Bloodsucking Freaks

Bloodsucking Freaks
Vampire of the Rising Sun

Fintan Monaghan | 15 Feb 2011 12:50
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The vampire is generally considered to have arrived on Japanese shores in the 1930s with the country's first boom in vampire literature. As Japanese militarism was hitting its peak, so too was xenophobia. This atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia was stoked by the most popular book of the 30s boom, Seishi Yokomizo's Dokuro-Kengyo (The Death's-Head Stranger). The tale transplants elements of the Dracula story to Tokugawa era Japan where a mysterious stranger, Shiranui, transforms the Shogun's daughter into a vampire as part of a plot to bring down the government. The character of Shiranui was based on Amakusa Shiro, an actual historical figure who led a Christian rebellion in 17th Century Nagasaki. At that time, the shogunate worried about the creeping influence Christian missionaries were having on the masses, eventually leading to the religion being completely outlawed and access to the country closed to outsiders. In the book, Amakusa is now a vampire, his deep immersion in Western culture having turned him into a kind of monster capable of spreading his corrupting influence to others. The vampire thus came to serve a function impossible for the homegrown Kappa or the Black Cat, embodying a generation's fears of seditious foreign influence and the dangers of western ideas. From its very introduction, the vampire became inextricably linked with the Western other and the encroachment of foreign culture.

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These themes persisted in the post-war period, yet now the foreign vampire was viewed with a little more nuance. In Ryo Hanmura's Ishi no Ketsumyaku (Veins of the Rock), the vampire brings from abroad a virus, spread by sexual intercourse, which bestows immortality at the cost of a thirst for blood. The story follows two heroes in parallel, a bureaucrat of the elite, assisting the aristocracy in their pursuit of the virus and immortality, and a renegade former operative, intent on revealing the conspiracy. Hanmura came from a generation that had seen two sides to contact with the West. As a child, he had lived through the horrors of war and the humiliation of occupation, yet he had also experienced the benefits foreign ideas and technology had brought to society. As such, his vampire raises questions about the costs and benefits of adopting western mores.

These early depictions of the vampire as a metaphor for the encroachment of Western culture solidified him as the foreign interloper. The vampire was a shady character from abroad, an aristocrat moving in elite circles, spreading his influence to those around him. While media has grown more varied over the years, this initial archetype has led to distinct differences in how vampire stories have evolved in Japan as compared to the West.

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