Many people are familiar with Miyamoto Musashi’s famous treatise called “Gorin no Sho” (五輪の書), or commonly called “Book of 5 Rings” in English, which was written in 1645. However, in 1641 he compiled another treatise prior to this called “Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō” (兵法三十五箇条), or “35 Rules of Martial Combat”. Being an expert martial artist in the way of the sword, Musashi wrote this upon the request of Hosokawa Tadatoshi, who was a lord over Kumamoto Domain, Higo Province (present-day Kumamoto Prefecture). Believed to be the first recordings of what would later be Musashi’s self-made style “Niten Ichi ryū” (二天一流), the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō was preserved in the densho of a kenjutsu school called “Enmei ryū¹“, which Musashi himself had a hand in starting.
Recently, as I was reviewing my copy of Gorin no Sho, I decided to also look through the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō as well. When comparing both documentations, there are similarities as well as differences. There are those that consider the former a “draft” of the Gorin no Sho, and would sign it off for the sake of the more renown version. Some of the reasons behind this include the following:
Gorin no Sho is a much longer documentation with more philosophical commentary.
Gorin no Sho possesses much more detail on both taking up the part of a martial artist, and the techniques that are related to Niten Ichi ryu.
While the Gorin no Sho directly covers Musashi’s self-made style Niten Ichi ryu, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, which is related a great deal, has more of an association with Enmei ryu.
However, I believe that is a premature viewpoint, especially if you are not familiar with the history behind the first documentation and which audience it was written for. Being a treatise on both fundamental and advanced techniques that can benefit a martial artist, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō would benefit anyone who has interest in this field, even if just as an addition to one’s collection.
Looking at the similarities between both documentations, some of the rules in Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō are also included in Gorin no Sho. However, take note that the wording and/or approach expressing these differ abit between both. Furthermore, although older, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō contains some interesting perspectives by Musashi. Let’s evaluate this with a snippet from rule #2. I will present below the Japanese, along with my English translation.
The path of martial combat is the same throughout, from the militaristic system used for large armies, down to the individualistic combative skills.
In this writing I will use individualistic combative skills as an example for the comparison. Such as, one’s head (mind) is equivalent to the commander, the hands & feet are like close subordinates such as retainers. The torso is like the foot soldiers. If, through this idea, one trains the body as if to take over a country, then the path of martial combat is, without a doubt, the same on all levels.
This is an overall comparison of the discipline for the individualist skills honed by a martial artist being the same as that needed for an army to work well and succeed. It’s an interesting one, as it may directly explain how the mindset and approach to martial combat transitioned from the battlefield to individual skirmishes during the Edo period. Take note that rule #2 of Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is said to be related to the Earth Scroll chapter of Gorin no Sho, yet this doesn’t mean that this is a direct copy of words from one text to another. Anyone who’s familiar with both will notice that while Musashi makes references regarding the discipline of the martial artist is the same as in all professions in that particular chapter, he primarily makes that comparison using carpentry.
The following rules below are a few that offer new and unique perspectives of Musashi’s philosophy. That is, by how they are worded, as they don’t definitely fall into any of the chapters found in Gorin no Sho. Along with the original Japanese and my English translation, I will follow up with my interpretation of the meaning behind the following rules, as best as I understand. Of course, being my interpretation, this doesn’t mean that it is 100% perfect.
There are many points to this, along with needing to be there in the moment and having a presence of mind, in regards to making space around yourself. To explain this clearly hear, you must not have your mind elsewhere or on other matters. Like all paths, in order to achieve this you must have knowledge. The big picture here is to strike the opposition with your sword. To achieve this, one must have the mind of not being struck even by another person’s sword. When you do make the attempt to strike down someone, you must forget about yourself. This takes knowledge and lots of training.
For this, you control enough space around yourself, allowing room to deliver strikes, as well as avoiding any incoming ones from an opponent. When you do go forth with your attack, you must also commit to it and not hesitate, for that will leave the door open for the opposition to react.
To achieve this is to grasp on both the thoughts of you and your opponent. You pull yourself off line of an attack through your body, sword, legs, and mind. You will understand how to evade based on your opponent’s thoughts. This requires lots of training.
This rule is talking about being able to read what your opponent is trying to do. Simply put, one reacts accordingly to each of your opponent’s actions if you can grasp what he/she is planning next.
This is a method for you to allow things to take their natural course for some time based on the situation at hand. With our sword in hand, our attentive spirit is released as if things are normal, while our mind stays active. Or, as you strike down an enemy in a timely manner, you rest your mind, while staying attentive through intent. There are many points to be aware of when analyzing this. There is much information to gain from this.
In Japanese martial arts a fundamental skill reiterated a lot is zanshin (残心), which can be interpreted as staying attentive when a conflict has been ended. For the rule above, this goes beyond that, where one relaxes mentally yet stay attentive through intent, or vice versa.
This is about being like a tobaso (戸臍 or 枢, swinging door), where when getting close to the opponent, you quickly make yourself wider in appearance. This creates a distortion regarding enemy’s sword, and the body. It makes it that everything is exposed within the space between you and your opponent. Or, you make yourself a slim form as soon as possible as you propel your shoulder towards your opponent’s chest.
Musashi is describing how to change your body’s orientation, and uses the image of a hinged door as an example. In theory, squaring up with your opponent can be effective in many ways, including psychologically, as it gives the idea that you are a bigger target. Yet, if the enemy strikes, you turn sideways so the attack sails by, which allows you to deliver a counter strike.
Here concludes our discussion on Miyamoto Musashi’s first treatise. While the Gorin no Sho is truly the more popular one worldwide, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is still an active rule set used in certain Japan martial schools that follow in the lessons of Musashi. On top of that, there are publications on this, as well as plenty of websites that cover this in detail in Japan. While a smaller read, I would recommend those serious about martial arts to read the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, even just once.
We continue with the discussion on the legendary tales from Tenmangū. Since we were able to achieve an understanding behind these shrines through the history of Sugawara no Michizane in part 1, we will now proceed with those tales and get an idea how they have deep ties with the yearly ox Zodiac sign theme. Note that many of these stories were made long ago in Japan’s past, during a time where superstition was prevalent, and natural phenomenons were believed to have been caused by one of many gods. Whether they are believable or not, they do play a big role in the development of both culture and society.
BIRTH & DEATH
Sugawara no Michizane was elevated to the level of a divine being after his death due to his contributions while he was alive. This isn’t so unusual, as there are plenty of examples of this happening not only in Japan, but in other countries as well. Interestingly, one could say that this was already predetermined on the day of his birth. A tale that is told at the Tenmangū shrines is that his birth was an auspicious one, and truly denotes his connection with the ox Zodiac sign, which is considered beyond normal. In this particular tale, Michizane’s birth is recorded to not only been in the year of the ox, but was also on the day of the ox, and at the time of the ox¹. What does this mean?
The Zodiac signs have a multitude of purposes, some utilitarian, others mystical. In the past, they were used to denote years, days, and time, which was key for fortune telling. Depending on the period and the tasks that are at hand, a person may believe they will see benefits, or will heed caution and refrain from doing anything important. In Michizane’s case, this repeated occurrence with the ox sign in his birth is pretty auspicious, and viewed as beyond normal. On top of this, Michizane is said to have died on the day of the ox. Such a repetition of a Zodiac sign may point to him as being divine, like a deity who took the form of a human. As for the ox reference, one could interpret it that the ox brought him into the world, as well as returned him to his true realm, since the ox is naturally a vehicle of the gods. More on this point later.
VENGEFUL SPIRIT, WRATHFUL GOD
This tale can almost be seen as a continuation to part 1, based on how it’s told in the visual records of the Kitanō Tenmangū shrine called “Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki” (北野天神縁起絵巻). In 908, just 3 years after Michizane’s death, a member of the Fujiwara clan would die suddenly from disease. One year later, Fujiwara no Tokihira, the main antagonist in Michizane’s misfortune, also dies from disease. In 913, new Minister of the Right Minamoto no Hikaru would tragically die through drowning while out on a hunting expedition. As the Fujiwara clan gained a stronger hold of both the Imperial palace and Imperial family, more tragedy befell upon them. Such can be seen in the 930 incident where a lightning storm would strike down upon a building on the Imperial grounds where many members of the Fujiwara family were, resulting in a few of them dying on the spot, or later passing away due to suffering from lightning burns. The final tragedy befell on 60th Emperor Daigō, who is believed to have been the main target of the lightning storm. After the incident, Emperor Daigō’s health deteriorated, until finally dying 3 months later. The cause of this is viewed to be linked to his agreement with the validity of the accusations made by Tokihira and others, and Michizane being exiled from Heian Kyō.
This entire story is seen as an act of revenge by Michizane’s spirit that took its course over the course of almost 30 years. Initially, as these events were unfolding, the consensus within the Imperial palace was that Michizane’s vengeful spirit was cursing the Fujiwara clan. There were different attempts to try and “appease” him, such as bestowing upon him different titles including Minister of the Right, which was taken away from him through slander while he was still living. The lightning storm was the most severe, which happened later after the Fujiwara clan were able to become part of the Imperial family through one of the women conceiving a child for then Emperor Daigō, making him a prince. As a result, A Fujiwara member was sent to Anrakuji, where Michizane was buried at, to build an enshrinement. This enshrinement was then named Tenmangū. A few centuries later the Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki was created, which retells this story.
While there were those who described him as a vengeful spirit, Tenmangū instead envisions him as a wrathful god punishing wrongdoers in an act of justice. As a result, Michizane is called by several other names, including “Raijin” (雷神), which means “Thunder God”. According to old beliefs, a thunder god is generally depicted having the guise of an oni (鬼, demon) with horns². According to the Zodiac signs, the combination of the Ox and Tiger signs refer to demons, both metaphorically (i.e. they point towards the unlucky north-east direction on the typical Zodiac chart) and visually (demons are usually illustrated having ox-like horns and wearing tiger fur loincloth). This goes back to Michizane being born in the year of the ox, which contributes to this image.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OXEN
There is a legend that Michizane had encounters with an ox, which may have been his guardian spirit in disguise. During his youth, Michizane found a baby ox wandering alone in a wooded area. Appearing to be lost or abandoned, he took it into his residence, where he nurtured it until it grew into an adult. At some point, just as it suddenly appeared in his life, this ox suddenly disappeared without a trace. While he wanted to set out to search for it, in the end he let the matter go. Fast forward to when he was exiled to live his life in Dazaifu in the south, Michizane would one day travel west to Dōmyōji (道明寺, Dōmyō Temple) in Osaka to visit a relative³. After parting ways, he set out to head back home when he was unexpectedly attacked by an assailant. Before harm could befall on him, a large ox suddenly appeared and drove the assailant away, saving Michizane’s life. Just as quickly as it appeared, this ox would disappear from sight in the same way.
One of the ways to interpret this story is that the baby ox was a spirit. Since Michizane showed kindness and helped raise it, this ox spirit in return acted as a guardian spirit. In a way, it is not so different from many other Japanese fabled tales of similar nature. Although it is just a legend, this contributes to Michizane’s ever-persistent connection with the ox Zodiac sign. On another note, while in this version of the story the color of the ox is not mentioned, I’ve heard another one, although very brief, where Michizane was rescued by a white ox. While I’m not sure if this is a variation of the story mentioned above, there is significance in the white ox to the Buddhist god Shiva, which the Tenjin of Tenmangū is loosely based off of.
AN OX’S STUBBORNNESS AS FATE
Another story is directly related what took place after Michizane’s death and the decision with what to do with his remains. In his final days, Michizane wrote a poem as part of his will that states “people should allow themselves to be pulled along in a wagon by an ox, letting it take us where ever it may desire, and to eventually be buried in the spot where it stops at”⁴. Following this as his last wish, those sent to bury his remains put it in an ox-drawn wagon, and had intended to carry it all the way to Heian Kyō (present-day Kyōto) in the west in a procession. During the journey, the ox suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, laid down, and wouldn’t move. They didn’t make it far, as they were still in the southern part of Japan. Despite efforts to get it to stand up and proceed again, the ox wouldn’t budge. With no other choice, They took Michizane’s remains to a near by temple called Anrakuji, and had it buried there.
At Tenmangū shrines, the underlining point of this story is that everything happened based on fate. Michizane was destined to be laid to rest in the south, and the ox was like a divine messenger to show where the burial spot should be. Interestingly, this is where Michizane was enshrined in the 1st Tenmangū shrine, thus being deified. Again we see the significance of the ox, whether we choose to view this as chance or by fate.
OX AS A SERVANT OF THE GODS
If we look at some of the stories mentioned above, we see the ox had a close role in the life of Sugawara no Michizane, as well as after his death. At the Tenmangū, the ox is often described as a “shinshi” (神使), which can stand for being a servant or messenger of the gods. According to Shinto beliefs, there are spiritual creatures who, acting on the will of the god(s) they serve, come down to earth to handle tasks they were assigned to. At times, humans may also view these spiritual creatures as gods themselves. They would take the guise of earthly creatures such as foxes, monkeys, birds, snakes, and centipedes. In the Tenjin faith of Tenmangū, the ox is the main servant.
From another perspective, the ox can also be viewed as a vehicle for the gods. In Eastern religions and beliefs, gods are depicted as coming down to Earth on the back of a divine creature. These creatures include boars, horses, and oxen. There are artwork that feature Michizane sitting on the back of an ox, although in these he is in his humanly form, as if to say he did this while he was alive. Since Michizane is deified and now recognized as the Tenjin, this is fitting.
These are the majority of legendary tales from the Tenmangū. Bearing a lot of references to the ox, one can get an idea how important their underlining messages are especially when the ox Zodiac years come around. This here brings the 2-part series to a close. I hope readers enjoy this piece of history, and get an understanding about how intricately enwoven the Zodiac signs were with Japanese culture.
1) This is commonly written as “丑の年の丑の日の丑の刻”, which reads “ushi no toshi no ushi no hi no ushi no koku”
2) This is more in the vein of a divine demon, who is a guardian of Buddhism. Another way to describe this would be “onigami” (鬼神), or “demon god”.
3) This relative is stated to be an oba (叔母), which could mean aunt.
4) Although written in modernized Japanese, this is an interpretation of the poem:
“Kuruma wo ushi ni hikasete, ushi no yuku mama ni makase, ushi no tomatta tokoro ni hōmuttekure”
Note that during the Heian period, ox-drawn wagons were popular among the populous, which may have had an influence on him writing this.
During a research project a while ago, I came across an interesting point regarding Tokugawa Ieyasu, the feudal lord to unify all of Japan in the early 1600s, and first shogun of the Tokugawa Bakufu (徳川幕府, Militaristic rule of the Tokugawa clan). I came across notes online that state he would have himself addressed as “Tokugawa Minamoto Ieyasu” (徳川源家康) within some administrative-related letters and documents¹. For those who are familiar with the earlier years of Japanese history should know about the Minamoto clan, which was a powerful clan with nobility roots to the Imperial family, and greatly recognized for their prowess in military campaigns by a few exemplary individuals from the Heian period to the Kamakura period. What is this significant link that the Tokugawa family have with this clan?
Before modern Japan, it was commonplace for people to change their names. There are numerous reasons for this, such as to represent one’s (new) living area, job title, adoption into a new family, rise in status, and so on². In most cases, an explanation is given in surviving documents, whether it be in the form of a diary, family records, of official papers. In some of these cases, however, are critical disputes on the validity of these documents and their claims.
For this article, we will look at Tokugawa Ieyasu and the story behind the lineage he established. This ranges from his own personal history, the factors in which prompted him to take on a new name, as well as his family line’s connection to the Minamoto clan. Some of the sources used for this includes the following:
Ieyasu was born in the Matsudaira family, who were from Matsudaira Village in Kamo District of Mikawa Province (present day Matsudaira Town, Aichi Prefecture). The Matsudaira family were an influential one, who would eventually gain full control over their domain for many years once there was no one to challenge them. After becoming shogun and establishing the Tokugawa Bakufu in the early 1600s, Ieyasu presented a genealogy for his family line, which illustrates the Matsudaira line was started by Matsudaira Chikauji (松平親氏). This Matsudaira Chikauji is stated to have a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage (清和源氏), which is but one of the different lines that have ancestry to the noble Genji clan.
Some points to understand regarding this Seiwa-Genji line:
This line descends from the 56th successor Emperor Seiwa, making it the most powerful of all the other Genji lines.
All Genji lines originate from the Minamoto clan, a family of nobility whom were once one of many imperial families during the Heian period.
While they have a long history, the Minamoto clan are especially renown for their on-going struggle for power against the Taira clan which eventually lead to victory within the late Heian period (794-1185).
One of the main representatives of this Seiwa-Genji line is Minamoto no Yoshiie (源義家, 1039-1106), who is viewed as a legendary figure being the role model for the brave, armor-clad warriors whom would later rise and establish Japan into a military state.
Here’s an explanation of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s claim to the Seiwa-Genji link. His ancestor, Chikauji, is a descendant of the Serata³ clan, which split from the Nitta-Genji (新田源氏) line (another branching line from the original Seiwa-Genji). The Serata clan left the Nitta Manor in Tokugawa Village (新田庄徳河郷), and later established their own home in Serata Village in another part of Tokugawa (世良田郷徳河) within Ueno Province⁴. According to different sources, early in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), Chikauji and his father Arichika (有親) fought alongside with others against the Kamakura bakufu within the Shinano area in eastern Japan. They were on the losing side, and had to flee from the pursuit of Ashikaga Takauji and his force. Not being able to return to their homeland, they escaped to Sagami Province. Reaching the Shōjōkō Temple, Chikauji took vows there to become a Jishu sect monk under the name “Tokuami” (徳阿弥)⁵. Later, he would travel to Matsudaira Village in Mikawa, and became a member of the Matsudaira family through marrying the daughter of Matsudaira Taro Saemon. Thus, Ieyasu’s claim is that his blood line directly comes from Minamoto no Yoshiie through Chikauji, as well as past generations were known as “Tokugawa” due to Serata Village being in Tokugawa.
Above is a genealogy chart I’ve prepared that illustrates the generations that progresses from Minamoto no Yoshiie all the way to Matsudaira Chikauji. It also includes how certain individuals changed their surname generally based on the geographical location they were living in, which led to the establishment of new branching family lines. Some of them even did this multiple times. If we look at Chikauji at the bottom of the 2nd image, he too is a prime example of switching surnames. Apparently he went by “Tokugawa” at one point when he was residing at Tokugawa Village, while he would eventually switch to Matsudaira.
IEYASU AND HIS CHANGE TO TOKUGAWA
Looking into Tokugawa Ieyasu’s personal history, he went through a period where his identity changed in stages before establishing the Tokugawa shogunate and ruling all of Japan. As a summary, he was known by the name of Takechiyo (竹千代) during his childhood. When he was given his ceremony of adulthood at the age of 16⁶, his given name 1st changed to Motonobu (元信), then later to Motoyasu (元康) while working under Imagawa Yoshimoto, but kept his family name “Matsudaira” the same. He inherited the role of the 9th head of the Matsudaira clan, yet didn’t spend much of his life with them in Mikawa after the age of 6, for he was sent away as a hostage⁷ by his father, Matsudaira Hirotada. He was 1st under the care of Oda Nobuhide in Owari Province for 2 years, then later sent to his intended caretaker Imagawa Yoshimoto in Suraga Province, who lorded over Mikawa. Eventually, he would gain complete control over Mikawa when Yoshimoto died during the battle of Okehazama in 1560, which was the final of the ongoing war this individual had against the ambitious warlord Oda Nobunaga. His military career truly took off under the title of Matsudaira Motoyasu, and would continue especially after his identity undergone yet another change.
In 1563 he would alter his first name, from “Motoyasu” to “Ieyasu”. 3 years later, he would then change his family name from “Motoyasu” to “Tokugawa” as an official title from the Imperial court. While it is very common to have one’s family name changed in relations to receiving an official rank with some sort of back story, there is none whatsoever in Ieyasu’s case at the time. It would be many years later during the 1st year of the Edo period that Ieyasu would reveal that in his family’s genealogy, which traces back to the Serata clan, there were a few individuals who bore the name Tokugawa. It is through this connection that he believed it was best to reinstate this name. Some researchers question this as there was no mention of this in his earlier years, especially from someone who grew up away from his own clan members during his youth. Another interesting point that is mentioned is that members of Ieyasu’s Matsudaira clan did not change their family name to Tokugawa after his rise in power, but did not hesitate to use this surname when needed.
QUESTIONING THE AUTHORITY TO POWER
By setting up the new Tokugawa bakufu in Edo (present day Tokyo), Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to establish rules, regulations, and territorial development process throughout Japan. Official documentations were also transcribed, which were used to retain all sorts of important information. Some examples of these are the Mikawa Monogatari (三河物語), which is a documentation of historical tales and accomplishments regarding families from Mikawa including the Matsudaira/Tokugawa, and the Kansei Chōshū Shokafu (寛政重脩諸家譜), which is a collection of many different genealogy, including that of land owners and military families. In these we can see the genealogy of Ieyasu, which claims an ancestral link to the Minamoto clan through the Seiwa-Genji line.
Despite these documentations, historians and researchers are skeptical about this claim. Some of these arguing points include the following:
There is very little concrete info on those individuals who come before Chikauji
There is no evidence of a Serata member migrating to Mikawa, let alone it being Chikauji
Outside of Ieyasu’s genealogy claim, there are no other details regarding a family lineage presented by other Matsudaira members
There isn’t much solid proof of where such a well-detailed genealogy comes from. Taking his historical account into consideration, Ieyasu didn’t spend a lot of his time in Mikawa, let alone amongst his Matsudaira clan members. This isn’t an unusual case, to be honest. There are even some questions regarding those that come after Chikauji in this genealogy, but for this article I will refrain from discussing those, as they don’t have the same weight as the ones mentioned above. What’s interesting to note is that Imagawa Yoshimoto, Ieyasu’s primary care taker in his early years, also claimed a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage. Possibly this is where Ieyasu got the idea from and decided to follow suit?
If there is solid ground for skepticism, what would be the benefit of fabricating a lineage? Understand that after military rule was established by Minamoto no Yoritomo as the 1st ruling Shogun during early Kamakura period (1185 ~ 1333), not just anyone could simply use force and claim the title as “shogun”. It had to be acquired through the following 2 points:
1) Appointed by the Emperor
2) It could only be given to those of (according to very old beliefs and fables) “noble families that were descendants of the gods that created Japan and the world”
While we will not delve into the specifics of the 2nd point, we can sum this point up by the fact that the Minamoto clan, like many other noble families, was established with the proclamation of ancestry under a specific god, thus their connection with the Imperial court bearing the status of nobility. This link to nobility, along with other factors, is what granted Minamoto no Yoshiie the qualification to be appointed as shogun by the Emperor during his military career⁸. It is not hard to see the advantage of claiming rights to rule as Shogun through a link to the Seiwa-Genji lineage.
Claims to nobility wasn’t something that only Ieyasu took advantage of, for there were others before him who used the same proclamation to acquire the shogun title. For example, the Ashikaga clan, whom had a long line of shogun successors throughout the Muromachi period (1336 ~ 1573), also did the same and claimed ancestry to the Seiwa-Genji lineage. Toyotomi Hideyoshi also dabbled in such play of claiming a link to nobility, for when he was able to rise to the top through superior military strength over his adversaries, he was initially faced with an issue that would prevent him from becoming shogun. The son of a lower class family, Hideyoshi was not born with a noble surname, meaning he had the blood of a mere commoner. To rectify this situation, he was advised, as well as permitted, to be adopted by an Imperial court noble named Konoe Sakihisa. Through this newly-established noble link, Hideyoshi was allowed to receive the title shogun from the Imperial court.
This research on Tokugawa Ieyasu’s claimed genealogy, along with the critical disputes against it is an interesting one. It gives a glimpse of methods those who have the means can use in order to secure their position to achieve success or claim power. Even though this matter is centuries old, researchers still take the time to examine just how real the roots of the unifier of Japan truly is in order to understand the history of his ancestors…that is if any traces of it can be discovered. It’s but one of the many ways to learn about the past and understand Japan when society was structured very differently from modern times.
1) In a related topic, the online edition of Sankei News reported about a letter written in 1586, where Tokugawa Ieyasu used the title addressed as “Fujiwara Ieyasu” (藤原家康) in 1586. It appears that along with the surname change to “Tokugawa”, Ieyasu initially wanted to elevate his status even higher through an ancestral link to the Fujiwara family. For those unfamiliar with this, the Fujiwara family were elite to the point that they were not only the most influential in the Imperial court, but they also had control of the Imperial house behind the scenes through manipulating which member of the Imperial family would be the next successor. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu’s predecessor, was another who used the Fujiwara surname at times after he established himself with a noble lineage.
2) One of the more interesting cases I’ve heard is that some people would change both their given and family names if they feel their current ones are unlucky. To improve their luck, changing them to ones that are more appealing in meaning is a route that is seen as beneficial.
3) Also pronounced as “Serada”
4) The kanji (Chinese-bsed characters) for “Tokugawa” uses an older way of writing. There are different ways in which this name has been written throughout the ages. Here are the following:
徳川 (most familiar)
5) This is explained in the “Mikawa Monogatari” (三河物語). There is a slightly different take on this in an earlier publication called “Matsudaira Yuishogaki” (松平氏由緒書). This too presents descriptions regarding the Matsudaira genealogy, but for Chikauji’s case he is not written to have been a monk. Instead, he left his hometown on a solo journey across the lands like a wanderer. Because of this, there are beliefs that this part about him becoming a monk is a fabrication, and added to later documentations.
6) This is known as “genpuku” (元服) in Japanese.
7) This “hostage” case is very common throughout Japan’s history. Different from the idea of kidnapping by force, in many situations a clan that is controlled by another more powerful clan would send family members to reside with them. While these members are given to fulfill a particular need by the powerful clan, the gist of it is to keep those family members in order to control the lesser clan. There are also many political usages behind this.
8) Before the establishment of military rule, the title “shogun” had a slightly different nuance, along with a different manner of entitlement. During the Nara and Heian period, certain renown warriors who were recruited to deal with supposed threats (i.e. “barbarians” and “villains”) to the Imperial palace and the aristocratic governing system would be given this title. In Minamoto no Yoshiie’s case, his complete title was “Chinjufu Shogun” (鎮守府将軍), which has the full meaning of “Commander-in-Chief of the army which pacifies threats from the North”.
February 22nd is a special day, as it is a day of recognition for 2 separate themes in Japan. The first one is “Neko no Hi” (猫の日), or “Cat’s Day”¹, which has been around since 1987. The second is “Ninja no Hi” (忍者の日), or “Ninja Day”², which started in 2015. In this post I will pay tribute to both by introducing a topic that relates how cats were useful to the ninja.
There is a method for telling time called “neko no medokei” (猫の眼時計), or “cat’s eye clock”. During a time with no electricity and dependency was on the light from the sun, people in the past could use this method to tell the time by looking at a cat’s eye and observe how the pupils adjust based on the position of the sun. This is considered a special method used by ninja when they were active during middle ages in Japan. A few points to keep in mind regarding this is that while the method is indeed old, it was not originated by ninja, nor was it only used by them.
The concept behind the neko no medokei actually comes from a set of documents written in China in the year 860 called “Yūyō Zasso” (酉陽雑俎, Yŏu yáng zá zǔ in Mandarin Chinese). Within this text is a mixture of educational lessons and bizarre stories. Physical traits, coupled with some odd interpretations, regarding cats and their behavior with their eyes, nose, ears, and so on are included in this. Eventually, this text was brought over to Japan during the cultural exchanges in Japan’s earlier history, with the information on cat’s eyes being the inspiration to using it as a method for telling time. Of course, as with many things that have been adopted into their culture, the Japanese would put their own spin on it in order for it to fit with their culture and needs…this includes the ninja as well.
There is an old text called Mansenshukai (万川集海), which is considered one of the 3 important manuscripts of the ninja³. Within this text is a section called “Tenmonben” (天文編) which details information regarding weather conditions, operating at night, and telling time. There is a poem that describes how the neko no medokei works, which goes as the following:
「猫眼歌二 六ツ丸ク 五七ハタマコ 四ツ八ツ柿ノ實二て 九ツハ針」
“nekome uta ni mutsu maruku itsutsu nanatsu wa tamago yotsu yatsu kaki no mi nite kokonotsu hari”
Although written in code, this poem states simply the different shapes a cat’s pupils would undergo, which is related to the time of day based on sunlight. The details work according to the old clock system used before modern times, which incorporates the Zodiac signs from the Lunar calendar to indicate the specific hour(s) in a day. Here’s a breakdown of the poem:
Mutsu (六ツ) refers to the 6th hour of both the morning and evening, which would be at dawn and sunset respectively. At these times, a cat’s pupil will be a circle shape since dawn occurs before sunrise, and evening should arrive after sunset.
Itsutsu (五) represents modern time range 6~8 in the morning, and nanatsu (七) refer to 3~5 in the afternoon. A cat’s pupil will become an egg shape as sunlight is nowhere near being its brightest.
Yotsu (四ツ) represents modern time range 9~10 in the morning, while yatsu (八ツ) refers to 1~2 in the afternoon. A cat’s pupil will look like the shape of a persimmon seed as outside is pretty bright.
Kokonotsu (九ツ) represents the time around 12 pm, where the sun is at its brightest. Due to how bright outside is with the sun being at its highest point, a cat’s pupil will become thin and look like a pin.
Prior understanding of how to read this old clock system was critical in deciphering this poem in the past, although nowadays there are plenty of sources that explain it. Visually there are diagrams that interpret the details very clearly, such as the ones presented below.
One would imagine that the neko no medokei would’ve been useful for those who stayed in one location. While it is claimed that a ninja could use this while on a mission, most likely this would’ve been so during the day, for the neko no metokei wouldn’t be effective at night.
For those who own a cat could test this time reading method and see if the results are the same as above. If I did, I totally would give this a shot!
1) One of the reasons February 22nd was chosen as Neko no Hi is because the number 2 is pronounced as “ni” (nee) in Japanese. It is said that if you say just the numbers that represent this date as “ni-ni-ni” fast, it resembles the sound a cat makes.
2) One of the reasons February 22nd was chosen as Ninja no Hi is because of how the number 2 sounds close to “nin”, which is one way to say the word “忍” (nin, perseverance) and is usually associated with the image of ninja especially in pop culture. Basically, if you say just the numbers that represent this date as “ni-ni-ni” fast, it sounds like you are saying “nin-nin-nin”, which is like a shorthand of saying ninja.
3) These 3 are the following: Mansenshūkai (万川集海, also called “Bansenshukai”), Ninpiden (忍秘伝, also called “Shinobi Hiden”), and Shōninki (正忍記). Together, these are often categorized as “sandai ninjutsu densho” (三大忍術伝書, the 3 great secret texts of ninjutsu) in Japanese.
We continue with part 2 regarding the true image of Sanada Yukimura. In part 1 we established that his real name was Nobushige, took a brief overview of his historical bio, and examined the source behind the label “Yukimura” along with the idea behind it. In this post we will look at the fictional side spurred on by the Yukimura image, and how real life accounts fit into this. Take note that when addressing non-academic source materials such as movies and novels, one should not automatically assume that these are completely false info which can can be discarded in a blink of the eye. Depending on the author/director’s intentions, these could very much follow along accurately with historical events in order to make a solid and entertaining story. They may even contain info that tends to be difficult to find. However, what is important is to recognize which points are fiction in these works, and how to discern the correct info that can be compared to factual sources.
PERSONALITY OF A HERO
When analyzing the image of Sanada Yukimura, we see him represented as one of Japan’s greatest war heroes. This is in part to how he’s portrayed in novels, shows, and movies, both old and new. Depending on the literary work, Yukimura is given a personality that portrays him as stoic, righteous, and heroic figure. This is common especially if the individual is the main character. He is usually depicted as one who stands by his principles and doing whatever it takes to ensure victory, especially for the Toyotomi family. In instances regarding the Osaka Campaign, Yukimura is shown leading his troops head-on into the thick of battle, while in others he is resourceful with carefully analyzed plans that lead to successful outcome. One of the themes that is considered memorable is him commanding his elite warriors and having them operate as kagemusha (影武者, body double) of himself, which was a deceptive tactic to disrupt the enemies’ focus and lower their morality as they get overwhelmed dealing with multiple “Yukimura”.
Take this as an example. In the novel “Chōbō Sanada Yukimura” (智謀真田幸村), Yukimura is shown to be ever protective of his master, Hideyoshi Hideyori after the defeat during the Osaka Campaign. As an escape to Sasshū Province (western part of present-day Kagoshima prefecture) has been established, he is portrayed saying the following lines to a fellow comrade named Gotō Matabei¹:
…considering things from where I stand right now, I want to prevent my lord from dying in this war, if granted such an opportunity”
”On top of this, my thoughts are to gather a number of people, and have them reestablish the Toyotomi clan through the help of the Shimazu (Shimadzu) clan. Through this, I would want to have someone play your double, and then have him die in (the next) battle where everyone can see.”
To the very end, Yukimura dedicates his life in preserving the true Toyotomi line, even when the odds are surely against them. Establishing a new Toyotomi family, and using doubles for certain individuals that would continue the fight and eventually die at the hands of Tokugawa Shogunate would stop any pursuers coming for them. As impressive as this may sound, this is just a novel. Yet, this also goes in hand with the narrative regarding him avoiding death and managing to survive Osaka Campaign.
In fictional works there tends to be characters that don’t have a real historical presence, but used for the sake of the story. In the various novels that feature Yukimura, there are cases of this, sometimes being minor individuals who help to fill in the gaps where history leaves open. Other times a real figure is used to model a new character placed in the story. Since literary works regarding Sanada Yukimura were stated to be based on true events in the past, like many other novels of its kind, future generation may inadvertently mistaken fictional characters as to being actual people.
Other than Yukimura himself, possibly the largest example of fictional characters is found in the “Sanada Jūyūshi” (真田十勇士), which is a label given to 10 brave warriors representing families that were allies to the Sanada clan. The appearance of this Sanada Jūyūshi is often attributed to “Sanada Sandaiki” (真田三代記), a Sanada-supportive narrative produced in the Edo period. Although viewed as fictional, these characters grew in popularity and appeared in modern-day novels, manga, movies, and the like. Some of the individuals even appeared in works centering about them, which further developed their background story to the point where they sound like they truly came out from the pages of history. The following is a list of the those individuals of the Sanada Jūyūshi²:
Sarutobi Sasuke (猿飛佐助) – a famous ninja employed by the Sanada clan, he is said to be the student of the legendary Koka ryu ninjutsu master named Tozawa Hakuunsai.
Kirigakure Saizō (霧隠才蔵) – a ninja who was the student of Momochi Sandayu, lord of one of the 3 powerful families of Iga Prefecture.
Miyoshi Seikai Nyūdō (三好清海入道) – A monk employed by Yukimura who is renown as a hero fighting to his death during the Osaka Campaign.
Miyoshi Isa Nyūdō (三好伊三入道) – Younger brother of Sekai who was also a monk, and hailed as a hero dying in battle during the Osaka Campaign.
Anayama Kosuke (穴山 こすけ) – A dedicated retainer of Yukimura, he played the double of his master during the Osaka Campaign.
Yuri Kamanosuke (由利鎌之助) – Once a retainer Toda Suganuma, he switched to the Sanada side after the Toda were defeated in battle.
Kakei Jūzō (筧十蔵) – From the Kakei family, allies of the Sanada clan. Apart from Jūzō, other members of the Kakei family also appear in different Sanada-related stories.
Unno Rokurō (海野六郎) – A fellow kinsman, as his family line is from where the Sanada line originates from.
Nezu Jinpachi (根津甚八) – Once a pirate for the Kuki navy, he later becomes a retainer of Yukimura. His family line, like the Sanada line, also originates from the Unno line.
Mochizuki Rokurō (望月六郎) – A mysterious ally of Yukimura who specializes in explosives. Rokurō is also known under different titles depending on the story he appears in.
Note that while they make up the Jūyūshi due to their inclusion in various works as allies of Yukimura since as early as the Edo period, this wasn’t an official title for them until sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Some other things worth mentioning is that while these characters are deemed fictional, most of them are considered to have been inspired by actual people from history. For example, the concept of Sarutobi Sasuke is believed to have been based off of one of several different individuals whose names appear in different texts. The most popular theory is Sarutobi Nisuke³ (猿飛仁助), who is said to have been a thief hired to assist in the “Battle of Kanegasaki” (金ヶ崎の戦い) by a Kinoshita Tokichirō (木下藤吉郎) in 1570⁴. In another example, Miyoshi Sekai and his brother are believed to have been modeled after Miyoshi Masakatsu (三好政勝) and his family. Masakatsu became head of the Miyoshi clan and served under Hosokawa Harumoto after his father, Miyoshi Masanaga (三好政長), retired.
A staple that will probably be forever associated with Sanada Yukimura is red armor. This is something Yukimura and his troops donned on right before the Osaka Campaign. The concept of wearing red armor is thought to be intimidating due to its fiery color. It’s said that it has such a psychological effect on his enemy Tokugawa Ieyasu that his umajirushi (馬印, a battle flag on a pole inserted into a slot on the back of one’s armor) fell down, which is said to be a bad omen. Yukimura is, with no hesitation, depicted in red armor in novels and visual in artworks from Edo period. Due to these, the trend continues in modern times. This association to the red armor is not limited to Yukimura, for the Sanada clan as a whole is included as well.
Of course, this claim of red armor doesn’t come without critical disputes. One of the more recent claims is that the Sanada red armor is just as much as a myth as the name Yukimura, for this famed red armor of his (Nobushige’s) has yet to be claimed and placed in a museum. One argument is that the actual armor that Nobushige wore was found, and that it was actually black. Another argument is that within certain households in Japan that have some form of link to the Sanada clan have preserved these old red armor, but the color is not a vibrant red but a dull brownish-red color. Considering how wars in the past were conducted, it is not unusual for certain things like armor to have been taken by the victor, or lost during the chaotic fray. Interestingly, in 2017 there was an article in a Japanese newspaper regarding family in Nagano, Japan coming forth with what looks to be the remains of a very old red armor, along with an aged note stating it was the possession of the Sanada clan. It was up on display at the Sanada Hobutsukan (真田宝物館, Sanada Sacred Treasures Museum) that same year.
As a side note, the idea of wearing red armor isn’t an original concept by the Sanada clan, nor was a it a rare sight. Historical sources point to the warlord of Kai province, Takeda Shingen, as being the first to devise this strategy around the mid 1500s. It’s said of intimidation the opposition with this type of color. Shingen had a designated team of soldiers wear red armor in order to catch the enemy force’s eyes and instill fear as they rushed into battle. It is from here which Sanada Masayuki (Nobushige’s father) adopted the idea of red armor within his clan. Whether or not members of the Sanada clan donned on red armor prior to the events in Osaka Campaign is still up for debate, but there is one evidence that points to this as being a thing. In Hirayama Masaru’s book “Sanada Nobuyuki: Chichi no Chiryaku ni katta Ketsudan-ryoku” (真田信之 父の知略に勝った決断力), he reveals that when an order from Toyotomi Hideyoshi came regarding being prepared for military service in 1593, Sanada Nobuyuki (Nobushige’s older brother) replied that the warriors of the Sanada clan were always ready to serve while donning on red armor. Years later, during the Battle of Sekigahara a retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu known as Ii Naomasa (井伊直政) also adopted the idea of wearing red armor and outfitted his troops the same way. What’s unique in this is that he was a comrade to Nobuyuki, who at the time sided with the Tokugawa-Eastern forces as ordered by his father Masayuki as a means to ensure the Sanada line survives no matter which side wins.
SANADA = NINJA?!?
Since the Edo period all the way to the present, the Sanada clan is presented as heavily associated with ninja. Employing a large number of these shadowy figures, ninja from both the regions of Iga and Koga are portrayed as serving Sanada members like Masayuki, Nobuyuki, and Yukimura. While it starts off small in earlier works in the Edo period, this image became more pronounced in later works such as novel Sanada Sandaiki, where all 10 members of the Jūyūshi are ninja or related to a ninja. This even lead to more focus on the ninja theme in modern works, including movies such as “Ninjutsu Sanada Jūyūshi” (忍術真田十勇士) and “Sanada Fuunroku” (真田風雲録), as well as 2016 drama “Sanada-Maru” (真田丸)⁵.
What is the reason behind this large focus on ninja being employed by the Sanada clan? Is it just a ploy to bolster the image of Yukimura (Nobushige), which in turn developed into its own entity entirely? In some ways, yes. However, this is not a baseless creation or idea. There are records that point to the Sanada clan having a working relationship with different groups that specialized in the fundamental skills that would become what we call “ninjutsu” in modern days. According to some, the Sanada clan are also said to have engaged in ninja-like activities themselves. The root of this is generally connected to Takeda Shingen and when he was ruler of Kai Province during the early-mid 1500s. Shingen is recorded as utilizing not only a network of different groups taking part in espionage and information-gathering, but establishing an in-house system of ninjutsu, which a select number of his generals were privy to learning in order to assist in maintaining it. At the time, Sanada Yukitaka (Nobushige’s grandfather) was serving Shingen and not only had knowledge of utilizing ninja, but is said to have taken part in ninja-like operations. Yukitaka’s son Sanada Masayuki would continue this as one of the 24 top generals of the Takeda clan. In fact, some claim that after Takeda Shingen’s death and the fall of the Takeda clan, Masayuki would keep up this network of utilizing ninja.
One piece of evidence for this is found in an old historical memoir called Kazawaki (加沢記), which is an account of activities that took place in areas around Kosuke Province (present-day Gunma prefecture) during the 1500s. Ninja-like groups from Higashi Agazuma area (東吾妻方地) are written to have been utilized by Takeda Shingen and members of the Sanada Clan. This is significant due to Higashi Agazuma area featuring densely wooded routes that were used not only by the local ninja, but it said that members of the Sanada clan also had access to these as well.
This leads to the famed Yukimura and his Jūyūshi. The ninja members such as Kirigakure Saizō have been identified as fictional characters. Claims are that they were inspired by real life figures who may not have actually had any connections with Yukimura. Yet, could it be that there were actual ninja working closely to him? There is one that is worth mentioning. Sources point to the Yokotani family (横谷氏), who are said to have been ninja from Shinano Province (part of present-day Nagano Prefecture). While there is not a lot of info on them, it is believed that they were active throughout the 1500s to about the early 1600s as members of a ninja group from Agazuma area, who were under the employment of Ideura Morikiyo (出浦 盛清), a vassal of the Sanada clan. Notable members are Yokotani Yukishige (横谷幸重), who is said to have served Sanada Nobuyuki (Nobushige’s older brother), while his younger brother Yokotani Shigeuji (横谷重氏) had served Nobushige. Shigeuji, who also went by the title “Sakon” (左近), died during Osaka Campaign, just like others who were serving Nobushige during the battle. Some researchers believe that Yokotani Shigeuji could have inspired the idea of Sarutobi Sasuke, but this hasn’t been proven yet.
So the idea of a ninja employed under Nobushige, fighting during the Osaka Campaign, and dying as possibly a kagemusha for him is a strong possibility. On top of that, with the Sanada clan’s deep connection with utilizing ninja groups, it can be understood why they are presented the way they are. However, it is too far of a stretch to say everyone around Nobushige was a ninja, and that the Jūyūshi were composed entirely of them. See, when you have a forced portrayal of Miyoshi Seikai Nyūdō being the son of the fictional thief ninja Ishikawa Goemon as depicted in Shibata Renzaborū’s novel “Sanada Yukimura~Sanada Jūyūshi” (真田幸村～真田十勇士), it’s hard not to say that this is due to the popularity of ninja in modern society.
Here we conclude the discussion on this famous hero. In ending, writing about Sanada Yukimura (Nobushige) is a tough topic to pick up and try to address from a historical point of view. To be exact, this was a several months-long project, which included acquiring a Sanada-related books, reading through well-known novels, researching historical sources, and going through sites that spoke about both the real side and the fictional side of Yukimura, to say the least. In the long run, due to how history was recorded hundreds of years ago, it is hard to get a definitive answer on certain points, especially when writers add their creative perspective to make a war story sound more epic.
1) Chapter 54, page 431
2) Depending on the source material, some of these characters bear a different name or are presented in a revised way. The one above is a standard listing.
3) The credibility of the source that mentions Sarutobi Nisuke is also under scrutiny, thus historians feel that he may have been made up to fit some agenda.
4) This was another alias used by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a warlord who managed to seize control of Japan in the later part of the 1500s
5) The terms ninja and ninjutsu are used loosely here, as they are modern words used to identify those who engaged in clandestine activities such as spying, and information gathering. While in the past there were different labels depending on the region and who they were employed by, the universal term was often considered to be shinobi (忍び), and their methods called shinobi-no-jutsu (忍びの術). For the sake of ease in understanding for casual readers, the terms ninja and ninjutsu were chosen to be used in this article.
Those who invest time in studying up on the Sengoku jidai (戦国時代, Warring States period) of Japan will eventually come across accounts concerning the Sanada clan. Possibly one of the more popular figures, the Sanada clan are renown for their brave, unorthodox methods of warfare while under the allegiance to warlords such as Takeda Shingen and Hideyoshi Hideyori. Out of the known members of this clan, the most talked about would arguably be the one named Yukimura. To some it would be due to his fame, yet this in turn is riddled with discrepancy. Who was this Sanada Yukimura?
Primarily inspired (mainly from curiosity) through the Kai Kokushi project found in the Translation section of this blog¹, I decided to take a shot at presenting the true face of Yukimura, as well as separating him from the fabled image that is currently predominant around the world. What I’ve found out, however, that this is a task that, in the very end would still have holes due to a lack of solid factual evidence, making it near impossible to paint a perfect picture. A plus to all this is understanding the situation enough where I can at least explain it where readers can discern just how difficult it is to claim what is historically real and what is fabricated through fiction.
In this 1st post of this 2-part discussion, we will touch upon the historical story regarding of the true Yukimura, the origins of the fictional Yukimura, and the proposed reasoning behind the name.
BRIEF LOOK AT THE LIFE OF NOBUSHIGE
To understand the legend of Sanada Yukimura is to learn about how historical sources view him. For starters, Sanada Yukimura’s actual name is said to be Nobushige (信繁). His active participation in war is often recited to be around 1600, when the Western forcess of the Toyotomi clan went to war against the Eastern forces of the Tokugawa clan for control over Japan during the “War at Sekigahara” (関ヶ原合戦, Sekigahara Gassen)². During this time he was fighting alongside his father, Sanada Masayuki while establishing a strong fortification in Ueda Castle on the side of the Toyotomi clan. Records point out that Nobushige and his father went into hiding at Kudoyama (九度山) in northern Wakayama prefecture after the Tokugawa-Eastern force came out victorious in the battle and had Masayuki exiled.
Many years later, Nobushige and his troops joined allies of the remaining Toyotomi clan to occupy Osaka Castle, as well as took part in the fighting against the Tokugawa shogunate that ensued afterwards, known as the Osaka Campaign (大阪の陣, Osaka no Jin) in 1614. Nobushige is said to have been a skilled strategist, as he performed effective tactics such as securing a weakpoint on the side of Osaka castle with his own fortification called “Sanada-maru” (真田丸), which proved to be near impenetrable. He also divided his troops into smaller squads around the battlefield and attacked their enemies from multiple directions, disrupting the opposite side’s advancements a few times. As talented as he was, however, in the long run Nobushige met his end during one of the smaller conflicts that took place during the war called “Battle at Mikatagahara” (三方ヶ原の戦い, Mikatagahara no Tatakai). It is recorded that while he was wounded and tired amongst a grove of trees, Nobushige was successfully killed and decapitated. The rest of his troops shared a similar fate.
Yet, there is much mystery surrounding his death as well, as there are claims that he had managed to escape to Satsuma province (present-day Kagoshima) through the use of many kagemusha (影武者, someone posing as a double of another). These kagemusha perished in battle posing as him³. This is a recent claim made in 1941 by researchers who came across the grave of one of Nobushige’s grandchildren in Kagoshima, who’s name was Sanada Daisuke (真田大助). Speaking of graves, supposedly Nobushige has many graves around certain areas in Japan; while this isn’t an unusual thing in Japan, a few of these are in areas where certain individuals claim he traveled abit during his escape before making his residence there. Of course, these claims are made during modern times.
Is it a possibility that one of these claims are true? Could it be that the myth created from the novels that portray Sanada Yukimura as a legendary figure was the inspiration for random people to devise such plans that support the notion of Nobushige having survived the Osaka campaign? This goes against the official report by the Tokugawa shogunate where, despite soldiers claiming to have brought back the head of this fearless warrior, they were able to confirm his death through using an acquaintance of the Sanada clan to identify the correct head of Nobushige.
In the actual records before Nobushige’s untimely death, the name “Yukimura” doesn’t come up at all. However, it becomes widely used later. In reality, surviving records show that this figure is known by the name of Nobushige, along with other titles he took on during his military career⁴. While he is a recognized warrior of the Sanada clan, Nobushige’s military career is somewhat underwhelming. When comparing merits and achievements, it appears that a few of his predecessors accomplished more. For instance, his father Masayuki is a much more renown individual due to his illustrious career on and off the battlefield serving different lords, including his long time servitude under Takeda Shingen as one of his top 24 generals.
BIRTH OF “YUKIMURA”
When does the name “Yukimura” start to come into play? The earliest example is in the war chronicle “Nanba Senki”⁵ (難波戦記), which was written in 1672, years later after the Tokugawa Shogunate was well established and had complete rule over Japan. This covers the actual events that unfolded during the Osaka Campaign, told from the supportive side of Tokugawa Ieyasu and his allies. When it comes down to speaking about the Sanada clan and their forces, who were on the opposing side, the name used to identify Nobushige was not his real name, but “Yukimura” instead.
This trend continued, as the name Yukimura also appeared in other places, such as the official family registry for lords and their retainers called “Kanseichōshu Shokafu”(寛政重修諸家譜), the Sanada lineage & history compiled in Matsushiro district (present-day Matsushiro Town, Nagano), as well as fictional war novels such as “Chibō Sanada Yukimura” (智謀真田幸村) and “Sanada Sandaiki” (真田三代記). These were all written during the Edo period. The continuous use of this name gave many the perspective that this was the official name, thus the Yukimura tag further its inclusion in historical-related subjects, especially in pop culture. For example, fans of manga may be familiar with the heroic portrayal of Sanada Yukimura in “Goshimei Bushō Sanada Yukimura: Kageroi” (御指名武将真田幸村 かげろひ -KAGEROI-), or game enthusiasts may enjoy playing as him in the video series “Sengoku Basara” (戦国BASARA).
One would think through the evidence of Nobushige being his real name, that the current descendants or affiliates of the Sanada line would dispute this fabricated name being used as almost an official identification. Surprisingly, it appears that the name “Yukimura” has not only been accepted, but also promoted as well. As mentioned before, a Sanada lineage chart was officially released from Matsushiro domain many years ago. This was under the control of Sanada Nobuyuki (真田信之) & his descendants at one time, and they compiled this lineage chart which includes Yukimura⁶. It is possible that, due to the large recognition and popularity the name brings to the history of the Sanada clan, that they have “accepted” Yukimura being a nickname of Nobushige.
THE REASON BEHIND THE NAME
Why use “Yukimura” instead of “Nobushige”? It is not 100% confirmed, but there appears to be some logical patterns behind this. For starters, it is not unusual in Japanese documents of old to change a particular figure’s name if they were on the losing side. Doing so may imply some things, such as if they are viewed as significant or not, referencing the actual individual directly may be a taboo, or in order to take some creative liberties with their story. From another point, changing Nobushige’s name may indicate a little of each of what was just mentioned with the following explanation.
A historian by the name of Atobe Ban published a book entitled “Sanada Yukimura ‘Eiyū Densetsu no Uso to Shinjitsu'” (真田幸村 “英雄伝説のウソと真実”) in 2015. In this book, Mr. Atobe explains how Yukimura (幸村) is an acronym for certain traits of the Sanada clan that bears some weight depending on how one views it⁷. He does this by dissecting the name into separate components.
Taking the first character Yuki (幸), the pronunciationis used for naming purposes. This character was originally used in the given name of different members of the Sanada family (such as Nobushige’s father, Masayuki), as well as the preceding clan they originate from, being the Unnō family. Bearing positive meanings such as “bountiful harvest”, “good fortune”, and “happiness”, it is no wonder why Yuki would be an acceptable component in a given name. Yet, why wasn’t Nobushige named in a similar vein? Who knows. Possibly as a nod to this, the writer of Nanba Senki may have thought the same thing when conceiving the name Yukimura.
Now for the last character mura (村). This character is in reference to the Muramasa (村正), a type of sword forged in the style by the famous swordsmith named Sengo Muramasa (千子村正). There are supposedly 2 theories why “mura” is used, but they arrive to the same conclusion.
The 1st one is that Nobushige, his troops, and even possibly other members of the Sanada clan used the Muramasa (村正) swords as their preferred style of blades. While there is no proof regarding this, it is one that is also not unreasonable. Muramasa swords are known for their sharpness, to the point that they would cut and harm everything and everyone indiscriminately…including the wielder (more on this in the 2nd theory). For the sake of war, these types of swords were ideal and sought after. Between the late 1400s to throughout the 1500s the Muramasa swords were mass produced and said to have been used by many throughout Japan. It would make sense that the Sanada clan would also add this to their equipment.
The 2nd theory spurs from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s superstition regarding the Muramasa swords. It is stated that from his youth onward, he had repeated bad experiences with these popular swords, despite the fact that it was originally a favorite in the Tokugawa household. At one time, when inspecting this type of sword, he had cut himself when drawing out this blade from its scabbard. As he got older he viewed the Muramasa to be bad luck to him and his family line, as he saw it having the possibility of bringing his family line doom. Once establishing his reign over Japan, it is said that Ieyasu ordered these Muramasa swords banned, and to have them be dismantled. Now, seeing how strongly he was against this type of sword, you can imagine how this can be applied to those who were his enemies and how they willingly armed themselves with Muramasa swords. Interestingly, it is recorded that the Sanada clan were extremely difficult to defeat due to their unconventional battle tactics and their resourcefulness. Ieyasu and his allies had many difficulties with subduing them during the battle at Sekigahara and Osaka Campaign. You can say that Nobushige (Yukimura) was like the Muramasa, as he was a thorn in the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu that could not be overlooked.
Now that a clearer picture of who the real Yukimura/Nobushige was, we’ll end part 1 here. While there is a definitive record of who he was up until his speculated death, in actuality there are some things that remain unclear due to a lack of proper documentation, as well as claims made by Sanada supporters. Part 2 will continue with looking at the fictional Yukimura, traits and items that are iconic to him, and how they may have been inspired by real life evidence associated with Nobushige.
1) You can access it by clicking on the “Translations” tab from the menu above, or you can go directly to the Kai Kokushi page here.
2) In actuality, Nobushige was active much earlier than this. Since 1592 he, his brother, and father were serving Toyotomi Hideyoshi, handling different tasks over the years such as managing Nagoya Castle in Bizen Province (present-day Saga Prefecture), taking part in the construction of Fukumi Castle in Kyoto, and occupying Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture.
3) Out of these kagemusha, 5 have been identified. Their names are Mochizuki Yoemon (望月宇右衛門), Yamada Kichibei (山田喜知平), Anayama Kosuke (穴山小助), Takabashi Shikibu (高橋式部) and Anayama Ichiemon (穴山市右衛門).
4) These names include Genjirō (源次郎), Saemon-no-suke (左衛門助), and Kōhakusai (好白斎)
5) Another name for this is “Osaka Gunki” (大阪軍記)
6) Some writers such as Hirayama Masaru wrote about this point. Originally, Sanada descendants in Matsushiro domain compiled “Sanada-ke Bunsho” (真田家文書, Records of the Sanada Family), which included a lineage chart. Within this only the name “Nobushige” was used. At a later date, this was converted to “Sanada-ke Keifu” (真田家系譜, Genealogy of the Sanada Family), which would include the name “Yukimura”. These were both produced during the Edo period.
It appears that these descendants accept the “Yukimura” name as being used for Nobushige after the Osaka Campaign. That doesn’t necessarily mean they believe Nobushige used it himself.
7) Apparently there is another way to write the name. In relations to the news report about the discover of his grandchild’s grave in Kagoshima made in 1941, supposedly a gravesite for Yukimura was also found. On the headstone the name “Yukimura” is on it, but using the characters “雪丸”. These characters may have been used to keep his grave hidden…that is, if this story is true.
Translating Japanese into one’s native language is a skill of its own. Depending on area of interest, some prior independent or specialized study & research is required when attempting to transcribe info from one language to another. It is separate from just studying the Japanese language alone; even for a native Japanese person, attempting to explain the contents of something they have never heard of or are unfamiliar with is a very difficult task. For those individuals who wish to go down the path of translating, years of exposure to said field of interest, along with lots of trial and error is needed in order to get a proper grasp.
In the case of older Japanese documentation on martial & military-centric topics, it is imperative to be familiar with the time period the document was written versus modern day standards in order to understand the differences. For instance, when reading older Japanese texts, it is common to see the use of kanji (漢字, Chinese-derived written characters) that differ from the ones used for the same words used today, yet need to distinguish if there are any similarities at the same time. As an example, here’s an entry from Buyō Benryaku (武用便略), an 8-volume compendium of general items, gear, and practices used by warriors, martial artists, guards, and the like. This was compiled by Kinoshita Yoshitoshi in the early Edo period. In the 6th volume, there is a section regarding methods of arresting wrongdoers, which also contains a short entry and picture regarding the mittsu dōgu¹ (三つ道具), which are staves with special implements on one end.
ANALYZING OLD & NEW TEXT
Below is the aforementioned page, followed by the original text and my translation.
Picture of the mittsu dōgu (from right to left)
Sasumata (known as a shackling tool nowadays)
Nejiru (called “hineri” as well)
To the right are some of the tools you will find in a guardhouse, called the mittsu dōgu (3 tools). These are also known as the “torite no mittsu dōgu” (3 arresting tools).
In 2 other articles² I had mentioned about the mittsu dōgu. What’s interesting is the difference between how they are written in their respective sources. Below I will explain the kanji used for those mentioned in the Buyō Benryaku, and compare them with the modern day writing style.
1) DESCRIPTION: Tsukubō is a T-shaped tool that a person would thrust at one’s target to push and pin them down. The barbs on the T-shape implement helps to increase its effectiveness.
tsuku・bō / 釻・棒 The reading of tsuku (釻) is a unique one. Originally the name of the metal fittings that secures the string on a bow, it was later used to describe the 2 metal bars that protrude outwards at the end of a stick. Bō (棒) means “stick”.
Comparing this with the more modernized written version:
tsuku・bō / 突・棒 This tsuku (突) means “to thrust” or “to stab”. It’s pronounced in its plain verb form, which is unusual. This may have been done so the same “tsuku” pronunciation could be retained. The kanji for bō remains the same.
It can be said that the older kanji for tsuku is more descriptive to design, while the modern version indicates the manner to which this tool is used.
2) DESCRIPTION: Sasumata has a U-shape implement on the end, and is used to capture a part of the body to hold a person down.
sasu・mata / 挟・脵 The use of sasu (挟) here can indicate “to grip from both sides”, “to sandwich inbetween” or “to trap”. Although used in this older document, this kanji is still used in modern times. For mata (脵), this is an older kanji that refers to the crotch or thigh. At times the kanji used for mata is “叉”, which is another older version that means the same thing.
If we compare this to modern written form:
sasu・mata / 刺・股 The kanji used for sasu (刺) here generally means “to stab”, but also has an alternative meaning of “to catch”. The modern-day version of mata (股) is used.
On a technical note, both versions of sasu are in their plain verb form. Although still a name, it is done so in an unusual manner. Also, while both versions imply catching a supposed criminal by their leg, sasumata wasn’t only used there, but could manipulate other parts of the body when necessary.
3) DESCRIPTION: The purpose of the nejiru is to snag a person’s clothing, with the sleeve of the jacket being the main target.
nejiru / 捻る There is only one kanji used here. Actually, an action verb is used as the name. Nejiru means “to twist” or “to wrench”. The name actually describes the action used, which is to twist this tool once it’s snagged onto a person’s clothing in order to capture them.
While the reading “nejiru” is correct, it seems to be an alternative name…or that there were other names used depending on group, area, etc. “Hineri” (ヒネリ) is also used, and, despite being written in katakana³ (片仮名, a written form that indicates the phonetics of words) in the text above, is an alternative pronunciation for the same kanji. Another name that was used during Edo period was “mojiri” (錑). In this case, it was viewed that there’s a technical approach to using the mojiri, which was called “mojirijutsu” (錑術). For the most part, all names indicate the physical motion of how this tool is used.
sode・garami / 袖・絡み In modern times tools like this are universally called “sodegarami” (袖絡み), which means “sleeve-snagger”. This is probably due to its effectiveness to control a weapon-wielding suspect with the sleeve of a jacket being the target area. This is a more direct labeling that identifies its purpose.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES
Why are there different ways to identifying the same thing? There are some factors that play a role in this. For starters, since the time when when Japan adopted the writing style of kanji from China, there was no one universally accepted style of using the Japanese language. Before a standard was developed in the early 1900s⁴, there were different colloquial speeches depending on the prefecture, education, area of residence, group of association, and so on. As an example, within a group that lives in the south of Japan they may identify one thing with a particular label, but within another group that live in the North may use a different label.
This lack of standard also can be seen in the written style individuals used hundreds of years ago. In some cases a writer may have used one version of a kanji because it was what was familiar to him, yet another writer may choose to use a different kanji that had the same meaning just because that is what he was familiar with. This happened a lot if the contents were learned verbally, and had to be transcribed however the writer could do. Fortunately, furigana (振仮名, identifying kanji phonetically with kana next to or above it) was used in some older documents, which help to understand not only how to pronounce an unfamiliar kanji, but to understand what it’s describing in case it’s something that most are familiar with verbally.
Finally, some things were coded intentionally through aliases. This was possibly done to hide the real identity of a topic from those who are not part of a certain group. This was common practice in many martial systems and military manuals. Since guardswork and policing were also performed by martial artists, this practice also came into play. The downside to this is if the original term is forgotten and only the alias has been documented, it is hard to figure out what is being discussed if there are no pictures associated.
After the Japanese language became standardized, many older, unusual words & kanji were dropped, and replaced with modernized versions. If the change is minimum, it could be as small as replacing with modernize kanji that help making the reading easier. However, if the change is more drastic, some labeling could be replaced entirely with a new word. It’s points like these that make doing research important.
To sum up, it is important to learn how to research older documents to compare the contents to that which are known in modern context. This is important to remember for those who wish to be a translator of topics that have an old history. It’s impossible to think you’ll know everything no matter how related it is to your area of interest, or that you’ll remember every single word or kanji that you’ve come across. Keeping notes, having reliable sources for referencing purposes, and further updating one’s knowledge on said area of interest is critical in order to produce acceptable work.
1) This is not the only case where the term mittsu dōgu is used. It is a common one used to identify 3 things that are considered valuable or important. For example, in the same document used above, the jutte (十手), manriki (万力, nowadays known as the kakute [角手]), and hananeji (鼻捻) make up a unique category called “Kingoku no mittsudōgu” (禁獄の三つ道具), which were essential for handling imprisoned criminals. Next, there was 3 methods for shackling those who were held in captivity, which was by the hands, feet, and the neck. Then there are 3 different types of Japanese designed boats recognized at one point in time. Finally, 3 important farming tools necessary were the. suki (鋤, plough), kuwa (鍬, hoe), and kama (鎌, sickle).
3) Generally, katakana is used to indicate foreign words, unusual words, and visualizing sounds. However, it was also commonly used alongside with kanji in official government documents, books, manuals, and so on before modern times.
4) Small details about this effort to reform the Japanese language was discussed here
In an article earlier this year I covered the numerous listings of Bugei Juhappan, which consist of essential 18 skills key to being a martial artist. In a few of these different versions were skills related to capturing and subduing, which fall under a category called hobaku (捕縛).
Hobaku is a term describing systematized skills for arresting and subduing criminals used by the policing force established during Edo period. Those who worked for the police and were responsible for apprehending criminals were high-ranking samurai and low-ranking warriors. Some of these skills used include torite (捕手), hojōjutsu (捕縄術), and using the mitsu dōgu (三つ道具). These skills originate from groups specializing in bujutsu training, thus training for the sake of proficiency was a must.
There is a famous illustration book called “Tokugawa Bakufu Keiji Zufu” (徳川幕府刑事図譜) published in 1893, which gives a visual presentation of various crimes that were committed during the Edo period, along with the punishment which criminals would face. There are several images that demonstrate how the methods of hobaku were used by those in the policing force, which give an idea why they were deemed important to those versed in martial arts. The scenarios in which hobaku was performed are specific to those involved, from petty theft by a commoner to treason by a nobleman. In some cases the criminal was apprehended discretely, while in other cases the arresting officers had to use force especially when others try to intervene.
For today’s article, select images that represent hobaku will be used to highlight specific skills and weapons listed on some Bugei Juhappan listings. Japanese text found on the top of these images will be posted in type print, and followed by English translations done by myself. To view the entirety of this illustration book, you can access it at the Meiji University Museum by clicking the link here. Note that while there is English provided to understand the contents of the images, the Japanese text on each image has no English equivalent present.
BACKGROUND: A temptress, who’s an accomplice of some criminal, weasels her way into the home of a rich merchant. The merchant is tricked into allowing her to stay in his home, while his wife is forced to cook and serve the temptress. The wife and her child are treated poorly, while the merchant is at odds of how to deal with the temptress’ schemes. (reference image #2)
In the picture above, an officer who was informed of the situation makes a sudden entry and quickly apprehends the temptress.
Not bearing his standard ropes, he uses an improvised method where her hands are brought behind her back, with strings tied to her thumbs and attached to the back of her hair.
One can imagine that being subdued in such a method would make any attempts to escape painful.
TEXT ON IMAGE
“In this image, a magistrate is able to make use of a short string, twine, and the like for capturing when a criminal needs to be immediately subdued, but standard torinawa (捕縄, binding rope) is not available. The capturing technique “Tabo*” is applied, where both hands are twisted behind, and both thumbs are joined together tightly.”
*This name is written only in kana, thus meaning is obscure
BACKGROUND: The hideout for a group of thieves. After a careful investigation by a constable from the magistrate’s office, a well calculated raid was set into action. This was successful in putting a halt to any further schemes by the thieves. (reference image #3)
In the picture above, the leader of the thieves is arrested. A woman, who’s affiliated with the thieves, tries to interfere with a knife in hand. One of the arresting officers uses a jutte (十手, truncheon) to knock the knife out of her right hand.
Other than their diligent work in completely subduing the main culprit, this image expresses the effectiveness of the jutte’s non-lethal strength.
On a separate note, certain groups had an influence on the jutte techniques used by different policing forces at the time, such as Ikkaku ryū (一角流), Edo machikata Dōshin (江戸町方同心, Edo town officials) and Kyōto machi Bugyō (京都町奉行, Kyoto public authorities). Meiji University Museum has images of the types of jutte used up on their site, which can be accessed through link 1, link 2, and link 3.
TEXT ON IMAGE
“The striking area of the jutte is shown. The jutte is made out of steel. It measures around 1 shaku 5 sun (57 cm) in size. It also has a hook on the side which can be used to stop incoming attacks from weapons such as a sword.
When there are individuals who are willing to prevent the arrest of a criminal due to prior fondness, the 1st thing to do is to strike them in the right upper arm with the jutte. This method of capturing allows an arresting officer to render a target’s dominate arm useless. “
BACKGROUND: Illegal gambling is taking place openly in a field. Gangsters and thieves are putting money and goods up for bets. (reference image #4)
In the picture above, policing officials rush the area to break up the gambling ring, and apprehend those involved. They are using standard arresting tools for this, which include the uchikomi (打ち込み, rod with a loop on the end), yoribō (寄棒, baton), and kaginawa (鉤縄, rope and hook).
TEXT ON IMAGE
“(A) To make a capture, a loop is used to snare (a criminal) by the throat.”
“(B) The method for capturing the criminal is used during pursuit. To overtake the criminal, a stick is thrown inbetween his legs to knock him down. “
“(C) The capture here involves prepping a hook. When the hook is attached onto the criminal’s clothing, a rope is pulled against the throat. Utilizing a rope to pull down a person when their limbs cannot be tied is situational-based.”
BACKGROUND: A criminal brandishes a sword in order to resist arrest. He is extremely dangerous, and difficult to take alive.
His pursuers attempt to make an arrest in a non-lethal manner by forming a cage around the criminal with four ladders linked together. Others use barbed implements known as mitsu dōgu (三つ道具, 3 tools for arresting & capturing)* in order to pin him down. These are the following:
*Also called torimono dogu (捕物道具, arresting tools)
TEXT ON IMAGE
“When dealing with criminals using martial techniques that make capturing difficult than normal, ladders are utilized to surround their target. From outside of the encasement are those with arresting implements that will be used to subdue the criminal.
The arrangement of the ladders are as shown in the picture. Four ladders are used in the formation where 2 are held sideways, while one is held above and another held below*. This pattern called i no ji (井の字, well formation) can defend against a criminal’s attempts to jump over and escape by being raised higher.
This capturing method involves gradually falling upon the criminal by closing the space in on him. Then they are able to use their arresting tools by thrusting them upon him to knock him down.”
*Description is based on how the ladder formation appears visually in the image. In reality all 4 ladders are on the same level.
These four images give a glimpse of how hodaku was utilized. Keep in mind that as a whole, the specifics of hobaku were considerably vase and layered; while those who were in the policing force were authorized to use arresting techniques, they still had to follow specific protocols related to an individual’s title and/or societal position. As an example, the manner in capturing a commoner could vastly differ to that of an elite family or of samurai status. This included the type of arresting ropes used and how the knots were made.
This concludes the visual presentation of hobaku used during Edo period. As an elementary approach on such a topic, I hope that the contents were informative for all. For those who want to view the entirety of Tokugawa Bakufu Keiji Zufu remember to visit Meiji University Museum’s website, which can be accessed here.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything regarding famous members of the Kuki clan. For those not familiar with this, I have a good number of posts regarding the Kuki family and their history as an influential group both in religious practice and military conflicts. Although I do have a topic related to them I was planning to post later this year I will be speaking about a new one that just came to my attention.
A few days ago a report appeared in The Sankei News, a Japanese online news site, about the discovery of a note written by Kuki Yoshitaka shortly after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. Yoshitaka promised he and his son Moritaka will not retire from service under the guise of a monk. What does this mean, exactly? I looked further into the subject and found more info regarding this matter. Below is the actual note, along with the original Japanese.
The original letteris from Sakai Museum in Osaka, Japan. Both images are from the website Toby City
A quick explanation of the contents, Yoshitaka is promising that there will be no attempt to retire by taking up the guise of one who wants to become a monk without the permission of Toyotomi governing body. On the note, along with Yoshitaka and his son’s signatures are those of 5 magistrates who were involved in structuring Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s governing body, along with their personal seals¹:
A key word that is associated with this is “hōtai” (法体). Taking such action as hōtai was not uncommon for those warriors who’ve spent most of their career performing military duties to retire by shaving their hair off, and living the remainder of their lives away from normal civilization such as a temple…even if they don’t officially take up vows to become a monk. It is known historically that soon after Hideyoshi’s death that Yoshitaka stepped down as head of the Kuki clan, and made his oldest son Moritaka take up the responsibilities of handling military affairs as the next successor. This was the case since, if we use this note as proof, there was no option for him to retire at a temple as a monk.
Let’s delve into this point a little more deeply. What is so significant about Kuki Yoshitaka retiring soon after his master passed away? For starters, it shows his loyalty to only Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is also symbolic, that Yoshitaka too “died” with his master, and that he would live his life peacefully away from the turmoil in life wearing monk’s clothing and taking up a Buddhist name. This is not so different from what Hosokawa Fujitaka (father) and Hosokawa Tadaoki (son) did when Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi’s predecessor, died during the attack at Honnoji in 1582. Both father & son were in the same position where they expressed undying loyalty to Nobunaga, thus retired from military service by becoming monks.
On the other hand, Kuki Yoshitaka was a seasoned commander who was reaching an age where he may have been tired of fighting. On top of this, right before Hideyoshi’s death he had participated in the 1st invasion of Korea (1592-1598), where he and others were met with a very sour and disheartening defeat, especially in the hands of the Korean navy. It may very well be possible that these factors contributed to Yoshitaka to consider retiring through hōtai. Reason for this is while serving Oda Nobunaga he had much success and received many rewards, yet did not attempt to retire after Nobunaga’s untimely death. Still, this is just speculation.
At the end of the day, the discovery of this note by Kuki Yoshitaka is very significant. Documentations like these help to piece missing information about certain people or events from the past. For those who are interested. I have written numerous articles about the Kuki family and key events in their history, including Kuki Yoshitaka’s career from start to finish. These are under the series title “Kuki Archives”, which you can do a search for. To read the posts about Yoshitaka’s directly, here’s the links to part 1 and part 2.
1) On the actual note, all participants identified themselves by their family names, then by their appointed titles.
Out of the many colorful and visually appealing flowers of Japan, which would be considered Japan’s national flower? Many would consider cherry blossoms (known as sakura¹ in Japanese) due to its popularity culturally and socially, as well as its symbolic use in pop culture. Yet, would you be surprised to hear that it may have a contender for that position, which can be chrysanthemum (pronounced as kiku² in Japanese)? Could it actually be both? For this post, we will look at both cherry blossoms and chrysanthemum’s growing presence from Japan’s ancient past to the modern age of present times, and how they’ve been incorporated into the culture as iconic flowers in their own rights.
BEGINNINGS OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS
It is said that cherry blossoms became popular around the middle of the Heian period (794 ~ 1185). At the time, it was dotted on by Emperor Daigo in the use of poetry from the year 905. Before that, a flower that caught the eye of the upperclass was the plum blossom known as “ume” (梅). Researchers have determined this through the review of an older text called “Manyōshū” (万葉集), which features many poetic songs based on various topics including flowers. Many of these songs pertain the word plum blossoms in them. On the other hand, there isn’t at many songs regarding cherry blossoms. Since this book has been actively used among the imperial family years in advance, we get an idea that the cherry blossom’s popularity was initially not as old as one would think.
When appeal shifted in the favor of the cherry blossom, it’s possible that Emperor Daigo’s liking of this flower contributed to this through the following episode. In a 6-volume collection of recorded historical events called Kojidan (古事談), there is an entry regarding the 4th son of Emperor Daigo, Shigeakira (重明), who greatly admired cherry blossoms when he was little. He liked it so much that within his living quarters he had cherry blossom trees grown there. In the Shishinden (紫宸殿), the ceremonial grounds where the children reside within the Imperial palace’s, had plum blossom trees grown all around, which was commonplace. One day, the Shishinden caught on fire and was burnt down, including the plum blossoms trees. In some time it was rebuilt, but in place of the plum blossom trees, Shigeakira moved his cherry blossom trees to inhabit the new Shishinden. It was because of this incident that cherry blossoms grew to be among the Imperial families and noble families.
Eventually, cherry blossoms became popular among the populous throughout Japan. Cherry blossom trees were grown in different regions. Many admired its beauty, as well as its characteristics. For example, after cherry blossoms have fully bloomed, their petals fall off gradually. The falling petals are liken to snow, and if they are present during a snowy day³ they tend to be labeled as “yukizakura” (雪桜). Appreciation for its beauty was often shown as prints on clothing, as well as in ukiyo-e (浮世絵, woodblock painting). Bushi, or warriors of old also took favor of this flower in numerous ways during the Sengoku period (1467~1615), such as likening the wondrous bloom and slow, yet delicate, petal falls of the cherry blossoms to the the short life of a warrior who can claim greatness, yet have his life disappear at a moment’s whim. A popular phrase representing this is the following:
「花は桜木 人は武士」 (Hana wa sakuragi hito wa bushi)
“among flowers, the cherry blossom tree among men, the warrior”
This basically refers to the cherry blossom being the best compared to other flowers, just as the warrior class was viewed as the more superior class of them all.
Cherry blossoms would be used as a sign of nationalism in various ways even by the Imperial army during the Meiji period (1868~1912) onward. This would last until the ending of WWII.
BEGINNINGS OF THE CHRYSANTHEMUMS
Chrysanthemum is a flower which was incorporated into the lifestyle of Japan by those who brought it over from China. This was around the time when the fashion, art, and etiquette of Chinese culture had a great influence in the development of Japanese society. There are different types of the chrysanthemum, which are listed in different ancient Chinese texts such as “Liji” (礼記, Book of Rites). It’s speculated that chrysanthemum was introduced to Japan around the 5th century, close to the ending of the Heian period. It’s 1st appearance within Japanese documentation is said to be in a 25-volume set of historical texts entitled “Ruiju Kokushi” (類聚国史, Topics related to National History of Japan), compiled in 892. One of the well-known lines that mentions it is located on the 11th page within the song verses in the 12th volume, section #715, which goes as the following (accompanied with my own English interpretation):
「己乃己呂乃 志具礼乃阿米爾 菊乃波奈 知利曽之奴倍岐 阿多羅蘇乃香乎」 (Kono goro no shigure no ame ni kiku no hana chirizo shinu beki atara sono ka o)
“Around this time, as the Autumn rain falls on the chrysanthemums they will be scattered and surely die oh so tragic what will befall their fragrance.”
On a literacy level, familiarity with the chrysanthemum can be said to have been among those who were wealthy and educated, such as the Imperial and noble families. It may have been appreciated by them as early as Nara period (710~794). For example, in the Manyōshū there are few poetic songs about it.
Popularity for this flower continued to grow, as the chrysanthemum would later appear within waka-style poetry⁴ in a Heian period book called “Kokin Wakashu” (古今和歌集, Collection from Ancient and Modern Times), which was a text conceived by Emperor Uda (宇多天皇), and later published through the order by his son & successor Daigo. Since it was an Imperial text, it too had great influences on other nobles, who would also grow to appreciate chrysanthemums a great deal.
Chrysanthemum is an Autumn flower, since that is the time it blooms. It was a favorite of Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽) during the early Kamakura period (1185~1333). So much that it was chosen to be the Imperial crest. It would also gain a good amount of attention during the Edo period (1603~1868) and was shown off throughout many areas in Japan.
THE MANY IMAGES OF FLOWERS
The following are examples of images inspired by both cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums.
Out of the 2 flowers, cherry blossom is greatly beloved by the general public in Japan. Cherry blossom is a Spring flower, which coincides with hanami (花見), or flower viewing festivities which take place early during the same season. During flower viewing, the blooming of cherry blossoms attract the largest crowds, and get a lot of press & advertisements. Some of the attention comes from products promoting it as a flavor for candy, drinks, and so on.
Cherry blossom is visually used in various mediums in pop culture. For example, it is not uncommon to see an exquisite character make an appearance in a scene in one of many anime, accompanied by cherry blossom petals. Or, they may fall and dance around the screen of one of many video games which may have a samurai-like character do an impressive barrage of attacks with a katana.
Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, grows during the Fall. Depending on people’s lifestyle, chrysanthemums are used in different ways. For starters, it is popular flower art and in ikebana (生け花, flower arrangements). There is a type that is also called “shokugiku” (食菊), as it is used as decoration for meals. Chrysanthemum has auspicious meanings, such as longevity and rejuvenation. Thus, one can find it as patterns on kimono, accessories, good luck charms, dishware, porcelain, even on the 50-yen coin. Depending on the occasion, different colored chrysanthemums (minus white ones) are given as gifts.
Chrysanthemums play an interesting role in religious-related activities. For example, there is a national day with Shinto origins called “Chōyō no Sekku” (重陽の節句), that falls on September 9. It is also called “Kiku no Sekku” (菊の節句), or Chrysanthemum Day. It is a festival of happiness. The holiday was established in 910 AD when the first chrysanthemum show was held. In another instance, this flower is used in Buddhist-related traditions for honoring the dead. White chrysanthemums are offered to deceased loved ones’ graves.
While cherry blossoms are viewed as the flower for the populous, chrysanthemum tends to be seen as the Imperial flower. For hundreds of years the Imperial family have decorated their grounds with this, that it was eventually made the official seal to represent them. A special seal called “Jūroku yae Omotegiku” (十六八重表菊, 16-Petal double-layered Chrysanthemum) is used, which was later made forbidden for use by any one other than those of the Imperial family at one point in history. In the 1920s, as a showing of national pride, Japanese citizens are issued a passport with a different chrysanthemum seal on it, called “Jūroku hitoe Omotegiku (十六一重表菊, 16-Petal single-layer Chrysanthemum).
Yet, another example of chrysanthemum emblems can be found in shinmon (神紋), which are special seals that belong to shrines. Just like family seals, shrine seals have been in use for centuries, and vary in appearance depending on the shrine. In this case of the chrysanthemum, there are many types of shrine seals that use this flower, which are still in use today. The same can be said about cherry blossoms being used as shrine seals as well.
Flowers have had a great influence on Japanese society for ages. Cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums are possibly the most iconic, for whether we look back to the past or gaze around us in present times, they both stand out almost identically. There is no clear distinction on which of these two are considered the #1 flower of Japan, but it’s safe to say that, whether you admire one or the other, they both serve their purpose in representing the spirit of Japan.
1) 桜. A much older kanji of this would be “櫻”.
2) 菊. The modern way of writing this kanji (菊) is derived from an older one, which is “鞠”.
3) It wasn’t unusual for some cherry blossom trees to grow during Winter.
4) Waka is written as “和歌” in modern times, but used to be written as “倭歌” in ancient times. They both mean relatively the same thing, “Japanese songs”. Waka consists of unique poetic patterns, which includes tanka (短歌, short poems that follow a 5-7-5 pattern), and choka (長歌, long poems which follow a 5-7-7 pattern). Another name for this style of poetry is Yamatouta (大和歌), which also has the same meaning.