Dear Josh: History is History

by / 0 Comments / 74 View / August 31, 2015

What is your favorite era of Japanese history?
-Ken, Killeen

Oh! That has to be the bakumatsu period, spanning roughly from 1853-1868. This is an interesting time of social, cultural and political upheaval, and is the demarcation line between the old, ancient Japan, the era of the shogunate and cultural isolationism, and the new Japan, with its sudden adoption of western industrialism, dress, and cultural notes. This is a favorite time period for Japanese filmmakers and storytellers and is the cornerstone of the “jedai geki” genre of swordsplay action films and historical dramas.

It’s actually fairly similar in tone and in content to American westerns, and the two genres developed alongside each other. Famed filmmaker Akira Kurosawa drew inspiration for films like “Seven Samurai,” “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro” from John Ford westerns, while Italian spaghetti westerns clearly drew influence from Kurosawa, as in “A Fistful of Dollars” and “A Few Dollars More.”

There is an interesting visual contrast in bakumatsu period works, specifically of young men with short, slicked back hair wearing English petticoats and trousers, women in kimonos repurposed as evening gowns, while pink sakura blossoms loom overhead. Works that are set in this era are often rife with conflict, between the east and the west, the young and the old, fathers and sons… they are innately melancholy works, as conflicts between ideals tend to be, and mourn the ways of life which had to pass so a nation could progress.

For more works which depict this era, see “Rurouni Kenshin,” “the Last Samurai,” or SNK’s unsung fighting game series “the Last Blade.”

Why does this generation feel things should be just handed to them rather than work for it?
-Jackie, Killeen

See, I’m not sure this is the case. At least, not without specifics at least. The 2008 recession hit many of us very roughly, especially college graduates who were suddenly left with sizable debt. Jobs were, and to some degree are still, scarce, and a lot of millennials had to learn very quickly to accept and fight for whatever opportunities were available. Certainly there was some number of us who made little effort to find or keep the jobs that existed, but I’d attribute that to ignorance and complacency, which has existed in the generations before us and will persist long into the future. That’s just human nature.

This question also depends on your definition of “things.” Are you talking about healthcare, education, housing allowances or, yes, welfare? People tend to be more productive when they’re not immediately attending to basic survival needs. Single parents (a noble group which so many people still belong to) face considerable challenges. People with disabilities face considerable challenges. Students without a marketable work history face considerable challenges. The cost of living in a civilized society is giving our fellow citizens the option to not wither up and die, so that they don’t become desperate. I don’t think I’ll elaborate on this further though.

What would you do if you found out a person who had given you a chance to dramatically change your life for the better is an awful human being?
-Richard, Los Angeles

This one is tough. First, I’m nothing if not loyal, and if I am the direct beneficiary of said awful person (for example, being allowed to move into their home when I’ve got no where else to stay), then I’m still in their debt. As disagreeable or horrific as that person may be, they still bailed me out of a difficult situation and it’s not something I’d likely ever forget.

However, debts are eventually paid, even with interest. Their generosity doesn’t give them carte blanche to abuse me or take advantage of me, so I’d likely just do whatever I have to do so I feel like I’ve repaid them, and finally distance myself from them as quickly as possible. If absolutely necessary, hatch a convoluted plan to frame them for fraud and embezzlement or some equally heinous crime with an equally heinous punishment. Or you could just contaminate their laundry detergent again, because that did work out well last time.

Please submit any questions (serious or satirical) to I might answer them for fun. Probably not for profit. Also, go adopt a pet in the Finding Fido section. That’s good karma right there. I did the little ad for that, you know.