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Been toying with ideas for a story with a ancient Japan inspired setting. Toughs?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by MeanMachine, Jun 2, 2015.

  1. MeanMachine

    MeanMachine Scribe

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    I guess this started back when I was busily fleshing out the world for my current writing endeavor, and one of the ideas I toyed with was to have a race of elves living on a chain of islands that would have had a culture which pretty much would have been a carbon copy of Heian-era japan. I even drew a rough map.

    I eventually threw this idea in the dustbin, but after re-watching Seirei no Moribito last weekend, I've started thinking again about a fantasy set in a medieval/ancient Japan setting, this time as a separate story and without the elves. I was wondering if anyone would have any opinion/ideas/suggestions on this, so I decided to put what I have so far on here.

    Setting: The (formerly) Great Empire of Yamato
    Not the most original name, I know. Anyway, the setting is a chain of 20,000 + Islands of varying sizes, with the archipelago having a land area about four times that of our real world Japan. The Islands are set around a central Island dominated by an Ersatz Mt-Fuji, and close to it on that island was the Emperial Capital, before the fecal matter hit the rotary impeller.

    Now, the most brief (and relatively accurate) description of the setting would be that it's basically Medieval Japan sans Boudhism and Samurai. The imperial court retained effective control over the country until around 100 years before the story would start. The primary religion is Shinto based, with a less important Taoistic cult present.

    Technologically, things are about at what you would find in the latter part of the warring states era of Real World japan, with the exception of firearms, whom are absent (tough they have bombs and explosives).

    I'm still trying to find my footing where magic is concerned here, but it would be there. Also, spirits and "monsters" would be present.

    The story as I have it to this point would basically be a Wu Xia-ed King Arthur-ish storyline, with the last surviving member of the Imperial fighting to end a century of civil war, restore imperial rule and bring peace to the people, and aided in this by a dozen or so great warriors and/or wise people.

    So, what do you think? Should I give this a shot, or would I be better to concentrate on my other story?
     
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    You're actually calling it "Yamato"? Come on, you can do better than that.

    By the way, what's your other story?
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015
  3. MeanMachine

    MeanMachine Scribe

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    Yamato is more or less a working title, basically unless and until I find something better, I'm going to refference it as such ;P
     
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    It could be a good tale. Why not have a crack at it?
     
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You should absolutely go for it. Worlds with an Asian inspiration can be very interesting. I think the setting, for instance, was what made Avatar: The Last Airbender so cool.

    I don't have a whole setting based on Asia, but parts of my large world are heavily inspired by Japanese mythology with bits of Vedic and Indian mythology thrown in. I was planning on using the name Yamatai for one of the realms inspired by Japan. :)
     
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    See, I'd be thinking this exact thing but what worries me about your setting, MeanMachine, is that it may be less Japan-inspired and more not-Japan, y'know. If I wanted a story with a Japanese setting, I'd read a story set in actual Japan or a fictional version of Japan.
    Avatar has a Chinese-influenced setting but they include creatures and cultures that aren't Chinese inspired. Even the spiritual/magical elements takes things from other sources like Hinduism and Shinto.

    A setting I got going right now is supposed to be Mongolia-inspired but instead of copying and pasting Mongolia, I took a few things I liked about Mongolia and filled in the rest with Chinese, Norse, African and completely made-up things.
    I think you may want to broaden your setting's influences.

    Also, the story premise doesn't wow me. I mean, sure, it can be good but any story could be good. For all I know, your other story idea could be much more interesting.
     
  7. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    For my money, the important thing for any setting is the question of why. Why could this story take place nowhere other than right here and now? What is it about the setting that makes the story not just possible but inevitable? The setting needs to be not just window-dressing - not just pretty or interesting - but intrinsic.

    Another consideration is making sure that everything adds up right, and that your extrapolations and changes make sense. For instance, there are probably elements of Japan's development, identity and history that are there because of the geographical shape and make-up of the country. How do these change if there are more islands, or greater landmass? It's also important that the elements of culture you keep make sense without the elements that you leave out. (I don't know enough about Japan to make a specific point, but a good analogy would be how you can't have the British drinking lots of tea if they haven't had colonial imperialism and trade.)

    This making sure everything makes sense together - making sure it all complements each other - is particularly important when you're picking elements from multiple real-world settings, as Woohooman suggests. Something to be particularly mindful of is that all Asian cultures (or all African cultures, or all Middle Eastern cultures) are not homogenous, and braiding everything together into a "pan-Asian" setting can feel tremendously disrespectful to the cultures you are using as a buffet.

    Just some things to think about. :)
     
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I know people that research ad nauseum to get everything right when trying to develop a Japanese setting. It has a very old culture, so you could develop a setting out of it easily. But I would be most concerned with the characters who are populating this setting. Who are they and what are they trying to do? If you're going to focus on a more epic-style tale, I'd suggest researching the time period you're hoping to model it after because Japan changed a lot over time same as any other culture. Sengoku seems popular because it was a huge warring period, but you may want to go further back even.

    If you're interested in researching yokai, Japanese monsters (something I'm passionate about), I'd suggest the free resource (which has moved to tumblr since the site doesn't exit anymore) The Obakemono Project: obakemono project | Tumblr

    There's also an awesome book with color pictures called Yokai Attack which is really useful.

    Also Wu Xia is a Chinese style, so perhaps you'd want to research other methods of combat depending on who your characters are and what they're going to be doing. If they're at court, you may not to need to research as much, but if they're traveling around and fighting, you may want to explore that further.

    Or you could do like Jay Kristoff and do a Japanese setting with chainsaw swords and gryphons.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    There's also Yokai.com which is a good resource for yokai. The author of the site writes and illustrates the entries. He's released a couple of books called The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (I have this one, it's good) and a new one called The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits about creatures more on the spirit and ghost side of the spectrum of Japanese creatures. (I can't wait to read the new one.)

    Anyway, I think your setting sounds interesting. If it's a fantasy world, it only needs to partake of Japanese culture as much as you want it to. You don't need to sweat over tiny details and whether they're period appropriate or not. Just take the things you like and weave them together. As long as the resulting tapestry is beautiful, that's all that matters.
     
    Ryan_Crown likes this.
  10. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Let your imagination run wild, it will save you the hours of research trying to get every little bit of historical accuracy in there. :)
     
  11. Ryan_Crown

    Ryan_Crown Troubadour

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    Absolutely love Yokai.com! Wonderful little site -- haven't been there in while, so thanks for the reminder of that one, Mythopoet!
     
  12. MeanMachine

    MeanMachine Scribe

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    Thanks to everyone for their input. I have decided to put this idea aside for the moment, and focus on my main project.
     
    Miskatonic likes this.
  13. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Just put down any little idea about it that pops into your head and save it for later. Kind of working on it without working on it, lol.
     
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