What is Steampanku? – Part III

In the Part 1, I pitched the idea of an industrial revolution occurring in Japan, a country known for its imperialism and isolationism, resulting in the proliferation of steam technology, and a universe that is wholly steampunk, independent of the cultures and couture of Victorian society.  In part 2, I pitched the notions of the -punk ethos that can be explored in the universe of a steampunked Japan, and how several relevant themes can be explored through the dissection of a traditional society affected by groundbreaking technology.

In Part 3, I put all my ideas together, and form the universe that is Steampanku, a manifesto of the alternate history of Japan, leading to the proliferation of an industrially revolutionized Edo, and the world in which my fiction is set.

The Steampanku Manifesto

At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, shogun lord Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the last remnants of Japan’s feudal lords.  He was the first shogun to truly unify the daimyo (lords of the land) with an iron fist.  Through the influence of his power, his bloodline established stability in japan by controlling national authority, and leaving regional authority to the daimyo.

Before his death in 1616, he oversaw the formation of the port town of Hirado, Nagasaki Perfecture, and opening of trade with the Dutch East India Company.  In a small presentation in his fortified castle in Edo, Ieyasu witnessed a display of magnificent potential; a miniature steam train.  Ideas unbound, Tokugawa foresaw the future of a technologically superior Japan, one with life-sized steam trains, boats, and even the possibility of travels by air.

His legacy was passed on to Tokugawa Iemitsu, who further solidified relations with the Dutch by having his brightest Japanese minds study with the Dutch in Hirado.  The Dutch knowledge of rapidly emerging western ideas, combined with Japanese ingenuity, accelerated the industrial revolution occurring by more than 100 years.

By 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion was mounted by coal miners upon the castle town of Shimabara.  With the help of the Dutch, Iemitsu easily quelled the uprising, suspecting that Portuguese catholics had been involved with the rebellion itself.  The leader of the rebellion, 16-year old Amakusa Shiro was beheaded, and his head was prominently displayed in Hirado as a cautionary tale to Kirishitans to give up their faith, or be expunged from Japan by death or deportation.

Some say that during the Rebellion, Amakusa Shiro had a lover, and had a child with her before the uprising.  No one knows what happened to them since Shiro’s execution.  Regardless, the remains of the Christian movement in Japan were either forced underground to worship God in secret, or die as martyrs.

Due to the troublesome rebellion of Portuguese missionaries and Japanese converted, Tokugawa Iemitsu mandated the seclusion of Japan from the rest of the world in 1639, closing down all trade with all external partners other than the Dutch East India Company.  In their honor, Iemitsu built a large man-made island off the coast of Nagasaki called Dejima.  Dejima became the official center of Dutch-Japanese research and technology.

From 1640 onwards, the Edo period experienced the full effect of the industrial revolution.  Due to the fascination of steam technology by the Tokugawa household, the nation’s chief engineers invented the steam engine.  The Silver Tiger, or Gintaro, was the first steam train to ever be constructed.  In the first bafaku shogunate’s honor, the Ieyasu line was constructed to connect all the major regions in Japan, from Hokkaido to the North, all the way to Nagasaki in the South.  Gintaro was primarily used by the Emperor and Shogunate to travel back and forth between old capital of Kyoto and the new capital of Edo, but as the Ieyasu line was completed, more trains were constructed to transport goods as well as armies.

The first steamships were also made by the end of the 17th century, mostly centralized around Nagasaki.  In celebration of such a feat, the Steamship festival was first introduced as a way for local culture to celebrate the evolution of seafaring in Japan.

The rapid pace of industrialization in Japan changed society as well.  Samurai, who no longer had control over their own lands, were forced to give up their swords and remain as peasants, or move to the cities and become retainers of the daimyo.  The majority of Samurai were left without their duties, and many found work with the up and coming japanese mafia, the Yakuza.

The Yakuza quickly took advantage of the growing capitalism in Japan, often grabbing power and money for their own personal gain.  With the help of corrupted daimyo, the different clans proliferated across Japan with their own corruptive use of steam technology.  Difference engines were used for gambling.  Automata were developed for the purposes of prostitution, and most important of all, the guardian was invented.
The guardian was the first tool of land-based warfare constructed for the Japanese army.  These proto-mecha ran on steam, and stood multiple times as high as the pilots that would control them.  Under the guise of military development, the Yakuza secretly funded its development for their own agenda, for use of sport and recreation.  Thus, the guardian games were born.  Bright minds from across the country competed regionally in guardian sumo, where civilian-class machines were piloted to engage in sumo.

Guardian Sumo proliferated as the spectator sport of choice for Japanese citizens, replacing regular sumo.  And with that proliferation, illegal gambling circles organized by the now rivalling Yakuza clans were organized to maximize profit from the vice of its citizens.

In Nagasaki, a young bright mind named Hanako works as an adopted apprentice to a brilliant inventor.  Her skills with machinery, quick reflexes, and dutch complexion has given her a reputation in Dejima as the tensai-onna, or genius girl of Nagasaki.  With her guardian and her secret belief in Christianity, she seeks to find herself through her inventions, and hopes to one day use her skills as a guardian pilot to explore the rest of Japan, and to discover her Dutch-Japanese roots.

This is the point in history where my novel, Guardian, takes place.  I hope you enjoyed the alternate Japanese history of the steampanku universe from which I write.


Sex Trade, Women, and Steampanku

The honor-driven codes of Japanese society in the Edo period were not without its vices.  Prostitution was rampant at the city’s capital of Edo, and houses of ill-repute were established to provide pleasure services to those with deep pockets.  The women who provided these services done so under circumstances such as debt, deceit, or even kidnapping.  Many entered the trade due to false pretenses such as promises of improvement in way-of-life for women living in lower-classes, or even entered unknowingly, initially under the impression of being adopted into a higher class as a child.

Due to these practices of deceit, ‘fair-playing’ proprietors of these pleasure quarters pursued for more just regulation of prostitution, in order to minimize the corruption, while maximizing profit at the same time.  As a result, pleasure districts were created, and all forms of prostitution would be centralized around these areas in order to be managed more closely by the ruling government.

As such, these districts were societies all on their own, even to the extent of physical separation from the rest of Edo city life.  One such example was Yoshiwara, a famous sex district that was literally walled from the rest of society, and even protected by way of moat.  Entrance to the district was by a wooden bridge, through the main gate, directly into the district’s Main Street equivalent, Naka-no-cho.  Within it was a collection of establishments related to not only sex, but boisterous night-life entertainment through gambling, kabuki, teahouses, and geisha.

The women involved in the night-life of Yoshiwara were ranked according to experience, and moved up through their ranks through mentor-student relationships between experienced courtesans and fledgling whores.  Yoshiwara was an established district with a number of different brothels that varied in the rigidity of this order between women.  Some houses were simply without repute and charged less money for girls with relinquished rights, including women of respectable background, taking the fall for their husbands who had succumbed to gambling debt or were socially humiliated by the wife’s infidelity; an Edo analogue of the Fallen Woman.

This fallen woman archetype is prevalent in Victorian society, although in a much different light in Edo Japan.  Namely, this is because of the differences in the way women were viewed in relation to their rights in society.  Victorian women had no home ownership rights, but were viewed as pure, compared to the noble standard set by their monarch.  However, women in the Heian period as well as lower-class women in the bafaku were allowed to independently own and manage land.  Upper-class women in Japan were less fortunate, as they were subjected to a heavily patrilineal society, ruled by a male Shogunate or Emperor, and were treated with a less pure regard than their European counterparts.

Regardless, Japanese women were treated more or less with some semblance of autonomy and freedom.  Although they were under the mercy of their inherited debt, they had the opportunities to rise up in the hierarchy by becoming a courtesan’s apprentice, or simply by being bought out by richer men to be taken in as their mistresses.

In the steampanku universe, the role of technology provides another route of freedom for more romantic cases, worthy of storytelling.  In my manuscript of Guardian, for example, the character Yuki is a strong, free-thinking woman sold to sex slavery by her husband, who had fallen from grace due to alcoholism and gambling debt.  She has no qualms about her situation, and simply wishes for her husband’s redemption while she is far away from him.  In the meantime, she is sent to Nagasaki, the center of the steam-powered technological boom in Japan.  She is enlisted into a brothel under the ownership of Zakeda, the leader of Nagasaki’s prominent Yakuza group.

However, despite her immense debt, she is unable to make back the money she is owed, due to the existence of automata, capable of providing the same pleasures of the flesh, without the actual amorality of defiling actual feminine flesh.  She is often spared from prostitution, but at the cost of further perpetuating her lack of freedom.

As a result, she takes action, and throughout the events of Guardian, she will do what it takes to earn back her freedom, without sullying her name or her fallen husband’s.  And she will do so with the help of the other two main characters.

I am very excited to have initially written Guardian with minimal amounts of research necessary to fill in necessary details to further progress the plot, but further research into the subject of the role of women in Edo has left me even more excited to re-write and edit the manuscript, with intentions of making Yuki even more powerful as a character than before.