Many popular stories from Japan’s history usually based on famous wars and conflicts. These stories generally cover the bravery of warriors clashing in battle, or feudal warlords trying to outdo another for the sake of land, and the power to control it. Many enthusiasts of Japanese history draw inspiration from these tales. Yet, we can also take some lessons from tales that focus instead of warriors on the battlefield, but from those who avoid the conflicts for the sake of survival.
There is a story¹ called “Okiku Monogatari” (おきく物語). taken from the surviving journal of a woman by the name of Okiku and her plight to escape from the chaos during the famous Osaka Campaign headed by Tokugawa Ieyasu. This journal was supposedly written by her grandchild, Tanaka Motonori (田中意徳)², who was a physician from Ikeda, Okayama prefecture. He had learned that his grandmother, whom he called “Kiku”, was a survivor of the aforementioned war, and wanted to record it³. While the story is short, it is a great example of survival using one’s wits, judgment, along with some luck, from the perspective of one who was not honed in the ways of the warrior.
WHO WAS OKIKU
Okiku was born in 1596 in Ōmi province. Her father was Ogawa Mozaemon (小川茂左衛門), who had served several influential families, such as the Asai clan and the Toyotomi clan. There is no mention as to who her mother was. While there isn’t much mentioned about her childhood, this story covers the point when Okiku was 20 years old⁴ and, at the time, living within Ōsaka castle. She was as a female servant for Yodo-dono, who was of a high ranking aristocrat. While this Yodo-dono did come from an influential military family, as she was the daughter of Asai Nagamasa (浅井長政) and Oichi no Kata (お市の方, late Oda Nobunaga’s daughter), she was also a concubine of the late Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
As stated before, there isn’t much info before the actual events in her story, other than small tidbits regarding when she and her family became associated with the Toyotomi clan. On a related note, Okiku’s father had fought during the Ōsaka Campaign in 1615, where it’s said he died in battle⁵. When last did Okiku see her father before the tragic day when Ōsaka castle would fall? Unfortunately, there are no notes about this.
DAY OF THE CHAOS
in June 7th, 1615⁶, Okiku was in the nagatsubone (長局), which was a long, multi-room living quarters quarters for servant girls within a separate part of the large complex of Ōsaka castle. Being told to go take a break, she made yakisoba (焼き蕎麦, fried noodles) for herself. After finished eating her meal, she returned to kitchen area. At some point she heard commotions coming from outside. She took a moment to step away and go to investigate.
As she stepped out from Tamadukurikuchi (玉造口, the southeast exit of the main structure), Okiku walked along the path in the courtyard towards Senjojiki (千畳敷, a large structure with many rooms famed for having around 1000 tatatmi mats). She heard people yelling, and wondered what was causing this. Then her eyes caught visual cues that showed fighting outside the castle was taking place: fire leaping up over the walls of the castle grounds, along with sounds of gunfire and war shouts. from the troops that were fighting. Startled at the chaos that was erupting on the battlefield and how close it was to the castle, Okiku felt that it was necessary to escape the castle.
Okiku rushed back to the nagatsubone, and made preparations to protect herself before venturing out into the courtyard, joining 3 hats together along with several koshimaki (腰巻, a belt worn with kimono). She used these as a shield to cover herself as arrows were now randomly raining into the vicinity of the castle grounds. At this point, there was nothing worth of any value that would make her stay in Ōsaka castle. Other than her life, she did happen to pick up a keepsake mirror from her room at the nagatsubone that was rewarded to her by Toyotomi Hideyori. This was very dear to her, so she kept it safely in her futokoro (懐), which is an inner pocket within a kimono. As Okiku made her way back to the kitchen area, where she spotted a retainer of the Toyotomi clan, Takeda Eio, who was dressed in armor. Eio was trying to maintain order as the place was in turmoil with many female attendants running around hysterically, while injured soldiers were being attended to.
There were other women who moved towards a gate near the kitchen. As they were asked where they were heading, they replied to leave the castle. Eio refused, insisted that they don’t abandon their castle. The women then pointed to a prized banner that had several golden gourds on top⁷, which represented the Toyotomi clan. This banner, laying down on the floor unattended, meant that it was abandoned by the appointed flag bearer. They refuted, claiming others have already left. From that, the women ignored the flustered soldier, and rushed to the gate to leave the castle grounds and find a place to hide from the ensuing battle. Okiku also did the same, as she moved alongside with the other women.
TROUBLE AT KYŌ BRIDGE ENTRYWAY
Okiku walked along the outskirts of the assaulted Ōsaka castle, trying to stay on a safe path while avoiding the ongoing conflicts between the Toyotomi troops and the the Tokugawa army. She decided to head to Matsubara-guchi, which was northwest of her (present day southern area of Hyōgo prefecture). There, she would look for safe haven from a daimyo and ally of the Toyotomi clan, Tōdō Takatora, who also happened to be a benefactor to her family. Her father knew him first when he was a retainer of the Asai clan, for at the time Takatora was a minor soldier who was working directly under him. At the time, Takatora was poor, but her mom would call him and make him food. When the Asai clan fell, and her father wandered as a ronin, Takatora had risen to a high position, and had contacted her father to come work for him.
To reach Matsubara-guchi would be a bit of a journey, and Okiku would need to cross over a few bridges to get there. First she crossed over Gokuraku Bridge (極楽橋), which was just north of Ōsaka castle. She moved vigilantly, as she took caution not to run into danger as she journeyed farther away from what was once the safety the Toyotomi clan. Especially as a female traveling on her own, she would be an easy target for thieves and such. The Gokuraku Bridge was one of the few ways over Ōsaka Castle’s natural water defense, as it was surrounded by several lakes. After crossing this bridge, she headed west and made her way towards Kyō Bridge Entryway (京橋口). It appeared that Okiku was still in the clear as she reached the entrance. As she was going to pass by and continue along the path, she then heard a voice calling to her.
To the side of the road near Kyō Bridge Entryway a man appeared, beckoning her to come to him. Okiku did as so, as not to make any sudden moves to turn the situation sour in her favor. As she got close, the man took out a bladed weapon⁸, and asked for money. Okiku cooperated with the thief, and took out a takenagashi (竹流, bamboo container for cleaning small things using water) from her inner pocket, and from it brought out 2 coins. She gave one coin to the thief. Not satisfied, the thief requested the other. Okiku then bargained with him, saying that she would give him the other if he leads her to Tōdō Takatora’s encampment in Matsubara-guchi. Surprisingly he agreed, possibly on the prospect of being rewarded even more for his good “deed”.
Okiku and her unlikely companion of a thief continued on their way the Matsubara-guchi. Shortly on the Okiku saw a crowd of people, who were surrounded by many soldiers. Taking a closer look, Okiku recognized one of the people to be a high-ranking aristocrat named Jōkōin. Okiku was familiar with her, as she was the daughter of Yodo-dono through marriage. Accompanied by some female servants and personal male guards, Jōkōin and her companions were off towards Kyōto north of Ōsaka prefecture to gain refuge from the Tokugawa force.
Okiku pondered about Jōkōin’s plan, as it appeared to have some value in terms of survival. It was a big risk, however, and granted safety from the enemy side was not guaranteed. On the other hand, She could continue with her original plan and head to Matsubara-guchi to gain safe haven from Tōdō Takatora. However, there’s no guarantee that she could make it all the way there, especially as she was accompanied by her shady companion.
As she watched Jōkōin and her group start to head off, in a sudden turn of events Okiku decided to accompany them. She followed behind the group, enough where it was obvious she was a part of their party. The thief did not tag along this time, must’ve been a relief on Okiku’s end. As they went on their way, they could see Ōsaka castle in the distance, with the sky lit up around it as it was set ablaze. It was truly a sad and surreal scene, for no one could’ve imagined that they would lose their home, once under the control of the prestigious Toyotomi family, being burned down through the violence of war. Despite the sorrow they felt, Okiku and the group marched on towards a new land, one where they may be safe.
During the group’s trek, Okiku was surprised to learn that Jōkōin was no longer taking them to Kyōto to gain refuge from the Tokugawa side, but instead was making a detour to northern Ōsaka towards Moriguchi (present-day Moriguchi City, Ōsaka prefecture). This was actually Jōkōin’s intention all along, as a means to get away from the bloodshed and violence that was taking place around Ōsaka castle. As members from the Toyotomi side, the group were able to hide amongst the populous in Moriguchi, as they each were taken in and made residence in different homes. Okiku stayed in the home of a rather poor family, but they were nice to her, and made her living as comfortable as possible.
Some time passed after the fall of Ōsaka castle and the demise of the Toyotomi clan. Okiku would receive word that the Tokugawa bakufu would not condemn any of the former female servants of Osaka castle guilty due to association. This was a relief to Okiku and the other survivors, as this was confirmation they could come out of hiding and move on with their lives. Okiku would leave her surrogate family and head to Kyoto, where she would gain employment as a servant for Kyokoku Tatsuko, who has blood relations to the once influential Asai family. Once a concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tatsuko had became a Buddhist priestess and was known by the title “Matsu no Maru-dono”. Okiku’s having the same connections possibly helped with her connecting with Tatsuko, and being accepted. It is said that from there on, Okiku was able to live a good & happy life.
ANALYZING THE SITUATION
While she may appear to be just a common servant girl who knows nothing of warfare, Okiku shows to possess good judgment, and a natural sense of adaptation to her environment and situation. One could only imagine how difficult it would be to stay calm in the face of pending danger from an ensuing battle right at one’s doorsteps, as well as to run into wild territory not knowing who’s friend or foe. Yet, if this journal is true, then Okiku exhibited this, which is quite remarkable.
- If Okiku put loyalty over her life and instead returned back to the main building in search of Yodo-dono, things would turn out differently. You see, Yodo-dono and her remaining servants at hand walled themselves up within Osaka castle. When things turned dire and it was obvious that the Tokugawa force were going to take the castle, Yodo-dono and her servants had committed suicide.
- Takeda Eio was very adamant that the women there calmed down and remain in the castle. If Okiku had listened to him, all could’ve been lost as the castle soon was burning around them. On top of this, Eio himself had seen that the end would come, thus committing suicide.
- Being able to bargain with the thief was a risky yet brave move. Considering the times, this thief was not such a bad person, as he cooperated with her and was willing to accept getting the 2nd coin after escorting her to her intended location. For all she knew, the thief could’ve been a cold-blooded murderer, plus there really wasn’t any incentive for him not to take both coins by force. It’s possible that her appearance showed that she wasn’t a poor, local girl…which would’ve been even more a reason to rob her. Still, it could’ve been her upbringing in a relatively good environment that gave her the mental fortitude to control the situation as she did.
- Okiku was not only flexible in her decision-making, but also able to adapt in order to ensure her main objective comes true: survival. Switching to follow Jōkōin instead of continuing her journey to Tōdō Takatora’s location demonstrated just that. It’s still possible that heading to Takatora would’ve also been fruitful. Still, her final decision lead to her having a happy ending.
The war story of Okiku is one that demonstrates the trials & tribulations a civilian can go through in order to survive a war that appears at your doorstep. There are not so many old Japanese texts that go into details like this that are transliterated into English. Hope everyone can enjoy this type of story.
1) This is often labeled as a “gunki” (軍記), which means “war (military) text or journal”. It is usually coupled with another war journal called “Oamu Monogatari” (おあむ物語), which is a recording about a women named Oan and her experience actively participating in th defense of a castle during Sekigahara war. One of the connections between both stories is that the Sekigahara war took place before the Osaka campaign, and both deal with the struggle between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa forces.
2) Some trivia regarding Okiku and her name. It is possible that her real name may have been “Kiku”, as that is what her grandson called her. Does that mean the the “O” is an honorific label (which could be the “御” character)? Or is “Kiku” just a shorthand that Tanaka used due to having kinship with her? Unfortunately, none of this has yet to be verified, specifically since Okiku is not written in kanji (Chinese characters) in the original source.
Speaking of which, few sources have written her name with the kanji “菊” or “お菊”, which may be the correct way to write it. However, her employer, Yodo-dono, also went by “Okiku”, and used those very same characters…but that doesn’t mean everyone who had the same name wrote it with thise exact characters.
As a whole, Okiku’s name is represented in hiragana as “おきく” as that is how it appears in the original. This is a neutral way of writing it.
3) Motonori as a name is not common nowadays. This is the only reading I was able to find associated with the characters that make up the name.
4) Her age may have been calculated based on kazoedoshi (数え年), where everyone gains an extra year the moment of their birth. This practice was common in Asia.
5) Osaka Campaign took place both in the winter of 1614 and around the summer of 1615. It is believed that Mozaemon died in battle during the one in 1615.
6) Apparently, the year mentioned in the original text is off, as it states June 7th, 1617.
7) The full name of this banner is “kane no Hyotan no umajirushi” (金の瓢箪の御馬印).
8) There is no description of what type of man he was. Considering the times and the threats while walking along paths and bridges, most likely he was a thief or bandit waiting to spring on easy targets. It is possible he was once a warrior who switched to a life of thievery. This may be because his bladed weapon could’ve been a (short) sword.