Unique Swords with the Finest Edge

In a previous set or articles, brave acts with the Japanese spear were covered, as well as a few famous ones that still exist today¹. These examples illustrate the importance this weapon had in Japanese history. The same can be said about the Japanese sword, with a great amount of stories especially coming forth during the Edo period; these are often painted as an essential tool part of the arsenal of warriors during the Sengoku period, as well as being the symbol of the samurai class during the Edo period. Many of the tales concerning swords even touch on levels one would deem supernatural.

For this article, we’ll look at 3 unique stories that tell about amazing feats done with the Japanese sword. Each story has an interesting point to illustrate, which ranges from the greatness of the wielder to the sword itself being nothing short of mystical. As amazing the feat is, keep in mind that they shouldn’t be taken literally.

STORY #1: YAGYŪ AND THE DIVIDED STONE

There is a legendary story that comes from the Ama-no-Iwatate Shrine (天石立神社, Ama-no-Iwatate Jinja) in Nara prefecture, which is home to a very large stone on its property. Measuring at about 26 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 6 feet & 1/2 high, this stone is fabled as the very one used by the Sun Goddess Amaterasu to seal herself in a cave. Today, it is a critical center piece behind the founding of Ama-no-Iwatate Shrine. However, the story we will be reviewing isn’t about the shrine’s origin, but concerns one of the more renown swordsmen during Edo period, whose name is Yagyū Muneyoshi (柳生宗厳).

A section for the Shinkage ryū scroll known as “mokuroku”. Here, instructions on kenjutsu is given with the use of an illustration consisting of a tengu. From Wikipedia.

A seasoned warrior on the battlefield during Japan’s warring years, Muneyoshi is the founder of Shinkage ryū (柳生新陰流) during the Edo period, a popular martial system that specialized in combat with the Japanese sword, which many still practice today. Well, it just so happens that the large stone of Ama-no-Iwatate Shrine also plays a significant role in how Muneyoshi founded his style.

There was a time Muneyoshi went on a training journey to further improve his sword skills. For this, he went to Ama-no-Iwatate Shrine and stayed there for awhile. One day, when he was training on the grounds of the shrine, a tengu (天狗, a long-nosed goblin with wings) suddenly appeared, as if challenging the warrior. Muneyoshi fought fiercely with the tengu, as they both went back and forth with blows. Channeling his intention, Muneyoshi swiftly delivered a downward finishing cut that the Tengu couldn’t stop, cleaving him in half. In the next moment, Muneyoshi’s opponent disappeared, and was replaced by the large stone that was originally sitting not too far from him while he was training. He was so intent on victory, that his blade was able to cut through stone.

Pic of Ittōseki. From Photo-AC.com

The large stone would later be called “Ittōseki” (一刀石, stone divided by a single sword swing) once an account of Muneyoshi’s feat was learned. It’s perfectly split from top to bottom at an angle, which would take an enormous amount of brute strength to achieve. The point to take from this tale is that near impossible feats can be achieved through sheer intention, where one is harmoniously in tune entirely on 3 levels: physical, mental, and spiritual.

STORY #2: A BLESSED SWORD AND A WINE BARREL

This next story concerns the Mijima Shrine in Izu, located in Ooshima (eastern part of present-day Tokyo). Ittō Ittōsai (伊東一刀斎), the pioneer of the martial system known as “Ittō ryū” (一刀流), was residing there in his youth during a time when he wanted to learn kenjutsu. After a period of self-training through determination, the shrine’s head priest was moved, and decided to pass on a sword named Ichimonji (一文字) to the youth. This would be the 1st sword that Ittōsai would receive so he could begin to learn kenjutsu properly. Ichimonji was not only fabled to have a fine edge, it helped its young owner develop a skill that is quite a feat.

An example of a sword kept in a simple shirasaya, which is meant for storage especially during the cold season.

Before he became a renown swordsman, Ittōsai was described as a youth who had much potential in kenjutsu. The head priest acknowledged this as he convinced the youth to head on a journey to find a competent swordsmaster, which he agreed to fund. On the day he received Ichimonji, the sword was blessed ceremonial rice wine, and passed on to him without proper fittings². Late in the night, right before his trip, Ittōsai heard commotions in the shrine, and learned that it was being looted by a gang of thieves. Unsheathing the sword which only had a wooden handle, he charged at the thieves. Despite them being armed and outnumbering him, the thieves fell to his sword one-by-one, as he displayed great handling. The last thief retreated to a room where wooded barrels used to store blessed rice wine are kept, and hid in an empty one hoping to escape later unseen. Ittōsai gave chase and, upon entering the room, was able to perceive where the thief was hiding. In one swift motion, he rushed at the barrel and cleaved through the barrel, which not only collapsed in two, the thief inside also fell along with it, severed from his torso down.

An example of a sake daru (酒樽), a barrel used for storing rice wine at a shrine. From Photo-AC.com.

This remarkable feat of cleaving both the wine barrel and the thief would years later serve as a secret technique taught to his highest student, which would be called “dō-giri” (胴斬り)³.

STORY #3: THE DEMON-SLAYING SWORD

This tale involves Hōjō Tokimasa, a figure hailing from the illustrious Hōjō clan. Originally a military commander serving in the army of Minamoto no Yoritomo, Tokimasa became the 1st authority figure of the established military-ruled Bakumatsu during the early Kamakura period.

An ukiyoe of Hōjō Tokimasa. From Wikipedia.

After the establishment of Kamakura Bakufu, Tokimasa went through a period of being plagued by tormenting nightmares, which all involved the appearance of a demon. One night, he went to sleep in his chambers as normal, with his sword next to him. He proceeded to go through another round of nightmares, which made him agitated. As he turned on his bed, his right arm bumped into his sword, which then fell ontop of him. Suddenly, as if willed by a power not of his own, Tokimasa subconsciously drew this sword and swung it, instinctively cutting at the demon within his dreams. His sword instead cut off one of the legs from a table which a hibachi (火鉢, small heating pot) sits on. The exasperated Tokimasa woke up surprised at the scene around him. As he examined the damage done to the table, he noticed that the part of the table leg that was accidentally cut off had the carving of a demon on it. Suspecting that this was the cause of his nightmares, Tokimasa had this part discarded, and from then on, was able to have peaceful nights of pleasant sleep.

An image of the face of an oni, or demon. From AC-illust.com.

This sword of Tokimasa was actually named “Onimaru-kunitsuna” (鬼丸国綱). Known as one of 5 legendary swords in Japanese history, it is distinguished as being a “reitō” (霊刀), or “spirit sword”. This means the unique trait the the Onimaru-kunitsuna bear was the ability to cut things on a spiritual level. Since the small table was cursed by the carving of a demon, this sword was able to “will” its owner to severe the menace at its roots.

ENDING

This concludes our coverage on stories concerning feats with Japanese swords. These tales were definitely penned to stir the imagination, illustrating famous figures and renown swords in a light of glory. While taking these types of stories as fact is abit difficult, one thing for certain is they are entertaining.


1) These articles can be read here and here.

2) A sword prepared for use would have what is called koshirae (拵), which includes a proper sword handle covered with shark skin and cotton wrap, a sword guard, and adorned with metal pieces. Since the Ichimonji was place at the shrine for safe keeping, it was prepped in shirasaya (白鞘), which consisted of a simple wooden sword handle, and housed in a non-lacquered sheath.

3) There is an article that talks on the general use of this term, which can be read here.

Evaluating Manuscripts of Takeda Army Strategist Yamamoto Kansuke

There are countless examples of old military manuals and martial arts-related scrolls that have survived to present times. Containing important information regarding combative (and sometimes non-combative) topics, they are usually provided to those privy to the knowledge, or copied by said information with permission to do so. That being said, there can be multiple versions from one source, with each having either slight differences, to not resembling each other at all. There are reasons for this, many which can be deducted to when it was written, who wrote the document in question, who the person was that received it, to whom the audience was. One example of this is the many documents that are stated to come from Yamamoto Kansuke, the famed military strategist during the 16th century.

For today’s article, two types of manuscripts will be presented that fit this topic. Both stated to come from Yamamoto as a singular source, they’ll be examined in terms of content, as well compared to evaluate their similarities and differences.

SPECIFICS OF ORIGIN

Yamamoto Kansuke is an individual highly debated amongst researchers and scholars alike. This stems from topics such as validity of his existence to authenticity of various manuscripts that helped structured the Takeda force and associated groups. When looking at these manuscripts, many are signed by him, or reference him for his impeccable knowledge. Let’s look at two that I have in my immediate collection, which are “Heihō Hidensho” (兵法秘伝書) and “Gunpō Hyōhōki” (軍法兵法記), and look into their background info.

Pic of the book “Yamamoto Kansuke “Heihō Hidensho””, with box cover (left) and front page (right).

First up will be the Heihō Hidensho. This was one of select works that are said to come from Yamamoto Kansuke’s knowledge on combat. Going by the date of 1701 as when it was written, it would eventually be compiled together with many other documents into a collection in remembrance of the Takeda clan and their rule over Kai (present-day Yamanashi prefecture) during medieval Japan. This collection is called “Kai Sōsho” (甲斐叢書), and has been reproduced on numerous occasions as a large volume of historical reference books from the 1800s to the 1900s by individuals like Hirose Hirokazu (廣瀬廣一), and the group “Kai Sōsho Kankoukai” (甲斐叢書刊行会). The manuscript Heihō Hidensho is located in the 9th volume of the Kai Sōsho.

For this article, the book “Yamamoto Kansuke “Heihō Hidensho””, published by the company Keibunsha, will be the resource used. It not only shares the same name, contains the entire manuscript have been retained. While one can say its source material is dated, this reproduction can be seen as fairly modern, mainly because the original text has been slightly modified to make it easier to read & understand, while still retaining its old Japanese feel. The modifications primarily relate to updating older kanji not part of the standardized Japanese language. There are more unspecified updates/edits in this book version, which will be spoken upon later in this article.

Pic of the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, with box cover (left) and front page (right).

The 2nd resource, “Gunpō Hyōhōki”, is claimed to have been written by Yamamoto upon the order by his lord & ruler of Kai, Takeda Shingen, for the sake of his army. This particular manuscript is dated 1546, and is signed to a Nagasaka Chōkansai¹ by    the strategist himself, which can be determined by the signatures in the manuscript. This resource was drafted into 4 parts.  One of these parts is called “Kenjutsu no Maki”, which is considered invaluable and possibly a glimpse at what the legendary Kyō ryū² may be based on.

In the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, there is a section dedicated to Yamamoto Kansuke that includes the Gunpō Hyōhōki to its entirety. This is reproduced in this book as-is in the form of photos from the original source. Note that the original source does exist in a book form, which can be accessed at certain libraries in Japan. Visually, it appears to be an authentic document, as it follows the format of similar documents produced in the 16th century. This includes type of speech, and using a cursive writing style, which proves to be a challenge to read. There are lots of text with the context focusing on kenjutsu

COMPARING THE LAYOUT

To get a clearer picture on the similarities and differences between these two documents, we will look at the contents on military combat, particularly from the Heihō Hidensho’s “Mokuroku” section, and Gunpō Hyōhōki’s “Kenjutsu no maki” section. These are much easier to analyze, even if we don’t look at the particulars in the techniques, as well as being accompanied with pictures. Here’s a partial look at their table of contents:


Heihō Hidensho: Mokuroku

  1. Fighting forms (形勢, Keisei)
  2. Method of hand-to-hand fighting(拳法, Kenpō)
  3. Method of sword fighting (剣法, Kenpō)
  4. Method of staff fighting (棍法, Konpō)
  5. Long-range weapons – naginata, yari (長道具ー鎗、長刀, Nagadōgu – naginata, yari)
  6. Method of archery  (弓法, Kyūhō)
  7. Firearms (鐵袍, Teppō)³ 

Gunpō Hyōhōki Kenjutsu no maki

  1. Three points regarding kenjutsu (劔術三ツの要といふ事)
  2. Postures with 3 height levels when wielding the sword (上中下段かまいの太刀)
  3. Postures with the sword against unexpected encounters (りんきおうへんかまいの太刀
  4. Forms for utilizing dual swords (両刀をつかふの形)
  5. Forms regarding battles between swords and spears (鎗刀戦いかまいの形)
  6. Diagrams of positions during battles between spears and archery (弓鎗戦かまいの圖)

At a glance, there are similarities between each book. For example, both put a great emphasis on sword fighting. Although it is not shown above, Heihō Hidensho’s section called “Kenpō” (Method of sword fighting) has its own table of content that, if listed, would require its own separate article, while everything else can be covered together in another article. In comparison to the Gunpō Hyōhōki, the contents on sword fighting is similar as it has many teachings that focus on using the sword against another fighter with a sword, while there are also lessons on using longer weapons against each other, and a small quip on archery. Interestingly, there is a focus on using a sword against different types of foes. Here are some pics for comparison, starting with those from the Heihō Hidensho on the top row, and Gunpō Hyōhōki on the bottom row:

From another angle, Heihō Hidensho has a dedicated section on hand-to-hand combat called “Kenpō” (拳法), which focuses on using restraining techniques such as grappling and strikes against  an opponent while wearing one’s swords sheathed on the side, and whether the opponent attempts to draw their sword or not. For the Gunpō Hyōhōki, it appears that there is no conversation on this. However, it does have several sections that cover this topic, which are “Torite no koto” (捕手の事),  and “Jūjutsu-ate no koto” (柔術当ての事).  Unfortunately, both are not accompanied with pictures, but instead are coupled with long explanations on the topic. If anything, the Torite no koto section does mention about the possibility of iai techniques during torite, so this could be compared with Heihō Hidensho. For the most part, both manuscripts use this idea of hand-to-hand techniques as more supplemental to kenjutsu.

EMPHASIS ON KENJUTSU TECHNIQUES

As mentioned before, great importance is placed on kenjutsu in both documents. The direction both go with discussing the strategies while using the sword is through postures that signify an attitude or state of mind. The terms to indicate these in Japanese vary depending on the source. For instance, the word “kamae” is a common term for this. In the Heihō Hidensho the term “kensei” is another version, while  “kurai” can be found in the Gunpō Hyōhōki. One thing to understand when interpreting these is that these postures, despite which label is used, are not static stances. Instead, they represent strategic points of movement in response to the situation against the enemy.

First, let’s review a list of select techniques in the form of kamae from Heihō Hidensho:

  • Hira jōgo kensei (平上後剣勢)
  • Migi jōgo kensei / Hassō (右上後剣勢)
  • Hira ue musubi mae kensei / Takanami (平上結前剣勢・高波)
  • Hidari ue musubi Mae kensei / Jōdan no Kasumi (左上結前剣勢・上段の霞)
  • Hidari ue mae kensei / Kissaki Oyobi (左上前剣勢・切先及び)
  • Hira ue mae kensei / Tōhō (平上前剣勢・当法)
  • Migi naka musubi Mae kensei / Chūdan no Kasumi (右中結前剣勢・中段の霞)
  • Hidari naka mae kensei / Yoko Seigan (左中前剣勢・横青眼)
  • Migi shita ushiro kensei / Sha (右下後剣勢・車)
  • Migi shita musubi mae kensei (右下結前剣勢)

Each of these kamae are listed on their own page, as there are thorough explanations and examples on how they can be utilized against an opponent. The name for each one is more descriptive in terms of how they are assumed, although some of them do have alternate, unique names that are expresses a concept of imagery, which are used in different martial arts schools. At their core, they are variations of kamae that most practitioners of kenjutsu, kendō, gekiken, and the like should be familiar with. For example, from left to right:


Hidari ue musubi mae kensei = Kasumi (jōdan)

Hidari naka mae kensei = Seigan (chūdan)

Hidari shita musubi ato kensei = Waki (gedan)


For each kamae are explanations on how they can be utilized based on the enemy’s actions. The defender’s response isn’t as strict in terms of the counter attack, which makes things a little open-ended for interpretation. For example:


Hira jōgo kensei


ORIG: 敵より先に践込みて己を撃とせば其太刀の出るをよく見て左の身足を引て敵の撃出す手をうつべし

TRANS: The opponent takes the initiative and attempts to strike. Carefully watch when the opponent’s sword comes at you, then turn your body sideways with your left leg forward, pull your right leg back, and cut their right hand.


While this paints a rather clear picture in terms of movement using the attacker-defender model, it is also open-ended, for the type of the attack from the opponent is not specified, while the defender’s (us) initial position is not stated. This is pretty much how the techniques play out in this document, making it a supplemental source to any kenjutsu-focused martial arts school that can be studied upon.

Now, we turn our attention to Gunpō Hyōhōki, and look at some of the techniques mentioned:

  • Jōdan (2 types)
  • Chūdan (2 Types)
  • Gedan (2 types)
  • Denkō no kurai (電光の位)
  • Kasumi no kurai (霞の位)
  • Seigan no kurai (清眼の位)
  • Suigetsu no kurai (水月の位)
  • Yōgan (陽眼)
  • Ingan (陰眼)
  • Murakumo (村雲)
  • Yamatsuki (山月)
  • Nyūin no kurai (入引の位)

For this section, it starts off explaining the importance on 3 height levels while wielding the sword. They are the following:


Jō-chū-gedan kamae no Tachi

  • Jōdan (上段) = Upper stance
  • Chūdan (中段) Middle stance
  • Gedan (下段) = Lower stance

In almost all styles of kenjutsu and its modern equivalents, the idea of 3 height levels is a common principle. Illustrations show 2 ways of doing these, generally with one having the sword held in front, and the other with the sword held behind. This is abit different from what is shown in Heihō Hidensho, as there is not a great number of kamae where the sword is held behind. In the pictures provided, lengthy descriptions for these kamae and how to apply them is given based on one’s opponent’s actions. Each of the kamae are labeled according to their height level along with a unique name.

Let’s look at the following example below:


Jōdan – Denkō no kurai

This is the posture on the right. As a small explanation, in response to an enemy’s attack, the defender brings the sword above the head to the right, and strikes from overhead.


Take note that the picture sequences are not necessarily correlating with each other, especially in the later parts of the document. Each kamae, side-by-side, is significant in the Gunpō Hyōhōki; what’s important is the descriptions next to them. In a way, it’s a concise format to present lessons without using a step-by-step method.

The relation between the two documents is that Heihō Hidensho also follows the 3 height levels as specified in Gunpō Hyōhōki. Not only that, it follows the same order starting with high level postures, mid-level postures, then ending with low-level postures.

ANALYSIS

At first glance, when reading the particulars for these, it’s quite normal to think that both manuscripts are authentic & have been kept intact in terms of their original writing. This is certainly not the case for the Heihō Hidensho for a number of reasons which will be explained. As for the Gunpō Hyōhōki, this has a greater probability due to its appearance and contents, for much of the points on combat are done in a conversational manner that is not directly clear unless the reader has initiative knowledge in said topic, as opposed to very detailed, step-by-step descriptions that almost anyone can grasp. Take note that while this fits as what may be expected out of an older manuscript, just how much of it is 100% authentic as the lessons of Yamamoto, and isn’t a product of forgery, is hard to determine.

For the Heihō Hidensho, there are many points to pick up that indicate it’s not the original work. For starters, the original version, which would’ve been handwritten, is not available for view. Instead, we have a reproduction in print type of it in collection of other documents. It is mentioned to be reproduced several times, which most likely includes edits to suit the times, such as the kenjutsu kamae being compared to other unmentioned martial systems by presenting alternate names. Possibly the biggest clue is how the actual contents read; the way combat was approached was vastly different in Sengoku period in comparison to Edo period, and the way Heihō Hidensho reads coincide with the latter. For example, the hand-to-hand techniques demonstrated in it deals with situations in plain clothing and swords sheathed, which was a growing trend during martial artists during mid-to-late Edo period that were focusing more on jūjutsu and iaijutsu. Furthermore, the illustrations for the kenjutsu are not only similar to the style of specific artists during Edo period, but other pictures such as the ones used to illustrate staff techniques are not Japanese at all.

Finally, we look at the connection between both documents. Considering that they come from the same source, one can deduce that they were drafted around the same time period. Of course, this cannot hold up as an argument, since whereas Gunpō Hyōhōki looks to be a more authentic that was kept intact, we only see the typed version of Heihō Hidensho, which is a reproduction of said original source. This is even true when looking at the version in the Kai Sōsho. Despite presentation, if we compare the contents and acknowledge the similarities, (i.e. focus on kenjutsu, scenarios in which strategies for kenjutsu can be applied, etc.) what can be said about the differences? Let’s look at two points that can be considered.

  1. Information may differ based on the person whom was receiving the manuscript – Depending on a person’s rank, or even affiliation, there are cases where one individual would get more clearer notes, while a person may get less. It can be argued that those were highly-ranked group leaders would’ve received a much more detailed documentation, as it would be necessary when training their team. However, for someone who may have been a specialist may receive a more concise version that skims the surface, which could’ve just been enough for that individual.
  2. Manuscript may have been reproduced several times with edits – It is not uncommon that certain contents change and/or get updated by those who own it. This is true for both private documents, those passed on & used in martial arts schools, and those made for public viewing.

If we take Heihō Hidensho and consider it the same as the Gunpō Hyōhōki, then it’s possible it went through much edits and updates. This isn’t a bad thing, for if you think about it, combative knowledge should apply to the current times in order to stay viable⁵. With this in mind, it’s possible that the original lessons of Yamamoto Kansuke are maintained, but altered abit (or alot) so that it could still be applied in a society that still depended on the sword during Edo period.

CONCLUSION

It is great that there are documents written centuries ago that have been preserved for today’s generation. There are those that give credit to Yamamoto Kansuke, whether stated to have been penned by him or copied with permission. Unfortunately, researchers are faced with the task of validating the legitimacy of these, which tends to be difficult especially for those from Japan, as there’s a high chance they were produced during the peaceful times of Edo period by writers who try to pass them off as much older works. This brings our look at old manuscripts to a close. Hope everyone found this as an informative, and interesting, topic to read.


1) 長坂長閑斎. Historians believe him to be Nagasaka Torafusa (長坂 虎房), who was a retainer of Takeda clan of Kai.

2) 京流. This is one of 8 legendary sword systems that make up the collective group called Kyōhachi ryū. This was discussed in an article on this blog here.

3) This section may have been an add-on, after the development of firearms improved.

4) In this manuscript, there is no alternative name for this posture. However, I added the label here for this article due to it, from my personal experience, resembling the commonly used Waki no kamae, but done on the left side.

5) This same case was brought up for kyūjutsu (archery techniques) during Edo period, which was covered in an article on this blog here.

Kuroda Bushi: Story of the Sake-Guzzler named Mori Tomonobu

There are amazing tales of warriors accomplishing all types of great feats. Oftentimes in old Japanese tales, these individuals are painted with words that put them on the level of being super-human. This can range from having super strength, impeccable intelligence, and unmatched wit. How about we add voracious consumption of alcohol to that list?

In my 2-part series “Fame to the Spear”, I mentioned about a famous tale that told how a loyal retainer was able to drink his way to obtained a treasured Imperial spear. For this article, we’ll look into the details of this story, which is called “Kuroda Bushi” (黒田節, Song of Kuroda). Along with this, we’ll review where & when it was created, and the lasting appeal it has in the locations associated with the writer and members in the tale. There are different versions of this story, each with slight variations in how it is told and how it progresses. Some versions have more details than the other, while some have dialogue to illustrate how each characters interact with one another. The following sites are but some of the sources used as guides in writing this article:


THE FULL STORY

Artwork of Mori Tomonori. From Wikipedia.

The protagonist of this story is Mori Tomonobu (母里友信)¹, who is known as an accomplished warrior with the spear, and a retainer of the Kuroda family. He goes by other titles, including “Tahei” (太兵衛), “Tahyōe” (多兵衛), and the official title of “Tajima-no-kami” (但馬守). Among those who served the Kuroda clan, he was a skilled warrior especially with the spear, and was a member of both “Kuroda Nijuuyonki” (黒田二十四駒, 24 Cavalrymen of the Kuroda clan) and “Kuroda Hakko” (黒田八虎, 8 Tigers of the Kuroda clan) due to his loyalty and military service. Tomonobu also has a reputation for being a “sake-gō” (酒豪), which we’ll interpret as “sake guzzler”.

The story takes place around the New Year period of 1569. Mori Tomonobu was about to embark on an errand for his lord, Kuroda Nagamasa, to the lower town of Fushimi castle in the Capital (京, which is Kyōto in present-day Japan). This area was under the control of Fukushima Masanori, who was the feudal lord there. Aware of who he may run into, Nagamasa forbade him consume any alcohol while there, stating, “you must not accept any sake he offers, no matter what!”. Obediently, Tomonobu, promised not to drink any sake while out on his errand.

When Tomonobu arrived, Masanori was brought word of this guest to his town. Wasting no time, Masanori hurried to go see Tomonobu. When He found him, Masanori invited him to his drinking party, so they may celebrate with a couple of rounds of drinks. Remembering what his lord told him, Tomonobu humbly refused. Masanori made a few more attempts to invite the reluctant warrior, which finally he would accept.

Artwork of Fukushima Masanori. From Wikipedia.

Now, why would a person in Masanori’s position go out to get a lower-ranking warrior like Tomonobu to attend his drinking party? For starters, this invite was nothing special for Masanori. In fact, it was just another excuse for him to drink himself drunk. While bearing merits due to the great feats he’s achieved in battle, he also had a reputation for liking to drink sake a little too much. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for him to report to duty on the field while being drunk! On top of this, Masanori was also aware of Tomonobu’s reputation of being able to consume a lot of sake himself and not get drunk. You can say that this was Masanori’s chance to test if this rumor was true.

Back to the story, Masanori led Tomonobu to his residence, and lead him to a room that was adorned with many nice items, and a table that would be used for the sake party. As his guest sat down and got settled in, Masanori brought forth a very large bowl of sake to kick off their drinking fest, stating, “here, drink this”. Still on duty and concerned about the impact such an amount of sake would have on him, Tomonobu refused. He would try to entice the invite with a wager, offering to grant him anything he wanted in his room if he could consume all the sake in the large bowl. While there were some nice items around the room, as expected by someone of Masanori’s status, Tomonobu once more declined to consume the entire content within the large bowl.

At this point, Masanori was getting annoyed with Tomonobu’s constant declination, as he proceeded to taunt the Kuroda retainer by saying, “What?!? As a warrior of the Kuroda house, you are so disappointing! Even if you, a member of the Mori clan, do hold the reputation as “sake-guzzler”, you certainly have no backbone to back it up. Pity goes to Lord Nagamasa for having a bunch of wimps under his command, for he runs nothing more than a province of weaklings!²“. These words got to Tomonobu and made him very furious. Taking the large bowl, he drank everything straight down. Putting the bowl down, he exclaimed “I’ll have another”. Refilled with sake, he would proceed to drink everything again. He repeated this a few more times, consuming more than anyone could’ve imagined. Finished, Tomonobu maintained is composure as he politely commented “I will now claim my prize in accordance to your promise, which will be that spear over there”. He pointed to a large spear, lacquered in black, and boosting a grand spearhead with exquisite carvings.

A snapshot of the Nihongō’s blade (replica) on Nagoya Touken World website.

This was no ordinary spear, as it was a treasured property that passed through the hands of famous people; commissioned by the 106th Emperor Ōgimachi, it would be rewarded to great military commanders, from the 15th Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, to the ambitious rulers Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Masanori was rewarded this spear by his master Hideyoshi after achieving great feats in battle³, and he treasures this greatly. This is none other than the legendary Nihongō, and it was about to be lost due to a silly drinking bet.

While drunk himself, Masanori was fully aware of what was in stake with his treasured spear. He initially tried to protest, pleading how special the spear was in his possession, but Tomonobu refused to listen, and remain steadfast on acquiring the Nihongō, stating, “a warrior does not repeat himself⁵”. Aware that he cannot go against his word, Masanori complied and handed over the spear. With that, Tomonobu made his way out and headed on his way with his trophy, not showing any signs of being intoxicated.

Oh, so many days Masanari lamented as he longed for that treasured spear lost in a drinking contest!


HOMETOWN PRIDE VS ORIGIN PRIDE

A statue in Fukuoka of Mori Tomonobu carrying both a large sake bowl and the Imperial spear known as Nihongo. From Wikipedia.

Today, the Kuroda Bushi is known as a folklore song of Fukuoka prefecture, where Mori Tomonobu’s grave is. This version is very popular there, as it is represented in businesses (especially sake distributors) and entertainment (i.e. singers and theatrical performers). It grew in popularity thanks to how the actual episode became known in the first place. Mid to late 1600s of Edo period, feudal lords who stayed in the lower town of Fushimi castle spoke freely about the sake party that Fukushima Masanori held and how it brought the lost of his prized spear to the hands of the Kuroda retainer Mori Tomonobu.

Eventually, this tale would reach the ears of a Confucius scholar named Kaibara Ekiken, who was a native of modern-day Fukuoka prefecture. Since the Kuroda family were from Fukuoka prefecture, Ekiken saw value in this story and made it into a song called “Kuroda Bushi”. In the form of a song, it spread throughout Japan, and would eventually be associated with Fukuoka prefecture. This song, along with other tales & info regarding those affiliated with the Kuroda family, was compiled by Ekiken into a collection labeled “Kuroda Kashinden” (黒田家臣伝). This also goes hand-in-hand with the Nihongō being retrieved and placed in a museum in Fukuoka as well. With the reputation as being the birthplace of the once influential Kuroda family, there’s no mistake that the residence in Fukuoka would find it necessary to keep the Kuroda Bushi and Nihongō close to home.

Despite its obvious connections with Fukuoka prefecture, the Kuroda Bushi is also just as important in Kyōto. In fact, the actual location in present-day Fushimi District where the tale took place is a tourist attraction, which is advertised as “”Kuroda Bushi”, Tanjō no Chi” (黒田節、誕生の地), or “Birthplace of the song “Kuroda Bushi””. Historically, Kuroda Nagamasa, Mori Tomonobu’s lord, had good relations with Fukushima Masanori. Interestingly, it is rumored that Nagamasa had a house in north-eastern part of Fukushi castle’s lower town, which is where he would pass away. While possible considering the importance of Kyōto during medieval Japan, it has yet to be proven.

Another point to mention is the strong association to sake the area of Fushimi has. During the early mid 1600s, the Tokugawa Shogunate was well established, major wars were over, and a movement of development was underway. The town in Fushimi was developing into a hub for business endeavors, as it was close to a port where many traders used. At this point, a sake brewing business was started, and became very successful. While this was not the 1st sake brewery, it did contribute to Kyōto’s long history of sake manufacturing. Thus, the episode of sake drinking in the Kuroda Bushi is synonymous with not just Fushimi, but Kyōto as a whole.

ENDING

This brings the story of the Kuroda Bushi to a close. It is an interesting tale, one that illustrates a different form of battle & wit⁶. Who’d guess that having an insatiable gut for alcohol like Mori Tomonobu would net a hometown folklore? Also, be on the lookout for a full translation of the Kuroda Bushi as displayed in Kyōto. This will be posted in the Translation section of this site.


1) Originally, the surname “Mori” (母里) was pronounce as “Bori”. Later in the Edo period, this name was not only phonetically changed in official documents of the Tokugawa Shogunate to “Mori”, but the kanji was also changed to a more familiar “毛利”. This may have been done to make it easier to identify the Bori clan. Nowadays, it is common to read the original name as “Mori”, but in Fukuoka prefecture, as well as in the documents of the Kuroda family, it is still read as “Bori”.

2) The actual line in Japanese: “なんだ、酒豪だと言われる母里でさえ、このくらいの酒を飲む自信がないとは黒田家の侍もたいしたことないな、腰抜け揃いの弱虫藩か長政殿もお気の毒に”

3) Fukushima Masanori’s great feat was discussed here

4) This was discussed in details here. On a side note, this event also dubbed the spear “Nomitori Nihongō” (呑み取り日本号, Nihongō the drinking contest prize).

5) The actual line in Japanese: “武士に二言は無い”

6) Did this story really conclude with a happy ending? Sort of, but depends from which perspective you view it from. It’s said that after the event, Fukushima Masamori made many pleas to Kuroda Nagamasa to have Mori Tomonobu return the Nihongō, including offering an exchange with a replica spear. To maintain the peace, Nagamasa also tried his best to resolve the matter by advising his retainer to comply, but Tomonobu held steadfast to the validity to the promise made at the sake party, and refused. This would sour relations between Masamori and Nagamasa for awhile, until another feudal lord named Takenaka Shigetoshi intervened. Watching how bad they interacted with one another from the sideline, Shigetoshi stepped in and resolved the matter by having them make up through an exchange of kabuto (兜, helmet).

Fame to the Spear ~ Part 2: Tenka Sanmeisō

In part 2 of this series on popular stories & events highlighting the yari (aka Japanese spear), we go in the direction of legends. Japan has had its fair share of people, places, animals, nature, and things elevated to a level beyond normal existence. There are several cases like this involving the yari, especially the one called “Amenonuhoko” (天沼矛), which was used by the deity Izanagi-no-mikoto (伊邪那岐命) to create Japan and the world in old Japanese mythology. These objects of legends were first passed down from word of mouth, then to being jotted down in documentations, to now being depicted in pop culture such as video games and dramas.

For this article, we will look at three special yari that are labeled as “Tenka Sanmeisō” (天下三名槍), or “Three Great Spears of Japan” in English¹. Being real spears, we’ll cover when each was created, which individuals were lucky to be the owner, and whether they survived into modern times or not. Along with this, small but unique details that add to these yari being a cut above the rest will also be covered. Resources used to write this include the following:

NIHONGŌ, THE IMPERIAL SPEAR

The 1st of these legendary spears is known as the Nihongō (日本号)², believed to have been made during the Muromachi period (1336 ~ 1573). A large yari featuring a long blade with an engraving of a Buddhist depiction of a Kurikara dragon wrapping around a sword at the base. It also boosts a lacquered wooden shaft, and is well adorned with fine fittings. By design, it is considered an exquisite weapon designed as a treasured weapon of the Imperial family. Originally it was just known as an Imperial spear. It was later that when it passed into the possession of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, that he would give it the name “Nihongō”. This name can be interpreted as “No. 1 spear of Japan”.

A snapshot of the Nihongō’s blade (replica) on Nagoya Touken World website.

Here are its known dimensions:

  • Blade length = 79.2 cm
  • Spear weight = 912 g

It was considered the finest yari in existence that it was given the rank “Shōsani” (正三位), which is an official Senior Third Rank of the Imperial Court. Bearing such status, it is no wonder that it was recorded to having been passed down through the hands of individuals of high rank. The order goes as the following below.

The 106th Emperor Ōgimachi (1517 ~ 1593) is considered to have been the first owner of the Nihongō. He would at some point bestow it upon Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the 15th Shogun of the Muromachi period. For awhile it remained in the possession of Yoshiaki until he formed a working relationship with Oda Nobunaga around 1570. Being around the time when Nobunaga was rising in power, some sources say that once he learned about the spear’s origin being a treasured weapon from the Imperial Palace, he demanded it from Yoshiaki to the point where they almost went to war just for the sake of it. Other sources say that it was a peaceful exchange between the two. In any event, Nobunaga would successful claim the Nihongō. At some point, this yari was passed into the hands of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda Nobunaga’s successor. Finally, possibly after his impressive service on the battlefield, Fukushima Masanori, a retainer of the Toyotomi clan³, was rewarded the Nihongō from Hideyoshi.

Artwork of Mori Tomonobu. From Wikipedia.

From this point comes interesting stories that illustrate the Nihongō’s whereabouts later down the generations. First is a tale about how Masanori would lose it to Mori Tomonobu (母里友信), a retainer of the Kuroda clan, in a drinking game. From there, it would remain in the Mori family line for several generations. Between 1800s to 1900s, it would once again get passed into different hands, but in the most peculiar ways. In one instance, an individual was able to purchase it for 1,000 yen (almost 9 dollars). Later, it would once again be bought, but this time for 10,000 yen (almost 100 dollars). It would eventually be acquired by a descendant of the Kuroda family in around 1920s. Finally, a museum in Fukuoka prefecture would acquire the Nihongō, where it is said to be til this day.

In honor of this Imperial spear, many smiths made attempts to recreate the Nihongō. Not just the blade itself, but its decorative fittings as well.

OTEGINE, THE MALLET SPEAR

The next spear is an interesting one, both in name, design, and origin. It is called “Otegine” (御手杵). This name means “Tapering Mallet”. It was created during the Muromachi period by Gojō Yoshisuke (五条善助), who belonged to a well known sword smith in Shimadashi, Suruga Province. It was made at the request of Yūki Harusaki, lord of Yūki castle in Shimōsa Province. Harusaki would keep its splendor alive through his foster child, Yūki Hideyasu. He in turn would then pass it down to his 5th son, Naomoto, who at one point also inherited the Yūki surname. One thing to note is that Hideyasu was originally from the Matsudaira clan, but was adopted into the Yūki clan at a young age. Due to the ties, the Otegine would be associated with both families, as it would be passed down to a few members of the Matsudaira family in later years as well.

Two pictures, with a clear view of a replica Otegine and its shaft on the left. To the right, the blade of the replica Otegine placed on a stand next to its mallet-shaped sheath. From Wikipedia.

Out of the 3 legendary yari, the Otegine is known to be not only the longest, but also the heaviest. The blade itself was a sight to see, as the blade was long and triangular design, and featured a rather deep groove that ran up through the center. It also featured an even longer tang, which made it solidly reinforced when fitted into the shaft, and allowed the user to perform sweeping cuts along with thrusts.

Here are its known dimensions:

  • Blade length = 138 cm
  • Tang = 215 cm
  • Shaft length = 215 cm

The name “Otegine” comes from the very unique sheath it is paired with. Originally, when Harusaki had the spear created, it came with a sheath that was wider at both ends, and tapers towards the middle. This shape resembled a type of mallet or pestle used for pounding mochi (餅, rice cake), thus the unique name given to the spear. At some point, Harusaki had a fur covered mallet-shaped sheath devised. This is for decorative purposes.

An example of a tapering mallet. From Wikipedia.

While its blade was tempered extremely well and has potential of being effective on the battlefield, its sheer size and weight made too cumbersome to be used proficiently. While it may not had seen use in actual warfare, the Otegine was symbolic and showed one’s status when heading to the battlefield. It is said that it would often be brought from the Yūki castle to the commander’s camp and used like an umajirushi (馬印, banner carried next to a commander’s horse) right before going into battle. There were even occasions during 1635 when Tokugawa Iemitsu, the the 3rd Shogun of the Tokugawa Bakufu, had the Otegina brought out and used as a symbolic lead during official processions by those of the Yūki clan and Matsudaira clan to Edo (present-day Tokyo). Note that carrying the Otegine was no easy feat, with or without its furry sheath, as its sheer weight was overbearing to be carried by just one person over long distances.

The Otegine’s last whereabouts was in the possession of the Matsudaira family, but tragedy would struck in an unexpected way. This spear was destroyed by fire bombings during WWII. Although it was stored away in a special containment, the heat from the fire caused by the bombings would melt the steel spear blade, and burn the shaft to a crisp. Unfortunately, this state left it impossible to repair. On a positive note, replicas were made of the Otegine in the early 21st century, and are up for display at several museums, including the Yūki Kurabikan (Yūki Collection Gallery) in Yūki City, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Kawagoe-shiritsu Hakubutsuken (Kawagoe City Museum) in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture.

TONBOKIRI, THE DRAGONFLY SLAYER

The 3rd treasured yari is known as “Tonbokiri” (蜻蛉切り). Out of the three spears, this one is renown for its overall performance on the battlefield. Of course, credit also goes to the one who was wielding it as well — Honda Tadakatsu (本田忠勝).

Ukiyoe of Honda Tadakatsu with Tonbokiri in hand called “Honda Tadakatsu Komakiyama Gunkōzu” (本多忠勝小牧山軍功図, Honda Tadakatsu at Battle of Komaki Mountain”. The work of Mizuno Toshikata.

In the Muromachi period, The Tonbokiri was crafted by Fujiwara Masazane, a swordmaker from the Muramasa smith in Ise Province. It is a large spear, designed in the fashion of a “ōsasahoyari” (大笹穂槍), or “spear with a large bamboo grass-shaped blade”. On this blade are engraved 3 bonji (梵字, sanskrit symbols) above what looks to be a vajra-like sword engraving. From top to bottom, here’s what each symbolize:

  • Jizō Bōsatsu, guardian Buddha of children and travelers, and deity known to be compassion for those suffering
  • Amida Nyōrai, Buddha recognized for infinite light and life
  • Kannon Bōsatsu, Buddha of compassion for others

It features the following known dimensions:

  • Blade length = 43.7 cm
  • Tang = 55.6 cm
  • Shaft = 4.5 m

Take note that the Tonbokiri was not the longest spear by the standard followed during Sengoku period. When this yari was crafted, Tadakatsu was already up in years. Apparently he found wielding the average length yari abit cumbersome, so he intentionally had the Tonbokiri’s shaft shorten by around 90 cm.

The name Tonbokiri means “Dragonfly Slayer”. This is because the blade of this yari is said to be so sharp that a struck dragonfly would be severed into 2. To top this, it’s said that even if this spear were not moving, a dragonfly that perches onto the tip of the blade would also be divided into 2. These claims elevate the Tonbokiri as a devastating weapon, even if they can’t be taken literally.

As mentioned earlier, the owner of the Tonbokiri was Honda Tadakatsu, who himself was a legend in his own rights. Tadakatsu was one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s most trusted and loyal vassals during Sengoku period. A large man in stature since his youth, it is said he was a force to be reckoned with in skirmishes, as he participated in as many as 57 battles during his lifetime, and never sustained any damage. For his service, Tadakatsu was among Ieyasu’s top 16 generals, and was named one of the “4 Heavenly Kings⁵”.

While it’s not recorded that Tadakatsu’s successful career was all thanks to Tonbokiri, there is little argument that he did take it to battle. In historical records, along with Tadakatsu’s achievements due to his undying loyalty to Tokugawa Ieyasu, his prowess with the yari was noted. After his death, this yari was passed down his family line to his descendants for several generations. Today, it is in the safe keeping of a museum in Shizuoka, Japan.

THREE FAMOUS SPEARS: FUN FACTS

A good amount of info regarding the Tenka Sanmeisō was provided above. However, it’s not quite over as there are plenty more tidbits and rumors regarding the 3 yari. Below are lists of extra info for each yari.

Banner on Nagoya Touken World website promoting the project of replicating the Tenka Sanmeisou. Here, we get a clear idea of the details on these spear blades.

General

  • All 3 yari are considered ōmi yari (大身槍). What this means is that these are in a class of very long spears, especially with the blades they are outfitted with.
  • Originally, just the Nihongō and the Otegine were considered treasured spears. There was a comparison between the two based on the geographical significance of Japan predating modern times. The Nihongō was called the “great spear of western Japan” due to originating there, while the Otegine was the “great spear of eastern Japan” for the same reason.

Nihongō

  • The tang of this spear blade was unsigned. Speculations are that the spear was of the Kanabō style (金房派) of Yamato Province, but this has not been proven yet.
  • Despite its grand image, the Nihongō was not used in battle. There is one rumor that it was taken overseas during the invasion of Korea in 1592 by Mori Tomonobu, where it survived fierce battles. Unfortunately, there is no solid evidence to verify this.

Otegine

  • In the Matsudaira family, there are 2 legends about the Otegine. The 1st stating that when the sheath is removed, snow flakes fall down, while the 2nd is it will rain when it is leading a procession to Edo. There is no particular meaning behind these, but adds more sentimental feelings to the splendor of this yari.
  • Speaking of rain, it is said that the sheath’s fur absorbs water when it rains, adding more than 50% of it natural weight. Those who have to carry it during a procession on a rainy day had a lot of work on their hands.

Tonbokiri

  • What adds to the praise given to Tonbokiri is where it originated from. Mikawa is known to be home of a group of smiths labeled “Mikawa Monju” (三河文殊). Mikawa prefecture is known for many weapons being produced there, which many important people sent commissions to, including Tokugawa Ieyasu. These smiths were liken to miracle workers, as their products were rumored to perform better…as if they were magical. Since the Tonbokiri was crafted by a smith who is part of the Muramasa line, this was a major selling point.
  • It is said that Honda Tadakatsu had another spear commissioned, and that one was also named Tonbokiri. It is not certain that this is true, nor the reason being supposedly possessing 2 yari with the same name.

CONCLUSION

This here concludes this article on the Tenka Sanmeisō, and what makes them legendary weapons. With evidence of their existence, they are more than just rumors leaping out from the pages of history, as they have survived over many generations and made it to modern times (albeit the Otegine). The also ends this 2-part series highlighting the yari and its value in Japanese history. Hope this was enjoyable, as well as informative, regarding one of Japan’s strongest weapons.


1) Can also be pronounced “Tenga Sanmeisō” Also known as the shorter title, “Tenka Sansō” (天下三槍).

2) Can also be read as “Hi-no-moto Gō”.

3) Fukushima Masamori was introduced in part 1 of this series, which can be read here.

4) The descriptions come from Lifehacker Analyzer website.

5) This is “Shitennnō” (四天王) in Japanese.

Fame to the Spear ~ Part 1: Shichihon Yari

The yari (槍), which is the Japanese spear, was once considered the strongest weapon. Boosting a long shaft and large blade, it was advantageous on the battlefield. Some armies used yari that was up to about 20 feet, giving the wielders a great reach that kept them safe against enemies at a distance who were using anything shorter. It was to the point where the yari became a status symbol, and only permitted to elite warriors to train in. Yet, it has been overshadowed by the katana (刀), the Japanese sword that was considered to be the soul of the samurai from the Edo period onward. This is mainly in part of battlefield weapons being banned during the Tokugawa rule from the 1600s onward, and the adjustments warriors had to make with arming themselves with the next best thing.

Looking into when the yari made a huge impact was during the 1500s, which was the time period when many warlords utilized formations that involved soldiers being outfitted with this weapon. It was also during this period where the ideal image of a strong warrior was reflected upon those who rode into battle wielding a yari, dispatching enemy troops, and defeating other strong opponents. Notable figures were recorded who demonstrated exemplary skills while bearing this formidable weapon. A popular tag that begin to emerge in the pages of history-focused books was “Shichihon Yari” (七本槍), which refers to seven warriors who had displayed great bravery on the battlefield with the Japanese spear in hand during Sengoku period. For this article, we will look at the most iconic tale that portrays seven brave spearmen, along with a bit of twists due to actual accounts. Finally, we’ll touch upon different groups that are also hailed by this illustrious title.

SHIZUGATAKE SHICHIHON YARI

The most popular and renown group to bear the title goes to a select warriors who were employed under the ruling power of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Here’s how their tale begins.

Artwork featuring few of the Shihon Yari called “Shizugatake Ō-gassen no Zu”, by Utagawa Toyonobu.

In 4th month of 1583, after the death of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose up to claim the rights to continue his master’s vision of ruling Japan. He wasn’t the only one who had their sights on this goal, as he would clash in a power struggle against another former Oda loyalist, Shibata Katsuie. In 1583, they would meet both commanding an army of their own and exchange blows in combat within the rocky terrains of Shizugatake in Ika domain, Ōmi prefecture. This battle will be recorded as the “Battle at Shizugatake” (賤ヶ岳の合戦, Shizugatake no Gassen).

The outcome of this battle had Hideyoshi come out as the victory. What is significant to note is that he praised and gave honors to seven warriors for their exemplary heroics during the battle, whom are recognized today as “Shizugatake Shichihon Yari” (賤ヶ岳の七本槍, Seven Brave Spearmen of the Battle at Shizugatake). This was first mentioned in the 20-volume documentation “Taikōki” written by the Confucian scholar Oze Hoan (小瀬 甫庵) in 1626.

These seven warriors are the following:

  • Hirano Nagayasu (平野長泰)(1559~1628)
  • Wakisaka Yasuharu (脇坂安治)(1554~1626)
  • Katō Yoshiakira (加藤嘉明)(1563~1631)
  • Katagiri Katsumoto (片桐且元)(1556~1615)
  • Katsuya Takenori (糟屋武則)(1562~???)
  • Fukushima Masanori (福島正則)(1561~1624)
  • Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正)(1562~1611)

Each of these warriors were not just random individuals, but were born in military families. Receiving the typical martial training many military families offer, they had their fair share of battle experience before the event at Shizugatake. It can be said that this battle did highlight their potential even more, elevating them up in rank even during the early years of Edo period in the 1600s.

DETAILS ON THE BATTLEFIELD

During the battle at Shizugatake, these seven individuals, wielding a spear each, are praised as being ichiban yari (一番槍). This title means not only being the first to engage with the enemy, but to do significant work that benefited the overall outcome for their side. Due to their high spirit and valor, they helped to turn the tides in the Toyotomi force’s favor of what was starting out to be a difficult battle. This was through gaining ground in areas around Shizugatake, as well as eliminating key figures on the Shibata force’s side, which caused a lost of morale amongst their ranks. Especially Fukushima Masanori, for he managed to take the head of Shibata Katsuie’s commanding officer, Haigo Ieyoshi (拝郷家嘉). Masanori received the highest reward of 5000 koku (石, stipend in the form of rice per year), while the others received 3,000 koku each.

Other acclaims that add to these seven warriors’ merits include the following:

  • Hirano Nagayasu defeating Shibata Katsumasa (柴田勝政), the adopted son of Shibata Katsuie.
  • Katō Kiyomasa defeating Yamaji Masakuni (山路正国), a warrior who defected to the Shibata side and helped with the initial success the Shibata forces had during the battle. It was through a well-timed counterattack that helped not only turn the ties to the Toyotomi force’s favor, but allowed Kiyomasa to dispose of the traitor¹.
  • Kasuya Takeyori defeating Yadoya Shichiemon (宿屋七左衛門). This event happened while fellow spearman comrade Sakurai Iekazu was locked in battle with Shichiemon. As Iekazu was injured by a cut from his opponent’s yari, Takeyori joined the fray and ran Shichiemon through with his own yari².

LEARNING THROUGH ARTWORK

Just as written accounts are considered valuable resources, the same can be said for visual artworks. There are various paintings that depict the battle that took place at Shizugatake at different museums in Japan. The most well known one is a folding screen version from Ōsaka castle, which has been duplicated by other establishments. These artworks also feature the Shichihon Yari, all with unique interpretations as these warriors engage with the Shibata force with their trusty yari in hand.

Since these are visual artworks, they tend to have slight variations from the popular tale, but usually not without reason. For example, in the version from Ōsaka castle, the Shichihon Yari are located on the right side together, but the line up is different from what is usually recited. Wakisaka Yasuharu is replaced by another warrior named Ishikawa Heisuke. In another, these seven warriors are shown charging into battle together, but the difference here is Fukushima Masanori is located in another area, already defeated his target. In his place amongst the seven warriors is Sakurai Iekazu.

Why is this? Apparently, it was more than just seven individuals who were praised for their efforts during the battle at Shizugatake. There were 2 more names mentioned, which were Sakurai Iekazu (桜井家一) and Ishikawa Heisuke (石河兵助). They too are considered ichiban yari, and are recognized for their efforts on the field too. On top of this, they were rewarded the same 3,000 koku as the 6 others. So, should the group not be called Kyūhon Yari (九本槍, the 9 Brave Spearmen)?

Speculations on this evolve around the untimely deaths of both Iekazu and Heisuke, with the latter actually dying during the battle, which had his son receive the reward in his place. As for Iekazu, he would die later, but the cause is unclear. In a different 5-volume version of the Taiheiki by Kawasumi Saburōemon, it states that Iekazu died from an illness in 1596. However, in a different account, he dies 3 years after the battle due to the injuries he sustained from his battle with Yadoya Shichiemon, and shortly after, from a revenge battle with the younger brother Yadoya Jirōsuke (宿屋次郎助), where they clashed with tachi (太刀, battlefield swords), then wrestled in kumiuchi (組討, armored warriors grappling) before Iekazu successfully took his life with his knife. Whatever the case is, there is no disagreement on the fact that Ishikawa Heisuke and Sakurai Iekazu fell from grace, and are not praised in the same light as the other seven spearmen.

OTHER SHICHIHON YARI

The term “Shichihon Yari” is believed to have been invented in later times, much after Sengoku period was over and these famed warriors had passed. Due to this, it became a coin term that other writers used to speak about exemplified spear-wielding warriors during various battles. Below are a few examples.

1) Ueda Shichihon Yari
Early in the battle at Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Hidetada led a force of his own alongside with his father, Ieyasu. Hidetada’s force would make their way to Ueda castle, which was occupied by Sanada Masayuki. This encounter is known as “Battle at Ueda” (上田合戦, Ueda no Gassen). During this battle, seven warriors from the Tokugawa’s sided are recognized for their valiant efforts. Their names are the following:

  • Saitō Nobuyoshi (斎藤信吉)
  • Ono Tadaaki (小野忠明)
  • Shizume Koreaki (鎮目惟明)
  • Nakayama Terumori (中山照守)
  • Asakura Nobumasa (朝倉宣正)
  • Toda Mitsumasa (戸田光正)
  • Tsuji Hisayoshi (辻久吉)

Highest merits go to Ono Tadaaki, but in a turn of events he was also punished soon afterwards due to a violation in military orders, which was considered a huge crime. While he would be pardoned at a later date, this incident does tarnish Tadaaki’s image abit.

Another surprising point about this battle is that Tokugawa Hidetada and his force lost the fight against Sanada Masayuki and his force. While noted as a defeat, it’s also important to point out that none of these warriors died during this battle.

2) Azukizaka Shihon Yari
Possibly the first real account of skilled spearmen comes from one of Oda Nobunaga’s campaigns. In 1542, Nobunaga lead an army east towards Azukizaka in Nukatagun, Mikawa no Kuni. There, he would clash with the military force of the Imagawa/Matsudaira coalition. This event, the 1st of the ongoing conflict between these groups, is known as “Battle at Azukizaka” (小豆坂の戦い, Azukizaka no Tatakai).

During this battle is the first mention of what can be considered skilled spearmen that controlled the tides of a battle. Here’s the names of these acclaimed warriors:

  • Oda Nobufusa (織田信房)
  • Oda Nobumitsu (織田信房)
  • Sasa Masatsugu (佐々政次)
  • Sasa Magosuke (佐々孫介)
  • Okada Shigeyoshi (岡田重能)
  • Nakano Ichiyasu (中野一安)
  • Shimokata Sadakiyo (下方貞清)

From the Nobunaga clan’s written account called “Shinchō Kōki” (信長公記), it is said that these seven warriors were formidable in forcing the opposition to retreat, leading to victory. Unfortunately, there is not much detail about what actually took place and the feat these warriors performed on the battlefield. Note that while we know about this battle from this source, the Matsudaira clan’s well-documented “Mikawa Monogatari” makes no mention of this event. What’s even more interesting is that there was 2 battles that took place at Azukizaka, the 1st being 1542, and the 2nd in 1548. Both clans have detailed accounts on the 2nd battle, while the 1st is only mentioned in Shichō Kōki. There are a lot of speculations regarding this 1st battle, and whether it actually happened on the level it is claimed to have been.

ENDING

This here concludes our look at the yari through literature & artwork from Edo period. The tale of the Shichihon Yari offers a good look at how important and impactful this Japanese weapon was viewed during the Sengoku period, which influenced certain groups to continue to work with it even to modern times. Stay tuned for part 2, where we look at a few yari that were recorded as legendary treasures.


1) In another account, it is stated that a Hazumi Goemon (八月一日五左衛門), one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s retainer’s men, had taken Yamaji Masakuni’s head.

2) Depending on the source, who is said to have killed Yadoya Shichiemon varies. While Sakurai Iekazu was outbested by Shichiemon and would’ve died if it wasn’t that he was rescued, it is said that he landed the killing blow. However, Iekazu was only able to do so after Kasuya Takeyori ran his spear through Shichiemon’s chest, incapacitating him.

The Female Leader and Strategist named Myōrinni

Today’s article features the tale about a female warrior name of Myōrinni ( 妙林尼 ), who lived during the frantic Sengoku period in the 1500s. Hailing from northern Kyūshū, she earned merits by defending her clan’s homeland at a time when it was in danger of being taken over by an invading force. In this article, we’ll look into what is known about Myorinni’s past, the events she took part in, and how she is remembered in present day.

One thing worth mentioning is that the records of Myōrinni are, like many other women during ancient Japan, not as well documented as her male counterparts. A few sources that do mention her and her acts of bravery include ” Ōtomo Kōhaiki” (大友興廃記, Rise & Fall of the Ōtomo Family), and “Ryōbunki” (両豊記, Bungo Province: Before & After). It is very difficult to come across the official sources, but fortunately there are a good number of Japanese websites that cover her story. Here’s a few sites that were helpful in writing this article:

THE BEGINNING

Looking into Myōrinni’s past, we learn that there’s not much recorded prior to her becoming a renown female warrior and leader. There are uncertainties regarding her birth father, for it is either she was the daughter of Hayashi Sakyonosuke (林左京亮 ), a Shintō priest at Oe Shrine, or Niu Kojiro Masatoshi (丹生小次郎正敏), a nationalist who specialized in a mining business. This has not been definitively confirmed. Who her mom was is also a mystery. Another mystery is her original name, which is unknown to this day; the name “Myōrinni” is a Buddhist name she took after becoming a nun. Variants of this name includes “Yoshioka Myōrin” and “Yoshioka Rinko”, with Yoshioka (吉岡) being the family name she married into.

A statue in Oita City, in honor of Myōrinni. From Wikipedia.

Why is there so little background info? A common reason behind this is because of how record-keeping were handled in the past. For instance, when it came down maintaining a family line’s genealogy chart, generally boys’ names were recorded, while girls were simply identified as “woman” or “daughter”. Women of a particular status usually associated with the Imperial court, held power such as land, or took part in an important or well-documented event would then have their names and background stories recorded in journals or diaries. You can say for half of her life, Myōrinni lived a simple life where who she was and her roots were not so significant enough where anyone needed to write it down.

Her story as a warrior, as far as we can tell, begins at a time when her husband, Yoshioka Akioka (吉岡鑑興), who was a retainer for the Ōtomo clan (大友家), and land owner of Takada villa (高田庄 Takada jō), Tsurusaki castle (鶴崎城, Tsurusaki jō), and Chitose castle (千歳城, Chitose jō). Their land was in the north-eastern part of Bungo Province (豊後の国, Bungo no kuni) located in Kyūshū, which was an island in the south-western part of Japan. They also had a son named Yoshioka Munemasu (吉岡統増), who was old enough to serve the Ōtomo clan as he helped manage Tsurusaki castle. In terms of her appearance, there is not much to go by during her youth to the time she was married to Akioka. However, there is much depiction of her later on wearing your typical Buddhist attire, which includes an iconic shawl and simple robes.

ŌTOMO VS SHIMAZU

The Yoshioka clan was a prominent one, as they were descendants of the elite Ōtomo family. They were also involved in the governance of their parent clan thanks to Akioka’s father, Yoshioka Nagamasu (吉岡長増). Along with the Ōtomo family having significant power in their own rights, they were also retainers to the current shogun of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At the time, Kyūshū was divided into two, with Ōtomo clan having control of the northern half, and the Shimazu clan, land owners of Satsuma Province (present-day western part of Kagoshima Prefecture) further south west, controlling the southern half. As like many clans that sought more power through expansion, the Shimazu clan was extending their reach little by little by acquiring more territories in Kyushu, as they made their way towards the north. This includes a particular area called Hyūga Province (日向の国, Hyūga no kuni, which is present-day Miyazaki Prefecture).

In the 9th month of 1578, 21st successor Ōtomo Yoshishige commanded an army in an attempt to regain Hyūga from Shimazu’s clutches. At the time, Shimazu Yoshihiza was occupying Taka castle (高城, Taka jō) in Takagigawa no Hara (高城川原), Hyūga Prefecture with his own force. Both armies would clash head-on, which would lead to the “Battle at Takagigawa” (高城川の合戦, Takagigawa no Gassen). At first, the Ōtomo force had the upper hand, and were gaining ground against the opposition as they tried to overtake the castle. However, in the 11th month of the same year, Yoshihiza devised a strategy where his army would unexpectedly divide and surround the Ōtomo force from the east and west. Doing so caused them to flee towards Mimi river (耳川, Mimi kawa), where many soldiers including top commanders on the Ōtomo side had drowned as they tried to fend against the overwhelming odds. This triumphant victory for the Shimazu clan had this incident called “Battle at Mimi river” (耳川の戦い, Mimikawa no Tatakai). Akioka, Myōrinni’s husband, was also one of those who had died during this. Upon learning about the death of her husband, Myōrinni decided to retire herself to Buddhism. It was at this time she took up her Buddhist name, and was from this point on was recorded as so.

Facing a major victory, this boosted the morale of the Shimazu army, as they continued to make their way up north of Kyūshū, ambitious in taking over the region completely. On the other hand, things didn’t look to good for the governance of Ōtomo clan, as they lost some key members. In fear, the Ōtomo clan were able acquire aide from their master, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Reinforcements were sent to help safeguard points they still had control over, but they too failed to suppress the invaders’ northern expansion. With nothing to stop them, the Shimazu force made their way to Ōtomo Yoshishige’s mainstay, Niujima castle (丹生島城, Nuijima jo).

MYŌRINNI’S PREPARATIONS FOR WAR

Munemasu, along with the younger soldiers, left Tsurusaki castle to provide aid to the Ōtomo clan by preparing fortification at Usuki castle (臼杵城, Usuki jō), leaving his mother, children, women, and older soldiers behind. Myōrinni was concerned about the safety of everyone who remained at the castle, for it was possible that the invading Shimazu clan would target them as well. Not wanting to give in to the idea of sitting idly just to surrender when the time came, she devised countermeasures to outlast a possible siege. She evaluated the castle’s strong points, as there were plenty; Tsurusaki castle was situated between bodies of water to the east, west and north, providing it natural defenses that made it too difficult for an invading army to attack in these areas. She had everyone at the castle help with setting up defensive measures to Tsurusaki castle, which included digging pits in the field as traps, and setting up makeshift alarms called naruko (鳴子, small hollowed bamboo pieces strung to a wooden board by a rope) to prevent potential infiltration attempts. Myōrinn also had everyone with no combat experience train how to use matchlock guns in order to fire at the enemies from a distance within the safety of the castle.  

In 1586, Shimazu Yoshihiza set forward a two-prong assault, one on Usuki castle where the Ōtomo army set up fortification, and another towards Tsurusaki castle, where Myōrinni and her makeshift force were preparing their defenses. It is stated that Yoshihiza sent retainers such as Ijūin Mimasaka-no-kami Hideo, Nomura Bitchū-no-kami Fumitsuna, and Shiraha Suou-no-kami Shigemasa, along with 3000 troops, to storm Tsurusaki castle. The Shimazu force could only approach from the south, which made it perfect for Myōrinni’s defensive plans to go into effect.

While the invaders charged with what can be considered unmatched might, they fell prey to the many pitfalls cleverly designed in the southern path, while the naruko alarms made it easy to pinpoint where the soldiers were as the battle-inexperienced civilians released volleys of shots from their guns and stopping them in their tracks. The Shimazu force apparently made 16 attempts to storming the castle, but each time was the same as before, which them being forced back by the near-impregnable defense Myōrinni and her militia were maintaining.

ANOTHER BRILLIANT TRAP

Despite the successful defensive play, Myōrinni was faced with an impending issue. Tsurusaki’s food rations were heavily depleted, while many of the inhabitants were becoming fatigued from the many assaults that came towards the castle. On top of this, despite successfully halting a possible invasion 16 times, it doesn’t look like the Shimazu force was ready to give up. The invaders then sent a message to Myōrinni, stating that if she allowed the gates of Tsurusaki castle to be open so that they can claim the castle peacefully, they will ensure safety to her and the inhabitants. Thinking that the safety of her people present was top priority than to risk their lives and fail in a battle they cannot outlast, she agreed to the terms. However, what the Shimazu force didn’t realized that this was a mere ploy, and that Myōrinni was scheming on how to use the situation to her benefit.

Tsurusaki castle’s gates were opened, permitting entry to the 3 Shimazu generals and their troops, while Myōrinni and the others were allowed to reside in the lower level  of the castle. For several nights, Myōrinni and several of the women in her group entertained their new guests as they feasts by serving them alcohol and the like. This allowed them to get closer to them. She noticed that one of the generals, Nomura Bitchū-no-kami Fumitsuna, became particularly fond of her, and was developing feelings for her. Myōrinni decided to keep this relation with him, and use it at the right moment to her advantage.

The Shimazu force were successful in extending their reach into Hyūga province, and invading into the lands of the Yoshioka and Ōtomo family. With much of the Ōtomo force held up in Usuki castle, they needed more help in order to contend with the large Satsuma army. In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi amassed a very large army¹, which he set out to reclaim Kyūshū. Suspecting that the Toyotomi force would bring the battle straight to Kyushu to drive them out, Shimazu Yoshihiza had ordered his troops who occupied different points in Kyushu to concentrate their power in Hyūga Province. This included the 3 generals who held Tsurusaki castle.

Fumitsuna, worried about Myōrinni’s safety as the impending war loomed over them, suggested to her that she move to Satsuma Province. This way, in case the Satsuma force had lost, she wouldn’t be caught and punished for being a traitor. Myōrinni happily obliged², but not for the reason Fumitsuna believed. That night, after getting Fumitsuna drunk & wasted, she quickly wrote a letter and had it delivered to the 50 retainers of the Yoshioka clan³, which included a Tokumaru Shikibe (徳丸式部) and his family, Mukaishin Uemon (向新右衛門), and the Nakamura Shinsuke brothers (中村新助兄弟). This letter served as a declaration that they were to prepare for war against the Shimazu force.

DECISIVE BATTLE TO RID OF THE INVADERS

As the 3 generals left Tsurusaki castle with their troops as they moved southward towards Hyūga Province, they were ambushed on their way by a small army of Yoshioka retainers. This clash took place near Otozu-river (乙津川, Otozu-gawa), with the Shimazu force caught with their backs to the river. This skirmish is known as “Battle at Terajihama (寺司浜の戦い, Terajihama no tatakai), as well as “Battle at Otozu-river” (乙津川の戦い, Otozu-gawa no tatakai). The 3 generals and their troops were defeated woefully, with 2 of them dying in battle. Although Fumitsuna suffered many wounds from arrows rained upon him and his troops, he still managed to survive long enough to escape to Hyūga Province. However, he would shortly pass away from his fatal wounds.

In the Yoshioka accounts, it is written that during this battle, the Yoshioka clan personally took down the 3 Shimazu generals, along with 300 of their soldiers. On top of this, Myōrinni is mentioned to have participated as well, and took the heads of 63 enemy soldiers. As a sign of her loyalty and dedication, she had those heads sent to Ōotomo Yoshishige, who was at the time at Niujima castle. She received much praise for her efforts. As for the loses on the Shimazu side, they suffered a heavy death toll during the battle. As a means to put the lost soldiers to rest, a burial site was created near Terajihama called “Sennin Zuka” (千人塚).

Word spread about the Yoshioka’s success, especially about Myōrinni’s impressive feat in organizing their successful battle at Terajihama. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was also informed, who then requested that Myōrinni come to Ōsaka castle in person and be bestowed honors. However, Myōrinni had no interest in this, and humbly turned this down. Instead, she merely asked that she keeps her late husband’s keepsake sword as a reward for fulfilling the role as castle lord while her son was supporting the Ōtomo clan, and assisting in defeating the Shimazu clan from northern Kyūshū, which was motivated by acts of revenge for her late husband.

ANALYZING MYŌRINNI’S LEGACY

After these events, there is no more word about Myōrinni. It is thought that, as a Buddhist, she removed herself from the political life the Yoshioka clan were involved with, and went into seclusion to live the remainder of her life in peace. Today, a statue honoring the legacy of Myōrinni can be seen in Tsurusaki Ward⁴ of Oita City, Oita Prefecture. She is even elevated to the level of a saint, where some establishments in Oita City sell omamori (御守り, talisman) that represent her.

The official website for Oita City has several publications that feature Myōrinni. The following is one of them, which features her (circled in red) amongst other historical figures whom are considered heroes of northern Kyūshū. From City of Oita Offical Website.

While she has considerable fame especially in what can be considered her hometown, there is still much mystery that surround Myōrinni as a whole. For example, it seems that just as sudden as she makes her appearance during the Ōtomo family’s war against the Shimazu force, her story ends just as abrupt once her role is done. There are no clear details about she lives the rest of her life. In terms of her own combat experience, we don’t get any info on that either. Yet, from little descriptions we are told that she designed the defensive measures for Tsurusaki castle, and had all the residents there train for combat, especially with muskets. In her own rights, it is possible that prior to the events between the Ōtomo family and the Satsuma army, Myōrinni may have learned much about warfare and worked closely to her late husband. Or, she may have learned about combat even before marriage. The latter is a stretch, as usually women of a military family can gain such access to combative training.

While she is admired by her cleverness and commitment in freeing her land, we must also wonder if this was truly a one-woman show. It is not unusual for leaders to discuss & plan with others, such as a strategist. However, in Myōrinni’s case there is no mention of her working closely with anyone. It is possible that she spoke with, and was assisted by, a few of the older soldiers that were in her party. It would make sense, especially to have them help train the residence to be battle ready. Alas, as they remain nameless in the original sources, their involvement in the battles also go unmentioned. Lastly, accounts mention how she beheaded 63 soldiers from the Shimazu army. How did she go about doing this? During the battle at Terajihama? Or afterwards, on captured enemy troops? If she did participate in the skirmish, did she do so with her husband’s sword, a matchlock gun, or a naginata? It is a shame that these details were left out, but it is also not unusual. In fact, it is pretty common to find pinpoint details regarding what took place during battles for many important figures.

ENDING

The bravery and strategic genius of Myōrinni is quite impressive, as it illustrates how well-formulated plans can foil even the largest of armies. Her story has been covered over the years, both in novels and historical programming in Japanese, which helps to keep her legacy going even in modern times. Here’s hoping this article continues this trend, as it serves to introduce Myōrinni’s story to a western audience.


1) One of the figures given for Hideyoshi’s troop support is 200,000. War journals of old are known to inflate the size of armies as a means to illustrate that they were large. Thus, this figure is most likely an exaggerated number, and should be much lower.

2) There is another version of this, where Myōrinni initiated the conversation about accompanying Fumitsuna back to Satsuma Province.

3) These retainers are related to the Yoshioka-owned Takada Manor, and most likely reside there. It’s possible that this is where they were when the letter was delivered.

4) Former grounds of Tsurusaki castle.

Bokuden and his Live Lesson regarding the Naginata

Today’s post is a continuation of reviewing the Hyakushu, a gunki (軍記, military documentation) written by the famed Tsukahara Bokuden. Whereas in a previous post we went over various rules out of the 100 entries found in the Hyakushu, this time we look at 3 that focus on a particular theme. Along with this, will be a real life story of Bokuden that serves as an example of, through experience, how advice can be passed down with merit.

RULES ABOUT THE NAGINATA

The 3 rules we will look at are #35, #36, and #37. These 3 rules share a common theme regarding on the weapon known as the naginata (長刀 or 薙刀, glaive). Here’s the rules both in Japanese, and their English translations provided by myself. The source being used is the book “Gunjin Seishin Shūyōkun” (軍人精神修養訓):

Rules #35, 36, and 37 from the Hyakushu, circled in red.

ー、長刀は二尺にたらぬほそ身をは持は不覚の有と知るへし(三十五)

ー、手足四つ持たる敵に小長刀持て懸けるとよもや切られし (三十六)

ー、太刀かたな持たる敵に小長刀しすます時に相討ちとしれ(三十七)

  • It is a disadvantage to wield a naginata with a blade less than 2 shaku (2 feet) (#35)
  • You will certainly not get cut down by an enemy who possesses many skills, wielding a konaginata (#36)
  • Understand that you, despite how skillful you are, will end up in a mutual kill against an enemy who wields a tachi or katana (#37)

In regards to #35, the standard length of the blade found on an ōnaginata (大長刀, a long-bladed glaive) in the past was 2 shaku 3 sun (87.4 cm) or greater, while anything less would be a konaginata (小長刀, a short bladed glaive).  Here, Bokuden implies that any naginata that has a blade less than 87.4 cm, is a konaginata, which he does not have a favorable opinion on.

For #36, one should not worry about an enemy wielding a konaginata. No matter how skillful he/she is, or tricks they may use, because their reach is short it will not be a problem to defeat them. Naginata’s advantage is reach, but making it shorter, especially the blade, nulls that advantage.

As for #37, Bokuden advises against using a konaginata. It is a continuation from both #35 and #36, except that now he cautions skilled warriors that no matter how good you are, at most you will end up committing ai-uchi (相打ち), where both fighters die at the same time delivering killer blows. It can be said that Bokuden puts more faith in kenjutsu than naginatajutsu.

Note that this is just the opinion of one individual, and these rules are not written in stone that the konaginata is an ineffective weapon. This is probably based on his experience with the weapon, or what he’s seen by those who so happen to use this.

A version of Tsukahara Bokuden’s duel against Kajiwara Nagato, found in the book “Budō Gokui” (武道極意)

BOKUDEN VS THE NAGINATA SPECIALIST

Speaking of experience, there are many recordings in regards to Bokuden’s real life experiences in combat, many of them related to duels and fights. One particular story that will be covered here is his bout against a specialist who fights with a konaginata. Note that many sources such as “Nihon Bugei Shoden” (日本武芸小伝) and “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi” (図説・古武道史) reference this story, sometimes in great details, and other times not. Below will be the story as full and accurate as possible. Take note that there are some graphical descriptions in the text, so please read with caution.


During Bokuden’s kaikoku shugyō (廻国修行, journey around Japan for the sake of training and employment), he came across a warrior by the name of Kajiwara Nagato (梶原長門). Through much boasting, Nagato was making a name for himself as a renown fighter with the naginata. He did so by performing feats of leaping into the air, and coming down with a strong strike fast enough to cut down birds such as kiji (雉子, green pheasants) and kamo (鴨, ducks). Nagato also claimed that no warrior has yet to either avoid or withstand his power strikes, as many of them, whether they be swordsmen or spearsmen, were slain in mortal duels. Furthermore, he made it known that he used a peculiar method of first cutting off his opponent’s left hand, then the right hand, before finally finishing them of by cutting clean through the neck. Learning about these points, Bokuden was certainly up for facing against such an individual. So he challenged Nagato to a duel to the death, who willingly accepted.

When the day came, the two held their duel at the lower area of Kawagoe in Bushū (present-day Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture). While Bokuden wielded a tachi (太刀, an older word for sword), Nagato used a konaginata, with the blade length about 1 shaku 5 sun (57 cm). Bokuden’s disciples were there to bear witness¹. At the start of the duel, Nagato leapt at Bokuden like a bird taking flight², and swung his konaginata down at him. Bokuden evaded the attack, with the konaginata’s blade cutting into the ground. Instantly, Bokuden countered with a severe blow, as he sliced Nagato’s face in two.


ANALYSIS

Depending on the source, Bokuden is usually depicted as expressing the weaknesses of the konaginata to his disciples right before the fight. If stated simply, he mentions that having a long shaft, yet a short blade for a naginata gives no advantage no matter how fast the wielder moves or tricks used. Whether or not he actually spoke such info right before the duel is hard to prove, but for the sake of the readers this could’ve been included to further enhance his views regarding the konaginata. In regards to Nagato’s merit, Bokuden also expressed his opinion about him not being that great, as cutting down wild birds or inexperienced warriors was nothing that impressive. In some sources this conversation is short and just focuses on the size disadvantage the konaginata has, while in others it is quite long and detailed.

In some sources, credit is given to Bokuden for incorporating psychological warfare. As an example, from the tales coming from Kashima City, there is one that states Bokuden lecturing his disciples about the weaknesses of the konaginata…while his opponent was in ear shot. This made Nagato furious, so when the duel started he fought recklessly, which made him lose rather easily. In another source, it is written that Bokuden brought to the duel a much longer tachi than what most would use at the time. On one hand, this supports his views on always giving yourself the advantage with a longer weapon, which can be seen in rule #20 of his Hyakushu regarding swords³.

CONCLUSION

In ending, Tsukahara Bokuden is an individual portrayed as having a great amount of experience in warfare. His opinion on weapons like the naginata is based on his personal experiences, especially versus those who’ve used them against him in duels. As mentioned before, there are many stories of his life experience, with some that can be compared to the Hyakushu. I may revisit the Hyakushu again, using a different story of Bokuden’s to reference the lessons expressed in a few of the rules.


1) In various sources, the type of bird Kajiwara Nagato is compared to ranges from a tsubame (燕, swallow) to mozu (鵙, shrike). These birds are usually admired for their grace or speed in flight.

2) Unlike other warriors who had to tough it out during their training journeys solo, Bokuden was generally accompanied by a group of individuals, from assistants to personal students. Credit goes to him coming from a rather wealthy family, thus the ability to have support while far away from home.

3)This can be reviewed in a previous post here.

Looking at the teachings from Bokuden Tsukahara’s Hyakushu

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.

2 pages showing the many entries from Hyakushu. From the book “Gunjin Seishin Shūyōkun” (軍人精神修養訓).

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.


JAPANESE:「近き敵遠き敵をはゐる時は矢の根の習いあると知へし(六)」

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.


JAPANESE:「癖有れど強き馬こそよけれとて進まぬ癖の馬を乗るぞよ(十四)」

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.


JAPANESE: 「鎬のなき太刀をば深く嫌うべし、切る手の内のまわる故なり(十八)」

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.


JAPANESE: 「切れるとて新身の太刀を帯びる人必ず不覚あると知るべし(十九)」

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.


JAPANESE: 「勝ち負けは長き短かき変わらねど、さのみ短かき太刀な好みそ(二十)」

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]).


JAPANESE: 「もののふの夜の枕に二重帯、おかぬはあわれ不覚なるべし(四十七)」

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.


JAPANESE: 「もののふの道行く時に逢う人の、右は通らぬものとしるべし(七十六)」

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.

Remembering Ōtake Risuke

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.

Pic of Ōtake Risuke, from his book “Heihō: Tenshin Sōden Katori Shintō ryū”.

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.

Pic of Ōtake Risuke, performing part of Nuketsuke no Ken from Katori Shintō ryū’s Iaijutsu.

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:


“手裏剣術の稽古は一人で行うため、倦まず弛まず地道に稽古をすることが肝要で、並々ならぬ努力が必要です。私が手裏剣術を覚えたてのころは…約三年間、ほぼ毎日三百本ほど打ちました。

“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.

A pic featuring Donn Draeger (left) training with Ōtake sensei (right). From the book “Katori Shinto-ryū”.

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.

The Strategic Prowess of Takigawa Kazumasu ~ Part 3

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.

Artwork of Oda Nobunaga. From the series “Taiheiki Eiyūden” (太平記英勇傳, Heroes of the Great Peace). By Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

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.

Artwork of Kennyo in what appears to be suit of armor.

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.

Artwork called “Taiheiki Nagashima Gassen: Ise Nagashima Ikkō Ikki” (太平記長嶋合戦 -伊勢長島一向一揆-). Here, the Nagashima ikkō ikki are shown battling against the Oda Force. By Utagawa Yoshikazu.

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.

Section featuring Takeda Shingen from the artwork entitled “Ichimosai Mushae Minamoto Harunobu Yamagata Masakage” ( 一猛齋 武者絵 源晴信 山県昌景 , Ichimōsai’s Warriors Art piece: Minamoto Harunobu (aka Takeda Shingen) and Yamagata Masakage). By Utagawa “Ichimōsai” Yoshitora.

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.

A map showing the layout of the territories controlled by the major players in the war between Oda Nobunaga , Takeda Shingen, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

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.

A 3-section art piece entitled, “Mikatagahara no Tatakai” ( 三方ヶ原の戦い , Battle at Mikatagahara). In the center panel is Takeda Shingen, who’s leading his cavalry in the right panel against the Tokugawa force in the left panel By Yōshu Chikanobu.

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.

7) This is “Kai no tora” (甲斐の虎) in Japanese