Episode 198 : Bothans Be Spyin’

Welcome to our first ever on-Christmas-Christmas episode! Are you so excited? Well, we talk about feudal Japan and cheese, mostly. Still excited? Of course you are! Enjoy!


If William really was cheese, what kind of cheese would he be? — Mark McKibben


It’s a metaphor. Really.


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10 Responses to Episode 198 : Bothans Be Spyin’

  1. jas says:

    Deck the halls with boughs on Tony,
    Fa la la la la, la la la la.
    It’s more fun than hacking Sony,
    Fa la la la la, la la la la.
    Don him now with gay apparel,
    Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
    He’ll look as elvish as Will Ferrell,
    Fa la la la la, la la la la.

  2. jas says:

    And for Christmas you’re getting more details of the 47 Ronin story which fill in some of the motivations. (This is either a present or coal in your stocking, depending on your POV.)

    So it happened during the Edo period (or Shogunate) which is famous in Japan as a kind of “golden era” of peace and flowering of the arts after a period of extreme violence/civil war between warlords. Two of the main reasons for the peace and order of the period is an extremely strong central military government (and consequent weakening of the lords or daimyo), and lots of rules based on social obligation and hierarchy.

    One of the rules was that every daimyo had to spend 4 months of the year in Edo (where the Shogun resided) and the daimyo’s family had to live in Edo (and were basically hostages to the Shogun) all year round. Besides the hostage situation, this kept the daimyo under control because it limited the time they could get together and plot something away from Edo, and it kept them from accumulating much money because they had to maintain two residences. So already you can see there’s some tension between the daimyo and the Shogun, but some real limitations on what the daimyo could do directly against the Shogun.

    The daimyo who was forced to commit seppuku in the story of the 47 ronin was Lord Asano whose reputation was for being a man of high moral standards. Asano was told by the Shogun that while he was in Edo he was to serve as the host for the imperial envoys. (The Emperor was mostly a figurehead at this time.) To make sure he was “suitably” prepared for the task the Shogun assigned him a “teacher” to bring his manners up to speed. You can read the not so subtle insult already there. The teacher, Kira, was a bureaucrat of the Shogun who was known for being difficult to get along with and for requiring a fairly high level of “gifts” (as in bribes) from his students. Asano took the position that Kira was fulfilling his duty by teaching him (Asano) as Asano was by learning, and refused to pay him anything. Kira took to insulting Asano publically.

    On one of these occasions, when Kira insulted Asano’s manners, Asano drew a sword and wounded him. So I think his motivation was that he was kind of between a rock and a hard place–he probably didn’t want to be in Edo in the first place; he had already been insulted by being told he needed lessons in how to behave properly, plus the lessons were being administered by someone socially inferior to him, and to top it off the teacher was corrupt. His real enemy was the Shogun but he couldn’t act against him. And then this corrupt, socially inferior bureaucrat, mocks him publically.

    Anyway, the punishment for drawing one’s sword in Edo castle was seppuku which Asano went through with. After that his lands were confiscated by the Shogun–which left not only his family, but all his dependents, impoverished and homeless. His samurai should have (according to rules of honor) killed themselves at this point. Seppuku when one’s lord is killed is in some ways an acknowledgement that one is socially dead–all social ties are severed–and though this might not literally have meant death in Japan it probably resulted in actual death a lot of the time.

    However–and this is why I think the story is famous–the ronin did not commit seppuku and that was an unthinkable act of dishonor. Instead, for two years they let people believe the worst of them–acting as if they were a bunch of no-good, drunken, bums, who had no respect for their master, while at the same time they were caching weapons and lulling Kira into a false sense of safety. And then they attacked, killed him, and committed seppuku after his murder.

    So what I think the Japanese respect in that story is not so much honor per se, but gaming the honor system–allowing oneself to be disgraced (which is a much more weighty and terrible thing, I think, in that culture), in order to avenge and honor one’s lord in a more effective way.

  3. jas says:

    Why William is a mild blue cheese:

    What we like about him is that he seems to be slightly out of date, and consequently a bit “off.”

  4. jas says:

    BTW I haven’t seen the Keanu Reeves movie but there is a really good (and fairly accurate) Japanese movie of the story called “Chushingura” (47 Samurai). There’s also Kurosawa’s 47 Ronin–not at all the best Kurosawa film, but I bet it’s better than the 2013 version.

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