Companion Post to “Ikki Tousen, China and Japan”

Where I come from people say that “lazy folk work twice as hard.”  In my last post I said I was too lazy to back up my statements, but that I would provide sources if asked.  And of course people asked me about them!  I’ve identified 10 major statements I made in that post.  Here I’ll try to provide some links and sources.



I. The administration of Japan, the gridding of its society, was built on Chinese principles.

The central example: the Ritsuryo system. [see here]

II. 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.

In fact, the name Nihon is of Chinese or Korean origin, indicating the position of Japan to their East, and it began to be used around the time the Yamato court was being solidified. [source]

III. Very early on in Yamato, the Japanese Emperors claimed equality with (and subsequently supremacy over) their Chinese counterparts…

“From the Emperor of the Rising Sun to the Emperor of the Setting Sun” starts a letter from Empress Suiko to China, written by her son Prince Shotoku [source].  Equality is claimed and superiority is already around the corner.  This occurs as early as around 600 A.D.

IV. 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.

This is called the Sangoku (=Three Countries) ideology.  Great source [here] (scroll down to the section titled “The Final Dharma Age”).  Super brief summary: First Age of Buddhism in India is glorious; Second Age in China is irreversible decline; Third Age is meant to be total degeneration but Japan picks up the mantle, becomes the center of the Buddhist world and the superior nation in Asia.

V. Nichiren Buddhism is probably one of the clearest examples of this, but there are others.

Nichiren’s writings, which I can’t seem to track down online at the moment, are full of this.  Most of his own followers eventually see him as the new Buddha, the next in the sequence after Gautama [source].  Notice the absence of a Chinese Buddha in between.

As for other examples, Japanese Confucian scholars are as committed to this thinking, maybe because as their whole framework was Chinese, they felt they needed to emphasize Chinese failure and Japanese success.

a) Ito Jinsai claimed that Confucius despaired of Chinese rulers and dreamed to go teach the Eastern Barbarians, which included (argued Ito, without much proof) Japan.  In fact, the Imperial Throne’s continuity meant that Japan had done a much better job than China.  China fell short according to its own Confucian standard, and Japan was much more qualified to be a true Middle Kingdom, even though it was ethnically a barbarian state. [source here, pp. 22-30]

b) “True Confucian institutions had been preserved in Japan but abandoned in unitary China…China had degenerated while Japan had remained pure.”  General line of many Tokugawa Confucian thinkers, though the Shoguns themselves saw China in a more positive light. [source here, pp. 78-80]

VI. […] 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.

Well, I said this was my opinion, but for the very last part:  “If one word could characterize the entire history of Chinese history, that word would be humanism…  Humanism has dominated Chinese thought from the dawn of its history” [page 3, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Prof. Wing-Tsit Chan]

VII. 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 by and large remained Buddhist and Shintoist even then.

One can read the first paragraph [here], for example.

VIII. 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.

“Ages ago, in the Three Kingdoms era, heroes tried to unite China…and failed.  After their defeat, the heroes’ spirits came to rest in jewels known as Magatama.” [from the manga jacket]  We know these jewels end up in Japan and the battle was renewed.  I’m assuming the author will eventually conclude the struggle…

IX. Of course, from a traditional Japanese perspective, Chinese failure is not a contingent event, but the manifest destiny of Japan itself.

I covered in points IV and V Chinese failure and Japan’s success.  The notion of “manifest destiny” refers to Japan’s (Shinto) status as “Land of the Gods”.  This is something that Japanese students of China (whether Buddhist or Confucian) never forgot.  The fact is that the Sun Goddess favors Japan.  Kitabatake Chikafusa, who wrote the influential “Chronicle of the Direct Descent of Japanese Emperors”, was a Buddhist monk [source here].

China never had the protection of the Gods, so how could it not fail?  The Confucian Ito Jinsai [see V (a) above] believed the Chinese had failed to maintain the ancient administration.  Japan’s success in this area was credited to the unbroken Imperial and divine line [page 26 of the source in V (a)].  Therefore it is the manifest presence of the divine gods that allows Japan to succeed and prevents China from doing so.  And these gods have been around since the separation of Heaven and Earth [source here] and thus before the nations.  So it was destiny for Japan to succeed.  Q.E.D. 🙂

[As a recap, the process goes like this.  1) Initially Japan possesses a nativistic self-centered worldview.  2) Japan meets China and absorbs various arts and philosophies.  3) Japan conceives itself as superior to China in China’s own (Confucian, Buddhist) terms and through the power of its original native deities.]

X. No wonder the Japanese love baseball!

For an interesting article on nationalism and baseball in Japan, go [here].  For the Japanese love of baseball and its international repercussions, go [here].  😉


I leave you with a string of quotes from Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson’s thoughts on Japan (circa 1914).  God bless the historians of the British Empire.  I would suggest to you that these words resonate with the world of Ikki Tousen.

“The Japanese have originated nothing; they took all their ideas from China; and their literature and art is curiously unintellectual […]  They are active, sensuous, ambitious, at need agressive […]  The Japanese Samurai renounced desire, not that he might enter Nirvana, but that he might acquire the contempt of life which would make him a perfect warrior.  [pp. 64-68 of source, downloadable here]

~ by Haloed Bane on May 20, 2009.

5 Responses to “Companion Post to “Ikki Tousen, China and Japan””

  1. Quite impressive, those sources you have there. Personally I think that the Japanese have largely gotten over this, and while the Japanese adaptations of Chinese culture sound rather scary, I find it more funny than anything else.

    The internet, however, is a completely different issue. I have a feeling that all nationalist in all asian countries are accumulated in the ‘sphere. And I am actually glad that this blog is apparently not being read by nationalistic Chinese/Japanese/whatever trolls, because they would come after you with unbelievable ridiculousness like these people. XD

  2. Good work, real good work. That gave me a lot of shit to read.

  3. @Sasa

    Yes, not being read by such people is actually a blessing!! I have a degree in Asian History, but haven’t even taken a single course on Bickering 🙂 As to the Japanese getting over it, I think there is an abyss in the Japanese psyche that opens up in the year 1945, so that post-45 Japanese and pre-45 Japanese thought is radically different. There is a continuity, sure, but it’s distorted. A lot of what was spoken and believed before 45, went on to be unspoken and believed. Finally, we’ve reached the point where it is unspoken and unthought, but unconsciously still held to, and likely to show up in funny places like manga. But this is just my sense of things, and not something I can back up…


    Enjoy the links! In the meantime, I’ll be reading Ikki Tousen.

  4. Failed to unite China? Author forget about the Sima clan taking over everything? Conquest takes time, yo.

  5. @prophet

    OK, that’s an excellent point. Yes, the Three Kingdoms end with unification. But I think the author is looking to the fact that only 30 or 40 years after that the North was overrun and split up again, so that “unification” failed to take hold.

    China is humongous in comparison with Japan. Therefore, unification is going to be 50 times more complex. Still, because the Japanese came to see themselves as equal to China, this means that in their mindset unification should be just as hard or just as easy. And thus the fact that Japan was quite unified while China kept being split (not to mention, invaded and ruled by Mongols, etc) is going to prove in their minds that China is failing in a test which Japan has passed…

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