Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bad Samurai

Came across this little snipbit while researching the Bun'ei 11 post from last month and it was too good not to share with you. It's from Thomas Conlan's In Little Need of Divine Intervention; his 2001 study of the Mongol Invasion Scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga.
Keep this in mind; this is Suenaga's own story, most likely as told by him to his artist(s)/calligraphers, and intended to win him recognition from the bakufu. This is our Boy from Higo trying to make himself look good in front of the boss. Got it? So, here's Suenaga in 1281, having finally weaseled his way onto an assault boat and gotten some Mongol, reporting to his superior, Gota no Goro Totoshi (who is described by Takezaki as having been "despatched from the Kanto", meaning that he was the shikken's direct appointment as commander of forces in Hakata in 1281):
"At dawn on the sixth, I arrived at Gota Goro's temporary lodging and explained in detail what had happened in battle.

"I knew this is what you would say," he said. "You haven't changed from (the) previous battles. Without your own boat, you repeatedly lied in order to join the fighting. You are really the baddest man around! I will notify our commanders about you. I also heard that Shikibu no bo will stand for you as a witness. If there are any further questions, have them contact me." And so Gota Goro also volunteered to stand as a witness for me."
Stand as a witness? Stand as a witness to you being the biggest damn fuckstick in Kyushu sounds more like, Takezaki.

Keep in mind that the Japanese are among the most circumspect people and written Japanese the most euphemistic language in the known world. Gota Goro calling our boy Takezaki the "baddest man around" translates into modern American English as "Jesus Fucking Kami, what a ginormous goddamn fucking asshole you are, Suenaga!" But this is the Higo Hellraiser's idea of "standing witness" for him; he deliberately included this story in the most polished resume' he could think of as a way of claiming a reward.

Did this guy Takezaki have some big brass ones, or what?


Ael said...

This is an excellent example of how hard it is understand the past, even when you can read their words. Cultural context is vital.

Also, soldiers say the damndest things.

I once overheard a gunner explaining to his gun sergeant why he could not do fire picket that night. It was a full moon and he claimed he suffered from lycanthropy.

FDChief said...

I dunno, Ael. Seems pretty straightforward to me; Suenaga had been pretty much a ginormous dick and his boss laid it out for him in what - for the time and place - was pretty direct terms; you are the baddest man!

But I do agree that soldiering tends to produce these sorts of encounteres, probably because it brings together people who have nothing in common or, worse, just flat-out don't like each other but who have to work together to succeed.

That, and the troops always have a good story - see "213 Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do In The Army"...

Ael said...

Well, given that this was a story told by a trooper to an admiring (or at least paid) audience, one needs to take things with a grain of salt.

However, I'm trying to figure out *why* Suenaga thought that this story would reflect well on him and gain him recognition with the bakufu. Is it a case of there being no such thing as bad publicity or perhaps the mere case of him being able to truthfully say that Gota no Goro Totoshi (and Shikibu no bo) would stand witness for him was sufficient and he was counting on no one actually bothering the very important Goro about what exactly he was going to witness) - in which case why brag about it to his publicists.

FDChief said... that IS a good question.

There's only a couple ways I can see how you can read this.

One is that Suenaga was an utterly clueless monstrously egotistical dick who really didn't get that having his commander call him a bad samurai wasn't a good thing.

Another is that he had the conviction that being the "baddest man" was actually a good thing, like some frat boy bragging about his misadventures to his pals. Maybe the 13th Century samurai were the feudal dudebros of their day, and Suenaga pictured them fist-bumping him and giggling "You ARE the baddest man!" at hearing his story.

That's where I'll agree with your observation about losing the translation over seven centuries; those two options are very different, and it's likely that we'll never know which was the case. I'm betting on Door #1 just because its hard to see a bunch of vicious killers acting like UVA douchebros, but we can't absolutely rule that out...