The Modern and Older form of Kodomo no Hi

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 (柏餅)
  • Chimaki (粽)
  • Takenoko (竹の子)

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.

ENDING

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:

  • January 7th
  • March 3rd
  • May 5th
  • July 7th
  • September 9th

Looking at Miyamoto Musashi’s First Treatise

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.


② 兵法之道見立処之事   

此道大分之兵法,一身之兵法に至迄,皆以て同意なるべし。

今書付一身の兵法,たとへば心を大将とし,手足を臣下郎等と思ひ,胴体を歩卒土民となし,国を治め身を修る事,大小共に,兵法の道におなじ。

② Analyzing the Path of Martial Combat 

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.


⑦ 間積りの事

間を積る様,他には色々在れ共,兵法に居付心在によって,今伝る処,別の心あるべからず。何れの道なりとも,其事になるれば,能知る物なり。大形は我太刀人にあたる程の時は,人の太刀も,我にあたらんと思ふべし。人を討んとすれば,我身を忘るゝ物也。能々工夫あるべし。

⑦ Making Space

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.


⑳ 弦をはづすと云事

弦をはづすとは,敵も我も心ひつぱる事有り。身にても,太刀にても,足にても,心にても,はやくはづす物也。敵おもひよらざる処にて,能々はづるゝ物也。工夫在るべし。

⑳ Releasing the string

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.


㉖ 残心放心の事

残心放心は事により時にしたがふ物也。我太刀を取て,常は意のこゝろをはなち,心のこゝろをのこす物也。又敵を慥に打時は,心のこゝろをはなち,意のこゝろを残す。残心放心の見立,色々在物也。能々吟味すべし。

㉖ Freeing one’s Attentive Spirit

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.


㉛ 扉のおしへと云事

とぼその身と云は,敵の身に付く時,我身のはゞを広くすぐにして,敵の太刀も,身もたちかくすやうに成て,敵と我身の間の透のなき様に付べし。又身をそばめる時は,いかにもうすく,すぐに成て,敵の胸へ,我肩をつよくあつべし。敵を突たをす身也。工夫有べし。

㉛ Teachings of the Door

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.


1) Also known as Musashi Enmei ryu (武蔵円明流).

The Ura Behind Kata Geiko

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 (鍔迫り合い), 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.

Example of tsuba zeri-ai in a kendō match. From Wikipedia.

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.

The Patron & The Ox: Legends of Tenmangū ~ Part 2

We continue with the discussion on the legendary tales from Tenmangū. Since we were able to achieve an understanding behind these shrines through the history of Sugawara no Michizane in part 1, we will now proceed with those tales and get an idea how they have deep ties with the yearly ox Zodiac sign theme. Note that many of these stories were made long ago in Japan’s past, during a time where superstition was prevalent, and natural phenomenons were believed to have been caused by one of many gods. Whether they are believable or not, they do play a big role in the development of both culture and society.

BIRTH & DEATH

Sugawara no Michizane was elevated to the level of a divine being after his death due to his contributions while he was alive. This isn’t so unusual, as there are plenty of examples of this happening not only in Japan, but in other countries as well. Interestingly, one could say that this was already predetermined on the day of his birth. A tale that is told at the Tenmangū shrines is that his birth was an auspicious one, and truly denotes his connection with the ox Zodiac sign, which is considered beyond normal. In this particular tale, Michizane’s birth is recorded to not only been in the year of the ox, but was also on the day of the ox, and at the time of the ox¹. What does this mean?

The Zodiac signs have a multitude of purposes, some utilitarian, others mystical. In the past, they were used to denote years, days, and time, which was key for fortune telling. Depending on the period and the tasks that are at hand, a person may believe they will see benefits, or will heed caution and refrain from doing anything important. In Michizane’s case, this repeated occurrence with the ox sign in his birth is pretty auspicious, and viewed as beyond normal. On top of this, Michizane is said to have died on the day of the ox. Such a repetition of a Zodiac sign may point to him as being divine, like a deity who took the form of a human. As for the ox reference, one could interpret it that the ox brought him into the world, as well as returned him to his true realm, since the ox is naturally a vehicle of the gods. More on this point later.

VENGEFUL SPIRIT, WRATHFUL GOD

This tale can almost be seen as a continuation to part 1, based on how it’s told in the visual records of the Kitanō Tenmangū shrine called “Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki” (北野天神縁起絵巻). In 908, just 3 years after Michizane’s death, a member of the Fujiwara clan would die suddenly from disease. One year later, Fujiwara no Tokihira, the main antagonist in Michizane’s misfortune, also dies from disease. In 913, new Minister of the Right Minamoto no Hikaru would tragically die through drowning while out on a hunting expedition. As the Fujiwara clan gained a stronger hold of both the Imperial palace and Imperial family, more tragedy befell upon them. Such can be seen in the 930 incident where a lightning storm would strike down upon a building on the Imperial grounds where many members of the Fujiwara family were, resulting in a few of them dying on the spot, or later passing away due to suffering from lightning burns. The final tragedy befell on 60th Emperor Daigō, who is believed to have been the main target of the lightning storm. After the incident, Emperor Daigō’s health deteriorated, until finally dying 3 months later. The cause of this is viewed to be linked to his agreement with the validity of the accusations made by Tokihira and others, and Michizane being exiled from Heian Kyō.

This entire story is seen as an act of revenge by Michizane’s spirit that took its course over the course of almost 30 years. Initially, as these events were unfolding, the consensus within the Imperial palace was that Michizane’s vengeful spirit was cursing the Fujiwara clan. There were different attempts to try and “appease” him, such as bestowing upon him different titles including Minister of the Right, which was taken away from him through slander while he was still living. The lightning storm was the most severe, which happened later after the Fujiwara clan were able to become part of the Imperial family through one of the women conceiving a child for then Emperor Daigō, making him a prince. As a result, A Fujiwara member was sent to Anrakuji, where Michizane was buried at, to build an enshrinement. This enshrinement was then named Tenmangū. A few centuries later the Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki was created, which retells this story.

While there were those who described him as a vengeful spirit, Tenmangū instead envisions him as a wrathful god punishing wrongdoers in an act of justice. As a result, Michizane is called by several other names, including “Raijin” (雷神), which means “Thunder God”. According to old beliefs, a thunder god is generally depicted having the guise of an oni (鬼, demon) with horns². According to the Zodiac signs, the combination of the Ox and Tiger signs refer to demons, both metaphorically (i.e. they point towards the unlucky north-east direction on the typical Zodiac chart) and visually (demons are usually illustrated having ox-like horns and wearing tiger fur loincloth). This goes back to Michizane being born in the year of the ox, which contributes to this image.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OXEN

There is a legend that Michizane had encounters with an ox, which may have been his guardian spirit in disguise. During his youth, Michizane found a baby ox wandering alone in a wooded area. Appearing to be lost or abandoned, he took it into his residence, where he nurtured it until it grew into an adult. At some point, just as it suddenly appeared in his life, this ox suddenly disappeared without a trace. While he wanted to set out to search for it, in the end he let the matter go. Fast forward to when he was exiled to live his life in Dazaifu in the south, Michizane would one day travel west to Dōmyōji (道明寺, Dōmyō Temple) in Osaka to visit a relative³. After parting ways, he set out to head back home when he was unexpectedly attacked by an assailant. Before harm could befall on him, a large ox suddenly appeared and drove the assailant away, saving Michizane’s life. Just as quickly as it appeared, this ox would disappear from sight in the same way.

One of the ways to interpret this story is that the baby ox was a spirit. Since Michizane showed kindness and helped raise it, this ox spirit in return acted as a guardian spirit. In a way, it is not so different from many other Japanese fabled tales of similar nature. Although it is just a legend, this contributes to Michizane’s ever-persistent connection with the ox Zodiac sign. On another note, while in this version of the story the color of the ox is not mentioned, I’ve heard another one, although very brief, where Michizane was rescued by a white ox. While I’m not sure if this is a variation of the story mentioned above, there is significance in the white ox to the Buddhist god Shiva, which the Tenjin of Tenmangū is loosely based off of.

AN OX’S STUBBORNNESS AS FATE

Another story is directly related what took place after Michizane’s death and the decision with what to do with his remains. In his final days, Michizane wrote a poem as part of his will that states “people should allow themselves to be pulled along in a wagon by an ox, letting it take us where ever it may desire, and to eventually be buried in the spot where it stops at”⁴. Following this as his last wish, those sent to bury his remains put it in an ox-drawn wagon, and had intended to carry it all the way to Heian Kyō (present-day Kyōto) in the west in a procession. During the journey, the ox suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, laid down, and wouldn’t move. They didn’t make it far, as they were still in the southern part of Japan. Despite efforts to get it to stand up and proceed again, the ox wouldn’t budge. With no other choice, They took Michizane’s remains to a near by temple called Anrakuji, and had it buried there.

At Tenmangū shrines, the underlining point of this story is that everything happened based on fate. Michizane was destined to be laid to rest in the south, and the ox was like a divine messenger to show where the burial spot should be. Interestingly, this is where Michizane was enshrined in the 1st Tenmangū shrine, thus being deified. Again we see the significance of the ox, whether we choose to view this as chance or by fate.

OX AS A SERVANT OF THE GODS

If we look at some of the stories mentioned above, we see the ox had a close role in the life of Sugawara no Michizane, as well as after his death. At the Tenmangū, the ox is often described as a “shinshi” (神使), which can stand for being a servant or messenger of the gods. According to Shinto beliefs, there are spiritual creatures who, acting on the will of the god(s) they serve, come down to earth to handle tasks they were assigned to. At times, humans may also view these spiritual creatures as gods themselves. They would take the guise of earthly creatures such as foxes, monkeys, birds, snakes, and centipedes. In the Tenjin faith of Tenmangū, the ox is the main servant.

From another perspective, the ox can also be viewed as a vehicle for the gods. In Eastern religions and beliefs, gods are depicted as coming down to Earth on the back of a divine creature. These creatures include boars, horses, and oxen. There are artwork that feature Michizane sitting on the back of an ox, although in these he is in his humanly form, as if to say he did this while he was alive. Since Michizane is deified and now recognized as the Tenjin, this is fitting.

ENDING

These are the majority of legendary tales from the Tenmangū. Bearing a lot of references to the ox, one can get an idea how important their underlining messages are especially when the ox Zodiac years come around. This here brings the 2-part series to a close. I hope readers enjoy this piece of history, and get an understanding about how intricately enwoven the Zodiac signs were with Japanese culture.


1) This is commonly written as “丑の年の丑の日の丑の刻”, which reads “ushi no toshi no ushi no hi no ushi no koku”

2) This is more in the vein of a divine demon, who is a guardian of Buddhism. Another way to describe this would be “onigami” (鬼神), or “demon god”.

3) This relative is stated to be an oba (叔母), which could mean aunt.

4) Although written in modernized Japanese, this is an interpretation of the poem:

「車を牛に引かせて、牛の行くままに任せ、牛の止まった所に葬ってくれ」

“Kuruma wo ushi ni hikasete, ushi no yuku mama ni makase, ushi no tomatta tokoro ni hōmuttekure”

Note that during the Heian period, ox-drawn wagons were popular among the populous, which may have had an influence on him writing this.

The Patron & the Ox: Legends of Tenmangū ~ Part 1

Continuing with the ox theme that coincides with this year’s Zodiac sign, I will introduce some interesting tales that relate to it through the famous Tenmangū (天満宮), which is the name of numerous Shinto shrines built around Japan. These shrines practice the Tenjin faith (天神信仰, Tenjin shinkō), a form of Shinto belief, which involves the worship of the Tenjin (天神). A significant point worth mentioning is that the Tenjin is Sugawara no Michizane, who was as an actual scholar and aristocratic that lived during the Heian period (794 ~ 1185). He was later viewed as a patron deified due to the many good things he did while he was alive, as well as the incidents that would later take place after his death that were then told as legends.

Today’s article will be the 1st of a 2-part series about Tenmangū’s fabled tales surrounding Sugawara no Michizane, and the persisting imagery of the ox. Before getting into those, part 1 will cover this individual’s actual history in order to better understand the roots of his legendary status.

LIFE STORY OF SUGAWARA NO MICHIZANE

Sugawara no Michizane was born in 845, which was the year of the Ox. The Sugawara was an elite family during the Heian period, at a time when noble families lived in or close to Heian Kyō, (present day Kyōto) the Capital where the Imperial Palace was built, and the golden age when foreign import contributed immensely to cultural development before Japan was turned into a military state by warring feudal lords. Michizane was privileged to receiving education in many topics, including Chinese classics, writing, archery, and poetry. It is said that he was very gifted in learning, as he demonstrated natural talent in both literature and military studies¹. As an example, Michizane would not only understand Chinese poetry thoroughly at the age of 11, but he also wrote his 1st poem at that age². Earning high honors, he would became a professor of literature at the age of 33.

A pic of Sugawara no Michizane.

Outside of education, Michizane was also talented in political matters, as well as a devotee of the Shinto belief. Eventually his career would involve working for the Imperial court. He not only proved to be a loyal subject of the court, he was also very close to 59th Emperor Uda, where he was heavily depended on as an advisor. He handled different tasks that helped Japanese society as a whole, including improving living conditions for the poor and maintaining Japan’s unique image while adapting foreign influences. Michizane also proposed many reasonable ways and solutions to handling foreign relations, which Emperor Uda truly valued. With his hard-working ethics and knowledgeable insight, he rose through the ranks, and inevitably achieved the title udaijin (右大臣), or Minister of the Right. This was one of the highest ranks achievable at the time, which was a great honor to him and his family. This title was matched equally by sadaijin (左大臣), or Minister of the Left, which was held by another aristocrat named Fujiwara Tokihira (藤原時平).

Speaking of which, at the time the Fujiwara were major players in the Imperial court, where they imposed their influence in many aspects politically. Although the Sugawara had a history of good relations with the Fujiwara, Michizane and Tokihira did not get along, where the latter would not treat the former well. In fact, there were other opposing noble families who were in favor of the Fujiwara, and were also jealous of Michizane’s seemingly unfaltering favor from Emperor Uda. Secretly, Tokihira and others conspired a plan that would expose him of abusing his power in an effort to rid his presence from the Imperial palace, and help elevate their family and peers.

When Emperor Uda retired and was succeeded by the 60th Emperor Daigo, Tokihira and others took a chance to put their scheme into action. They were successful in defaming Michizane, who would then be unfortunate of being stripped of his rank, and exiled from Heian Kyō by the new Emperor. Separated from his family, he was forced to reside in Dazaifu located in the south (present day Dazaifu City, Fukuoka).

Deprived of the wealth and loved ones, Michizane’s life in Dazaifu was hard, yet he maintained his dignity and continued to present himself as a good example by continuing with scholarly studies, and devoting his time in worship for the sake of the safety of the Imperial family and the nation of Japan. He spent the remainder of his years there, and would pass away in 903. Shortly after, his remains were buried at Ankakuji, not too far away from his residence. Years later, as Michizane’s former detractors started to die due to diseases and freakish accidents, the Imperial court would exonerate him from all crimes he was judged to have committed, bestowed upon him his former ranks, and ordered for Tenmangū to be built at Ankakuji to enshrine his remains, which would in turn make him a deity — all as a means to appease what was believed to be his vengeful soul.

Today, many go to the Tenmangū to pray for academic success, since Sugawara no Michizane is viewed as a god of learning. Despite facing slander and hardship towards the later part of his life, his life story, which includes his achievements, were recorded and preserved, which in turn makes him a revered individual, and one that inspires all that visit these Tenmangū shrines. Visitors can also see large bronze statues of an ox at some of these shrines, which is also plays a significant role in several tales related to Michizane’s story.

ENDING

This is how Sugawara no Michizane’s history closes, as well as concludes part 1. In the following article, we will review different tales and legends that paint vivid pictures of Sugawara no Michizane, as the Tenjin, being an auspicious, as well as the ox being like a divine creature.


1) Essentially the standard structure for learning during the Heian period, which is called bunbu ryōdō (文武両道).

2) Below is the poem he wrote:

「月夜見梅花 月輝如晴雪 梅花似照星 可憐金鏡転 庭上玉房馨」

In his poem, Michizane describes how the sweet-smelling flower garden made up of plum blossoms (ume [梅] in Japanese) looks radiant in the bright moonlight like stars, similar to how snow sparkles in the sun rays.

March Translations Update

As March comes to a close, I’ve managed to roll out a few new entries in the Translations sections. Here’s what you can find:

  • Page 2 of “Kōyō Gunkan no Naigunpō no Maki” is out. Page 3 should be out shortly, which will complete this topic.
  • New topic “Many Ways of Utilizing the Zodiac Signs” is up. This topic will cover the different ways in which the Zodiac signs have been used throughout the ages. The first entry covers the old clock system from Edo period called “wadokei”.
  • New topic “Lore of the Dashi (Mountain-Like Floats)”. This is a followup of two articles on the same topic, this one is a translation of a lore regarding the dashi found in the same book used as a resource for the other two articles.

Happy to have these released this March. Here’s looking to do the same and have some new translation works done by April.

The Genealogy of Tokugawa Ieyasu & The Advantages when Claiming Power

During a research project a while ago, I came across an interesting point regarding Tokugawa Ieyasu, the feudal lord to unify all of Japan in the early 1600s, and first shogun of the Tokugawa Bakufu (徳川幕府, Militaristic rule of the Tokugawa clan). I came across notes online that state he would have himself addressed as “Tokugawa Minamoto Ieyasu” (徳川源家康) within some administrative-related letters and documents¹. For those who are familiar with the earlier years of Japanese history should know about the Minamoto clan, which was a powerful clan with nobility roots to the Imperial family, and greatly recognized for their prowess in military campaigns by a few exemplary individuals from the Heian period to the Kamakura period. What is this significant link that the Tokugawa family have with this clan?

Before modern Japan, it was commonplace for people to change their names. There are numerous reasons for this, such as to represent one’s (new) living area, job title, adoption into a new family, rise in status, and so on². In most cases, an explanation is given in surviving documents, whether it be in the form of a diary, family records, of official papers. In some of these cases, however, are critical disputes on the validity of these documents and their claims.

For this article, we will look at Tokugawa Ieyasu and the story behind the lineage he established. This ranges from his own personal history, the factors in which prompted him to take on a new name, as well as his family line’s connection to the Minamoto clan. Some of the sources used for this includes the following:

GENJI – MATSUDAIRA STORY

Ieyasu was born in the Matsudaira family, who were from Matsudaira Village in Kamo District of Mikawa Province (present day Matsudaira Town, Aichi Prefecture). The Matsudaira family were an influential one, who would eventually gain full control over their domain for many years once there was no one to challenge them. After becoming shogun and establishing the Tokugawa Bakufu in the early 1600s, Ieyasu presented a genealogy for his family line, which illustrates the Matsudaira line was started by Matsudaira Chikauji (松平親氏). This Matsudaira Chikauji is stated to have a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage (清和源氏), which is but one of the different lines that have ancestry to the noble Genji clan.

Some points to understand regarding this Seiwa-Genji line:

  • This line descends from the 56th successor Emperor Seiwa, making it the most powerful of all the other Genji lines.
  • All Genji lines originate from the Minamoto clan, a family of nobility whom were once one of many imperial families during the Heian period.
  • While they have a long history, the Minamoto clan are especially renown for their on-going struggle for power against the Taira clan which eventually lead to victory within the late Heian period (794-1185).
  • One of the main representatives of this Seiwa-Genji line is Minamoto no Yoshiie (源義家, 1039-1106), who is viewed as a legendary figure being the role model for the brave, armor-clad warriors whom would later rise and establish Japan into a military state.

Here’s an explanation of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s claim to the Seiwa-Genji link. His ancestor, Chikauji, is a descendant of the Serata³ clan, which split from the Nitta-Genji (新田源氏) line (another branching line from the original Seiwa-Genji). The Serata clan left the Nitta Manor in Tokugawa Village (新田庄徳河郷), and later established their own home in Serata Village in another part of Tokugawa (世良田郷徳河) within Ueno Province⁴. According to different sources, early in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), Chikauji and his father Arichika (有親) fought alongside with others against the Kamakura bakufu within the Shinano area in eastern Japan. They were on the losing side, and had to flee from the pursuit of Ashikaga Takauji and his force. Not being able to return to their homeland, they escaped to Sagami Province. Reaching the Shōjōkō Temple, Chikauji took vows there to become a Jishu sect monk under the name “Tokuami” (徳阿弥)⁵. Later, he would travel to Matsudaira Village in Mikawa, and became a member of the Matsudaira family through marrying the daughter of Matsudaira Taro Saemon. Thus, Ieyasu’s claim is that his blood line directly comes from Minamoto no Yoshiie through Chikauji, as well as past generations were known as “Tokugawa” due to Serata Village being in Tokugawa.

Above is a genealogy chart I’ve prepared that illustrates the generations that progresses from Minamoto no Yoshiie all the way to Matsudaira Chikauji. It also includes how certain individuals changed their surname generally based on the geographical location they were living in, which led to the establishment of new branching family lines. Some of them even did this multiple times. If we look at Chikauji at the bottom of the 2nd image, he too is a prime example of switching surnames. Apparently he went by “Tokugawa” at one point when he was residing at Tokugawa Village, while he would eventually switch to Matsudaira.

IEYASU AND HIS CHANGE TO TOKUGAWA

Looking into Tokugawa Ieyasu’s personal history, he went through a period where his identity changed in stages before establishing the Tokugawa shogunate and ruling all of Japan. As a summary, he was known by the name of Takechiyo (竹千代) during his childhood. When he was given his ceremony of adulthood at the age of 16⁶, his given name 1st changed to Motonobu (元信), then later to Motoyasu (元康) while working under Imagawa Yoshimoto, but kept his family name “Matsudaira” the same. He inherited the role of the 9th head of the Matsudaira clan, yet didn’t spend much of his life with them in Mikawa after the age of 6, for he was sent away as a hostage⁷ by his father, Matsudaira Hirotada. He was 1st under the care of Oda Nobuhide in Owari Province for 2 years, then later sent to his intended caretaker Imagawa Yoshimoto in Suraga Province, who lorded over Mikawa. Eventually, he would gain complete control over Mikawa when Yoshimoto died during the battle of Okehazama in 1560, which was the final of the ongoing war this individual had against the ambitious warlord Oda Nobunaga. His military career truly took off under the title of Matsudaira Motoyasu, and would continue especially after his identity undergone yet another change.

Artwork of Tokugawa Ieyasu as Shogun. From series “Mikawa Eiyuden” ( 三河英勇傳, The Great Heroes of Mikawa Province) by Utagawa Yoshitora. From Wikipedia.

In 1563 he would alter his first name, from “Motoyasu” to “Ieyasu”. 3 years later, he would then change his family name from “Motoyasu” to “Tokugawa” as an official title from the Imperial court. While it is very common to have one’s family name changed in relations to receiving an official rank with some sort of back story, there is none whatsoever in Ieyasu’s case at the time. It would be many years later during the 1st year of the Edo period that Ieyasu would reveal that in his family’s genealogy, which traces back to the Serata clan, there were a few individuals who bore the name Tokugawa. It is through this connection that he believed it was best to reinstate this name. Some researchers question this as there was no mention of this in his earlier years, especially from someone who grew up away from his own clan members during his youth. Another interesting point that is mentioned is that members of Ieyasu’s Matsudaira clan did not change their family name to Tokugawa after his rise in power, but did not hesitate to use this surname when needed.

QUESTIONING THE AUTHORITY TO POWER

By setting up the new Tokugawa bakufu in Edo (present day Tokyo), Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to establish rules, regulations, and territorial development process throughout Japan. Official documentations were also transcribed, which were used to retain all sorts of important information. Some examples of these are the Mikawa Monogatari (三河物語), which is a documentation of historical tales and accomplishments regarding families from Mikawa including the Matsudaira/Tokugawa, and the Kansei Chōshū Shokafu (寛政重脩諸家譜), which is a collection of many different genealogy, including that of land owners and military families. In these we can see the genealogy of Ieyasu, which claims an ancestral link to the Minamoto clan through the Seiwa-Genji line.

Despite these documentations, historians and researchers are skeptical about this claim. Some of these arguing points include the following:

  • There is very little concrete info on those individuals who come before Chikauji
  • There is no evidence of a Serata member migrating to Mikawa, let alone it being Chikauji
  • Outside of Ieyasu’s genealogy claim, there are no other details regarding a family lineage presented by other Matsudaira members

There isn’t much solid proof of where such a well-detailed genealogy comes from. Taking his historical account into consideration, Ieyasu didn’t spend a lot of his time in Mikawa, let alone amongst his Matsudaira clan members. This isn’t an unusual case, to be honest. There are even some questions regarding those that come after Chikauji in this genealogy, but for this article I will refrain from discussing those, as they don’t have the same weight as the ones mentioned above. What’s interesting to note is that Imagawa Yoshimoto, Ieyasu’s primary care taker in his early years, also claimed a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage. Possibly this is where Ieyasu got the idea from and decided to follow suit?

If there is solid ground for skepticism, what would be the benefit of fabricating a lineage? Understand that after military rule was established by Minamoto no Yoritomo as the 1st ruling Shogun during early Kamakura period (1185 ~ 1333), not just anyone could simply use force and claim the title as “shogun”. It had to be acquired through the following 2 points:

1) Appointed by the Emperor

2) It could only be given to those of (according to very old beliefs and fables) “noble families that were descendants of the gods that created Japan and the world”

While we will not delve into the specifics of the 2nd point, we can sum this point up by the fact that the Minamoto clan, like many other noble families, was established with the proclamation of ancestry under a specific god, thus their connection with the Imperial court bearing the status of nobility. This link to nobility, along with other factors, is what granted Minamoto no Yoshiie the qualification to be appointed as shogun by the Emperor during his military career⁸. It is not hard to see the advantage of claiming rights to rule as Shogun through a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage.

Claims to nobility wasn’t something that only Ieyasu took advantage of, for there were others before him who used the same proclamation to acquire the shogun title. For example, the Ashikaga clan, whom had a long line of shogun successors throughout the Muromachi period (1336 ~ 1573), also did the same and claimed ancestry to the Seiwa-Genji lineage. Toyotomi Hideyoshi also dabbled in such play of claiming a link to nobility, for when he was able to rise to the top through superior military strength over his adversaries, he was initially faced with an issue that would prevent him from becoming shogun. The son of a lower class family, Hideyoshi was not born with a noble surname, meaning he had the blood of a mere commoner. To rectify this situation, he was advised, as well as permitted, to be adopted by an Imperial court noble named Konoe Sakihisa. Through this newly-established noble link, Hideyoshi was allowed to receive the title shogun from the Imperial court.

CONCLUSION

This research on Tokugawa Ieyasu’s claimed genealogy, along with the critical disputes against it is an interesting one. It gives a glimpse of methods those who have the means can use in order to secure their position to achieve success or claim power. Even though this matter is centuries old, researchers still take the time to examine just how real the roots of the unifier of Japan truly is in order to understand the history of his ancestors…that is if any traces of it can be discovered. It’s but one of the many ways to learn about the past and understand Japan when society was structured very differently from modern times.


1) In a related topic, the online edition of Sankei News reported about a letter written in 1586, where Tokugawa Ieyasu used the title addressed as “Fujiwara Ieyasu” (藤原家康) in 1586. It appears that along with the surname change to “Tokugawa”, Ieyasu initially wanted to elevate his status even higher through an ancestral link to the Fujiwara family. For those unfamiliar with this, the Fujiwara family were elite to the point that they were not only the most influential in the Imperial court, but they also had control of the Imperial house behind the scenes through manipulating which member of the Imperial family would be the next successor. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu’s predecessor, was another who used the Fujiwara surname at times after he established himself with a noble lineage.

You can see the actual news report here.

2) One of the more interesting cases I’ve heard is that some people would change both their given and family names if they feel their current ones are unlucky. To improve their luck, changing them to ones that are more appealing in meaning is a route that is seen as beneficial.

3) Also pronounced as “Serada”

4) The kanji (Chinese-bsed characters) for “Tokugawa” uses an older way of writing. There are different ways in which this name has been written throughout the ages. Here are the following:

  • 徳川 (most familiar)
  • 徳河
  • 德川
  • 得川
  • 禿川
  • 禿河

5) This is explained in the “Mikawa Monogatari” (三河物語). There is a slightly different take on this in an earlier publication called “Matsudaira Yuishogaki” (松平氏由緒書). This too presents descriptions regarding the Matsudaira genealogy, but for Chikauji’s case he is not written to have been a monk. Instead, he left his hometown on a solo journey across the lands like a wanderer. Because of this, there are beliefs that this part about him becoming a monk is a fabrication, and added to later documentations.

6) This is known as “genpuku” (元服) in Japanese.

7) This “hostage” case is very common throughout Japan’s history. Different from the idea of kidnapping by force, in many situations a clan that is controlled by another more powerful clan would send family members to reside with them. While these members are given to fulfill a particular need by the powerful clan, the gist of it is to keep those family members in order to control the lesser clan. There are also many political usages behind this.

8) Before the establishment of military rule, the title “shogun” had a slightly different nuance, along with a different manner of entitlement. During the Nara and Heian period, certain renown warriors who were recruited to deal with supposed threats (i.e. “barbarians” and “villains”) to the Imperial palace and the aristocratic governing system would be given this title. In Minamoto no Yoshiie’s case, his complete title was “Chinjufu Shogun” (鎮守府将軍), which has the full meaning of “Commander-in-Chief of the army which pacifies threats from the North”.

Hinamatsuri: Celebration of Girls’ Prosperity with Paper Dolls

March 3rd is the celebration of “Hinamatsuri” (雛祭り), or “Doll Festival”. This is a tradition of praying for good heath, prosperity, and a happy future for young girls. This is an age-long tradition that dates back as far as the Heian period, and is still viewed as an important one even today. For this article, we will look into the components of this celebration, from its meaning, how it’s practiced, as well as were its roots started.

COMPONENTS OF HINAMATSURI

For this celebration, cute “hina-ningyo” (雛人形), or paper dolls, are bought and arranged on a “hina-dan” (雛壇), which is a multi-tier display covered in a red cloth, along with other accessories. As the theme of this is the Imperial court of old, the dolls are placed on the tier according to their rank, with the emperor and empress on top, and others such as attendants and musicians descending lower. On this day, this hina-dan is displayed in one’s home, followed by other festivities.

Hinamatsuri was a celebration first practiced by those of noble families, which would then later spread amongst the populace as Japan started to modernize. Those who specialized in making the dolls, mulit-tier display, and other accessories were able to turn this into an important business. Large hina-dan with many tiers became expensive overtime, so it is not unusual for some families to opt for ones that have fewer, or just one tier. In these cases, fewer dolls may also be used.

ROOTS AND MEANINGS

The original practice of Hinamatsuri was to use paper or hay to make simple dolls, and place them on the hina-dan as a means to absorb bad luck. At the end of the celebration these dolls would be placed in rivers and sent afloat, in hopes that whatever bad energy was absorbed would be cleansed and discarded away.

Over time, higher quality dolls with more impressive craftsmanship were made, so families become less inclined to discard the dolls, but instead would pack them away securely after Hinamatsuri, and keep them for use for the following years. Of course, in keeping these dolls the parents had to encourage their daughters to practice good manners and staying clean, or else it is thought that bad luck would return and prevent them from getting married. These higher quality dolls were also durable enough that in some rare cases little girls were allowed to play with. Attachments like this turned them into heirlooms that could be kept within one’s family for generations.

The concept behind the original Hinamatsuri practice comes from China centuries ago, where water was viewed as a purifying source. It is recorded that back then people would step into lakes and rivers to cleanse themselves if they felt they had bad luck. The idea of using paper or hay dolls for dolls comes from Onmyōdō (陰陽道), which is a divination system utilizing the theories of yin & yang and the five elements. Onmyōji (陰陽師), or diviners, spent much of their time visiting the Imperial palace or people’s homes performing ceremonies to rid of negative energy, read fortunes, and to cure those afflicted with illnesses thought to be related with evil spirits. At times, dolls made out of paper or hay was used, which would serve as a medium to trap bad energy, then discarded away from the house.

CULINARY ASSOCIATED WITH THE CELEBRATION

Along with the paper dolls, there are special foods and treats associated with Hinamatsuri. These unique dishes include the following:

  • Hina-arare (雛あられ)
  • Hishi mochi (菱餅)
  • Chirashi-zushi (ちらし寿司)

Hina-arare are sweet small rice crackers that features the colors pink, green, yellow and white. Hishi mochi is a 3-layer diamond shaped rice cake that has a pink top, white center, and green bottom. Chirashi-zushi is the main dish for this celebration, which consists of sweet yet vinegary sushi rice topped with renkon (蓮根, lotus roots), ebi (海老, shrimp), mame (豆, green beans), and strips of fried tamago (卵, eggs).

These dishes feature elaborate colors and ingredients, which all are symbolic with special meanings. For example, the 3-layers of the hishi mochi each are to promote fortune for girls, with pink warding away evil, white symbolizing purity, and green representing good health. The colors of the hina-arare represent the 4 seasons, which is symbolic for a full year of good luck. Lastly, more than the ingredients of the chirashi-zushi being nutritious, they are selected for what they represent in Japanese culture, with the shrimp being longevity, the lotus roots being foresight to a good future, and green beans for healthy body.

Note that depending on the family or the part of Japan one’s from, some of these dishes may have slight arrangements. For example, it is not unusual to find ikura (いくら, salmon roe) or other seafood added to chirashi-zushi, or the inclusion of sakura mochi (桜餅, sweet redbean paste in the center of pink mochi wrapped with a sakura leaf) as a treat on this day.

ENDING

Here concludes this article on Hinamatsuri. It is quite astonishing to see how some traditions transcend centuries and continue to be in practice, even with how technologically advanced Japan has become. One thing’s for certain, it’s easy to see how little girls would find this day enjoyable, for the dolls, the multi-tier display, and the foods are all visually appealing.

The Strategic Prowess of Takigawa Kazumasu ~ Part 2

We continue with our coverage on the history of Takigawa Kazumasu. In the part 1 we learned about his childhood, birth family, the start of his military career under the servitude of Oda Nobunaga, and his engagement in the campaign to control Northern Ise. Part 2 will further cover Kazumasu’s many exploits as an active instigator during this campaign, which led to numerous conflicts with the Kitabatake clan and their allies.

PASSIVE VICTORIES

After making the necessary preparations, Takigawa Kazumasu and his force resumed their assault on Kusa castle. Kazumasu instructed his troops to take more drastic measures to pressure the defending Kusunoki Sadataka to surrender by burning not only the rice fields within the area, but also to set ablaze the local temples and neighboring forts¹. This action was excessive, but the reality was that Kusu castle was a mere pebble in the way of something bigger; Oda’s forces’ main objective was to occupy key areas of geographical importance. Merely driving out low-status clans whom were loyal to the Kitabatake clan from their castles to strengthen their hold in Northern Ise was a temporary task, although necessary.

An ukiyoe of Takigawa Kazumasu from the series “Taiheiki Eiyūden” (太平記英雄傳, Heroes of the Great Peace) by Kuniyoshi Utagawa. Here he is called “Takigawa Sakon Katsumasa” (辰川左近勝政).

In a turn of events, Kusunoki Sadataka and other occupants evacuated the castle, leaving it open for immediate capture. With this area no longer a threat, Kazumasu reported back to his lord Oda Nobunaga. Having accomplished his tasks, he was ordered to take a defensive position with is troops and occupy the recently captured Kanie castle while Nobunaga and his other retainers continued to lay siege on other territories.

In the 2nd month of 1568, Kazumasu went back to work in the front lines as the campaign to conquer Northern Ise continued. Many of the powerful families² were targeted for the majority of the year, with exceptionally good results. He assisted in carrying out the immediate plan of besieging the remaining still of these families, as the Oda army captured these castles, which included Nakano castle, Nishimura castle, Hazu castle, Mochibuku castle, Ōyachi castle, Isaka castle, Ichiba castle, Hikida castle, Hironaga castle, and Komukai castle. Many of these families surrendered or defected over to the invaders’ side.

Later that same year, Kazumasu laid an assault on Kannonji castle in Ōmi province. This castle was occupied by Rokkaku Yoshikata. He was abandoned by his supporters, so he surrendered quickly. Despite losing the battle, Yoshikata was spared since Kazumasu understood that he was a countryman of his³. Soon afterwards, Kazumasu led his troops towards the neighboring Chigusa castle, which was controlled by Chigusa Tadaharu, Yoshikata’s. Tadaharu was surely a bigger target, for he not only had more influence within his immediate area, but his clan had a long-standing relationship with the Kitabatake clan for several centuries. Yet, when it came time to face the invading enemies, he could not put up much of a resistance, which allowed Chigusa castle to fall before the might of the Oda army. Tadaharu immediately retired into priesthood in order to run away, leaving his son Matasaburō as the new successor of their family. Matasaburō cooperated with Kazumasu and pledged his allegiance to Oda Nobunaga, but this was refuted due to opposition from Rokkaku Yoshikata, thus leading to the unfortunate young successor of the Chigusa family being executed⁴.

WEAKENING THE KITABATAKE

In 1569, Takigawa Kazumasu continued to take a lead role in Oda’s force as they made their way to confront Kitabatake family, who were stationed further out east in Northern Ise in an area called Kuwana. The main influence in Northern Ise with a great military strength, the Kitabatake family also have a strong ties to the Imperial court. At the time, the family was headed by the Kitabatake Harutomo, who was the 7th successor. So, for Nobunaga to neutralize their presence physically and politically would do wonders for his own career. In preparation for this, Nobunaga had Kazumasu put in motion a scheme to acquire Kozukuri Tomomori, the lord of Kanbe castle. Tomomori was in a very special position for he had very close ties to the Kitabatake family not only due to his marriage with one of the members’ daughters, but was the adopted father of Harumoto’s 3rd son. With the intent to gain Tomomori’s support without having to go to battle, Kazumasu was able to recruit Genseiin Shugen⁵, a member of the Kozukuri family, as an insider, and used him to spread rumors regarding the Oda force to Tomomori to cause unrest and doubt. Falling under pressure, Tomomori submitted without a fight. Through Shugen’s unwavering assistance, the Kozukuri were slowly be swayed to side with Kazumasu and Nobunaga.

An old map showing most of Ise Province. The Kitabatake family were located in Kuwana (circled in red), which was by the eastern edge of Northern Ise. Oda Nobunaga and his army entered from the western border of Northern Ise. From the “Mori Yukiyasu Database” of International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

To ensure control of this new key asset, Nobunaga had his 3rd son adopted by Tomomori through marriage with one of his daughters. Through this union, he became one of Nobunaga’s retainers. As a domino effect, close allies to Tomoyasu would in turn submit to the Oda force and switch sides, such as Mine castle lord Mine Chikuzen-no-kami, Kō castle lord Sado-no-kami, Inō castle lord Inō Kageyuu Saemon, and Kabutō castle lord Kabutō Sakyō-no-suke.

TAKIGAWA’S AGENT WITHIN ENEMY WALLS

Kazumasu would continue with this scheme of psychological warfare from within through Shugen, who would use a similar strategy on his older brother Kozukuri Tomoyasu, lord of Heki castle. This too would conclude in success. In a similar fashion, Kazumasu would help to acquire yet another ally of the Kitabatake, which was Nagano castle lord Nagano Tomofuji, This time around he used a plot to gain influence within, which in turn caused him to turn and force an attack on neighboring Hosono Fujiatsu, a very strong retainer of the Nagano family who controlled Anō castle. Tomofuji would lose against Fujiatsu, thus causing him to flee from Nagano castle. In the end, he defected over to Oda Nobunaga, who in turn ensured his loyalty by having his younger brother, Nobukane, marry into the Nagano family.

In another incident, Takigawa Kazumasu was able to add yet another ally from the Kitbatake’s side without having to go into battle. Kozukuri Tomomasa, lord of Kozukuri castle, was prepared to go to battle with the invading Oda force in the 5th month of 1569. He amassed an army of 1000 troops, and took the defensive by fortifying Kozukuri castle in order to hold ground. With the need of increasing their overall control of Ise Province, Kazumasu sent Shugen to convince Tomomasa peacefully work with the Oda force. Shugen, who was accompanied by a high-ranking retainer of the Kozukuri family named Tsuge Yasushige, had yet again proven his worth through this successful ploy, so Kazumasu rewarded him by adopting him into his family, which also included him having one of Kazumasu’s daughters become his wife. Through this new familial union, Shuge’s name changed to Takigawa Katsutoshi (滝川雄利).

Picture of Kitabatake Tomonori. From Wikipedia.

While the Oda force was having a string of successful routs of any opposition primarily through having their enemies defect to their side, one individual would eventually try to throw a wrench into Kazumasu’s near-perfect schemes. Kitabatake Tomonori, who was at the time lending support to Okawachi castle in preparations for a possible siege, heard news about the Kozukuri family, along with their close allies, defecting to Oda Nobunaga’s side. Enraged, he took immediate action and had the daughter of Tsuge Yasushige executed⁶. This was a devastating blow in response to the now severed relations between the Kitabatake clan and Kozukuri clan. Later, within the same month, Tomomori would mobilize an army and target Kozukuri castle, where Kazumasu and his newly acquired allies were currently located. Tomomori would have this castle completely surrounded, poised to terminate those deemed as enemies of the Kitabatake and their hold of Northern Ise. How will Kazumasu manage to escape this new predicament he’s fallen in?

ENDING

Takigawa Kazumasu was a critical component in Oda Nobunaga’s Northern Ise campaign, primarily for his strategic approach in claiming key points not just through force, but through the use of passive ploys behind enemy lines. Will this hold up to the very end? Stay tuned for part 3, where we’ll see what takes place when Kazumasu and the rest of the Oda force finally reach their goal and confront the Kitabatake family.


1) In another account called “Jōha Fujimi Dōki” (紹巴富士見道記), it is written that the reason behind the fires was to repel attempted attacks from the Ikkō Ikki, which was a band of rebels united under the lead of Buddhist sects. To prevent them from getting in their way, the Oda force set ablaze their homes and temples in Nagajima. It is possible that, from hearing about such a devastating action, Kusunoki Sadataka became dishearten and retreated from Kusu castle.

2) These families are often labeled as the “48 Nobles of Northern Ise” (北伊勢四十八家, Kita Ise Yonjuuhachike)

3) Kōka, Takigawa Kazumasu’s birthplace, is also an area in Ōmi Province. This is quite a significant point, as the Rokkaku clan had an ongoing agreement with the many families in Kōka to support one another.

4) The root behind this supposed betrayal is most likely due to a souring relationship between the Rokkaku clan and Chigusa clan, possibly existing since their 1st encounter. Prior to the siege by the Oda force, Chigusa Tadaharu had clashed with the invading Rokkaku clan in 1555. Tadaharu and his force were able to subdue the Rokkaku clan, making them his underlings. To ensure loyalty, the Rokkaku clan had their retainer, Gotō Katatoyo, present his younger brother as an adopted son to childless Tadaharu. As the potential heir of the Chigusa clan, this boy was given the name Chigusa Saburō-saemon.

A few years later, Tadaharu would have a maternal son, who was named Matasaburō. His foster son was still under the expectation of becoming the next successor of the Chigusa clan, as he was much older and believed to have been adopted for that sake. However, when Matasaburō became older (possibly preteens?), Tadaharu announced that his maternal son would be next in line. Saburō-saemon tried to object, but was later chased out of the castle. Rejected, he sought refuge at Rokkaku castle, where he would receive asylum. It may be safe to say that due to Saburō-saemon being from the Gotō clan, and the apparent breach in the agreement his clan made years ago with Tadaharu, Yoshikata may no longer had seen eye-to-eye with the Chigusa family, thus the reason he swayed Takigawa Kazumasu to not spare Matasaburō.

5) This individual has a rather complex story, even from his origin. Although a member of the Kozukuri household, disparaging sources state that it’s either due to a maternal link, or through adoption from another family, speculated to be Tsuge (柘植) family. Furthermore, At the time of meeting Takigawa Kazumasu he was a monk who went by the Buddhist name “Genseiin Shugen” (源浄院主玄), although in some sources he is also called “Kozukuri Shugen”.

6) In some sources, it is said that Tsuge Yasushige’s wife and daughter were both executed.

2/22 & the Relationship between Cats and Ninja

February 22nd is a special day, as it is a day of recognition for 2 separate themes in Japan. The first one is “Neko no Hi” (猫の日), or “Cat’s Day”¹, which has been around since 1987. The second is “Ninja no Hi” (忍者の日), or “Ninja Day”², which started in 2015. In this post I will pay tribute to both by introducing a topic that relates how cats were useful to the ninja.

There is a method for telling time called “neko no medokei” (猫の眼時計), or “cat’s eye clock”. During a time with no electricity and dependency was on the light from the sun, people in the past could use this method to tell the time by looking at a cat’s eye and observe how the pupils adjust based on the position of the sun. This is considered a special method used by ninja when they were active during middle ages in Japan. A few points to keep in mind regarding this is that while the method is indeed old, it was not originated by ninja, nor was it only used by them.

The concept behind the neko no medokei actually comes from a set of documents written in China in the year 860 called “Yūyō Zasso” (酉陽雑俎, Yŏu yáng zá zǔ in Mandarin Chinese). Within this text is a mixture of educational lessons and bizarre stories. Physical traits, coupled with some odd interpretations, regarding cats and their behavior with their eyes, nose, ears, and so on are included in this. Eventually, this text was brought over to Japan during the cultural exchanges in Japan’s earlier history, with the information on cat’s eyes being the inspiration to using it as a method for telling time. Of course, as with many things that have been adopted into their culture, the Japanese would put their own spin on it in order for it to fit with their culture and needs…this includes the ninja as well.

The poem regarding neko no medokei from the Mansenshukai

There is an old text called Mansenshukai (万川集海), which is considered one of the 3 important manuscripts of the ninja³. Within this text is a section called “Tenmonben” (天文編) which details information regarding weather conditions, operating at night, and telling time. There is a poem that describes how the neko no medokei works, which goes as the following:

「猫眼歌二 六ツ丸ク 五七ハタマコ 四ツ八ツ柿ノ實二て 九ツハ針」

“nekome uta ni mutsu maruku itsutsu nanatsu wa tamago yotsu yatsu kaki no mi nite kokonotsu hari”

Although written in code, this poem states simply the different shapes a cat’s pupils would undergo, which is related to the time of day based on sunlight. The details work according to the old clock system used before modern times, which incorporates the Zodiac signs from the Lunar calendar to indicate the specific hour(s) in a day. Here’s a breakdown of the poem:

  • Mutsu (六ツ) refers to the 6th hour of both the morning and evening, which would be at dawn and sunset respectively. At these times, a cat’s pupil will be a circle shape since dawn occurs before sunrise, and evening should arrive after sunset.
  • Itsutsu (五) represents modern time range 6~8 in the morning, and nanatsu (七) refer to 3~5 in the afternoon. A cat’s pupil will become an egg shape as sunlight is nowhere near being its brightest.
  • Yotsu (四ツ) represents modern time range 9~10 in the morning, while yatsu (八ツ) refers to 1~2 in the afternoon. A cat’s pupil will look like the shape of a persimmon seed as outside is pretty bright.
  • Kokonotsu (九ツ) represents the time around 12 pm, where the sun is at its brightest. Due to how bright outside is with the sun being at its highest point, a cat’s pupil will become thin and look like a pin.

Prior understanding of how to read this old clock system was critical in deciphering this poem in the past, although nowadays there are plenty of sources that explain it. Visually there are diagrams that interpret the details very clearly, such as the ones presented below.

One would imagine that the neko no medokei would’ve been useful for those who stayed in one location. While it is claimed that a ninja could use this while on a mission, most likely this would’ve been so during the day, for the neko no metokei wouldn’t be effective at night.

For those who own a cat could test this time reading method and see if the results are the same as above. If I did, I totally would give this a shot!


1) One of the reasons February 22nd was chosen as Neko no Hi is because the number 2 is pronounced as “ni” (nee) in Japanese. It is said that if you say just the numbers that represent this date as “ni-ni-ni” fast, it resembles the sound a cat makes.

2) One of the reasons February 22nd was chosen as Ninja no Hi is because of how the number 2 sounds close to “nin”, which is one way to say the word “忍” (nin, perseverance) and is usually associated with the image of ninja especially in pop culture. Basically, if you say just the numbers that represent this date as “ni-ni-ni” fast, it sounds like you are saying “nin-nin-nin”, which is like a shorthand of saying ninja.

3) These 3 are the following: Mansenshūkai (万川集海, also called “Bansenshukai”), Ninpiden (忍秘伝, also called “Shinobi Hiden”), and Shōninki (正忍記). Together, these are often categorized as “sandai ninjutsu densho” (三大忍術伝書, the 3 great secret texts of ninjutsu) in Japanese.