Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, September 29, 2006

Middle Age

Below is an except from a newspaper review of two movies, both of which, in their own way, have to do with becoming middle aged. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

I never intended to become middle-aged. Or at least, I figured that upon reaching that milestone of maturity, I'd know it and welcome it, and I'd be ready to embrace it with wisdom and grace. I certainly didn't expect to get sideswiped by the passage of time, knocked into a new demographic paradigm without having had the chance to carefully consider its implications. (Like, should I be eating more fiber?)

Fortunately, two movies arrived in Bay Area theaters this past weekend that provide unexpected insights into the process of growing old -- or growing older, anyway. Both center on Chinese men of a certain age who find themselves losing the things that mean most to them -- their self-respect, their sense of purpose, their families. Each flees the domestic disaster of his own making, hoping to leave bittersweet memories behind -- but ultimately returns from self-imposed exile, having learned that the only true solution to his heartache lies not abroad but within.

You might guess that one of these films is Jet Li's latest -- and ostensibly, last -- martial arts epic, "Fearless," which opened over the weekend to a welcoming $11 million at the national box office. The other, however, might not be so instantly obvious. I'm talking about Georgia Lee's poignant and accomplished debut feature, "Red Doors," which premiered at two sold-out New York theaters a few weeks ago and last Friday expanded to L.A. and San Francisco.

"Doors" tells the story of Ed Wong (Tzi Ma), who has entered his golden years burdened by the feeling that he's become irrelevant in his own life and household. With no other hobby to keep him occupied, he spends hours each day copying childhood videos of his three adult daughters to more permanent archives on DVD. But the viewing of these nostalgic tapes only reminds him that the sweetness of those memories has faded from his life, that now he finds himself politely ignored -- or worse, casually dismissed -- by his family's female foursome, a cardinal example of the quaint Japanese slang term for retired men, sodaigomi (literally, "oversized garbage," like a broken refrigerator).

China and Animals

Click on the title of this post to go to the original article.

Sickening 'Animal Olympics' forces kangaroos to box humans
Last updated at 16:38pm on 28th September 2006

An Australian kangaroo receives a fierce blow to the head by a man dressed in a clown suit (pictured below) in a shameful contest that will further fuel fears over China's barbaric attitude to animals.

The bizarre marsupial-versus-human bout happened during the so-called Animal Olympics in Shanghai.

Animal rights campaigners say the Chinese have an appalling poor record for animal rights protection and have no laws to protect them.

In the fight, the Australian kangaroo appears to reel backwards after receiving a right hook from its garishly attired opponent.

But the 'roo, which was wearing boxing gloves on its front paws, fought back, grappling with the clown who was forced back towards the ropes by its onslaught.

The kangaroo is just one of 300 'athletes' taking part in the annual event, now in its fourth year, at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park.

The event held in a large arena also involves an elephant carrying the Olympic torch and various animals including zebras and mountain goats put through a series of events such as hurdles and races.

Also pictured at the event yesterday were bears standing with boxing gloves on their paws during another distasteful performance.

In July the Daily Mail reported the babrbaric sport of horse fighting where cheering crowds took bets on which stallion would win a bloody battle.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Applied Strategy

If you click on the title of this post, or "Collaboration Strategy" over at the links at the left, you'll be directed to a blog whose purpose is to apply the classics of strategy to the here and now, real world problem of effective collaboration. Interesting stuff. Please pay the site a visit.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The 36 Strategies: #18 To capture the brigands, capture their king

Next to the Art of War, by Sun Zi (Sun Tzu), the 36 Strategies is the mostly widely known book on strategy in Asia. Most asians are familiar with them at some level. It's important to understand them, if only so you can recognize when someone is trying to use a strategy on you.

18. To capture the brigands, capture their king

When confronted with a massive opposition, you take aim at it's central leadership.

... aka "cutting off the head of the dragon." Take out the leadership, and keep doing it. The second in line, and maybe even the third or the fourth, might be able to effectively take over the reins of leadership, but sooner or later the "brigand king" will find himself over his head.

In the classic book on the American Civil War, Lee's Lieutenants, the central premise is an investigation into the chronic problems of the South revolving around a crisis of leadership in it's armed forces - they really had no system to effectively train officers and groom them for leadership positions. As their leaders died or were otherwise incapacitated, they had to be replaced by others who were less and less capable.

The "brigand king" doesn't necessarily have to be killed, but neutralized, forced to resign or step down, or otherwise rendered ineffective.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Diving into Fall

Butterfly or leaf?
Early twilight fools my eyes
Moving into fall.
- Pinetree

Fall is my favorite time of year. I look forward to having a campfire in the backyard, while enjoying the cooler evenings. I enjoy the change of colors, with which Michigan is particularly blessed.

I'm rereading the Baroque Cycle, a trilogy by Neal Stephenson, which is historical fiction about a fascinating time in history.

Reading about the baroque period in the fall, brings to mind the story of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. The movie, Sleepy Hollow, with Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp is usually on cable around this time of year, at least as we approach Halloween.

Halloween wouldn't be complete without one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. The scene where Dracula and Van Helsing simply face off against each other, without a word being said, has got to be one of the best moments in movie history.

Did you know that while they were shooting this movie, they were also shooting, at the same time, a Spanish version? When the English speaking crew left the studio at the end of the day, the Spanish crew arrived. They had the benefit of the rushes of the day's shoot to improve their own product, and some critics believe the Spanish version is actually the superior one. I would like to see it one day.

The movie of course, isn't enough. I have to reread Dracula, by Bram Stoker before Halloween.

Another newer classic is Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Winona Ryder (again), Gary Oldfield, and Anthony Hopkins. I like it almost as much as the original.

Halloween. We take the portable firepit out to the driveway, put some music on the radio in the garage, stock a cooler with beer, and pass out the candy. A couple of neighbors have adopted this practice. When the kids stop coming, we gather around whoever's fire is still going the strongest, and have our own little get together.

My Japanese Language study has progressed. This is the character for autumn: 秋. It is a compound of two characters. The one on the left is a plant (specifically a rice plant), while the one on the right is 'fire'. Interesting, huh?

I've finished the online course I was taking. While I was grinding through the course, I was paying attention mostly to grammar and sentence patterns. I didn't pay so much attention to vocabulary or conjugating verbs or adjectives. I reasoned that I could always look things up, and what I looked up a lot, I'd remember.

Right now, I'm doing a thorough review, at a leisurely pace; paying a lot more attention to the vocabulary, verbs and adjectives.

I also have learned 240 kanji. I'm doing a very thorough review of them. Once I review the ones I know, I'll start grinding through the other 2000+ a literate person would know.

I have a couple of "learn Japanese" books. I intend to study these soon. It'll be the same information I've already received through the course, but it'll be presented a little differently. I think if I go over the same information, but in a slightly different way, I'm likely to understand and retain it better.

What I'm going to do soon, is to start to read Japanese literature. I've picked up two books: Breaking into Japanese Literature by Giles Murray

And Read Real Japanese by Janet Ashby

Each of these books is a collection of short stories. The beginning ones are easier, and the later ones are harder. Each has the original Japanese text on one page, the translation on the facing page, and a running dictionary for the kanji and less than common words along the bottom.

One of the stories I'm looking forward to reading is "The Grove" which was the story that inspired the movie Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa. The story is interesting. A samurai is killed, and a suspect is apprehended. The suspect describes what happened from his point of view. The samurai's wife then gives her description, through the use of a medium, the victim tells his story, then finally a previously unknown eye witness describes what he saw happen.

Monday, September 18, 2006


A movie review. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article.

September 17, 2006
Exit Kicking: Jet Li’s Martial Arts Swan Song

"POWER, precision — and don’t forget speed,” says the young martial arts whiz Chen Zhen, played by Jet Li, to a bunch of eager students in “Fist of Legend” (1994), and you know this very serious-looking guy isn’t just talking the talk. As Mr. Li demonstrates in the movie (and had, at that point, been proving to Asian film audiences for more than a decade), he can walk the walk, and kick the kick too. And since power, precision and the kind of speed that doesn’t sacrifice either of the first two qualities are not currently in long supply on the world’s screens — even in action movies, where you’d think they were pretty much required — it’s fairly alarming news that Mr. Li is calling his new picture, “Fearless” (set to open Friday), the “conclusion to my life as a martial arts star.”

Going to the movies seems a little less exciting already.

Mr. Li (born Li Lianjie) has been practicing wushu — the comprehensive term for the martial arts of his native China — since he was 8; between the ages of 11 and 16 he racked up 15 gold medals in the sport at the All-China Games, before retiring from competition to begin his movie career. He is now 43, about the age when all but the stubbornest, most self-delusional athletes and ballet dancers are forced to admit that their bodies, which have served them so well in their difficult, exhilarating pursuits, are somehow not quite as reliable as they used to be.

This physical deterioration is of course highly relative: except perhaps for a fractional loss of speed, Mr. Li’s wushu in “Fearless” looks as fierce, fluid and elegant as it did in “Fist of Legend,” and in the four “Once Upon a Time in China” historical epics he starred in for the Hong Kong producer Tsui Hark between 1991 and 1997. Jet Li at 70 will probably still be moving better than most of us did at 20.

He, however, undoubtedly feels the difference, and more to the point, it matters to him. “Fearless,” which features at least as much martial arts philosophy as actual combat, leaves no doubt that Mr. Li is a true believer in the spiritual value of his wushu. The character he plays here, Huo Yuan Jia, is an important figure in the history (and mythology) of Chinese martial arts.

Huo — who in the year of his death, 1910, founded Jing-wu, the Shanghai wushu academy that Chen Zhen defends with such gravity and ferocity in “Fist of Legend” — espoused principles like self-discipline, restraint and pride, which Mr. Li, it’s clear, devoutly shares. (In “Fearless” Huo attempts to restore the martial honor of China — at that time widely derided as “the weak man of Asia” — by competing in a series of patriotically charged exhibitions against foreigners, whose fighting styles prove to be no match for the purity and power of his wushu.)

It’s clear too that in this martial arts star’s view, there’s no sense even aspiring to such lofty ideals if the body and the mind are at anything less than their peak. He’s establishing a standard that virtually requires him to abandon his art at the first, smallest sign that he can no longer execute it to perfection.

Perfectionism is not a concept ordinarily associated with martial arts movies; nor is restraint. But part of the fascination of the genre (for those of us, that is, who remain sheepishly hooked on it) is that while the films themselves can be sloppily plotted and directed with a shameless, mind-clouding flamboyance, they serve as showcases for practitioners of an exceptionally rigorous art.

Fighting through the obstacles the genre itself puts in the way of the artists (and our appreciation of them) can be heavy going. Here in the West, wushu — or if you prefer, kung fu — movies frequently arrive from Asia like contraband, roughly handled and distributed almost clandestinely.

Until Mr. Li’s first English-language picture, “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998), brought him to the attention of American audiences, seeing a Jet Li movie in most parts of the country took a fair amount of planning and legwork (going to Chinatown theaters, finding specialty video sources, etc.) and also demanded a mighty high tolerance for mangled, faded prints, risible dubbing and deeply puzzling subtitles. To say nothing of the keen investigative work needed to sort out the many titles an Asian martial arts movie might acquire in its checkered distribution history. (I am myself the proud owner of DVD’s of both “My Father Is a Hero” and “Jet Li’s The Enforcer,” which are the same, not very distinguished, 1995 film.)

But when, at least four or five times in every movie, Mr. Li goes into a routine that allows him to do what he does best, and cares most about, all is forgiven.

Watching a martial arts picture is a lot like sitting through a Hollywood studio musical of the 30’s or 40’s: you wait for Astaire and Rogers, or the Nicholas Brothers, or Donald O’Connor to take the stage, and you learn to endure the witless banter and clunky farce that fill the long minutes between numbers. (And, as in Astaire’s movies, a solo turn is often a showstopper. About halfway through “Fearless,” Mr. Li takes himself to the top of a hill, all by his lonesome, and uncorks a complex, thrillingly sustained wushu workout that Twyla Tharp wouldn’t be ashamed to have choreographed.)

WITH a handful of exceptions — the first three “Once Upon a Time in China” pictures, “Fearless” and Zhang Yimou’s luminous, stirring martial arts poem, “Hero” (2002) — Mr. Li’s 30-plus movies aren’t worth talking about as movies, and in too many of them frantic cutting and an overload of special effects obscure rather than enhance their star’s abilities. But in every one there’s at least a moment or two that reveals something improbably pure, a flash of unaccountable grace.

That’s because Jet Li in action is a virtuoso of physical lucidity, a creator of sharp, memorable images of the human body’s unlikeliest capabilities. When he’s still, preparing to strike, his line — as ballet dancers put it — is clean, well defined, expressive of the extraordinary force that’s about to be unleashed. When he leaps, his elevation is remarkable (unlike many martial arts stars, he’s more exciting without wires than with), and his control in the air can be as breathtaking as Mikhail Baryshnikov’s. His transitions between moves are smooth, assured and impossibly swift. And the blow, when it comes, always looks devastating.

Except for the violence, what Mr. Li does is ballet. (That beleaguered art, come to think of it, would probably be quite a bit more popular if there were more fighting.) Or was, anyway.

It’s apparent that when he says his latest movie will be his swan song as a martial arts star, he really means only that he will no longer practice on screen the traditional wushu of masters like Huo Yuan Jia, no longer presume to represent the art at its highest level. This is not so different, actually, from what Mr. Baryshnikov did 15 years ago, when he retired from ballet but continued performing in the less demanding idiom of modern dance.

And that, it seems, is the kind of twilight career Jet Li has in mind: no more movies like “Hero” and “Fearless,” but (why not?) plenty of pictures in the contemporary-urban-action mode he’s been slumming in for the past five or six years. Most of those films — from “Romeo Must Die” (2000) through “Unleashed” (2005) — haven’t been very good (though I’ll admit to a sneaking fondness for the 2001 film “Kiss of the Dragon”).

But there’s reason for hope nevertheless, because Mr. Li is a past master of smuggling the most astonishing beauty into the crassest settings. (The first movie of this new phase in his career, “Rogue,” in which he plays a mysterious assassin, is in postproduction now.) There are bound to be, as there always have been in this artist’s work, moments of barely imaginable power, precision and speed. And don’t forget grace.

Friday, September 15, 2006

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #19 IN SUMMER AT THE SOUTH PAVILION

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of art and culture in old China. Poetry was particularly esteemed. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, an anthology of some of the very best poems of that era.

Meng Haoran

The mountain-light suddenly fails in the west,
In the east from the lake the slow moon rises.
I loosen my hair to enjoy the evening coolness
And open my window and lie down in peace.
The wind brings me odours of lotuses,
And bamboo-leaves drip with a music of dew....
I would take up my lute and I would play,
But, alas, who here would understand?
And so I think of you, old friend,
O troubler of my midnight dreams !

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Winged Hussars on Sept 11, 1683

Due to the length of the previous post, I had trouble attaching the picture.

September 11th, 1683

Over 300 years ago, Western Civilization was nearly overrun by Islam. The seeming unstoppable tide of Islam paused at Vienna. On September 11th, 1683, the king of Poland, John Sobieski, at the head of his Winged Hussars, the last heavy calvary in Europe, led an army down upon the besiegers. They swept the Muslim army from the field, and from that day, the grip of Islam upon Eastern Europe weakened. This battle was the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the orgininal article on, together with more links, pictures, and so on.


Battle of Vienna
Part of the Habsburg-Ottoman Wars of 1683-1697

The Battle of Vienna (Turkish: İkinci Viyana Kuşatması) (as distinct from the Siege of Vienna in 1529) took place on September 11 and September 12 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by Turks for two months. It was the first large-scale battle of the Habsburg-Ottoman Wars, yet with the most far-reaching consequences.

The siege itself began on 14 July 1683, by the Ottoman army commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of 70,000 men had arrived, pitted against the Ottoman army of approximately 138,000 men - although a large number of these played no part in the battle, as only 50,000 were experienced soldiers, and the rest less motivated supporting troops [1]. King Jan III Sobieski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been made Commander in Chief of his own 30,000-man Polish forces and the 40,000 troops of Habsburg and their allies, led by Charles V, Duke of Lorraine.

The battle marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Central European kingdoms, and the Ottoman Empire. Over the sixteen years following the battle, the Habsburgs of Austria, and their allies gradually occupied and dominated southern Hungary and Transylvania, which had been largely cleared by the Turkish forces.


To capture the city of Vienna had long been a strategic aspiration for the Ottoman Empire, due to its inter-locking control over Danubean (Black Sea-to-Western Europe) southern Europe, and the overland (Eastern Mediterannean-to-Germany) trade routes. During the years preceding the second siege, under the auspicies of grand viziers from the influential Köprülü family, the Ottoman Empire undertook extensive logistical preparations this time, including the repair and establishment of roads and bridges leading into Austria, and logistical centers, as well as the forwarding of ammunition, cannons and other resources, from all over the Empire to these logistical centers, and into the Balkans.

Emperor Leopold I

On the political front, the Ottoman Empire had been providing military assistance to the Hungarians and to non-Catholic minorities, in Habsburg-occupied portions of Hungary. There, in years preceding the siege, widespread unrest had become open rebellion, upon Leopold I's insistent pursuit of Counter-Reformation principles, and his burning desire of crushing Protestantism. In 1681, Protestants and other anti-Habsburg forces, led by Imre Thököly, were reinforced with a significant force from the Ottomans, who recognized Imre as King of "Upper Hungary" (eastern Slovakia and parts of northeastern present-day Hungary, which he had earlier taken by force of arms, from the Habsburgs). This support went so far as explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the Hungarians, if it fell into Ottoman hands.

Sultan Mehmed IV

Yet, before the siege, a state of peace had existed for twenty years between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire, as a result of the Peace of Vasvár.

In 1681 and 1682, clashes between the forces of Imre Thököly and the Habsburgs' military frontier (which was then northern Hungary) forces intensified, and the incursions of Habsburg forces into Central Hungary provided the crucial argument of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha in convincing the sultan, Mehmet IV and his Divan, to allow the operation of the Ottoman Army. Mehmet IV authorized Kara Mustafa Pasha to operate as far as Győr (Turkish: Yanıkkale, German: Raab) and Komarom (Turkish: Komaron, German: Komorn) castles, both in northwestern Hungary, and to besiege them. The Ottoman Army was mobilized on January 21 1682, and war was declared on August 6 1682.

"Jan III Sobieski at Vienna"

However, the forward march of Ottoman Army elements did not begin until April 1 1683 from Edirne in Thracia. This strategic mistake provided ample time (almost 15 months) for Habsburg forces to prepare their defense, and to set up alliances with other Central European rulers.
During the winter, the Habsburgs and Poland concluded a treaty in which Leopold would support Sobieski if the Turks attacked Kraków; in return, the Polish Army would come to the relief of Vienna, if attacked.

In the spring, the Turkish Army reached Belgrade in early May, then moved toward the city of Vienna. About 40,000 Tatar Forces arrived 40km east of Vienna on 7 July, twice as many as the Austrian forces in that area. After initial fights, Leopold retreats to Linz with 80,000 inhabitants of Vienna.

The King of Poland prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, honoring his obligations to the treaty. He went so far as to leave his own nation virtually un-defended when departing from Cracow on 15 August. Sobieski covered this with a stern warning to Imre Thököly, the leader of Hungary (then an Ottoman satellite), whom he threatened with destruction if he tried to take advantage of the situation - which Thököly did.

Events during the Siege

The main Turkish army finally invested Vienna on July 14. Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 11,000 troops and 5,000 citizens and volunteers, refused to capitulate.

The Viennese had demolished many of the houses around the city walls and cleared the debris, leaving an empty plain that would expose the Turks to defensive fire if they tried to rush the city. Kara Mustafa Pasha solved that problem by ordering his forces to dig long lines of trenches directly toward the city, to help protect them from the defenders as they advanced steadily toward the city.

As their 300 cannons were outdated and the fortifications of Vienna were up to date, the Turks had a more effective use for the gun powder: undermining. Tunnels were dug under the massive city walls to blow them up with explosives, using Sapping mines.

The Ottomans had essentially two options to take the city: the first, an all-out assault, was virtually guaranteed success since they outnumbered the defendants almost 20-1. The second was to lay siege to the city, and against all military logic, they chose the second. Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact for its riches, and declined an all-out attack in order to prevent the right of plunder which would accompany such an assault. [2]

Additionally, the Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food-supply into Vienna, [3] and the garrison and civilian volunteers suffered extreme casualties and fatigue became such a problem that Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot. Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when in August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine beat Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5km north east of Vienna.

On 6 September, the Poles crossed the Danube 30km north west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial forces, and additional troops from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia which had answered the call for a Holy League that was supported by Pope Innocent XI.

Only Louis XIV of France, Habsburg's rival, not only declined to help, but used the opportunity to attack cities in Alsace and other parts of southern Germany, as in the Thirty Years' War decades earlier.

During early September, the experienced 5000 Turkish sappers repeatedly blew up large portions of the walls, the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin in between, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Austrians tried to counter by digging their own tunnels, to intercept the deposition of large amounts of gun powder in subterranean caverns.

The Turks finally managed to occupy the Burg ravelin and the Nieder wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Austrians prepared to fight in Vienna itself.

Staging the battle

The relief army had to act quickly, to save the city from the Turks, and to prevent another long siege in case they would take it. Despite the international composition and the short time of only six days, an effective leadership structure was established, undisputedly centered on the King of Poland and his heavy cavalry. The motivation was high, as this war was not as usual for the interests of kings, but for Christian faith and even God. And, unlike the crusades, the battleground was in the heart of Europe.

Kara Mustafa Pasha, on the other hand, was less effective despite having months of time to organize his forces, ensure their motivation and loyalty, and to prepare for the expected relief army attack. He had entrusted defence of the rear to the Khan of Crimea and his cavalry force, which numbered about 30,000.

There is serious questions as to how much the Tatar forces participated in the final battle at Vienna. Their Khan felt humiliated by repeated snubs by Kara Mustafa, and reportedly refused to make a strike against the Polish relief force as it crossed the mountains, where the heavy cavalry would have been vulnerable to such an assault from the lighthorse Tatars. [4] Nor were they the only component of the Ottoman army to openly defy Mustafa, and to refuse assignments.

This left vital bridges undefended and allowed passage of the combined Habsburg-Polish army, which arrived to relieve the siege. Critics of this account say that it was Kara Mustafa Pasha, and not the Crimean Khan, who was held responsible for the failure of the siege.

The Holy League forces arrived on the "Kahlen Berg" (bare hill) above Vienna, signalling their arrival with bonfires. In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, a mass is held for King Sobieski.

The Battle

The battle started before all units were staged. Early in the morning at 4:00 , Turkish forces opened hostilities to interfere with the Holy League's troop deployment. A move forward was made by Charles, the Austrian army on the left, and the German forces in the center.

Mustafa Pasha launched a counter-attack, with most of his force, but holding back parts of the elite Janissary and Sipahi for the invasion of the city. The Turkish commanders had intended to take Vienna before Sobieski arrived, but time ran out. Their sappers had prepared another large and final detonation under the Löbelbastei, to provide access to the city. While the Turks hastily finished their work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion more effective, the Austrian "moles" detected the cavern in the afternoon. One of them entered and defused the load just in time.

At that time, above the "subterranean battlefield", a large battle was going on, as also the Polish infantry had launched a massive assault upon the right flank. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Turks tried to force their way into the city, carrying their crescent flag.
After 12 hours of fighting, Sobieski's Polish force held the high ground on the right. At about five o'clock in the afternoon, after watching the ongoing infantry battle from the hills for the whole day, four cavalry groups totalling 20,000 men, one of them Austrian-German, and the other three Polish, charged down the hills. The attack was led by the Polish king in front of a spearhead of 2000 heavily armed winged Polish lancer hussars. This charge broke the lines of the Ottomans which were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry heads straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault.

The Turkish army rapidly lost spirit after the failure of the sapping attempt, the denied invasion of the city, and the turning of the tide of battle against them. They accordingly retreated to the south and east. In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.


"Return from Vienna" by Józef Brandt, Polish-Lithuanian army returning with loot of the Ottoman forces

The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces.

On 25 December 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade by order of the commander of the Janissaries.


Austrian Memorial to Sobieski

Although no one realized it at the time, the battle shaped the outcome of the entire war as well. The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years, lost control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process, before giving up, which was finalized by the Treaty of Karlowitz.

The Battle of Vienna is seen by many historians as marking the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Battle also marked the historic end of Turkish expansion into southeastern Europe.

Also, the behaviour of Louis XIV of France set the stage for centuries to come: German-speaking countries had to fight wars simultaneously in the West and the East. While German troops were fighting for the Holy League, Louis ruthlessly used the occasion, before and after the battle of Vienna, to annex territories in western Europe, like Luxembourg, Alsace with Strasbourg etc. Due to the ongoing war against the Turks, Austria could not support the interest of German allies in the West. The biography of Ezechiel du Mas, Comte de Melac illustrates the devastastions of large parts of Southern Germany by France.

In honor of Sobieski, the Austrians had erected a church atop a hill of Kahlenberg, north of Vienna. Also, the train route from Vienna to Warsaw is named in Sobieski's honor.

Legends related to the Battle of Vienna

Several Culinary legends are related to the Battle of Vienna:

One legend is that the croissant was invented in Vienna, either in 1683 or in an earlier siege in 1529, to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish siege of the city, as a reference to the crescents on the Turkish flags. Although this version is supported by the fact that croissants in French Language are referred to as Viennoiserie and the French popular belief that Vienna born Marie Antoinette introduced the pastry to France in 1770, there is no evidence that croissants existed before the 19th century.

Another legend from Vienna, made the first bagel as being a gift to King Jan Sobieski to commemorate the King's victory over the Turks that year. The baked-good was fashioned in the form of a stirrup, to commemorate the victorious charge by the Polish cavalry. The truth of this legend is more uncertain, as there is a reference in 1610 to a similar-sounding bread, which may or may not have been the bagel.

After the battle, the Austrians discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Turkish encampment. Using this captured stock, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki opened the third coffeehouse in Europe and the first in Vienna, where according to legend Kulczycki himself or Marco d'Aviano, the Capuchin friar and confidant of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, added milk and honey to sweeten the bitter coffee, thereby inventing cappuccino.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


A phenomenon which reminds me of microbreweries.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the entire article, with more pictures, etc.

SAKE'S REGIONAL REVIVAL: Japanese breweries embrace terroir and a return to local flavors - W. Blake Gray, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006

When Japan's sake brewers gather to discuss "terroir," they don't spend a lot of time talking about limestone and volcanic loam. Instead, it's all about types of water, strains of yeast and rice, and consumers' expectations.

Sake definitely can taste of its terroir. Taste a fruity Yamagata sake, with its notes of apricot or green mango, beside a crisp, clean Niigata sake -- some are almost like good light vodka -- and you'll understand immediately.

[Podcast: W. Blake Gray talks about the Ohyama Tokubetsu Junmai sake.]

Not every sake brewer strives to make distinctively regional sake. It's easy to manipulate the sake-brewing process to eliminate the taste of terroir. In fact, daiginjos -- the most expensive sakes, for which at least half of the rice is polished away -- have no real regional character.

It's at the "ordinary" junmai level that you can taste the terroir of sake, which brewers in Japan are increasingly trying to highlight. Like the "return to terroir" movement among California winemakers in the late 1980s and early '90s, it's part of the global slow-food movement toward prizing each area's unique qualities.

And the sweet part for the average sake drinker is that these junmais are cheaper: about $20 to $40 for a good 720 ml bottle, instead of the $50 to $120 that most good daiginjos fetch. "Plain" junmais are usually the most affordable sakes on Bay Area restaurant wine lists. So to taste the terroir of sake, you have to spend less money. How great is that?

When the French came up with the word "terroir" to describe the environmental factors that give a specific wine its unique flavors, they weren't thinking about using it to describe a beverage made from rice. But the word fits, even if some of the factors that make up terroir for sake are different.

Though soil doesn't really matter, climate does: Sake from areas with cold winters has long been prized, in part because chilly brewing conditions cut down on unwanted microorganisms.

Different local strains of yeast also matter to sake just as they do to wine.

Local brewing water is a crucial terroir factor, making up an estimated 80 percent of the final product. Sake from areas with soft water, like Kyoto and Hiroshima, have a soft mouthfeel, while sake from the Kobe area, known for its hard water, is enjoyed for its firm body.

Different strains of rice are also important. Yamada Nishiki, originally from warm southwestern Japan, is the most prized variety -- the Cabernet Sauvignon of sake rice. But just as with Cabernet, Yamada Nishiki isn't always planted in the right places, and better sakes are made by brewers that pay attention to this impact of terroir.

Role of brewers' guilds

All that said, the most important factor in creating sakes of regional distinction is the person brewing them -- the toji. Toji guilds are regional, not national, and they play a big role in developing and maintaining regional identity.

"Among toji, there's not a great deal of individualism," says Chris Pearce, owner of World Sake Imports in Honolulu. "You're supposed to make sake in a certain way if you're a member of a toji guild."

Sake used to differ more by region prior to World War II, according to Beau Timken, owner of San Francisco's True Sake -- America's first sake-only store. After the war, in an effort to increase sales in the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka, sake brewers homogenized.

"They sold their souls to make a product they thought people would like, rather than make their product and find people who like it," Timken says.

In the 1970s, Niigata brewery Koshi no Kambai, taking full advantage of the area's hard water (Niigata city calls itself "the Water Capital"), invented the dry, clean style that made its region famous -- a contrast to the sweeter sakes popular at the time. Subsequently, the Niigata area toji guild has played a big role in turning one brewery's style into the regional style.

Yamagata borders Niigata; it is the prefecture just to the north. Both are adjacent to the Sea of Japan, but they have little else in common. Niigata city, the capital of Niigata prefecture, is a prosperous industrial city of 500,000. Yamagata prefecture's capital city -- also called Yamagata (there are fewer names to learn in this part of the country) -- has half the population and is much sleepier; it's most famous in the rest of Japan for its rural-sounding dialect.

Increasingly, though, the country boys are gaming fame for their sake, which is bold-flavored, fruity and floral: the anti-Niigata. While Niigata sake started as a regional specialty, the clean style has been easy to emulate elsewhere.

"A lot of breweries (outside Niigata) are proud to make what they call Niigata sake," Pearce says.

In contrast, Yamagata breweries are showing the rest of Japan how to be successful by tasting more local -- an important market distinction at a time when overall sake sales are flat as Japanese diners increasingly choose beer, wine and shochu (a distilled liquor).

"Times are hard at the moment," says Philip Harper, a native of Cornwall in the United Kingdom who is one of the few non-Japanese toji in Japan's history. "It's not possible to sit back and do business as usual. Breweries are more conscious now of the need to be stressing regional identity."

Timken credits brewery owners for driving the return to terroir, and not only because using local ingredients is cheaper than trucking in rice.

"The current crop of owners of breweries are global guys," Timken says. "Their fathers are not.

They've been to Europe, they've been to the U.S. They're coming home and deciding to respect what's local."

In 2004, Yamagata sakes took more gold medals at Japan's National New Sake Tasting Contest than Niigata sakes, which usually dominate. Yamagata sakes are high in umami, the fifth flavor, according to Harper, who also writes books about sake.

New rice developed

Yamagata sakes began to find more fans after research scientist Toshiki Koseki created a new strain of rice, Dewasansan, that's better suited to the region's hot summers and cold, snowy winters than Yamada Nishiki. Koseki worked on the rice for 10 years before releasing it to local breweries in 1996. Dewasansan is now trumpeted on the label of many Yamagata sake bottles in the same way as Intel advertises its silicon chips inside various companies' computers.

"Dewasansan is more complex than Yamada Nishiki," Koseki says. "When sake went down in popularity, I wanted to help by improving the quality of sake."

But far more than rice sets Niigata and Yamagata apart. Timken says most Niigata brewers heavily charcoal-filter their sakes.

"They strip everything out. There's never any flaws in Niigata sake," Timken says.

While this would seem to mean there is no more terroir in Niigata, it's not true: Niigata's terroir springs from water. Other regions with hard water -- Kobe, for example -- can easily mimic Niigata's style. A brewery in a region with soft water, like Kyoto, would find it almost impossible.
Indeed, a good Niigata sake sometimes tastes like a good vodka, only much lower in alcohol. Most sakes from all regions have an alcohol percentage between 15 and 18 percent, similar to a California Zinfandel or port-style wine.

Of Yamagata, Timken says, "I think they make intelligent sake. Their sakes have full aroma and full depth of flavor. They're just deeper brews." But he says they are less like each other than Niigata sakes are like each other because Yamagata breweries depend more on the vagaries of nature, such as participation by local yeasts.

If Yamagata sakes are of a type, it is mostly defined by what they are not: simple. They are more fruity and floral than other sakes, but one might taste of mango and another of Thompson seedless grapes.

Which style is better: Niigata or Yamagata? Neither is by definition. It depends on what you're eating.

Pairing sake with food

"Cuisine dictates the flavor of sake," Timken says. "If you live near the ocean, like in Shizuoka or Miyagi, where they eat a lot of seafood, they make lower-acidity sakes to complement their cuisine. Up in the mountains, the breweries make more dense, higher-acidity sakes to go with mountain potatoes, game, that sort of thing."

Hiro Sone, owner and chef of Ame restaurant in San Francisco and Terra in St. Helena, says his favorite Niigata sakes are "almighty. You can drink them with almost anything. Of course sashimi goes well, especially white-flesh fish. Because they have a strong backbone, they can take chicken or quail, too."

Hector Osuna, wine director at Eos in San Francisco, recently had a Niigata sake (Shirataki Ginjo) and a Yamagata sake (Ohyama Junmai) on the wine list.

"The Niigata sake I really loved with oysters," Osuna says. "A lot of people at our establishment have sake with oysters."

Osuna paired the Yamagata sake with sake-steamed halibut with soy-sake broth, Asian aromatic herb broth and root vegetables. "The structure and the pear, apple and mineral aromatics that came out of the sake fit well," Osuna says.

Yoshi Tome, owner of Sushi Ran in Sausalito, says that when he gets a particularly terroir-driven sake, he likes to highlight it with a traditional regional pairing, such as delicate sake from northern Akita prefecture with white-flesh fish sashimi, and hearty, dry, bold sake from warm, humid Kumamoto, one of Japan's southernmost regions, with stronger flavored foods like mackerel in miso.

This kind of food pairing is a new-old idea. A century ago, local people ate the food they caught, hunted or grew with sake from the local brewery, which was meant to be a perfect match.

Then breweries found technological ways like refrigerated fermentation, and rice and yeast from other regions, to change the way sake tastes. For decades, regional character was widely ignored.

Now that it's back in vogue, one of the most delicious beverages in the world is even more fascinating. Dirt may not matter, but more and more, terroir does.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Next Generation of Martial Arts Movies

The following is an excerpt from an article in the San Francisco Gate. For the full article, pictures, etc., click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed to the proper page.

ASIAN POP A Hero Gets The Call
- By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, August 31, 2006

With the heavyweights beginning to fade, it's time for a new contender to step into the ring. Jeff Yang explains why "The Protector"'s Tony Jaa is preserving martial arts cinema for a new generation of fans -- and why its survival is so important.

I saw my first martial arts movie the way they were always meant to be seen: in the armpit-like confines of a Chinatown double-feature grind house, surrounded by the faintly libidinous odor of cigarettes and dried squid (not to mention the musky tang of Drakkar Noir wafting off the guys with dark sunglasses and hyperactive beepers sitting directly behind us).

As I vaguely recall, the film was "The Three Avengers," a better-forgotten swatch of celluloid featuring one of the more interesting Bruce Lee clones, Taiwanese actor Ho Chung-tao (a.k.a. Bruce Li), alongside Jackie Chan-wannabe Chin Yuet Sang and token white dude Michael Winston.

Even to my 12-year-old self, it was apparent that the plot and acting were rubbish, but for a first introduction to the medium, this was almost a virtue: The lack of narrative merit eliminated any distractions to the giddy comic pratfalls and intricate choreography taking place on the Music Palace's stained and dented silver screen.

I'd seen "The Empire Strikes Back" earlier that summer, the movie that sealed the deal on the new era of blockbuster cinema (given that the success of the original "Star Wars" was a shocker to everybody -- it was Episode VI that proved the tide had really and truly turned). As much as I appreciated TESB's technical wizardry and epic scope, this low-budget smackfest had a mysterious allure that no amount of SFX could replicate.

By the time the last scratchy, dust-spackled reel went dark, I was hooked. And with each martial arts film I've seen since, most of them far superior to my initial dose, the hook has sunk deeper. That's why it's been such a heart-wrenching experience seeing the giants of the genre, the ones who brought it into its golden age, entering the twilight of their careers.

After his forthcoming epic, "Fearless," Jet Li has stated that he'll no longer make martial arts films (though he's since hedged that statement, indicating that he won't give up all action film -- just those that focus on hand-to-hand combat). And late last year, Jackie Chan made another of his seasonal musings about retirement -- suggesting that, given the arrival of his 50th birthday, he expected to spend less time getting kicked in the head and more time behind the scenes and behind the camera. He, too, quickly issued a retraction of sorts, announcing to his fans that he'd continue making martial arts films "for as long as he can" -- which, given the horribly battered state of his body, is a far from optimistic statement.

In fact, it's safe bet that a few short years from now, neither of these stars will be making the kinds of films we've come to want and expect from them ... and the "farm team" behind them is sparse, to say the least. Wushu standout Donnie Yen has never had the temperament or cinematic presence to rival the Big Two -- and at 43, he is already of an age with his more famous rivals. Western screen-fighting aspirants like Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme jump-kicked the shark long ago. Most of what's left is a motley assortment of wired-up and CGI-supported sex symbols more familiar with the marital arts than the martial ones.

With one singular exception.

Unassuming, plain-spoken and almost painfully humble, in the space of just two movies, the Thai phenom named Panom Yeerum has kneed, punched and elbowed his way into the screen-fight spotlight, generating accolades from the likes of "Rush Hour" director Bruce Rattner (whose obvious man-crush has reduced him to gushing phrases like "I want him! I love him!") and rapper The RZA ("He's as fast as Bruce Lee, with the agility of Jackie Chan ... he's a sensation").

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Will Adams

One of my favorite sets of books is the Asian Saga by James Clavell, consisting of Shogun, Tai-Pan, Gai-jin, King Rat, Noble House, and finally Whirlwind. Theses are remarkable works of historical fiction. What is most remarkable is how Clavell found real people and events in history from which to write these terrific novels.

The best known book in the serie is Shogun. The main character in Shogun is John Blackthorne, a 16th century Englishman who is ship wrecked in Japan just as the war to decide who will be Shogun is about to break out.

The character of John Blackthorne is based upon a real Englishman who was indeed shipwrecked in Japan at that time. In my opinion though, the adventures of John Blackthorne pales in comparison to those of the historical figure, Will Adams.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the page found by, where there will be a more complete text, pictures, and more links.

William Adams

William Adams (September 24, 1564, May 16, 1620), also known in Japanese as Anjin-sama (謖蛾・讒・ anjin, "pilot"; sama, a Japanese social title) and Miura Anjin (荳画オヲ謖蛾・: "the pilot of Miura"), was an English navigator who went to Japan and is believed to be the first Briton ever to reach Japan.

Early life

William Adams was born at Gillingham, in Kent, England. After losing his father at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to shipyard owner Master Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse for the seafaring life. He spent the next 12 years learning shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation before entering the British navy. Adams served in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake and saw naval service against the Spanish Armada in 1588 as master of the Richarde Dyffylde. Adams then became a pilot for the Barbary Company.

During this service, according to Jesuit sources, he took part in an expedition to the Arctic that lasted about two years in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East.

Expedition to the Far East

Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, Adams, then 34, shipped as pilot major with a five-ship fleet dispatched to the Far East in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants (a voorcompagnie, anterior to the Dutch East India Company).

He set sail from Rotterdam in June 1598 on the Hoop and joined up with the rest of the fleet (Liefde, Geloof, Trouw and Blijde Boodschap ("Good Tiding", captained by Dirck Gerritz Pomp)) on June 24, under the command of Jacques Mahu. Originally, the fleet's mission was to sail for the west coast of Southern America, where they would sell their cargo for silver, and to head for Japan only if the first mission failed.

The vessels, boats ranging from 75 to 250 tons and crowded with men, were driven to the coast of Guinea (West-Africa) where the adventurers attacked the island of Annabon for supplies then moved on for the straits of Magellan. Scattered by stress of weather and after several disasters in the South Atlantic, only three ships out of five made it through the Magellan Straits.

During the voyage, Adams had changed ships to the Liefde (originally Erasmus because of the wooden figurehead of Erasmus on her bow). The Liefde waited for the other ships at Santa Maria Island off the Chilean coast. However, only the Hoop had arrived by the spring of 1599 and the captains of both vessels, together with Adams's brother Thomas and 20 other men, lost their lives in an encounter with the native Indians.

In fear of the Spaniards, the remaining crews determined to sail across the Pacific. It was late November 1599 when the two ships sailed westwardly for Japan. On their way, the two ships made landfall in "certain islands" (possibly the islands of Hawaii) where eight sailors deserted the ships.

Later during the voyage, a typhoon claimed the Hoop with all souls in late February 1600.

Arrival in Japan

In April 1600, after more than nineteen months at sea, the Liefde with a crew of about twenty sick and dying men (out of an initial crew of about one hundred) was brought to anchor off the island of Kyushu, Japan. When the nine crew members strong enough to stand made landfall on April 19 off Bungo (present-day Usuki, Oita Prefecture), they were met by natives and Portuguese Jesuit priests claiming that Adams' ship was a pirate vessel and that the crew should be crucified as pirates.

The ship was seized and the sickly crew was imprisoned at Osaka Castle on orders by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo of Mikawa and future Shogun. The 19 bronze cannons of the Liefde were unloaded and according to Spanish accounts later employed at the decisive battle of Sekigahara in October 21, 1600.

Adams met Ieyasu in Osaka three times between May and June 1600. He was questioned by Ieyasu, then a guardian of the young son of the Taiko (Toyotomi Hideyoshi), the ruler who had just died. Adams' knowledge of ships, shipbuilding and nautical smattering of mathematics appealed to Ieyasu.

Ieyasu ordered the crew to sail the Liefde from Bungo to Edo where, rotten and beyond repair, she later sank. Japan's first western-style sailing shipsIn 1604, Ieyasu ordered Adams and his companions to build a western-style sailing ship at Ito on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula. An 80-ton vessel was completed and the Shogun ordered a larger ship, 120 tons, to be built the following year (both were slightly smaller than the Liefde, which was 150 tons).

According to Adams, Ieyasu "came aboard to see it, and the sight whereof gave him great content". In 1610, the 120 ton ship (later named San Buena Ventura) was lent to shipwrecked Spanish sailors, who sailed back to Mexico with it, accompanied by a mission of 22 Japanese.

Following the construction, Ieyasu invited Adams to visit his palace whenever he liked and "that always I must come in his presence" (Letters).

Other survivors of the Liefde were also rewarded with favours and even allowed to pursue foreign trade. Most of the original crew were able to leave Japan in 1605 with the help of the daimyo of Hirado.

The first foreign samurai

The Shogun took a liking to Adams and made him a revered diplomatic and trade adviser and bestowed great privileges upon him. Ultimately, Adams became his personal advisor on all things related to Western powers and civilization and, after a few years, Adams replaced the Jesuit Padre Joan Rodriguez as the Shogun's official interpreter. Padre Valentim Carvalho wrote: "After he had learned the language, he had access to Ieyasu and entered the palace at any time"; he also described him as "a great engineer and mathematician".

Adams had a wife and children in England but Ieyasu had forbidden the Englishman to leave Japan. He was presented with two swords representing the authority of a Samurai. The Shogun decreed that William Adams the pilot was dead and that Miura Anjin (荳画オヲ謖蛾・), a samurai, was born.

This made Adams's wife in England in effect a widow (although Adams managed to send regular support payments to her after 1613 via the English and Dutch companies) and "freed" Adams to serve the Shogunate on a permanent basis. Adams also received the title of hatamoto (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the Shogun's court. He was provided with generous revenues: "For the services that I have done and do daily, being employed in the Emperor's service, the emperor has given me a living" (Letters).

He was granted a fief in Hemi (Jp: 騾ク隕・ within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, "with eighty or ninety husbandmen, that be my slaves or servants" (Letters). His estate was valued at 250 koku (measure of the income of the land in rice equal to about five bushels). He finally wrote "God hath provided for me after my great misery" (Letters) by which he meant the disaster ridden voyage that had initially brought him to Japan.

Adams's estate was located next to the harbour of Uraga, the traditional point of entrance to Edo Bay where he is recorded to have dealt with the cargoes of foreign ships. Adams' position gave him the means to marry Oyuki, the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a highway official who was in charge of a packhorse exchange on one of the grand imperial roads that led out of Edo (roughly present day Tokyo).

Although Magome was important, he was not of noble birth, nor high social standing and so it was likely that Adams married out of true affection rather than for social reasons. Adams and Oyuki had a son called Joseph and a daughter named Susanna.

Adams had a high regard for Japan, its people, and its civilization: The people of this Land of Japan are good of nature, curteous above measure, and valiant in war: their justice is severely executed without any partiality upon transgressors of the law. They are governed in great civility. I mean, not a land better governed in the world by civil policy. The people be very superstitious in their religion, and are of divers opinions. (William Adam's letter to Bantam, 1612)

Estalishment of the Dutch East India Company in Japan

The Liefde's Captain, Jacob Quaeckernaeck, and the treasurer, Melchior van Santvoort, were also sent by Ieyasu in 1604 on a Shogun-licensed Red Seal Ship to Patani in Southeast Asia to contact the Dutch East India Company trading factory which had just been established there in 1602, to bring more western trade to Japan and break the Portuguese monopoly on Japan's external trade. In 1605, Adams obtained a letter from Ieyasu formally inviting the Dutch to trade with Japan.

Hampered by conflicts with the Portuguese and limited resources in Asia, the Dutch were not able to send ships until 1609. Two Dutch ships, commanded by Jacob Groenewegen, De Griffioen (the "Griffin", 19 canons) and Roode Leeuw met Pijlen (the "Red lion with arrows", 26 cannons), were finally sent from Holland and arrived in Japan on July 2nd, 1609. Once the Dutch ships arrived in the harbour of Hirado, Adams negotiated on their behalf with the Shogun and obtained free trading rights throughout Japan (in contrast, the Portuguese were only allowed to sell their goods in Nagasaki at fixed, negotiated prices) and to establish a trading factory there: The Hollanders be now settled (in Japan) and I have got them that privilege as the Spaniards and Portigals could never get in this 50 or 60 years in Japan. (William Adams letter to Bantam).

Following the obtaining of this trading right through an edict of Tokugawa Ieyasu on August 24th, 1609, the Dutch inaugurated a trading factory in Hirado on September 20th, 1609. The "trade pass" (Dutch: "Handelspas") was kept preciously by the Dutch in Hirado and then Dejima as a guarantee of their trading rights, during the following two centuries of their presence in Japan.

Religious rivalries

Adams, a Protestant, was seen as a rival by the Portuguese and Catholic religious orders in Japan. When he and his crew arrived on the 'Liefde', the Jesuits settled in Nagasaki became very anxious as they had informed the Japanese, innaccurately, that all Europe was united under a single, undisputed church. Because of the fear that Adams would shed light on the truth, the Jesuits conspired against him, asking forcefully for his crucifixion at first, then having him imprisoned when Ieyasu refused to kill Adams for no reason.

Later, after Adams' power had grown, the Jesuits attempted first to convert him, then offered to secretly bear him away from Japan on a Portuguese ship. The fact that the Jesuits were willing to disobey the orders set down by Ieyasu: that Adams may not leave Japan, betray the degree to which they feared his influence - for good reason.

Catholic priests insisted that he was using his influence on Ieyasu to discredit them: In his character of heretic, he constantly endeavoured to discredit our church as well as its ministers".. He and others "by false accusation ... have rendered our preachers such objects of suspicion that Ieyasu fears and readily believes that they are rather spies than sowers of the Holy Faith in his kingdoms. (Padre Valentim Carvalho).

Ieyasu, influenced by Adams' counsels and social trouble caused by the numerous catholic converts, expelled the Jesuits from Japan in 1614 and demanded the Japanese Catholics abandon their faith.

Adams also apparently warned Ieyasu against Spanish approaches explaining that they typically tried to establish Catholic converts and strongholds as a prelude to the arrival of conquistadores and full invasion of the country as they had done in the Philippines, Mexico and Peru in the previous hundred years.

Establishment of an English trading factory

In 1611, news came to Adams of an English settlement in Bantam, Indonesia and he sent a letter asking them to give news of him to his family and friends in England and enticing them to engage in trade with Japan which "the Hollanders have here an Indies of money" (Adams's letter to Bantam).

In 1613, the English Captain John Saris arrived at Hirado in the ship Clove with the intent of establishing a trading factory for the British East India Company (Hirado was already a trading post for the Dutch East India Company (the VOC)). Adams met with Saris's ire over his praise of Japan and adoption of Japanese customs: He persists in giving "admirable and affectionated commendations of Japan. It is generally thought amongst us that he is a naturalized Japaner." (John Saris)

In Hirado, Adams refused to stay in English quarters and instead resided with a local Japanese magistrate. It was also commented that he was wearing Japanese dress and spoke Japanese fluently.

Adams travelled with Saris to Shizuoka where they met with Ieyasu at his principal residence in September and then continued to Kamakura where they visited the famous Buddha (the 1252 Daibutsu on which the sailors etched their names) before moving on to Edo where they met Ieyasu's son Hidetada who was now nominally Shogun even though Ieyasu retained most of the actual decision making powers.

During that meeting, Hidetada gave Saris two varnished suits of armor for King James I, today housed in the Tower of London.

On their way back, they visited again Ieyasu who confered trading privileges to the British through a red-seal permit (Japanese: 譛ア蜊ー迥カ) giving them "free license to abide, buy, sell and barter" in Japan [2]. The English party headed back to Hirado on October 9, 1613. On this occasion, Adams asked for and obtained Ieyasu's authorization to return to his home country.

However, he ultimately declined Saris' offer to bring him back to England: "I answered him I had spent in this country many years, through which I was poor... [and] desirous to get something before my return". His true reasons seem to lie rather with his profound antipathy for Saris: "The reason I would not go with him was for diverse injuries done against me, the which were things to me very strange and unlooked for." (William Adams letters)

He accepted employment with the newly founded Hirado trading factory, signing a contract on November 24, 1613, becoming an employee of the East India Company for the yearly salary of 100 English Pounds, more than double the regular salary of 40 Pounds earned by the other factors at Hirado. Adams was to take a leading part, under Richard Cocks and together with six other compatriots, in the organization of this new English settlement.

During the ten year activity of the company between 1613 and 1623, apart from the first ship (the Clove in 1613), only three other English ships brought cargoes directly from London to Japan, invariably described as poor value on the Japanese market.

The only trade which helped support the factory was that organized between Japan and South-East Asia and mainly undertaken by Adams selling Chinese goods for Japanese silver: Were it not for hope of trade into China, or procuring some benefit from Siam, Pattania and Cochin China, it were no staying in Japon, yet it is certen here is silver enough & may be carried out at pleasure, but then we must bring them commodities to ther liking. (Richard Cocks Diary, 1617)


After fifteen years spent in Japan, Adams' relations with his compatriots were not the easiest. He initially shunned the company of the newly arrived English sailors in 1613 and could not get on terms with Saris. However, Cocks, the head of the Hirado factory progressively came to appreciate Adams' character and distinctively Japanese self-control. In a letter to the East India Company: I find the man tractable and willing to do your worships the best service he may... I am persuaded I could live with him seven years before any extraordinary speeches should happen between us. (Cocks Diary)

Participation in Asian trade

The latter part of his life was spent in the service of the English trading company. He undertook a number of voyages to Siam in 1616 and Cochin China in 1617 and 1618, sometimes for the English East India Company, sometimes for his own account. He is recorded in Japanese sources as the owner of a Red Seal Ship of 500 tons.

Given the small number of ships coming from England (four ships in ten years: the Clove in 1613, the Hosiander in 1615, the Thomas and the Advice in 1616) and the poor value of their cargoes (broadcloth, knives, looking glasses, Indian cotton, etc.), William Adams played a key role in having the company partipate in the Red Seal system by obtaining trading certificates from the Shogun.

Altogether, seven junk voyages were made to Southeast Asia with mixed results including four of them headed by William Adams himself as Captain. Adams acknowledged God as his personal Provider before all people by renaming the ship, which he had acquired, with the phrase "Gift of God", the ship that he used for his expedition to Cochinchina.

1614 Siam expedition

In 1614, Adams wished to organize a trade expedition to Siam in hope of bolstering the factory's activities and cash situation. He bought for the factory and upgraded a 200-ton Japanese junk, renamed her the Sea Adventure, hired about 120 Japanese sailors and merchants as well as several Chinese traders, an Italian and a Castillan trader and the heavily laden ship left on November 1614, during the typhoon season. The merchants Richard Wickham and Edmund Sayers of the English factory's staff also participated to the voyage.

The ship was to purchase raw silk, Chinese goods, sappan wood, deer skins and ray skins (the latter used for the handles of Japanese swords), essentially carrying only silver (ツ」1250) and ツ」175 of merchandise (Indian cottons, Japanese weapons and lacquerware). The ship met with a typhoon near the Ryナォkyナォ Islands (modern Okinawa) and had to stop there to repair from 27 December 1614 until May 1615 before returning to Japan in June 1615 without having been able to complete any trade.

1615 Siam expedition

Adams again left Hirado in November 1615 for Ayutthaya in Siam on the refit Sea Adventure intent on bringing sappanwood for resale in Japan. Like the previous year, the cargo consisted mainly of silver (ツ」600) and also the Japanese and Indian goods unsold from the previous voyage. He managed to buy vast quantities of the profitable products, even buying two additional ships in Siam to transport everything.

Adams sailed the Sea Adventure back to Japan with 143 tonnes of sappanwood and 3700 deer skins, returning to Hirado in 47 days, (the whole trip lasting between 5 June and 22 July 1616). Sayers, on a hired Chinese junk, reached Hirado in October 1616 with 44 tons of sappanwood.

The third ship, a Japanese junk, brought 4,560 deer skins to Nagasaki in June 1617 after having missed the monsoon. Adams returned to Japan less than a week after the death of Ieyasu and accompanied Cocks and Eaton to court to offer presents to the new ruler Hidetada.

Although the death of Ieyasu in 1616 seems to have weakened Adams' political influence, Hidetada agreed to maintain the trading privileges of the English and issued a new Red Seal permit (Shuinjナ・ to Adams allowing him to continue trade activities overseas under the Shogun's protection. His position as hatamoto was also renewed.

On this occasion, Adams and Cocks also visited the Japanese Admiral Mukai Shogen Tadakatsu who lived near Adams' estate and they discussed plans about a possible invasion of the Catholic Philippines.

1617 Cochinchina expedition

In March 1617, Adams set sail for Cochinchina having purchased the junk Sayers had brought from Siam and renamed it the Gift of God. He intended to find two English factors that had left Hirado two years before to explore commercial opportunities (the first voyage to South East Asia by the Hirado English Factory). He returned to Japan with the knowledge that both had been killed and robbed of their silver.

1618 Cochinchina expedition

In 1618, Adams is recorded as having organized his last Red Seal trade expedition to Cochinchina and Tonkin (modern Vietnam), the last expedition of the English Hirado Factory to Southeast Asia. The ship, a chartered Chinese junk, left Hirado on 11 March 1618 but met with bad weather that forced it to stop at ナ茎hima in the northern Ryukyus. The ship sailed back to Hirado in May.

Those expeditions to Southeast Asia helped the English factory survive for some time (During that period, sappanwood resold in Japan with a 200% profit) until the factory fell into bankruptcy due to high expenditures.

Adams's legacy

Adams died at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, on May 16, 1620, aged 56 and was buried in his fief in Hemi, Yokosuka. The English factory was dissolved three years later due to its unprofitability.

In his will, he left his townhouse in Edo, his fief in Hemi, and 500 British pounds to be divided evenly between his family in England and his family in Japan. Cocks wrote: "I cannot but be sorrowfull for the loss of such a man as Capt William Adams, he having been in such favour with two Emperors of Japan as never any Christian in these part of the world" (Cocks's Diary)

Cocks remained in contact with Adams' family sending gifts and in March 1622, offering silks for Joseph and Susanna. He handed to Joseph his father's sword and dagger on the Christmas following Adams' death. Cocks also records that Hidetada transferred the lordship from William Adams to his son Joseph Adams with the attendant rights to the estate at Hemi: He (Hidetada) has confirmed the lordship to his son, which the other emperor (Ieyasu) gave to the father (Cocks's Dairy)

Cocks was also in charge of using Adams' trading rights (the shuinjナ・/a>) for the benefit of Adams' children, Joseph and Susanna, a task he performed conscientiously and which was handled by the Dutch after 1623.

Adams' son also kept the title of Miura Anjin and was a successful trader until the closure of the country in 1635 when he disappeared from historical records.

Adams's memory is preserved in the naming of a town in Edo (modern Tokyo), Anjin-chナ・(in modern-day Nihonbashi), where he had a house and by an annual celebration on June 15 in his honour. A village in his fiefdom, Anjinzuka (螳蛾・蝪・ "Burial mound of the Pilot"), in modern Yokosuka, bears his name. Also, in the city of Itナ・/a>, Shizuoka, the Miura Anjin Festival is held all day on August 10. Today, both Itナ・and Yokosuka are sister cities of Adams' birth town of Gillingham.

The life of William Adams also inspired James Clavell's Shogun which was a best-selling novel and then a celebrated TV miniseries. The fictional heroics of John Blackthorne were loosely based on Adams' adventures in the first few years after his arrival in Japan.

Famous William Adams quotes

Altogether, four letters of William Adams are known, among which the letter to his wife and the letter to the English trading post at Bantam are the most informative. Some other famous quotes:

· "Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be."
· "Faith is a continuation of reason."
· "As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."