By Dan Griliopoulos on April 3rd, 2012 at 11:30 am.
Dan has been playing through Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai for us. Here’s the first diary of his attempts to restore traditionalism to an empire heading towards modernisation: a tale of betrayal, Fukushima and Project Gutenberg.
I’ve been reading an old, pre-WWI tourist book on Japan, Lafcadio Hearn’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan. It’s a fantastic book with humiliatingly good writing, it’s forgotten by all but distracted antiquarians like me, and it’s free on Project Gutenberg.The country in those days is all buddhist temples and cocklegatherers and jinrickshas and hungry spirits, but Hearn still manages to convey the feeling that modernisation / westernisation has damaged Japan irreparably. He writes:
“That the critical spirit of modernised Japan is now indirectly aiding rather than opposing the efforts of foreign bigotry to destroy the simple, happy beliefs of the people, and substitute those cruel superstitions which the West has long intellectually outgrown—the fancies of an unforgiving God and an everlasting hell—is surely to be regretted. More than hundred and sixty years ago Kaempfer wrote of the Japanese ‘In the practice of virtue, in purity of life and outward devotion they far outdo the Christians.’ And except where native morals have suffered by foreign contamination, as in the open ports, these words are true of the Japanese to-day. My own conviction, and that of many impartial and more experienced observers of Japanese life, is that Japan has nothing whatever to gain by conversion to Christianity, either morally or otherwise, but very much to lose.”
These conflicted feelings about Westernisation(still visible in Pom Poko and other modern Japanese movies) is the first half of Fall of the Samurai’s theme. The second, entangled, theme is the conflict of 1854 between the spiritual power of the Emperor, declaring that the Westerners must be expelled from Japan, and the temporal power of the Shogun, the country’s actual samurai ruler for the previous 200 years and friend of the Westerners. Half the warriors in the country employ the traditional methods; lamellar armour, yumi (bows), yari (spears) and nihonto (blades), and the other half use antiquated flintlock ‘tanegashima’, first used around 300 years before. Meanwhile, the westerners have Gatling guns and rifling, for sale.
Given that setting, given the resistance to modernisation then, and given the Ghibli-symbolic longing present in modern Japan for those more traditional days, when the spirits were immediate and the currency was a ball of rice, I decide to represent that feeling. I’ll play the game as a traditionalist, focussing on traditional methods of power gathering; diplomacy, shinobi, tanegashima and moving forests of sharpened bamboo. I go for the most traditionalist of the Daimyos, the Aizu. This does ally me with the too-progressive Shogunate, but I figure at least my people will be happy and once the Emperor is removed once and for all, we can have sit-down and a nice cup of tea, and talk about how to roll back modernisation.
Now, I apologise in advance if this diary isn’t as funny as you expect these things to be. It’s just really hard to maintain a sense of humour when your starting area is Fukishima. I mean, if any country in the world has a right to be skeptical about the advance of technology, it’s the country that’s been nuked twice deliberately then once accidentally. Each time I come back to my province, I see that name and just gawp at it. Next to my fleet is the coastline where towns were swept away; near my port is where the Daichi reactors were.
Anyway, enough melancholy. To the game! It is 1864, and I am the new 18-year old Daimyo of Fukushima, commonly called Katamori, but who looks like a Reginald to me. Looking at my situation, it doesn’t seem so bad as the “hard” rating for the Aizu promised; I’m surrounded by well-disposed domains, so my first is obviously to make friends with all my neighbours. I call them all up on Skype and throw money and trade agreements at them until even the Imperials love me. Except for the Utsonmiya that is, who appear to be my implacable mortal enemies. Ho-hum, I think, as a thousand retainers start sharpening bamboo.
Then I launch my campaign against the Utsunomiya. I have no family members and just one general, Hiroshi, who is *very* good at walking. He is rapidly adopted as my heir and son, and I dearly love his funny little moustache that you could only get away with before WWII. He takes the majority of my army to hide in a thicket near the Utsunomiya. I then spend all the money my ancestors have spent the last two hundred years saving to have my shinsegumi (a Shogunate factotum) incite a rebellion in the Utsonmiya province, shortly before the Utsonmiya attack me.
Our first skirmish is decisive; I use my solitary unit of White Tiger gunmen to draw the opponents’ massed fire and just fling five hundred spearmen at them. I lose half my army, he loses his entire force. Sadly, my heir lead the charge and is the first of many heirs I will lose in the next two years. They seem somewhat headstrong, always ending up just in front of the first volley of the enemy guns.
That’s the last easy battle I fight.
My idiot decision to squander my treasury on an insurrection means there’s now a MAMMOTH rebel army standing between me, my reinforcements and the enemy castle, Tochigi. I hesitate, not knowing whether to fight them or attack the Utsonmiya or worry about the Numata who just declared war on me for no reason and the Shogun is ordering me to wipe out and I don’t even know where they are..! (and breath)… so I send assassins against the Utsonmiya Daimyo, whilst bravely running my army back into the woods. Whilst my shinsegumi is using the new poison bottle he found on the enemy Daimyo, the rebels crushes the Utsonmiya forces and take his capital. Much rejoicing is heard.
War having commenced (even though I was attacked, on my territory, by a clan who everyone agrees are the degenerate, inbred descendants of ambulatory penii), two of my allies immediately betray me, cancelling our trade routes and sending armies my way. With the Imperial Numata, it’s fair enough, because they’ve got to obey that Emperor chap and his asthmatic sidekick on Coruscant, so they’re practically born evil, but my fellow Shogunners?
Now, this maybe because I’m playing on hard with the hardest clan, but all these allies betraying me seems mean. I mean, the Jozai changed their allegiance of 200 years just to fuck me over. The Sendai just declared war even though we were on the same side! That’s hardcore! And, yes, I’m well aware the scholars out there are saying that this is an excellent representation of realpolitik in 19th century Japan but they can sod back off to their Gilbert & Sullivan and Mikado (I remember when it was called Pocky).
Anyway, the first to betray me are my first allies, the Jozai clan, breaking the alliance and sending all their troops against me in one turn. My force is once again trapped between the walls of the effing Castle of Tochigi and an advancing army. I attack the rebels, gambling that if I get inside the walls I’ll be safe. My shinsengumi again sneaks into the castle and assassinates the rebel leader, whilst my force attempts to besiege it – only to be met by the surprisingly large rebel force sallying out into the misty forests…