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.

Oh boy.

Oh boy.

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.


nice shoes

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.

for the love of 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.

~ by Haloed Bane on May 19, 2009.

13 Responses to “Ikki Tousen, China and Japan”

  1. Well I don’t think Ikki Tousen was about Chinese failures or Japanese values, I think it’s more about using the legend of RoTK to create different type of girls…just like Ryofu-chan…just like Koihime Musou…but anyway, like always, interesting comments on eastern history, regardless of um, ‘inspiration’ ^_^b…

  2. 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!

    Lots of delicious bold claims with wild substantiations. Blogging anime is fun, isn’t it? Sauce plz.

  3. A lack of knowledge about Ikki Tousen and Sino-Japanese relations (with the odd exception of the history of Manchukuo, which we had to study at school as part of our GCSEs in Hitlerstory) prevents me from commenting on most of this.

    I would say, though, that, since I come from a country whose methods of cultural advance often boil down to either (a) ‘be conquered by some foreigners and adapt their stuff’ or (b) ‘conquer some foreigners and adapt their stuff’, rampant parasitism has always been fine with me.

  4. @gaguri

    “Chinese heroes failed…” etc is an actual line from the main Ikki Tousen blurb, so at some level the publishers (if not the actual writer) thought that it was an important theme. But I agree, girls are central here!


    That’s what I get for being lazy. I’ll have to make a post just for the sources. It’ll be out real soon 🙂


    i guess it gets slightly objectionable when the parasite participates in the host’s dismemberment. Or not..this is history after all..

  5. I suspect zoologists distinguish parasites which eventually devour their hosts (those fly larvae which eat their way out of their host caterpillars, for example) from those which don’t. But yes, this being history it presumably depends who’s writing it.

  6. @Animanachronism

    Yup. I think that WWII assured England of a benign image in world history (so far)…plus I must say, living in Asia, that the British Empire has left a remarkably good impression among the populations both of former colonies and their neighbors.

    Thais are very proud of never having been colonized (they lost close to half of their territory to France and England, but they kept their core area free). Still, I’ve heard some Thais say it’d have been better if the Brits had taken them over. But maybe this is just for the English-language skills 🙂

  7. I can honestly say that after reading Chan Mou’s “The Ravages of Time”….nothing that is based on the original historical record, from Red Cliffs to Dynasty Warriors, can trump it on HELL YES. Yeah, fuck the Romance, THIS is how you fictionalize history.

  8. I really don’t like the word “parasite” here. Is England a parasite of Europe? Was northern Europe a parasite of Rome? Some cultures develop later and start by taking in the higher culture of a neighbor. Perfectly normal, and not parasitic. It could be argued that China has been parasitic on Japan in recent times, since many “modern” words came from Japan to China, rather than the other way around.

    But there is no escaping the fact that China, India, or Europe and America, is simply so big and powerful a culture that it will continue to influence the countries around it.

    Japan avoided that for some centuries by locking itself up. But it was ideologically intensely Confucian in those times, too. It’s just that the non-Chinese parts of Japanese culture were strong enough to suppress some of the humanism of Chinese Confucianism. Or so it seems to me.

    I was never able to enjoy Ikkitousen, but thanks to prettyprophet for reminding me of The Ravages of Time 火鳳燎原, which I will take a look at now. I’m enjoying the Souten Kouro anime again, after some down episodes.

  9. @prophet

    I’d read ‘Ravages of Time” except that it looks like it has way too many guys in it, where’s Sun Ce the hot chick, and Liu Bei the party girl??? 😉

    @ hashi

    The reason I used the word parasite is twofold: 1) it’s flashy; 2) by the biological definition as I quoted at the beginning of the post, parasitism is not necessarily destructive, and so I felt I could back up my use of the word in the context of Japan. So to sum it up, I felt I could get away with being provocative and calling “Japan” a parasite while feeling secure that I could defend my decision to do so. Kinda childish, huh..

    I suspect you might dislike the use of the word “parasite” for humans ‘in principle’, and if that’s so then I hear you and I understand. It’s not something people like to be called.

    But as to the actual propriety of the word (once you accept its use for people), let’s see. I don’t see England as a parasite of Europe because England was conquered by 1) the Romans; 2) then the Angles, Saxons, Jutes; 3) finally, the Normans. All of these groups were continental, and it’d be crazy to call a conquered country a parasite because it adopted it’s conquerors’ customs. Notice Japan wasn’t taken over by China. This continued independence of Japan, coupled with massive importation of culture from China, is what makes the word “parasite” (according to the definition I gave) applicable.

    Northern Europe and Rome, that’s a different case. The Romans were weak and couldn’t withstand continued Barbarian attacks, so they began to allow their enemies in, educated them and gave them jobs. Eventually, the Barbarians became strong and insolent enough that they rebelled from within and tore the Empire to shreds. This does sound like a case of parasitism, and parasitism of the destructive kind.

    Everything else you said, I agree with you. I imagine that a Chinese Confucianist looking at the Japanese Confucianists would accuse them of perverting the teaching pretty much. It’s interesting that the Wang Yangming School, that’s blamed in China for the fall of the Ming dynasty, had such a powerful standing in Japan. Wang Yangming is much more about immediate action and subjectivity than Zhu Xi, so I think it all makes sense but…

    I’ve heard bloggers praising Souten Kouro while at the same time accusing it of being boring… I imagine it’s not the same people saying both things..

  10. Souten Kouro had a ridiculously cheesy element in the 2nd episode, otherwise I’ve seen 5 and I like them very much.

  11. […] of foreigners in the story. On the one hand, you could certainly read this in a similar fashion to Ikkitousen and conclude that the film is an indictment of blind loyalty to traditional values and ideas of […]

  12. Oh my god.

    You are brilliant.

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