The Japanese Thing

or Why I Do This

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One day on an e-mail list I belong to, a newcomer requested information Japanese armor. Someone else posted "Isn't this a pre-1600 Western European Middle Ages/Renaissance Recreation Group? or Am I on the armor from anywhere/anytime list? ...., talk them out of it! "

I knew better than to step into the sty and wrestle this particular pig. Except for inviting the newcomer to contact me privately and answering a few factual errors that came up in the ensuing discussion, I stayed out of it, despite the fact that it felt like a four day long public stoning. 

The Naysayer and his ilk do not know what I know: the Nihonjin of the SCA that I have had the honor to meet are each alone worth a thousand other men. I would not be in the SCA at all were it not for Sir Tanaka Raiko. I would not have thought about portraying (if only part time) a Japanese if it were not for Fujimaki Tosaburou Hidetora and Fujiwara no Aoi. I certainly wouldn't be doing it five years later all alone in The Most Eurocentric Kingdom In The Known World were it not for many, many other people from the Tousando forum and the sca-jml Yahoo Group who inspire me and keep me searching. 

The good news is that several people in my kingdom have expressed support, or asked questions, or at least admitted that they wouldn't let their personal biases get in the way of somebody else's game. The bad news is that the newcomer whose initial inquiry started this whole thing has been silent. I've emailed him off list, but have not heard back, nor has he turned up on any of the SCA Japanese lists I belong to. It sickens me to think that he has been frightened off and may never have a chance to enjoy our game. Who knows how much his presence might have enriched it? On the other hand, who knows whether he would have been strong enough to pursue his dream? We who choose to portray Japanese in Our Society have a hard path to walk. 

What The Governing Documents of The SCA Say: 

"For Society members, most of the world, and all of the centuries prior to the 17th, can serve as a source for personal research. However, the further you go from the core of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, the less the environment we offer will resemble what someone of your time and country would find natural or homelike. For example, you can be an Asian or African guest at a European court, but you cannot expect others to share your special interests - like any long-term visitor in a foreign land, you are the one who will have to adapt to the customs you find around you. Since members have free choice of what areas they will explore, it follows that Society branches cannot decide to specialize in a specific time and place, since that would make it hard for members there to pursue their own interests in other times and places." 

This language appears in the Introduction to the Society For Creative Anachronism Organizational Handbook and may be found on page 6 of the PDF at

Inasmuch as our game permits the presence of non-Western players, I take my role as guest to a Western (as in Western European) world very seriously. I am not just wearing different garb on a given day. I am not "Jehanne in a bathrobe." When I am being Saionji, it is my duty to be a credit to my Emperor and my people, to be courteous, to educate by my example, to be a good guest. Is it not reasonable, therefore, within the structure of our game, for me to expect to be treated with the same courtesy by my hosts? 

I do not do this to create disharmony for anyone and it saddens me that people who can blithely filter out aluminum folding chairs, attempts at pre-17th century dress from other planets or drumming for the rhythm-impaired, feel my insignificant presence "harshes their vibe." I do this because it inspires me with its beauty and honor. It challenges my abilities and I struggle to do it the justice it deserves. I am mighty in like-minded friends and allies across the Known World. They are honorable and talented and bar none, the most chivalrous people I know. They respect the surface-scratching work in the service of our interests, they have offered me hospitality and friendship, and I am lucky indeed to have them. And yet, it is a sorrow to me that for all intents and purposes, I am forced to be an army of one in my own back yard. (There are a very few others in my kingdom, but geography separates us.) 

Because it bears repeating as often as possible and because I return to it whenever I need it, I offer the words of one of those like-minded friends:  

It has been said by some that the warriors of the Heavenly Kingdom do not belong on the Field of Honor.

(Samurai do not belong in the lists)

     The Three Vows of Honor 

     I vow to honor my foe and call his blows fairly and trust that he is fair in turn

     I vow to honor my chosen ancestors, to learn well their weapons and the manner in which they wield them.

     I vow to honor my hosts, to learn well their weapons and the manner in which they wield them.

It has been said by some that the warriors of the Orient do not act like guests among us and upset the tranquility of the Kingdom.

(Samurai do not act like guests)

(Samurai mar my medieval groove)

     The Three Vows of Harmony

      I vow to remember that I am a guest within this society and show gratitude for the hospice.

     I vow to keep my arms, armour, and dress suitable to my station.

     I vow to show respect to the King, the Peers of the Realm, the Nobles and Barons, and all the populace of the Kingdom.

        The Three Vows of Knowledge

     I vow to learn deeply of the ways and customs of my chosen ancestors

            - to honor, cherish, and emulate them.

     I vow to learn deeply of the ways and customs of my hosts

            - to honor, cherish, and emulate them.

     I vow to share what I learn to those who wish to know but never preach to

                - The Honorable Lord Otagiri Tatsuzou, Outlands, October 25, 2005.*


Copyright 2007, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph, except *copyright 2005 Ron Broberg.

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