The Pokemon Panic

Ash and Pikachu together in Episode 1 of Pokemon. "Pokémon episode 1 screenshot" by DVD of the first season. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Pokémon, I Choose You! via Wikipedia -

Ash and Pikachu together in Episode 1 of Pokemon.
“Pokémon episode 1 screenshot” by DVD of the first season. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Pokémon, I Choose You! via Wikipedia -

Cartoons are usually seen as harmless entertainment for children. Other than the occasional kerfuffle over violence, most parents have no problems allowing their children to sit and watch the latest adventures of their favorite animated characters. The Pokemon cartoon was among the most popular animated children’s show of the 1990s. The show, which was based on the wildly successful video game series of the same name, followed the exploits of a Pokemon trainer named Ash Ketchum (in the American version) on his quest to become a Pokemon Master. Pokemon meant “pocket monster,” which described the titular creatures. They all exhibited unique characteristics, and would be trained in order to battle other Pokemon.

Most of the happenings in the Pokemon TV show were pretty benign, typical of many children’s shows of the day. But a dark mark on the record of an otherwise wildly successful franchise occurred December 16, 1997, when an episode of the children’s cartoon made its viewers ill.

 

Episode 38

The episode that aired at 6:30 pm on December 16 was called “Computer Warrior Porygon.” Millions of school aged children tuned in to watch Pikachu—a yellow rodent with electrical powers who is the flagship character of the franchise—and his trainer be transported inside of a computer, where they fought a Pokemon called Porygon. During the battle, Pikachu hit its opponent with an electrical attack that was depicted with a quick series of flashing lights.

Screen cap of the scene that allegedly caused seizures in Japanese children. "Pikachu seizure-2". Via Wikipedia

Screen cap of the scene that allegedly caused seizures in Japanese children. “Pikachu seizure-2″. Via Wikipedia

The flashing attack sequence appeared on screen at 6:51 pm. By 7:30, 618 children had been rushed to hospitals. They suffered symptoms such as convulsions, altered levels of consciousness, headaches, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and depression. Reports of the illness spread like a plague, to the point it warranted a report on the evening news. The news reports played the offending battle scene. After the evening news aired, still more children became ill.

The next day, TV Tokyo suspended Pokemon, promised an investigation, and issued an apology. Meanwhile, officers from the Atago Police Station questioned the shows producers on order of the National Police Agency. The Health and Welfare Ministry held an emergency meeting to try and figure out what happened. Video stores pulled any Pokemon videos from their shelves.

If officials were concerned, parents were downright panicked. Many slammed TV Tokyo with angry letters and phone calls, accusing them of putting ratings ahead of the health of their viewers. Some called for the TV station to install electric screening devices to block sequences like the one that caused the illnesses. How these were supposed to work, however, remains unclear.

Even the Prime Minister weighed in on the matter. He made a pretty bizarre statement about the dangers of rays and lasers, since they had been researched as weapons.

During the panic, Nintendo, the company behind the Pokemon juggernaut, saw its stock drop by five percent. However, the vast money machine that was the Pokemon franchise could not be laid low for long, and by April of 1998, the animated adventures of Ash and Pikachu returned to the small screen. TV Tokyo slapped warnings on every Pokemon episode from that point on. These warnings proved needless, because there has not been an incident similar to the December 16 outbreak since.

 

Bright flashes, epilepsy, and mass hysteria

This was not the first time that Nintendo’s products were accused of causing harm to customers. The video game giant placed warning labels on its games after several teens experienced seizures while playing video games.

Photo of seizure warning in the Super Smash Bros WII U instruction manual. Similar warnings have been issued by Nintendo and other video game companies for decades due to flashing lights in games.

Photo of seizure warning in the Super Smash Bros WII U instruction manual. Similar warnings have been issued by Nintendo and other video game companies for decades due to flashing lights in games.

However, there is a difference between the flashes in the games and those on episode 38. Namely, the flashing technique, called paka-paka, had been used for years in anime, Japan’s distinctive style of cartoons, including in other episodes of Pokemon. In fact, episode 38 featured about the same amount of paka-paka as any other episode of the series.

It is not clear exactly how many victims suffered seizures in any case. In a survey conducted by Hayashi et all in the Yamaguchi prefecture, researchers found 12 victims had no history of epilepsy; of these 10 had seizures during the episode and 2 others fainted. The researchers concluded that 11 of the 12 surveyed showed signs of undiagnosed epilepsy.

Another survey, conducted by Yamashita et al, looked at children in 80 elementary schools in Fukuoka Prefecture. It was given six days after the outbreak. Teachers asked their students if they’d experienced symptoms, and questionnaires were sent to local medical facilities. Of 32,083 students surveyed, half the students saw the episode. One suffered convulsions during the outbreak while 1002 others reported minor symptoms. The questionnaires sent to the medical facilities showed 17 children treated for convulsions.

Yet another study conducted in the wake of the panic looked at four children affected by the outbreak. The researchers diagnosed them with photosensitive epilepsy, and believed that the rapid color changes were responsible for the symptoms.

It is clear that at least some of the children swept up in the panic really did suffer from seizures, in some cases because they suffered from photosensitive epilepsy. As to why this particular episode caused the seizures and previous ones did not, no one really knows. In any case, the children who suffered seizures were index cases, while the other children were afflicted by mass hysteria. They either observed others who suffered seizures, heard about the illness by word of mouth, or saw news reports. Seeing that others who had seen the episode had fallen ill made them believe that they were susceptible to the illness too, and that anxiety manifested as symptoms that were relatively minor and passed quickly.

These symptoms fit with those associated with mass hysteria: headaches, fainting, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and fainting. Some of these symptoms are commonly associated with seizures, though. These include nausea, convulsions, and seizures. However, other common seizure symptoms – such as drooling, stiffness, and tongue-biting– were not present in most victims. They only occurred in patients who were diagnosed later as actually suffering seizures.

The hysteria was primarily spread by the breathless media reports. While media in itself doesn’t cause mass hysteria, it does give it a route by which it can spread from a relatively isolated group to the larger community. Just as the newspaper in Mattoon helped spread the story of a fictional gasser and British newspapers spread the story of a razor-wielding madman dubbed the Halifax Slasher to other cities, the reporting on the Pokemon panic triggered a second wave of illness, especially because the nightly news foolishly replayed the scene believed to have sparked the outbreak to begin with. You have to wonder what they were thinking in playing a bit of video that they even suspected of being harmful, especially to children.

While mass hysteria explains most of the features of the strange Pokemon panic case, there are some questions that remain. There have been no cases like it before or since. Why would paka-paka, a commonly used technique in Japanese animation, cause outbreaks of photosensitive epilepsy in this particular case, when it never had before? With no other case data to go on, there is no real satisfactory answer. The Pokemon panic remains a strange and isolated case in the already bizarre annals of the history of mass hysteria.

 

Sources:

Bartholomew, Robert E. Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns, And Head-Hunting Panics: A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2001. pgs 122-131.

What Does Waifu Mean?

Waifuism is a fairly recent development in otaku culture.  Google records the first significant appearance of the word waifu in November 2007 (Google Trends, n.d.). The oldest entry for mai waifu appears in the Urban Dictionary in April 2, 2007.  However, waifu has a longer history outside of otaku culture.

tsutsukakushi_tsukiko

A possible waifu?

Waifu is an English loanword that appeared in the Japanese lexicon around the early 1980s. Dynamics between husband and wife continued to change in ways that made the tradition way of referring to a woman as a wife offensive to young couples. Kanai, the word for wife that uses two Chinese characters that mean “inside the house” became objectionable for many young women. Likewise, the word for husband, shujin or danna, translate roughly to “master.”  Because these words fail to match their relationship, many couples adapted the English words husband and wife. Of course, the words changed slightly in pronunciation. Wife became waifu. Husband became hazu (Stanlaw, 2004; Rebick & Takenade, 2006).

These words were slowly picked up by American anime/manga fans and were used to refer to their favorite fictional characters. The anime Azumanga Daioh is thought to be one of the anime that popularized the use of the word waifu (Waifu, 2010). However, the words were in the Japanese lexicon and used by anime long before this popularization.

The Meaning of Waifu in Otaku Culture

dinner-with-waifuWaifu refers to a fictional character an anime fan considers a wife or husband. There is a word for male characters female anime fans love: husbando. It is strange that the online otaku culture adopted this word instead of the Japanese word hazu to refer to this relationship. In any case, sometimes waifu is used to refer to male interests by female anime fans as well. The labels are not completely solid.

So in any case, a waifu is a fictional character that a person loves. It is a relationship that exists on a spectrum. Some people approach waifuism casually. It is something fun and temporary. On the opposite end are those that take the relationship seriously. They wear a wedding band to symbolize their marriage with their waifu. They attempt to base their decisions on what their waifu would want. She is a real person that can feel disappointment, anger, or hurt (Reddit, 2012).

Characteristics of Waifuism

oreimo-tsuntenshiA relationship with a waifu is individual but there are several common characteristics professed by the community (Reddit, 2012; Reddit, 2014):

  1. Waifu relationships are a monogamous commitment.
  2. The lover of the waifu knows the character is fictional.
  3. Sexual aspects of the relationship is an individual decision.
  4.  The waifu’s view  is considered when making a decision.
  5. Having a waifu does not always prevent a real/3D relationship.
  6. The relationship with a waifu is real.

From what I found on the various waifu communities online, not all people involved with waifus suffer from social anxiety or other social issues.  Some waifu lovers are self described asexuals; others are married to 3D women. Certainly, there are some who have problems with delusions; however, most of the waifu community members are aware of loving a fictional character. These characters exist in the realm of ideas and the mind.

Anyway, waifuism is a very real thing. Much in the same way that other people fall in love, so did we. We just happened to fall in love with people who happen to not exist in the real world.

-millhi-biscotti, Reddit 2014

The Sexual Component

From what I gather, waifuism is divided over sex. Some view sex with their waifu has a healthy and necessary part of a marriage. Similar to how sex is viewed in the real, erhm, 3D world. For others, the thought of having sex with their waifu is terrible. Those with young waifus often think this way. Some view sex with anyone else in mind except their waifu as adultery. Yet others, have no issues with having another in mind.  It seems to be all over the board and an individual decision or agreement with his waifu.

You do make an important point about not being able to truly interact with a 2D character, and believe me, it’s not like we fool ourselves into thinking we can. We know it, and accept it as an unfortunate truth.

-Random_Shitposter, Reddit 2012

Other Elements of Waifuism

Waifuism is not limited to anime/manga characters. Any fictional character has the potential to become a waifu. Waifu is not really chosen. Rather, it looks to be an emotional event that happens, a resonance with a particular character. Waifuism is not  rooted in delusion or anti-social behavior for most people.

Psychological Considerations

Spice-and-Wolf-Holo-waifu

Fabrice Requin and his waifu on a honeymoon vacation. Source: Japanator

I am not a psychologist, so take this section with some salt.

For some people waifuism can be a delusion that damages their health. For most people, waifuism is a connection that fills a need that is unable to be found in the 3D world. While some level of projection can happen (That is, projecting one’s own desires as the desires of his waifu), the waifu’s point of view is drawn from the stories she resides. Because modern story telling is a rich medium, a personality can be fully fleshed out.  Based on these personalities, a waifu’s reaction to decisions or actions on the part of her husband can be reasonably surmised. This is really no different from what is done by 3D couples with the exception that the transaction is one way. The waifu is unable to return the connection. That is, until AI develops further perhaps.

This one sided connection can be beneficial and detrimental. It prevents a person from straining themselves toward connecting with a messy, contradiction 3D person. Waifu are safe, one sided relationships. It can be beneficial by allowing a person to practice compassion: that is considering another person’s viewpoint and mind (in this case, their waifu). This can help a person associate better with those in the 3D world.

Closing Thoughts

Adelia isn't too young to be a waifu for some. Dandy is certain to be a husbando for someone for that matter.

Adelia isn’t too young to be a waifu for some. Dandy is certain to be a husbando/hazu for someone for that matter.

Waifuism is a complex idea that some may find troubling. Waifuism is not rooted in delusion or mental illness. Certainly, there are some people with these issues in the communities, but on the whole people are rational. They simply love and relate to a fictional character. Like all relationships (whether with an idea, a person, or even an object) there are few certainties. Relationships are defined by the personalities involved. Fictional characters do have personalities that can serve as a guide as to how the character would think or behave in situations. Really, this is what authors do when writing. They know the personality of their characters and write how that character would react. Waifu enthusiasts do the same.

Ideas have power. Fictional characters resonate. They can generate feelings of triumph, love, hate, anger, lust, and every human emotion. Much of what we consider human is an idea.  Think of the name of a friend, and a mental image of that person will appear. That image is not the person, but our understanding of that person. Waifuism is the same. A waifu is a mental image of a person that happens not to be 3D.  The process is identical to what we do with 3D people and relationships. Much of reality is based on interpretation handled in our minds. We can sometimes gum up those mental gears and experience reality in its unadulterated form, but for most of us, this is rare. Waifuism is a result of normal (and not abnormal) workings of our mental machinery.

Beyond the BoundaryI don’t have a waifu, for those who are wondering.  I don’t consider myself an otaku either.

This is a difficult topic to research. There is little solid information. I wrote this article based on various waifu communities I examined. Waifuism is a fluid idea and still evolving. It is an area that deserves serious academic research as to the psychological affects and reasons behind this form of attraction.

So to define the word:

Waifu  /wī foo/ (noun). fictional character a person feels affection toward. 2. fictional character considered one’s spouse. 3. Japanese word derived from the English word ‘wife.’
synonyms: husbando, mai waifu

References

Google Trends (n.d.). Waifu, mai waifu. http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=waifu%2C%20mai%20waifu&cmpt=q

Know Your Meme. (2010). Waifu http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/waifu

Rebick, M & Takenaka, A (2006). The Changing Japanese Family. New York, NY.

Reddit. (2010).  Waifus and Waifu News: Answering Questions. http://www.reddit.com/r/Waifu/comments/ygufq/answering_questions/

Reddit. (2012). Waifus and Waifu News: Not meaning to judge here, but I just discovered this subreddit and… are you guys for real? http://www.reddit.com/r/Waifu/comments/29lt3d/not_meaning_to_judge_here_but_i_just_discovered/

Stanlaw, J. (2004). Japanese English: Language and Cultural Contact. Hong Kong University Press.

Surhta. (2007). mai waifu. Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mai+waifu

Japanator. (2012) Man takes cardboard waifu on honeymoon. http://www.japanator.com/man-takes-cardboard-waifu-on-honeymoon-in-asia-21717.phtml

 

The Karakuri Ningyo–Japan’s Clockwork Puppets

Tea serving Automaton, known as a Zashiki Karakuri

Tea serving Automaton, known as a Zashiki Karakuri

The Japanese fascination with robots might seem strange to outsiders. After all, an entire genre of manga and anime is devoted to giant robots slugging it out (a genre that, for some reason, also likes to make weird Jungian segues into madness.) Additionally, Japan leads the world in the field of robotics.

A brief look at Japanese history shows that this fascination is not anything new. Rooted in ancient Chinese clockwork mechanisms imported via Korea, traditional clockwork puppets–the Karakuri Ningyo– have a long history in Japan.

 

Ritual puppets

Karakuri Ningyo could serve several functions in ancient Japanese society. Perhaps the oldest was their use in ritual festivals. Puppets had long served an important role in Japanese ritual life. Puppet shows were often used to tell stories of gods, goddesses, and spirits. They personified the overlapping and somewhat contradictory worlds of the human and sacred. These ritual puppet performances were performed before the New Year or the onset of a new season, to call down rain, or to drive of pests and disease. All members of society enjoyed these puppet plays, from the Emperor on down.

With the importance of these puppets in festivals, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that when the clockwork technology made its way to Japan, they would incorporate it into their mystical puppet plays. The clockwork would give the puppets an almost magical quality, allowing them to move on their own.

Ritual puppets were featured heavily in festivals held all over Japan. They were built into triple-decker Dashi floats. These floats were huge constructions that required 20 men to pull, and while they did not always sport Karakuri many would. The top stage of Dashi Karakuri would feature up to three puppets performing scenes taken straight from traditional mythology and folklore.

Towns would compete to produce the best Dashi floats. The festivals would be a chance not only to socialize, but to show off pride in a town or village by displaying their Dashi floats.

 

Puppet plays

While the earliest uses of Karakuri were for religious festivals, the clockwork puppets were also used to perform plays strictly for entertainment, although of course many of these plays had their origins in mythology and legend. It is interesting to note that many plays, especially during the Edo period, were written specifically to be performed by puppets. Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku theater were heavily influenced by the puppet theater, and often imitated the puppet shows directly. These forms of theater focused more heavily on gesture and movement than the use of language. This, perhaps, influenced the strange sets of hand gestures and poses often seen in anime and Japanese television.

These Karakuri plays became famous after Takeda Omi, a clock maker, put on the first Karakuri play at Dotonbori, in Osaka, in 1662. Plays were performed in the theater for the next 110 years. In 1758, the plays were so popular that the theater ran 27 shows a day.

 

Domestic Automatons

Perhaps the most famous Karakuri were the Zashiki Karakuri, which were small, domestic clockwork servants. Basically, they were the Edo period’s equivalent of the Roomba. Their mechanisms were far more complex than those used in the plays, and were often built using Western clockwork mechanisms. They could even be steam powered.

The most famous of the Zashiki Karakuri were “Chahakobi Ningyo,” the tea-serving dolls. A host could place a teacup on the tea tray the doll held. So loaded, the doll would roll over to the guest, and stop when the guest took the teacup. When the guest put the cup back on the tray, it would return to the host. The doll would move its feet and nod its head as it moved. The design even included a mechanism by which the host could set the distance the robot could move, giving the illusion that the robot could “see.”  The piece was used mainly for entertainment, and was only available to the richest aristocrats.

Another interesting bit of mechanical wizardry from the period was the “Yumihiki Doji,” the archer doll. The doll can pick up an arrow and fire it at a target, which it would hit nine times out of ten. Amazing considering it was “programmed” only using gears.

 

Sources:

Boyle, Kirsty. “Butai Karakuri.” Karakuri.info. January 14, 2008. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.karakuri.info/butai/index.html

Boyle, Kirsty. “Dashi Karakuri.” January 14, 2008. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.karakuri.info/dashi/index.html

Boyle, Kirsty. “Karakuri Origins.” January 14, 2008. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.karakuri.info/origins/index.html

Boyle, Kirsty. “Zashiki Karakuri.” January 14, 2008. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.karakuri.info/zashiki/index.html

The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat

No, this anime is not hentai despite the title. This is a fluffy rom-com that centers on the antics of Yoto Yokodera, the Hentai Prince, Tsukiko Tsutasukakushi, and a trickster god. The trickster god lives in stone cats. When a person wishes on the cat and gives it an offering, the god grants the wish. Only the wish is not granted as expected. The god also gives any personality traits a person wishes gone to someone who needs it. Well, Yoto loses the ability to lie and Azusa loses the ability to show emotions. The pair work together to find the people who gained the traits wished away in order to regain them.

hentai-prince-tsukikoYoto becomes a larger perv without the ability to lie and filter what he says and does. This leads him to be called the Pervert Prince. Of course, he is absorbed in ecchi, dating sims, and splutters out his views of boobs and more. Most of the comedy centers on misunderstandings and his perversity. Some of the other antics works in other problems the trickster stony cat causes for the people around Yoto and Tsukiko.

Hentai Prince is pretty standard fare. Yoto is a pervert who is a nice guy inside. He eventually develops relationships with the popular golden hair girl, Azusa along with 2 more girls. Tsukiko’s older sister falls for Yoto through his lie of having a younger identical twin. Again, pretty standard harem fare. Expect the usual “oops I walked in while she was taking a shower” scene. There are plenty of flat chest jokes and references to Yoto’s porn collection. Yoto has zero pride or dignity. He often publicly acts as Azusa’s dog because he cannot hide his true feelings.

tsutsukakushi_tsukikoThere isn’t much else to say about this 12 episode run. The animation isn’t stellar. It often deforms for comedic purposes. Yoto is annoying. I find most perverted harem protagonists that way. Each episode had a moment that was amusing. Most of the time I found these scenes inadvertently amusing. Scenes that were not meant to be funny struck me as funny, in other words. Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat is alright for some light laughs.

I wonder if the pervert antics of this genre started with reality and started a feedback loop or if the genre influenced reality first. Judging by the perverse antics we see in American culture, I suspect reality (though at first limited and rare) started the antics found in these comedies. I doubt these types of behaviors are common, however.  Some otaku mistake fictional behavior for real behavior. Or make these fictional behaviors real.

I am not a fan of these type of comedies. That was the main reason why I try to watch them. So far, they seem to follow certain patterns and jokes: shower/hot spring scenes, the mistaken up-skirt scene, and other patterns.  I am not one to judge this genre of anime. I prefer serious stories. In any case, if you like fluffy lighthearted comedies with cute female characters who don’t tolerate a pervert, Hentai Prince might be one for you to watch. Because of the sexual jokes (there isn’t any real nudity), fan service, and other sexual references this anime is not suitable for everyone’s sensibilities.

The Kamikaze–Japan’s Three Divine Winds

Mongol fleet destroyed by the divine wind. By Kikuchi Yōsai, 1847.

Mongol fleet destroyed by the divine wind. By Kikuchi Yōsai, 1847.

Japan’s turbulent history was marked by a series of internal wars among various noble factions, vying for the title of Shogun. While most of its history was spent fighting itself, the greatest threat to Japan came from outside, in the guise of Kublai Khan. Grandson of the infamous Ghengis Khan, Kublai succeeded to the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1260. He focused the wrath of the Mongol hordes against the Sung dynasty in China, using a combination of Mongol warriors and Chinese defectors to turn the tide against Sung defenders.

Even as Kublai Khan was wreaking havoc across China, he turned his eyes to Japan. The Japanese had long been trade partners with the Sung dynasty, and this financial support was vital to continued resistance in China. Kublai Khan sent envoys to the Japanese in 1266 and 1268, demanding them to become part of the Mongol Empire and to cut all trade ties to the Sung. The Shogunate rebuffed the Mongol offer and summarily executed the Khan’s representatives.

Kublai Khan could not let this insult go unpunished. The fury of the Great Khan was aimed squarely at Japan.

The First Divine Wind

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan

Kublai ordered his vassals in Korea to construct a great fleet to punish Japan for its insolence. Some 900 ships strong, the fleet would transport 23,000 Chinese and Mongol soldiers and 7,000 Korean sailors.

The force set sail on October 3, 1274, only 120 miles of the Korea Strait between them and the Japanese home islands. Their first target was the island of Tsushima, situated in the middle of the strait. Its tiny garrison was easily overwhelmed. The garrison at the island of Iki, closer to the main islands, was also soon overwhelmed. By October 14, the fleet attacked the port of Hirado, positioning itself to launch the invasion of the main island.

Spies among the Koreans had warned the Japanese that the attack would come at Hakata Bay. Samurai and their retainers rushed to the area, some 6,000 forming up in a hastily assembled army, ready to fend off the foreign invaders. It wasn’t long before the samurai and the Mongol invaders clashed on the battlefield, and their differing approaches to warfare soon became apparent. The samurai, motivated to seek honor, attempted to instigate individual duels, while the Mongol and Chinese forces fought as a unit.

Even so, the samurai fought well, despite being hugely outnumbered. Over the course of a week, the invaders pushed them back from the beaches of Hakata Bay. By the 20th, the Japanese were forced to abandon their position and retreat 10 miles to an abandoned fortress at Mizuki.

Samurai, facing Mongol arrows and bombs.

Samurai, facing Mongol arrows and bombs.

The wounded Japanese gathered their strength at the ancient castle, with reinforcements pouring in from the countryside. Meanwhile, the Khan’s army failed to press its advantage. Perhaps they feared a Japanese ambush if they pressed further inland. They certainly feared the weather, which was deteriorating quickly. Korean sailors, familiar with the fickle nature of weather on the Korean Strait, believed a typhoon was on the way. The Great Khan’s fleet would be helpless moored in the rocky waters of Hakata Bay.

Mongol leaders then decided to withdrawal, but they were too late. The storm struck, scattering the mighty fleet and grounding some 50 ships. Samurai promptly boarded the stricken ships and killed anyone they found on board.

Kublai Khan’s invasion was defeated, but barely. In fact, the aborted invasion was a success, as it succeeded in its objective to cut Japanese trade with the Sung.  For its part, the Shogunate was made painfully aware of how woefully unprepared it was to stand toe to toe with the world’s largest empire. Knowing that the Khan would not forgive or forget, Japan’s leaders prepared for a second invasion of the homeland. They ordered a 5-9 foot stone wall built along the 25 mile stretch of the bay, set back 150 feet from the beach. Locals were levied to serve on the wall, while fishing boats and their crews were forced into service as an ad hoc navy.

The Second Divine Wind

Meanwhile, the Khan consolidated his hold on China. He sent envoys to Japan again in 1275. The Shogunate had them executed. Four years later, as the Khan finished off the last of the Sung resistance, he sent still more representatives. These were summarily executed on the beach at Hakata Bay, before even meeting the Shogun.

Furious at the insult, Kublai Khan ordered two massive fleets assembled. The first consisted of 900 ships, manned by 40,000 Mongol and Korean warriors and 17,000 sailors. This was dubbed the Koryo Eastern Route Division. The second, the Chinese Chiang-Non Division, consisted of 3,500 ships and 100,000 Chinese soldiers. The world would never seen another sea borne invasion force this large again until World War II.

The Eastern Route Division struck out for Japan on May 3, 1281. They took Iki within a week. The original plan was for both divisions to meet at Iki and strike Hakata Bay as one. But Eastern Route commanders grew impatient, and by mid-June decided to attempt an assault on their own. However, the defensive wall did its work well, and the Japanese defenders shoved the Mongols back into the sea.

The bloodied invaders withdrew to Shika Island. Their pain did not end when they took to the sea. Japan’s re-purposed fishing and trade ships proved to be apt raiding vessels, and the samurai’s skill at close quarters combat proved deadly among the confines of a ship. So harassed, the Mongols were forced to withdraw back to Iki, with their Japanese pursuers not far behind.

Samurai boarding enemy ships.

Samurai boarding enemy ships.

When the Chinese Division finally arrived, they combined with the bloodied Eastern Route Division at Hirado. The combined force made for Imari Bay, 30 miles south of Hakata, hoping to bypass the formidable defenses at Hakata. The Japanese were waiting. The forces met on the beach, beginning a two-week long battle. While the land forces fought, the sailors chained their ships together to form a floating fortress. The Japanese coastal navy could do little against the massive armada. Meanwhile, both sides suffered mounting losses in the hard fighting ashore.

At this point, legend and history meet. The Mongols were preparing to launch their final offensive against the vastly outnumbered Japanese. The situation looked impossible. Emperor Kameyama, descendent of the goddess Amaterasu according to legend, pleaded with his divine ancestors to save his people from destruction.

On July 30, they answered. A typhoon struck the gathered Mongol ships with hellish fury. The invading armada, moored together as it was to defend against attack, was unable to maneuver in the gale force winds and massive waves. Ships slammed into each other as they tried to escape the narrow bay, sinking into the restless waters with their crews trapped aboard. Only the lightest, most maneuverable craft were able to escape the natural massacre. Japanese legend claims that some 4,000 ships sank that day, drowning approximately 100,000 men. Those who survived and washed ashore were executed. The bay entrance, it was said, was so clogged with debris that “a person could walk across from one point of land to another on a mass of wreckage.”

Even if the extent of the devastation was exaggerated by the Japanese, it was enough to drive back the invaders for good. The defeat was so stunning that Kublai Khan could not muster support for a third invasion.

 

The Third Divine Wind

The second kamikaze, and the first to be called a “divine wind,” marked a change in how the Japanese saw themselves. The storm could only have been the act of a divine hand reaching from the heavens to influence the affairs of man. The Japanese began to see their islands, and thus themselves, as favored by the gods. This belief in Japanese exceptionalism would later fuel Japanese isolationism and, in the 20th century, the extreme nationalism the characterized Japan during World War II.

Zeroes, being prepared for suicide attacks.

Zeroes, being prepared for suicide attacks.

This extreme nationalism depended on co-opting history and culture to serve the ends of a fascist regime. When Japan found itself on the defensive in World War II, the leadership hearkened back to the storms of the 13th century that saved the homeland from foreign invaders. But, as with everything touched by their nationalistic fervor, they took a formative event in the Japanese national identity and twisted it to their own ends. The “divine wind” that would save the Japanese from the Allied invaders would not come in the form of a well-timed typhoon, but as young men willing to die for their family and country.

The concept was advanced by Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro, who recognized by the latter part of the war that the Japanese Air Force could no longer compete with the technologically and numerically superior Americans. So, he proposed using planes as manned missiles, the advantage being that the pilots of the suicide planes would be easy to train. They’d only need to learn how to take off, not land. The Vice Admiral believed that the suicide bombers would terrify the Allies and boost morale among the Japanese populace.

USS Louisville hit by a kamikaze.

USS Louisville hit by a kamikaze.

Oddly enough, the Japanese were not the originators of the term kamikaze as suicide pilots. The pilots were dubbed Shinpu. It was American translators who saw the characters forming the word as being an allusion to the nation-saving storms of the past. This slip in interpretation eventually got back to the Japanese, who adopted it as their own.

The third divine wind damaged or sunk 300 US ships and was responsible for some 15,000 US casualties. Thousands of Japanese died executing suicide attacks. Thousands more were ready to die, should Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan, be executed.

In many ways, the third divine wind not only failed to drive away the American invaders, but it helped hasten the Japanese defeat. Qualified pilots died by the hundreds during the program, not to mention the destruction of precious planes. Also, the kamikaze attacks hardened American resolve to defeat the hated Japanese. Finally, the kamikaze attacks factored into Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered. No divine wind, man-made or otherwise, could save Japan from bearing “the unbearable” burden of defeat.

Sources:

Clements, Jonathan. “A Brief History of the Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite.” Constable & Robinson, Ltd. 2010. pgs 302-303.

Delgado, James P. “Kublai Khan vs. Kamikaze.” Military History. July 2011. Vol 28 Issue 2. p.58.

“The Kamikaze Threat.” pbs.org. 2003. Public Broadcasting System. October 25, 2014. http://www.pbs.org/perilousfight/psychology/the_kamikaze_threat/

Lannom, Gloria W. “Beware the Kamikaze.” Calliope. March 2012. Vol. 22. Issue 6. p.15-17.

The End of Bleach…for now

BleachThere is something to be said about how anime can hold our attention for years on end. Bleach managed to hold my attention for over 7 years. Only Star Trek managed to come close. I watched Bleach on Adult Swim and looked forward to each Saturday night. It was my night to relax and forget about being an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, Bleach has some problems. Fillers and the fact that Kubo fails to kill any of the large cast hurt the series. But, Bleach gets enough right that I kept coming back to watch. Like most anime, it had pacing problems. Cutting into a fight with comedy or backstory is a terrible habit Bleach inherited from the rest of shonen. Bleach had painful moments, but it moments of badassery that made the slog through filler and comedy worth it.

Bleach Friends Meme

One of my favorite aspects of Bleach is the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia. The understated aspects of their relationship is actually well done. Rukia understood Ichigo as no other character does. She always has his back and Kubo suggests their share more than friendship bonds. Orihime has an overt romantic interest in Ichigo, but Ichigo treats her similar to his sisters. Rukia and Ichigo’s relationship is a matter of fact for the characters. Even Orihime admits this is many scenes. The final episode of this run cements the exclusive bonds Rukia and Ichigo share.

Some Spoilers Ahead

bleach-gang

Despite enjoying the past 7 years of Bleach, I wish the story ended back during the Rukia capture arc. The arc was complete outside of the confrontation of Aizen. While the later arcs have some excellent moments, they lacked the feel of the first arc. Perhaps having Ichigo and gang pursue Aizen immediately would have worked better. I will admit that I was disappointed in the Aizen conflict. Some or even most of the Soul Society captains should have died. This would have increased the tension of the conflict. As it stands, there is little tension or risk. We all know Kubo would not kill any of the Soul Society. This hesitation hurts Ichigo’s conflict. If Aizen killed the Head Captain by overpowering him, Ichigo would look that much more powerful when he bests Aizen. It also introduces interesting internal problems with the Soul Society. How could it exist with at least half its captains dead?

 

Despite lacking tension building, I enjoyed Bleach. It ending on Adult Swim/Toonami is an end of an era akin to when the station lost rights to Inuyasha. I look forward to DragonBall Kai taking Bleach’s slot.  However, there is a wistfulness, bittersweet, whenever a long watched anime series ends. Granted. Bleach will return when the final arc is finished. But, there is still a feeling of finality. Everything must end.

Awww... so cute

Awww… so cute

Fictional characters have as much of an impact on us as real people. We cry with them and savor their victories. Some people grow up with them. Goku is a friend and role model for many people. While I entered anime too late (in my 20s) to have anime characters be role models, I appreciate the impact they can have. For many teens, Ichigo is the new Goku. His struggles has shaped their teen years. Consider how long 7 years or so can be. A 13 year old will watch Bleach through the entirety of his teen years. She will literally grow up with Ichigo and Rukia. The character’s struggles and triumphs will sometimes mirror the teen’s. This is why people look fondly on Goku. This is why people will also look fondly on Ichigo and Rukia. These characters are a part of growing up. Both DBZ and Bleach provide moral lessons that the viewer will internalize over the years of watching. There are worse role models than Goku and Ichigo.

Bleach Friendship Meme Quote

Anime characters are easier to identify with than American superheroes. Goku, Rukia, and Ichigo fail. They have to work up to their powers. Superman is too powerful to identify with. Anime is good about providing role models that grow into their roles just as we have to go into adulthood.

Despite its problems, I will remember Bleach fondly and look forward to the finale when the manga is finished. Ichigo, Rukia, and friends have left an impact on the hearts and minds of teens all over the world. The moral lessons of friendship, loyalty, and compassion are timeliness.

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