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About Beckwith's Book on the Koguryo Language and Japanese

This review asks how and why an American scholar could see that Japanese is strangely similar to the language of the Korean Goguryeo language but that scholar somehow isn't very curious about how Stone Age Japan happened to pick up the language of an Iron Age Korean kingdom in Manchuria. Could this mean that Egami's debunked "flying carpet" theory of a mythical and magical race of Japanese ancestors did exist?

This book offers us the Japanese "Big Lie" at a conveniently outrageous price.

This is NOT "an enormously important book!!" This book should only be bought by 1) those who are entirely unfamiliar with the history of Korean kingdoms (Goguryeo, Shilla, Baekje, and Gaya) and who have some insane desire to continue to be uninformed by Korean history although it is necessary in order to understand Japanese history, or 2) those who are extremely motivated to decouple Ancient Japanese history from its Korean origins --usually reserved for Japanese militarists and flat-earthers.

For the most part, since about 1995, the overwhelming number of scholars outside and inside Japan have come to find all forms of Japan's "flying carpet theories" about Japan's origins -- the idea that some "other" and always non-Korean civilization somehow miraculously settled Japan without passing through Korea or without being Korean -- to be bogus frauds. Herein lie most of the problems of modern Japan, including her warmongering and inability to reconcile relations sincerely with her neighbors, all of which would be happy to get along with Japan, if only Japan could sincerely stop being insane.

The few remaining "scholars" that seriously pretend to promote these flying carpet theories are now relegated to the nutcase bookshelf "scholars" that write similarly silly books about the ancient Japanese being descendants of wayward Vikings, Scythians, Egyptians, and other such hooey. The big problem with this book is that it gives enemies of history some sort of intellectual cover by providing some sort of "evidence" that the Japanese are linked to a famous, historically powerful nation in Northeast Asia that conveniently does not exist today, thereby bequeathing the Japanese their "unique" greatness, untouched by and not indebted to any other living nation. Here's the funny thing: everybody, except this author, knows that Goguryeo was unmistakenly Korean.

So the conclusion should be this: if Goguryeo and Ancient Japanese are so similar, but if Goguryeo didn't conquer Japan, how could Japanese be a "Goguryeo-like" language? The answer is that fellow Korean Baekje and Gaya kingdoms were the conquerors and chief settlers of Japan, as evidenced in history, archeology, DNA analysis, etc., etc., and their languages were substantially similar to Goguryeo. So if Baekje and Gaya and Shilla are recognized as Korean by even this author, then so has to be Goguryeo a fellow Korean dialect. Isn't this simple to see?

The theory of this book is sort of like a long book studying the "Roman" origins of English without the author ever having heard of the Norman Conquest, never having heard of Normandy, France, or the Normans, or perhaps where he seriously debates that Norman French really is no way related to Vulgar Latin. If a person knows absolutely nothing about Korea, this might pass for a "brilliant" or "important" book. But if a person does so much as to read even a snippet of a Wikipedia article on the "Three Kingdoms Period" of Korean history, one would immediately be struck at a BIG PROBLEM in this conclusion. The author needs to show us more convincingly how the heck could the multiplicity of Japanese Austronesian and Ainu dialects, highly localized, spoken on an archipelago populated by pre-Iron Age Ainu in northern Honshu and Hokkaido and pre-Iron Age Austronesian tribal settlements in the south and western islands, become a Tungusic, recognizably Korean colonial society? Who did this if not Goguryeo? Who? Who?

This is the simple question that the Japanese crazies can never answer, because the answer is simple: Koreans. This simple fact scares the willies out of them. As long as the official Japanese educational system writes out its Korean origins, the Japanese people are trapped in a national psychological limbo. It's sort of weird to speak of the "uniqueness" of the Japanese people when, in a little trip to Korea and the Philippines, certain physical, linguistic and cultural similarities could easily be seen.

When officials of the Goguryeo, Baekje, Gaya, and Shilla Korean nations got together, they recognized their common root and interpreters were not needed. They knew that China was foreign, they knew that the pre-Koreanized Japanese were foreign. They knew that Mohes, Mongols, Khitans, Jurchen, and others in NE Asia were foreign. Amongst themselves, they were rivals, but all saw themselves as Koreans of a common root.

There were dialect differences. But just because Lowlands Scottish and Southern English are different dialects, that does not mean that Scotland and England are "aliens." If the US Southern Confederacy survived and perhaps normalized its writing system to local dialects, one could envision two major American English national dialects, but the rival Northern and Southern countries would still recognize their common origins. It is not weird to state that Spartans and Athenians all saw themselves as Hellenes, or that Angles and Saxons all knew that they were brothers, not Danes, Romans or Celts. I wish someone would tell me why a professor writing in this century would seriously propose a theory that the Japanese are related to a recognized Korean kingdom, but only by "proving" that that Korean kingdom wasn't Korean.

Japanese linguistic origins are easy to understand, if one can separate the Japanese nationalists' insanities from objective historical analysis. First of all, there has been not even a concept of a national Japanese language since about perhaps the late 19th Century, and even today, many local dialects are mutually unintelligible. So one can go from town to town in Japan and find remnants of "ancient Korean Goguryeo," "ancient Korean Baekje," "ancient Korean Gaya" and "ancient Korean Shilla" as the overlaying stratum over the original Austronesian native language of most of western and central Japan. The grammar of Japanese is virtually identical to the grammar of Korea, because the conqueror effectively forces his way of expressing his ideas onto the conquered natives in his own manner, but often local words are used, while the conqueror's vocabulary often gets phonetically altered. This is exactly what happened in Celtic Gaul and Iberian Hispania when Rome conquered France and Spain, etc., leaving essentially Roman grammar and a mix of local and altered Latin words. It's happened practically everywhere where there was a massive military and political conquest, followed by massive and sustained immigration of settlers for hundreds of years.

In all the world, linguistic origins are not too hard to trace, except Japan. Why is that? Is Japan so far removed from its neighbors, Korea and the Philippines and formerly Austronesian speaking Taiwan? Nope. The endless islands that link southern Korea to Japan, and the northerly Japan current that brought navigating earlier people from the Philippines and Taiwan, are clues to the likely origins of the Japanese and their language. So why jump to northern Korea and Manchuria for the origin? Hmmmm. Maybe the Japanese are unique among the world's people. Maybe they WERE founded by magical heroes transported by flying carpets over all these nearby countries. And if they were transported magically, then doesn't that mean that the Japanese "race" is itself magical? And if "we Japanese" ARE in fact magical, maybe we are special, unique, and therefore destined to rule Asia and the world..... And it's all because "we Japanese" are the descendants of those mighty studs of Goguryeo. Wow! How exciting. -- This is the kind of hooey nationalistic pseudo-science that Japanese nationalists have been trying to teach their people and promote to the world. (Nihonjinron 日本人論) If we want a dope addict to sober up, we have to see to it that nobody gives him dope.

The linguistic origins of Japanese are simple to analyze, but why does this writer find a need to decouple Japanese from Korean? I do not know the author, so let's just say that he has been misguided. But why should we be treated to this OUTRIGHT LIE that a well recognized Korean kingdom (Goguryeo) is not Korean, and then move on to "prove" that Japanese is the direct child of this unilaterally deracinated Goguryeo race?

Imagine if a "scholar" wrote an "important" book "proving" that the Quebec language was "Roman" and, in fact, the only real descendant of the "Roman race," and that, in fact, the Quebecois have no relationship to France or the French language, but that the Quebec language bears amazing similarities to Roman. It would be considered pretty wrong to do this, but "proving" irrefutable linguistic similarities with the "Quebec language" and "Roman," especially later Latin, would not be too hard. But how would a reader feel if s/he later learned that there was a country called France, and that there is actual historical evidence that France, not Rome, founded Quebec? What should one think of a scholar who purported this kind of misguided theory?

Is Goguryeo related to ancient Japanese? Absolutely, but largely indirectly. How so, if Goguryeo never conquered Japan? Simple, if you know Korean history. The northern Korean Goguryeo kingdom never conquered even southern Korea, being held back by fellow iron age, sword-wielding fellow Korean kingdoms of Baekje, Gaya and Shilla, but Baekje and Gaya did conquer pre-iron age Japan (Wa). Some contacts existed between Japan and Shilla, Goguryeo and also another Korean kingdom called Palhae (Parhae, Balhae), but overwhelmingly the direct conquests by Gaya and Baekje of Japan affected Japan culturally, linguistically, politically, militarily, architecturally, etc, etc, etc. First Gaya conquered Kyushu, creating colonial city-states. Next, following the defeats of Baekje, ultimately by Shilla, came wholesale conquest of Kyushu by Baekje refugees and Baekje's entry into the Yamato Plains, creating the Japanese imperial line. You can read in Kojiki and Nihon Shoki how Baekje is praised and, allegorically, described as "heaven" where Japanese princes are said to go for "education." Indeed, there is a lengthy and Mosaic-reminiscent origin myth that speaks of "gods" island-hopping and arriving to Japan on reed rafts - from where?? (Korea, of course.) Archeological evidence shows Japanese imperial Kofun tombs to have been built from preexisting Baekje analogs and to be filled with Korean-originated royals tied to Baekje.

So how does Goguryeo fit in? Anyone who knows the tiniest bit of Korean history knows that Baekje was an offshoot from Goguryeo or, perhaps better said, a descendant of a fellow northern Korean predecessor kingdom of Buyeo. So they will speak a very similar dialect. This is simple stuff. So to say that Japanese and Goguryeo languages have amazing similarities is as breakthrough as noting that Portuguese and Galician are related. The difference here is that this author's theories, in my opinion, seem to be driven by or unknowingly in parallel movement with a passé and discredited but financially and politically powerful sect of Japanese right-wing crazies that set Japan as "unique" and that absolutely cannot accept that their Korean-looking fellow islanders look Korean because Koreans conquered and settled these islands from about 400BC to 500 AD, and that Korean cultural influences on Japan continued for at least another thousand years.

The English, fortunately, know that their island was conquered and settled by Picts, Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Danes, Norwegians, and Normans. But imagine if the English were too racist and too immature to handle their ancient history. Imagine that their leaders dreamt of empire but hated and feared their own history and racial origins, because no conqueror wants it to be known that his tribe was once itself conquered. They'd then concoct theories about their links to Rome and Greece and everywhere else - just not to Normans and Vikings - neighbor peoples that conquered them. Welcome to the world of Japanese studies - history, language, archeology - all to be faked, hidden, feared and twisted. A gold star and a pat on the head to any foreigner who tows the right line!

Ancient Japanese history and Japanese linguistics should be simple stuff to anyone who is objective and sane, and who reads things like maps before making stupid books like this. Korean Baekje's kinship with Korean Goguryeo is as obvious and as clearly documented as stating that Plymouth Colony originated in England, not in Germany. Baekje Korean is going to be fairly similar to Goguryeo Korean. If the rules of fake science, fake linguistic research, fake history are similarly applied by Japanese ahistoric nationalists and their western unwitting assistants to explain colonial American origins, they might go to great lengths to show "amazing similarities" between the "Proto-plymouthian" language to the Teutonic language, if, for some crazy reason, they wanted to leave out the obvious origin point - England - and to express some deeper inheritance from the Teutonic gods of Valhalla.

This is a SAD book. This could have been written in 1920 by some ignoramus who, fed Asian history only through Japanese militarist spoonfuls, might have made such ignorant assumptions, eliminating Korea's role in the formation of practically all that the world recognizes as "Japanese culture." A person who knows a bit of Korean history can appreciate Japan as largely a marvelously preserved museum of Korean culture and the Japanese language as largely a austronesianized version of Old Baekje Korean. Some of the best Japanese scholars today embrace this reality and Korean scholars are normally happy to get along well with Japanese, seeing and being long well aware of their common root. How disgusting and sad a perversion of linguistics this is, to conclude that the Japanese language has no connection to the people who are their ancestors. This is really a sad, sad, but fortunately minor pothole on the inevitable road to reconciliation and peace between Japanese and Koreans.


Three final comments:

1. Just as it is impossible to understand American history without first knowing English and European history, it is impossible to understand Japanese history, culture or linguistics, without knowing Korean history, Korean culture, or Korean linguistics.

2. Let's remember that the Japanese word for the Korean kingdom of Baekje (Paekche) is "Kudara," which consists of the Korean words "Kkeun"(Big, Elder) and 나라 "Nara" (motherland, country). The Japanese have long known who their ancestors were. One of the great "innovations" of modern historians is to rediscover what the Japanese always knew: that they once were Koreans. They understood this until the Meiji era, when "modernization" meant the creation of a national army loyal only to the Emperor, not to regional thugs (samurai), and the indoctrination of the Japanese public, ostensibly in the form of a national mis-education system, whose main goal was, and still is, to keep the Japanese public thinking that they are so unique and special that they might be justified in making war on their neighbors. In 2007 it should not be a surprise that "peaceloving" Japan makes absurd territorial claims on ALL of her neighbors!

3. When a new Japanese monarch is crowned, there is a series of rituals, most similar to the shamanistic rituals prevalent amongst the kings of ancient Korean states. In one ritual, the new monarch states a "secret oath" said to be "in a language that is not Japanese." Some scholars think it is in Old Baekje Korean, but the official Japanese "Imperial" Household holds this as a secret, just as they have forbidden archeological investigation into the tombs of ancient Emperors since the Great Kanto earthquake opened up Nintoku's tomb and showed that the Emperor buried there was a Korean, or, as historians wrote, "clearly of continental origin."