Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Earthquake in Japan – A Tokyo Perspective

March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake hit 81 miles off the northeastern coast of Japan causing tsunamis which created huge amounts of damage and as of yet untold loss of life.

In Tokyo we felt the affects over 200 miles away. That was the worse quake I had ever experienced. My room shook violently and things began cascading off my bookshelf. There were hundreds of people outside not sure if the next Great Tokyo Earthquake had come. There were some sizable aftershocks minutes afterwards and we are still feeling them now.

The worst though is up north where whole neighborhoods have been washed away by the tsunamis. There was even fear of a nuclear meltdown at one of the plants in Fukushima but it seems (knock on wood) that the situation is under control.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | earthquake, japan, tokyo, tragedy | , , , , | 1 Comment

R.I.P. Japanese Horror Fan – Rodger Swan (1986-2010)

Some of you who don’t frequent Youtube may not be aware that a long time Japan Vlogger on Youtube, Rodger Swan, recently passed away suddenly. He put out a lot of videos of his experiences in Japan, first as Tokyo Swan then later as Iwate Swan when he accepted a job offer from JET to teach in Iwate Prefecture.

http://www.youtube.com/user/rodgerswan

His most popular series was his Japanese Horror movie reviews where he looked at the good, the bad, and the gory of Japanese horror cinema. If you like Japanese horror you should check out his work. This is the first video of his playlist where he reviewed the Ring series. He has a whopping 50 reviews!

January 29, 2010 Posted by | death, Horror, iwate, Iwate Swan, japan, Japan Vlogger, japanese culture, Japanese Ghosts, Japanese Horror, Ringu, Rodger Swan, The Ring, tokyo, Tokyo Swan, tragedy, video, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering the Great War – November 11th

Remembering the ‘Great War’
Nov. 11 marks 90th anniversary of WWI’s end


Trench warfare – static and deadly – became the norm for most of World War I

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.”
Wilfred Owen – died 1918

Ninety years ago at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the great guns fell silent and Europe experienced a silence it had not known in years. It was the end of the “Great War,” the War to end all Wars. Today, we know that was a hopeful but futile sentiment as the War to end all Wars is now known as World War I.

Two bullets and a lost driver set off a powder keg whose explosion engulfed Europe. In the summer of 1914, a driver made a wrong turn and ended up in the path of a young assassin who had actually given up trying find his intended target and was just finishing off a sandwich. The young assassin was a Serbian belonging to a radical group known as the Black Hand. Their target was the Arch-Duke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who was touring Sarajevo. They had tried earlier that day to assassinate him but failed. Now Fate through the hands of a lost driver delivered the Arch-Duke into one of the assassin’s hands who took full advantage of his good luck and fired his pistol killing Ferdinand.

The assassination caused the collapse of the house of cards that were the national alliances of the day. Austria-Hungary with German support declared war on Serbia. Russia was allied with Serbia so they entered the war. France was allied with Russia and so they entered the war. Germany in order to swiftly attack France violated Belgium’s borders by crossing it with their troops. Britain had an alliance with Belgium and so they entered the war. Eventually other nations would enter the war as well including the United States.

World War I in many ways was the “War to end all Wars” in that it was every war past and future rolled up into one. There were Napoleonic charges, aerial bombardment, a few misguided cavalry charges with actual horses, tanks, machine guns, artillery barrages, air combat, poison gas attacks, flamethrowers, submarine warfare, and primitive hand-to-hand fighting that came down to knives, sharpened spades, and clubs. The future met the past in a brutal collision.


Soldiers dehumanized by their gas masks

While fighting took place in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, Russia, and the borders of Italy and Austria, the bulk of the fighting took place in the area known as the Western Front. The Western Front was a long series of extensive trenches between France and Germany stretching into Belgium where most of the intensive fighting of the war took place. So many men died in such a concentrated place.

While WWII has a far higher casualty rate, this was widespread throughout the globe. The majority of WWI casualties, however, occurred along the several hundred kilometers of the Western Front from the North Sea to the Swiss border. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the British lost over 50,000 dead and wounded in the space of a few kilometers.


Stretcher-bearers trudge through the mud with a wounded victim

The trenches were hell on earth – mud, water, snipers, artillery barrages, barbed wire, machine gun fire, and the rotting corpses of those who fell in No-Man’s Land, the deadly area between the opposing armies’ trenches. Plus there was rampant disease, lice, and rats grown fat from feeding off of corpses.

“In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.”
Siegfried Sassoon – 1918

The Second World War often gets more attention in the popular imagination. Countless movies, books, comic books, documentaries, TV shows, magazines and so on focus on the many aspects of the war. Battles, generals, strategies, policies, ideologies get constantly battered about from academic circles to office water coolers. It’s a subject many have some knowledge of whereas World War I only brings to mind to some (particularly Americans) the Red Baron, the imaginary nemesis of the Peanut’s comic strip character, Snoopy.


Manfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron – Germany’s Flying Ace

And there’s a good reason for that. With World War II there was a clear reason to fight. For the Allies, it was to defeat the conquering Nazis and Imperialist Japanese. For the Germans, it was to revenge their humiliation with the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War. For the Japanese, it was believed they were saving Asia (though they didn’t bother to ask the rest of Asia). It is easier for modern day audiences to understand the rationales and motivations of those who fought in that war.

The reasons for fighting the First World War, however, are rather vague. The motivations for the soldiers fighting are also vague. It’s hard to understand the patriotic fever which led to so many men signing up to fight a war that appeared to have been fought for the sheer hell of it and no other reason. In modern academia, the “isms” of nationalism, militarism, imperialism are blamed for causing the war.

For war enthusiasts, World War I is a hard one to get enthusiastic about. Most of the literature and films on the subject have been anti-war save for a few on WWI pilots and Sergeant York which was released when America was entering WWII.

Then there’s strategy. With WWII battles there was often a lot of planning and logistics that went into major battles on both sides. Armchair military historians can easily while away the hours discussing the many stratagems of WWII generals.

The battles of WWI on the other hand appear to have been planned by generals who were either appallingly stupid or monstrously callous to causalities that their battles produced. At the Battle of the Somme, soldiers were ordered to advance at a walking pace. This was to keep the lines orderly and lower the chances of friendly fire – it also made the British soldiers perfect targets for German machine gunners.


Soldiers make their way on catwalks over flooded trenches

The whole war in retrospect seems a comic-tragedy of epic proportions. Men died in the thousands for a few yards of earth. The British comedy series Black Adder brilliantly showed the insanity of WWI strategy in its fourth season – “Black Adder Goes Forth.” In one episode, a general is looking at a scale map of the last battle and asks his aide for the scale. His aid answers “one to one, sir!” and the general shows no surprise but is glad that 17 square feet of mud is no longer in German hands.

The Great War ended over 90 years ago but the consequences still live with us to this day. The war changed the maps, changed class systems, changed the way in which wars are fought, and changed technology. Iraq is one of those changes having been created out of the territory of the old Ottoman Empire.

Ultimately, Nov. 11 is a bittersweet day to remember the end of a terrible war and all those who died in it. Nov. 11 is also a day to reflect on the futile hope of the time that there would be no other wars to follow. If we truly wish to honor veterans, we must pledge to rid ourselves of the thing that took so many of their comrades’ lives.

World War One Airmen
Heroes of the Skies


Air technology changed drastically throughout the war

The patriotic fever that led so many to enlist to fight in the Great War soon died in the mud of the trenches. The mud tended to swallow up heroes and with men dying in droves in the matter of minutes, the glory of war faded in the wake of grim reality.

However, there was one area in which war romanticism found a new home. The Great War ushered in the age of aerial combat and it was here that heroes could be found or made. Flight was still in its infancy at the beginning of the war but it became caught up in the technological race. Planes went from observation scouts to reconnaissance observers to bombers to fighters. Fighter pilots were a new breed of soldier and they quickly became the apple of the public eye.

The best of the pilots became celebrities and were wined and dined by the rich and famous. Canadian Fighter Ace William “Billy” Bishop had an audience with Britain’s monarch even.

But fame could not ward off the spectre of death and even the best went down in flames. The difference though between the death of the landlocked soldier and the pilot was that the former often died anonymously while the other could reap headlines and a formal funeral. The death of aces, though, could also shock an entire nation as it did with the deaths of the famous Red Baron and the beloved French ace Georges Guynemer.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | air combat, airplanes, armistice day, Blogroll, culture, europe, european history, history, life, November 11th, peace, red baron, remembrance day, tradition, tragedy, veterans day, world war I | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Japan Remembers Its 47 Hero Samurai – the 47 Ronin Story

Japan Remembers Its 47 Hero Samurai
A story of Edo piety, tragedy and vengeance that still resonates today


The re-enactment of the 47 ronin coming with the head of their enemy.

Every country has at least one story that strikes a deep chord within the heart and soul of a culture to resonate throughout society. It’s a story that illustrates the basic elements of a society so well that it’s told over and over again, passing from generation to generation.

In America, every school child knows about the “heroic” battle at the Alamo in Texas. It’s an event that has been permanently etched in America’s cultural psyche with a mix of fact and fiction making it difficult to disentangle the actual truth.


Burning incense at the graves of the 47 ronin.

Japan has many epic stories of love, tragedy and vengeance in its long history, but one story in particular stands out: the story of the 47 masterless samurai, or ronin. It is a story that exemplifies the samurai spirit and the cult of filial love between a retainer and his master. In its essence the story captures the spirit of the Japanese.


Many gather at Sengaku-ji Temple where three centuries ago the 47 Ronin came to their master’s grave with his enemy’s head

The 47 ronin were former samurai retainers who avenged their master’s death by killing his enemy then stoically awaiting the sentence of death to be passed on them by the government.

Their act of defying the government’s laws and following the Way of the Samurai to be faithful to their lord unto death won the 47 ronin everlasting fame and admiration of the Japanese people.

Every year on December 14, people gather at their graves at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo to commemorate the deeds of the 47 ronin.

Their story began in 1701 at a time when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world by government edicts. Control of the country was in the hands of the shogun who ruled in Edo, now called Tokyo. The shogun of that time was known for his bizarre laws protecting dogs and other animals to the detriment to his own people.


Under Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, dogs were held in higher esteem than people

It was also a time of lavish extravagance and decadent corruption. The samurai were losing their status and many began acting less and less like samurai by drinking, gambling and attending kabuki plays.

One country lord, Lord Asano of Ako, a man of simple but honest beliefs was called upon by the shogun to come to Edo and meet with envoys from the emperor. This would require him to learn the complex intricacies of court ceremony.

Lord Asano was assigned to the master of court ceremonies, Kira Kozukenosuke, to be taught in the ways of imperial ceremony. Kira was accustomed to receiving gifts of a monetary nature from his pupils, like many court officials of the time. When Lord Asano failed to bribe Kira properly, Kira became enraged and insulted him often.


Lord Asano loses his temper and along with it his life and his family’s position

Finally, Lord Asano could take it no longer and in a fatal moment of indiscretion, unsheathed his sword and attacked Kira while they were in the shogun’s castle. This action earned Lord Asano a quick death by seppuku — ritual suicide.

Lord Asano’s samurai retainers led by Oishi Kuranosuke found themselves ronin and the Asano lands confiscated. There were many who felt the judgment was too harsh as well as unfair particularly because Kira who many felt orchestrated the attack was left unpunished.


Lord Asano forced to commit seppeku for baring a sword in the Shogun’s castle

A core group of Lord Asano’s retainers plotted vengeance against Kira. However, the spies of the shogun and Kira himself were on the lookout and Kira was well guarded against such reprisals. Oishi and the other plotters disguised their true intentions and pretended to become farmers, merchants, gamblers and even drunkards.

Oishi, who was watched the closest by the spies, went so far as to lull his enemies into a state of false security that he left his wife, frequented brothels and passed out drunk in the most unsamurai-like manner in the streets of Kyoto. His performance was so good that a passing samurai kicked and spat on him thinking Oishi a disgrace for sinking to such depths while not avenging his master.


Lord Asano’s grave

The spies believed Oishi had truly become a harmless destitute creature and so Kira relaxed his guard. Oishi, however, secretly stole away to Edo and met with 46 other loyal companions to plot their assault on Kira’s mansion.


Oishi signalling the begining of the attack on Kira’s home

On a snowy evening on December 14, 1702, the 47 ronin attacked Kira’s home and took it completely by surprise. They found Kira cowering in a charcoal shed. Kira was offered the choice to commit seppuku but he refused, so Oishi cut off his head with the same dagger that his lord used to kill himself.


The 47 Ronin Attack!

The 47 ronin then walked to Lord Asano’s grave in Sengakuji Temple and placed Kira’s head upon it. After that, they turned themselves into the shogun except for the youngest ronin who Oishi sent back to Ako to tell of Kira’s death.


The 47 Ronin arrive at Sengaku-ji

The shogun was beside himself on what to do with the 46 ronin in his custody. To some degree he much admired them for being true to Way of the Samurai. Their actions set off a controversy of debate. Much of the general public wanted their release. Several lords pleaded for the men to be granted life and be allowed to serve them.

On the other side, critics argued that the ronin had willfully disobeyed the shogun’s law and to pardon them would be to invite lawlessness and anarchy.

In the end they were allowed to commit honorable seppuku rather than be executed like common criminals. They were interned with their lord at Sengakuji Temple. The surviving ronin was pardoned by the shogun and lived until he was 75 before being buried along side his comrades.

Lord Asano’s lands and titles were restored to his family and his brother became the next lord of Ako.

Countless plays, novels, and later movies and documentaries have been done on this story that so caught the people’s attention. Even today, they are not forgotten and the 47 ronin are still held in high esteem.

Their story strikes so close to the heart of Japanese thought and belief that some Japanese scholars have said: “… to know the story of the 47 ronin is to know Japan.”


One of the 47 Ronin’s grave

December 22, 2007 Posted by | 47 Ronin, ako gishi, ako roshi, chusingura, culture, event, festival, history, japan, life, matsuri, ronin, samurai, sengakuji, tokyo, tradition, tragedy, travel | 13 Comments

Battle of Hastings Videos

Here are three videos I made of the Battle of Hastings re-enactment of 2006.

The first one is set to the theme of the movie Excalibur – O Fortuna:

The Battle of Hastings 

The Death of the Minstrel Taillefer 

The second video is a little bit of medieval humor with an incident from the Battle of Hastings. Before the battle began, a Norman minstrel, Taillefer, attacked the English in a mad attempt to gain glory. This is his story.

The Fall of King Harold Godwinson

The third video has a Roving Ronin Report intro and is a ballad of the Battle. The song is from the Secret Commonwealth, a celtic folk-rock band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s a period piece not necessarily on the battle but around the time period. The theme of a woman mourning her husband’s loss though is eternal.

http://www.myspace.com/thesecretcommonwealth

December 11, 2007 Posted by | 1066, Anglo-Saxons, Battle of Hastings, Blogroll, Celtic, celtic music, costumes, England, Harold Godwinson, history, humor, medieval, Middle Ages, murfreesboro, Normans, secret commonwealth, tragedy, travel, UK, video, vikings, William the Conqueror, youtube | 5 Comments

Remembering 911

This is a week-late video on 911 that I just got around to doing about my memory of 911.

 I was staying at my parents home in Tennessee at the time getting ready to move to Japan that very month of september of 2001. The week of 911 was suppose to be spent making travel arrangements and flight reservations.

3 months later I finally decided on the spur of the moment to take the plunge with less than a week’s preparation and less than half the money I saved up.

911 was a day of grief, anger, and confusion for me. The worst part was the video of the WTC jumpers. That really bothered me for a long time.

I recorded this at 1 in the morning after a few drinks at the Hub Pub so sorry if I ramble on a bit.

September 20, 2007 Posted by | 911, terrorism. WTC, tragedy, travel, video, World Trade Center | Leave a comment

Capitalizing on Tragedy

Capitalizing on Tragedy
The use of tragedy for not-so subtle socio-political agendas

Well another tragedy has occurred and its unfortunately time for the capitalizing of it for not-so subtle socio-political agendas. Time for the loonies and hatemongers to mount their specially-prepared soapboxes and let fly with whatever harebrained agenda of theirs that they can loosely tie this tragedy to.

From racism, gun control, 2nd Amendment, bias media coverage to conspiracy theories, various media spokespeople, politicians, and bloggers will find a way to use and manipulate this recent tragedy to fit into their agendas.

At least since 911, I have seen in a variety of media outlets and on the Internet similar efforts to use such tragedies to fuel barely connected situations and barely logical arguments.

Debate is one thing but these type of people seem less interest in debate and more interested in promoting their socio-political views using the current tragedy of the day as their platform.

This situation is of course nothing new going back centuries, millenia even. However, Internet media with blogs and video blogs helps to compound the capitalizing of tragedies more so than in the past.

On a number of sites, I have seen people commenting (some of them rudely) on why the Virginia Tech tragedy gets so much media coverage while people are dying in Iraq. These comments have come from ultra-liberals, pro-war supporters, and anti-Americans from my observation. Despite the different backgrounds they have the same thing in common: a lack of tact and common sense.

I have seen similar comments in the wake of other violent tragedies such 911, the London subway bombings, the Bali bombings, and the Madrid train bombings.

These kind of comments are not new nor are they terribly thought-provoking. Not for a moment did I then nor do I now believe that the purpose behind such statements were honest or sincere. They are just surprise attacks while people are reeling from an unexpected tragedy.

Different tragedy yet similar comments by some tactless person pretending to care when they really don’t. It’s when the TV show American Idol gets more news coverage than Iraq War violence that one should make such comments.

Other forms of capitalizing I’ve seen so far with the Virginia Tech tragedy are fanatics trying to tie this event in with the war in Iraq, immigration policies, gun control, religion, and terrorism.

Gun control, however, is less capitalizing in that given the nature of the tragedy, it’s only natural to debate over the readily availability of guns. There is a connection unlike the Iraq War, immigration, religion, or terrorism. But what is capitalizing is blaming guns for the tragedy as though they were the sole source of a much bigger issue – or the reverse: creating strawman arguments that there is a big movement out to ban all guns.

Racism has to be the worst thing coming from fringe groups and disturbed individuals who are using the Virgina Tech tragedy to spread their hatred whether against Asians or towards white Americans. The popular WebTV site, Youtube, has seen a small number of videos either praising the shooter or condemning all Asians.

The anonymity that the Internet gives users allows certain people to be more tactless than they would be in person. Thus message boards are targeted with hateful racist comments or displays of sick humor.

It is unforunate that such tragedies often brings out these types of opportunistic people who care less for the victims and more for their agendas. And we will more than likely see it again whenever the next tragedy occurs.

April 20, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, gun control, life, media, opinion, racism, tragedy, virginia tech | 3 Comments