Odd Numbers of Arrows: The Abe-Udval Connection

When I looked at Udval’s campaign website for the first time, the photo of her holding a bundle of arrows jumped out at me immediately. Yes, she’s wearing a beautiful light-blue deel, but it’s the arrows that caught my attention.

These are the strange connections that occur to someone who focuses his research attention on Japan and Mongolia.

The Three Arrows of Mori Motonari

The economic reforms initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo have been described by him and others as “Abenomics”. They consist of three specific reforms: 1. monetary policy, 2. fiscal policy, and private investment. Combined these three are meant to re-invigorate the Japanese economy by overcoming deflation and the general malaise associated with post-bubble Japan. Quartz offers a further explanation.

The image of the three arrows is significant and goes back to 16th century daimyo Mōri Motonari (毛利 元就) who is said to have encouraged his three sons to be united in strength by letting them compare the strength of one arrow (easily snapped) compared to three arrows bundled together. Fighting economic malaise is thus a task that requires a unified, multi-pronged strategy according to PM Abe.

The Five Arrows of Alun Gua

This legend is what I thought of when I saw the photo of Udval, but I was initially unsure what the Mongolian reference was (if any). Fortunately, crowdsourcing the Twitterverse came to my rescue when one of my followers, Maizorig, pointed me to a passage of the Secret History of the Mongols where the mythical matriarch Алун гуа (Alun Gua) offers the same fable as Lord Motonari to her five sons, namely that a single arrow is weak, but that a bundle of arrows is very strong. Tjalling Halbertsma of Groningen University had made the same connection to the legend of the matriarch.

It’s not clear to me whether Udval might have also chosen focus on the “five dangers” to Mongolia that she sees to reference this fable, but at least the photo on her website might evoke this.

The fable obviously is very attractive as a metaphor and I don’t know if anyone has looked at this parallel between Japan and Mongolia. I also have little knowledge of the special significance the numbers three and five may hold, other than being odd numbers.

While there are many ties between Japan and Mongolia (common linguistic roots, Sumo, development aid, exchange students, Mongolia as go-between for Japan and North Korea, etc.), I don’t think there are any particular affinities between Udval and Abe, nor would the five-arrows photo seem to be a direct reference to Abenomics.

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