Thursday, December 16, 2010

Coats of Arms

With the Fall of Rome Western Europe became a land of hundreds of petty states with thousands of "Lords" ruling as much of the countryside as they could take. These Lords took on titles such as Knight (an old Roman title), Baron, Count and the like. It became important to be able to identify each individual family so a system of Coats of Arms was established so that no two Lords had the exact same colors or designs. Some of the designs were simple and others more complex. Everything had a meaning, from the colors one chose to the objects of design.

Blue represented truth and loyalty, the lion was for courage and the cross stood for unity of Heaven and Earth.

The Royal Coat of Arms Of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II shows four separate shields that symbolise the kingdoms united under her rule. Her motto "Dieu et Mon Droit" means "God and My Right"

The Coat of Arms of His Royal Highness Prince William, future King of England. The white toothed bar at the top signifies his place as the eldest son.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Emperors of Nippon

Emperor Jimmu, the mythical 1st Emperor of Nippon (660-585 BCE)

From the dawn of the culture of Nippon the ruling dynasty has provided an unbroken line of Emperors. The earliest six are often referred to as the Emperors of Japaneses Mythology while the current Emperor Akihito is an active participant in current World affairs. Until 1945 the Emperor of Nippon was seen as Divine in the Shinto Religion.

Showa (Known as Hirohito in the US, but in Nippon the Emperor is given his "official" name after he dies), 124th Emperor of Nippon and last emperor believed to be Divine by the Japanese people. (1926-89)

The current emperor, Akihito, 125th Emperor of Nippon. (1989-present)By law the Emperor of Japan is "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people," in other words the emperor is now a ceremonial figurehead with little real political power but immense prestige.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Meiji Restoration, Japan Modernizes into a World Power

The few ships of the Tokugawa Shogunate "Navy" before Commodore Perry's visit in 1853, were coastal junks with no effective armament.
By the 1880's, the Imperial Japanese Navy contained warships of the latest design such as the protected cruiser Naniwa armed with machine guns,and breech loading cannons.

After the United States opened Japan to the Modern World, a massive culture shock shook the country to its core. The Tokugawa Shogunate wanted to keep the status-quo while the Young Emperor Meiji wanted to modernize the whole of Japanese society, without the Shogunate and Samurai Feudalism. This lead to brief, but bloody civil war. The modern Imperial Army and Imperial Navy won. Under Emperor Meiji's reform government a crash modernization program that touched every aspect of Japanese life was instituted. By the 1890's the new Japan had defeated the Chinese and in 1905-06 Japan won the Russo-Japanese War. For the first time in history an Asian nation had defeated a Major European Power. In less than fifty years Japan had advanced from 17th Century technology to that of the Modern World. Under the Meiji Restoration Japan had arrived as a Major World Power.

Meiji, the 122nd Emperor of Nippon, in traditional robes of state.
Emperor Meiji in the modern clothing of a European Imperial Head of State.
Samurai officers of the Tokugawa Shogunate circa 1866.
Officers and men of the modern Imperial Army of Japan circa 1890. They are equipped with the latest weapons, trained in the most current European tactics, and confident in the power of Modern Japan.
Emperor Meiji and his Imperial Consort Shoken in European dress befitting their station.

After the modernization of his nation, Emperor Meiji said,"I dreamed of a unified Japan. Of a country strong and independent and modern… Now we have railroads and cannon and Western clothing. But we cannot forget who we are. Or where we come from."

Perry, the Black Ships and the Opening of Japan

In 1852, Commodore Matthew Perry was ordered to sail to Japan with a squadron of seven US Navy warships and three supply ships. His orders were to open up the isolationist Japanese to friendly trade relations with the United States.

On July 8, 1853, Perry's squadron arrived unannounced and uninvited into Edo (Tokyo) Harbor.

The USS Powhatan, a modern steam powered frigate, was was one of Perry's ships. She was armed with one 11-inch(the diameter of the cannon shell), ten 9-inch and five 4.62-inch cannon. All were more modern and much larger than any cannon the Japanese possessed.

The Japanese had never before seen steam power, and were over awed by the size of Perry's modern cannon. Faced with overwhelming fire power, the Japanese agreed to negotiate a treaty with the USA.

The treaty gave the US the right to trade with Japan, ports of call privileges, coaling privileges and protection to shipwreck survivors. After 250 years of virtual isolation from the world, Japan was now opened up to the advances of the Industrial Revolution. The land of the Samurai would never be the same.

Japanese Theater

Japanese theater comprises three main styles. Noh the traditional aristocratic and oldest form of Japanese theater (dating from the early 1400's). Bunraku, the puppetry theater and Kabuki the highly stylized classical Japanese dance-drama.

> The Minamiza Theater is the oldest Kabuki theater in Nippon.
Noh masks demonstrate the emotions of the actors much like those that were worn in the plays of Ancient Greece.

In Bunraku-puppetry,the actor is present on the stage but is "hidden" from view by their dark costume.

Kabuki theater originated in the early 1600's and is still extremely popular. The actors wear elaborate make up, hair pieces and costumes as they tell traditional stories of Japanese life in the age of the Samurai.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tokugawa Ieyasu-the Greatest Shogun

At the end of the 16th Century, Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Shogunate that was to last past the mid-nineteenth century. Credited with ending the age of constant civil wars, Ieyasu's reign began a golden age in Japanese culture. Yet at times he was as ruthless as any enemy, at one point he ordered his own son and daughter-in-law to kill themselves to please an enemy. In the end he was a complex man with a strong vision for a peaceful, united Japan and the skill and willpower to accomplish this goal.

The War Helmet of Tokugawa Ieyasu with his family crest.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Katana-the Soul of the Samurai

The Katana was the "killing sword" of the Samurai. By the age of Tokugawa the sword was referred to as the "soul of the warrior" as the concept of personal battle embodied the spirit of "Bushido" and the "Five Rings."

Two swords were the hallmark of the samurai-the Katana and the shorter Wakizashi.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Shinto-The Way of the Kami

For more than 25 centuries Shinto has been the main religion of the people of Nippon. Shinto is a nature religion in which the Kami are the Shinto deities and natural spirits.

This is a traditional Shinto Shrine Gate (or Torii in Japanese). These symbolize the transition from the day to day world to the entrance to the world of the sacred.
There are "Four Core Structures"in Shinto:

1-Tradition and the family: The family is the main structure by which traditions are preserved. Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
2-Love of nature: Nature is sacred; to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods. Natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
3-Physical cleanliness.
4-"Matsuri": The worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits.

Today most Shinto followers also hold strong Buddhist beliefs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Daimyos Fortesses of Security-the Castles of Nippon

The standard castle design of Nippon was a stone foundation topped with a wood and stucco superstructure.

The sloping stone walls gave greater stability during earthquakes, a common occurrence in Nippon.

Gates contained smaller doors called sally ports that offered greater security when only a small force of samurai were entering or leaving the castle.

The gates were wood, reinforced with iron bands. This was expensive but greatly improved the the overall strength of the gate.

Tile roofs were both water and fire proof.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nippon-Land of the Rising Sun and Samurai

Himeji Castle, note the solid foundation for strength in earthquakes and the less ridged upper works for flexibility.
Sunrise over Mount Fujiyama
Sacred Mount Fujiyama has been a important fixture in the Shinto religion since the latters creation.
The Crest of Chrysanthemum is the Imperial Seal of Nippon.
The full armor of a samurai was both functional and a statement of wealth. The two swords were the mark of the samuari and restricted to only members of the samuari class.

These three samurai show both the traditional armour and weapons of their class.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Imperial Chinese Dragon

The Dragon Flag was the Imperial Flag of China.
By law and tradition the Imperial Dragon was illustrated with five toes and claws.