960 he became its President. In 1975 he set up Soka Gakkai International as an umbrella organisation for Soka Gakkai-affiliated groups around the world. After Toynbee’s death, the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood cut off relations with Soka Gakkai and Soka Gakkai International and excommunicated Ikeda.

Polly Toynbee on Ikeda.

Buddha Daibutsu, Kamakura

Mid-thirteenth century bronze Amida Buddha (a giant Buddha or Daibutsu) at the Jōdo-shū Kōtoku-in temple, Kamakura

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Twin assaults

November 27 2013

The Mongols invaded Japan in 1274, and again in 1281, after the completion of their conquest of the Sung Empire in 1279. On both occasions Japanese valour was assisted by storms that made havoc of the invaders’ ships. In 1274 the Mongols’ expeditionary force was small, and it broke off its attack after only one day’s fighting. In 1281 the invading force was on a large scale, and the attack was kept up for two months. The repulse of these two Mongol assaults on Japan had as momentous an effect on mankind’s history as the repulse of the two Persian assaults on European Greece in the fifth century B.C. [492-90 and 480-79] and as the failure of the two Muslim Arab sieges of Constantinople [674-78 and 717-18].

He could have added: “and as the failure of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna” (1529 and 1682-83).

The Persians never set foot on mainland Greek soil again, nor the Mongols on Japanese. The Arabs never returned to the walls of Constantinople, nor the Turks to the walls of Vienna.

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The pitchfork and the flute

November 23 2013

It was Human Nature that Horace had in mind when he wrote that Nature will always keep on coming back at you, even if you drive her out with a pitchfork; [footnote: “Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.” – Horace, Epistulae I, x, 24.] and, in the Subconscious Psyche’s repertory of “primordial images”, this Nature that is Man’s inseparable and intractable companion is expressively portrayed as a bull. This creature, far stronger physically than Man, which Man has precariously subjugated by the exercise of his Intellect and his Will, is an apt symbol for those subconscious principalities and powers in the Psyche which are so much more difficult for the Intellect and the Will to cope with than any veritably non-human living creature is.

Two antithetical alternative policies for coping with this psychic bull are commended in two significant myths. In the Mithraic myth a hero slays the monster and staggers forward with his victim’s inseparable carcase weighing on his shoulders. In the Zen Mahayanian Buddhist myth a boy-herdsman makes friends with the great ox and comes home riding on the monster’s back to the music of the rider’s flute. The boy’s deft diplomacy is a more effective way of dealing with Man’s problem than the hero’s crude resort to force; for the force which sometimes recoils upon its user, even when Non-Human Nature is its target, is a wholly inappropriate instrument for dealing with the psychic bull.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing

November 17 2013

A conversation […] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:

“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”

“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.

“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”

“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.

“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”

“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”

“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”

“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”

The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.

Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.

The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.

Britain in Yemen (old post).

List of British residents in Aden.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

The Grand Hotel in Yokohama

August 17 2013

“One afternoon I was sitting in the lounge of the Grand Hotel. This was before the earthquake and they had leather arm-chairs there. From the windows you had a spacious view of the harbour with its crowded traffic. There were great liners on their way to Vancouver and San Francisco or to Europe by way of Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Singapore; there were tramps of all nations, battered and sea-worn, junks with their high sterns and great coloured sails, and innumerable sampans. It was a busy, exhilarating scene, and yet, I know not why, restful to the spirit. Here was romance and it seemed that you had but to stretch out your hand to touch it.”

W Somerset Maugham, A Friend in Need, story in collection called Cosmopolitans, 1936.

___ Grand Hotel history, postcards, guide books. Including a photo of the ruin in 1923. Shows a complete guide circa 1920 to the hotel, Yokohama and Tokyo, 18 pp (site says 12), with a photo of the Lounge in which Maugham sat.

More at Old Photos of Japan and at Postcards of Japan.

Yokohama grew from almost nothing after the opening of Japan to foreign trade in 1853. The free port opened on June 2 1859 and became Japan’s new main port of entry.

1861, first English-language newspaper in Japan, the Japan Herald, published in Yokohama.

James Clavell’s Gai-Jin (1993), part of his Asian Saga, is set in Yokohama in 1862.

1865, first ice cream and beer in Japan made in Yokohama.

The Shogunate was abolished, and imperial rule restored in Tokyo, in 1868.

1870, first daily newspaper in Japan, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun.

Foreigners occupied a district called Kannai (関内, inside the barrier), which was surrounded by a moat, and were protected by their extraterritorial status within and outside it.

1872, first gas-powered street lamps in Japan.

1872, first railway in Japan, connecting the foreign enclave to Shinagawa and Shinbashi in Tokyo.

Jules Verne wrote about Yokohama, which he had never visited, in Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

The Grand Hotel opened on August 16 1873 and was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1 1923. Its position in the country was equivalent to that of the Taj in Bombay.

Chinese immigrants built a Chinatown.

1887, first power plant in Yokohama, built by a British merchant, Samuel Cocking. It became the basis for the Yokohama Cooperative Electric Light Company.

The city was incorporated on April 1 1889.

Kipling visited Japan in 1889 and 1892. See Hugh Cortazzi and George Webb, editors, Kipling’s Japan, Collected Writings, The Athlone Press, 1988.

“Letter” to the Pioneer in Allahabad in April or May 1889:

“The Grand is the Semi or Cottage Grand really, but you had better go there unless a friend tells you of a better. […] They are too fine and large [pretentious] at the Grand, and they don’t always live up to their grandeur; unlimited electric bells, but no one in particular to answer ’em; printed [not written] menu, but the first comers eat all the nice things, and so forth. None the less there are points about the Grand not to be despised. It is modelled on the American fashion, and is but an open door through which you may catch the first gust from the Pacific slope. Officially, there are twice as many English as Americans in the port. Actually, you hear no languages but French, German, or American in the street.”

Footnote: “At this time the Grand, at the west end of the Bund, was the principal hotel of Yokohama. According to an advertisement in the Handbook for Travellers (Chamberlain & Mason, 1894) it had ‘upwards of 100 apartments, and [is] surrounded by fine Verandahs over 200 feet long, making an extensive promenade, [and it] affords its occupants a magnificent view of the Harbour and a cool and pleasant residence, even in the hottest days of the sultry season’. It also had ‘fine Tennis Lawns and Walks’, and its own steam launch.” (My square brackets in the Letter extract, editors’ here.)

Next Letter:

“If you wander about the corridors of the Grand Hotel, you stop to play with Spanish Generals, all gold lace and spurs, or are captured by touts for curio-shops. It is not a nice experience to find a sahib in a Panama hat handing you the card of his firm for all the world like a Delhi silk-merchant. You are inclined to pity that man, until he sits down, gives you a cigar, and tells you all about his diseases, his past career in California, where he was always making money and always losing it, and his hopes for the future, in a language that he profoundly believes to be English. You see then that you are entering upon a new world. Talk to every one you meet, if they show the least disposition to talk to you, and you will gather, as I have done, a host of stories that will be of use to you hereafter. Unfortunately, they are not all fit for publication.”

That was more or less Maugham’s method in the “East” for gathering material for stories. Perhaps Conrad’s too.

Extraterritoriality was abolished in Japan for non-diplomatic personnel in 1899. Foreign residents were given more freedom of movement.

Jack London, Martin Eden (1908):

“Next his mind leaped to the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, where too, from the sidewalk, he had seen grand ladies. Then the city and the harbor of Yokohama, in a thousand pictures, began flashing before his eyes.”

The earthquake of September 1 1923 destroyed the whole city. The Koreans were accused of having used black magic to cause it. Martial law was in place until November 19. Rubble was used to reclaim land for Yamashita Park on the waterfront, which opened in 1930.

The Hotel New Grand was opened on a nearby site in 1927. The site of the old hotel is now occupied by the Yokohama Doll Museum.

Yokohama was destroyed again by over thirty US air raids during the Second World War, starting with the Doolittle Raid in 1942. Seven or eight thousand were killed in the morning of May 29 1945 in the Great Yokohama Air Raid, when B-29s reduced 42% of the city, or what remained of it, to rubble in one hour.

The New Grand Hotel survived. Douglas MacArthur stayed there on his first night in Japan during the Occupation. It became his headquarters. New Grand website.

During the Korean War, the US Navy used Yokohama as a transshipment base. After the Occupation, most US naval activity moved from Yokohama to an American base in the nearby Yokosuka, which still exists.

Yokohama is the vivid setting for Mishima’s unpleasant but brilliant The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1963 in Japanese, translation by John Nathan 1965). The New Grand Hotel is mentioned in it.

“Fusako glanced toward the prow. The gangplank had been raised; the last link between ship and shore was broken. The Rakuyo’s green-and-cream-colored side looked like the blade of a colossal ax fallen out of the heavens to cleave the shore asunder.”


C 1912, Grand Hotel (New Wing) viewed from the Bund side

Circa 1912, Grand Hotel (New Wing) viewed from the Bund side, photograph by Adolfo Farsari

Grand Hotel map, c 1898

Part of map from an 1898 The Grand Hotel, Limited, Guide Book for Yokohama and Immediate Vicinity

The full map is at Note the cricket ground, not something we associate with Japan. Foreign lots are pink, Japanese lots yellow, Japanese government lots green. The Grand Hotel is on lot 20 and adjacent. I presume that the whole area with the hotel and cricket ground is Kannai.

It was lithographed by The Box of Curios printing office in Yokohama, which also printed the 1920 guide book. The Box of Curios was an English-language magazine. Rakuten Kitazawa, the father of modern manga, worked on it in the second half of the 1890s.

Nagasaki and Yokohama (last post).

From Nagasaki to Yokohama

August 16 2013

Nagasaki was founded by the Portuguese in the second half of the sixteenth century on the site of a small fishing village.

From 1641 to 1853, the sole point of contact between Japan and the West were Dutch traders living on the artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay, in Kyushu, a long way from both Kyoto and Tokyo. The Tokugawa shoguns ruled in Edo (Tokyo) from 1603 to 1868.

Under sakoku, which had been set up by a series of laws in the 1630s, no foreigner, Western or not, could enter, nor could any Japanese leave, the country without permission on penalty of death. The rule did not change for Japanese until the Meiji restoration. The Dutch could not freely enter Japan, nor could Japanese enter the Dutch colony. Sakoku was Japan’s response to the challenge of the first encounter with the West, from 1542.

There was some trade with China and Korea, and with the virtually-independent Ryūkyū Kingdom to the south and the Ainu aborigines to the north. Chinese traders were permitted to reside in their own colony in Nagasaki (on Deshima?). Relations with the Chinese and the Dutch in Nagasaki fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Bakufu. Relations with Korea, the Ryūkyū Kingdom and the Ainu were controlled by feudal daimyo. In the Ryūkyū Islands and Korea, the clans in charge of the trade built trading towns outside Japanese territory. Was this done in defiance of the Bakufu? Did any traders visit China?

In 1853, Commodore Perry and his warships arrived in Tokyo Bay, just south of the small fishing village of Yokohama, to force Japan to trade. Was the colony on Deshima wound up in 1853 or slightly later?

The free port of Yokohama opened on June 2 1859 and became Japan’s new main port of entry. Edo (Tokyo) already had a port. Yokohama overtook it, but at some point it was overtaken by Tokyo: the largest ports today are Tokyo, followed by Yokohama, followed by Nagoya. Others, in no particular order, are Kobe, Osaka, Chiba, Kitakyushu, Nagasaki.

Perhaps one can symbolically end the Yokohama era in 1966, when the development plan for Narita airport, the new Tokyo airport which would displace Haneda, was published. After sustained resistance from farmers and others, it opened in 1978.


August 15 2013


Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.


Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

The coalescence of the Oikoumenê

June 12 2013

By the year A.D. 1952 the initiative and skill of Western Man had been engaged for some four and a half centuries in knitting together the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet by a system of communications that was unprecedented in the two features of being literally world-wide and being operated by a technique which was constantly surpassing itself at a perpetually accelerating pace. The wooden caravels and galleons, rigged for sailing in the eye of the wind, which had sufficed to enable the pioneer mariners of Modern Western Europe to make themselves masters of all the oceans, had given way [in the 1840s] to mechanically propelled iron-built ships of relatively gigantic size [some smaller steamships had wooden hulls]; “dirt-tracks” travelled by six-horse coaches had been replaced by macadamized and concrete-floored roads travelled by automobiles; railways had been invented to compete with roads, and aircraft to compete with all land-borne or water-borne conveyances. Concurrently, means of [instantaneous] communication which did not require the physical transportation of human bodies had been conjured up, and put into operation on a world-wide scale, in the shape of telegraphs, telephones, and wireless transmission – visual as well as auditory – by radio. The movement of sea-borne and airborne traffic had been made detectable at long range by radar. There had been no period in the history of any other civilization in which so large an area had been made so highly conductive for every form of human intercourse.

From this perspective, the creation of an electronic World Wide Web (for non-privileged users) in 1994 was the latest stage of a process that had begun with the discovery of Madeira by the Portuguese in 1419.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The January 28 Incident

May 22 2013

This was a pre-echo of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). The Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Shanghai on January 28 1932, ostensibly to crush Chinese student protests against the occupation of Manchuria in the previous year. The Chinese fought back. The two sides fought to a standstill. The League of Nations brokered a ceasefire in May.

After twenty years devoted to preliminary domestic exercises in civil wars, the Chinese peasant-soldier had won his spurs in his stubborn defence of an area in Greater Shanghai against a Japanese assault from the 28th January to the 3rd March 1932. [Footnote: See Toynbee, A. J., and Boulter, V. M.: Survey of International Affairs, 1932 (London 1933, Milford), pp. 480-95.] In psychology as well as in strategy this campaign had been reminiscent of the Russo-Turkish wars of A.D. 1828-9 and A.D. 1877-8, and it had been prophetic of China’s ultimate victory over Japan in a defensive war on a sub-continental scale that was to drag on from A.D. 1937 to A.D. 1945. At Shanghai in A.D. 1932, as in the Balkans in the nineteenth century, the moral victory had been won by the belligerent [Japan] who had managed by sheer endurance to postpone the hour of a defeat which he knew to be ultimately inevitable owing to the odds being overwhelmingly in his antagonist’s favour, while this ultimate victor [China] had been humiliated by having to take so long, and pay so high, to overcome the resistance of an antagonist who was notoriously not his match.

Not his match in the long run or in numbers, but in 1932 surely more than his match in everything else. The Chinese barely had an air force. An American army reservist and pilot, US Reserve Lt Robert McCawley Short, was in Shanghai to demonstrate a Boeing fighter biplane to the Chinese and decided to show it in action. He shot down an IJN aircraft on February 19. On February 22 he downed another and was shot down himself and killed. He was posthumously raised to the rank of colonel in the Republic of China Air Force.

Lt Robert McCawley Short

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

The faithful remnant

May 10 2013

The wholeheartedness of the conversion of at least a nucleus of the converts to Roman Catholic Christianity in Japan was attested by the survival of a “faithful remnant” underground for 231 years (A.D. 1637-1868) during which the penalty for detection was death.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Britten and Pears in Purcell in Tokyo

March 3 2013

February 9 1956.

The first song is an aria, usually for soprano, from the semi-opera The Indian Queen, libretto by by John Dryden and Sir Robert Howard.

“I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.
No more now, fond heart, with pride no more swell;
Thou canst not raise forces enough to rebel.
I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.
For love has more power and less mercy than fate,
To make us seek ruin and love those that hate.
I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.”

The second is a setting of Peter Anthony Motteux.

“Man is for the woman made,
And the woman for the man;
As the spur is for the jade,
As the scabbard for the blade,
As for digging is the spade,
As for liquor is the can,
So man is for the woman made,
And the woman for the man.

As the scepter’s to be sway’d,
As for night’s the serenade,
As for pudding is the pan,
And to cool us is the fan,
So man is for the woman made,
And the woman for the man.

Be she widow, be she maid,
Be she well or ill array’d,
Be she wanton, be she stayed,
Princess or harridan,
So man is for the woman made,
And the woman for the man.”

Those are the sung words. The original texts are slightly different. The keyboard arrangements are Britten’s.

Takemitsu for children

March 1 2013

Breeze and Clouds, the Piano Pieces for Children composed in 1978. Played by Megumi Fujita.

Boy with Cat, or Japanese song of summer

February 28 2013

Donald Richie (recent posts) made his own experimental films.

What is the sound, apart from the obsessive piano, in this mildly erotic nouvelle-vague-ish short from 1966? Obviously a kind of musique concrète. It’s a sublime soundtrack, even if you hear it away from the images.

I lived in Tokyo from July 1990 to the end of ’91 (to help open a publishing office). I’d done a reccy a few weeks before to look for a flat. I was lucky and found a freestanding unfurnished house in the centre of town, in Nishi-Azabu, on a leafy slope between Roppongi and Hiroo. Or in the angle (tangle) between the Shuto Expressway and the road leading to Hiroo.

The day before I was due to fly from London and move in, it occurred to me that it had no bed. My furniture was in the Panama Canal. I didn’t want to start this adventure in a hotel and I’d be landing too late to buy a futon. So I bought a folding bed and checked it in, feeling like the man in the parable.

The strangest thing is that, long before I had seen the house on the reccy, I’d been certain that I would live in one, and on a slope, and on the right as you walked up. So it was. It was on a lane that you entered as you left the road to Hiroo.

I like a sentence in Jonathan Rauch’s The Outnation, Harvard Business School Press, 1992: “Often you come upon neighborhoods in which the streets are so narrow that cars must negotiate them with care; the result is a glorious quiet, a Venetian calm.”

That is so true of Tokyo. Mine was not exactly like that. The lanes were a bit wider. There were trees. It was actually a patch of embassy-land (Greece, Romania), but not in the sterile gated way of a backward city. There were some quasi-’30s buildings. At its heart, towards Terebi-Asahi-dori, was a very large overgrown walled garden with a gloomily distinguished house at the centre of it.

My first sensory impression on arriving in my house on that hot July evening (no summers are as suffocating as Tokyo’s) was of the smell of tatami matting.

It was “western” on the ground floor and had paper doors and tatami on the first. It faced Hiroo and gave onto a garden via sliding doors in the main rooms on both levels. On the first floor, for its length, was a railed balcony. The rooms were separated from it by a wood-floored gallery. During typhoons, I’d pull all the doors open, turning it into a doll’s house.

Hydrangeas nodded into the dining room. The garden contained a stone frog and some real ones. (People think Tokyo is a sterile place.) The garden in the film looks exactly like it. The house and its relation to the garden are like mine, except for the ground-floor tatami. Could it have been it? I had been told that mine had belonged to an artist.

Below, at a short distance, was a school. The sound of a playground is the same everywhere. My house breathed. When you opened the front door in autumn, leaves would blow in.

I woke up on my first morning and heard the noise in Richie’s film. It was as loud as there. It couldn’t have been the singing of electricity in the ubiquitous Tokyo overground cables. Metal was being cut. I had moved opposite some light industry without noticing. I asked the real estate company. They sucked their teeth.

Then I stopped noticing it. And the smell of tatami receded slightly, but it must be overwhelmingly evocative in the minds of Japanese when they leave Japan.

It had been the sound of cicadas or semi singing in unison:

In 1993 I visited Tokyo and decided to take a look at the house, with a feeling of foreboding, knowing Tokyo’s impermanence, which is another name for its indestructibility. I turned off the main road, walked a few steps and saw a hole in the ground.

The Japanese song of summer:

Enter the Garden: Toru Takemitsu

February 27 2013

One reason Richie (below) would have known Toru Takemitsu is that Takemitsu, as well as being the first Japanese composer influenced by the western classical tradition to gain a worldwide audience, was a serious film buff, watching about 300 a year in cinemas.

He composed scores for over 100, including Kurosawa’s Ran.

Here is a charming and important 45-minute documentary which momentarily restored my faith in BBC Radio 3 when it was broadcast a few years ago:

“Takemitsu’s music, philosophy and personality are explored alongside his attraction to the metaphor of the garden – ‘I design gardens with music’ […].

“Including interviews with his daughter Maki, film directors Masahiro Shinoda and Peter Grilli, composer Dai Fujikura, conductor Oliver Knussen, pop musician David Sylvian, a gardener from the Hama Rikyu garden in Tokyo and a previously unheard interview with the composer himself, recorded in the early 1990s.”

Takemitsu was born in Tokyo in 1930. When he was a few weeks old, his father took the family to Manchuria, which the Japanese were about to invade. In 1937 he was sent back to Tokyo to live with relatives.

In 1944, while still a child, he was conscripted and posted to an army supply base. Here is that sweet enemy song composed by Jean LenoirParlez-moi d’amour, sung by Lucienne Boyer, which one of the soldiers smuggled in and which so enchanted him.

He was self-taught. His 1957 Requiem for Strings got him noticed by Stravinsky. He was influenced by Debussy, Messiaen, Cage, pop, many elements in Japanese music. His whole career was in Japan.

1993 interview.

He wrote a Zen detective novel and published a cookbook.

I discovered his music when I was living in Tokyo (so was he), through the Varèse Sarabande CD of In an Autumn Garden for gagaku ensemble. (It would be hard to imagine anything further from Percy Grainger.) I followed that with November Steps, A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden and others.

The documentary begins and ends with one of his hits, the waltz from Hiroshi Teshigahara’s film Tanin no kaoThe Face of AnotherHere it is sung in German in the film. Here is the version for orchestra (the middle section is feeble).

Below, music for Rikyu, Teshigahara’s film about the sixteenth-century master of the Japanese tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū. It is quoted in the documentary. Does it quote something European?

Richie on film

February 26 2013

On Yasujirō Ozu (Richie only in part):

On Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (with others):

On Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar:

Donald Richie

February 25 2013

Three gay Americans – Edward Seidensticker, Donald Keene and Donald Richie – were brought to Japan directly or indirectly by the Second World War and became its cultural interpeters to the English-speaking world for the next two generations.

Donald Richie has just died, aged 88. Edward Seidensticker died in 2007. Donald Keene is alive at 90.

They followed in an American tradition which included Lafcadio Hearn and Ruth Benedict.

I’m surprised at the lack of coverage of Richie’s death in the UK and American press. Here is the Guardian on him. Here is the New York Times. He was sometimes a fine writer of English. He was an interpreter of Japanese cinema, but he wrote about many things. Wikipedia has a list of his books. It’s best to begin with The Inland Sea. The œuvre is distilled in Arturo Silva, editor, The Donald Richie Reader, 50 Years of Writing on Japan, Berkeley, California, Stone Bridge Press, 2001.

Richie arrived in 1947 with the occupation forces. Guardian:

“Though recognised as the most important figure in introducing Japanese cinema to the west, Richie saw himself as a writer foremost and a film critic secondarily. His fictional work includes Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai: A Historical Novel (1999) [set in the twelfth century], A View from the Chuo Line and Other Stories (2004) and Tokyo Nights (2005). His interests stretched to […] the country’s literature (Japanese Literature Reviewed, 2003), modern fashion (The Image Factory, 2003) and travel. Twenty years after its publication, his personal travelogue The Inland Sea (1971) was turned into an award-winning documentary by Lucille Carra and Brian Cotnoir. Richie narrated the film himself.


“In the late 1940s, Richie’s articles on such topics as kabuki drama, ikebana (the art of flower arrangement) and Japanese festivals were published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes [my link] US military magazine, and marked the beginning of a lifelong exploration of the country’s culture and lifestyle. However, he always remained strongly aware of his intermediary status [as outsider].

“Upon returning to Japan in 1954, after taking a degree in English from Columbia University, he supported himself by teaching at Waseda University, in Tokyo, and writing film and literary criticism for the Japan Times, which he continued to do until suffering […] a stroke in 2009. Over the decades he mingled with the novelists Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata, the actor Toshiro Mifune, the composer Toru Takemitsu, the Zen Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki and another great western chronicler and translator of Japanese culture, Edward Seidensticker. Richie also played host to foreign guests including Truman Capote, Igor Stravinsky, W Somerset Maugham, Susan Sontag and Francis Ford Coppola. Yet, apart from his marriage to the American writer Mary Evans between 1961 and 1965, […] Richie spent his time in Tokyo living alone.”


From A Taste of Japan, Kodansha International, 1985, quoted in The Donald Richie Reader:

“Whoever said Japanese cuisine was all presentation and no food was, of course, quite wrong, but one can at the same time understand how such a statement came to be made, particularly if one comes from a country where it is simply enough that food looks decent and tastes alright.

“Actually, the presentational ethos so much part of the Japanese cuisine continues right into the mouth. Is there any other cuisine, I wonder, which makes so much of texture, as divorced from taste? The West, of course, likes texture, but only when it is appropriate and never when it is tasteless. Consequently, the feel of the steak in the mouth, the touch of the clam on the tongue are part of the Western eating experience, but they are not enjoyed for their own sakes. Rather these sensations are enjoyed as harbingers of taste.

“Japan is, again, quite different. There are, in fact, not a few foods that are used for texture alone. Kannyaku (devil’s tongue jelly) has no taste to speak of though it has an unforgettable texture. Tororo (grated mountain yam) again has much more feel than flavor. Udo looks like and feels much like celery but it tastes of almost nothing at all. Fu, a form of wheat gluten, has no taste, except the flavor of whatever surrounds it. Yet all are prized Japanese foods.

“The reason is that the Japanese appreciate texture almost as much as they appreciate taste. The feel of the food, like its appearance, is of prime importance. The West, on the other hand, does not like extreme textures. Those few Westerners who do not like sushi or sashimi never say that it does not taste good. Rather, it is the texture they cannot stand – the very feel of the food.

“Not only do the Japanese like textures, they have turned their consideration into one more aesthetic system governing the cuisine. Textures, runs the unwritten rule, ought to be opposite, complementary. The hard and the soft, the crisp and the mealy, the resilient and the pliable. These all make good and interesting combinations and these, too, have their place within this presentational cuisine.

“There are other aesthetic considerations as well but this is a good place to stop and take stock of what we have so far observed. For review let us take a very simple dish, a kind of elemental snack, something to eat while drinking, a Japanese canapé. Let us see how it contrives to satisfy the aesthetic demands of Japanese cuisine.

“The dish is morokyu, baby cucumber with miso (bean paste, usually consumed with sake, more often nowadays with beer. Let us look at its qualities. First, the colors are right; fresh green and darkish red is considered a proper combination. Second, the portions are small enough so that their patterns can be appreciated – the dish consists of just one small cucumber cut up into sticks and a small mound of miso. Third, the arrangement and plate complement each other. The round mound of miso (yamamori) is considered operative, so the dish is served on a long, flat, narrow plate, thus emphasizing the very roundness of the bean paste. The length of the cucumber – and it is always cut along its length, never its width – stretches away from the miso and emphasizes the emptiness and again, by contrast, the fullness of the food. Fourth, the dish should be redolent of summer, since morokyu is mainly eaten in warm weather. So the dish should be untextured, unornamented, of a light color – white, pale blue, or a faint celadon green – thus emphasizing the seasonal nature of morokyu itself. Fifth, the textures are found to blend. The cool crispness of the cucumber complements perfectly the mealy, soft, and pungent miso.

“Let’s see, is there anything else? Oh, yes, almost forgot – the taste. Well, morokyu tastes very good indeed, the firm salty miso fitting and complementing the bland and watery flavor of the cucumber. But it is perhaps telling that, with so much going on in this most presentational of cuisines, it is the taste that one considers last. Perhaps it is also fitting. The taste of this cuisine lingers.

“Naturally, one cannot compare the taste of a few slices of fresh fish and almost raw vegetables with, let us say, one of the great machines of the French cuisines, all sauces and flavors. And yet, because it is made of so little, because there is so little on the plate, because what there is is so distinctly itself, Japanese cuisine makes an impression that is just as distinct as that of the French.

“This is because the taste is so fresh, because the taste is that of the food itself and not the taste of what has been done to it. The sudden freshness of Japanese cuisine captures attention as does a whisper in the midst of shouts. One detects, in presentation and in flavor, authenticity. Things are introduced and eaten in varying degrees of rawness, nothing is overcooked; one feels near the food in its natural state. Indeed, one is often very near it because so much Japanese food (cut bite-sized in the kitchen and arranged on plates before being brought out) is cooked or otherwise prepared at the table, right in front of you.

“Japanese cuisine is, finally, unique in its attitude toward food. This ritual, presentational cuisine, which so insists upon freshness and naturalness, rests upon a set of assumptions concerning food and its place in life. Eventually, the cuisine itself depends upon the Japanese attitude toward the environment, toward nature itself.

“These assumptions are many. First, one will have noticed that the insistence upon naturalness implies a somewhat greater respect for the food than is common in other cuisines. At the same time, however, it is also apparent that respect consists of doing something to present naturalness. In other words, in food as in landscape gardens and flower arrangements, the emphasis is on a presentation of the natural rather than the natural itself. It is not what nature has wrought that excites admiration but what man has wrought with what nature has wrought.”


Imperialists, westernisers, intelligentsias

November 15 2012

Before the Industrial Revolution, Man had devastated patches of the biosphere. For instance, he had caused mountain-sides to be denuded of soil by felling the trees that previously had saved the soil from being washed away. Man had cut down forests faster than they could be replaced, and he had mined metals that were not replaceable at all. But, before he had harnessed the physical energy of inanimate nature in machines on the grand scale, Man had not had it in his power to damage and despoil the biosphere irremediably. Till then, the air and the ocean had been virtually infinite, and the supply of timber and metals had far exceeded Man’s capacity to use them up. When he had exhausted one mine and had felled one forest, there had always been other virgin mines and virgin forests still waiting to be exploited. By making the Industrial Revolution, Man exposed the biosphere, including Man himself, to a threat that had no precedent.

The Western peoples had begun to dominate the rest of mankind before the Industrial Revolution. In the sixteenth century the Spaniards had subjugated the Meso-American and Andean peoples and had annihilated their civilizations. In the course of the years 1757-64 the British East India Company had become the virtual sovereign of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. In 1799-1818 the British subjugated all the rest of the Indian subcontinent to the south-east of the River Sutlej. They had a free hand because they held the command of the sea and because in 1809 they made a treaty with Ranjit Singh, a Sikh empire-builder, in which the two parties accepted the line of the Sutlej as the boundary between their respective fields of conquest. In 1845-9 the British went on to conquer and annex the Sikh empire in the Punjab. Meanwhile, in 1768-74, Russia had defeated the Ottoman Empire decisively; in 1798 the French had temporarily occupied Egypt, and in 1830 they had started to conquer Algeria; in 1840 three Western powers and Russia had evicted the insubordinate Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, from Syria and Palestine. In 1839-42 the British had defeated China dramatically. In 1853 an American naval squadron compelled the Tokugawa Government of Japan to receive a visit from it. The Japanese recognized that they were powerless to prevent this unwelcome visit by force of arms.

These military successes of Western powers and of one Westernized Eastern Orthodox power, Russia, were won at the cost of occasional reverses. In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese were evicted forcibly from both Japan and Abyssinia. A British army that invaded Afghanistan in 1839-42 was annihilated. Yet by 1871 the Western powers and Russia were dominant throughout the World.

Even before the Industrial Revolution in Britain the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great, had recognized that the only means by which a non-Western state could save itself from falling under Western domination was the creation of a new-model army on the pattern of the Western armies that were being created in Peter’s time, and Peter also saw that this Western-style army must be supported by a Western-style technology, economy, and administration. The signal military triumphs of the Western powers and of a Westernized Russia over non-Westernized states between 1757 and 1853 moved the rulers of some of the threatened states to do what Peter the Great had done.

Eminent examples of Westernizing statesmen in the first century after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain are Ranjit Singh (ruled 1799-1839), the founder of the Sikh successor-state, in the Punjab, of the Abdali Afghan Empire; Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman Padishah’s viceroy in Egypt from 1805 to 1848; the Ottoman Padishah Mahmud II (ruled 1808-39); King Mongkut of Thailand (ruled 1851-68); and the band of Japanese statesmen that, in the Emperor’s name, liquidated the Tokugawa regime and took the government of Japan into its own hands in 1868. These Westernizing statesmen have had a greater effect on the history of the Oikoumenê than any of their Western contemporaries. They have kept the West’s dominance within limits, and they have done this by propagating, in non-Western countries, the modern West’s way of life.

While the achievements of all the Westernizers mentioned above are remarkable, the Japanese makers of the Meiji Revolution were outstandingly successful. They themselves were members of the hitherto privileged, though impoverished, traditional military class, the samurai; the Tokugawa Shogunate succumbed after offering only a minimal resistance; a majority of the samurai acquiesced peacefully in the forfeiture of their privileges; a minority of them that rebelled in 1877 was easily defeated by a new Western-style Japanese conscript army composed of peasants who, before 1868, had been prohibited from bearing arms.

Muhammad Ali and Mahmud II did not have so smooth a start. Like Peter the Great, they found that they could not begin to build up a Western-style army till they had liquidated a traditional soldiery. Peter had massacred the Muscovite Streltsy (“Archers”) in 1698-9; Muhammad Ali massacred the Egyptian Mamluks in 1811, and Mahmud II massacred the Ottoman janizaries in 1826. The new Western-style armies all gave a good account of themselves in action. Muhammad Ali began building his new army in 1819 and a navy in 1821; in 1825 his well-drilled Egyptian peasant conscript troops almost succeeded in re-subjugating for his suzerain Mahmud II the valiant but undisciplined Greek insurgents. The Greeks were saved only by the intervention of France, Britain, and Russia, who destroyed the Egyptian and Turkish fleets in 1827 and compelled Muhammad Ali’s son Ibrahim to evacuate Greece in 1828. In 1833 Ibrahim conquered Syria and was only prevented from marching on Istanbul by Russia’s intervention on Mahmud II’s behalf. Muhammad Ali’s army was more than a match for Mahmud’s because he had been able to make an earlier start in building it up. Mahmud could not start before 1826, the year in which he destroyed the janizaries; yet, in the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-9, his new-model peasant conscript army put up a much stiffer resistance than the old Ottoman army in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1768-74, 1787-92, and 1806-12.

Ranjit Singh, like his contemporary Muhammad Ali, engaged former Napoleonic officers as instructors. The British succeeded in defeating the Western-trained Sikh army in 1845-6 and again in 1848-9, but these two wars cost the British a greater effort and heavier casualties than their previous conquest of the whole of India outside the Punjab.

Rulers who set out to Westernize non-Western countries could not do this solely with the aid of a few Western advisers and instructors. They had to discover or create, among their own subjects, a class of Western-educated natives who could deal with Westerners on more or less equal terms and could serve as intermediaries between the West and the still un-Westernized mass of their own fellow-countrymen. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Ottoman Government had found this newly needed class, ready to hand, among Greek Ottoman subjects who were acquainted with the West through having been educated there or having had commercial relations with Westerners. Peter the Great in Russia, Muhammad Ali in Egypt, and the British in India had to create the intermediary class that they, too, needed. In Russia this class came to be called the intelligentsia, a hybrid word composed of a French root and a Russian termination. During the years 1763-1871, an intelligentsia was called into existence in every country that either fell under Western rule or saved itself from suffering this fate by Westernizing itself sufficiently to succeed in maintaining its political independence. Like the industrial entrepreneurs and the wage-earning industrial workers who made their appearance in Britain in the course of this century, the non-Western intelligentsia was a new class, and by the 1970s it had made at least as great a mark on mankind’s history.

The intelligentsia was enlisted or created by governments to serve these governments’ purposes, but the intelligentsia soon realized that it held a key position in its own society, and in every case it eventually took an independent line. In 1821 the ex-Ottoman Greek Prince Alexander Ypsilantis’s invasion of the Ottoman Empire taught the Ottoman Government that its Greek intelligentsia was a broken reed. In 1825 a conspiracy of Western-educated Russian military officers against Tsar Nicholas I was defeated and was suppressed, but it was a portent of things to come, and this not only in Russia but in a number of other Westernizing countries.

To live between two worlds, which is an intelligentsia’s function, is a spiritual ordeal, and in Russia in the nineteenth century this ordeal evoked a literature that was not surpassed anywhere in the World in that age. The novels of Turgenev (1818-83), Dostoyevsky (1821-81), and Tolstoy (1828-1910) became the common treasure of all mankind.

See the eighth volume of the Study and the Reith lectures.

Vasily Timm, The Decembrist revolt, painted 1853, St Petersburg, Hermitage

The scampering boy in the foreground appears in so many works of this period and somewhat earlier. In British prints he sometimes rolls a hoop and is followed by a scampering dog.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. […]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture […] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The Mahayana and the masses

October 18 2012

In [the] first chapter of its history in Japan [sixth century onwards] the Mahāyāna, while nominally professed by all subjects of the Emperor, was not in fact comprehended and assimilated by Japanese souls outside the narrow limits of a sophisticated court circle. The propagation of the Mahāyāna among the masses, in popular forms which the common man could understand, did not begin until after the onset of a “Time of Troubles” [and of a feudal age] in the latter part of the twelfth century of the Christian Era […].

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Five roads from Edo

October 17 2012

The Five Routes (五街道Gokaidō) were five roads (kaidō) that started at Nihonbashi (the Japan Bridge over the Nihonbashi River, a tributary of the Sumida River; a river named after a bridge) in Edo, ie Tokyo, during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868).

The most important was the Tōkaidō, which linked Edo with Kyoto, the seat of the irrelevant Emperor.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, started the construction of the roads. Post stations (宿場shukuba) were set up so that travellers could rest and buy supplies. Enlarge map (will open in a separate window).


The Ōshū Kaidō had 27 stations, running north to Mutsu Province (now in Fukushima Prefecture, the area affected by the recent earthquake). Ōshū is another name for Mutsu.

The Nikkō Kaidō, Nikko Road, had 21 stations, connecting with Nikkō Tōshō-gū (now in Tochigi Prefecture).

The Kōshū Kaidō had 44 stations, connecting with Kai Province (now Yamanashi Prefecture) and ending at the Shimosuwa-shuku, the 29th stop on the Nakasendō. Kōshū is another name for Kai.

The Nakasendō (or Kisokaidō), Central Mountain Road (or Kiso Road), the longest, had 69 stations and ran through the centre of Honshu to Kyoto.

The Tōkaidō, East Sea Road, the most famous, had 53 stations and ran along the Pacific coast to Kyoto. Hiroshige made a series of prints of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. (He made another of Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital.)

That makes 214 organised stops on a feudal Gokaido. The Japanese had no mental barriers to overcome when it came to organising railways and subway systems.

At the beginning of her authentically recorded history, Japan was a unitary empire, and in 1868 she became a unitary empire again. During the seven centuries ending in 1868 [from the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, until the Meiji “restoration”] the political map of Japan was a mosaic of local states which had been held together during the latest two and a half of those centuries [Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1868] under the hegemony of the most powerful of them, but, except for Sakai, these Japanese states had not been city-states. They had been feudal states, each of them ruled from a castle by a baron [daimyo] commanding a war-band of retainers [samurai].


In Japan the Great North-East Road, running up the south-eastern side of the Main Island [Honshu] from the civil capital at Kyoto in the interior to the successive military capitals at Kamakura and Yedo [Kyoto had also been the military capital under the Ashikaga shoguns, from 1337 to 1573], served first to secure the conquests made by the Far Eastern Civilization in Japan at the expense of the Ainu barbarians and afterwards to bring and keep Yamato [the area around Nara in which the Japanese state first emerged] under the domination of the Kwanto [Kantō] – as the new northern marches came to be called, after the name of the road by which they had been opened up. Under the Tokugawa régime, which provided the Far Eastern Society in Japan with its universal state, this trunk road and its branches ministered to the policy of the Shogun’s government at Yedo as an instrument not only for keeping an eye on the impotent Imperial Court at Kyoto, but also for the more formidable task of keeping to heel the feudal lords all over the Empire – especially those “Outside Lords” (Tozama) whose houses had once been rivals of the Tokugawa in the grim struggle for power at the climax of a Japanese Time of Troubles.

These daimyō were required by the Shogun to reside in Yedo, with their principal retainers, for so many months in the year, and to leave their wives and families there as hostages when they themselves were in residence in their fiefs, with the triple object of keeping them under supervision, loosening their personal hold on the fiefs from which they drew their political and military strength, and weakening them financially by putting them under social pressure to live, while in the capital, in a style beyond their means. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, a Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 436; Sadler, A. L.: A Short History of Japan (Sydney 1946, Angus & Robertson), p. 217.] The migration, twice a year, of these feudal lords, with their retinues, between their fiefs in the provinces and their residences in the capital was one of the distinctive features of Japanese life in the Tokugawa Age; and the grand trunk road and its ramifications were the media of communication for their perpetual coming and going. While the Government were interested in seeing the means of communication kept up sufficiently well to serve this police purpose, they were equally interested in seeing to it that they should not be kept up well enough to tempt disaffected feudal forces into planning a convergent march on the capital; and they “deliberately refrained from building bridges and otherwise facilitating communications on the main lines of approach to Yedo”. [Footnote: Sansom, op. cit., p. 437. Perhaps their scholars had reminded them of the unintended and untoward service that the roads built by Ts’in She Hwang-ti had once rendered to the rebels who had overthrown his regime a few years after his death […].]

He says that the Tōkaidō ran from Kyoto to Edo. It would be better to put it the other way round.

He is implying that a road existed between the Kanto and Yamato regions before the seventeenth century. As it must have done.

Tōkaidō, 1865, by Felice Beato

Daimyo residences, Edo, 1865 or ’66, demolished after the Shogunate ended; coloured print after Felice Beato

Hiroshige’s 55th print: the end of the Tōkaidō and arrival at Kyoto (the first shows the beginning of the journey at Nihonbashi)

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970 (first quotation)

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Hits of 1962

October 5 2012

The first Beatles single and the first James Bond film – Love Me Do and Dr No – were released 50 years ago today in the UK.

More 1962:

The Brazilian Girl from IpanemaGarota de Ipanema. Far too well known to post.

The cosmic Telstar (released August 17 in UK):

The Japanese Sukiyaki (not quite 1962: released Japan 1961, arrived UK and US 1963):

In Japan it was Ue o Muite Arukō, 上を向いて歩こう, I Will Walk Looking Up. Sukiyaki was a meaningless title used in the West. Sakamoto died on Japan Airlines Flight 123 on August 12 1985.

The Russian Midnight in Moscow (released USSR 1955-56, hit in the West 1961-62); the famous version in the West was an arrangement by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen:

In Russia it was Podmoskovnye VecheraПодмосковные вечера, Evenings in Moscow Oblast.

Here’s Van Cliburn doing it in Moscow:

Cliburn was the young Texan who won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. It was one of the great cultural episodes of the Cold War, like Gould’s visit (1957), Nureyev’s defection (1961) and Stravinsky’s return visit (1962 again). Cliburn’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s first concerto and Rachmaninoff’s third gave him an eight-minute standing ovation. The judges asked permission of Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Then give him the prize.” It was the year after Sputnik. Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York. This clip may be from his visit of 1962 for the second competition. The first prize then was shared by Vladimir Ashkenazy and John Ogdon.

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held first in 1962 in Fort Worth.

The real Telstar (launched Cape Canaveral July 10; note mention of Toynbee):

The cup of Lethe

July 15 2012

Love has […] become the axle-tree of the vehicle of the Mahāyāna; and its conquest of Buddhism is more surprising than its outburst in Christianity; for the Christian religion of Love is in conscious and deliberate revolt against the Stoic philosophy of Detachment, whereas the Mahayanian religion of Love purports to be fulfilling the Hinayanian law and not destroying it – though, in Hinayanian eyes, the Mahayanian Bodhisattva is a Hinayanian arhat manqué […]. The Bodhisattva is in fact an arhat who, at the moment when his age-long efforts to attain Detachment have brought him at last to the brink of Nirvāna, refrains from immediately entering into his rest through taking the final step that would precipitate him into the bliss of self-annihilation, and decides, instead, to postpone the consummation of his own spiritual career – and this, may be, for countless ages more – in order to devote himself to the self-imposed task of helping other beings, by communicating to them some of the light of his own enlightenment […] (see Thomas, E. J.: The History of Buddhist Thought (London 1933, Kegan Paul), pp. 169-72). A follower of Christ will agree with the follower of the Mahāyāna that the Bodhisattva who, for love of his fellows, forbears to drink of the liberating elixir of Lethe when the cup is at his lips, is overcoming the Self in a far profounder sense than the arhat who exercises his duly earned right to consummate his own self-annihilation without being deterred by any pity for a groaning and travailing creation. The labour of Love to which the Bodhisattva dedicates himself is not unworthy to be compared with the self-sacrifice of Christ […]. […]

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Draftee from Kamisuwa

July 6 2012

This is in the Wikipedia article on the Japanese flag – Nisshōki, or Hinomaru – and needs to be seen enlarged (bigger than a laptop screen). It was posted by Takato Marui from Osaka. The date is August 17 1939. It shows the “enrollment of my granduncle. The text of the sash says ‘Draftee from Kamisuwa’.”

Marui has more on Flickr. Suwa city is in Nagano prefecture.

The flag on the right shows its conventional design from 1870 to the present. On the left is the variant sun disc with sixteen red rays in a Siemens star formation which was used by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1870 to 1945 and, in a different form, the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1889 to ’45. To the dismay of all other East Asian countries, it was re-adopted for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in ’54.

Where is the conscript off to? Obviously, China. Japan had been, as Toynbee would have said, intoxicated by a string of victories. It had defeated China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and Russia in 1905 and had been on the Allied side in the First World War. In 1931, it had occupied Manchuria and from there, in 1937, it had launched a full-scale invasion of China. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45 was the largest-scale war in Asia in the twentieth century.

The Japanese had been drilled into a submission to ultranationalist causes. In war, their human feelings were suppressed further than war normally suppresses them. Spontaneity, and often even common sense, were sacrificed to strict performance of the soldier’s role. Relationship between the new ethos and the ethos of the samurai. Effect on soldiers of the propagation of myths of the Emperor and of Japan through State Shinto. The British who fought the Japanese in Burma and Malaya, or were enslaved by them, spoke more bitterly about their cruelty than their fellow-soldiers spoke about the Germans. They would not forgive them.

Despite the earlier victories – there would be many more in the early stages of the Pacific War – there is a conspicuous look of strain on most of the faces in the photograph. And, in fact, in 1939, things were no longer going well in China. The war seemed to have reached a stalemate. The Japanese were losing many men. They were fighting the Russians at the Manchurian border as well. It was expensive. They had started to meet the resistance of the Kuomintang, who were headquartered at Chongqing, with the repeated indiscriminate bombing of Chinese cities. The photograph was taken just on the eve of their unprecedented defeats at Changsha and at Guangxi.

It isn’t polite to write about a photograph some of whose subjects might still be living, but Mr Marui has placed it in the public domain. There could be many reasons for the expression on their faces. One might have expected such a send-off to be solemn (the Japanese tended to look solemn in photographs), but the faces are sombre and troubled. Toynbee would have told us that they betray not only a response to immediate events, but a “schism in the soul”. It was an ordeal to live in a society in which so many were required to kill. State Shinto and its causes opposed the calls of Buddhism and of common kindness. Perhaps they knew unconsciously that they were heading towards disaster. But the main subject of the picture looks as if he is already fighting. I am not sure that I would like to have met Mr Marui’s granduncle in the Malayan jungle.

The Ashikaga shogunate

May 23 2012

Background in May 21 post.

An attempt to re-establish a civilian government […] was made immediately after the downfall, in A.D. 1333, of the military regency which had been ruling Japan from Kamakura since A.D. 1184. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, A Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 319: Murdoch, J.: A History of Japan, vol. i (London 1910, Kegan Paul), p. 539. The civilian Imperial Government at Kyoto had made one previous attempt, as early as A.D. 1221 [the Jōkyū War], to overthrow the Kamakura Bakufu (ibid., p. 442).] This rally, however, was abortive. Within five years the restored civilian régime had been superseded by a new military regency which was not the less true to type because it made the conciliatory gesture of establishing its official headquarters at Kyoto – the ancient Imperial Capital – instead of simply entrenching itself in the north-eastern stronghold from which Japan had been ruled for 150 years by Minamoto Yoritomo and his successors. This swift reversion to Militarism was the first symptom of a fresh rout. In the days of the Shoguns of the Ashikaga Dynasty who succeeded one another at Kyoto from A.D. 1338 until the last of the line was hustled off the stage by Hideyoshi in A.D. 1597, Japan suffered worse tribulations than she had known in the days of the previous line of Shoguns who had succeeded one another at Kamakura from 1184 to 1333.

The immediate sequel to the establishment of the Ashikaga Shogunate was the unprecedented scandal of a schism of the Imperial House itself into two rival courts. This enormity, which was a sin against religious ritual as well as a breach of political etiquette, had to be atoned for by fifty-five years of civil war (gerebatur A.D. 1337-92); and, even when the Ashikaga Shogunate – acting in the name of the court which was its puppet – eventually succeeded in suppressing the rival court which had refused to acknowledge its title, the tale of calamities did not cease. In the fifteenth century of the Christian Era a feudal anarchy which the Shoguns were impotent to reduce to order goaded an intolerably oppressed peasantry into a chronic state of revolt and stimulated the monasteries to militarize themselves – in flat defiance of all precepts of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicle – as the only alternative to becoming the lay militarists’ victims. In the War of Onin (gerebatur A.D. 1467-77) the Imperial City of Kyoto was devastated by street-fighting between contending provincial forces who made the capital their arena. In the sixteenth century the Shoguns were overtaken by the ignominious fate which their predecessors had inflicted on the Emperors. The Shogun’s de jure powers were now exercised de facto by a Kwanryo [technically the governor of the eight provinces of the Kanto region]; and this travesty of government by the deputy of a deputy was perhaps the one thing worse than no government at all. [Footnote: The century between the opening of the War of Onin in A.D. 1467 and Nobunaga’s assumption of dictatorial powers de facto in A.D. 1568 seems to have been the worst phase of the whole of the Japanese “Time of Troubles” (Sansom, op. cit., pp. 394. 5 and 419-40).] [In the same way, the shikken regents had ruled on behalf of the Kamakura shoguns.] This was the state of misery to which Japan had been reduced by the second paroxysm of her “Time of Troubles” [the first was under the Kamakura shoguns] before her convulsed and writhing frame was forced into a strait-waistcoat by the successive exertions of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and Ieyasu (militabant A.D. 1549-1615).

The ensuing Pax Tokugawica – the Universal State which ended a Time of Troubles which had begun, in Toynbee’s view, with the military revolutions of the twelfth century – was cut short by the second collision of Japan with the West.

Kamakura is northeast of Kyoto, but should it be described as a “north-eastern stronghold”?

Other footnotes in this passage give further references to Sansom and Murdoch.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

A Japanese city-state

May 21 2012

Japan […] has produced only one solitary city-state, Sakai.

Sakai, near Osaka, was an autonomous city run by merchant citizens which flourished during the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate, 1337-1573.

Ashikaga is the name of the clan. Muromachi comes from the Muromachi Street of Kyoto where the third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, established his residence.

At the beginning of her authentically recorded history, Japan was a unitary empire, and in 1868 she became a unitary empire again. During the seven centuries ending in 1868 [from the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, until the Meiji “restoration”] the political map of Japan was a mosaic of local states which had been held together during the latest two and a half of those centuries [Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1868] under the hegemony of the most powerful of them, but, except for Sakai, these Japanese states had not been city-states. They had been feudal states, each of them ruled from a castle by a baron [daimyo] commanding a war-band of retainers [samurai].

The shoguns were military dictators. Kamakura was the city, thirty miles southwest of Tokyo, where the Kamakura shoguns were based. The most decentralised of the shogunates had been the Muromachi.

The establishment of the shogunate or bakufu at the end of the twelfth century saw the beginning of a de facto samurai control of Japan which lasted for seven hundred years, until the Meiji Restoration.

So three shogunates:

Kamakura (at Kamakura) 1185-1333
Muromachi or Ashikaga (at Kyoto) 1337-1573
Tokugawa (at Edo) 1603-1868

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo, was from the Matsudaira clan of daimyos in Mikawa province and gained supremacy at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

In what way did the pre-Tokugawa shoguns not “hold together” the feudal states? Was it a matter of the degree of centralisation? Parts of Mikawa province (and others?) were administered directly by the bakufu. I assume that it also controlled directly some land around Edo.

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

The significant experience

April 11 2012

In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

The World and the West

March 6 2012

This is from the first of the 1952 BBC radio Reith Lectures, given under the title The World and the West. I posted the fourth, The Far East and the West, here. Background on Reith Lectures here.

In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.

Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.

This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.

That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.

1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.

The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.

In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west […], has had the significant experience

is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.

I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.

The lectures were published in book form as

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

Revolving restaurants

February 9 2012

A list.

The one at the New Otani in Tokyo

Salvation and the Mediterranean diet

December 3 2011

How can a sacrament that is thus indissolubly associated with the regional diet of Homo Mediterraneus be expected to serve as a means of grace for the rice-eating majority of Mankind, in continents where the vine does not grow, and in archipelagos that know no name for bread? [Footnote: The writer of this Study vividly remembers how forcibly his own provincialism was borne in upon him when – landing in Japan in the autumn of A.D. 1929, and making his way up country from Nara to Koya San, the Mahayanian Olympus – he found himself compelled to ask for an unobtainable form of food in Portuguese, because, in the Japanese language, there was no indigenous word for “bread”.]

The loan word was and is pan (パン), from pão. Portuguese wine was chintashu (珍陀酒), combining tinto, red, whence chinta, and shu (), liquor. Nowadays the word is wain (ワイン). (There were no olives in Japan either, or tomatoes.) Rice is the staple food of about half the world’s population, but perhaps not of the majority.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

No surrender: Japanese holdouts

October 26 2011

List at

Hiroo Onoda, who now lives in Brazil