Ikki Tousen, China and Japan
Let me start with a dictionary definition to keep things clinical:
parasite: An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.
By that definition the case could be made that Japan has been a cultural parasite of China. Mind you, this is coming from as hardcore a Japanophile as they come, so I’m not trying to be disparaging or anything.
Having read the first volume of Ikki Tousen I was reminded of this issue which I’ve always been very interested in. Let me pick out a few topics from history and then go directly to the manga.
The administration of Japan, the gridding of its society, was built on Chinese principles. It’s no surprise that the first Imperial polity at Yamato arose during a period when various Chinese (and Koreans) were dazzling the natives with their brilliance. The very notion of an Emperor is borrowed from China, except that whereas the Chinese had already over a thousand years earlier demanded from their Emperors a sense of responsibility (via the Mandate of Heaven), the Japanese stuck to a single Imperial bloodline that continues to this day.
Very early on in Yamato, the Japanese Emperors claimed equality with (and subsequently supremacy over) their Chinese counterparts, while borrowing their arts, writing system, and so forth. During the Kamakura period, and under the influence of Buddhism, the following scheme became popular: good things (like the Buddha) were born in India, crossed over to China and found their last and most glorious abode in Nippon. Nichiren Buddhism is probably one of the clearest examples of this, but there are others.
Hideyoshi attempted an invasion of China in the 16th century. Starting in the 1870s, Japan began to encroach on its “host” until it eventually tore it apart in the 1930s. I don’t know if the Chinese see it this way, but in my opinion the Japanese were really just the latest in an endless wave of predators from the North (Jurchen, Mongols, Manchus, etc) who happen to adopt most of Chinese culture while leaving out a key component: humanism.
The bastion of Chinese Humanism is Confucianism, which only reached a position of dominance in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate, and then simply as the central government’s method of controlling the population, which byy and large remained Buddhist and Shintoist even then.
Now, the words usually translated as “romance” in Romance of the Three Kingdoms literally mean “practice righteousness”, a key principle in Confucianism, and the tale is heavy on morality (for this and general history go here). This of course brings me straight to Ikki Tousen.
I know there have been many adaptations of the Three Kingdoms epic, most of which are somewhat faithful to the original (in the case of Soten Koro, faithful to the actual historical events rather than the classic romance). What I would argue, though, is that Ikki Tousen is in some ways a more traditional Japanese borrowing of Chinese material.
Judging strictly from Volume One of the manga, one finds a systematic de-moralization of the tale. Here everything is about power. Knowledge of the magatamas is worthy of being pursued simply for its usefulness to acquire more power.
The main blurb for the Ikki Tousen story is this: Chinese warriors failed to unify China during the Three Kingdoms period, now they are “reborn” in Japan to get things done once and for all. Of course, from a traditional Japanese perspective, Chinese failure is not a contingent event, but the manifest destiny of Japan itself: bottom of the ninth, 2 strikes against, Japan will step up. No wonder the Japanese love baseball!
Zen and Japanese militarism get a deeper and more fascinating treatment here than I could ever give them. Suffice it for me to add that Chan Buddhism didn’t nurture a warrior class the way Zen ended up doing in Japan. And the Japanese Zen fascination with lineages and transmissions is replicated in Ikki Tousen‘s school system and Magatama name-calling.
From what I know of the series, the main character Hakufu Sonsaku is of all the warriors the one least interested in the historical background that explains the world around her. She is in that sense the ideal Japanese warrior. Very far from the Chinese ideal…Then again, I’m sure you can already tell Hakufu isn’t my favorite character so far.
P.S. Ryomou’s comment in the first pic is brilliant, IMO.
P.P.S. These are simply opinions based on the very first volume of 15 or so released, so I’ll likely have to eat my words at some point!
P.P.P.S. As to the factual basis of my assertions, well, I’m too lazy to post links so if you have a specific query ask me and I’ll point out the way if I can.