Loose cannons in Nagasaki harbor

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Loose cannons in Nagasaki harbor

Postby HanshiClayton » Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:36 am

In the section on honne and tatemae in Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition I included an anecdote that comes from Nagasaki in medieval Japan.

In Western countries, the term "loose cannon" means a person who is out of control. In sailing days, a cannon that broke loose of its moorings would roll around the deck of the ship, crashing into things and causing serious damage. If a cannon got loose, sailors often died trying to get it under control again.

For a while during the Tokugawa dynasty, only the Dutch were allowed to trade with Japan, and only once a year at Nagasaki harbor. The Dutch sailors were not allowed to come ashore on penalty of death. A Japanese gunship patrolled Nagasaki harbor to enforce this edict. It was manned by samurai soldiers in armor, with matchlock rifles, bows and arrows, and spears. On deck were twelve massive cannons which were always kept trained on the ship of the Dutch merchants.

One day the water was rough and the overloaded gunboat capsized and sank. The snarling samurai sank without a trace, unable to swim in their heavy armor. The cannons, however, bobbed to the surface and floated.

The cannons were made of wood. The "gunboat" was a hollow threat. The Dutch were very amused.

Some people believe that "the truth will out" sooner or later. In this case, it certainly did.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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