Secrets of Cagayan

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Onna Bugeisha

I’ll be the first to admit that colonialism has left a swath of bodies in its wake, failed nations doomed to expensive and gory insurrections virtually ever after, but I admit I can’t pin even an iota of the culpability on Western Culture itself.  You see, just as she uplifted Europe, she had a power to do so elsewhere as well.

Many of your weebs, and perhaps even a few of you normal people, have probably heard of the amazing efficacy of the Japanese longsword sometimes referred to as a “katana,” folded over five billion times, for some reason, and not only durable but able to maintain a viciously sharp edge.  I’m going to hurt some feelings here, but people that have never heard of the term “pattern welding” have no right to comment on sword manufacture.

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Pattern Welding of Katana Blade

Now, it’s quite unfortunate, because never in history did a Feudal Japanese force engage a Western force in open warfare, leading to a lot of misunderstandings about the efficacy of Japanese military equipment, tactics, and strategy.  So there’s no way to confirm or deny the apparent indestructibility of the Feudal Japanese army, the power of the samurai and his sword, which were supposedly as one.  Never mention that the samurai fought predominantly from horseback with spears and bows.

Luckily, I’m something of a liar.  Indeed, a small Portuguese force for the protection of the Philippines was drawn up to defend the area of Cagayan from Japanese Wokou pirates despoiling the indigenous locals.  For the time being I’m not going to even answer questions about why evil white men would ever lift a finger to aid the brown.  Identity politics these days ruining the body politic.  Anyways, the Portuguese managed to get a force of a few ships and forty soldiers while the Wokou force totaled several ships and approximately a thousand soldiers, including landless samurai.

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Pike Drill Illustration

You’d think the Portuguese would be doomed in terms of pure numbers, but over the course of the initial engagements, Portuguese pikemen supported by arquebusiers and musketman routed and obliterated samurai armed in the traditional manner, in engagements which dispelled the myth of Japanese superiority with firearms, which were proved to be wildly inaccurate–both the myths and the firearms.  The conclusion of the battle saw approximately thirty Portuguese soldiers devastate and rout a force of six hundred Wokou raiders of indeterminate quality.  For ten to twenty soldiers lost, the Wokou suffered 120 to 200 deaths, and the survivors promised not to return.

Now people have asked about how this was possible, in light of this overwhelming vomit of romantic myths about the Feudal Japanese, but it’s just got no leg to stand on.  The Japanese throughout most of their history have only fought other Japanese who have largely been identically equipped.  There was never a pressing need for an arms race.  For that reason, for example, the Japanese sword was mostly unchanged for a thousand years from the Chinese model of its adoption.  Additionally, people tend to forget that the katana was always a secondary weapon; they’re heavy for longswords; they have a fat cross section awful for anything but drawing cuts on unarmored flesh; and they bend and break easily.  The quality of Japanese steel was quite low, necessitating the several folds of the material to purify the steel, but fold it too much and it becomes brittle.  Anyways, as it was demonstrated in battle, Japanese dominance was purely mythological, the katana being the darling example; the Japanese guns were poor, their blades were poor, and their spears were shorter than Portuguese pikes, and they never had access to good Spanish steel.

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I Just Thought This Was Amazing

Had the shogun witnessed the event, it would have been a wake-up call, but as it was it would be some centuries before admiral Perry sailed into Edo with four warships and opened up Japan to foreign trade, which had interesting consequences.  The influx of foreign goods, concepts, and technologies was arguably comorbid with the collapse of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, which put the Emperor of Japan, who had long been little more than a puppet, arguably in control of the reigns of government once more.  In this period, Japan began rapid modernization, hiring specialists in military, manufacturing, government, administration, and pedagogy from across the western world to facilitate this change, and it was wildly successful.  While China would began one hundred years of embarrassment, having failed to facilitate the changes necessary for modernization, the Japanese rapidly adopted the facets of western doctrine, on many subjects, that they could handily integrate into their own society, becoming within a few short decades a true world power, as demonstrated in their bludgeoning of the Russians in the Japanese-Russian war and the Sino-Japanese war and finally the war against the Americans precipitated by their bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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Japanese Soldiers at Kumamoto 1877

The lesson here is not really did they need to become as westerners in order to be successful; they were never colonized in the first place.  The lesson is that their pride never demanded they clasp so close upon tradition that they impede themselves when the opportunities for wild advancement, even at the cost of mediocre cultural estrangement was before them.  In fact, the ability of the central government to administer to Japan as a whole without the constant intervention of samurai rebellions arguably brought the conception of national unit from the merely local to the entirety of the dominion.  Though Japan certainly experienced a certain unity before this period, it was in the early Twentieth Century that Japanese statehood fully crystallized.  This means the West had something to offer for the East, and while it was frequently at the point of a sword, it did not need to result in the collapse of civilizations.