Tanabata, which falls on July 7th in modern times, is one of the more anticipated holidays during the summer. It is especially a major attraction for kids, as they partake in this during school. One aspect to Tanabata’s popularity is due to its relatively fun & involving practices. Along with learning about the stories involving star viewing and actually experiencing this with telescopes, kids also take part in tanzaku (短冊), where they engage in small crafts and decorate the sasa leaves on the bamboo stalks.
For this article, we will look into the latter, and learn about what tanzaku is, its history, and other crafts that are similar to it.
MEANING BEHIND TANZAKU
Tanzaku (短冊) means “strips”, as in strips of paper. On the day of Tanabata, kids write their special wishes on strips of colored paper, which are then hung on sasatake (笹竹), which are stalks of bamboo that have sasa leaves. It is a spectacular sight to see bamboo stalks covered with numerous tanzaku. Usually, those who are learning writing, or going to private school at a temple, would do this during Edo period. For the sake of success in their academics and calligraphy, they would partake in this practice of tanzaku.
One of the origins to tanzaku is thought to have started from a unique practice of writing on the large green leaves of sato imo (里芋, type of Asian potato). The practice involves waiting for water from the morning dew to form on these leaves from the cool air the night before. Then one would take ink, and begin writing different kanji as a form to wish for improvement in one’s calligraphy skills.
The reason behind using water that had naturally formed is due to the divine symbolism of sato imo leaves; the water is seen as coming down from the heavens, which the leaves can naturally hold within its center. Plus, the leaves are big enough to be used as umbrellas.
It is said that due to this origin, the wishes made on Tanabata are not the needy ones, but instead are those that are focused on improvement in one’s skills or abilities.
On a separate note, tanzaku is kept up on their bamboo display during an entire day, even throughout the night. On the next day, all the tanzaku are removed and the bamboo stalks are disposed of. In the past, the tanzaku would be cleansed in a river, then brought to a local shrine or temple, where they would then be placed into a bonfire so that the wishes may rise up and reach the gods so they may be granted.
ROLE OF GOSHIKI
Generally, the paper strips used as tanzaku come in 5 colors. This color variation is called “goshiki” in Japanese. The use of the 5 colors is derived from the ancient practice of Inyō Gogyōsetsu, which originated from China. These 5 colors are green (青/緑)¹, red (赤)², gold (黄), white (白), and black (黒). These colors represent the elements (or elemental flow) that influence both life and the world as taught in Inyō Gogyōsetsu. These elements are wood (木), fire (火), earth (土), metal (金), and water (水)³.
Tanzaku in the general 5-color scheme. Click on each one to see their full size.
An interesting note is that for the practice of Tanabata, the color black has been replaced with purple. So it is most common to see the strips of paper in the colors green, red, gold, white, and purple⁴. Here’s what each of the colors stand for, and how they influence what type of wish one would make:
GREEN: Improving one’s traits as a person
RED: Having the ability to maintain respect to our parents and our ancestors
GOLD: Being able to treat others well by improving relations
WHITE: Living up to our obligations and responsibilities
PURPLE: Excelling in our academics
This was the role the colors originally assumed. Nowadays this practice isn’t followed so strictly, as anyone can freely use whichever one of the colors they choose for their tanzaku.
Along with tanzaku, there are other types of decorations that were used in the past in conjunction to Tanabata. While these are not part of the general format of celebrating Tanabata, some establishments and events may still incorporate these for the sake of honoring traditional practices, such as street parades.
Fuki-nagashi (吹き流し): Long strands of different colored papers joined together, sometimes attached to different types of ornaments such as a star-shaped origami. Based off of colored threads that a seamstress would use, it also acts as a type of talisman to ward off evil.
Ami kazari (網飾り): A decoration using a long piece of paper cut in an intricate design in the form of fish wire. This is to wish for successful fishing trips.
Orizuru (折鶴): An origami crane. Originally the crane represents a long life. So, with this one would wish for longevity and a healthy life.
Kamiko (神衣): An origami kimono that looks like it could fit a doll. Along with wishing for improvements in one’s sewing skills, the kamiko also can double as a charm to attract bad luck, which can then be passed on to a doll.
Saifu (財布): An origami wallet or purse. As one would expect, you would hang these when you want to wish for financial gains.
This wraps up our article on the finer details of tanzaku and its significance during the Tanabata celebration. An important one in Japan, it is not unusual to see this practice done in other countries. If you had a chance to participate with your own tanzaku, what qualities would you wish to improve on?
1) In older Japanese culture, the word aoi (青い) stood for both blue & green. However, usually it is associated to what we in the West would call “green”. To avoid confusion in modern times, aoi mainly refers to the color blue, while midori (緑) is used for the color green.
2) Quite often, paper that is a pink color is used to represent red.
3) Another set of virtues that comes from Inyō Gogyōsetsu that was attached to the 5 colors was gojō (五常), which means “the natural 5 habits”. Here’s how the same colors represent these virtues:
Blue/Green = Respect
Red = Benevolence
Gold = Righteousness
White = Understanding
Black/Purple = Belief
With a few exceptions, the color scheme of gojō aligns with that of Tanabata. You can read more on the virtues of gojō in another article on this site here.
4) Depending on preferences, there are variants of this color combination. It is not unusual to also have the following used as tanzaku:
Here’s a quick announcement that the Translations section has been updated. Here’s what’s been added:
Pages 3 & 4 of “Kōyō Gunkan no Naigunpō no Maki” have been added. As a description, this work is a translation of borrowed sections from the military-centric documentation called Kōyō Gunkan found in the Ueno Tamaki Kabunsho. Some points are also compared between the original documentation and the copied version.
2 new entries are added to “Many Ways of Utilizing the Zodiac Signs”. Following the topic of of the 12 Zodiac signs played a role in general Japanese society in the past, one of the entries show how they were used in compasses, while the other is a list of how they were used to represent each month.
You can access these through the Translation tab above.
Many popular stories from Japan’s history usually based on famous wars and conflicts. These stories generally cover the bravery of warriors clashing in battle, or feudal warlords trying to outdo another for the sake of land, and the power to control it. Many enthusiasts of Japanese history draw inspiration from these tales. Yet, we can also take some lessons from tales that focus instead of warriors on the battlefield, but from those who avoid the conflicts for the sake of survival.
There is a story¹ called “Okiku Monogatari” (おきく物語). taken from the surviving journal of a woman by the name of Okiku and her plight to escape from the chaos during the famous Osaka Campaign headed by Tokugawa Ieyasu. This journal was supposedly written by her grandchild, Tanaka Motonori (田中意徳)², who was a physician from Ikeda, Okayama prefecture. He had learned that his grandmother, whom he called “Kiku”, was a survivor of the aforementioned war, and wanted to record it³. While the story is short, it is a great example of survival using one’s wits, judgment, along with some luck, from the perspective of one who was not honed in the ways of the warrior.
WHO WAS OKIKU
Okiku was born in 1596 in Ōmi province. Her father was Ogawa Mozaemon (小川茂左衛門), who had served several influential families, such as the Asai clan and the Toyotomi clan. There is no mention as to who her mother was. While there isn’t much mentioned about her childhood, this story covers the point when Okiku was 20 years old⁴ and, at the time, living within Ōsaka castle. She was as a female servant for Yodo-dono, who was of a high ranking aristocrat. While this Yodo-dono did come from an influential military family, as she was the daughter of Asai Nagamasa (浅井長政) and Oichi no Kata (お市の方, late Oda Nobunaga’s daughter), she was also a concubine of the late Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
As stated before, there isn’t much info before the actual events in her story, other than small tidbits regarding when she and her family became associated with the Toyotomi clan. On a related note, Okiku’s father had fought during the Ōsaka Campaign in 1615, where it’s said he died in battle⁵. When last did Okiku see her father before the tragic day when Ōsaka castle would fall? Unfortunately, there are no notes about this.
DAY OF THE CHAOS
in June 7th, 1615⁶, Okiku was in the nagatsubone (長局), which was a long, multi-room living quarters quarters for servant girls within a separate part of the large complex of Ōsaka castle. Being told to go take a break, she made yakisoba (焼き蕎麦, fried noodles) for herself. After finished eating her meal, she returned to kitchen area. At some point she heard commotions coming from outside. She took a moment to step away and go to investigate.
As she stepped out from Tamadukurikuchi (玉造口, the southeast exit of the main structure), Okiku walked along the path in the courtyard towards Senjojiki (千畳敷, a large structure with many rooms famed for having around 1000 tatatmi mats). She heard people yelling, and wondered what was causing this. Then her eyes caught visual cues that showed fighting outside the castle was taking place: fire leaping up over the walls of the castle grounds, along with sounds of gunfire and war shouts. from the troops that were fighting. Startled at the chaos that was erupting on the battlefield and how close it was to the castle, Okiku felt that it was necessary to escape the castle.
Okiku rushed back to the nagatsubone, and made preparations to protect herself before venturing out into the courtyard, joining 3 hats together along with several koshimaki (腰巻, a belt worn with kimono). She used these as a shield to cover herself as arrows were now randomly raining into the vicinity of the castle grounds. At this point, there was nothing worth of any value that would make her stay in Ōsaka castle. Other than her life, she did happen to pick up a keepsake mirror from her room at the nagatsubone that was rewarded to her by Toyotomi Hideyori. This was very dear to her, so she kept it safely in her futokoro (懐), which is an inner pocket within a kimono. As Okiku made her way back to the kitchen area, where she spotted a retainer of the Toyotomi clan, Takeda Eio, who was dressed in armor. Eio was trying to maintain order as the place was in turmoil with many female attendants running around hysterically, while injured soldiers were being attended to.
There were other women who moved towards a gate near the kitchen. As they were asked where they were heading, they replied to leave the castle. Eio refused, insisted that they don’t abandon their castle. The women then pointed to a prized banner that had several golden gourds on top⁷, which represented the Toyotomi clan. This banner, laying down on the floor unattended, meant that it was abandoned by the appointed flag bearer. They refuted, claiming others have already left. From that, the women ignored the flustered soldier, and rushed to the gate to leave the castle grounds and find a place to hide from the ensuing battle. Okiku also did the same, as she moved alongside with the other women.
TROUBLE AT KYŌ BRIDGE ENTRYWAY
Okiku walked along the outskirts of the assaulted Ōsaka castle, trying to stay on a safe path while avoiding the ongoing conflicts between the Toyotomi troops and the the Tokugawa army. She decided to head to Matsubara-guchi, which was northwest of her (present day southern area of Hyōgo prefecture). There, she would look for safe haven from a daimyo and ally of the Toyotomi clan, Tōdō Takatora, who also happened to be a benefactor to her family. Her father knew him first when he was a retainer of the Asai clan, for at the time Takatora was a minor soldier who was working directly under him. At the time, Takatora was poor, but her mom would call him and make him food. When the Asai clan fell, and her father wandered as a ronin, Takatora had risen to a high position, and had contacted her father to come work for him.
To reach Matsubara-guchi would be a bit of a journey, and Okiku would need to cross over a few bridges to get there. First she crossed over Gokuraku Bridge (極楽橋), which was just north of Ōsaka castle. She moved vigilantly, as she took caution not to run into danger as she journeyed farther away from what was once the safety the Toyotomi clan. Especially as a female traveling on her own, she would be an easy target for thieves and such. The Gokuraku Bridge was one of the few ways over Ōsaka Castle’s natural water defense, as it was surrounded by several lakes. After crossing this bridge, she headed west and made her way towards Kyō Bridge Entryway (京橋口). It appeared that Okiku was still in the clear as she reached the entrance. As she was going to pass by and continue along the path, she then heard a voice calling to her.
To the side of the road near Kyō Bridge Entryway a man appeared, beckoning her to come to him. Okiku did as so, as not to make any sudden moves to turn the situation sour in her favor. As she got close, the man took out a bladed weapon⁸, and asked for money. Okiku cooperated with the thief, and took out a takenagashi (竹流, bamboo container for cleaning small things using water) from her inner pocket, and from it brought out 2 coins. She gave one coin to the thief. Not satisfied, the thief requested the other. Okiku then bargained with him, saying that she would give him the other if he leads her to Tōdō Takatora’s encampment in Matsubara-guchi. Surprisingly he agreed, possibly on the prospect of being rewarded even more for his good “deed”.
Okiku and her unlikely companion of a thief continued on their way the Matsubara-guchi. Shortly on the Okiku saw a crowd of people, who were surrounded by many soldiers. Taking a closer look, Okiku recognized one of the people to be a high-ranking aristocrat named Jōkōin. Okiku was familiar with her, as she was the daughter of Yodo-dono through marriage. Accompanied by some female servants and personal male guards, Jōkōin and her companions were off towards Kyōto north of Ōsaka prefecture to gain refuge from the Tokugawa force.
Okiku pondered about Jōkōin’s plan, as it appeared to have some value in terms of survival. It was a big risk, however, and granted safety from the enemy side was not guaranteed. On the other hand, She could continue with her original plan and head to Matsubara-guchi to gain safe haven from Tōdō Takatora. However, there’s no guarantee that she could make it all the way there, especially as she was accompanied by her shady companion.
As she watched Jōkōin and her group start to head off, in a sudden turn of events Okiku decided to accompany them. She followed behind the group, enough where it was obvious she was a part of their party. The thief did not tag along this time, must’ve been a relief on Okiku’s end. As they went on their way, they could see Ōsaka castle in the distance, with the sky lit up around it as it was set ablaze. It was truly a sad and surreal scene, for no one could’ve imagined that they would lose their home, once under the control of the prestigious Toyotomi family, being burned down through the violence of war. Despite the sorrow they felt, Okiku and the group marched on towards a new land, one where they may be safe.
During the group’s trek, Okiku was surprised to learn that Jōkōin was no longer taking them to Kyōto to gain refuge from the Tokugawa side, but instead was making a detour to northern Ōsaka towards Moriguchi (present-day Moriguchi City, Ōsaka prefecture). This was actually Jōkōin’s intention all along, as a means to get away from the bloodshed and violence that was taking place around Ōsaka castle. As members from the Toyotomi side, the group were able to hide amongst the populous in Moriguchi, as they each were taken in and made residence in different homes. Okiku stayed in the home of a rather poor family, but they were nice to her, and made her living as comfortable as possible.
Some time passed after the fall of Ōsaka castle and the demise of the Toyotomi clan. Okiku would receive word that the Tokugawa bakufu would not condemn any of the former female servants of Osaka castle guilty due to association. This was a relief to Okiku and the other survivors, as this was confirmation they could come out of hiding and move on with their lives. Okiku would leave her surrogate family and head to Kyoto, where she would gain employment as a servant for Kyokoku Tatsuko, who has blood relations to the once influential Asai family. Once a concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tatsuko had became a Buddhist priestess and was known by the title “Matsu no Maru-dono”. Okiku’s having the same connections possibly helped with her connecting with Tatsuko, and being accepted. It is said that from there on, Okiku was able to live a good & happy life.
ANALYZING THE SITUATION
While she may appear to be just a common servant girl who knows nothing of warfare, Okiku shows to possess good judgment, and a natural sense of adaptation to her environment and situation. One could only imagine how difficult it would be to stay calm in the face of pending danger from an ensuing battle right at one’s doorsteps, as well as to run into wild territory not knowing who’s friend or foe. Yet, if this journal is true, then Okiku exhibited this, which is quite remarkable.
If Okiku put loyalty over her life and instead returned back to the main building in search of Yodo-dono, things would turn out differently. You see, Yodo-dono and her remaining servants at hand walled themselves up within Osaka castle. When things turned dire and it was obvious that the Tokugawa force were going to take the castle, Yodo-dono and her servants had committed suicide.
Takeda Eio was very adamant that the women there calmed down and remain in the castle. If Okiku had listened to him, all could’ve been lost as the castle soon was burning around them. On top of this, Eio himself had seen that the end would come, thus committing suicide.
Being able to bargain with the thief was a risky yet brave move. Considering the times, this thief was not such a bad person, as he cooperated with her and was willing to accept getting the 2nd coin after escorting her to her intended location. For all she knew, the thief could’ve been a cold-blooded murderer, plus there really wasn’t any incentive for him not to take both coins by force. It’s possible that her appearance showed that she wasn’t a poor, local girl…which would’ve been even more a reason to rob her. Still, it could’ve been her upbringing in a relatively good environment that gave her the mental fortitude to control the situation as she did.
Okiku was not only flexible in her decision-making, but also able to adapt in order to ensure her main objective comes true: survival. Switching to follow Jōkōin instead of continuing her journey to Tōdō Takatora’s location demonstrated just that. It’s still possible that heading to Takatora would’ve also been fruitful. Still, her final decision lead to her having a happy ending.
The war story of Okiku is one that demonstrates the trials & tribulations a civilian can go through in order to survive a war that appears at your doorstep. There are not so many old Japanese texts that go into details like this that are transliterated into English. Hope everyone can enjoy this type of story.
1) This is often labeled as a “gunki” (軍記), which means “war (military) text or journal”. It is usually coupled with another war journal called “Oamu Monogatari” (おあむ物語), which is a recording about a women named Oan and her experience actively participating in th defense of a castle during Sekigahara war. One of the connections between both stories is that the Sekigahara war took place before the Osaka campaign, and both deal with the struggle between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa forces.
2) Some trivia regarding Okiku and her name. It is possible that her real name may have been “Kiku”, as that is what her grandson called her. Does that mean the the “O” is an honorific label (which could be the “御” character)? Or is “Kiku” just a shorthand that Tanaka used due to having kinship with her? Unfortunately, none of this has yet to be verified, specifically since Okiku is not written in kanji (Chinese characters) in the original source.
Speaking of which, few sources have written her name with the kanji “菊” or “お菊”, which may be the correct way to write it. However, her employer, Yodo-dono, also went by “Okiku”, and used those very same characters…but that doesn’t mean everyone who had the same name wrote it with thise exact characters.
As a whole, Okiku’s name is represented in hiragana as “おきく” as that is how it appears in the original. This is a neutral way of writing it.
3) Motonori as a name is not common nowadays. This is the only reading I was able to find associated with the characters that make up the name.
4) Her age may have been calculated based on kazoedoshi (数え年), where everyone gains an extra year the moment of their birth. This practice was common in Asia.
5) Osaka Campaign took place both in the winter of 1614 and around the summer of 1615. It is believed that Mozaemon died in battle during the one in 1615.
6) Apparently, the year mentioned in the original text is off, as it states June 7th, 1617.
7) The full name of this banner is “kane no Hyotan no umajirushi” (金の瓢箪の御馬印).
8) There is no description of what type of man he was. Considering the times and the threats while walking along paths and bridges, most likely he was a thief or bandit waiting to spring on easy targets. It is possible he was once a warrior who switched to a life of thievery. This may be because his bladed weapon could’ve been a (short) sword.
When studying Japan’s military history, there are some documents that excel above others due to being based on personal experience. Tsukahara Bokuden, an individual known for his contribution to his father’s martial system Kashima Koryū (鹿島古流), and later developing his own system called Kashima Shintō ryū (鹿島新當流), is one of those famous martial artists who had passed down such a document. Along with his connections to popular martial systems including the aforementioned ones, his experience on the battlefield around the late 1400s to early 1500s of during Sengoku period, as well as in mortal combats in the form of duels during his musha shugyo (武者修行, expedition across the land for the sake of training and employment)¹, also contributed to the knowledge he gained regarding the necessities one who walks the warrior path should know.
Bokuden Tsukahara drafted a documentation called “Hyakushu” (百首), which is a collection of 100 entries that can be looked upon as rules for warriors². As a whole, Hyakushu is a set of teachings regarding military and martial-related practices, confrontations, preparations, and the like through the form of short poems. Like many other documents of similar nature, these poems are not straight forward, and require some research and/or understanding on topics regarding military and martial practices during Sengoku period. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources in Japanese that go over Tsukahara’s writings in detail, helping to grasp some of the more vague entries.
Out of the many documents like this, I find the teachings in the Hyakushu a mix of lessons that are of practical use, those that touch on necessary points that could assist fellow warriors, and others that are informative through what Tsukahara was experiencing during his time firsthand; they are not rules that are the standard that all should follow regardless of the times. What’s also interesting is that I feel many of the poems can be compared to certain practices that are done in modern times, both combative and non-combative.
Below are a select few entries from the Hyakushu. You’ll find the original Japanese, followed by my translation and breakdown of the meaning behind the poems. For some, I’ve also added some commentary to how they may apply to scenarios in modern times, as a means to understand how Tsukahara’s teachings actually transcends generations.
ENGLISH: “You must know the teachings regarding different arrowheads when dealing with enemies that are close and far away (#6)”
MEANING: This is in relations to what type of arrowheads are designed better for long range versus those for close range. In terms of basic knowledge, the weight of arrows can prevent them from being used in all types of situations. Along with the draw power of a bow, certain arrows are more effective from far away through ya-awase (矢合わせ, raining arrows), while others are better for picking off troops upclose especially for those who are cavalry.
From my still young experience with archery and shooting at an open range, I have conversed with those who are more seasoned with the bow and arrow. It was explained to me³ that lighter arrows are better for hitting a target at greater distances (say, over 20 yards), as they are able to maintain their velocity and still puncture a target. As for heavier arrows, those are better for targets that aren’t too far out (around 20 yards and less), for they tend to lose velocity quicker if shot beyond their preferred range, making them suffer less piercing power. Although this is from the perspective of modern archery, these points are elementary & universal to archery done for centuries.
On a more fundamental level concerning expertise, archery was a practice highly valued by those who walked the path of a martial specialist, and was even the symbol of what it meant to being a warrior. Considering that many from military families were taught formally how to shoot an arrow extensively from a young age, Tsukahara could also be implying that these very people should know the differences of arrowheads and when they should be used. Those who do not cannot say they are truly versed, or complete warriors.
ENGLISH: “While it may be said that a strong horse is fine even if it has its (bad) habits, riding one that has the tendency to not move forward is problematic (#14)”
MEANING: Those with horseback riding experience develop good judgment about different horses. They can point out each one’s habits, some good, some bad. This is so in all generations. When looking at Tsukahara’s era, generally elite figures or those who assume the role as cavalry would ride horses into battle.
To the untrained, a strong or fast horse would be a perfect choice. One can imagine the benefits of these types of horses. However, Tsukahara mentions about habits of a horse, using the word kuse (癖) in Japanese. This tends to have a strong connotation, usually negative. If we look at the habit of a horse not moving forward when commanded, this is a very detrimental habit. Couple of reasons for this include having too strong a will and difficult to tame, to being too timid and frightened easily.
Regardless of a horse being strong or fast, if it does not follow its rider’s commands on the battlefield due to its bad habits, then it is unsuitable. What would then be considered suitable? Possibly one that falls in between, where it is not too strong, and isn’t too timid.
ENGLISH: “A sword with no curve (ie shinogi) is one that is loathed immensely, for in order to use it you have to rotate your hand (#18)”
Earlier in Japan’s history, swords with little to no curve were used. However, later in Sengoku period, especially around Tsukahara’s time, swords with a pronounced curve are the preferred choice. This is true all the way to modern times. In sword terminology, a curve in a sword is called sori (反り). How much of a “sori” is there can be understood visually, or it can be measured by the shinogi (鎬), which is a ridge line that goes up along the side of a sword from the habaki (鎺, copper collar right above the swordguard) to slightly under the tip.
When studying how to use a Japanese sword through kenjutsu⁴, you learn how to cut with the upper part of it. In due time, you can perform solid cuts where you don’t have to move your hands so much. However, cutting with straighter swords is the complete opposite. Since they have no curve, you may have to compensate by twisting and turning your hand.
Note that this was the prevalent view in Japan due to certain events. However, there are other countries that have successful histories using straight swords. Of course, there may be other factors that contribute to this, for example, length and weight of the blade.
ENGLISH: “Those who equip themselves with a newly made sword believing it will hold up (ie cut with durability) very well are making a big mistake. (#19)”
MEANING: This is an interesting one. Tsukahara is talking about having more trust in battle-worn swords over newly smitten ones. This is because swords have the risk of bending and snapping upon impact while on the battlefield. This is a normal occurrence. However, this can be minimized by using swords that have been tried and true, for if they have survived one or several battles, then that shows they’ve been crafted properly and will most likely hold up. Untested swords, on the other hand, cannot be verified so quickly.
There is more to this teaching. From the mid to later parts of Sengoku period, as territorial battling grew rampant, there were higher demands for equipping troops with weapons, including swords. Many swordsmiths were commissioned to make great numbers of swords in a short amount of time. Due to such urgency, there was little to no time for quality assurance. Thus, there are tales of swords breaking during clashes, which literally renders a warrior helpless and at the mercy of their opponent if they cannot equip themselves with another weapon quickly. It’s possible that Tsukahara witnessed this…or even experienced this himself.
ENGLISH: “A long or short sword can be used in order to determine the outcome in a fight. However, in terms of advantage, a long sword is preferred over a short one. (#20)”
MEANING: There are stories of martial artists winning a fight in all types of methods. Examples of this include having a superior weapon over their opponent, having an inferior weapon, and even having no weapon. It can be said that skills and experience, with a bit of luck at times, have a great influence in being able to do so. While Tsukahara states that a long sword and short sword can be used to obtain victory, he also admits that he prefers using a long sword. If we read into this, he is hinting about not hindering yourself if you are given a choice. This may have to deal more with duels than battlefield experience.
Around his time, there are sword styles that incorporate techniques for using a shorter sword to defeat an opponent with a longer one, such as Chūjō ryū (中条流), Nen ryū (念流), and Ittō ryū (一刀流). While those are great feats with skills that are invaluable, I think Tsukahara is advising don’t take the chance to win with a shorter sword when you can ensure a better outcome with a longer sword. Of course, I believe there is a limit to the type of swords he’s referring to, such as daitō (大刀) & uchigatana (打刀) as long swords, and shōtō (小刀) & kodachi (小太刀) as short swords. From what I know, there are no duels that had excessively long-bladed weapons (ie nodachi [野太刀]) and short-bladed weapons (ie kaiken [懐剣]).
ENGLISH: “It would be a terrible blunder for a warrior not to place their futae obi next to their pillow at night (#47)”
A futae obi (二重帯) is a long Japanese-style belt that wraps around the body twice, with the ends being joined together and tucked in. It is very easy to wrap around one’s body, as there is no need for any cords or such to secure it properly around the body. The reason for keeping one’s futae obi next to the pillow is because warriors were trained to do the same with their sword. So, in case of danger, one could quickly put on their futae obi and insert their sword into the 2nd loop at a moment’s thought. Based on the context, this advice is useful for when one is at home or taking lodge at an inn.
For modern times, an equivalent to a futae obi would be an obi used for dankyu (段級) ranking in many modern martial arts organizations. While a kaku obi (各帯, long & wide belt) is the more standardized choice for many classical Japanese martial arts today, a simple long obi can be used in its place by tying it the same way as a futae obi. This can be a good substitute, plus it is much faster to fasten around the body than a kaku obi.
ENGLISH: “A warrior should not pass on the right side when encountering a stranger while on a road (#76)”
MEANING: In the past, people traveled on the specified main roads. As a warrior, passing by a lone person can be risky, especially if it’s another warrior. That person could be one who practices tsuji kiri (辻斬り), which is intentionally cutting down a passerby on a road or in the field in order to test your skills or the sharpness of your sword. Passing by on their right gives them enough time to draw their sword out. To neutralize this, you would pass by on their left, which not only makes it difficult for them to attack, but you can actually stop their hand, grasp the sword handle, etc. if you can spot the attempt.
This is opposite of what was normally practiced in towns, where you would pass on the right side to avoid bumping into another warrior’s sword sheath, and accidentally causing a confrontation that could lead to kirisute gomen (切り捨て御免, having the right to cut down someone who disrespected you as a warrior).
JAPANESE: 「もののふの道行く時に曲り角、避けて通るぞ心ありけり (七十七)」
ENGLISH: “A warrior should be aware to avoid making a turn (closely) around a corner while walking on a path (#77)”
MEANING: This is in regards to any type of building structure. When walking by or turning around a corner, we do so blindly, not knowing what’s on the other side. Corners are perfect for ambushes, making it easy for an attacker to strike down those who are unaware. This is especially true if you walk very close to the corner.
To remedy this, one should instead turn the corner widely. This not only gives you a chance to see what’s on the other side from a safe distance away, but gives a warrior enough space to react in case of an ambush. This is especially necessary when making a left turn, as with one’s sword being on the left side of the body, you would need space to draw it out of it’s sheath and not hit the wall.
In today’s generation, this rule still holds true. Even outside of a combative situation, it is a good idea to take care around corners especially in heavily populated areas. For example, when walking on a sidewalk, to avoid bumping into someone who may be carrying something. Or when inside a store, to avoid turning straight into a showcase or display.
These are few of the 100 short poems found in Bokuden Tsukahara’s Hyakushu. It would be nice to add all of them, but I have to refrain as that would become a rather large translation project. Hoping to revisit this in the near future, with possibly examples from Tsukahara’s own recorded history that covers his personal experiences.
1) There is an older article about this on Light in the Clouds, which can be accessed here
2) From sources like “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi” (図説・古武道史), it is mentioned that Bokuden Tsukahara actually wrote around 97. After Tsukahara’s death, the original manuscript that he wrote was kept in the possession of Iizasa (飯篠) family. From there, a person named Katō Sagami-no-kami (加藤相模守) is stated to have added 3 more to the original manuscript.
3) Note that there are still many variables to archery that can affect the distance both light and heavy arrows fly, which includes the arrow’s material, whether they have feather fletching or not, length of the arrow, weight & type of arrowhead, size & draw power of the bow, type of bow, and so on. The example given in the article is based on using a recurve bow that is around 30 poundage, while the numerical figures are not set in stone.
4) The experience varies between each sword school, while there may be slightly different mechanics concerning using a sword if learning through iaidō, battodō, etc.
A few days ago I heard news that a great martial artist has passed away. Ōtake Risuke (full name, 大竹利典源健之 Ōtake Risuke Minamoto-no-Takeyuki), former head shihan of Tenshin Sōden Katori Shintō ryū (天真正伝香取神道流, Katori Shintō ryū for short), was 95 years old when he left this world on June 6th, 2021. While he was not a direct teacher of mine, his work ethic, proficiency, and philosophy in Japanese Classical martial arts was very inspirational for as long as I can remember over the years. You can say he made a great long-lasting impression on me through the books he published and television programs he took part in.
Ōtake sensei was born in March 10th, 1926 in Narita City, Chiba prefecture. He would begin studying martial arts under Hayashi Yaemon Iekiyo at the age of 16, and would receive the highest rank at the age of 42. At a time, much responsibility in both teaching, and maintaining the 600-year old knowledge & tradition of this art, was placed on his shoulders, which he did with exuberance and dedication in his hometown. This in turn helped to have the teachings of Katori Shintō ryū designated as an invaluable cultural asset of Chiba prefecture in 1960, with him appointed as the guardian of this art. Seven years later, he would attain full master rank, and be appointed as the head teacher, overseeing all training conducted in this art. This was no small feat, as Ōtake sensei explained in a book about how rigorous the training he undertook under his teacher Hayashi, and how he stuck through it especially at a time when many were called to bear arms as WWII was getting underway.
When you see Ōtake sensei in action, it’s easy to identify how seasoned he was in martial arts, and how refined & sharp his movements were. When watching videos where he performed paired kata, he and his partner generally move at a fast pace. Yet they were always maintained control & execute their techniques with accuracy, and devoid of any fixation on any particular point with unnecessary pauses.
Ōtake sensei was a prime representative of Katori Shintō ryū, which drew much attention by the press, and inquiring potential students. This is especially true when he participated in public demonstrations. He was proficient in the many weapons taught in Katori Shintō ryū. One of the first vivid memories that still remain is when he personally demonstrated iaijutsu. There are several kata of this, with Nuketsuke no Ken (抜附の剣) being one of my favorites. At the start of this kata, Ōtake sensei looks calm in his seated position, with his sword in it’s sheath at his waist. The next moment he would spring high into the air as he draws out his sword in one fluid motion, looking very strong and focus. The energy, the speed, and the movements themselves are very different from the slower, more deliberate demonstrations of modern iaijutsu (iaido) that is commonly practiced today.
There is a rare shuriken demonstration that took place publicly during a 1950 event “Zen Nihon Budō Kakuryū Taikai” (全日本武道各流大会”, aired on NHK channel. Here, a different practitioner of Katori Shintō ryu demonstrates throwing bō shuriken, before drawing his sword and following up with a cut. I was duly impressed as each bō shuriken hit the mark from a good distance away. Ōtake sensei would talk later about his system’s shurikenjutsu in his book, “Heihō: Tenshin Sōden Katori Shintō ryū”, where he passes on valuable advise regarding practicing shuriken. The following is from the stated book, with the original Japanese followed by my English translation:
“For shuriken practice, a great amount of effort is a must in order to engage in this by yourself. What is vital in achieving this is unwavering and consistent training. The period in which I had learned (memorized) shurikenjutsu…was from throwing shuriken 300 times almost everyday for about 3 years.”
As mentioned before, Ōtake sensei attracted many students from wide & far when he was actively teaching as the head shihan. Through his influence, many of them adapted that discipline of sharp & accurate movements. This is because they too frequented training sessions with dedication. This can be seen in Ōtake sensei’s two sons, as well as the famous American pioneer in martial arts Donn Draeger.
In an old TV documentary about kobudō (unfortunately I am uncertain of the title), many teachers of different martial systems were recorded introducing their martial systems. Ōtake sensei was interviewed at his dōjō as well. From the start of his segment, two select practitioners from his dōjō demonstrated a kenjutsu kata. Perplexed at how unclear the interaction was between the two performers (i.e. both move in harmony blocking and attacking with almost no one a clear winner), Ōtake sensei was asked by the interviewer what was the purpose of each of the techniques performed in this kata. Ōtake sensei answered that they perform their kata as so as to hide how their techniques work. He then explained what is actually supposed to happen in the kata by breaking down the kenjutsu kata. This scene, plus Ōtake sensei’s explanation, truly inspired me to look outside the box when it comes down to kata and technique. Although a different ryūha, most Japanese martial systems share this same ideology.
For instance, it is common to only focus on the person who’s performing the “winning” technique, yet the one who is the “attacker” also is performing techniques that are key to the school, usually in a way where it can be countered. When it comes down to what takes place in kata, or how techniques are to be used, a good teacher generally teaches lessons like this, while a good martial artist who wants to learn his or her craft inside-out will research this as well to understand strengths and weaknesses.
Outside of his physical prowess, Ōtake sensei also presented his knowledge on the more theoretical, philosophical, and otherwise esoteric, side of Classical martial arts. Some of these are details that, albeit old, serve as a necessity to grasp a proper understanding of Katori Shintō ryū. For example, he has outlined the specifics regarding armor and its significance when learning the multitude of techniques found in the kata they trained it. In a somewhat non-combative side of things, he also spoke about how the esoteric nature of inyō (陰陽, yin yang) helps to guide warriors of the past on how to set up and fortify their castles in the 7-part series “Way of the Warrior”, which aired in the 1980s. There is a practicality to this, as it is based on nature and what is, both logically and realistically, beneficial against enemy attacks. This same practice is also used for building homes, which is similar to the popular fūsui (feng shui). Lastly, in his books he shares ideology and poems that are important for building character, which could be seen as a means to balance a warrior to remain human and be grateful to those who came before as. Most are of Buddhism-origin, but with most of Japanese culture, they serve mainly as a way to shape how to properly live even if religion is not the main focus. One that stands out particularly is a poem called “Chichi Haha Onjū no Uta” (父母恩重の詩), which describes how we must be grateful to our parents for raising us, and not to forget to show respect to them even after they have passed.
As a respected martial artist who has been watched by the world, Ōtake sensei will be missed. His memory will still live on, as he left a lasting impression on many even on those like me who’s never met him, but could feel his essence both through his words and in his visual presentations.
We continue with Takigawa Kazumasu’s history during Medieval Japan under renown feudal lords such as Oda Nobunaga, as he accomplishes many feats through his tact, resourcefulness, and his influence on others. Last we left off where Kazumasu participates in the ambitious campaign by his lord Oda Nobunaga to take over Northern Ise. Will they be successful?
NOBUNAGA TO THE RESCUE
Around the middle of the 5th month of 1569, Takigawa Kazumasu, his force, and his new allies stayed holed up in Kizukuri castle, as they had to hold out against Kitabatake Tomomori and his large force. Kizukuri castle was completely surrounded, so any chances of escape were cut off. Fortunately, word of their plight got back to Oda Nobunaga, was also taking care of other matters at the same time¹. He would command his available top officers to round up their troops and head to assist them. A large army was able to gather at Gifu castle in Mino Province², which consisted of the combined strength of his trusted retainers and their own troops, such as Shibata Katsuie, Ujiie Naomoto from western Mino, and Kinoshita Hideyoshi.
In the 8th month of the same year, Nobunaga’s large army finally headed into Northern Ise and made their way towards Kizukuri castle. For the last 3 months, Kazumasu and everyone else holed up inside Kizukuri castle did their best to hold out for as long as they could against Kitabatake Tomonori’s force. While they had to endure a long siege, in the long run it paid off; when Tomonori heard how large the incoming army of the Oda force was, he and his troops fell back, and quickly retreated to Okawachi castle.
STANDOFF AGAINST THE KITABATAKE
Kazumasu and his force were finally rescued, and in short time joined Nobunaga’s large force as they moved on to besiege Okawachi castle. Arriving there, Nobunaga had his force surround this castle by making it triple-layered, to prevent any chances of escape. This would be the chance they’ve been waiting for, to take control over Northern Ise in a decisive battle against the Kitabatake family, starting with Tomonori.
Okawachi castle was well equipped, fortified, and suited against sieges, so Tomonori made no attempts to go into battle. Seeing how no confrontation was going to be made, Nobunaga ordered his troops to hold their ground in an attempt to wait their opponents out and weaken their morale. This waiting period lasted for about a month, with a couple of attempts to speed up things. This included building spiked fences around the castle’s perimeter, and a night raid, which ultimately failed due to heavy rainfall rendering their rifles useless. At a later date, Nobunaga ordered Kazumasu to cut off their rations supply by burning down neighboring Tage castle. Kazumasu did as ordered, as well as set ablaze the immediate area around this castle. The fire caused the inhabitants of Tage castle to flee to Okawachi castle, which allowed them in. However, this brought about an even bigger issue as with their food line cut, Tomonori now had even more people to feed, which was an outcome Nobunaga must’ve anticipated.
Although it took time, Nobunaga’s actions did prove fruitful, for eventually Tomonori called for a peaceful surrender. To capitalize over his defeated foe, Nobunaga had his 2nd son, Nobukatsu, become the next heir of the Kitabatake by having him marry with Tomonori’s daughter, Yukihime, then have him adopted by Tomonori’s son, Tomofusa. The way this process worked was Tomofusa had no children of his own, so if Nobukatsu was taken in as an adopted son, he would be able to keep the Kitabatake line going. This also meant that the Oda clan would claim Northern Ise through hereditary means. Along with this union, Okawachi castle was given up by the Kitabatake family, in which Kazumasu was given the responsibility to take control.
At a lost, Tomonori moved to Mise Yakata (三瀬館, Mise Mansion), which was near the Kitabatake-owned Kiriyama castle. There, he would later retire from his military career and become a monk. Clinching control over Northern Ise, Nobunaga went to Ise Shrine to say prayers and pay respect to the new land that is now in his control.
SERVING A RELENTLESS LORD
Gaining control over Northern Ise did wonders in propelling Oda Nobunaga’s power and influence, as well as further cement his presence as a threat to those who oppose him. During the campaign he even was able to establish good relations with Ashikaga Yoshiaki, and helped him gain entry into Kyoto and ascend to being the 15th shogun, continuing the Ashikaga rule…although Nobunaga himself used him as a stepping stone in order to have direct influence in the Imperial court. Takigawa Kazumasu had truly sided himself with a warlord who has the potential to rule Japan, thus he used his talents to achieve victory in whatever task was presented to him. It just so happened that late within the same year, there was some bad relations between a feudal lord within Ise province named Hosono Fujiatsu of Anō castle and Oda Nobukane, who had recently been instated as lord of Ise Ueno castle³. Kazumasu was sent to handle the situation, and he was able to quell the situation by allowing Fujiatsu to adopt his son, Yatsumaro⁴. Through this, Kazumasu was entrusted with Anotsu castle, Shibumi castle, and Kozukuri castle. As can be seen, his story is heavily dependent on much of his lord’s actions, for his story goes hand-in-hand with many of the war campaigns the Oda army took part in.
Kazumasu’s next task at hand would soon present itself just one year after the dealings with Kitabatake clan, In Osaka, located in Japan’s western area sits a large estate that acts as a religious ground, with a large temple Ishiyama Honganji in the center. This temple was home of Buddhist monks of Jōdō Shinshu sect, led by the head priest Kennyo. At the time, Jōdō Shinshu Buddhism was not only the most widely practiced at the time, but Kennyo also expressed separation from governing rule. They were in a unique position as they grew in their own political power and influence, and commanded their own force of warrior monks⁵. On top of this, others in the land sided with the the monks’ viewpoint, especially those who suffered a lose due to the Oda force taking over Nagashima castle. This group of rebels collaborated with those of the temple Ganshōji in Nagashima, and were known as the Nagashima ikkō ikki (長島一向一揆). Over a course of time, as he acquired new allies and developed working relations with the Imperial court in Kyoto, Nobunaga also had deteriorating relations with Kennyo, as he expressed his disapproval of this unchecked rising power of the monks of Ishiyama Honganji.
In the 9th month of 1570, Oda Nobunaga had sent a small army to Fukushima in Settsu (present day southern part of Hyōgo Prefecture), north of Ishiyama Honganji. This expedition was to deal with the Miyoshi clan, who were considered allies with the monks of Ishiyama Honganji, as well as supported by 15th shogun Yoshiaki, who was trying to side with those who could help suppress the potential seize of power by Nobunaga. A month later, after declaring Oda Nobunaga a threat to Buddhism as a whole, Kennyo ordered his force to go and attack that army. A battle soon ensued around Yōdō river, which ran along Osaka and Settsu where the Oda army was stationed. Nobunaga’s army won and drove Kennyo’s force back to Ishiyama Honganji, and would also have a few more successful wins in other skirmishes against supporting groups as a small war was on the rise.
Kazumasu and other top officers took part in the war, setting up their fortifications for the long haul, including in castles they took over during the war with the Kitabatake family. However, they would soon have to deal with the relentless force of the Nagashima ikkō ikki. At one point, they had harassed Kazumasu to the point where as he and his force retreated from the battlefield, they gave chase. Later, they would assault Kokie castle in Owari Province, where Oda Nobuoki, Nobunaga’s younger brother, was stationed at. Nobuoki would hold out against the assault for 6 days, until the castle was breached and he and his troops had to evacuate. During the assault, Nobunaga had sent aid to save his son. Kazumasu, who was occupying Kuwana castle at the time, was also summoned to help. However, he too was besieged and had to stay walled up in his castle. While Nobuoki managed to survive the besiegers, Kokie castle was lost in the hands of the Nagashima ikkō ikki.
On May 12, 1571, Nobunaga had rounded up a large army, and moved towards Nagajima to deal with the ikkō ikki. He led them through a narrow valley, which was a mistake. The rebel group ikkō ikki laid a trap as they waited on both sides of the valley. As the Oda forces proceeded inside, the opposition ambushed them, initiating it by raining gunfire from their rifles, then closing upon them through upclose skirmishes. Many people of the Oda force sustained a large amount of damage, along with a large number of casualties. In the end, the Oda force was not successful in this campaign against the monks of Ishiyama Honganji and their supporters. Kazumasu and others were withdrawn from the fighting, and returned to their territories to recover from their losses. However, Nobunaga himself was not deterred, as he was determined to continue this war with them until he succeeds in eliminating them.
FACING THE TIGER OF KAI
Not too long after the unsuccessful campaign, Takigawa Kazumasu was yet again summoned to take part in a battle. This time it was against a considerably powerful feudal lord, who was known as Takeda Shingen, the lord of Kai Province. There was abit of history between the two, including during the campaign in Northern Ise⁶. This time around, in an effort to rout Nobunaga, Shingen intended to invade neighboring Tōtomi Province and Mikawa Province from the north-east with a large army split into three. In an effort to prevent this, Nobunaga needed to combine efforts with his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was lord over Mikawa Province.
Nicknamed “the tiger of Kai⁷”, Shingen was a particularly well-established lord who maintained a highly disciplined and efficiently organized army that utilized cavalry forces very skillfully, so his presence coming anywhere near Nobunaga was a threat that couldn’t be ignored. Nobunaga mobilized an army of a few thousand troops, as he had to keep the majority behind to protect his lands from other potential invasions. As one of the generals, Kazumasu made preparations and led his troops. He coordinated alongside with other top officers, such as Nobunaga’s senior general an war-harden Sakuma Nobumori, the recently acquired Mizuno Nobumoto, and loyal Oda clan retainers Hirate Hirohide & Hayate Hidesada. While the Oda force wasn’t as large as the Takeda’s, their continual development of using gunner squads was expected to be key component in winning. Being experienced with rifles and firearms, Kazumasu was a good candidate to bring for this.
In the 10th month of 1971, Shingen invaded Ieyasu’s borders, with his sights set on claiming Hamamatsu castle and thus controlling the area. He sent is army to first gain control of Futamata castle, which was under the control of one of Tokugawa’s officers. The combined forces of Nobunaga and Ieyasu worked to intercept this, which led to several clashes. First of the clashes would take place around the slope of Hitogoto-zaka (一言坂, Hitogoto Slope) in Tōtomi Province, just north of Hamamatsu castle.
The flow of the battle was not in the favor of the Oda-Tokugawa coalition, however, as the Takeda proved to be too much to deal with due to their sheer numbers. The Oda force had to retreat from the skirmish. The Takeda army continued to march towards Futamata castle and, although faced abit of resistance for a few weeks, were able to successfully drive out the defenders and claim Futamata castle by cutting off their water supply. After these unfortunate events, Nobunaga and Ieyasu both took time to regroup.
For the next couple months Nobunaga and Ieyasu prepared to trap the advancing Takeda army and attack from different angles. There was also extra fortification put in place at Hamamatsu castle, with trusted generals such as Takigawa Kazumasu and Sakuma Nobumori given the task of defending it. This was certainly a great honor, mostly likely due to Kazumasu’s track record of successfully managing captured castles during the campaign in Northern Ise. In 1572, as the joint forces prepared to set their plan into motion, Takigawa assisted in administrative duties at Hamamatsu castle and the given area around it, along with maintaining diplomatic relations, and administrative duties.
At some point it was discovered that Shingen wasn’t heading for Hamamatsu castle, but instead commanded his troops to pass by and entrap Nobunaga and his force with the Takeda army moving in several parts. Kazumasu and Nobumori of the Oda force, along with other officers of the Tokugawa force tried to advice Ieyasu against the planned trap, especially since his force was still outnumbered. Ieyasu, on the other hand, did not heed to the advice, and continued with the intended plan. Taking position up on Mikatagahara, Ieyasu ordered his troops to charge at the passing Takeda troops. Kazumasu, along with Sakuma Nobumori and other generals combined their efforts with the Tokugawa force, intending to overcome their larger opponents with the newer technology of rifles. Initially this ambush appeared to have worked, as it caused some disarray in their formation. However, it proved to not be enough as Shingen had his cavalry units run through the gunners, disrupting their attack while killing unprepared soldiers.
Both the Oda and Tokugawa troops were overwhelmed by the Takeda army’s exceptionally crafted strategies and militaristic discipline, while their formations crumbled before the cavalry assaults. In the long run, much casualties were faced on the defenders’ side, especially with the lost of Nobunaga’s close retainer Hirate Hirohide. Kazumasu and others retreated off the field in order to save their lives. Ieyasu not only had to fled back to Hamamatsu castle to save himself, but lost many soldiers and important officers as they tried to cover his retreat.
It was clear that Takeda Shingen was the superior force, while a looming fear crept on the losing side that he would succeed in defeating Nobunaga and capture parts of the eastern provinces. What will happen to Takigawa Kazumasu and his companions? Will they survive? Could the mighty Shingen be stopped? Tune in to part 4 to find out the outcome.
1) Around this time, Oda Nobunaga was making an agreement with displaced Ashikaga Yoshiaki, who was trying to continue his family’s line of shogunate rulers by gaining entry into Kyoto.
2) Interestingly, Mino Province in next to Kuwana, where the Kitabatake family were located in
3) During the Northern Ise campaign, Oda Nobunaga was able to claim Ise Ueno castle through peace relations with Nagano Tomofuji. This was solidified through marriage between Nobunaga’s younger brother, Nobukane, and Tomofuji’s niece.
4) Details about him are scarce. It is not clear if Yatsumaro (八麿) was a biological son of Kazumasu’s. One thing that is clear is that this deal benefited Oda Nobunaga a great deal, for when Fujiatsu is out of the picture, Yatsumaro would claim Anō castle.
5) Around 1568, Nobunaga was multitasking between the Northern Ise campaign and assisting Ashikaga Yoshiaki into becoming the next shogun. As Oda headed to Kyoto to help Yoshiaki gain entrance, there were many that had some connection with the Imperial court who opposed this, such as the Miyoshi clan, Asai clan, Araki clan, and even Kennyo of Ishiyama Honganji. They made a pact called “Nobunaga Hōimō” (信長包囲網, Anti-Nobunaga network). Takeda Shingen was also against Nobunaga, and was recruited by these opposers to help subdue this growing threat. Apparently Shingen had mobilized an army, but was kept back through the assistance of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
6) Here I use loosely the term “warrior monks”, which is sōhei (僧兵) in Japanese, as this is common term. However, it has to be pointed out that there’s a large misconception regarding warrior monks, not on in the West but in Japan as well. While the idea sounds similar to say the Shaolin monks in China, warrior monks were not necessarily Buddhist monks, or fully ordained. Books like “The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in Japanese History” (Mikael S. Adolphson) goes into deep details regarding Japanese researchers and how they’ve been able to get a better picture through surviving accounts about warriors who represent the military strength recruited by these Buddhist temples. In many cases, they were oftentimes warriors hired to protect the temple. This isn’t saying that monks themselves didn’t go to war, but at what rate can these warriors be called “Buddhist monks” is the point here.
Also, while the popular image has these hired “warrior monks” dressed in robes and have a shawl wrapped around their head and face, in reality their appearance was, in many cases, similar to that of regular warriors. There may have been few who do fit the stereotypical image, but it may be more related to them being of status where they could dress with extra attire to distinguish themselves. This is not unusual.
Lately, I’ve been browsing through books and other sources regarding martial systems that specialize in the Japanese sword. Unlike Sengoku period, there are many of these during Edo period, most of which were created during this peaceful era. Just as there are more than one can possibly hope to remember, there are equally many that died out, Sifting through different sources tends to introduce new information. It just so happened that one of the sources mentioned a sword style I’ve never heard before, which is Tetsujin ryū (鉄人流). It has a very strong sounding name, plus seems to specialize in dueling with 2 swords.
Tetsujin ryū’s full title is “Nitō Tetsujin ryū” (二刀鉄人流). If we break down the title, we get the following:
Nitō/二刀: Two swords
Tetsujin/鉄人: Iron man, strong man
ryū/流: style, manner, school of thought
This was a martial system that used the method of two swords. It was mainly taught in the far western region of Japan in Saga domain, Hizen province (present day an area divided between Saga prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture). The founder of Tetsujin ryū is tricky to discern based on current sources. On one hand, credit is given to Aoki Kyūshin Ienao (青木休心家直). From what I can understand, there is no birth date or year of death presented for him, but it is estimated that he lived during the early part of Edo period. On the other hand is Aoki Jōuemon Kaneie (青木城右衛門金家), who is the grandchild of Ienao¹. While his exact years are also unknown, it is stated that he was born in Kawachi province (present day eastern part of Ōsaka prefecture). Both claim tuteluge under the master swordsman who created Niten Ichi ryū, Miyamoto Musashi², in available documentations. In fact, Kaneie went by the nickname “Tetsujin”³.
Is it possible that they both were students of Musashi? This is uncertain, but could somehow be possible. It can be agreed that, with both Tetsujin ryū and Niten Ichi ryū being dual sword styles, it would make sense there being a connection. However, there are doubts about Ienao and Kaneie ever studying under Musashi, where for the latter it may have been under a completely different person⁴.
COMPARISON BETWEEN BOTH STYLES
Here’s what is known about Tetsujin ryū. This martial system utilizes daishō (大小), which means a pair of swords consisting of one daitō (大刀, larger sword such as a katana) and a shōtō (小刀, shorter sword such as a wakizashi). This is the same for Niten Ichi ryū. From what I’ve been able to uncover, there is a list of dual sword postures, that feature both illustrations and short descriptions. In comparison to Niten Ichi ryū, there are a lot. Furthermore, the naming convention is complex and not easy to decipher.
Looking at Niten Ichi ryū first, we see that there are a total of 5 postures where dual swords are used⁵, which are the following:
Chūdan no kamae / 中段の構
Jōdan no kamae / 上段の構
Gedan no kamae / 下段の構
Migi waki no kamae / 右脇の構
Hidari waki no kamae / 左脇の構
These are standard posture names used in many kenjutsu systems, and are easy to understand their usage. For example, Chūdan no kamae is a “middle posture”, where the swords are positions slightly above waist height, while Jōdan no kamae is “high posture”, where both swords (especially the daitō) are held much higher.
If we look at Tetsujin ryū, sources indicate that there are a total of 16 stances. Here is, based on my understanding, how the names are read:
Tōgō Kiri / 當合切
Utetsu / 右鐵
Satetsu / 左鐵
Chūdō Bassatsu / 中道縛殺
In Bassatsu / 陰縛殺
Yō Bassatsu / 陽縛殺
Yōtetsu / 陽鐵
Intetsu / 陰鐵
Sōken / 總捲
Hitōken / 飛刀劔
Yō-i / 陽位
In-i / 陰位
Shin-i / 眞位
Jitte Dori / 實手捕
Kōmyō Shinken / 光明眞劔
While there are descriptions about how to assume the postures within the scroll that is public, it’s mentioned that there isn’t much else. The first 6 postures are indicated as the main ones, whereas the other 10 are more advanced postures. How each one is used and when is a mystery. On top of this, the posture names aren’t as clear as to that of Niten Ichi ryū in terms of how they are used. While some names do provide hints when tied to an illustration, such as Utetsu (right iron) and Satetsu (left iron) indicate body orientation, other names leave alot to the imagination.
Since this martial system is shitsuden (失伝, no longer actively maintained by a successor), there are no vids or pics that’ll give us a clear presentation of it in action, unfortunately. If it is true that one of the two Aoki members did learn under Musashi, why are there many differences, both visually and descriptively, between both martial systems? Unlike today’s standards where many koryu bujutsu (traditionally transmitted martial systems) are organized to preserve the teachings across different generations, centuries ago it was not mandatory to retain the style name. Depending on one’s situation, many practitioners either kept partial of the style name but added another title (i.e. their own name) to it, or renamed it completely if they received a master license. On top of that, it was not unusual to reorganize the contents if what they learned, or even add to it. This could be the case here with Ienao/Kaneie and Tetsujin ryū.
REFLECTION OF THE TIMES
As mentioned before, Tetsujin ryū is a sword style that existed during the Edo period. In fact, it lasted for the majority of this time period. It can be said that Tetsujin ryū is a reflection of the times; as society was governed by one ruling power, groups followed standardized rules as opposed to territorial customs & standards during an unified Japan in Sengoku period. Many martial artists began focusing more on the katana, which was shorter than the battlefield-centric tachi. This was in part due to battlefield weapons being banned by the Tokugawa rule, and the fact that katana became standard amongst warriors at the time. The usage of dual swords (katana & wakizashi) was made popular especially through the efforts of Miyamoto Musashi during the mid 1600s. Being a dual sword style, Tetsujin ryū certainly seems to be a product of Niten Ichi ryū, and openly owns up to that claim. However, there are other martial systems that similarly have dual sword techniques in their curriculum, whether they have a connection or not. Examples of this include the following:
Ryōken Tokichū ryū (offshoot of Tetsujin ryū)
Katori Shinto ryū
Musashi Enmei ryū
There’s not much in terms of how Tetsujin ryū was used in actual combat or competition. There are, however, tales that highlight certain individuals. The first is “Aoki Jōuemon: Tetsujin ryū Gensō” (青木城右衛門 鉄人流元祖). This is a novel-style telling of Aoki Kaneie’s history. From this is where we learn a great deal about his life in Kawachi, and his path to becoming a martial artist, including his tutelage under Miyamoto Musashi. While considered historical text, there is no telling how much is actually truth, and what is fictional/exaggerated for the sake of storytelling.
The second is an actual diary of a Tetsujin ryū’s practitioner’s fighting experience. Entitled “Shokuni Kaireki Nichiroku” (諸国廻歴日録), it is an account of Muta Bunnosuke, who received complete licensing in Tetsujin ryu while living in Saga domain. Afterwards, from 1853 he traveled around Japan to further his skills for 2 years. It sounds like he may have been one of the last people involved with this martial system, so Bunnosuke’s diary is held in high regards. This story sounds interesting, and I personally would like to read more on it.
That wraps up my small research on Tetsujin ryū. While it is seen to have a connection to Miyamoto Musashi, Tetsujin ryū apparently was valid enough to exist on its own worth for about 2 centuries. It is an example of one of the many gems in martial arts from the past.
1) To be specific, sources say that Kaneie is Ienao’s older brother’s grandson. Guess that would be the same relationship between the 2 as well…?
2) It goes much further for Kaneie, as it is said he studied first under Shinmen Muni, Miyamoto Musashi’s father, and learned the techniques of the jitte (十手, short truncheon with a hook for capturing swords). Afterwards, he would study under Musashi.
3) Kaneie may have later changed and called his systems “Enmei ryu” and “Enmei Jitte ryu”
4) Kaneie also created his own style for utilizing the jitte, called “Tetsujin Jitte ryu”, which is thought to have come from his studies under Musashi’s father.
5) There are more, mainly in the form of variations of the initial five. Plus, there are postures for when wielding one sword.
Many older holidays and celebrations from Japan have a deep and intricate background. Nowadays they have been simplified one way or another, with the focus on the core component. This has to do in part with social practices of old do not have the same role in Japan’s society as a whole as it once used to. Still, some areas in Japan pay recognition to the older history of these celebrations, while great efforts are made to preserve their details in documentations.
LOOKING AT KODOMO NO HI
Let’s look one of Japan’s more well-celebrated holidays, “Kodomo no Hi” (子供の日), or “Children’s Day” in English, which takes place on May 5th this year. Kodomo no Hi is a celebration for kids, where parents pray for the to grow up healthy and strong. This is similar to how girls’ healthy future is prayed for during the holiday known as Hinamatsuri. There are different ways to go about celebrating this. One way that has a traditional background is where families place a small display featuring a kabuto (兜, tradition helmet used with armor), yumiya (弓矢, bow with arrows in a quiver), and a tachi (太刀, battlefield sword) out in their home, which is symbolic for protection from harm. Another is shōbuyu (菖蒲湯), where stalks of iris are used in conjunction with water or sake in the form of a remedy to drive away bad spirits.
The more popular practice during Kodomo no Hi is to celebrate with koinobori (鯉のぼり), which are carp-shaped streamers. Koinobori are generally strung together in a large mass on a pole or on a cable in between poles in one’s area or around public places, with a yaguruma (矢車, wheel consisting of arrows) on top. Looking at the history behind the concept of koinobori, we learn that It has a connection with the Chinese myth of carps that are able to swim up a particular waterfall will turn into dragons, which was adapted into Japan’s culture. Carp are also seen as a creature of spiritual significance, where they have a long lifespan, and can adapt to different environments. These traits, and more, are what parents pray for in their children. Adding a yaguruma on top of a pole is symbolic for informing the gods of children’s birth and residence in the area in order to receive their blessings, as well as to drive away evil spirits.
Koinobori are made in different colors. The meaning behind these colors have changed over the centuries since mid Edo period. At first the colors used was based on what was popular in one’s region, such as families in eastern Japan would use gold and silver, while families in western Japan would use black and red. Later, the colors became generalized as koinobori were designed in predetermined sizes and colors. They were displayed in a pack on Kodomo no Hi to represent one’s family. For example, the largest koinobori would be a black color and represent the father, the 2nd largest would be a red color and represent the mom, while the smaller one would be a blue color and represent children. Eventually this would be expanded, featuring much smaller ones in a green or pink color.
As mentioned earlier, the design that is commonly recognized as koinobori was popular in eastern and western parts of Japan. Other regions also adopted different designs and shapes as the practice spread. For example, there are hata sashimono (旗指物, flag banners) such as enobori (絵のぼり, picture streamers) and furafu (フラフ, flags), which consists of images of carps, famous warriors from fairy tales, and other artworks that are related to the theme of Kodomo no Hi.
LOOKING AT TANGO NO SEKKU
Kodomo no Hi is actually a modern naming convention petitioned in 1948, in an attempt for reformation of a new holiday that was more suitable to support the new, younger generation¹. Before this change, it was originally known under the title “Tango no Sekku” (端午の節句). Practice of this starting as early as the Kamakura period (1185~1333), the meaning of this title can be interpreted as “the seasonal celebration of the beginning of the 5th”. However, this title has more components due to its connection to the older Lunar calendar and the Zodiac signs, which can be easily explained If we break down the words individually:
Tan (端) = Edge, side (beginning)
Go (午) = Horse (Zodiac), fifth month (Lunar Calendar)
Sekku (節句) = Seasonal festival or celebration
The kanji or Chinese characters used incorporate a bit of play on words in order to grasp the meaning. The use of “tan” here is to identify the start of good weather in the new season, which would’ve been summer according to the old calendar². The word “go” has two sources but line up perfectly in meaning, for while the kanji “午” means horse according to the Zodiac signs, it is designated to the 5th month on the old calendar. On top of this, its pronunciation is the same as the number 5 (五, go) in Japanese. Along with all of these points, Tango no Sekku takes place on the 5th day of the 5th month, which makes it an auspicious occasion to receive blessings from revered gods, as well as has strong ties with divination practice Onmyōdō (陰陽道) and what are considered lucky numbers. With number 5 being one of those lucky numbers, this makes the 5th day of the 5th month an important date³.
Originally, Tango no Sekku was a day to celebrate young boys and pray for their healthy growth. One of the reasons is credited to an older practice of “Shōbu no Sekku” (菖蒲の節句), where shōbu (菖蒲, iris) and other types of herbs & vegetation were used for medicinal practices and environmental purification by Imperial & noble families. As a play on words, “shōbu” (尚武, militaristic spirit) was used to inspire creating a festival were families prayed for boys to grow into strong warriors. Since from the Kamakura era onward the road to success was believed to be in becoming a military family, a large display called “gogatsu ningyō” (5th Month Dolls) was placed within one’s home to represent this belief. On this display were items that symbolized protection from harm and ill fortune, such as a miniature kacchū (甲冑, armor), a musha ningyō (武者人形, a warrior figurine), a toy horse, mock weapons such as bow & arrows and a battlefield sword, taiko (太鼓, drums), kamon hata (家紋旗, banners with family emblems), and so on. Dolls of famous fabled characters were also included, such as Momotaro, Musashi Benkei, and Kintaro. Koinobori is also believed to have been used at some point as well, although not throughout Japan until later in the Edo period.
IMPORTANT DISHES FOR THE CELEBRATION
There are popular snacks and food to eat on Kodomo no Hi today, which were passed down from the older Tango no Sekku:
Kashiwamochi is mochi wrapped in a kashiwa leaf. Other than mochi being the common treat in many celebrations, the use of the kashiwa was due to the fact that it was a leaf that stayed on a tree for a very long time. This resilience was inspiring, and would symbolize having the ability to keep one’s family line intact. Chimaki is similar to Kashiwamochi, except that it’s made of a sticky rice such as mochikome (もち米), consisting of a variety of fillings, and wrapped in bamboo leaves, which molds it into an elongated or triangular shape. Lastly, takenoko is bamboo shoot that is steamed and eaten in various ways, with it being topped over rice (called takenoko gohan / 竹の子御飯) being one of the more popular ways.
According to the Tango no Sekku theme, these foods are meant to promote a long lifespan for boys using natural ingredients. Of course, this has now been extended to girls as well, as Kodomo no Hi promotes all kids should be taken care of evenly. Note that depending on the region, there are numerous ways in which the following foods are made, with some being more different than others.
In conclusion, Kodomo no Hi is but one of the many examples of how a day of celebration can look simple visually, yet possesses layers of deep and complex history once delved into. While its older form, Tango no Sekku, has historical components that are a telltale of how society used to be, this doesn’t take away from the modern development of Kodomo no Hi and how families celebrate it.
1) Along with praying for kids’ health and fortune, Kodomo no Hi also includes giving thanks to mothers for giving birth to and helping to raise kids.
2) While Tango no Sekku was a celebration for boys, there were special events for girls as well almost at the same time. However, they greatly varied depending on the region.
3) These 5 numbers are the following: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. They make up the positive or yō (陽, yang) numbers of the in-yo (or yin-yang). In turn, there are 5 seasonal celebrations, called Go-sekku (五節句), which take place on the following dates:
Many people are familiar with Miyamoto Musashi’s famous treatise called “Gorin no Sho” (五輪の書), or commonly called “Book of 5 Rings” in English, which was written in 1645. However, in 1641 he compiled another treatise prior to this called “Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō” (兵法三十五箇条), or “35 Rules of Martial Combat”. Being an expert martial artist in the way of the sword, Musashi wrote this upon the request of Hosokawa Tadatoshi, who was a lord over Kumamoto Domain, Higo Province (present-day Kumamoto Prefecture). Believed to be the first recordings of what would later be Musashi’s self-made style “Niten Ichi ryū” (二天一流), the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō was preserved in the densho of a kenjutsu school called “Enmei ryū¹“, which Musashi himself had a hand in starting.
Recently, as I was reviewing my copy of Gorin no Sho, I decided to also look through the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō as well. When comparing both documentations, there are similarities as well as differences. There are those that consider the former a “draft” of the Gorin no Sho, and would sign it off for the sake of the more renown version. Some of the reasons behind this include the following:
Gorin no Sho is a much longer documentation with more philosophical commentary.
Gorin no Sho possesses much more detail on both taking up the part of a martial artist, and the techniques that are related to Niten Ichi ryu.
While the Gorin no Sho directly covers Musashi’s self-made style Niten Ichi ryu, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, which is related a great deal, has more of an association with Enmei ryu.
However, I believe that is a premature viewpoint, especially if you are not familiar with the history behind the first documentation and which audience it was written for. Being a treatise on both fundamental and advanced techniques that can benefit a martial artist, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō would benefit anyone who has interest in this field, even if just as an addition to one’s collection.
Looking at the similarities between both documentations, some of the rules in Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō are also included in Gorin no Sho. However, take note that the wording and/or approach expressing these differ abit between both. Furthermore, although older, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō contains some interesting perspectives by Musashi. Let’s evaluate this with a snippet from rule #2. I will present below the Japanese, along with my English translation.
The path of martial combat is the same throughout, from the militaristic system used for large armies, down to the individualistic combative skills.
In this writing I will use individualistic combative skills as an example for the comparison. Such as, one’s head (mind) is equivalent to the commander, the hands & feet are like close subordinates such as retainers. The torso is like the foot soldiers. If, through this idea, one trains the body as if to take over a country, then the path of martial combat is, without a doubt, the same on all levels.
This is an overall comparison of the discipline for the individualist skills honed by a martial artist being the same as that needed for an army to work well and succeed. It’s an interesting one, as it may directly explain how the mindset and approach to martial combat transitioned from the battlefield to individual skirmishes during the Edo period. Take note that rule #2 of Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is said to be related to the Earth Scroll chapter of Gorin no Sho, yet this doesn’t mean that this is a direct copy of words from one text to another. Anyone who’s familiar with both will notice that while Musashi makes references regarding the discipline of the martial artist is the same as in all professions in that particular chapter, he primarily makes that comparison using carpentry.
The following rules below are a few that offer new and unique perspectives of Musashi’s philosophy. That is, by how they are worded, as they don’t definitely fall into any of the chapters found in Gorin no Sho. Along with the original Japanese and my English translation, I will follow up with my interpretation of the meaning behind the following rules, as best as I understand. Of course, being my interpretation, this doesn’t mean that it is 100% perfect.
There are many points to this, along with needing to be there in the moment and having a presence of mind, in regards to making space around yourself. To explain this clearly hear, you must not have your mind elsewhere or on other matters. Like all paths, in order to achieve this you must have knowledge. The big picture here is to strike the opposition with your sword. To achieve this, one must have the mind of not being struck even by another person’s sword. When you do make the attempt to strike down someone, you must forget about yourself. This takes knowledge and lots of training.
For this, you control enough space around yourself, allowing room to deliver strikes, as well as avoiding any incoming ones from an opponent. When you do go forth with your attack, you must also commit to it and not hesitate, for that will leave the door open for the opposition to react.
To achieve this is to grasp on both the thoughts of you and your opponent. You pull yourself off line of an attack through your body, sword, legs, and mind. You will understand how to evade based on your opponent’s thoughts. This requires lots of training.
This rule is talking about being able to read what your opponent is trying to do. Simply put, one reacts accordingly to each of your opponent’s actions if you can grasp what he/she is planning next.
This is a method for you to allow things to take their natural course for some time based on the situation at hand. With our sword in hand, our attentive spirit is released as if things are normal, while our mind stays active. Or, as you strike down an enemy in a timely manner, you rest your mind, while staying attentive through intent. There are many points to be aware of when analyzing this. There is much information to gain from this.
In Japanese martial arts a fundamental skill reiterated a lot is zanshin (残心), which can be interpreted as staying attentive when a conflict has been ended. For the rule above, this goes beyond that, where one relaxes mentally yet stay attentive through intent, or vice versa.
This is about being like a tobaso (戸臍 or 枢, swinging door), where when getting close to the opponent, you quickly make yourself wider in appearance. This creates a distortion regarding enemy’s sword, and the body. It makes it that everything is exposed within the space between you and your opponent. Or, you make yourself a slim form as soon as possible as you propel your shoulder towards your opponent’s chest.
Musashi is describing how to change your body’s orientation, and uses the image of a hinged door as an example. In theory, squaring up with your opponent can be effective in many ways, including psychologically, as it gives the idea that you are a bigger target. Yet, if the enemy strikes, you turn sideways so the attack sails by, which allows you to deliver a counter strike.
Here concludes our discussion on Miyamoto Musashi’s first treatise. While the Gorin no Sho is truly the more popular one worldwide, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is still an active rule set used in certain Japan martial schools that follow in the lessons of Musashi. On top of that, there are publications on this, as well as plenty of websites that cover this in detail in Japan. While a smaller read, I would recommend those serious about martial arts to read the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, even just once.
Today’s post is regarding recent kenjutsu training done by Chikushin group. It is more of a reiteration of verbal explanations given to students during those sessions. I also express it here for the public to get an idea of how Chikushin group conducts kobudō training.
In our kenjutsu training we’ve been studying a set of kata that focuses on defeating a stronger opponent. Within this are a few kata that uses the scenario where the both you and the opponent are in tsuba zeri-ai (鍔競り合い), which means locking swords together by the swordguard. While dependant on the martial system and their philosophy, this can be a common occurance between two sword duelists where both sides close the distance and are trying to overpower the other. Similarly, this can be seen in today’s kendō.
When looking at these particular kata as presented in our group, they present a scenario where the defender must use specific techniques to defeat their opponent who uses tsuba zeri-ai. However, before learning these, we must spend time understanding how to properly apply tsuba zeri-ai and win with it.
In kata geiko (形稽古, practicing pre-set forms), the one who’s applying the technique as the defender may be viewed as doing the “true” style of one’s kenjutsu, while the attacker is not. This is actually not correct. In fact, we have to also study what is being done by the attacker, as it is very critical for the defender’s technique to work. In the case of tsuba zeri-ai, we initially study the finer details of this technique, from how it can occur when two fighters’ swords clash together, to how to properly initiate it ourselves. It is necessary to apply proper timing, leverage, and power in order to overwhelm another through this. In the end, tsuba zeri-ai becomes a tool in our arsenal, furthering our skill level. This is the ura (裏), or unspoken rules, in studying classical martial arts.
There are plenty of unspoken rules not only in kata geiko, but in many of the components found in classical martial arts. It is just more apparent when training in set forms during katageiko as-is, for if we only focus on what the defender is doing, we will only get a small piece of the puzzle. On top of this, one cannot properly defend against an attack that is not there. It is up to the instructor to ensure that students learn the ins & outs of every kata properly. This includes performing a real technique by the attacker role.
Again, in the case of tsuba zeri-ai, if the attacker doesn’t understand how to apply his/her technique correctly in order to lock swords together, the defender won’t be able to feel the pressure necessary in learning the proper rhythm to counter the opponent. It is the same as blocking a simple punch; if we don’t engage in repetitive drills ahead of time regarding how to deliver a punch with proper power, speed, and from an adequate distance, kata that involve defense against this won’t work.
To get an idea of how tsuba zeri-ai is applied in motion, check out our Chikushin Arts Instagram account. There, you’ll find the exact video posted recently from which the pics above were taken from, along with the complete outcome of the scenario that was demonstrated. On top of that, you’ll also find other kobudō-related pics and videos posted regularly to keep our Instagram account active.