AsaKids Teaches Japan – Part 1: The Culture of Kyoto

Recently, at the time of writing, Toei decided to do a neat little thing – when all the schools were off on their field trips in Japan, they decided to have two of their flagship shows, Kamen Rider Fourze and Smile Precure, also go on field trips. These trips took the cast to the cities of Kyoto and Osaka – the other two major cities of Japan after Tokyo, and explore parts of their culture and history. As we’re subbing both of these shows, I thought it’d be a cool idea to delve into these trips and use them as an excuse to talk about issues of Japanese culture, the famous landmarks of these two historic cities, and generally explain some of the neat little trivia that these glimpses into Japan’s history have provided us with. Throughout, I’ll try to explain and give background to the places and ideas brought up during the two arcs, as well as how they relate to the story of the shows and some of the concepts brought up in them.

Note that this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive, or even well-balanced take on the two cities: It’s purely to give more context and information about the things that are actually brought up in the eps. If a thousand years of history are kind of glanced over, it’s because they’re irrelevant to the topic at hand, and for that I apologize.

If you want to watch (or rewatch!) the eps in question, here they are in the rough order we’ll be covering them:

Kamen Rider Fourze 33
Kamen Rider Fourze 34
Smile Precure 13
Smile Precure 14

And without further ado, let’s begin.

Part 1: The Culture of Kyoto

The New Imperial Capital

Allow us to set the scene in the late 8th century, in Japan. The spread of Buddhism – that most evil and villainous of cults, in the minds of the slightly bizarre populace of the time – was quickly gaining favor in certain sections of Japanese society – which included the clergy gaining an inordinately high amount of political influence. In an attempt to re-establish his hold over Japanese politics, the emperor of the time – emperor Kammu decided that the current capital of Japan needed to be moved away from it’s current position – Nara, in the depths of Buddhist Country(TM) into an area more in line with traditional Japanese beliefs, and hence allowing the ruling classes of the era to be born of more suitable, to his mind, dispositions. With military losses weighing heavily upon his populace, and the simultaneous burden of both a famine and a drought, the emperor was once again forced to relocate his capital – turning the small village of Uda into the new city of Heian-kyo, which would go on to become Kyoto.

This formed the beginning of the last age of Japanese history where there was a ruling emperor – the Heian period. From Heian-kyo, successive emperors would continue to rule Japan until 1185, when the emperor of the time was deposed, the position of emperor relegated to a figurehead, and military might instead controlled Japan. But for those 400-odd years, Heian-kyo grew and grew, around the influence of the royal palace. What defined Heian-kyo was it’s very square shape – it was a square city made up of square blocks, with no deviation whatsoever from it’s grid-like structure.  This was, history tells us, designed to appeal to the concept of feng shui that was popular at the time, and led rise to the idea of Kyoto being a holy city, reinforcing the emperor’s divine mandate by pointing out that Kyoto, with it’s perfectly formed shape was blessed by the gods, who lived in residence around it.

In the western roads, lived the white tiger god, Byakko. In the eastern rivers lived the azure dragon, Seiryuu. In the northern mountains lived the black tortoise, Genbu. And over the southern oceans flew the vermillion phoenix, Suzaku. To people with a certain familiarity with Japanese culture or who’ve just watched too much anime, these names and concepts may be familiar – these four Taoist gods represent a cornerstone of ancient divinity, and in modern times, are a cornerstone of  mythos to draw on in the creation of fiction. And in the middle of these varied terrains, stood Heian-kyo – Kyoto – blessed by the gods, and chosen by the emperor, as the capital of Japan.

Not that it was all happiness and sunshine. The divide between rich and poor in Kyoto grew quite strong with the passing of time – resulting in the city being split in two, with the richer aristocracy living in the Western half of the city, and the poorer citizens living in the Eastern half of the city. Dilapidation, and a blanket refusal to allow farming within the bounds of the city led to a disorganization in the eastern half of the city, with people setting up homes by the riverfront outside the city, to be allowed to farm and sustain themselves.  When the the eastern city gate eventually collapsed, these settlements bordering onto the eastern edge of Kyoto got absorbed into the city, which rather threw the whole “perfectly square” thing out the window a bit.

“Modern” Kyoto

Between now and then, of course, Kyoto’s had a long and varied history. A lot of it involved the presence of the primordial force known as ‘fire’. Fire was a real problem back in days of Japanese yore, where entire cities were made of wood with paper doors and generally was very susceptible to burning to a crisp if you left the oven on (not that anyone back then knew what an oven was, but I digress). So bad was the problem of arson as a convenient – and dishonorable – solution to dispute that Japan had to institute a special branch of the police force specifically decided to catch and bring justice to those who partook in, ordered, and assisted in any form of Burning Shit Down(TM).

Not that this did Kyoto any favors. At two points in it’s history – the Ounin war of the mid-late 15th century, and a rebellion taking place in the city in the mid 19th, the city suffered incredible amounts of damage, as large quantities of homes and buildings were burnt down and demolished. Each time, Kyoto rebuilt, even if it took decades to return the city to it’s former glory. The city only very narrowly escaped a third such destruction, with American forces very nearly deciding to deploy a nuclear attack on the city – with it only being spared at the expense of the more remote city of Nagasaki.

This history of destruction serves to define Kyoto as it is today – a city that, while caught up in the craze of modernization and technology that has come to define Japan as a nation in recent years, is still very much in touch with it’s heritage. Parts of Kyoto even today still feel like a time warp, with the city being the de-facto seat of Japan’s history – with a large quantity of traditional shrines and temples still surviving, large swathes of the city still comprised of old-fashioned streets and structures that wouldn’t feel out of place in a period drama. Indeed, most period dramas are filmed in Kyoto – with Toei even having a special ‘Studio Park’ in the city, a massive retro city set for filming all kinds of period dramas. Whilst Tokyo has become the modern bustling metropolis of skyscrapers, Kyoto stands strong as a reminder of Japan’s rich cultural history.

Of course, this doesn’t merely extend to the architecture – Kyoto is considered a hub of culture and intelligentsia. Traditional crafts like brewing and tailoring are paired with the bustling trade in the entertainment industry, as well as being at the forefront of some of Japan’s biggest electronics research.  The fine cuisine available and honed in Kyoto – with its countryside locale providing it an abundance of fresh vegetables and produce – is some of the greatest in Japan. Traditional entertainers – known as maiko – are still a fairly common sight on the streets of Kyoto, in full traditional dress and makeup, as they travel from one engagement to the next. And for the weeaboos amongst you, it also has the world’s biggest manga museum, so, you know. Priorities.

Heroes of Kyoto

Also known as “Because I really don’t know where else I’m going to explain this.”

One thing that comes up in Fourze 33, while the group are exploring Kyoto, is they all pop into a traditional retro-style part of the city where they can dress up in traditional costume and kind of get into the historical spirit of the thing. Gentarou and Ryuusei choose to dress up as two specific figures from Kyoto’s history, and I figure this is a good enough place to talk about those people.

Gentarou’s choice of figure is the famous wandering warrior, Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi is pretty much the embodiment – maybe even the origin, in terms of the trope in fiction – of the wandering swordsman. A gifted and natural hand with the blade from a very young age, he went around the country basically annoying the entire establishment by being a better fighter than any of them, and constantly rubbing his superiority in their face with cocky gestures like showing up to duels late. How much of his history is exaggerated and how much is true is up for debate, but this is a man that’s believed to have specifically engineered the time he arrived at a duel so that, when he killed his opponent, he could escape their vengeful entourage by making his escape by boat at the exact time the tides would turn and prevent them following him at any speed. And that, to my mind, is the action of a master troll.

Not that one should only think of Musashi in such a way – he was a great strategist and combatician, whose contributions to the many wars going on across Japan between various warlords was incredibly beneficial to whoever’s side he ended up being on. He left in his wake many well-respected teachings – on strategy, combat, and philsophy. And he was one of the first practitioners and advocates of a dual-wielding sword style, with a long sword matched by a smaller companion sword in battle. The hallmarks of his many callsigns can be found across a lot of Japanese fiction and culture, and the many famous duels he partook in during his stay in Kyoto are the parts of history class kids probably don’t find too boring.

Ryuusei’s choice, meanwhile, is Okita Souji. Souji was the the captain of the first unit of the Shinsengumi – an elite police force in Kyoto – during the mid-19th century.  While Souji only lived to the ripe old age of around 25 (yeep!) before dying of tuberculosis, he achieved a great reputation as a master swordsman (reportedly able to rob an opponent of their head and both arms in a single swipe of his sword) and a master teacher of his students. While his short – and far less exciting – life doesn’t allow for as many anecdotes as Musashi, his skill and renown during the time he was alive established him as a popular historical figure in Japanese lore, well-known and once again subject to terrible exaggerations in works of fiction (like him apparently using a 650-year-old legendary katana).

And I think that about wraps that up. Next time, we look into the actual geography of Kyoto brought up and visited during the episodes, and I can actually take screenshots from the eps to use rather than Google Image Searching everything like an asshole.

2 thoughts on “AsaKids Teaches Japan – Part 1: The Culture of Kyoto

  1. Pingback: Over-Time» Blog Archive » Kamen Rider Fourze – 34 » Over-Time

  2. Oooh, this is very interesting… for a weeaboo like me. Please, do write more.

    I’m not gay of course, but I have to say I absolutely adore your writings. Your TL-justu is pretty awesome, too.

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