Desert Islands – The Three Historical Temptations of England and Japan

by Terry Boardman

This essay first appeared in New View magazine Summer 2011

In my life, music has been the art that has touched me the most, and music has about it much of the element of dream in that – especially if one is not a trained musician who thinks about music in terms of scores, crotchets, quavers, minims and the aspects of musical technique etc. – one experiences music as it enters one’s feeling life. This is above all the case in one’s teens and twenties. I grew up with Anglo-American pop, rock and jazz music, much of which draws on the heritage of black Americans. Though I enjoyed a lot of this, especially dancing to it, I already felt by the age of 17 that it was not really my music. Then in the late 1960s, amidst the vogue for rediscovering the music of both non-European cultures, which had their own long traditions (e.g. Indian ragas), and of traditional European folk music, white youth rediscovered a different musical universe from  what was happening in the Anglo-American, largely black-influenced music of that era. Young British musicians developed what came to be called the ‘progressive rock’ music of the period 1969-1976. This often melded elements of Anglo-American pop-rock styles with European classical and folk music. Contemporary classical elements such as musique concrete were  also sometimes included. A lot of thinking and conscious design went into the composition and arrangement of the pieces played by musicians in this progressive rock stream, and the lyrics were often highly complex, poetic and abstruse. But again, my personal response to much of this was that it was on the surface and very much concerned with images. Somewhere it didn’t touch me.

The Spirit of Romanticism

On neither side of my family, traced back into the mid-19th century – which is as far back as I know – is anyone with a connection to Central Europe.  Yet, from about the age of 8, I began to develop a strong sympathy for Britain’s wartime enemies from the two World Wars, due to how they were portrayed on TV and in movies, which I felt was ‘unfair’, and by the age of 14, I had acquired a considerable interest in the cultures of both Japan and the German-speaking lands. The period of the First World War, the first two decades of the 20th century, was one which especially attracted me. Looking back, it does not seem so surprising now that the first places I visited overseas, in my teens, were Austria and Alsace-Lorraine, (Alsace is historically a German-speaking part of France) nor surprising that in 1972, at university in Manchester I encountered the first German rock band I had ever experienced, and they had a Japanese singer. Something in this music, and in the music of other German bands I later came across, spoke to me deeply, and already then I recognised in it something of what I can only call the spirit of Romanticism, the cultural, artistic and philosophical movement that began to emerge in the last decades of the 18th century, above all in Central Europe. One of the key features of that movement was the sense that there was something beyond the mere personality; there was something in one’s inner being that found reflection in the world of nature around one, indeed with the entire cosmos. “To see a world in a grain of sand” as the English Romantic poet William Blake put it; or a world in a single chord, a single rhythmic pattern, a single melody. Rudolf Steiner, I would later learn, expressed this as “the I in the world and the world in the I”, where the ‘I’ is the essential human self, but I did not know of Steiner at that time. All I had was music. Music was then my philosophy, my religion, my lifeline.  Now, some 170 years after the flowering of Romanticism was this very contemporary music of German progressive rock,  wherein was discernable, although perhaps somewhat warped,  something of this same transcendent Romantic spirit coming from Central Europe. It had survived the cataclysm of the 20th century and was reappearing in the music of the young generation in Germany. Not many English-speaking people in the early 70s had encountered this German music, because the prestige of Anglo-American music was so great, but I was one of them. Why was that? This was a question I carried from that time.

Whilst studying history at university, one of the topics that stands out in my memory concerned the roots of German romanticism and nationalism, and in my final year dissertation I found myself specialising in Calvin and the Anabaptists, a theme of strong polarities with religious and theological differences played out in Europe during the 16th century and the Reformation period. Although not so consciously as later in my life, I was probably also becoming aware that polarities need something to heal and balance them in-between. A third element so to say.

The gap and a way across

Within a year of completing my dissertation and graduating, I was in Japan teaching English and in my spare time ‘looking for enlightenment’ in Zen monasteries. Travelling around Japan, visiting the traditional Buddhist monasteries and Shinto shrines and experiencing something of the spiritual culture and attitude to nature that goes with those spiritual streams, I felt I encountered something of that Romantic spirit, albeit in a different form, and I came to recognise the Romantic sentiment that lies deep at the heart of Japanese culture.

These experiences in Japan threw up in me a host of questions about the relationship between the two countries and cultures that I had most experience of and knew best – Britain and Japan, these two island nations at either end of the vast Eurasian continent. The tension or, in musical terms, the dissonance, between them was great, and yet there seemed also to be similarities. How to bridge this tension, this huge gap in these cultures with their different world views – that I also felt in myself? Besides Britain and Japan, the other culture I had made a connection with in my life was, as I mentioned, the Germanic one, which is situated in between East and West, so to speak. 

It was into that culture that Rudolf Steiner brought anthroposophy at the beginning of the 20th Century. This was the spiritual stream that I met on my return to England in 1981 when I also realised that the threefold picture of man and the cosmos which is at the heart of anthroposophy spoke also very deeply to my own heart. I sensed that this had to do with how I could begin to inwardly resolve living with the tension between England and Japan, a polarity I met in my own life between  rational thought and will (to actually do things) on the one hand and feeling on the other. Steiner had revealed the picture that we are threefold beings: we think, we feel, and we act through our will. I began to sense the importance of the middle term in this human threefoldness – the imagining heart between the intellectual head and the willful metabolism (for the will is connected to the forces at work in the human metabolism that destroys and creates substance). I noticed how in history, again and again, one could see the middle element being squeezed out between the poles on either side of a situation, the motif of East and West ignoring the Middle, or the reduction of an entity from three elements to two.

I felt that anthroposophy, as a spiritual path that had emerged in its modern form from Central Europe, could help me to understand the relationship between East (Japan) and West (Britain). A key began to emerge as I dwelt upon Steiner’s Christology, particularly, for example, on his discussion and insights concerning the three temptations of Christ in the 40 days in the desert, which followed the baptism in the Jordan before He embarked on his mission.

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke all refer to the three temptations of Christ by ‘the Devil’. Jesus Christ was offered power over all the kingdoms of the world if He would only worship the Devil. He was urged to throw Himself down from the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem and be caught by angels, and also to turn stones into bread. Steiner discussed these three temptations in various ways but basically as temptations to pride and power (the first above), irrationality, instincts and the unconscious (the second above) and materialism (the third above) or as temptations in the areas of human feeling, thinking and will respectively.

Over time I have come to see that these three temptations are great archetypes which are faced by individuals at critical points in their biography and by whole nations or peoples in their history: “you can rule the world” (if you will worship me)  – the will to extend one’s own power over one’s environment (extreme self-assertion); “throw yourself down from the top of the temple”  – the will to plunge into unconsciousness (extreme self-abandonment); “turn these stones into bread”  – the will to dominate the world of Life or Nature through deathly means such as the use of money (the substitution of the dead mineral for life). One could see these three as temptations of feeling, thinking and willing respectively, or as temptations in the political, cultural and economic realms. I recognised all these temptations in my own generation, especially in the field of rock music where the rock star was like a demi-god to his fans. Seeking their own catharsis through him, the fans  fed vampirically off his often self-sacrificial performances and lifestyle. Such rock stars would often become ensnared in the temptation to become either extremely vainglorious and bombastic or else extremely rich and grasping but they could equally ruin themselves by plunging into abysses of physical and psychological excess – in the unholy trinity of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’– and occasionally, this led to some killing themselves The question then arose in me: could one find specific moments in a biography or national history where the three archetypal challenges were met and, if so, what resulted from the manner in which these challenges  were met? From my interest in history and the countries I knew best, I could identify two clear examples, one in Japan and one in England, when these countries encountered this threefold challenge at a crucial crossroads in their national destinies. The Japanese example I identified in the early 1990s when I was living again in Japan for a time. The English example I was to discover after returning to England in 1994.

Japan: Three who made the rice cake


Oda Nobunaga

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Tokugawa Ieyasu


After 100 years of civil wars between feuding samurai families, three military dictators, all samurai lords and born between 1534 and 1543, gained ascendancy  one after the other over a period of exactly 40 years, united the country and ended the civil wars. A common Japanese saying about these three is that “Nobunaga pounded the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneaded it, and in the end Ieyasu sat down and ate it.” The saying gives clues to the characters of the three men.

Oda Nobunaga (1)(23.6.1534 – 21.6.1582) could be brutal and ruthless, but he was larger than life, innovative and brilliant, with a tremendous will to power; he literally bashed Japan into some kind of proto-national order after the chronic instability of the long civil war period. He looked outwards to the world, introduced new, western ways, welcomed the Jesuits and established the oldest Christian seminary in Japan at Azuchi; by contrast, he suppressed the great Buddhist monasteries with their armies of troublesome warrior monks  and dreamed of conquering China. He himself was not particularly religious; indeed, some thought he worshipped only himself. He was a dramatic, idiosyncratic figure, a would-be artist who made spectacular moves in politics and on the battlefield, acted with imagination and innovation and, quite literally, died in a blaze of glory, committing suicide in the burning temple of Honnoji when, at the height of his power, he was betrayed by the attack of a treacherous general.

The character of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (2.2.1536 – 18.9.1598) was more complex as, unlike the samurai Nobunaga, he had risen from the ranks to become one of Nobunaga’s trusted and capable generals and his psychology proved to be rather conflicted. Regarded by many as “the greatest man in the history of Japan”, he was “frank, open, ingenious, shrewd… without guile, affable, affectionate” (2) and dutiful, as well as being an extremely capable military leader who always sought to reduce casualties where he could. Within some 10 years of Nobunaga’s death in 1582,  by building on his dead master’s achievements, Hideyoshi succeeded in uniting all of Japan and bending the fractious samurai lords and clans to his will. He carried out a Domesday Book-style audit (3) of the entire country and forced the lower classes into unarmed serfdom, thus freezing the social mobility that had enabled him to rise to power from the peasantry. Japan’s social order was to remain thus frozen for the next 270 years. However, Hideyoshi had domestic problems. His first infant son died, his wife was barren and he had to make his dissolute nephew his heir. He launched two terrible invasions of Korea (1592,1597) seeking, as Nobunaga had dreamed, to conquer China. In his last seven years, the pressures of his situation, foreign and domestic, as sole Regent of Japan (the Emperors’ power was only symbolic) seem to have overcome his mind and he fell to committing acts of appalling cruelty which included forcing Japan’s greatest tea ceremony master, Sen no Rikyu, to commit suicide. Hideyoshi had the innocent son of his own nephew, the dissolute Hidetsugu, buried under a mound of corpses after ordering that all of Hidetsugu’s family and retainers be put to a gruesome death. In his last two years, he oversaw the first martyrdoms of Christians in Japan (26 crucifixions in Nagasaki – all Franciscans) and ordered the Jesuits out of the country, yet while this was  going on, he was indulging in spectacular flower-viewing garden parties in the capital. He died of illness in 1598 at the age of 63 after begging the most powerful lords of Japan to act as a faithful regency council for his 5 year old second son. Hideyoshi truly gave the Japanese rice cake ‘a kneading’.

The last of the three dictators and the only one of them who actually became Shogun (i.e. imperial generalissimo), Tokugawa Ieyasu (31.1.1543 – 1.6.1616), was the one who ate the rice cake that Nobunaga had pounded and Hideyoshi had kneaded. Like Nobunaga, he was of samurai stock and he actually spent most of his childhood (6-15) as a hostage to other samurai clans, including three years as a hostage to Nobunaga’s family. This is interesting in view of the fact that Ieyasu’s own family, after he had raised it to supreme power in the land, effectively held Japan hostage for 250 years! Furthermore, Ieyasu took the name  ‘Ieyasu’ (4) in 1567. It means ‘stable household’. Many of his successors had this prefix Ie- (household) in their names, and the ‘household’ of Tokugawa-dominated Japan remained stable and peaceful, but static and cowed, for those 250 years after 1616, when Ieyasu died. He was a man who knew how to be both careful and bold, calculating, cunning and subtle. In 1561, his family allied itself to Nobunaga and, after Nobunaga’s death, to Hideyoshi. He knew how to keep his head down and bide his time; he learned all the tricks of survival in that treacherous era and above all, the value of secret intelligence gained through agents. There was something of the quality of a spider about this very canny man; who was prepared to wait a long time and do some very reprehensible deeds in order to gain supreme power. Eventually, after the death of Hideyoshi, Ieyasu overthrew three of the other Regents (appointed by Hideyoshi to rule Japan in the name of his young son) in the decisive battle of Sekigahara (1600), arguably the most important battle in Japanese history. As the most powerful man in the land after Sekigahara, Ieyasu then received the greatest honour of being made Shogun by the Emperor in 1603; he was 60 years old. 12 tense years later, he destroyed Hideyoshi’s son and family in the great siege of Osaka Castle (1614-15). Ieyasu died the following year but he had established the rule of his Tokugawa family over all of Japan’s other great samurai households, a dynastic primacy that would last some 250 years, and all that time Ieyasu was looked upon by his own clan as the great, almost semi-divine founder, whose precepts were to adhered to rigidly (5). During that period, his family closed Japan to the world (Christianity, for example,  was banned in 1614), kept it locked in the system of social immobility that Hideyoshi had imposed, with the military samurai class firmly on top, in what some have called the world’s first proto-totalitarian society, and the Tokugawas enriched themselves to an awesome degree. By the end of the 16th century, under Ieyasu, the Tokugawa clan had already amassed about 2.6 million koku (I koku = 5 bushels of rice)  in revenue, about one fifth of the country’s total revenue. By the end of the 17th century, after 100 years of Tokugawa rule, the Tokugawa clan’s wealth accounted for 17 million koku out of a total of 26 million. When Ieyasu died, he left gold and silver worth 1,950,000 ryo, a fabulous sum, and a splendid if gaudy (by Japanese standards) shrine to him as an avatar of the Buddha was built at Nikko, north of Edo (Tokyo). The Shogunate that Ieyasu founded was all about money and power for his clan and an extremely strict system of social control. It did, however, keep the peace in Japan for 250 years, a rare fact in world history.

It has been widely recognised in Japan since the 17th century that these three men, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, transformed the destiny of the country. With hindsight, and with the aid of insights afforded by anthroposophy, it can be said that at this critical juncture in its history, the Japanese folk soul faced the three archetypal tests experienced by Christ in the desert and fell at the temptation of the stones and the bread. With the single-minded, brilliant, willful Nobunaga and his boundless ambition, came the luciferic temptation of self-assertion, self-glorification and power over all men; in the talented but psychologically conflicted Hideyoshi, who rose from the bottom of society to the very top, came the temptation to cast oneself down into unconsciousness as absolute power unhinged the mind; and with the patient, calculating, and grasping Ieyasu, came the temptation to bring social change and liveliness to an end in  a rigid peace and stability: stones became bread, or in this case, rice, as the Tokugawas enriched themselves at Japan’s expense in the name of ‘order’. Cut off from the world (6), Japan became fixed under the total control of the Tokugawa family.

England: Three kings who fought for roses

Edward lV

Richard III

Henry VII (Harri Tudur)


The all-important Battle of Sekigahara was won when Lord Kobayakawa Hideaki – supposedly an ally of those confronting Ieyasu – chose to change sides at a crucial point in the battle. Ieyasu’s destiny-changing victory was based on treachery and, in that fact, it very much resembled the background to another crucial victory  - by a Welshman whose character rather resembled that of Ieyasu, namely Henry Tudor (Harri Tudur in Welsh). For, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 which brought England’s civil wars – the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) – to an end, Henry himself (Lancastrian, red rose) was about to be certainly killed in the cavalry charge led by King Richard III, (Yorkist, white rose) when Lord Stanley, whose loyalties were uncertain (his son was being held hostage by King Richard)  and who had held his forces aloof from the battle, suddenly threw his men into the fight on Henry’s side. Stanley’s move, like that of Kobayakawa, decided the issue, and the patient, shrewd, calculating Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England and founded the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603), which certainly changed the destiny of England.

Like the young Ieyasu, Harri Tudur,  2nd Earl of Richmond (28.1.1457 – 21.4.1509) (7) had spent much of his young life first under the control of his family’s enemies (the Yorkists) and then in exile in Brittany. As King Henry VII, Harri proved to be financially very prudent and even graspingly efficient in his taxation polices. By the time he died, his personal fortune was worth £1.25 million (£648 million in 2011 money), another similarity with Ieyasu. The successors of both men persecuted those of other religious convictions and closed the door of their countries to Catholic Christianity.(8) Both men had to deal with dangerous rivals once they were in power and both dealt severely and firmly with the upper classes in their countries in a bid to secure the sole power of their own rule and the primacy of their own dynasties. Henry enforced the will of the Star Chamber Courts to bring powerful people to trial.  These sessions were held in camera; there were no witnesses, no right of appeal, and no jury.

Before turning to the man whom Henry defeated at Bosworth, King Richard III, let us look at the King whom Richard followed, his elder brother Edward IV (lived 28.4.1442 – 9.4.1483, reigned 1461-1483). He is often overlooked, as Shakespeare wrote no play about him, but was arguably the most interesting of the three kings! Although not as dynamic and spectacular a character as Oda Nobunaga, Edward was already a bold and daring military leader by the age of 20, took part in many battles, was never defeated and with a powerful physique -  he stood at 6 ft 4 inches -  the tallest of all English monarchs. He was the first – and last – king of England to lose his throne, go into exile, invade his own kingdom and regain it, which enabled him to destroy his rivals and to reign in relative peace and tranquillity for another thirteen years. He was also a member of the prestigious continental knightly Order of the Golden Fleece with its very elevated chivalric principles and he was known in England by the epithets of the ‘sun in splendour’, the ‘three crowns’ (both alchemical terms), and his animal emblems were the lion and the dragon. Another symptom is that a tremendous amount of propaganda about Edward’s identity, image and claim to the throne had circulated in England in 1460 before he ousted Henry VI. Much of this was propagated by alchemists and astrologers. Until his last, rather degenerate years, there was a kind of aura about this ‘Sun of York’ which inspired tremendous loyalty in his supporters. Though Japan’s Nobunaga was far more intense and driven than the affable Edward, both men were larger than life figures and regarded by those around them as akin to demigods. Like Nobunaga, Edward seemed to have almost brought to an end the civil wars in his own country and established the ‘method and order’ that was his (first) motto; the first 10 years of his reign, during the Wars of the Roses, were very violent, but the last 12 years were peaceful.

However, in peacetime, when his motto changed to ‘comfort and joy’, he seems to have gone to seed and fell to excessive drinking and endless dalliances with the ladies, even though his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. She was said to have ‘the heavy-lidded eyes of a dragon’ and to be descended from the mermaid Melusine, traditionally associated with the House of Luxemburg, from whence her mother Jacquetta originated. As the daughter of the widow of a mere gentleman in England, Elizabeth was of lesser nobility and was regarded by the wealthier nobles as a ‘commoner’, and, which made matters worse in their eyes, Edward had married her secretly. The first English king to marry a commoner, Edward, like Nobunaga, was a man who did not hesitate to break taboos when it suited him, not least in his sexual predilections; both men were rumoured to be bisexual. The rot of the overly comfortable life seems to have set in with Edward after 1475, when he signed a treaty with the French King Louis XI, who was very much a machiavellian figure and known as l’universelle aragne (Middle French: the universal spider).  Seeking to surpass Henry V’s still mythic status for victories against the French in the Hundred Years’ War (Henry was king from 1413-1422), Edward had threatened to recommence the wars against France but had been bought off by Louis XI with vast sums of money and an annual pension; this brought the formal end of the Hundred Years’ War. Their characters diametrically opposite, Edward and Louis were exact contemporaries in their reigns (1461-1483). The money gained from Louis served to undermine Edward’s character and the quality of his court. Recent research has shown that Edward also made full use of astrologers, alchemists, notably Sir George Ripley, and chroniclers to lend to his reign an esoteric, arthurian pedigree, but in the second half of his reign he inclined more to the Roman imagery of imperial rule that Henry V had drawn on. Edward was a man of feeling and though not unintelligent, he was not of great intellect; in his last years he was completely outfoxed by Louis XI. Besides Edward’s charm and open sympathetic manner, which all remarked upon, the historian Jonathan Hughes writes that with

“his interest in alchemy, his craft, his love of display, his valour and military ability, his opportunism, and on occasion his cruelty and unfairness, his avarice, his lasciviousness and his other vices, as a Renaissance prince, [he is] to be compared with the princes of Italy – the Medici, the Sforza, the Borgias – rather than with his Plantagenet forebears…. As far as England is concerned, the ‘medieval’ ended in 1461.” (9) 

This further suggests that during the reigns of these three kings Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII, England was entering upon a new phase in its history, just as Japan was to do, almost exactly 100 years later, with Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu. As the lives of the three Japanese leaders seemed to reflect the three archetypal temptations of power over others, the fall into instincts, and the drive of materialism and acquisitiveness, so too did these archetypes appear in the lives and reigns of the three English kings.

Finally then, a brief word about Richard III (reigned 1483-1485; lived 2.10.1452 – 22.8.1485), who in the sense of the three temptations of Christ, plunged off the roof of the temple into the darkness of his instincts. The sinister image of Richard III we have from Shakespeare was not just conjured up by the Bard; it was shared by Richard’s contemporaries at home and abroad (10). There were two particular sides to Richard’s character; he was a bold, ruthless military leader and a rather cold, idealistic religious fanatic, especially drawn to Old Testament imagery. His contemporaries were appalled by the numerous murders he had been involved in through his life and above all, the suspected murders of the two, innocent, boy princes, King Edward V (1483) and his brother Richard, Duke of York. On Richard III’s accession to the throne, even the ‘spider king’ Louis XI of France refused to accept letters from a man he referred to as  ”one so cruel” (11). Jonathan Hughes argues that William Caxton’s publication of Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur (1483-85) was intended to catch the feeling of gloom and doom that was widely felt after Richard took the throne:

[Richard could] “only inspire in others fear and incomprehension. The alchemists would have nothing to do with him because of his catalogue of crimes – regicide, fratricide, infanticide, incest, and possibly the poisoning of his wife – he evoked all the primeval taboos in the depths of the unconscious which the alchemists, especially one like [George] Ripley penetrated. [For the alchemists] Richard was Saturn devouring his children, the crow, the venomous scorpion, and from an alchemical perspective the events of 1483 represented a terrifying manifestation of the nigredo”, [Nigredo is an alchemical term meaning decomposition or putrefaction] (12)

Edward IV had, for a time, been the Sun of York in Splendour, but a sun had set in his later years so that  all was now black night. It  was the sudden,  presumed murders (by Richard III) of the two princes above all that horrified even men of power in that cynical and violent age and served as a major stimulus to rally people to Henry Tudor. Only a month from Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483, the two princes, whom Richard had had placed under guard in the Tower of London, were never seen again. Since his youth, Richard had had an exalted view of the mission of his family, the House of York, and had looked up to his father and his brother Edward. In the mythic mood that was so prevalent among the upper classes of those times he saw York as the Biblical saviour of England. But his brother Edward’s financial dealings with the King of France, Edward’s decline into hedonism, and the comfortable life and the widespread influence of the Woodville family of Edward’s wife Elizabeth had disgusted him. Richard’s feelings had, from about 1475 onwards, gradually turned to a darker direction, one in which he would be prepared to do almost anything to gain and retain power.

Richard’s reign (1483-85) was much shorter than that of Hideyoshi’s period of pre-eminent power (1582-98), and Hideyoshi’s fall was arguably from a more human height than Richard’s, but both men resorted to crimes that were appalling even for their violent eras and that included the killing of children – in Richard’s case probably; we still cannot say the case against him is 100% proven (13). But, he and Hideyoshi somehow both lost their moral compass. Richard dreamed of leading a crusade; Hideyoshi invaded Korea without provocation and caused untold suffering. They also both had problems with their succession. Richard died childless and a widower; Hideyoshi lost his first-born son; his second-born, only 17,  died in the siege of Osaka.

At the centre of England’s tragedy in 1483-85 when, with hindsight, the country changed direction so decisively, were the Princes in the Tower, two innocent boys, 12 and 10 years old. It is interesting to note that in Europe, two innocent souls, Joan of Arc (1412-1431) and Kaspar Hauser (1812-1833), were ‘sacrificed’ in the histories of France and Germany when the destinies of those two countries were about to take an equally decisive turn (14). For France, the sacrificial life and death of Joan of Arc would lead to national salvation but eventually to one of the three archetypes – the temptation to national self-glorification (Charles VIII, Richelieu, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Napoleon III). For Germany, the sacrifice of Kaspar Hauser would lead to the nation ‘plunging off the top of its temple’ into an  abyss of evil that even Faust would surely have thought twice about. And for England? There are some who suspect that Henry Tudor was actually responsible for the deaths of the two princes. But even if it was Richard III who had them killed, their murders, or their perceived murders, and the fact that they were children would have played a great part in Henry Tudor’s success. For Richard would not likely have made his bid for power if Edward V had been a capable, strapping young man. Nor would Ieyasu likely have made his move if Hideyoshi’s young son Hideyori had been not 5 but a capable 25 years old when his father died.

Stones, bread, rice

What then did the advent  of the Tudors and the Tokugawas, with their triumphs and tragedies mean for England and Japan? If we follow the analogy of the archetype of the three temptations of Christ, it is clear that with the victories of these two dynasties, the two countries had entered into the temptation of turning stones into bread, that is, into a much more materialistic phase of national development. One that would prepare them both to be global ‘initiators’, from West and East respectively, of a materialistic culture. From c.1500-1900 Britain first prepared itself and then initiated the world into this materialistic culture and its values (Baconian natural science, the philosophical political ideas of Hobbes and Locke, industrialism, parliamentarianism, the free market, the property-owning citizenry, sport as culture). Then in 1853, two years after Britain reached its materialistic peak with the Great Exhibition of 1851, Japan was forced to open up to trading with the world by Britain’s offspring, the United States; subsequently, Japan initiated the world of Asia into anti-colonial nationalism and fledgling, state-directed capitalism. Since the 1960s, Japan has been deepening this initiation of other societies around the world into materialism, consumerism and modern technical culture. The ideas of modern business mostly originated in the West, and the organisational structure and language of corporate business culture to a large extent has evolved from military models. One thinks, for example, of ‘staff and line’ management, of ‘chief executive officer‘, of the origin of the ‘company’, advertising ‘campaigns’ and so on. Japan is widely recognised to be the most disciplined society in Asia. It could never have developed its ‘just-in-time’ supply systems without this habit of discipline. This has not a little to do with the fact that the Japanese people have been led and dominated by the samurai class, by its values and ethics and ways of doing things, for at least 900 years. In the 17th century the victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu meant that the domination of Japan by the samurai class would not, as in the West, pass over to domination by the men of commerce, industry and finance, but would remain in the hands of the men accustomed to submit to military discipline. This is precisely why Japan was able to modernise so quickly and effectively after it was opened by the USA in the 1850s. But the combination of military discipline and technology has the tendency to turn human beings into machines. Japanese expertise with robotics today has not a little to do with Ieyasu’s victory at Sekigahara.

And so, on a personal level, I find that all this has been just one example of how anthroposophy and anthroposophical Christology which emerged from Central Europe, have helped me to make some sense of the relationship between these islands of the East and West, which have played such a large part in my own life. It seems more than just happenstance that the first Englishman in Japan, Will Adams, was washed up on a Japanese beach in 1600, the year of Ieyasu’s great victory at Sekigahara over the supporters of Hideyoshi’s family, and that Will Adams would become a samurai and a key adviser to the Shogun Ieyasu, the de facto miltary leader of Japan. Adams was forced to remain in Japan until his death in 1620. By providing Ieyasu and his successor with crucial information about Europe’s religious wars and the influence of Spain and Portugal in Asia, he played an important role in influencing them to close Japan’s doors to the rest of the world at that time.

Christ Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. We could say that, in a sense, England and Japan have been ”in the desert’ for 400-500 years since the times, 100 years apart,  when the Tudors and the Tokugawas pushed their countries in the direction of materialism. The ‘enactment’ of the three temptations of Christ through the personal lives of the three Rulers of Japan and three Kings of England that so affected these two Island cultures, was in some ways the template of an archetypal event entering human affairs. Such templates will go on working through human affairs as we all gradually awaken and transform ourselves. With hindsight we can see that in 1485 and 1600 respectively, the two island nations of England and Japan were preparing themselves for their future roles as global initiators of materialism. For in both countries, the individuals who were tempted with either power over other countries or with the fall into the instincts (Nobunaga and Edward IV, Hideyoshi and Richard III), ultimately failed and did not put their stamp on their country in the  long-term (their direct lineages were frustrated). In this sense, England and Japan ‘passed’ those tests. It was, however,  the two ‘spidermen’  – Ieyasu and Henry VII – who succeeded personally, whose lineages continued and took the two countries in a very different direction from their previous condition. Through the success of these two men, England and Japan failed the final temptation, and fell into the cultural trap of materialism.

In 1485 and 1600 the English and Japanese peoples were not fully conscious of the changes they were heading into. Our situation today is different of course, in that humanity is far more individualised and becoming so much more aware of ourselves and our surroundings that we can consider the changes occuring for us today far more consciously. Yet, how much longer the peoples of Britain and Japan must remain in this cultural condition of a soul in the desert trying to turn stones into bread and rice now surely depends on the imagination and will of the peoples of these two remarkable island nations.


(1)[All Japanese are given here in Japanese style, family name first. Great figures in Japanese history are invariably known, however, by their personal names, hence Nobunaga, not Oda] 

(2) George Sansom, A History of Japan 1334-1615 p.369]

(3) Domesday Book was the name given by the English to the great audit of all English ‘assets’ (land and livestock) carried out 1085-86 by King William I after the Norman Conquest.

(4) In old Japan it was common for boys in upper class families to change their personal names to mark key stages in their development

(5) *Some of Ieyasu’s famous precepts, studied by countless Japanese business leaders : Life is like walking along a long road shouldering a heavy load; there is no need to hurry. One who treats difficulties as the normal state of affairs will never be discontented. Patience is the source of eternal peace; treat anger as an enemy. Harm will befall one who knows only success and has never experienced failure. Blame yourself rather than others. It is better not to reach than to go too far… if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience.  (1604)

(6) The national isolation was not absolute. The Shogunate allowed some foreigners (Chinese and Dutch  – the only Europeans allowed) – to trade in Dejima, a restricted insular part of the city of Nagasaki, and only there; only a few ships a year came from Europe.

(7) The name Tudor is the Welsh form of Theoderic – ruler of the people, from Gothic þeuda (“people”) and re?ks (“ruler”)]

(8) One of Ieyasu’s leading advisers on foreign affairs was the first Englishman to arrive in Japan, William Adams, who was shipwrecked there in 1600, the year of Sekigahara, and was never allowed to return home. Adams’ advice served to turn Ieyasu away from the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese, England’s enemies at the time.


(10) (Jonathan Hughes, Arthurian Myths and Alchemy The Kingship of Edward IV (Stroud, Sutton Publishing, 2002), pp.292-295

(11) Hughes, p. 294

(12) Hughes, pp. 294-5

(13) The matter could perhaps be resolved if the Royal Household would agree to the DNA testing of the remains of the two children found by workmen in 1789 in a vault adjoining that  of Edward IV and his Queen in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, but no such permission has been forthcoming.

(14) See my three articles on Kaspar Hauser in earlier issues of New View:

2nd Quarter Spring 2006, 3rd Quarter Summer 2006, 4th Quarter Autumn 2006

© Terry Boardman

First uploaded 10.7.2012