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

Posts tagged ‘Japan’

Heavy Heart

My heart is breaking for Japan this morning. They were hit with a massive 8.9 magnitude quake off the coast of Sendai (northern Japan). It’s the biggest in the 140 years they’ve been keeping records. Much of the damage was caused by the 23-foot monster tsunami that hit the coast near Sendai.

From what I’ve read, trains, flights and most public transportation has been stopped–something that almost never happens in country dependent upon it. Millions of people are without power and thousands more have lost their homes along the coast. Unfortunately the death toll will be rising over the next few days and weeks 😦

Here’s a site I found that gives the truly heart stopping truth with pictures of the devastation. I’ve been crying on and off all morning…Japan is a nation that’s had my heart for awhile (if you haven’t noticed…). Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

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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 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. 🙂

Background for The Scarlet Daughter

I’m sure some of you wonder why I chose to write and set The Scarlet Daughter  in 1890s Japan (the Meiji era in Japanese history). Why choose a time and place that’s fairly obscure to most of Western culture?

Well there are many reasons, so many that I’ll do a little “mini-series” on my blog about it. I’m sure it won’t be very interesting to many–especially if you aren’t a huge history fan–but I thought it might be something of interest to a few 🙂  The Meiji era is such an interesting time, when Japan truly transformed. And it’s a time when the country had to adjust to many new and very foreign ideas, something that didn’t always settle well with many who were used to the old ways. This is just a sampling of some of the conflicts that I try to examine in The Scarlet Daughter through Naomi’s character.

Of course, there’s much more–so much that I’m still researching and learning about it (just discovered another new tidbit today that may change Ryuji’s backstory slightly). Anyway, I’ll post more details about it come next week, in case you’re interested. If not, well that’s your loss 😛

Arranged Marriage

So…I’m trying to decide if I should add this new “twist” to my Scarlet Daughter  or not. The twist? An arranged marriage. Well, sort of.

First, a bit of background.

Arranged marriage was pretty much the way you got married in Japan. It was a family affair. You see, Japan was built on the concept of ie or the household. Your family generally consisted of three generations (grandparents, children, grandchildren) and the family head (the grandfather or father) would often be the one who decided who you’d marry. There were go-betweens too, sort of like matchmakers in the Chinese society, although I’ve yet to find out how big of a role they played and how similar it was (if at all) to the Chinese. Anyway, the concept of a love match was an individual affair–not community based–and was about as foreign to them as the idea of a community based society is to us. Marriage was for the benefit of the family and love came, if you were lucky, after time.

Now in Japan, pre-1898 (before the Meiji Civil Code) marriages were not really “legalized” meaning there wasn’t really a huge ceremony, court records, etc. There may have been a small private affair between families but that was it. At least from the research I’ve been able to find.

The divorce rate in Japan pre 1898 was also very high, the highest in the world at that time. This was because unions were essentially done on a “trial marriage” basis and since there was really no legal tie-ups and whatnot, divorces were as simple as the husband issuing a mikudarihan or “three-and-a-half lines” dissolving the union. Of course, it was only the husband who could issue it (although in some cases, the woman’s natal family would coerce him into making one) and it generally happened within two years. Mainly it was because the couple simply were incompatible with one another, although there were also instances where the husband simply grew tired of his wife, or she wasn’t producing an heir, etc.

A divorce at that time also didn’t carry with it a social stigma for the woman. One third of women remarried within less than a year of their divorce, showing that it wasn’t really as scandalous as it would’ve been in Western society.

Now, where am I going with all of this?

I was trying to decide if maybe I should put Naomi in one of these “trial marriages.” Of course, it would initially start out as a guise to hide her, although as the book progresses it may become more evident that it was her father’s plan from the beginning (although hidden from her and even her guardian, Ryuji, who would obviously be the arranged husband). Of course there would be the whole eventual falling in love between them, etc. but I’m unsure if I should do this simply because I’m afraid it could be a bit cliche. I guess I could try it…although I’m fairly certain it’s going to throw my crit group for a loop 😛

Anyway, do you think it’s something I should try? Perhaps I should resort to flipping a coin…

Someday…

I’m in one of those dreamer-type moods. Maybe it’s because it’s past midnight. Anyway…

Someday…someday I’d like to travel here.

Kakunodate, Akita, Tohoku region

This is the small village that my MC Naomi is taken to in The Scarlet Daughter. I’m not sure if the river was lined with the cherry trees back in 1890, but it definitely had the cherry blossom line streets like this picture below shows:

Cherry blossoms in the former samurai district

The trees are a few hundred years old and the streets are set up in the former samurai quarter as they would’ve been when Naomi arrived. Of course it probably wasn’t paved and there probably weren’t as many people as this was a remote village, but it would’ve looked very similar.

And the houses of course, which would be similar to the one she was brought to:

Since I can’t make it there any time soon, I’ll have to console myself with pictures online. Ah, the wonders of the internet!

Of course I can’t forget the village I’ve used as inspiration for Miyuki’s home in Lady of the Snow.

The villages of Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture are still very remote today. Back in the 18th century, in the winter, they would’ve been cut off from the world until spring.

Seeing this picture below, it’s no wonder:

It’s pretty easy to picture her living in a village like this, with the steep roofs that are said to resemble praying hands. The roof style is unique to the area because of the amount of snow; villagers quickly learned the necessity of making a house like that.

Even in the springtime the character of the old village isn’t lost:

Someday…someday I’ll visit both these places. The inspiration for my book’s settings.

Now I’ll just have to dream about being there 🙂

This is why I could never come up with a fantasy world–there are too many places in the real world that are more beautiful than I could imagine.

Oh, Happy Day! For a History Geek Anyway

As many of you know (especially those of you writing historicals), finding information for the time and place for our novel’s setting can be quite a challenge. This can be even more difficult if you choose a more obscure culture and the language barrier can often be a factor.

I don’t know how many books I’ve found on Amazon or other sites that I get excited over because of the immense amount of answers that could possibly be found between the pages. And then I find out that the libraries around here don’t supply it–even through interlibrary loan. 😦

Well that’s not so bad, right? I could always purchase it from Amazon since it’s there.

Wrong! Especially when the book is out of print and rare and the only sellers that have it charge a ridiculous amount ($200 or more seems to be the norm…).

Well, for once, one of the books that I longed for, I managed to find on interlibrary loan. I didn’t get my hopes too high because there have been times where the book is available but for some odd reason the library doesn’t send it or it’s “not supplied” (despite being shown available).

This book was actually sent. 😀

What book is it? It’s called Japan’s Folk Architecture and it has tons of info on the minka or traditional farm houses of the Japanese country side–including the unique gassho-zurkuri from the Takayama region (which is what the setting of my book is based upon). On Amazon the book sells for nearly $400. And I’ve gotten it for free, thanks to the library 🙂

While describing the houses of the region isn’t an incredibly important aspect of the book itself, it’s always good to have that info if needed.

 Now I don’t have to try and imagine what it looks like by piecing together images, videos and descriptions from elsewhere in my head.

I realize this shows my geeky side–how excited I get over a book used for research purposes 😛 But I’m incredibly happy–this definitely made my day!

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