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

Posts tagged ‘yakuza’

Pieces Falling Into Place

Don’t you love it when pieces of your story begin to fall into place? Especially if you’re doing historical fiction and you find something that just would be a great fit into your storyline?

Where does this come from, you ask? Well, after my initial idea was found to be quite inaccurate  (see Pitfalls of Historical Fiction entry for more details), I decided to try and make a decision on the path of my novel by doing a little research.

And I think I’m going with path #1.

I know most in the comments were leaning towards #2 but Kaiyo is so firmly established in my head as half Japanese and American that I feel that changing her appearance would essentially be changing her entire character. I really tried to picture her in the second option, but I just couldn’t see her without some other aspect of her personality changing with it. (That and Kaiyo pretty much began to throw a tantrum at me trying to “change” her. Gotta love these tempermental characters.)

So I went looking for something that would make #1 plausible and came across something. Instead of a politician, her father would be the head of a zaibatsu, or a business conglomerate of the time, often family run and operated (See the Wikipedia entry on Zaibatsu here). An example of a zaibatsu is the modern day company  Mitsubishi. They first developed in 1870 as a shipping firm. Of course they eventually expanded into coal mining, shipbuilding, banking, real estate and eventually the auto manufacturer (as well as many other industries today). They were also the same company that developed the Mitsubishi Zero of World War II as well as other famous Japanese bombers.

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. 😛 This information makes it more plausible for my character’s parents to meet. If Kaiyo’s father is the head (or at least someone close to the head of the company) in a similar fictional zaibatsu (loosely based after Mitsubishi) that was a shipping firm, it’s more likely that they would interact and work with American entrepreneurs coming in to “modernize” the country in the late 1860s and 1870s, thus providing an opportunity for her American mother to be introduced to him. Though mixed relationships were still uncommon (especially for an American woman and Japanese man) I do know that the possibility of such is historically accurate as I read about a real, though unnamed, married couple in Clara’s Diary: An American Girl in Meiji Japan.

Also, by 1890, the zaibatsu had significant influence on politics as they would often give substantial amounts of money to the party they supported. This could play a role in the antagonist’s arrival (a member of the terrorist organization Genyosha) and the reasoning behind using Kaiyo as leverage and blackmail. Books and film have portrayed these organizations as often involved in shady dealings and have connections to the yakuza (which would also tie into the novel, although at this point in history the yakuza were still mainly involved in gambling and street peddling).

I have to do more research on this, but I’m thinking that this makes things more realistic and accurate for my book without changing my character and trying to morph her appearance in my mind’s eye. Who knows, it may not work after all and I may be forced to go that route anyway, but for now I’m going to try and make this one work.

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The Pitfalls of Historical Fiction

Historical fiction can be incredibly hard to write and master, as I’ve recently discovered. You may have an idea or storyline and then realize that historically, it’s not accurate.

I discovered this last night.

No, it wasn’t at my critique session–that went remarkably well actually–but it was after I came home and decided to do a little research reading. I picked up my copy of Confessions of a Yakuza, a memoir of sorts about a yakuza boss pre-WWII. This has been the only book thus far that’s given me any idea of what the yakuza were like before the movie stereotype of loan sharking, drug lords in modern Japan. Pre WWII, they were mainly (if not solely) focused on gambling as their main way of operating (there were two types of yakuza, the bakuto, who were the gamblers, and the tekiya, who did more peddling/scamming type things).

I realized reading further into the book that it would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for my MC’s American mother to have EVER crossed paths with a yakuza member.

Initially, I thought that they would meet because of the “front business” (which would have been real estate). But reading further into the book, I discovered that these gangs had only the pretense of a front business (the gang in Confessions used theater props in their store fronts as they were pretending to be a business of making these props) but wouldn’t have actually been involved in that market.

I also highly doubt my MC’s American grandfather would have been allowed at said establishment.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t consider all of this before. I suppose I got caught up in the modern image of the yakuza before I did my research (major bluff on my part). But now I need to come up with a slightly different plot line.

There are a few different ways I can approach it:

  1. Kaiyo’s father is no longer a yakuza boss but someone high up in politics. He would be close to the foreign minister Ōkuma Shigenobu, who was nearly assassinated in 1889 because of his position with the unequal treaty revision plan (basically, he was a foreign/Western supporter and the Genyosha, an ultranationalist terrorist group, used members of organized crime to terrorize foreigners and liberal politicians). If her father is among this group, they could use Kaiyo as leverage against him to sway his power and position towards their more ultranationalist leanings. I would also use an actual historical figure, Toyama Mitsuru, who was a leader of this terrorist group, as a major character (or at least the power behind the other antagonist). The yakuza would still be involved, though her father would not be part of this.
  2. Kaiyo would not be half American and half Japanese. This would be a major change as part of the story is her struggling to find her identity. However, if I were to change this, her father could still be a yakuza boss and her mother could’ve been someone involved with him. Kaiyo, however, would have never known her and perhaps she is raised by a Western missionary couple instead. The conflict would then be that though she is full blood Japanese, she acts more Western and hardly knows her culture because of how she was raised. This would be an interesting storyline (and would be fairly similar to the whole “fish out of water” storyline I currently have going, only that she would be fully Japanese, but only in looks) 

So I have some decisions to make. I won’t have to start over or anything, but I would have to change a few plot angles to make it flow better. I’ll still be able to write the ending this weekend like I planned on doing–it hasn’t changed that at all.

Ah, such is the life of a historical fiction novel: always changing and evolving especially when research suggests another path to take.

Anyway, if you’ve been patient enough to read this, which story angle–#1 or #2–sounds better or more appealing/plausible?

The Insurmountable Task of Researching One’s Novel

I’ve discovered very early on that it’s incredibly challenging researching for a novel that takes place in a culture and in a place completely different from your own.

Since my book in set in Japan in the mid-Meiji era (1890), it’s posing to be a challenge. For one, as an American and “westerner” I’m not experienced in the Eastern culture, so I really have to immerse myself in books, videos and other sorts of research to put myself there and not make any major cultural gaffes.

And then there’s the language barrier…I don’t exactly speak Japanese (although I’m hoping to learn at some point). I know a few words and phrases; I know how people are addressed (-san, -chan, -sama, etc.). Still it’s difficult creating what I would think is semi-accurate dialogue.

And of course, it’s really hard setting my book in a real town that’s basically remained unchanged since that time and can only rely on pictures online and descriptions of it to put it in my book. Unfortunately, with limited income, I can’t really afford a two-week trip to Northern Japan to do the really great research I’m dying to do.

Oh and I can’t forget the whole aspect of involving the yakuza in my book. Finding detailed information on this has been frustrating at best. I’m thinking it has something to do with the fact that it’s still a bit of a taboo talking about this vast and incredibly complex “underworld.” I have found a few books and some information on the Web out there but not enough detail for the time period I’m needing. Most of the information comes from part of the Taisho period (1912-1926) and then a great deal during the Showa period (1926-1989). Mine takes place in 1890…I know it existed then–they’ve been around since the Edo period. And I also know it probably vaguely resembled the modern yakuza. All I can ever find for my time period is a page or two at most of info…

I’m not giving up though. I just have to find another way to go about it. And I will not sacrifice historical and cultural accuracy–books like that make me extremely annoyed as a reader; I do not want to put my readers in the same boat.

I suppose this is part of the fun of being an aspiring novelist!

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