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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Baka Y2K6

Sunny / 001 by !ºrobodot from flickr (CC-NC-ND)
It had been two years since my last anime convent. The one I visited last week, BAKA (Very Attractive Anime Convent) Y2K6, was an attempt at resurecting the famous BAKA series, last of which took place two years ago. Many people, especially those who organized BAKA in the past, objected to using such name for a convent that was pretty sure not to achieve the level of earlier BAKA convents. They were mostly right, it didn't really live up to the name. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun.

First, I don't remember anything nearly as disorganized. The draft program and even the opening hour weren't put on the website until a day before the convent. Everyone got copy of the planned program at entry, but it was completely useless - lists of anime weren't there, room numbers were wrong, and half of the things either didn't take place or took place at different time in a different room. The most up-to-date list of events was hanged near the entrance, but it wasn't very accurate either.

I'm not compaining for no reason - because of the mess I missed half of the Hentai Night, and a panel on Lolita Complex ! Hentai Night was completely unannounced, and Lolita Complex panel took place a day before it was supposed to.

As far as attractions are concerned, some really cool anime were shown. I like Death Note and Code Geass most, both of which started airing in Japanese in October 2006. It's scary how fast fansubbers can be. Other anime I liked were REC, The Third - Aoi Hitomi no Shōjo, Arashi no Yoru Ni, and .hack//Roots.

I'm not sure what to think about Dead Leaves, It had no plot, it looked absolutely horrible, and the humor was really crude (Chinko Drill). And somehow it was really enjoyable to watch.

There was obviously a DDR room. Unfortunately it was closed for the night, and very crowded during the day, so it wasn't much fun. The best part about it was a new (and not yet released) mix containing songs like School Rumble intro. Really great.

Console room was too crowded, so I didn't even care. There were two LARPs (whatever). People were playing go everywhere. There were some panels (more about it later). Corridors were taken by people selling things like yaoi dōjinshi and Hard Gay stickers, or doing things like body painting and free hugs. Mostly because of the name, the convent was simply flooded with people. And that's important, as convents are mostly social activities.

That's pretty much what the convent was about. I want to write a bit more on two panels I attended - a "Seppuku tutorial" and "Why people hate Japan ?" panel.

Japanese swords

"Seppuku tutorial" was pretty funny, and pretty scary. The funny part was of course seppuku tutorial itself. The scary part was the following discussion, and some of the participants. To my astonishment, many people actually believe in magical properties of Japanese swords. Stuff like them being made by billions of folds over 45 years, being able to cut through everything like butter, and of course being million times better than any other sword ever made.

This is of course pure crap. The real story is more or less like this. Japanese had much less iron than Europe, so it was expensive. It was also of dreadful quality. So they had to spent much more time on each one of them, and as iron was expensive, it didn't make much difference.

The simplest way of making an iron sword, one used by Roman "gladius" sword and other ancient people is taking soft wrought iron (which has low carbon content), and increasing carbon content on the surface to make it hard enough to hold sharp edge. It is fast, cheap, and if iron has few impurities good enough for most uses.

The slightly more advanced technique is pattern welding, where the sword is repetitively carburized and then folded. This increases carbon content of the sword, making it harder but not brittle. This famous "Japanese" technique was actually widely used by Romans for their "spartha" sword, ancient Barbarians, and pretty much everyone in Medieval Europe.

Number of folds was typically 8-10. The process had to be tightly controlled - alloys of iron has multiple stable and metastable allotropic phases, like martensite and pearlite. Content of carbon and other alloying elements, and speed of cooling determine hardness and brittleness of the end result. Obviously, the process is bound by limits of chemistry - no amount of magic is able to create sword much better than one made of modern high-quality steel.

Leaving modern steel aside, about two thousand years ago Indians discovered a much more advanced technique. It was also used in the Middle East, and their famous "Damascene swords" were considered hugely superior to anything Europe could offer. That's right - the "mythical" Japanese technique of "pattern welding" (used in Europe) was no match for something known 2000 years ago.

Of course there's no need to use European examples to dispel myths of Japanese swordmaking technology. Japanese history provides plenty of examples. The first time Japanese fought foreign army was during Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281. Japanese armies were beaten throughout, and their swords couldn't even handle Mongol leather armors. Against chain mail and plate armour commonly used in Europe they would be pretty much useless. Japan was only saved by ill-preparedness of the invasion - using hastly acquired river boats instead of high sea ships, which weren't able to withstand the typhoon, and internal problems within the Yuán China following death of Kublai Khan which made further attempts impossible.

Apparently early 1300s were the high time of sword making. It is believed that pattern welding was reinvented in Japan during that era. Civil wars of the Muromachi period (1336-1573) are pretty much the only time where good Japanese swords were used in actual battle. Except for a minor Korean anti-pirate expedition in 1419, we cannot tell anything about efficiency of armies using Japanese sword in that period against different tactics.

Firearms were introduced in Japan by Portuguese in 1542. They were increasingly used in Japanese civil wars, and by 1575 battle of Nagashino, in which winners used European-style tactics and firearms, hardly anything commonly associated with "samurai" fighting style (swordfighting, horseback archery) was left.

When Japan invaded Korea in 1592-1598, the dominant weapons were already matchlock muskets, arquebuses, cannons, grenades, and mortars, in addition to more traditional bows. There was very little sword fighting or any other close combat. It was even more true in later wars.

In the following Edo period (1603-1867), it is commonly believed that quality of swords deteriorated. The "new style swords" (新刀) from that time were considered vastly inferior to "old style swords" (古刀), and the old knowledge was never restored. It is very likely considering limitations on military technology put by the shogunate.

It is during this peaceful time that samurai caste really developed. The most famous samurai text Go Rin No Sho was written around 1645. Cult of the sword principally dates to that era, where samurai were no longer fighting, and sword making technologies were long forgotten.

A few words are in order on sword shape. Unlike European swords since antiquity, Japanese swords were designed for use against unarmored or lightly-armored opponents. They would be useless against much more heavily armed soldiers in Europe. Against armour, stabbing is far more effective than cutting, and katana is a primarity cutting weapon. As iron was expensive in Japan, few people could afford heavy armour, and such weapons could be pretty effective.

So to sum it up - Japanese swords really sucked, there were better swords pretty much everywhere, and Japanese katana-wielding samurais would be totally crushed by a much smaller European force with European swords and a decent armour. Any European force, Roman, barbarian, medieval, heck even Greek phalanx would most likely do. Most armies from Asia would likewise crush Japanese army (see Mongol invasion, which consisted of Chinese and Korean soldiers mostly). Stories of Japanese sword-making magic are no more than myths, popularized during Edo period when there was hardly any fighting, and that mostly with firearms. Believing such myths is as lame as believing in feng shui

Why people hate Japan ?

The premise of this panel was - "People in Asia (Chinese, Koreans, Russians and so on) hate the Japanese, because the Japanese committed terrible crimes against them and instead of apologizing, they falsify their history, glorify the war criminals etc.".

There's certainly some point in that. Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) glorifies 12 convinced (and 2 accused who died before the trial) war criminals, denies that Nanking Massacre took place and portrays Japan as a defender of Asia against Western threat.

The shrine was visited by many officials, including Japanese prime ministers Miki Takeo (三木 武夫), Fukuda Takeo (福田 赳夫), Ōhira Masayoshi (大平 正芳), Suzuki Zenkō (鈴木 善幸), Nakasone Yasuhiro (中曽根 康弘), Miyazawa Ki'ichi (宮澤 喜一), Hashimoto Ryūtarō (橋本 龍太郎), and Koizumi Jun'ichirō (小泉 純一郎). Can you imagine Angela Merkel visiting a SS musuem that denies Holocaust ever happened and claims Nazis were actually defending European civilization against Bolshevik threat ?

This would be clearly absurd. And while they actually have a point that Europeans and other Asians committed many atrocities in Asia, and trials after WW2 were conducted with total disregard of any rules, it doesn't change the basic facts that war crimes were committed by the Japanese army, Japanese nationalists are totally fucked up people by not admiting it, and Japanese public should be ashamed of not reacting when their prime ministers associate themselves with such fuckups as those who run Yasukuni Shrine.

It also seems that most people in Japan are unaware of scale of war crimes committed by the Japanese Army.

I completely disagree with the premise. Sure Germans are treating their history much more responsibly than Japanese. But Japanese aren't exception here, Germans are ! Pretty much every nation glorifies its past war criminals, denies or minimizes them, and definitely refuses to apologize.

Just a set of random examples. Relations between Poland and Ukraine. During WW2, Polish (AK) and Ukrainian (UPA) guerilla murdered each others' civilians. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. But ask any nationalist - they're going to remember crimes of the other side only, not of their side. Fortunately, the denial is mostly over for the general public. Or how about massacres of Jews committed during WW2 like one in Jedwabne ? A lot of Polish will absolutely reject the very idea that Polish people could have done that. Surely, it must have been Nazi Germans, right ? They also deny responsibility for crimes by Communist government of Poland, as it was controlled by "the Russians". In common mentality, the Polish were always victims, and even the idea that some of them cooperated with the occupants, let alone did anything wrong on their own.

Or moving somewhere else. Christopher Columbus is widely glorified in spite of all his crimes. He personally introduced slavery to America and started genocide of Indians, which between 1492 and 1508 killed three million people (according to Las Casas). After report by Francisco de Bobadilla, he was arrested for attrocities committed as "Governor of the Indies" 1493-1500. So Columbus' guilt shouldn't be exactly news to anyone. It was widely known 500 years ago, so why the heck is he still regarded as a great hero instead of genocidal madman that he was ?

Or take Iraq. American invasion is responsible for about 650,000 deaths. What does Bush do ? Completely disregards reality and claims that maybe some 30 thousand people died. That's great. How about Angela Merkel claiming 300 thousand victims of Nazi death camps ? Whatever the number, is anybody preparing a tribunal for Bush's war crimes ? Last time I checked, waging war of aggression is a crime according to the international law and USA accepted this by supporting Nuremberg Trials.

And there's of course Russian government, which still glorifies the Red Army, which invaded Central Europe together with the Nazis. Lenin's Mausoleum is still open and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century". Nobody could top that one.

Almost every nation failed to confront a lot of evilness it is guilty of, whether against other nations, or its own people.

In spite of all past crimes and denial, most countries aren't hated the way Japan is in East Asia. Few people care about things that took place such a long time ago, and even recent events are mostly ignored. Like - most people in the world hate Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest of neocon war criminals, but it rarely turns into hatred of all Americans.

I think the real reason of anti-Japanese feelings is different. Governments of People's Republic of China, South Korea and other countries in the region, try to incite anti-Japanese sentiment to shift public attention away from domestic problems. It's just like with Muhammad cartoons. Not a single rioter in the Middle East even read Jyllands-Posten. Muslims do make pictures of Muhammad (usually not cartoons). But it was so convenient for Middle Eastern governments and radical immams to direct people against Danish cartoonists. And it happened again after famous remark by Pope Benedict XVI. How many Muslims listened to that lecture ?

Now, it's perfectly understandable that some people feel seriously pissed off when Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine, Danish newspapers print Muhammad cartoons, or pope quotes Byzantine emperors who didn't like islam much. But don't people have more serious problems ? There are wars all over the world (whether your country is invaded or invader). Very often poverty, crime, and corruption are widespread, and democracy and human rights are lacking. Are cartoons and some lame shrine really that important ?

Anyway, I'm pretty sure it's because of governments of People's Republic of China, South Korea and other countries in the region, that anti-Japanese sentiment is so widespread, even to the point of ourbursts of violence. Sure, Koizumi is a jackass for visiting Yasukuni Shrine, but this is simply irrelevant. Move on.


Anonymous said...

Is it normal for Ruby programmers to visit anime/tentacle porn conventions?

Anonymous said...

It's not only normal, but even mandatory!