My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

I want!

I’ve always longed to dress up in fashions of the past. Sure, I wouldn’t really have any place to where it, except my house and maybe a historical reenactment group if I could find one, but the desire will always be there.

Here’s a site I found with AWESOME dresses from the Regency era through the Roaring 20s.

And what better way to get into character than by dressing up? 🙂

Tsukiji: The Former Foreign District

My book really has one main setting, which is in the small town of Kakunodate in Northern Japan.  Most of it takes place here, where Naomi learns her Japanese heritage. However, it starts off in Tsukiji, which was the foreigners district in Tokyo prior to 1899.

Foreign settlements were established specifically for the Westerners and were in cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagasaki and Kobe. Tsukiji was on the outskirts of the city, build on reclaimed land with canals and bridges. It was built here because it safely removed from the center of the city in the event any anti-foreign violence erupted.  Here in Tsukiji, many Western ways of life spread into the city and throughout the country, from fashion, to new forms of education and medicine, to the Western style hotels, like the Seiyoken. A few schools and hospitals were started here that continue today: St. Paul’s (or Rikkyo) University, the American School in Japan and St. Luke’s Hospital.

After 1899, foreigners were no longer confined to living in Tsukiji. The district was nearly completely destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and after it, government officials decided that relocating the city’s fishmongers to the former foreign district was a better idea. It’s now the internationally known Tsukiji Fish Market.

Tsukiji is the area where my MC Naomi grew up. Though she’s only there for the first chapter and a half of my novel, it still remains an important part of my character’s background.

For more information and some nifty old photographs of Tokyo’s foreign district as well as the famous hotel Seiyoken, head on over to the Old Tokyo page here and here.

The Dark Ocean Society

The leader of the Genyosha, Mitsuru Toyama, at age 25 (circa 1880). By this time, he was already exerting quite a bit of influence and planting the seeds of his ultranationalist group.

Ah, the Dark Ocean Society…one of the main groups that was integral in developing Japan’s national conscious prevalent during WWII. What does this have to do with my book though?

Well, in my story, I’ve developed a fictional similar “society” and of course they’re looking for my MC because she’s the daughter of a very influential businessman in Japan (again, fictional :)) These secret societies–of which the Genyosha helped spawn many–would use underhanded means to coerce people into supporting their cause, which was generally a more nationalistic, “anti-foreign”, expansionist agenda. According to David Kaplan, in his book Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld, the Dark Ocean Society or the Genyosha, almost single-handedly formed a “new patriotic social order” and “through a campaign of terror, blackmail and assasination, [their] work would prove highly effective , exerting particular influence over members of the officer corps and the government bureaucracy.”

A little scary huh? Well, their leader, Mitsuru Toyama, made sure all of his “agents” were placed in all aspects of society–from simple plumbers, carpenters and other tradesmen, to body guards surrounding important political officials as well as “strong-armed persuaders” (i.e. “thugs”) to local businessmen. Many of the agents were trained in martial arts, foreign language and spying techniques so that they could infiltrate whatever level of society they needed.

The Genyosha members were also responsible for maiming foreign minister Okuma Shigenobu in 1889 by throwing a bomb into his carriage; this happens the year before my novel takes place. Over the years they also stabbed and murdered a few other important statesmen. They also had a rather extensive network of brothels set up in China to gather information from its wealthy patrons.

In the 1890s, when my novel takes place, they were really beginning to gain quite a bit of influence and national attention, even though they were technically “secret.” I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to use the actual group in my book or a fictional one based off them (thinking the fictional one may be a bit easier, not sure though). Anyway, they’re quite interesting to learn about and I only just touched on some of it. A great deal more info can be found in Kaplan’s book as well as various places online.

The Meiji Era: The Perfect Setting

Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin...

Image via Wikipedia

The Meiji Era lasted from 1868 to 1912. Until the arrival of Perry’s “Black Ships” in 1853, the country had been isolated from the world for 200 years. Once the country’s borders were forcibly opened, the country began to change rapidly.

The old feudal system was demolished by 1868, with supreme rule transferring over from the last Tokugawa shogun to Emperor Meiji.  Of course, there was some resentment from the samurai class, whose power was taken away during this time. The well-known movie, The Last Samurai (which is completely inaccurate with Tom Cruise’s character by the way) is set during this time and the last rebellion by the samurai in 1877.

It was a time of drastic change–in military, education and the general way of life. Some embraced the change, quickly adapting to the new Western clothing and ways, while many others still preferred the old way of life. By the 1890s,  a more conservative and ultra-national train of thought began to be adopted by many, with the rise of dozens of small ultra-nationalist (and often terrorist) groups. The main one, called the Dark Ocean Society, or the Genyosha, wished to expand Japan’s growing military power across the Asian continent. The roots of Japan’s ideology during World War II  can be traced back to this time.

With all of this upheaval in society, what better time to choose for a novel, right? Especially one where the MC is part of both cultures. I did this purposefully, to try to examine on a small scale the whole East meets West conflict. And of course, once I did more research and discovered that the late 1880s/early 1890s was a time when terrorist groups really began to take hold of the country, I found my antagonist (well, one of them anyway.)

Later this week, I’ll examine the Dark Ocean Society in more detail whom I base my fictional terrorist group off of.

This is why I love writing historical fiction; there’s so many interesting tidbits that you find when researching. Of course, it can be challenging, but it’s always exciting when you find something that can really work into the plot of your book. 🙂

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