Looking at the True Sanada Yukimura ~ Part 2

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

A common image of Sanada Yukimura in today’s generation.

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:



“…今日評定の席にてあのようにもうしたものゝ、ねがはくば御身は討死を止まっていただきたい”

…considering things from where I stand right now, I want to prevent my lord from dying in this war, if granted such an opportunity”


“そのうえ時節をまって島津家において人数をまとめ、ふたゝび豊臣家を再興せんと言う所存、よって貴殿は誰れか影武者をもって、表面討死をいたしたと言う体裁になしくださるよう”

”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.

ADDITIONAL/SUPPORTIVE CHARACTERS

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.

A collage of thumbnails depicting the Jūyūshi (10 brave warriors) who served Yukimura, drawn woodblock-style. From “Ueda City Digital Archive Portal Site”

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Anayama Kosuke (穴山 こすけ) – A dedicated retainer of Yukimura, he played the double of his master during the Osaka Campaign.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Unno Rokurō (海野六郎) – A fellow kinsman, as his family line is from where the Sanada line originates from.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

RED ARMOR

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.

News article regarding the discovery of red armor, possibly related to the Sanada clan. From Sankei News.

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.

A genealogy chart of the Yokotani family. On it is the name of Yokotani Sakon (Shigeuji), circled) who was a ninja employed to the Sanada clan. From the book “Sanada Ninja no Matsuei” (真田忍者の末裔)

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Analyzing a Treasure from Ninjutsu of Old

On February 22nd, it is officially “Ninja Day” in Japan. This day is to honor the history and culture of the ninja, as well as the growing movement of adapting the lessons found in ninjutsu of old for innovation, to promote pop culture, tourism, and so on. As a form of tribute to this day, I’ve written a post on a treasure of ninjutsu, called Ninjutsu Kishōmon¹ (忍術起請文), which stands for “Ninjutsu Document of Written Vows to the Gods”. This post will include a brief background info, my translation of the document, as well as an analytical discussion to give a better understanding of this document.

THE WRITER BEHIND NINJUTSU KISHŌMON

The Ninjutsu Kishōmon was drafted by Kizu Inosuke in 1716, who became an inheritor of a ninjutsu system taught to him by Nagai Matabei. Inosuke is from Iga Province, which is home to many families who specialized in ninjutsu. As an agreement to his new inheritance, Inosuke wrote the Ninjutsu Kishōmon and gave it to his teacher.

This document was a form of agreement to uphold the strict ways of the ninja. If he had failed to do so, Inosuke promised to not only return everything he received from his teacher related to ninjutsu (this includes texts and ninjutsu-related tools), but to accept punishment from the gods. The Ninjutsu Kishōmon is a great example of how those inducted into the world of the ninja were sworn to secrecy, while taking the lessons & skills associated with ninjutsu very seriously.

After Inosuke’s death, this Ninjutsu Kishōmon made its way back to the Kizu family, and kept for possibly decades. When exactly was it returned, and why, is unknown.

NINJA ACTIVE DURING EDO PERIOD

After the Tokugawa clan took control of Japan in the early 1600s, many families from Iga Province (present-day Mie Prefecture), and at a later date from Kōka Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture), moved to Edo (present day Tokyo) where they used their skills in ninjutsu for various types of work under the employment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. At the time, which is known as Edo period, the country was strictly run by the new Shogunate, and everyone had to abide to the rules. Different from during the warring periods beforehand, where those ninjutsu experts could sell their abilities to serve one of the many warlords vying for power, ninja during the Edo period took advantage of their unique position to directly serve the Tokugawa Shogunate for rank, merits, and means of work. Kizu Inosuke was most likely in the same position, where he may have had to seek employment under an elite individual who held an important position in the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Times have changed, and modern Japan is very different from the past, as the country is no longer a military-centric state. Much of the skills that the ninja took pride in using are deemed illegal today. Also, such unwavering loyalty and strict dedication to the ways of the ninja through written pacts are not much in practice, for there is a great amount of information regarding ninjutsu (from their ancient documentations, tools, and strategies) made public as a means to study and appreciate a past history. Ninja of old (in reference to those families who were actively using ninjutsu for the sake of work several centuries ago) treated their craft as something of great secrecy, thus the need for such agreements and rules. Nowadays, such things are no longer in use.

UNDERSTANDING THE NINJUTSU KISHŌMON

The follow is a translation done by myself of the 6 rules & concluding pledge found in the Ninjutsu Kishōmon. Note that everything in the picture below is read from right to left, with the text lined up from top to bottom.

__________

How the original Ninjutsu Kishōmon looks. Image from “Iga Portal

1) On this occasion, I receive the teachings of ninjutsu. I will not show or disclose the contents of the ninjutsu and ninki (tools of the ninja) I inherit from you to those who bear a relationship to me, such as my parents and siblings. I will act like I have no knowledge on such information. I will also not allow another person to copy the contents.

2) From the Mansenshūkai, the sections on the Preface, Seishin (Correct Heart), and Ninpō (Treasures of the ninja) will be made viewable, unquestionably, to our lord and his personal administrators, such as his chief retainer, if they desire. I ask for your pardon, for when called upon to do so, I will not refuse.

3) Outside of the ninki, the kaki (tools for fire and explosives), and those from the Mansenshūkai, I will inform you of new & unique ninki and kaki that I am able to devise.

4) If, as a young master, I have strayed from the ways of justice, I will return the documents that I have copied from your possession, and will leave no trace of ever possessing those documents.

5) I will not allow the secret techniques of the Mansenshūkai to be written in another document.

6) I will not use ninjutsu and ninki I am inheriting for the acts of mere thievery. However, anything will be done for my lord’s sake no matter what.

PLEDGE: It is forbidden to oppose the rules written on the right, even by just a little. May the great and minor deities within over 60 provinces of Japan, especially the gods of my home town, extract their punishment upon my own children and future generations wholeheartedly, if my incompetent self, ever so young acts like a betrayer even by just a little.

__________

ANALYZING THE CONTENTS

We’ve just finished a brief overview of the document’s writer of the Ninjutsu Kishōmon, ninja during the Edo period, and the rules in this document. Here is an analytical review based on some informative (as well as contradictory) points regarding this document, and why certain practices were done based on the time period it is from.

  • From the Edo period onward, those from Iga Province were hired to work for the Tokugawa Shogunate, whom many are said to have specialized in ninjutsu.
  • Kizu Inosuke is said to be from Iga Province. However, it is not certain if Nagai Matabei was also from Iga Province.
  • For rule #1, Inosuke swears not to let his family know he studied ninjutsu. Yet, apparently this agreement was given back to his family sometime after his death. This document was give to his teacher, so it is strange that it made it back to Inosuke’s descendants.
  • While Inosuke promises not to show anything related to ninjutsu to his family, he wouldn’t hesitate to show some chapters of the Mansenshūkai, a very important text on ninjutsu, to the Shogun and his high-ranking officials. Why is this? For starters, if Inosuke were to gain employment serving the Tokugawa shogunate like many others who came from Iga Province, then he would be obligated to share some information of his knowledge of ninjutsu. For example, the 3 aforementioned sections of the Mansenshūkai give an overview of ninja and their art, such as the mindset & spirit they were to develop. Since these didn’t include their techniques, tools, or strategies, then it was no real risk of losing their secret trade. Disclosing some info as such was possibly necessary, especially to the high-ranking officials, for they probably hired ninja and needed to understand who was working for them.
  • Speaking of which, the Mansenshūkai was offered as an official documentation to the Shogunate on 1789 by several individuals from Kōka Province. Before this, it existed much earlier in secret as a collection of ninja tools, strategies, and philosophy all contributed by many different ninja families. Inosuke received a copy before or around the time he wrote his agreement in 1716. There are supposedly 2-3 variations of the Mansenshūkai, but it is reported that, other than 1-2 sections missing from one that has yet to be shared with the public, these all share more or less the same contents.
  • In relations to rule #3, it is possible that Inosuke’s personally devised ninja tools (that is, if he was successful in doing so) were added to the Masenshūkai by him or his teacher. There is no way to confirm this, but if this is the case, then these same tools may very well have made it into the the public version of the Masenshūkai.
  • For rule #4, for Inosuke to return all his possessions on ninjutsu was a grave and serious matter. It meant that if he is judged as failing in his duties, or committed a crime and is caught as doing so, he would have to forfeit being a ninja. In some ways, this rule is more as a promise to be a “good & righteous” person or else. Such promises were common not just for those who study ninjutsu, but for many other occupations throughout Japan.
  • For rule #5, letting the contents of the Mansenshūkai be copied into another documentation was obviously frowned upon. Other than the lost of secrets that gave ninja of that time an edge, if the version of the Mansenshūkai was unique to Inosuke, and the same exact version was found elsewhere, his teacher would immediately know from whom it came from. This could get Inosuke in big trouble.
  • Rule #6 is one to take note on. For starters, it has been examined that many of the techniques found in ninjutsu are similar to those used by thieves. What sets ninja apart are the morality they possess, and that they only use their abilities for the greater good. Now, there is an exception to this. If their employer, or better yet, an order from the shogunate, required them to use their techniques for acts that were on the level of thievery or worst, a ninja was required to adhere…for this was also part of the “greater good”. This is what the 2nd part of rule #6 hints at.
  • To cement his promise to uphold the 6 rules, Inosuke pledges to accept “heaven’s wrath” upon his family line. This is a bold statement, but nothing unusual. Due to the influence of religions such as Shinto and Buddhism, along with the belief in the power of gods, it was natural to put such a superstitious seal in an important document such as this. It’s no different from other promises made, even for those made in other countries in the past.
  • Written agreements of this nature were not only done by those who study ninjutsu. It has been found that those who belong to military families, as well as many who studied martial arts, also signed similar agreements which express calamity on themselves and their family line if they do not uphold to specific rules. For example, the Mōri family (毛利氏), who once specialized in naval warfare as pioneers, have several documents of written vows done by Mōri Hidenari (毛利秀就). There is also one for those who where accepted as students for a martial system called Asayama Ichiden ryū Bujutsu (浅山一伝流武術).

ENDING

This here concludes the discussion on the Ninjutsu Kishōmon. A document of antiquity, it serves to help researchers understand more of ninjutsu when it was actively used in the past. On an additional note, this document was originally a planned translation project. Because of this, there is an accompanying page under the “Translations” section, which features the same translation, along with other info not found in this post. You can access the “Translations” tab at the top of the page, or click here.


1) Note that this is a shorter label for the document. The full title is actually “Keihaku Tenbatsu Reisha Kishōmon Maegaki” (敬白天罰霊社起請文前書), which stands for “Pre-written Vows of Declaration of Divine Punishment from the Sacred Shrines”.

Isshi Soden and a Page from the Koka Tradition

Today I will touch upon the topic regarding a traditional practice called Isshi Soden1. This is a common word generally associated with the world of Koryu Budo, or Classical Martial arts. For those new to this, Isshi Soden is a method or process that involves passing down of a specific martial tradition within a family or group to a younger individual. It is not limited to only the martial arts world; interestingly, other fields of artistic skills and services are found to incorporate this as well, such as chado (tea ceremony)2 and shodo (calligraphy)3. It was a process used considerably in Japan’s past, but has lost its popularity immensely in modern times. For now, let’s look into Isshi Soden and how it is utilized, primarily through an old documentation connected to the renowned Koka4 tradition.

A SCROLL FROM MOCHIZUKI FAMILY

There are written proof of families and groups that practiced the use of Isshi Soden. For example, there is antique scroll called “Ninjutsu Ougi Den5“, which comes from the Mochizuki family. Here’s an entry from the scroll, followed by an English interpretation done by myself.

A section from the scroll “Ninjutsu Ougi Den”.

“近世鉋火以工夫加勝利爲子孫其不有器性無用一子相伝外雖千金可秘甚奻不思議要法”

“To our descendants do we pass down the ancient craft of incendiaries. If there is no one to pass on to, this skill will turn useless. This process is called Isshi Soden (passing on knowledge to a successor). Outside of this process, it is arguable that the knowledge (of Koka ryu) can be bought.”

The contents of “Ninjutsu Ougi Den” relate to the spirit and dedication one must have as being of the Koka tradition, and what it takes to pass on the secret trade used by those specializing in Koka ryu. The line above is a representation of this belief. The scroll was written by Mochizuki Shigeie6, the grandson of Koka Saburo Kaneie7, who’s said to have started this Mochizuki family line in Shinano no Kuni (Shinano Province)8. The Mochizuki family were an influential warrior family amongst those of the Koka tradition, who were primarily active during medieval Japan.

ABOUT KOKA RYU

Koka ryu is a martial system that specializes in various methods of combat, especially in shinobi-no-jutsu9. Developed in the mountainous region of Koka in Omi no Kuni (Omi Province)10, Koka ryu was a system many families who lived in that region were versed in. Unlike conventional martial systems, Koka ryu focused more on unconventional,  guerrilla warfare-like tactics, including spying, sabotage, and arson. These skills were very critical during the medieval period in Japan for many daimyo, or warlords, who wished to keep track of and get the upperhand on the opposition.

Those reputed in specializing in shinobi-no-jutsu could gain employment for special tasks the average warrior couldn’t handle, even if for a short time. Due to the nature of the times and what the skills entailed, the knowledge of Koka ryu was well guarded and rarely shared to anyone outside the area of Koka.

THE ROLE OF ISSHI SODEN

Koka ryu encompassed many different families that banded together to ensure their survival, and formed organized groups such as “Kokagun Chuusou11“. The knowledge of Koka ryu was treated like a special trade, and taught amongst family members. This is where Isshi Soden comes in play, for it ensures that inheritance of each particular style of Koka ryu is passed down within the family or group. The new inheritor not only gains leading role, but everything key to maintain ownership and preserve of the system (including secrets and teachings in the form of poems and sutras not shared to anyone else) is transferred in its entirety.

Generally, Isshi Soden specifies a martial system being passed down to one child of the current headmaster (generally a boy), even if there are multiple children within the family. However, it is not limited to this, and can involve passing inheritance to one who is not blood-related. In fact, it has been recorded in documents from Japan where some headmasters would go as far as to adopting an individual as their own, and from there pass on their knowledge to that one person. Case in point, in Mamiya Hyoemon’s book “Budo Shiroishi no Eiyuu”, Takagi Oriemon inherited the kahoujutsu (skills utilizing artillery) of the Muraoka family from Hyobu Muraoka, in absence of Hyobu’s son whom he hadn’t seen in a few decades12.

Certain traits are a requirement for an individual to be chosen as an inheritor under Isshi Soden. Some of these have to be qualities that are naturally there, while others may have to be groomed. In regards to the Ninjutsu Ougi Den, it is advised that the next in line should fit a particular criteria. Here is the line from the scroll, followed by my interpretation in English:

“…人有一心矣念々句生疑永執保句捨委是人奇正爲…”

“…one must wholeheartedly have full devotion in their mind, possess no doubts, bear this responsibility for a very long time, and to never abandon faith. The (next) successor must be properly instructed (to handle the duties his role calls for)….”

From this, we can understand how important it was to properly choose the next successor. It was not a responsibility to take lightly.

UNFORTUNATE FATE

Martial systems that were dependent on Isshi Soden treated this as a means to survival. Since Japan was faced with much turmoil before peaceful times set in during the Tokugawa Shogunate from the early 1600s onward, many warrior families had a reason to be active, striving to keep their martial systems intact. Koka ryu is no different. However, once the need for specialists of shinobi-no-jutsu was no longer high in demand within the unified Japan, many families struggled to keep their trade alive. Employment as spies and the like was no longer feasible, so some had to settle for guard work, or positions similar to police work. One big effort was even made by Fujibayashi Samuji Yasutake, a descendant of the Fujibayashi family known for their role in shinobi activities. He compiled as much info he could collect on the secret techniques and methodology of the shinobi, and proposed it to the Shogunate in a large documentation called “Bansenshukai13” around 1676, hoping to rekindle interests in their worth. Unfortunately, this was to no avail.

A picture of Fujita Seiko, 14th headmaster of Koka ryu Ninjutsu Wada Ha. From Wikipedia.

Much of the knowledge and skills of Koka ryu have been discontinued and lost. Certain special terminologies found in the few documents remaining are difficult to interpret, due to their meanings being obscured and forgotten. Some of the reasons behind this include the last successors no longer seeing any purpose to pass on a system viewed unfit in a society that was rapidly changing, as well as not finding a suitable inheritor amongst their children. Another point, Koka ryu’s doors were not open for public admission like other martial systems that may specialize in conventional means for combat like kenjutsu or sojutsu, thus there was no chance for it to spread and evolve.

Interestingly, Fujita Seiko (1898 – 1966), who inherited his family’s ninjutsu system from his grandfather, did not completely feel the same way as other headmasters of Koka ryu.  He states in his book “Ninjutsu Hiroku14” how he believes ninjutsu still has purpose, despite the view of ninjutsu not having much use in modern times. Aspects such as the spirituality and applications of ninjutsu would prove useful, as well as be a good means of self defense for people and the country (Japan) against threats15. Despite his views,  Fujita Seiko did not pass down his style called Koka ryu Ninjutsu Wada Ha16, unfortunately. Presently, his system remains unknown to the public.

ENDING

This wraps up our discussion on Isshi Soden. As pointed out, practice of Isshi Soden can be beneficial, as long as it fits the purpose and the environment. It was seen as valuable, as described in the scroll belonging to the Koka tradition. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more discussions.


1) 一子相伝. This methodology of passing down inheritance is similar to 父子相伝 Fushi Soden.

2) 茶道

3) 書道

4) 甲賀. “Koka” is considered the correct pronunciation in recent times. A more common and popular way to pronounce this is “Koga”.

5) 忍術應義傅.

6) 望月重家

7) 甲賀三郎兼家. Also known as Mochizuki Saburo Kaneie (望月三郎兼家).

8) 信濃国. Present day Nagano Prefecture.

9) 忍びの術, also can be written as 忍術. Older term for the now modernized term ninjutsu, which is written with the same characters.

10) 近江国. Present day Shiga Prefecture.

11) 甲賀郡中惣. The Kokagun Chuusou was created by a collection of several families from the Koka region that united together as a unit, with some sharing the same surname, . They banded together in preparation to defend themselves around the mid-late 1500s when Oda Nobunaga, an uprising powerful warlord, set out to invade and annihilate the areas of Koka and Iga (a neighboring area), which both operated along their own rules. 

12) A clearer recount of the tale goes as follows: Takagi Oriemon set out on a years-long musha shugyo (warrior’s journey to hone one’s skills) throughout Japan during the 1600s. Early in his trip he encounters 2 monks, and travels with them for awhile. One of them, who duels with a kusarigama, goes by the warrior name of Tetsudo. Oriemon develops good relations with the 2 monks, before finally all 3 set off on their separate ways. A few years later, as Oriemon was climbing up a Mountain called, Takayama, he encountered an old man named Muraoka Hyobu, who was a skilled marksman. Oriemon assisted in taking down a wild boar while Hyobu was hunting, and carried it for the old man back to his home. Staying for dinner, Oriemon conversed with Hyobu and his wife, where it came out that they were the parents of Tetsudo, whom they hadn’t seen for around 20 years. Moved that Oriemon could bring good news about his lost son, Hyobu decided to pass down complete knowledge of the kahoujutsu unique to the Muraoka family to him. He did so as Oriemon had a strong, yet likeable quality to him that made him trust worthy, as well as for Oriemon to someday initiate Tetsudo into the family tradition in place of Hyobu.

For those interested, you can read more about this and other tales regarding Takagi Oriemon in “Takagi Oriemon: Budo Hero of Shiroishi”, a translation project by those of the Jinenkan Honbu Dojo.

13) 万川集海. Also pronounced as “Mansenshuukai”.

14) 忍術秘録

15) Fujita Seiko makes this statement in “Ninjutsu Hiroku” on page 14, starting from line 8 of the original book. The statement (in Japanese) goes as follows:

“そんなら忍術は最早や此世に必要のないものかといふに、私の考では、即々然うではない。忍術の精神と、其の術の応用とは之を新時代に適合して、個人に護身法の必要あり、國家に防敵の必要ある限り”

16) 甲賀流忍術和田派

Trials of Translating Old Texts

Today I present a topic concerning translating old Japanese text. For those who can read Japanese or have a knack for historical information may find this blog especially useful, for there will be a good amount of notes and references. I will be using a famous transcript concerning ninjutsu and military affairs known by the title “Bansenshukai”1, originally compiled by Fujibayashi Samuji Yasutake in 1676.

Bearing a title meaning “many rivers that join together expand into an ocean”, the Bansenshukai is a collection of many secrets and trades from multiple families of the Iga and Koga regions involved in shinobi2 activities during times of conflict & war, ranging from philosophy, astrology, tools & weapons, medicine & poisons, and rations. A work done before the modernization of Japan, it is written in an archaic style filled with many specialized terms not used today.

There have been few versions in Japan of the Bansenshukai that where attempts to give modernized commentary to help the general public understand the contents. The version in my possession is the latest one entitled “Kanpon Bansenshukai”3, which was produced by Nakajima Atsumi. A historian on koryu bujutsu (traditional martial arts) and ninjutsu, Mr. Nakajima’s book is an example of years of pure dedication, for he not only has scans of the original text, but also has the same text typed for easier reading, as well as a “modernized” interpretation of the original text with notes to make it more comprehensive for today’s generation.

To produce an English translation of such an old text on the same caliber would be a tremendous task, for not only does the translator need to be proficient in reading the text (the original writing + a modernized interpretation would be essential), but countless of hours of research to understand the culture and way of life of Mid-century Japan. On top of that, many resources would be needed in deciphering outdated and coded terminologies–many which can be foreign to the Japanese language itself. Using Mr. Nakajima’s version makes the task easier, but not entirely stress-free.

While I’m not attempting to produce a full translation of the Bansenshukai (I will leave it in the hands of those far more capable with full resources at hand), I do want to share some of the work needed in order to attempt translating old text into your native language, from the viewpoint of a translator myself. Let’s take a small snippet about horses from one of the chapters in Bansenshukai called “Gunyo Hiki”, a section that instructs on conduct, activities, preparation, and other activities while serving in the military. Below is the original text from the Bansenshukai, which is written in Kanji4 and Katakana5:

一 馬芝維ノ事

種々有卜云モカウ掛ヲ前へ引掛置ハ不動モノ。又四足共二竜ノ毛ヲ上へナデアゲ一モジリモジリテコヨリニテ卒度結置ハ不動モノナリ

Next is an easier-to-read version of the original text from Mr. Nakajima’s book. It is still written in a kind of old Japanese fashion, but with Hiragana6 in places where one gets a better idea about how the words should be read.

一、馬芝維の事

種々有りと云えども、こう掛を前へ引掛け置かば、動かざるもののなり。又四足共に竜の毛を上へなで上げ、一もじりもじりて、こよりにてそっと結び置かば動かざるものなり。

Now, here it is written, phonetically, in the English alphabet:

Uma Shibai no Koto

Shushu ari to iedomo, kougake (w)o mae (h)e hikkake okaba, ugokazaru mono no nari. Mata shisoku tomo ni ryu no ke (w)o ue (h)e nade ni age, ichi mojiri mojirite, koyori nite sotto musubi okaba ugokazaru mono nari.

Before doing a thorough translation, let’s focus on the actual text. Giving a very rough and literal description, this text talks about tying a horse in place using a rope or cord by “something”, and then brushing up and twisting repeatedly the “dragon’s hair” of a four-legged creature, and tying it to also keep a horse from moving. Certain points are vague in description, while others use words that make it very difficult to know what is being reference. To fill in the gaps, it is important to learn the nuances and contents of what’s being discussed. Research on the topic of cavalry during the history of Japan, for example, is essential so to understand the topic at hand and get an idea of what’s missing in those gaps. Having access to books when looking up archaic words not in use is also a must, such as a specialized Japanese dictionary. The internet is also a good resource, as there is a vast amount of information at one’s fingertips, especially if you research in the native language, in this case being Japanese. However, you need to know how to narrow your searches down to queries most close to what you’re researching on, as well as decipher true information from false. When you have an idea of specific sources, libraries (both physical locations and online) can be a translators’ best friend.

Kura-no-baju_(Japanese_saddle_and_related_parts)
An example of basou, or riding equipment for a horse. Photo taken by Alun Salt. From Wikipedia.

Here are some areas of interest from the text above that need to be addressed:

- Uma Shibai: The kanji used for this is unconventional. It is a combination of 芝(shiba; grass, or turf) +維(i; rope or cord). It may very well be a play on words to indicate its true meanings, such as 芝居 (shibai, to tie) and 仕場 (shiba, activities done on the battlefield). Since the information in the original text is geared towards those working in the military, we get an understanding that the horse will be tied and secured outside in the field.

– Kougake:  In the text the word “something” is written as こう掛. Pronounced as “kougake”, “kou” is written in Kana7. Since the topic deals with tying a rope or cord to the horse, we can deduce that “gake” refers to something that is worn or hung on the horse. But where? Kou, as it is written, is vague and tells us nothing we can work with. If one studies the basou(riding equipment used on horses) used in times of war in Japan, you’ll find that in the head gear called omogai9, there is a leather strap that wraps from the top of the horse’s neck down across the horse’s face. This leather strap, which happens to be called “kougake”, is written as “首掛”. The kanji  for kou should be “首”, which stands for neck. Nowadays it is pronounced as “kubikake”, and is used not only for horses, but for various accessories people use that can be slung from the neck, such as a pouch or guitar strap. Getting back on topic, we have clarification that kougake in the Japanese text refers to a leather neck strap.

– Shisoku: when one first reads it, it’s easy to assume this is in reference to the four legs of a horse. It sorta does, but not in the literal sense. Short for “shisoku dobutsu”10, shisoku basically stands for a four-legged animal. Thus, a shorthand for horse in the text. Simple as that.

– Ryu no ke: This translates to “dragon’s hair”. What does that have to do with a horse? Well, one thing to understand is that there are many types of labeling in reference to dragons in Asia since dragons are seen as wise and calm, full of wisdom, and good fortune. Originating in China, the concepts of dragons, as well as many references to them, also trickled down into Japanese culture. For example, “dragon’s beard”11 is a common word used in Chinese society for things that resembled the whiskers of dragons depicted in artworks, such as a type of snack12, and a flexible weapon with 2 hooked blades13. The same “dragon’s beard”14 is also used in Japan, for it is a nickname for a type of plant15, as well as when a long silver strand(s) of hair grows on the back of one’s neck16. Hair that is let down to flow wildly is also described to be like a dragon. This is where a horse comes into the picture. Horses in Chinese history have been compared and associated with dragons, from being called a dragon based on Chinese measurements17, to being combined with one another18.  Furthermore, a horse’s mane, as well as other animals with long fur, are compared to that of the hairs of a dragon. Thus, “ryu no ke” is a reference to a horse’s mane.

– Ichi mojiri mojirite: There is no kanji in the text for “mojiri mojirite”, but there is a reason. Not a conventional use, this is a case of a verb being repeated twice, which is “mojiru”. The kanji normally associated with this is 捩. The verb has several meanings based how it is used, such as to twist something, to make a parody of something, or to make something excruciating. So which meaning is the correct one? When it is written in Kana form, the sound of the word indicates a physical action, which is a twisting motion. Since it is repeated twice, this motion is emphasized even more. So, in the case of the horse’s hair, we understand it is being twisted, or braided, together.

20160813_130442.jpg
A picture of the original text of the Bansenshukai, scanned in the back of Nakajima Atsumi’s book. The text featured in this blog is the middle on the top row.

With those areas now made clear, below is a proper translation by me of the text from the Bansenshukai:

Matters Concerning the Tying of Horses on the (Battle)field

There are numerous ways to do this. One way is to bring the “kougake” (leather neck strap part of its head gear) forward and tether from there so to keep the horse in place. Another way is to brush up the horse’s mane, twist it into a braid, tie it with a koyori (a type of paper string), and tether from there to secure the horse so that it will not move.

This here concludes this topic on translating old documents in Japanese. I aim to do more entries like this on other Japanese documents and manuals in the near future. Possibly a few more entries from the Bansenshukai will make their way on my blog again.


1) 万川集海, also written as 萬川集海 in earlier times. While most commonly pronounced as Bansenshukai, it is also read as “Mansenshukai”.  To which is the proper pronunciation has not been agreed on, and tends to be debated by linguists and ninjutsu historians. For example, Nakajima Atsumi primarily uses “Mansenshukai”. For the sake of consistancy, however, I will use “Bansenshukai” when addressing this work.

2) Shinobi (忍び) is one of older titles used in reference to those who took part in covert activities and specialized in unconventional tactics. More specifically, a specialist in this field would be called a shinobi no mono (忍びの者), while the skills they used was called shinobi no jutsu (忍びの術).

3) “Bansenshukai – The Complete Edition”.

4) Chinese-originated characters used for writing, adopted by Japan. One of the main writing systems. A little over 10,000 kanji are in use today, but the total count of Kanji used throughout Japan’s history is around 50,000.

5) A type of phonetic script made up of 48 characters derived from Kanji in Japan, it is one half of the Kana system that is a major component of Japan’s writing system. In modern times, some of its uses include representing foreign-based words, accented speech (different from Japanese), emphasizing movements and actions, and scientific words.

6) The other half of the Kana system, Hiragana is a type phonetic script made up of 46 characters. Primarily used, alongside with Kanji, to write Japanese native words, as well as a substitute for Kanji in specific cases.

7) The phonetic writing system made up of both Hiragana and Katakana.

8) 馬装. This is regular gear for the horse. This is different from uma yoroi (馬鎧), where the horse gains a layer of light armor.

9) 面繋. The omogai is one of the three major components of a horse’s equipment, the other two being the munagai (胸繋, chest gear), and shirigai (尻繋, rear gear).

10) 四足動物

11) Written as 龍鬚 (lóng xū) in Chinese (Mandarin).

12) 龍鬚糖 (lóng xū táng)

13) 龍鬚鉤 (lóng xū gou)

14) 龍の髭 (ryu no hige)

15) Dwarf Lily turf (Ophiopogon japonicus) in English. Along with Dragon’s Beard, it is also referred to as Snake’s beard (蛇の髭, ja no hige).

16) Superstitiously believed to be a sign of good luck and fortune. Generally called Takara ke (宝毛)  or Fuku ke (福毛).

17) Found in an old bureaucratic writing on duties and organization of officers called “Rites of Zhou” (周禮, Zhouli) dating back as far as 2nd Century BC in China. Broken into 6 parts, the measurements are located in line 126 the 4th part called  “Offices of Summer” (夏官司馬, Xiaguan Sima). This can be found in the “Chinese Text Project” under “The Rites of Zhou” here.

18) 龍馬 (longma)