"A peaceful death at age 75, in an era when people barely lived to their forties: The secret of Tokugawa Ieyasu's longevity!"
The cover story for President magazine (Feb 17) was devoted to first generation shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the warlord who united Japan at the beginning of the 17th century. And who to this day remains the object of veneration by his countrymen.
The early years of his life are portrayed in "Do suru, Ieyasu?" (What will you do, Ieyasu?), NHK's year-long Sunday night Taiga Drama serial, with 37-year-old Jun Matsumoto of the pop group Arashi in the title role.
Less than a month into the TV series, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Jan 26), Japan is caught up in the midst of a heavily commercialized Ieyasu boom.
"It's normal in most years for books connected to the Taiga Drama to make their appearance," said a staff member of a major bookstore. "But this year sales have been particularly strong. Perhaps it's because Jun Matsumoto was picked for the starring role, but we see lots of female customers, ranging from the young to the elderly, buying the books."
The commercial spinoffs are by no means limited to books. During 2023, Aichi Prefecture, where most of the action takes place, is expected to benefit economically to the tune ¥39.3 billion, according to estimates by Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.
"That figure was based on eight previous Taiga Dramas," said a member of the think tank. "The amount would include 320,000 visitors to Aichi who stay overnight in hotels, plus another 4.37 million making day-return trips. But if you add other parts of the country where Ieyasu spent a part of his life, including Shizuoka, Tokyo and Nikko, there's a good chance the total amount will reach ¥50 billion."
In expectation of visitors to Okazaki, Ieyasu's birthplace, the city of 386,000 has budgeted an additional ¥200 million to host the projected 700,000 visitors converging on the town this year. Its historical sites include the reconstructed Okazaki castle, which was reopened to visitors on January 21 following renovations, along with other historical landmarks.
The Ieyasu brand can be found on such products as Japanese sake (rice wine), miso (soy bean paste) and confections, as well as other esoteric goods such as candleholders. The museum shop at the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya also offers Ieyasu-related goods online.
Recent goings-on in South Korea offer an interesting contrast with Japan. Shukan Post (Feb 3) reports that the film "Yeong-ung" (hero), which was released on December 21, had already attracted 2.6 million theatergoers.
The musical biopic, directed by Yoon Jay-guen, covers the final year of the life of Korean nationalist An Jung-guen (1879-1910). An, who assassinated Japan's Resident-General of Korea Hirobumi Ito at Harbin rail station on October 26, 1909, was executed by hanging in Port Arthur prison the following March.
"The acting and songs are outstanding," says Hanyang Women's university professor Toshiharu Hirai. "In particular the lead actor, Chung Sung-hwa, bears a striking resemblance to An Jung-guen. Although a serious topic, the production as a musical makes it enjoyable as entertainment. I was touched to hear the sounds of weeping by many females in the audience."
"One highlight of the drama is the scene where An's mother writes a letter to her son, asking that he not beg Japan for his life by appealing his death sentence, but accept his death for the sake of justice," said Hirai. "That's enough to bring any South Korean to tears."
Hirai is nonetheless critical of what he sees as the film's historical distortions, such as the portrayal of Ito as a womanizer and reference to the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," a term that did not exist prior to 1940.
An was also featured in "Harbin," a recent bestselling work by historical novelist Kim Hoon, and an eponymous film is expected to be released later this year. Not surprisingly the book puts the Japanese empire in a bad light.
Some analysts have suggested that Koreans' flocking to recent films and books which foster strongly negative feelings about Japan may be a form of blame-shifting over such difficulties as the crowd stampede that resulted in 151 deaths in Seoul's Itaewon district last October, or the nation's present economic doldrums.
"At the end of the film, the words scrolled on the screen note that An Jung-guen's remains were never repatriated to South Korea," points out Hirai. "This reinforces the message that the history of Japanese domination should not be forgotten.
"As the film is likely to rekindle the deeply rooted anti-Japanese sentiments in South Korean society, president Yun Suk-yeol, who's been making efforts to mend relations with Japan, is really going to have his work cut out for him." Hirai added.© Japan Today