Thursday 11am (UK time)

Jonathan Clements will examine the life and achievements of one of Japan’s first modern international celebrities, Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934), from his teenage participation in the “Anglo-Satsuma War” of 1863, through his youth as a student at a British maritime school, and his long career in the Imperial Japanese Navy. In 1905, after Tōgō’s defeat of the Tsar’s fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, he was hailed as the “Nelson of the East” and an honorary Englishman; his flagship, the Mikasa, can still be found at the Yokosuka dockside.

Jonathan Clements is the author of many books on Asian history and culture, including Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, Japan at War in the Pacific: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1868-1945 and A Brief History of Japan. He has presented three seasons of Route Awakening, a TV series about icons of Chinese history and culture for National Geographic. After speaking to us last year about the samurai, Dr Clements returns to YCAPS to discuss the famous “silent admiral” who charmed the British, sank the Russians, and scolded Theodore Roosevelt for inadequate care of a samurai sword.

Eavesdropping on the Emperor

‘In the first 23 years of its operation, the institution then known as the London School of Oriental Studies (today’s SOAS) only produced two graduates in Japanese. This was despite repeated pressure from policy wonks like one Colonel Grimsdale, begging the establishment to have a ready supply of linguists to hand in case of any trouble in the East. The problem was, Grimsdale noted, “a number of chaps just can’t take these languages, and either take to drink or go a bit potty.”’

Over at All the Anime, I review Peter Kornicki’s Eavesdropping on the Emperor.

Easter 1638

“Vital documents about the rebel state of mind were ignored until after the Rebellion because they used terms in Latin, the secret cant of the Christians, unintelligible to non-believers. Biblical allusions in rebel correspondence and rhetoric sailed completely over the heads of their enemies. Jerome Amakusa held his army together through a long siege that lasted through Lent 1638, only to discover that his most trusted lieutenant was plotting to betray him on Easter Sunday. This irony escaped the notice of the government troops, who did not know what Easter Sunday was.”

From Christ’s Samurai: The True Story of the Shimabara Rebellion.

Tenpu Abu (1882-1928)

“Fritz becomes actively involved in espionage, scuttling a freighter to block the Panama Canal and hobble the US naval response. It is Fritz’s execution by the vengeful Americans that leads to an outright declaration of war by Germany. Japan frees India from British oppression, in part owing to the Nitahara-class aerial warships able to cross the Himalayas in a surprise attack…”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the author Tenpu Abu (1882-1928), part of the spinoffery from my work on my new book, Japan at War in the Pacific.

Conan & the Ratings

In a tongue-in-cheek reminiscence, Yasuhiko Tan, the NHK producer who greenlit Future Boy Conan over dozens of other possible projects, wrote of his interest in the show as if it were a deluded romance. Bewitched by the charms of the original offer, and over-awed by the appearance of the pilot episode, he alluded to the progress of his “relationship” as he continued to throw support behind a project that fell behind and became too big to fail, only to snatch disappointing ratings on broadcast.

“These days,” he wrote to Conan as if it were a fondly remembered ex, “people talk about you like you are the great anime masterpiece, but back then, your reputation, to be honest, wasn’t so good. The audience share didn’t meet up with people’s expectations, and I heard all sorts of stories. You know how difficult it is to hear bad things about the one you love, don’t you?”

Over at All the Anime, there’s an extract from Future Boy Conan: Miyazaki’s Directorial Debut, the book I’ve written with Andrew Osmond to accompany the UK release of the 1978 TV series.

Shattered Jewels

Over at the History Hack podcast, I talk to Alex and Zack about the role of music and songs in the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire, drawing on my new book, Japan at War in the Pacific.

Some of the songs mentioned include “Miya-san, Miya-san“, the revolutionary anthem of the Meiji Restoration, and “Miya-sama, Miya-sama“, its surprise reappearance in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, as well as “Myriad Enemies“, the stirring naval march that spent decades drumming the idea of “shattering like a jewel” into the minds of young recruits, and “Qing Lai“, the song about Chinese conjurors that the Japanese Imperial Army bulk-bought in thousands and scattered all over China six months after the Rape of Nanjing in a misguided effort in cultural outreach.

Paws for Thought

As a parent, one of the surprising things about my daily life is how many cartoons I end up having to sit through. I know, right? The irony. And I’m wondering what it is that is the cartoon of choice among the kids at Mamoru Hosoda’s house.

“Oh,” he says, “they are mad for PAW Patrol. It’s PAW Patrol all the time at our place.”

Blimey, I say to the director of Summer Wars and Belle, that must be awful.

“Oh no, it’s great,” he says graciously. “All these little dogs and it’s kind of like a sentai show. They love it.”

I personally can’t imagine the horror of being a world-class animator, who comes home after a tiring day making films to discover that your kids are obsessed with Canadian cartoon dogs, but Hosoda is determined not to be That Kind of Animator.

“I don’t make a big deal about being The Guy Who Made the Films,” he says, despite literally being the guy who made the films. “I did take my daughter to see Belle at the cinema, and there was one of those UFO Catcher machines at the cinema, which had Belle dolls in it. She was keen enough on the film to ask me to win her one. I must have put three thousand yen [£20] into that machine!”

At this point, I have to point out to him that he wrote and directed Belle and owned all the licences. If he wanted a box of Belle dolls dropped on his doorstep that night, he only had to make a phone call.

“Yes,” he says shyly, “but I’m not the kind of guy who says I directed the film. I’m the kind of Dad who wants his daughter to see him win something.”

It’s a lovely little window into his character, and into how sweetly he puts family ahead of work. But with the sight of both Belle and PAW Patrol: The Movie on the Oscars Best Animated Feature longlist, will there be a ceremonial burning of doggie merchandise at the Hosoda home?

“I think if my kids were voting members of the Academy, they would be voting for PAW Patrol without a second thought,” he grimaces. “But luckily, they’re not.”

[Peace was preserved when neither film made the shortlist] Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #217, 2022.

Anime in the UK

Anime in the UK: the History, Cultural Context, and Evolution of UK Anime Fandom by Leah Holmes is the culmination of over a decade’s work, an M.Phil thesis that covers 30+ years, most crucially of the 1990s, before the internet singularity so vastly increased the amount of data (and noise) available. A super-fun read for anyone who was there, and something of an eye-opener, I expect, for anyone who wasn’t.

Confessions of a Mask

“But as director Yuasa notes, the war was not merely a time of catastrophic conflict, but a spur to artistic creation, as travelling bards began recording martial deeds in song, in saga-like chronicles like the aforementioned Tale of the Heike. It was, Inu-Oh suggests, a crisis that helped form the Matter of Japan, a terrible national event that only healed over the centuries as later generations processed the trauma at first as a form of exorcism, and later through the creative arts.”

Over at All the Anime, and with a little help from Carl Sagan, I explain the complex historical origins of Masaaki Yuasa’s Inu-Oh — cursed swords, samurai spirits, forgotten rock stars and no business like Noh business.