I’ve heard this said a few times before
that Klingons in TNG and onwards were basically samurai with head bumps
but I only ever believed it on the surface level
e.g. code of honour, warrior govt
However, now I’ve read a book called ‘The Bakufu in Japanese History’ I realise that Ronald D Moore probably did read the same book before starting work on his first Klingon episode.
The house system is the same
This wasn’t unique to Japan, but in the era of Bakufu [1185-1868], which I think translates as a govt led by military guys, your house represented the power you had to a huge level. It chopped and changed a lot, and varied between different bakufu, but basically there was the bakufu [military] and two other powerful groups, Monks + aristocrats [including the Emperor], owning land and dividing power. However, by the time of the final Bakufu [Tokugawa 1600-1868?], the military and regional houses had dealt with the monks and nobles and had total control.
Don’t monks usually get slaughtered in history?
Later, yes, but not during the first two Bakufu.
In fact, it’s quite funny how the monks operated in some areas, specifically how they made their cash. Medieval Japan was quite a superstitious place, so the monks would take a portable shrine, drop it in someone’s house then sit and wait for that person to pay enough for them to get rid of the ‘evil spirit’ within the shrine. No one would challenge them as only the monks had the power to perform the task; even the samurai wouldn’t touch the portable shrines.
The noble samurai?
Ha, about as noble as old English knights. A lot of those fuckers were just thugs with swords who switched sides if the price was decent, and what’s worse, the Muromachi Bakufu made them cops in Kyoto too. Or the equivalent of cops. The rest of the samurai could just do what they pleased as long as they didn’t do it close to Kyoto. And they did.
Of course, there were noble samurai warriors too, even noble warlords like Uesugi Kenshin [well, he was occasionally noble], but a lot of the time they were nasty. Hard to put a precise number on it, but
I remember one story, an old peasant man with a walking stick bumped into a drunk samurai accidentally, and the samurai turned around, moaned about a lack of respect then cut the poor guy’s head off. He then went back to his drink and no one bothered him. This is just apocryphal, no one knows if it really happened, but, logically, if you give men power and weapons, throughout history, a lot of them are gonna turn into brutal shock troops. In some cases, like the English raids in the Hundred Years War, the govt/king actually hires the brutal types for this same reason.
I think Star Trek shows this side of the noble Klingon warrior quite well. There are good ones, like Worf and Martok, but there are also a lot of bloodthirsty killers, and scheming sociopaths like Gowron, who is so representative of the corruption in the Empire that Worf decides to stab him in the gut [after beating up his stunt double].
Yup. You don’t even need to freeze any of the fight scene to catch it either. It’s clearly not Gowron. I’m not sure why. The fight choreography wasn’t that demanding, all the actor had to do was swing a knife and pivot a bit. Was Robert O’Reilly feeling ill that day?
What about the Japanese Bakufu system of Govt?
All bakufu were officially led by one guy, the Shogun. As with all kings and emperors, some were decent, some were bad, some were strong, some were weak, some liked to fuck horses.
The first govt, Kamakura Bakufu, ruled from the East using vassals and a strong judiciary to control the other areas [as far as I know].
The third one, Tokugawa Bakufu, was pure military and quite clever, maintaining control over the whole country by making it law for all regional leaders to spend half the year in the capital, in effect crippling their ability to plot a takeover. They also started strong out of the gate, with the first three shoguns being shrewd, dominant leaders.
The most interesting Bakufu to me was the second one, the Muromachi, as there was a lot going on and it led to the warring states period, which, due to its random peasant slaughter, single-handedly repudiated the line ‘may you live in interesting times’.
Here’s how things worked in the Muromachi Bakufu:
The Shogun ruled in Kyoto, along with [nominally] the monks and the nobles, plus the Emperor, who was inserted by the shogun to be a puppet after the real Emperor tried to set up his own govt. I think the rebellious Emperor was killed later, while on the run, but I’m not sure. I do know that his son continued the alternate court of his dad next to a mountain, but it didn’t do much, eventually reuniting with the Muromachi Court and becoming completely irrelevant.
To maintain country unity, the Muromachi Shogun let the east of Japan be ruled by his vassal [family member or childhood friend] and a group of Shugo, which were basically govt officials either sent from the capital or from some other part of Japan. Beyond them, you had the Kokujin, who were local warlords or clan leaders, and beyond that you had everyone else. The strongest houses were typically those who had chosen the right side when the Muromachi Bakufu had risen to power, or had been loyal for a long time when the Ashikaga [Muromachi] clan were nobodies.
In addition to the main vassal overseeing the Kanto region [The East of Japan], the Shogun had the clever idea to set up a two-deputy system filled by men from local clans to back him up and insure the fealty of all local warlords. The cleverness ended, however, when the shogun basically insulted the locals by turning the main vassal position into a merry-go-round of ‘fuck it’ appointments, the list of incompetence including family members, friends, friends of friends and, at one point, even a four year old. This quickly led to instability in the East as most of these vassals showed no understanding of or interest in the area they were ruling, so the Shogun had to go back to the calligraphy board. The new plan, 15 years after the first: have the current vassal murdered, appoint a competent one, let one of the houses from the East rule as one deputy instead of two, ignore all other houses, in fact, ignore everything going on outside of Kyoto and, after that, whatever happens, happens. Let the local houses fight amongst themselves and claim the power allotted to them, as long as it didn’t interfere with the vassal’s bureau in Kamakura or the sex dens in Kyoto.
The house chosen to run Kanto was the Uesugi clan from Echigo [modern day Niigata], and the logic was: Uesugi would retain loyalty to the Bakufu as it had been elevated in status by them, and it would have just enough power to quell any rebellious warlords.
Medieval means the same in Japanese as it does everywhere else
Obviously, it was both a poor and short-sighted plan, but it actually functioned fairly well for around sixty years. The vassals were reasonable and the Uesugi deputy gained power and respect, but then one day, one particular vassal went insane and murdered the Uesugi deputy, and everything fractured as more and more cooks started to shit in the broth. What happens when you let warrior houses do what they want? Carnage and chaos all over the countryside. Provinces ravaged and conquered. Locals pressganged into each warlord’s army. Women raped and killed. Men raped and killed. Livestock? Unreported, but outlook very bleak.
If you were a peasant you were fucked, basically.
And the Klingons?
Well, the only Klingon novel I ever read was the John M Ford one, and it didn’t go into much detail about the various houses, so the only touchstone I have is the TV series.
In TNG, you get a vague idea of the power system.
The Duras family was influential and Gowron was an outsider, but apart from that it’s hard to know anymore as I’m not even sure what the geography of the planet is. Was Gowron from a different hemisphere? Had the Duras family always had power? Had there been a dramatic change in Govt in the recent past?
It would make a great novel if someone fleshed all this out, especially the actual territory of the planet.
The Klingon planet is monocultural
Yes, this is a problem if you wanna expand their background.
The only way I can think of for this kind of solo culture to exist is if the landmass is relatively small and not broken up by oceans.
Even if the Klingons had conquered other cultures on the planet it’s unlikely they could’ve eradicated them altogether. It’s never happened on this planet.
Though there is one reference from DS9 that could explain things. Worf tells someone, possibly Jadzia, that Klingons were conquered by an alien race before, which might explain why the whole race became united. Watchmen did say that humans would do the same under threat from a greater enemy e.g. blue man, aliens, so it’s logical for the same to be true of Klingons.
Even if the whole planet is monocultural, I don’t really care, I’d still like to see a novel where they deal with Klingon history. Maybe it already exists. Maybe it mimics Japanese history to the tiniest detail. That would be okay, as long as they change the names.
The Military didn’t always have power
The Klingon lawyer from ‘Enterprise’ [played by the same actor who does Martok] told Scott Bakula that the Klingon planet used to be ruled in a more consensual way, or a more pluralistic way at least. It valued different professions, like artists and lawyers and engineers, but then, just like Cardassia, the military decided they’d like a bigger slice of the gok and took over.
It’s not implied that the Klingons were ever non-violent, the lawyer says they all do fighting practice, but the way he expressed it seemed more like the fighting was similar to the Chinese ideal behind Kung Fu i.e. it’s not just used to beat someone up, each school has a philosophy underpinning it. The style or form of the moves reflects the way that school of kung fu thinks. A clearer example might be, Bruce Lee said his kung fu was like water. Kind of. Did Japanese fighting/fencing/spear schools do the same thing?
I don’t know.
Now I think about it, this might be a bit of a reach.
There’s no clear evidence or mimicry of Chinese culture
It just popped into my head when I recalled the Klingon lawyer mentioning his lapse in fighting practice
It reminds me of Chinese dramas where regular people have the same lament
that they’ve neglected their kung fu in favour of
study or drinking
on the other hand
Japanese culture did borrow a lot from the Chinese
during the Taika reforms.
Bushido is very Klingon
Samurai may have often been a bunch of thugs throughout history, but ideologically, they were supposed to have bushido. I don’t know which one is closest to the Klingon culture mentioned in ‘Enterprise’, kung fu or bushido, but the Klingons in TNG definitely lean towards the Japanese system. Also, the corruption and thuggery is mirrored in the Japanese system, especially the Muromachi Bakufu, where it was every house for itself.
The legend of Kahless points to the Japanese samurai system too, but that could’ve been reimagined by the new military leaders, or reinstated perhaps?
Maybe Kahless initiated the Samurai style system, then it became more moderate and inclusive over time then it grew to be seen as weak so the military took over again and went back to the old days.
It happens all the time in the histories of many countries. The present is shit, let’s go back to the old days when it wasn’t shit. Chinese dynasties always looked back to the Sage Kings/Han/Tang, USA is already looking back to the 80’s, South American countries are looking back to the spirit of Simon Bolivar, so
maybe the Klingons looked back too?
Which way will Martok take them post-DS9?
He’s probably already taken the Empire some direction in the novels, but I don’t know what that direction is.
My guess: he was respected as a general, but pulled down by the elitist Klingons due to his relationship with Worf and the way he became Chancellor. They blocked him in the council, questioned his birthplace, got the Klingon version of Newt Gingrich to call him a Romulan until finally he just gave up and
let his wife rule the Empire
while he focused on
blood wine and handjobs
Would Martok cheat on his wife?
he’s a loyal guy,
but when you’re stuck on a space station half the time and your wife’s at home and there’s a holosuite in Quark’s then…maybe.
Don’t trust my version of Japanese history, I’ve read two and a half books, all in English. I think most of it’s accurate, but there may be a few mistakes. Don’t trust my version of Klingon history either. The last time I tried to explain Trek cultures, I got called an idiot for not knowing what or who the Elorg Bloc was.
Even now I don’t know what it is
all I go by is the TV shows
and the films
and some mish stuff from memory alpha.
Go on Wikipedia and doublecheck everything you’ve just read.