Using narrative to teach the history of Shogunate Japan
1. Introduce shogunate Japan – timeline and basic facts about the society… (two to three lessons)
Explore the timeline of Shogunate Japan
Explore key features of this society.
2. Read the story, The maker of Uguisu-bari 
 Japanese for nightingale floors.
and discuss the content (sample activities provided)
Discuss how the story makes use of contextual information from the time to give the story credibility.
3. Introduce task: To write a short story (500 – 1000 words) set in Ancient Egypt which makes use of everyday life features of this society.
Clearly define assessment task. Note key content description:
Discuss role of research in story creation. Read and discuss the chapter – The role of research in crafting stories.
Brainstorm early ideas – what can I write about?
4. Research task (two lesson allocation)
Consider these questions when researching:
- What was life like back in feudal Japan?
- How was it different to modern times?
- What will be the key conflict in my story?
- What everyday features of life in feudal Japan can I use?
5. Examine how writers establish and use setting?
Discuss setting in The maker of Uguisu bari; how is it established, where in the story and what is the purpose? [Use other fiction examples if needed. E.G. Across the nightingale floor by Lian Hearn.]
Plan your story’s possible setting. When is your story set? Where is it set? Who is in this setting?
6. Discuss techniques for writing effective description.
SID: (Strong verbs, Imagery, Details)
Look at examples of description in The maker of Uguisu bari, and other examples.
Use the SID model to discuss.
7. Create characters (action, thought, dialogue… what others think and how they react to character)
Look at examples of character creation in The maker of Uguisu bari, and other examples.
8. More Research (one to two lessons)
Refine story idea settings, description, character; check facts. Is this relevant to shogunate Japan?
Define key role of story openings and endings(closings)
Look at examples in The maker of Uguisu bari, and other stories (can refer to popular films and stories from outside history to have students engage with ideas).
10. Write first draft.
Plan and write first draft: Is the following obvious?
11. Do a self or Peer edit
Develop peer editing sheet to test that students have crafted credible settings, characters, conflict
Teacher may offer diagnostic feedback on first or second draft.
13.Submit and evaluate/assess
For another take on how to use narrative to engage students with learning in history see Gary Hillyard
‘Dickens...Hardy...Jarvis?!. A novel take on the Industrial Revolution’, Teaching History, Creative Thinking edition
Issue 140 / September 2010, The Historical Association, UK, pp. 16 – 24.
Note that this timeline also cross references key events in Japan with events in other parts of the world. Though Japan favoured isolation- it could not maintain it for ever.
- Mimic the timeline dates with a horizontal timeline of their own - if desired you can ask them to copy key events in Japan and Asia/Europe
- create a themed timeline using different colours for themes; e.g red for conflict, blue for positive community events (e.g. temple construction), green for information related to resource use in Japan... and so on (Students can devise own categories)
Shogunate Japan - another form of feudalism where military might controlled the country.
The Australian curriculum asks this of students re ‘Japan under the Shoguns’ (c.794 – 1867), that they understand:
- The way of life in shogunate Japan, including social, cultural, economic and political features (including the feudal system and the increasing power of the shogun) (ACDSEH012)
- The role of the Tokugawa Shogunate in reimposing a feudal system (based on daimyo and samurai) and the increasing control of the Shogun over foreign trade. (ACDSEH063)
The Australian curriculum asks this of students re ‘Japan under the Shoguns’ (c.794 – 1867), that they understand:
- The use of environmental resources in Shogunate Japan and the forestry and land use policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate(ACDSEH064)
- Theories about the decline of the Shogunate, including modernisation and westernisation, through the adoption of Western arms and technology (ACDSEH065)
Note that many historians define shogunate Japan as lasting mainly from ad 1192 to 1867. (See Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. http://www.britannica.com/topic/shogunate).
Listen. Do you hear the sounds of a bird? Yes, it is indeed a nightingale… It sings a sweet, sad, song, telling us a tale of woe.
My name is Iniashi, once apprenticed to Matsuo, famed maker of nightingale floors. Now Matsuo is more fabled as the man pinned to the juniper timbered door of his home as a warning to all who would try to stop the hidden. And now Iniashi is on the run, for those who pinned Matsuo to that door have sworn to eradicate from this world all things associated with Matsuo. This no doubt includes his apprentice.
Do you sometimes wonder at the fairness of this world we inhabit? Why am I, Iniashi, just 14 years of age, condemned to run and hide? Why is it true that I will do this – perhaps – until the day I die? Why will I not be permitted to sleep without one eye open and both ears attuned to noises that are not expected? Why must I lose weight because I have become a nervous eater? Why is it that in the future I will not enjoy the lengthy luxury of a tea ceremony? Why have I had to change my name to Iniashi, who was in reality a boy I did not like, one who bullied me before Matsuo took me for his apprentice (oh, what an honour)? Can I now marry sweet Misami, whom I have loved since she was nine and who was betrothed to me? I doubt it.
For that matter, other than being a little inclined to clout me around the ears when I had planed a piece of wood too thin or did not set the gap between what he called the singing parts exactly so, did Matsuo deserve to die, pinned to a beautifully crafted timber door, with perhaps 17 arrows though his chest and abdomen?
I am sorry that I make poor jests about this. I can hear my mother, may the spirits bless her, telling me to take life more seriously. But I will say this. If I cannot make jests out of suffering (my suffering, particularly) then I may as well go and find those men who look for me – hold my head in a noose and say here I am, Iniashi, the one you seek. Hang me, shoot me full of arrows and leave me pinned to an old oak tree as the last vestige of Matsuo, the maker of the finest nightingale floors (and other wooden marvels).
If the truth be known I am actually feeling rather comfortable at present. True, I am all alone with no-one to appreciate my fine quips. True, I am a long way from home or anyone I know, sitting in a little hut high in the mountains (where else would I run) but the weather is mild, the fire I have burning is bright and cheery with sweet smoke and I have food. This afternoon I shot an arrow into a poor game bird, which is plucked, drawn and jugged for my dinner. I picked wood mushrooms in the forest and water cress from a stream. I found a little bottle of saki beneath a bench in the hut. I have my quill and my writing scrolls with me. I have drawn many a thing, I am artistically inclined, which was why poor Matsuo (also going by a pseudonym) had hired me. For my art…
So it came upon me to write. So here we are, and now I had better tell you how I came to be here. And when I have done this I will leave this message for whoever shall find it and they will know I was here. And my story (even if I go by the name of Iniashi) will be heard. Then I will leave this little hut and travel somewhere else (always on the move is Iniashi) for that is the safe thing to do. I wish you luck, fellow traveller, more luck than poor old Iniashi has had.
This is me, not more than three weeks ago, thinking…. For 30 years my master has crafted his nightingale floors. None finer; put just a little weight on them, heavier than a sigh but lighter than a footfall, and the bird will sing. And I am learning the art. No assassin in this time of assassins can master a Matsuo floor, they say. Joists and bearers, swings of wood and sound, they carry sweet trills and high fluting notes and all of it sounds a warning. Beware, a stranger treads upon your floor.
I am learning his tricks, slowly, it is true (I wonder whether those clouts about the ears are good for learning). An assassin, one of the hidden, we hear, has been intercepted on the floor of the castle at Haijō, near Kyoto. He was very good, he had made it past the guards, past the hall of mirrors designed to fool the intruder and past the traps and freefalls… but he did not make it past the floor. And now his headless body hangs in a basket from the castle walls and his head rides on a spike near the bridge.
The daimyo who lives in Haijō Castle sends a golden apple to my master; eat well, the note with it says.
Truly, life is good. And then…
It is a beautiful night; the moon is full and the air balmy. Because I cannot sleep I have slid from my sleeping mat, slipped on my sandals and go out into the night air. It is easy to move quietly and I climb into a cherry tree. From here I can see the house of Negawa, maker of fine porcelain…
And why am I staring entranced at a porcelain maker’s house? Because it is also the house of his daughter, Misami, whom I imagine asleep…
I heard, faintly, the sound of horses but no horses appeared in the yard. I wondered at samurai being out at this hour but dismissed it from my mind and let it drift back to more pleasant fantasies. Men suddenly appeared at our gate, the house was surrounded and before I could say a word or do anything (what would I have done, who know nothing of bushido?) Matsuo is dragged out, his throat cut, his body affixed to the front door and used for archery practice. His wife is butchered also and I thank God his son died a long time ago when he fell through thin ice.
The men searched the house. I could hear their voices then but not distinguish their words. I knew they were seeking me… I did not know why, but in a world where fate can turn on a sparrow’s wing I knew that I must flee. I knew the mountains and ways to avoid the seki .
When they had gone I waited a good long time. I strained my ears. Perhaps they had left a man to listen out for me. A cockerel crowed; dawn was near. I laughed nervously. I had to go; light is the enemy of the fugitive. I was not important enough to leave anyone for; they would find me later and cut my throat. The master’s sins, whatever they were, would be visited on his apprentice.
I had to avoid all people for then they would know where I had been and be able to follow me. I wondered why Matsuo had had to die and knew it was for some great misdeed. And I knew it then… A floor had failed. One of the hidden – the Ninja – had gotten through, perhaps to the daimyo of the golden apple. Yes, the apple had been picked and turned so sour. This was my guess. Somewhere a great lord had died, Matsuo’s floor had failed and the maker of the floor and all who knew him, must die.
Matsuo’s home lay on the outskirts of the Juku  of Majo… People would very soon be stirring, merchants arising to ready their stores and stalls, tanners trooping out away from the town to their secret tanning places, hunters arising and fishermen readying their boats. I gathered clothes, my bow and arrows, a line for fishing and snares. Juku and villages were not for me and so I turned away across country and made for the hills. I knew how to hunt and find peasant foods… In the mountains I would think what to do.
And so, in the days following this, I have done. I swing wildly from despair to a sort of glee as the days go on. Why glee? I hear you ask. What young man does not want at heart to be free of all social obligations and ties? Mine is a world of fixed planets and stars. The fates have decreed that I have been set loose. I miss the thought of kissing Misami’s lips but I do not miss the obligation I had to marry her, I miss Matsuo but not his clouts around my head, I miss my parents but not their downcast eyes when I have made some social gaff. If I were samurai I would now be ronin, and that, the stories sometimes tell us, is not so bad. Perhaps the great Lord’s men will find me and I will go to join my ancestors (who will probably roll their eyes at me), and perhaps – let me be honest - they are not even searching for one who really has no great value. Matsuo is dead; the wrong of a floor that did not sing as it should is righted.
And so I leave this. For whoever shall find it. Let them know my name is Miiagi, son of Yori and Kyoshu, once betrothed to Misami, and now fugitive in my own land.
Let me say my name once more, Miiagi,
who shall never again be a maker of Uguisu-bari.
* * * * *
 Japanese for nightingale floors.
LET’S DO SOME HISTORY
The maker of Uguisu-bari
Knowledge and understanding:
The way of life in shogunate Japan, including social, cultural, economic and political features (including the feudal system and the increasing power of the shogun) (ACDSEH012)
The role of the Tokugawa Shogunate in reimposing a feudal system (based on daimyo and samurai) and the increasing control of the Shogun over foreign trade. (ACDSEH063)
1. The story does not specify a year or time frame, but we can say it is in the Tokugawa Shogunate, after 1603 — do you think it’s important to know exactly when this story is set? Why/ why not?
2. The story refers to significant aspects of life in this civilisation to try to make it seem real. Use clues in the text and research to help you complete the questions below: The first one has been done for you:
a. ‘a world of fixed planets and stars’ (paragraph 18) suggests to me the story narrator is not of the ruling Samurai class – he is of the artisan class. Rank and status is fixed in this society. Research reveals that class and status (power) were fixed in the Japanese feudal society of the Shogunate, just as it was in feudal Europe.
b. ‘Bushido’ (paragraph 13) suggests to me that … Research reveals that …
c. ‘Seki…’ (paragraph 14) suggests to me that … Research reveals that …
d. ‘Juku…’ (paragraph 17) suggests to me that … Research reveals that …
e. ‘The hidden’ and ‘Uguisu-bari’ (see paragraph 2 and the story title) suggests to me that … Research reveals that …
Beliefs and Values of the times
3. In this society everyone had their place. To which class does Iniashi (Miiagi) belong?
4. The feudal system was all about hierarchy, with the emperor on top (as the ritual ruler) but real power held by the shogun, with all others below him. What aspects of the Shogunate or feudal system does this story reveal?
Material Circumstances of the times
5. True or false: people in Japan sometimes hunted for food. Explain how you know.
6. True or false: the shogun has little control over everyday life. Explain how you know.
7. True or false: the political situation was not perfectly stable in Japan. Explain how you know.
Historical questions and research
Identify and locate relevant sources, using ICT and other methods (ACHHS151)
The research process
How did the writer research this story and what prior knowledge did he bring to the writing? The writer knew of the power of the samurai class and the shogun and also had a little knowledge of bushido. He was also familiar with the concept of nightingale floors, courtesy of Lian Hearn’s novels.
1. The writer did most of his research on line; would ‘Shogunate Japan and assassination’ be a good search string to begin with? Why or why not?
2. The writer investigated the following aspects of Japanese feudal life: nightingale floors, ranks in Shogunate Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate, how people hunted in feudal Japan, ninja in Shogunate Japan, and everyday life in feudal Japan. Choose one of these aspects of feudal life and explain how the story has made use of information the writer discovered.
What the writer made up
All the characters herein and place names are complete works of fiction and not based on any historic characters or real places. The idea of the ‘hidden’ is stolen unashamedly from Hearn’s excellent novels (which never name Japan) but the writer uses the name here as a code word for ninja; in Hearn’s novel the hidden were a persecuted religious sect. Bushido, seki and juku are all real concepts from Shogunate Japan. The story suggests that the narrator is fleeing the threat of murder; his master Matsuo has failed with one of his nightingale floors. Is this threat real – even the narrator confesses he does not know? He is just guessing… it may be true. The narrator is in fact a little unreliable because he occasionally lapses into flippancy and refuses to take the threat to his life seriously.
Where did the writer get his information? (Bibliography)
- Japan Guide, 2013, Nijo Castle, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3918.html
- Lauren, 2012, Blog: Lateral Movements, http://www.lateralmovements.com/across-the-nightingale-floor/
- Meg Greene, The Technology of Ancient Japan, 2006, p.25, Rosen Publishing Group, NY
- Ojibwa, 2014, Medieval Japan: The Samurai , http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/30/1288397/-Medieval-Japan-The-Samurai#
- PBS, Empires – Japan, Memoirs of a Secret Empire, http://www.pbs.org/empires/japan/enteredo.html
- Skwirk, 2013, The Samurai, http://www.skwirk.com/p-c_s-14_u-177_t-516_c-1920/act/history/medieval-and-early-modern-societies-japan/life-in-feudal-japan/the-samurai
- Teacher Librarian Help, 2014, Year 8 Shogunate Japan, http://teacherlibrarianhelp.com/research-guides/61-2/
- The Will of the Shogun, Uploaded to YouTube by PBS on Mar 30, 2009, http://www.pbs.org/empires/
- University of Colorado, n.d., Samurai Life in Feudal Japan, http://www.colorado.edu/cas/tea/curriculum/imaging-japanese-history/medieval/pdfs/handout-M2.pdf
- Welcome to Edo, n.d., http://www.us-japan.org/edomatsu/
Task – Option A
Write a short story (500 – 1000 words) set in shogunate Japan which makes use of everyday life features of this society.
The story subject matter is up to you but you will need to give thought to:
· Setting – it needs to be real for shogunate Japan. So think about the time and where you are in this society. Hint: are you in late middle or early part of the period? Who is shogun? Is there conflict? How might this effect your characters’ lives?
· Description Hint: have you used strong and characterising verbs, imagery that suits your character and provided details that help us see hear and feel your characters’ worlds?
· Openings and closings: Does your opening hook us and give us an idea of setting and character? Does your ending resolve the character’s problems. Would a reader feel satisfied with your ending/closing?
IF you are not sure what this all means – don’t worry. We’ll be revisiting how one creates character and writes vivid descriptions and other skills you will need to create.
Task – Option B
Write a report of a feature of 500 - 1000 words regarding one key feature (food and drink, feudal obligations, shogun control, the samurai, craft and art...) of everyday life in feudal Japan as featured or used in the story The maker of Uguisu bari. For example:
- The feudal system – It is ‘a world of fixed planets and stars’.
- The samurai code . Note who rides horses and practices ‘bushido’.
- Trade and transport - ‘seki’, ‘juku’, the mountains which are not travelled very much.
- The class system.
- Other aspects of feudal, shogunate Japan...
Research provides characters and story lines.
AT the beginning, the writer of the stories in this book didn’t have much of a clue what would happen in each of the stories in this book (see hiSTORY). No-one whispered magic formulas and ideas in his ear… In fact, all the writer knew most of the time was that the story had to be set in a particular time and in a particular place. Like most everyone else, the first question that popped into his mind was – what will I write about?
But the writer did have a bit of help. The task wasn’t left completely open.
ALL of the stories in the book started with the writer being given a task. Just as is happening to you, the writer was given a brief – which is another way of saying “a job”. In the writer’s case the job was that he had to stick to content descriptions about what to write in his national curriculum for history. He couldn’t write about any old thing… it had to relate to the curriculum. Other than that, it was up to his imagination.
Beauty, you might be saying. That means just about anything goes; the writer can put in pink fairies and enormous elephants and people who can walk through walls. They can use mobile phones and have access to super computers. So long as the fairies are wearing Egyptian costumes (if the story is set in ancient Egypt) or Roman togas (ancient Rome), and so long as the enormous elephants are wandering around in Carthage (more on ancient Rome)… it’s all right.
Alas, it wasn’t so. Unfortunately, the task also had a small condition – it had to be real for the times and material circumstances; it had to be credible history. No Chinese peasants were allowed to pull out semi-automatic rifles and blow away attacking legions of Mongol warriors. No playing around with history; the material circumstances of the time (the level of technology, the resources they had and used) and their beliefs and values had to be adhered to.
What that meant of course was that the author really had to start with reading. Yep, good old reading; also called research. What was life like back in ancient Egypt or Rome or, to get a little more modern, what happened in Renaissance Italy? As the reading progressed, ideas might be born…
The maker of Uguisu bari in fact began life because the writer had read Lian Hearn’s excellent books based on somewhere very like shogunate Japan. The research began with a search string: “Shogunate Japan and daily life”. Then the writer got interested in the fact that apparently, in Shogunate Japan, nightingale floors had been real, and used by powerful people to avoid assassination. Why was there so much assassination? (Real assassination - not just saying nasty things about someone else on social media.) Finding answers to this basic question revealed how very feudal Shogunate Japan was. There were struggles for power with contests between different warlords (just like in Hearn’s books)…
It seemed like it was a grim time for many more ordinary people too: wars, conflict, assassination? Then the writer (who did not study shogunate Japan at school and really knew very little) wondered what would happen if a nightingale floor failed - what if an assassin got through?...
Story ideas were born.
Surely they’ll just kill the floor maker! But what if he had an apprentice (who wasn’t in bed when he should have been and so avoids getting killed himself)? What if he is on the run - fearing assassination himself? Is that likely? Maybe not - maybe he is a bit of a fabulist who overly dramatises things... And thus a story and a character’s motivations are born.
Research provides context.
Context is what surrounds us. It’s the culture we live in, it’s our physical environment, it’s the level of technology and the things that are happening now. Stories need context that appears real. People need to live in real homes and use the correct technology for their time and not have outlandish ideas that people did not have at that time. Research helps the writer find out real context.
The maker of Uguisu bari was not going to be the story of the making of a nightingale floor. Writing about cabinet making isn’t something the writer really knows much about. He’s far less manually gifted than that… What he did know about was that young men usually favour girls, once they have reached a certain age, and that he had far more experience of this than how to make something as wondrous as a nightingale floor. So he invented Iniashi, whose real name, he discovers is Miiagi - apprenticed to the best maker of nightingale floors in feudal Japan. The master is killed, when his floor fails for a feudal overlord. And so the apprentice runs. Where would he go? ... Somewhere remote... Ah, Japan has lots of mountainous country, which is relatively un-populated.
And he’d discovered that roads were quite heavily policed in feudal Japan so our young apprentice needed to definitely head for places where there were not many people... Definitely the mountains. But how does he eat? What does he eat? Research, research...
The rest (you’ll have to read The maker of Uguisu bari if you haven’t already done so) is history...
1. Why do you think the writer begins with the sound of a nightingale?
2. Who is Iniashi - according to Iniashi, anyway?
3. What has happened to Matsuo? How does this set up the conflict at the heart of the story?
4. Is it important that Matsuo was a ‘famed maker of nightingale floors’? Why/why not?
5. Iniashi is what is called a first person narrator - should we trust everything he says? Why/why not?
Answering these questions should indicate how the writer established that we are in Japan and that the narrator is in trouble because he is the apprentice of a murdered maker of nightingale floors. NOTE that our first person naarrator attempts to give us a reason why Matsuo was killed. What was the reason for Matsuo's death?
For another example of how setting is used in a feudal Japan like context download a sample of Across the nightingale floor by Lian Hearn.
Let’s look at how Iniashi’s character is revealed in the opening.
Does Iniashi sound like he is a little full of himself? Explain your answer.
If you have only read the first two paragraphs of this story - How serious do you feel the threat to Iniashi’s life is?
Do you think Iniashi might be a bit of a joker? Why/why not?
Descriptive writing skills
Strong verbs – these help to characterise events, settings and the people in your story. Note for example how Matsuo is ‘pinned’ to the door. What does this imply (make us guess) about how Matsuo has been killed?
Imagery helps to establish character and setting. The pinning of Matsuo makes his killers sound like etymologists (people who study insects and pin their bodies to a board).
Details. These put flesh on the story and its characters. In the opening of the story Iniashi summons up a nightingale singing to make us realise he is about to tell a tale of woe. And he lavishly adds details to the door on which Matsuo is pinned - it is ‘juniper timbered’. It sounds fancy - just like you’d imagine a cabinet maker of nightingale floors and other wooden marvels would have.
Your Short Story/Process
Please do the following in order to give yourself or a peer an accurate picture of how well you feel your/the draft story is working.
1. Write a brief description of the story’s setting.
2. Which words has the writer used to give the best sense of this setting?
3. Who is the main character?
4. Draw or write a description of this character?
5. What is the main character’s big problem?
6. UNDERLINE at least three strong verbs used by the writer. Explain, in the margin or using comments in the reviewing toolbar, why you like these verbs and how they help you process the story.
7. Highlight two to three images used by the writer which help you understand a character, setting or event.
8. Comment on:
a. The opening ~ is it effective in establishing the setting, character and the problem?
b. The ending ~ do you feel the problem has been resolved?
9. Do you wish to make any additional comments?
1. We learn early that Matsuo has been killed for some reason. What is the reason?
2. What threat does Iniashi say he faces?
3. What does the story reveal about what Iniashi has done to avoid this threat?
4. Does the story end with the threat to Iniashi having been ended?
5. Is the ending satisfactory - in light of the kind of character you think Iniashi is?
6. What do you think will happen to Iniashi in the end - will he be hunted down OR have the hidden simply forgotten him?
7. Discuss how you feel about the resolution in this story with your classmates.
Assess the writing based on ideas, organisation, voice, sentence fluency, vocabulary and use of conventions.
Assess the history on: accuracy, relevance (to topic and task), and level of specific detail. The quality of these is a strong indicator of how well the writer has researched.
Rubric to come.