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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wolverine is not a %^&* Samurai!!

Okay the Marvel Strength Directory's a pretty neat site. But one thing really pisses me off. In the entry for Wolverine, they describe him as follows:

Abilities: Due to his extensive training as a CIA operative, a Samurai, and as a member of the Weapon X program, Wolverine is a master of multiple forms of martial arts, weapons, and vehicles. He is also a trained expert in computers, explosives, and assassination techniques.

Gahhh! NO! He was NEVER a *samurai*! Samurai was a social class. The word means "servant", in truth they were the highest level of society. In the Heian Period, when Japan was actually ruled by a court of aristocrats, the samurai were distant relatives that recieved military training. After the Heike War, the samurai became the dominant social class.

You are born, or adopted into, a samurai family. Samurai status is based on heredity. Ultimately, the men of the samurai class were the only ones allowed to carry weapons, but their wives and children were also samurai. Samurai =/= L33t katana-wielding warrior!. In fact, by the late Tokugawa period, most were petty bureaucrats. The swords were ornamental.

I suppose it's possible, one could imagine, that Wolverine/James Howlett/Logan was adopted by a samurai family. Ignoring of course the policy of strict isolation and *beheading* of European/American foreigners marooned on Japanese soil. Which only got stricter as time passed and was one of the motivations behind Matthew Perry and his Black Ships forcing open the ports of Japan. But a good story could of course have Wolverine somehow disguise himself and then be adopted into a samurai family.

Except for another small problem. Wolverine's birthdate is given as in the 1880s. That's a few years *after* class differentiations were *eliminated* in Japan. The Meiji Restoration wanted to foster an idea of national unity and rapid modernization/westernization. The old Confucian-inspired class distinctions: Samurai>Peasant>Artisan>Merchant>eta and hinin were eliminated. While naturally financial and class differentiations still occured and do occur in practice, especially if you happen to be descended from one of the eta or hinin that lived in buraku villages, and being descended from a samurai family can still get you a bit of prestige, there are no present day samurai.

Seriously, after the founding of the Meiji government, one of the major architects of the movement, Saigo Takamori, appalled that the government had decided to abolish his class and essentially make them obsolete by creating a standing conscript army, took his men and revolted. This was the Satsuma Rebellion by the way. This was in 1877, by the way, at least three years before Wolverine was born.

Gee, it's not like this stuff hasn't turned up in a relatively well known movie that came out a few years back, right? (A hint: The Last Samurai does not and never did refer to Tom Cruise's character.)

Now, the warrior we think of from old Akira Kurosawa films and anime is called a bushi. A bushi was a warrior of the Samurai class who devoted himself to the martial arts and followed the code of Bushido. Now, I have a great deal of trouble reconciling Wolverine as he's portrayed in the comics I've read with what I know of Bushido, but for the sake of argument, I'll ignore that. Wolverine's gone through a lot of changes over the years.

He may have been a bushi, but he was NEVER a samurai. And you don't have to have studied years of Asian History to know the difference. Crack open a history book. Crack open an *encyclopedia*. It takes ten seconds to look up "samurai".

I get irked by poor research.


  • At May 30, 2006 12:49 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    I think Marvel-Universe-Japan still has samurai running around, but the term has basically been redefined as "like ninja, but they talk about honor more often, don't jump around as much, and sometimes wear big helmets."

    (see: Silver Samurai)

  • At May 30, 2006 12:56 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Yeah, see, that's my complaint. Those *aren't* Samurai. If Marvel called them the right name, I wouldn't mind so much.

    The "redefinition" bothers me, because it's going by an old misconception that no one's even bothering to do the research to correct. What we're basically doing by doing this is taking a complex culture, stripping it down to a few cartoonish symbols, and not even using the right word. It's incredibly insensitive.

    And don't get me *started* on the Silver Samurai. Bleh!!

  • At May 30, 2006 4:50 AM, Blogger JP said…

    Serious speculative fiction novels all too often get details of Asian cultures wrong, or use them in sickeningly simplistic ways - I've given up expecting comics to do any better. Apparently because comics writers work on tighter deadlines, and its easier to scope out weapons/vehicles specs than something as subtle as *gosh* a foreign culture.

    I've given up even cringing when a Hindu mystic is described as a 'fakir'.

  • At May 30, 2006 4:53 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *wince* Yeah, it's expected. But it doesn't make it right. Not when a couple of key strokes in a search engine would clear that right up. :-(

  • At May 30, 2006 7:06 AM, Blogger Sleestak said…

    Yeah, but who wants to be called a "bushi"?

  • At May 30, 2006 7:07 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ...people who follow Bushido? :-)

  • At May 30, 2006 10:10 AM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    You might be interested to know that Akira Kurosawa himself is from a samurai line and has been called, in documentaries of his life and work, samurai. His father despised his choice of career for he saw it unbefitting for one who was samurai.

  • At May 30, 2006 10:33 AM, Blogger Hate Filled Poster said…


    I get your point though. :)

  • At May 30, 2006 10:59 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    the dane: Yes, that's exactly my point. Akira Kurosawa isn't a swordsman with fancy armor going on about honor. He's descended from a samurai *family*. It's a heredity thing. (Now it's a claim of good breeding, basically, but the official class hasn't existed since 1877. That doesn't mean it's not highly regarded in the family's themselves, but there is no legal differentiation between those of samurai families and anyone else.

    Anyway though, Wolverine still could not possibly qualify as samurai. Though I wouldn't put it past Marvel to have him ultimately adopted by Kurosawa himself.

    shane: :-P It does sound dumb, but honestly, the character concept is not terribly...practical...anyway.

    10:56 AM

  • At May 30, 2006 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If Wolverine had married Mariko Yashida, who was from a Samurai family, could Marvel have argued that he was Samurai by marriage? But then he would have been taken into his wife's family, rather than what's usual when the wife is taken into the husband's family (she takes his name). That could've been interesting.

    (Okay, I get that the family relations don't really work that way. Right before she calls the wedding off, he talks about Mariko "leaving her family forever, giving herself to me and mine". But it would've been funny if Marvel used the samurai-by-marriage explanation.)

  • At May 30, 2006 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I saw a samurai(-arts) training school on the telly just this morning. A group of salarymen (and women) being taught ancient swordsy arts, with real swords and everything. Head chopping!

    Okay, it's the Japanese equivalent of the Sealed Knot Society, perhaps, but it looked real (and scary) enough.

    Perhaps they should rephrase it:

    " in the samurai arts..."

    This is all down to that bloody Claremont/Miller miniseries, anyway. In the introduction to the first trade, Miller and Claremont call Logan a ronin, or masterless samurai. Like the father in Lone Wolf and Cub (which Miller was no doubt reading at the time). I think people have taken that notion far too literally, and that it would have been best to keep Logan a ronin in spirit.

    PS. Thanks for this mental image: " of the motivations behind Matthew Perry and his Black Ships forcing open the ports of Japan."


  • At May 30, 2006 12:01 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ingvild: That's a tricky question. I *think* it would be a no, unless he were specifically adopted by her father first. Which does happen in cases of a low class man marrying a high class woman, but I'm not sure precisely how that would apply to a foreigner.

    See, the legal idea of a family, as recorded on the registry, centers around the man. The woman is removed from the father's registry and added to her husband's. Now, a foreigner has no registry, so if he is not adopted by a samurai family (and he could in fact be adopted by Mariko's father, if in fact adoption laws extend to foreigners, which I'm not sure of actually), she would be given a new registry that is her own, and he would be added to it.

    (Disclaimer: Provided I'm understanding the legalities of this system correctly. Law has never been my field of study.)

    These registries sound neat, but really, they allow for some awful discrimination. They're public records, and well, having a female-head registry doesn't look good. Also other notations are made on the father's registry which can, especially in the case of those of samurai descent who tend toward more traditional behavior (like the socialites here), damage the marriage prospects of younger siblings. I believe the same applies to foreign marriage (another potentially socially-damaging notation), so Mariko actually marrying Logan would have been a huge, *huge* deal.

    I wouldn't mind so much if the Marvelverse did try to explain it that way though, as it would be original at least. (And would be *acceptable* artistic license in my opinion versus something that would be proven inaccurate with two minutes and an encyclopedia.)

    But then having formerly been a member of a largely obsolete Japanese social class would probably not be listed in abilities. :-)

    Matthew: it's still a little iffy, but it would be acceptable. I'll just imagine in the Marvel Universe the samurai arts for the past 300-400 years haven't been pretty much what you describe, a bunch of salarimen/bureaucrats waving around swords in some sort of Japanese equivalent of the full armor wearing Medieval recrationists.

    I have no trouble with Wolverine as a ronin in spirit. The problem is that as adept as he may become at the "samurai arts" (and really, I can't see him being very good at tea ceremony, calligraphy, or quoting Confucian rhetoric), he'll never be a samurai. It doesn't matter *how* much a foreigner trains in Japan or abroad, how many fighting styles he learns, he can't *become* a samurai.

    (Besides, wouldn't being a part of the Japanese upper class kind of ruin the grassroots appeal of the character? :-))

    And as for Perry: god yes, I know. That *is* the guy's name though. You can imagine how well that goes over in a history class filled with bored college students.

  • At May 30, 2006 12:09 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Ooh! I've got it. Off-panel and after killing Mariko's father, Logan eats his heart/liver/pancreas/what-have-you and in some bizarre, shamanistic way, becomes what Mariko's father was: samurai (after all, <cliche>you are what you eat</cliche>). And this is the real reason Logan refuses to marry Mariko - because he is now her father. Marvel just couldn't get that kind of weirdness past the CCA and so, demured on the point.

    Marvel! Where's my No-Prize?

  • At May 30, 2006 12:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well, I can't give ya that prize, but for making me snort cola onto my keyboard, you win comment of the day. Congrats. :-P

  • At May 30, 2006 3:09 PM, Blogger Richard said…

    This doesn't relate to anything you've said about the misuse of the term Samurai, but one quibbling point should be raised:

    The main body of that entry says Wolverine has an assortment of false memories implanted by the Weapon X project, and also that these "Samurai" memories may be among them. Which provides a simple out to explain anything that's historically inaccurate, implausible, or just plain dumb: whatever doesn't work can be written off as sheer confabulation.

    For story purposes, I can imagine that if you wanted to give an assassin Japanese martial arts training without taking the years needed to actually train him -- and you had some technique of implanting false memories -- you'd give him a whole backstory that he could "remember" to trigger the muscle memory. It wouldn't even need to be realistic or historically accurate...well, unless you were expecting him to operate in Japan, and even then the fiction might be skewed in such a way as to give your subject the appropriate attitude for the mission.

    I say all this merely by way of intellectual exercise; the whole question of Wolverine's backstory has been so mangled that it may be beyond redemption by any other means than saying "it was all a dream!"

  • At May 30, 2006 4:30 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hmm, this is true. My only problem is that this is not the only place I've seen him described thus, and it irks me.

    Hell, if Wolverine described himself as a samurai, I wouldn't mind, I could buy the false memory thing as an excuse. I'd roll my eyes, but I could buy it. But I've seen the *narrative* refer to him as a samurai, which is where, for me, bad research comes in. It'd take minutes to check.

  • At May 30, 2006 4:39 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Well, they also refer to Daredevil as a ninja. Not someone with skills approximate to a ninja's, but a ninja. Really, no matter how much "ninja-training" Daredevil got, he's a lawyer/vigilante. But I guess it's more spookifying for someone to describe him as a ninja than to describe him as a lawyer. I guess.

  • At May 30, 2006 4:47 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Yeah, and that's silly too, but not as bothersome.

    Ninja is a job title where samurai is a class. It's basically claiming feudal nobility. It means you're part of the ruling aristocracy and yes, you're permitted to carry swords, but it doesn't mean you're a warrior. And Wolverine, undoubtedly a warrior, could never be a samurai.

    Daredevil being a ninja is, oddly, a lot more palatable to me.

  • At May 30, 2006 5:43 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Wolverine's like the nouveau riche. He's the self-made samurai. Pulled himself up by his waraji-straps. It's the new Japan! Where class is what you make of it!

  • At May 30, 2006 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bless your heart. =)
    I'd write 'em. If Marvel was cool, they'd recant and replace Samurai with Bushi...

  • At May 30, 2006 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "But I guess it's more spookifying for someone to describe him as a ninja than to describe him as a lawyer."


    A room full of ninjas is not nearly as scary a room full of lawyers

    specially in the Marvel Universe; when was the last time Sue and Reed almost got their kids taken from them because of ninjas?

  • At May 30, 2006 7:27 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dane: :-P

    carla: Hmm, that's a good idea. :-) I doubt they'd actually recant, but ut'd be worth a shot.

    anon: See that's the real thing. A Lawyer is too scary for a hero. Ninja is much more sympathetic an occupation. :-P

  • At May 31, 2006 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "and really, I can't see him being very good at tea ceremony, calligraphy, or quoting Confucian rhetoric"

    ...but it would be awesome if he was.

  • At May 31, 2006 10:23 AM, Blogger Hate Filled Poster said…

    Wait. Are you saying Belushi wasn't a real samarai either?

  • At May 31, 2006 12:52 PM, Blogger Katherine said…

    I can't see him being very good at tea ceremony, calligraphy, or quoting Confucian rhetoric

    Hmm. ISTR reading a review of a miniseries in which he does perform the tea ceremony. *rummages* Yes, here it is. Apparently not a very good miniseries, but evidence that Wolverine's "samurai" abilities are not limited to fighting.

  • At May 31, 2006 4:06 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Katherine: Well, in that case, I stand a little corrected. He's still not a samurai, but master of samurai arts could work.

    I'd die laughing seeing him sit there in hakama, trying to hold the calligraphy brush absolutely vertical to do it right.

    (God, I have bad memories of calligraphy. Klutzes with no hand-eye-coordination are not meant to do calligraphy. :-P)

    shane: I'm sorry, we didn't know how to tell you! Please don't take it so hard!

  • At May 31, 2006 5:34 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Just to be pedantic: that entry says, "Due to his extensive training as . . . a Samurai," which you could read as stating that Logan was trained in Samurai skills, not that he was a Samurai himself.

    That said: yeah, whole lotta inaccuracies like that abound. Though one must remember that Wolverine et al were born decades ago; Wikipedia and Google weren't around back then, so research actually took time. :-)

    Not that I'm defending inaccurate stereotypes - see previous comments in your martial arts post - it's just that current Marvel writers have inherited all manner of...problematic baggage.

  • At May 31, 2006 5:43 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-P Pedantic!

    There's still the World Book Encyclopedia. :-P

    Or the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    Nah, I know, but they could start fixing it *now*. Like when they used to say Guy Gardner attended "Michigan University". Someone eventually got a clue and fixed it. :-)

    They inherited the baggage, they don't have to perpetuate it. :-)

  • At June 01, 2006 11:05 AM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    What can I say? I was both an English major and a copy editor: "pedantic" is my best sort of antics! :-) Besides, if whoever decided Logan was a samurai had actually seen a Kurosawa movie first...well, that's more research than I would've expected, frankly.

    Anyway, I'm just saying: would you want to be the one tasked with fixing all the factual errors and other stupid baggage floating through the Marvel (or DC) universe? I sure wouldn't!

    Seriously, from a publishing perspective, you don't fix errors - even glaring ones - willy-nilly. There's usually a process for making revisions, updating publications, etc. So while it's easy for us to single out stupid shit like this, it isn't as simple as someone making a change in a Word document and hitting "Save." :-) And given the finite resources of any publisher, I'm unsurprised they're more concerned with putting out new comics than in cleaning up stupid shit like this.

  • At June 01, 2006 1:10 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh I don't mean they should have to go back and change already published material. (How in the world *would* one go about doing that?)

    I just mean from this point onward, I'd like them to use a slightly more accurate word. :-) Like with the MU/UofM thing. I have no problem reading older issues with "Michigan University" now that the newer issues have the school's name properly. Everyone makes mistakes after all. :-)

  • At September 27, 2007 4:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    here's the thing, Samurai, means, "to serve" or "one who serves". basically, that is what Log-jame-verine did, whether it was Xavier or government pre weapon x. I don't think it means that he was a samurai in tokugawa era sense, just honor bound. besides if he were a ture samurai, he would be running around on horse back shooting arrows with great accuracy and taking heads back to prove he had done his duty. also, its a work of fiction and a damn good one.

  • At September 27, 2007 4:57 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Sorry man. While Samurai might linguistically mean "to serve", in context it means a very specific social class which was only born into and was abolished before Wolverine was born.

    To put it in perspective, peasants serve noblemen right? You know what happened to peasants who tried to pass themselves off as samurai?

    Let's just say the "to serve" translation didn't apply.

    Overall quality of the work does not distract from the fact that it's a contextual and factual inaccuracy. And considering I've got my degree in the subject, one I'm more than willing to call out and often.

  • At July 16, 2008 10:34 PM, Blogger wolverine said…

    you need more some ways your incorrect to say that wolerine is'nt a samurai but in some ways your right but my argument stays woverine has been train'nd a former samurai

    ha ha i'm right...end of story got a problem with that? ? ? too bad

  • At July 17, 2008 3:46 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually, that's not how you get admitted into a strictly stratified social class.

    Especially a social class that was abolished at the time Wolverine was trained by said former samurai. IF said Samurai adopted Wolverine officially according to Japanese law, and IF this story was prior to the Meiji Restoration during which the Samurai class was abolished (see: The Last Samurai if you need a basic premise and don't want to read a text book instead), then he could be considered a samurai.

    But James Howlett would have been about ten during the Meiji Restoration. And after that point, even the ex-samurai that trained him isn't a samurai. So Wolverine's still not a samurai.

    And I get email alerts for comments, so posting on one from years ago usually won't escape my notice. :-)


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