Second Draft

Shout It Out? Unlikely

Posted in Research,WorldBuilding by Michael Skeet on Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spent rather too much time, recently, on my back as a result of the influenza. One of the things I did to entertain myself, while my head throbbed and the world spun, was to watch a borrowed copy of the “Shogun” miniseries from three decades ago. It was the first time I’d seen “Shogun” since its initial airing, and I discovered that a lot of what I thought I remembered about it was, well, wrong.

But I’m not writing to complain about my memory. What was I writing about? Oh, yeah. There was one thing that suddenly made me say “Hmmmm…” as I watched. And it wasn’t the historical inaccuracy (First use of firearms in battle in Japan in 1600? Really?) No, it was one of those things that likely wouldn’t have occurred to me at all if my brain had been working properly. I was watching the big set-piece, leading up to the drippy heroine getting herself blowed up real good, and shortly after the villainous samurai had stabbed his third or fourth minion in the back, I found myself wondering…

How did they clean up all the blood?

Srsly, people. Killing was supposedly anathema to Buddhists (Jill says samurai just automatically expected to go to hell) and blood and death were serious defilement to Shintoists. So when there was some sort of treachery, and blood was spilled (despite what most TV and movies would have you believe, sword wounds could bring out tremendous amounts of blood in a short time; watch the remarkable ending of Sanjuro to get an idea), how did it get cleaned up, and did everybody have to leave the house/mansion/castle until it could be purified again?

I’m pretty sure that the answer to the second question is Yes, though I’ve never seen reference to it. Even in Throne of Blood, where there’s specific reference to a bloodstain that still disfigures a room, there’s no description of the cleaning process.

As for the first question, the logical persons to do the cleaning were Burakumin. But what self-respecting samurai would have those people in his house?

As I said, it’s perplexing. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments. (In the meantime, I’m feeling much better now, I apologize for my prolonged absence, and I’m looking forward to getting back to writing again.)


More Snow

Posted in Research,WorldBuilding by Michael Skeet on Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I should mention (as we await the prospect of yet more furry precipitation) that Jill’s comment yesterday, concerning the relative lack of snowfall in Japan, applies to places like Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo). There are places in Japan that get plenty of snow: Hokkaido, obviously, but also long stretches of the mountains on the northern side of Honshu (the side facing the Sea of Japan). The air coming across the sea is quite moist, and as it rises up to cross over the mountains it dumps that moisture; in the winter this often comes down as snow.

I was particularly pleased to learn about the Snow Monkeys.

This Is Not a Castle

Posted in Research,WorldBuilding by Michael Skeet on Thursday, September 24, 2009
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Not in any sense that we can use in Demon Gate, at any rate.

One of the things I have discovered in doing the research for this novel (and I am guilty of most of the political information that has found its way into the story) is how little popular information about Japanese history actually relates to the Sengoku Jidai, the period in which our story is set. Castles are one obvious example; swords and samurai behaviour is another (and I hope to post something about that soon as well).

The sort of castle of which Himeji is considered one of the most beautiful examples doesn’t just post-date the sengoku jidai, it post-dates the Tokugawa unification of the country in the seventeenth century. Few of these giant castles were ever involved in battle, and as beautiful as they are they would have been well beyond the capacity of any of the daimyo active in the early sixteenth century. It wasn’t until the middle of this century that anyone (Nobunaga, in fact) had the resources to build a castle with a proper keep, and surviving Japanese castles pretty much all date from the seventeenth century or later.

The castles built during the period in which Demon Gate are set were much less visually striking, to say nothing of being a lot smaller. I haven’t been able to find a copyright-free image that could illustrate what a hilltop castle (yamashiro) would have looked like at the time, but one thing’s for certain: it didn’t look anything like this.

(The big difference, of course, was gunpowder. We have deliberately set Demon Gate in the period before the introduction of firearms to Japan, and it was this fact that made it so important to daimyo that they build massive stone fortifications where previously they had safely sheltered behind wooden walls.)

Alien Societies in Time’s Backyard

Posted in WorldBuilding by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I’m recovering from the kind of headcold that takes over your life, that turns you from a functioning, sentient human being with hopes and dreams and the power of reason, to a wheezing, dripping, mouth-breathing pile of snot.  The only good thing about this disgusting experience is the number of old movies I’ve  been able to watch while recovering.  And that, I realize, has given my hind-brain a chance to reflect, while my fore-brain was otherwise occupied.

What is it about black-and-white movies from the earlier part of the 20th century that attracts me?  Having digested a great many of them for the past few days, I have come to realize that one reason is the utter alien-ness of the world portrayed in these films.  They may show similarities to our world, even to our world as it was during the time when the movies were set; but for the most part, they’re fantasies.  Some of them, with their oddly outdated technology and peculiar social customs, now so unfamiliar to us, might almost qualify as a type of science fiction — social-science fiction.  For perhaps the same reason that many science fiction conventions feature Regency dancing, the past can be as alien to us as the future — and alien societies are very attractive, especially to people who do things like fantasy-writing.

Not a very original thought, perhaps; but hey, I was a wheezing, dripping, mouth-breathing pile of snot when I had it.