Britain and Japan: “Wolf Hall” and “The War of Flowers”




                               This article was first published in The Present Age magazine Vol.1  No.2 May 2015

Britain and Japan, the two major island states at the opposite ends of the great Eurasian continent, have played crucial roles in the accelerated modernisation of both West and East. They have both made many varied contributions to modern cultural life, but it can also be said that they have been the major conduits of materialism in Europe and Asia. The imminent physical incarnation of Ahriman “in the West” (1) has required a very long preparation, just as did the Incarnation of Christ in the Holy Land (about 2000 years, from the time of Abraham). Two cultures which have played a key role in the preparation of Ahriman’s incarnation could be said to be England and Japan. After speaking about England’s impulse of economic imperialism in a lecture on 15.1.1917 (GA 174), Steiner said the following:

“…it is necessary that a number of people muster the strength to oppose the surging waves of materialism with their deepest personal being. For something else is going to unite with the materialism that works in the [British] industrial, commercial, impulse; something coming from other, retarded impulses from the Chinese and Japanese element, particularly the Japanese element, will become increasingly caught up in materialism.. Yesterday somebody asked whether the [secret] societies working from the West for a particular group did not take into account that the Japanese might follow suit from the East. Indeed the people who belong to these societies do not regard this as something terrible, for they see it as a support for materialism. For what follows suit from Asia will simply be a particular form of materialism. What we must be clear about, at all costs, is that we have to oppose the waves of materialism with all our strength. Every human being is capable of doing this. “

Two remarkable historical events link England and Japan directly. One was the arrival in Japan in 1600 of Will Adams, the pilot of a shipwrecked Dutch ship. Adams remained in Japan until his death in 1620 and remarkably, managed to become a key adviser to the military dictator, or Shogun, Ieyasu. As a Protestant and an Englishman, Adams advised Ieyasu against dealings with Catholic Spain and Portugal and especially warned him against the Jesuits, who in only 60 years had already converted some 200,000 Japanese to Christianity. Heeding Adams’ advice and noting the actions of the leading Christian members of the samurai class, Ieyasu and his successors steadily suppressed Christianity and ultimately (1639) closed the country to foreigners altogether, except for a few Dutch and Chinese traders who were restricted to the sole port of Nagasaki. English traders had already given up trading with Japan after a short and fruitless effort (1613-1623). Until the arrival (230 years later in 1853) of the Americans, who forced Japan open at gunpoint, the country was under the strict control of the Tokugawa clan and was probably the world’s most tightly controlled State during that time. From 1853, the USA and Britain assumed the main roles in the induction of Japan into the modern world, although other European countries, notably France and Germany, also played an important part.

This Anglo-American mentoring of Japan led to the second remarkable historical event linking Japan and Britain – the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902-1923. This was directed primarily against Russia. Britain’s foreign policy elite saw that the well-disciplined Japanese could act as Britain’s ‘mercenaries’ in the Far East to keep Russia out of the region. The result of the Alliance, within two years, was the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), fought by Japan but financed and supplied to a large extent by Britain and America. The victory of the little Japanese ‘David’ over the giant Russian ‘Goliath’ (as it was seen especially in Britain) rather went to the heads of many Japanese, especially the military, and played a major role in prompting Japan to carve out its own overseas empire in Korea and China. But in any case, Japan’s seemingly miraculous and pell-mell modernisation and industrialisation has, since the 1880s, and more latterly, since the 1960s, been a major factor in the spread of modernisation and materialism throughout Asia and the wider world, as country after country has sought to learn from the Japanese example.



“The War of Flowers”

The Japanese themselves, of course, had their eyes on their own mentors, notably the British and the Americans. Japanese public service broadcaster NHK (The Japan Broadcasting Corporation; Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai in Japanese) was formed in 1926 and was modelled on the BBC. Part of the BBC’s original remit was to promote the solidarity of the British Empire through its global and national broadcasts; the expanding Japanese Imperial State, with a view to fostering its own people’s support for Japanese nationalism and imperialism, regarded the NHK in the same light. After the Second World War, the NHK played an important role in mobilising the people of Japan in the reconstruction of the country. In the 1950s and 60s millions of Japanese moved from the countryside to urban areas, particularly those around Tokyo and Osaka, which became gigantic metropolises. The NHK began to put on TV programmes to promote social solidarity in all this upheaval, and help the Japanese people adjust to their new urban and international circumstances. One of the most well-known of these programmes, which began in 1963, was broadcast once a week on Sunday evenings and highlighted great heroic figures from Japan’s past, sometimes reaching back 1000 years and more. This series (Taiga Dorama in Japanese – ‘Big River Drama’) emphasised the continuity of Japanese culture and values, despite all the social changes over the past 1000 years, and was intended to make the Japanese feel proud of and interested in their history, notwithstanding the terrible defeat of the recent war. As time went by, while maintaining the historical focus on great heroes, the Taiga Dorama began to relate ever more, albeit quite subtly, to contemporary Japanese issues, and in an attempt to attract and hold the interest of young people in the interpretations of Japanese history presented in the dramas, ever younger stars began to make an appearance; even pop idols were cast as great heroes from the past.

History was being used here to make allusions to current affairs or politics. For example, in 1994, in the 33rd Taiga Dorama series, titled Hana no Ran (The War of Flowers), a key figure was Hosokawa Katsumoto (2), a powerful Deputy to the Shogun. He played a major role in plunging the country into the 10 year Ōnin civil war (1467-1477) that presaged the bitter struggles of the 16th century between rival samurai houses, out of which eventually emerged the Tokugawa clan’s 260 year-long domination of the whole country. The Prime Minister of Japan when the series started in April 1994 ‘happened’ to be Hosokawa Morihiro, a direct descendent of Hosokawa Katsumoto. Since 2005, Hosokawa Morihiro has been the Head of the Hosokawa family. He graduated from Tokyo’s Sophia University, founded by the Jesuits in 1913, and his maternal grandfather was Prince Konoe Fumimaro, who was three times Japan’s Prime Minister before October 1941. Konoe was descended from the Fujiwara family, the most illustrious family of aristocrats in Japan, who controlled the country over 1000 years ago, before the samurai class took power from them.

Hosokawa Morihiro’s government (1993-94), though short-lived, was epochal in Japanese politics, as it appeared to herald a significant reshaping of Japanese party politics: the end of the long monopoly on power of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had dominated politics since 1955. One of the most controversial things Hosokawa’s government did -  besides having supposedly ‘broken the mould’ of Japanese politics, and making the most apologetic gestures yet towards Korea and China for Japan’s actions in the Second World War -  was to open the Japanese rice market to American rice-growers. This move would have been political dynamite for the more conservative LDP, which had long been supported by the nation’s farmers, but the LDP’s other big supporters, Japan’s major corporations, had, for the sake of their own exports, been pressing the government for years to open the rice market to free trade so as to improve trade relations, which were under great strain, especially with the USA. The LDP did not therefore wish to be seen as introducing the measure itself.

Rice has held a sacrosanct place in Japanese culture for at least two millennia; the Emperor himself harvests it in a special Shinto ceremony each year; Japanese couples drink rice wine in Shinto wedding rituals, the founding of new companies and institutions is celebrated by breaking open new barrels of rice wine and so on.  Opening the market to foreign rice, in effect beginning to sever the connection, through diet, between the Japanese people and their land, was an economic shock to the Japanese cultural system on a par with the repeal of the Corn Laws in England in 1846, which opened Britain’s cereal market to American grain. Here again, one sees a connection between the three countries Britain, Japan and America. In both cases, the two island peoples have ended up importing a major element of their national diet from the USA. After Hosokawa’s government carried through the measure, he allowed himself to be manoeuvred out of office after dubious charges of corruption were made against him. A short coalition government followed, which included the LDP, until, in 1996, the LDP were able to resume sole power. With the exception of Hosokawa’s 11-month  government and the years 2009-2012, the conservative, big business-aligned LDP has ruled Japan since 1955! 


“Wolf Hall”

For many years now, the two most frequently studied topics in British high school history courses have been the Tudor dynasty and the Third Reich i.e. Henry VIII and Winston Churchill. It may be that in Britain, the BBC is taking a leaf out of the book of the NHK, its former ‘pupil’, because on 21 January this year, three days before the much-publicised 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill and three months before a general election (7 May) that is widely expected to be the most significant for a generation, in which the issue of Britain’s relations with the EU will play a key role, the BBC began a six-part drama series on the life of Thomas Cromwell, based on two novels by the award-winning writer of very well-researched historical fiction, Hilary Mantel, a woman who rejected her family’s Catholicism at the age of 12. Her interpretation of Cromwell is controversial because she presents him not in the customary view – as a ruthless machiavellian bureaucrat, destroyer of England’s monasteries and abbeys, and executioner of the King’s many alleged ‘enemies’ (who included Sir Thomas More) – but as a sympathetic figure, a many-sided character: politician, administrator, merchant, banker, art connoisseur, family man of great loyalty and emotional sensitivity and open-minded opponent of hypocrisy and humbug. A real self-made man, Cromwell (c.1485-1540) rose from obscurity to become Chief Minister to King Henry VIII in the 1530s. He was the Englishman who in effect would begin the process of England’s cultural separation from the Continent. For about 10 years the most powerful man in England under the king, this supremely efficient operator secured for his royal master a divorce from Queen Catherine (of Aragon) against the wills of the Pope and of Emperor Charles V (Catherine’s nephew). To achieve this, Cromwell pushed through the separation of England from the Catholic Church and made the King Head of the English Church in place of the Pope. Henry VIII was now both king and ‘Pope’ in England! Not only did Henry want a divorce, he also wanted to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn, with whom he was besotted and who he believed could give him the son that his wife Catherine had been unable to provide.(3) Opposed to the divorce and to Henry’s papal presumptions, the Chancellor Sir Thomas More (author of the famous novel Utopia, 1515) resigned. Cromwell felt he could not let such a famous and internationally renowned man become a focus of opposition and had him executed in 1535. When Anne Boleyn failed to produce Henry’s much-desired son, Cromwell had her executed as well (1536), on outrageously false charges of adultery and treason. Cromwell then allied himself to the relatives of Henry’s next mistress, Jane Seymour. Their family seat was at Wulfhall, in Wiltshire, southern England, and this name, in its more anglicised form, Wolf Hall, is the title of Hilary Mantel’s novel and this year’s BBC drama about Cromwell that is based on it. Jane bore Henry a son but she died soon after the birth, aged 29 (the boy would later, as King Edward VI, die at the age 15, without issue). Three years after her death, Cromwell arranged a political marriage between Henry and the German Protestant princess Anne of Cleves. Henry had been impressed by Hans Holbein’s flattering portrait of her, but was less than impressed by the lady ‘in the flesh’. He went through with the marriage but quickly had it annulled without consummation. Cromwell now fell victim to his enemies at Court, led by the Duke of Norfolk, who had bided their time but now saw their chance to destroy him. As bait, the Duke dangled his own pretty niece, the 17 year-old Catherine Howard, in front of the 49 year-old King, who promptly fell for her. Cromwell was outmanoeuvred, attainted on charges of corruption and beheaded on the same day the king married Catherine Howard (28 July 1540). However, later events took an ironic turn because from Cromwell’s nephew Richard, who adopted his uncle’s family name, was descended Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who had King Henry VIII’s later relative, King Charles I, beheaded in 1649. It is a bizarre ‘coincidence’ that the first public executions of a queen (Anne Boleyn) and king of England (Charles I) were both arranged by a man with the unusual name Cromwell. The name comes from the old English crumm-waelle: crumm – ‘crooked’, ‘not straight’, ‘winding’ ; waelle -  ‘stream’.

Rudolf Steiner referred to the absurdity of the creation of a spiritual stream by Henry VIII (but actually by his Minister, Cromwell) in order to obtain a divorce (4), and he pointed to the profound effects which this had upon English national and cultural life in the separation it brought about in the mental life of many Englishmen and women: the spiritual life in one part of the mind and other concerns in another – ‘divorced’ from each other, so to speak. (5) Steiner goes further, tracing the consequences of the actions of Henry VIII in England in the thought of such men as John Locke, David Hume, and Charles Darwin, and on the Continent, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Karl Marx. In his lectures given in the winter of 1916-17 (Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, GA 173-174, known in English as The Karma of Untruthfulness) Steiner relates the “bad seed” sown in the early 16th century in England and criticised so incisively by Thomas More in his book Utopia to what he sees as the bad harvest of this bad seed, namely, England’s contribution to bringing about the First World War. England’s drive for global imperialism -  a course set by the English elite, some of whom, Steiner points out, in 1914 were the direct descendents of the predatory types criticised by Thomas More – was the inevitable result of a culture in which spiritual values were not taken seriously by that elite; spiritual values and ethics were put aside in a separate compartment of the mind, so to speak, from practical affairs, which came to be governed predominantly by self-interest and egoism.


Henry VIII and Philip IV ‘the Fair’: the Templars and the Jesuits

In view of the role played by Japan and England in promoting materialism in East and West, it is particularly noteworthy that in lectures in autumn 1916 of the destruction (1307-1314) of the Order of the Knights Templar by the king of France, Philip IV, known as ‘the Fair’, Steiner  chose to speak about  Henry VIII and Thomas More (1 Oct. 1916, in Dornach GA 171). Thomas Cromwell is not mentioned in this lecture, but many of the actions ascribed in the lecture to Henry VIII were actually initiated or arranged by his Chief Minister Cromwell, who was a man of the similar type of new state bureaucrat that had served Philip IV in France 200 years earlier. Whereas Philip and his bureaucrats (6) had been a century ahead of their time, men of the last phase of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, and already prefigured  certain unsavoury aspects of the coming fifth epoch, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell lived a century after the beginning, in 1413, of the fifth Post-Atlantean epoch; they were men of the early Age of the Consciousness Soul. The period between the reigns of Philip IV in France and Henry VIII in England were thus a time of transition between the fourth and fifth post-Atlantean epochs. Furthermore, both reigns fell under the influence of the Mars archangel  Samael, whose spiritual rulership over the age lasted from 1190-1510 (7). Both kings had an obsession: Philip’s was gold; Henry’s was a son and heir. For gold, Philip and his advisers destroyed an esoteric spiritual stream in France, that of the Templars; to provide Henry with a son, he and Cromwell destroyed an exoteric spiritual stream, that of papal Catholicism in England; almost all the ancient monasteries and abbeys of England and Wales – many of which had existed for centuries – and the numerous social conditions that depended on them in various ways, were callously and brutally erased during Cromwell’s years in power. Between the reigns of Philip and Henry also occurred the great tragedy in Anglo-French relations known as the 100 Years’ War: the sustained effort of the Kings of England to conquer France. The war began because, after all three of Philip’s adult sons died without issue, the claim of his daughter Isabella’s son, King Edward III of England (1327-1377) to the crown of France was opposed by the French royal house and nobility. (N.b. All three of Henry VIII’s sons by his first wife Catherine of Aragon died soon after birth  while his only surviving son, Edward, died aged 15.) The last, fruitless English effort to invade France took place in 1544, only three years before the death of Henry VIII.

Given the overarching connection between the reigns of Philip ‘the Fair’ and Henry VIII, which stand like two pillars framing the mediaeval tragedy of Anglo-French relations, and given the hint by Rudolf Steiner in that same lecture of 1 Oct. 1916 of a connection between the influence of Thomas More on the following centuries and the ongoing Templar impulse over the same period, it is also of interest to note that the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Order) was founded on 27 September 1540, just two months after Cromwell’s execution on 28 July that year. In the time of Philip IV, those warrior monks in white, the Templars, were destroyed though, as Steiner indicated, their impulses lived on in later times in reincarnating souls; in the time of Henry VIII, the Jesuits, an Order likewise founded on military lines – reflecting the still powerful influence of the receding Samael  – and dressed in black, emerged in world history. They would come to be the spiritual spearhead of Roman Catholicism’s fight against the growing power of the English-speaking world’s Protestant and commercial impulses. This fight was global, and just three years after the founding of the Jesuit Order, the Jesuits arrived in Japan where, within 60 years, they had converted some 200,000 people, including many samurai. But this Jesuit effort to conquer Japan for the luciferic Papal cause suffered a great defeat when, not least through the influence of that single Englishman, Will Adams, who Shogun Ieyasu made a samurai and personal adviser, the Jesuits and their Japanese followers were suppressed by the Shoguns in the early 17th century. Francis Xavier, the Jesuits’ first leading missionary in Japan, met his first Japanese in 1547, the year of Henry VIII’s death. It is important to note the appearance of the Jesuits in Japan in 1549, just nine years after the founding of the Jesuit Order and two years after the death of Henry VIII of England, and to see how the Order’s attempt to win Japan for the Catholic Church led to the closure, by the samurai class, of Japan to the outside world. It was then England’s progeny, the United States, which forced Japan to reopen itself in the 1850s. The initial success of the Jesuits in Japan, their connections to the European Powers and their ultimate loyalty to a non-Japanese ruler, the Pope, prompted concerns among the non-Christian samurai leadership. The drastic actions that resulted from these concerns enabled the samurai military class  – itself a quintessential product of the mediaeval age of Samael – to continue its domination of Japan beyond its proper time through its tightly maintained closure of the country; this is what was “retarded” about Japan – the historically misplaced extension of military control.

In England, the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century led to the emergence of the Tudor dynasty and Henry VIII, with all Henry’s long-term consequences for the history of England and Europe, while in Japan, the ‘War of Flowers’ (Hana no Ran), the Ōnin War, eventually resulted in the consolidation of the power of the military caste in Japan. In maintaining their control for so long, the samurai enforced the strictest discipline on the Japanese people, to the point where, from the late 19th century, in both opposition to and cooperation with Britain and America, their culture would most effectively serve, amongst other things, as a prime conduit of highly organised and efficient materialism throughout Asia and thus, together with the English-speaking countries, as a key preparer of the incarnation of Ahriman. Britain and Japan have given many artistic and technological marvels to the world which deserve to be admired and enjoyed, but at the same time, we ought not to close our eyes to the world-historical role played by these two island peoples.




(1) Rudolf Steiner, lecture 1 Nov, 1919, (Collected Works GA 191).

(2) All Japanese names in this article are given in the Japanese style – family name first.

(3) In fact, Catherine bore him three sons between 1511 and 1514, but they all died as babies.

(4) Lecture of 1 Oct. 1916, in GA 171.

(5) 1 Oct. 1916 in GA 171, and 16-17 Dec. 1916, in GA 173.

(6) Notably, Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny.

(7) The mediaeval German esotericist Trithemius of Sponheim gives slightly different dates: 1171-1525.