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Tenbun Hokke Disturbance and Left-Hander’s Day

August drags on…nearly the middle of the month now…the heat is unrelenting…the air conditioner drones day and night…resist…temptation…to wish…for January…

OK, 13 August. Most remarkable things happened on this day. For example, in 3114 BC, the Mayans started their calendar; so would somebody tell me, please…how did they know that it would be the middle of August? (ba-dump-bump). On 13 August 1851, Johnny Clem was born in Newark, Ohio; he managed to join the Union Army sometime during the Civil War, but there’s no evidence he was hurt at Shiloh, or even that he was there, making the “Johnny Shiloh” moniker the stuff of legends. Nonetheless, he did retire in 1915 a brigadier general, the last Civil War veteran serving in the Army.  On this day in 1913, British metallurgist Henry Brearley announced his formulation of 12.8% chromium and 0.24% carbon as an additive to steel, making what some claim was the true first stainless steel. There had been patents for stainless as early as the 1820s, but the formulation of a minimum of 10% chromium wasn’t established until 1911. As in anything else industrial, the bragging rights for being “first” are just that. And on 13 August 1953, Omar Bradley finally caught the brass ring in the US Army’s merry-go-round by being named Army Chief of Staff, working for his old friend Dwight Eisenhower, the recently-elected president. It’s also National Prosecco Day because some vintner says it is and the National Day Calendar agreed. But today we’re talking about Japanese warrior monks and southpaws.

This was one example that disproves the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.

On 13 August (traditional date 27 July) 1536, Buddhist Sōhei (literally “monk warriors”) from Kyōto’s Enryaku Temple set fire to 21 rival Nichiren temples throughout Kyoto in what has come to be known as the Tenbun Hokke Disturbance. This action was just one example of many that disprove the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.

The warriors-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.

The Buddhist warrior monks of feudal Japan held considerable power, at certain points in Japan’s history, they obliged the imperial and military governments to collaborate. By the 12th century, the Go-Shirakawa Emperor complained that he could not control the monks of Enryaku-Ji sect. These monks of different sects acted as auxiliary armies for Japan’s rival daimyos, often marching alongside their patrons on campaigns. The prominence of the sōhei rose in parallel with the ascendancy of the Tendai Buddhist school’s influence between the 10th and 17th centuries. The warrior-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons and intimidated rival schools of Buddhism, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.

After the Tenbun Hokke (so called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.

The warrior monks living high in the mountains above the (southern) imperial capital were intended to protect Kyoto from evil, but in fact, they were there because theirs was the most militarily powerful sect in proximity to the imperial throne, and thus to the resources of money, food, and influence.  After the Tenbun Hokke (so-called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.

Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.

But other daimyos and other priorities got in the way, not the least of which was the tradition of Gekokujō. Literally, this word means “the low shall rule the high,” and by the 15th century, it had come to be a matter of faith in Japan among the samurai and those who served them that was as deep as any religion. As odd as it may seem to a more ordered society, Gekokujō was seen by peasants, monks, minor lords and even groups of artisans or merchants to be tacit permission to violently rebel against an overlord. Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.

Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945. 

In 1571, as part of a program to remove all potential rivals and unite the country, shogun Nobunaga Oda ended this Buddhist militancy by attacking the Enryaku-Ji temple complex, leveling the buildings and slaughtering the monks. Other, less powerful warrior monk sects were similarly treated for the next twenty years, but the rise of the Zen Buddhists did more to eliminate (or convert) the militants who got away from the purges. But the Gekokujō tradition remained after the Tokugawa shogunate started in 1604. Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945.


Now, today is either International Left-Hander’s Day or it’s just Left-Hander’s Day: sources differ. The point is that we’re supposed to be either celebrating or commemorating or just recognizing all those southpaws out there today.

But there’s a fly in that soup. In the first place, the very nature of “handedness” isn’t all that clear. Some of the eggheads with more research money than sense claim that the reason the 90/20 ratio of righties to lefties exists is that the evolutionary models all show that the more social an animal, the more they tend to be commonly-handed. Regrettably, these same people can’t really say why such a distinction exists, anyway. Some say genetics, others say the environment.

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Famous Lefty…genetics or environment?

Famously, the Housecarls of early medieval Britain were all left-handed. Being some of the most massive men in England wasn’t enough, and all carrying the most feared weapons of the age–the heavy battleax–wasn’t enough. These guys could all step inside any shield wall and batter it to pieces on their opponents’ off-side. Regrettably, for Harold in 1066, they couldn’t stop arrows that easily.

Nearly everyone who went to a parochial school before the 1970s who was unfortunate enough to claim to have been left-handed was converted to right-handedness without fail, but often without success. The reason for this attempted conversion was old but was not because of the Latin sinister (left) and dexter (right). It was because the inkwells on 19th-century school desks were all on the right, and because dragging one’s sleeve through the wet ink when writing from left to right soiled the robes or other sleeves with impossible-to-remove ink.

To read one study of left-handedness, one would be given to believe that more top athletes were left-handed than were right-handed, but that doesn’t wash. Left-handed pitchers (southpaws, so-called because of the geographic orientation of important early baseball fields) have a slight edge in the game but not as disproportionate as might be expected, as are left-handed batters (strike zone is different). Left-handed golfers are rare, however, and almost unknown in the shooting sports. Only goaltenders are common lefties in hockey; left-handed quarterbacks are in smaller proportions than they are in the general population.

The woman above’s plight is, of course, made-up but emblematic of our modern culture of wanting something to be recognized for. I was ambidextrous as a lad but gradually switched to right-only, even though I always wore my watch on my right for unclear reasons, and I still do. A story my mother used to tell about me in kindergarten was that my teacher was convinced I needed to go to a special school because I couldn’t write correctly. My dad looked at a sample, went to a mirror and held it up: it was perfectly backward. “It’s OK with his right hand, but backward with his left,” Dad told her. “Don’t worry about it.” Dad, apparently, had the same problem as a kid and outgrew it by 2nd Grade, and so did I. I’ve heard since that this kind of thing is not that unusual. That my dad survived it, however, probably was.

 

 

 

 

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Komandorski Islands and Epilepsy Awareness Day

Oh, good, March is ending, the sooner the better. Snow melting into mud puddles faster than spit on a skillet…or at least I hope so. Looking forward to the spring cleanup and some relief from my furnace running all the time.

On 26 March we’ve got a lot of things going on. Conrad II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1027, beginning a dynasty that would include Charlemagne. English forces captured Bombay (Mumbai) on the coast of India on 26 March 1668, beginning three centuries of colonization on the subcontinent. Herman Haupt, the railroad genius of the American Civil War, was born in Philadelphia on 26 March 1817. The battle of Glorietta Pass began in what is now New Mexico on 26 March 1862, between 1,300 Union and 1,100 Confederate troops, sometimes dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West.” William Westmoreland. who would command MACV during the Tet offensive and later be Chief of Staff of the US Army, was born on this day in 1914. Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine on this day in 1953. And, on this day in 2005, James Callaghan, who had served Great Britain from 1945 to 1987, died at his home in Surrey. But today we talk about a decisive battle at sea that few have heard of, and an insidious medical condition that many know of but few know about.

At the far reaches of the North Pacific, the US and Japan dueled over the control of the Aleutian Islands for a little over a year. Though the Japanese captured Attu and Kiska easily in 1942, the Americans had other things on their plates for most of that year, leaving the Japanese more or less unmolested except for the occasional air raid. By early 1943, with a great deal more ships and men available, the US presence in Alaska was greatly enhanced. In March 1943, the Americans became aware that the Japanese were planning a resupply convoy, and a six-ship task force was sent to intercept it. The Japanese knew that eventually, the Americans would try to wrest their Aleutian conquests away from them, but felt it imperative that their toehold on American soil be preserved. To preserve their position, Japan sent a six-ship task force under Hosogawa Boshiro to escort the three transports carrying reinforcements and supplies to the garrisons on Attu and Kiska.

Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging  between packs of ice-fog.

Before sunrise on 26 March 1943* the US task force of USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), Richmond (CL-9), Coughlan (DD-606), Bailey (DD-492), Dale (DD-553) and Monahagn (DD-534) were in a scouting line when they made radar contact with the tail end of the Japanese convoy. The sea conditions were, to put it mildly, unusual. Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging between packs of ice-fog. After a little more than an hour of maneuvering and reacting to each other’s maneuvers, Japanese light cruiser Nachi opened fire on Richmond a few minutes after dawn at 0800. Richmond, Salt Lake City, Bailey, and Coughlan opened fire on Nachi, scoring four hits between them and crippling her. Soon, Japanese heavy cruiser Maya started firing on Salt Lake City, scoring six hits in two and a half hours, crippling her. at the end of the fighting, Bailey launched torpedoes but missed. Bailey and Coughlan were hit by Maya. After this, the Japanese, with the weather clearing and fearing an American air attack, retired to the west just after noon. For all the shooting and maneuvering in the four-hour gunfight, no ships were sunk and there were less than fifty casualties combined.

The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

There’s been some speculation about the Komandorski Islands fight over the years, specifically on how the Americans seem to have won even though they got the worst of it. But Hosogawa never got another sea command. The Komandorski Islands battle is notable for many reasons: it was surface action fought entirely in daylight, and with no active air or submarine participation on either side. Torpedoes, though launched by both sides, were not even a factor. But as a result, the Japanese, having suffered catastrophic destroyer casualties in the South Pacific, dared not try another surface convoy. The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

* The battle is often dated 27 March, but the US Navy used the date in Hawaii which is on the other side of the IDL, making it 26 March to the USN.


Today is Epilepsy Awareness Day, begun in 2008 by Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia to increase awareness of this insidious condition. Wearing purple, in theory, is supposed to make public the tragedy of the wide range of disorders known as epilepsy.

The young lady at the top is only one of the best-known sufferers of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can either be acquired or the result of some birth defects. Known throughout recorded history, it’s been called the Sacred Disease or the Noble Disease in part because genetic roots ran in intermarried families. Famous epileptics include Fyodor Dostoyevski, Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Young, Vladimir Lenin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Florence Griffith-Joyner (who died as a result of a seizure) and hundreds of others. It may have affected Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte. But because of the stigma attached, well-known sufferers, including Socrates, hid their conditions, while others were condemned and locked away, while others were hanged or burned as being possessed by evil spirits.

Most people have at least seen an epileptic episode (mistakenly called “fits”) on TV or in a movie at least once. But most episodes come and go without notice to any but the sufferers. One friend described most of his petit-mals (small seizure, as opposed to a gran-mal that is impossible to hide) as not unlike a short nap. One other sufferer, a childhood friend of the family who died in a seizure-related accident, described even her small seizures as jolting as getting an electric shock.

While I do not suffer from the condition myself I have known those who have, and more than once helped people suffering events related. While I don’t think that wearing a color would change anything–ribbon-weariness being the issue–I do think that public awareness that the condition is neither contagious or (usually) dangerous to others is a good thing. So, take a few seconds to at least become aware that epileptics are neither dangerous nor worthy of scorn, as people discovered in 2016 when Marie Ventrone (above) was chosen as Miss New Jersey.