Japan History: Shimazu Yoshihiro

Shimazu Yoshihiro (August 21, 1535 - August 30, 1619), also known as Shimazu Tadahira and Hyogo no kami. Second son of Shimazu Takahisa, he was the 17th Shimazu clan leader.

Shimazu Yoshihiro

photo credits: japanworld.info

He began serving his brother Yoshihisa in many military campaigns. During the battle of Kizaki, the "Okehazama of Kyūshū" in 1572, 300 men of Yoshihiro defeated Itō Yoshisuke's three thousand soldiers. In 1577 he obtained the supremacy of the Shimazu over the province of Hyūga. Later he participated in the battles of Takabaru (1576), Mimigawa (1576), Minamata (1581), and Hetsugigawa (1587).

The life of Shimazu Yoshihiro: From 1587 to 1600

In 1587 he was appointed daimyō following the submission of the Shimazu to Hideyoshi. He later led 10,000 men in the first Korean campaign (1592-93) from his ship Kotaka-maru. During this battle, a number of servants including his brother Toshihisa protested the call to arms and for this, they were punished by Yoshihiro. He then fought the second Korean campaign in the battles of Namwon and Sacheon. With these battles, he kidnapped some Korean potters as prisoners of war. This created a new style of vases called Satsuma-yaki which subsequently increased trade in the province.

Shimazu Yoshihiro

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During the battle of Sekigahara in the 1600s, according to the novel Rakusuishū of the Edo period, Yoshihiro appears to have been on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Later humiliated by Torii Mototada on arrival at Fushimi's castle, he moved over to Ishida Mitsunari before Mōri Terumoto declared war by persuading Uesugi Kagekatsu to ally with them.

Yoshihiro and Mitsunari

According to his subordinate Kando Kutarō, Yoshihiro was a close friend of Mitsunari. However, novelists of the Edo period distorted reality by saying that Mitsunari had not listened to any of Yoshihiro's plans, including the notorious surprise night attack of the day before the real battle. Instead, that day, Yoshihiro and his 1500 samurai simply presided over their area without a fight. Yoshihiro was stormed by at least 30,000 Ieyasu troops, so he tried many times to get to the same Ieyasu. Yoshihiro retired and his troops simulated a false retreat called Sutegamari when a number of men died repelling the attacks. Toyohisa and most of the troops died allowing Yoshihiro to retire with his wife. He then moved from the province of Settsu to return to the province of Satsuma.

Shimazu Yoshihiro

photo credits: japanworld.info

Shiramine Jun, an important Japanese historian, wrote that Yoshihiro had been involved in the power struggle between Shimazu Yoshihisa and Ijuin Tadamune. In fact, for this reason, Yoshihiro lost the support of Yoshihisa during the Sekigahara campaign.

Ieyasu, noting Yoshihiro's behavior on the battlefield, caused the Shimazu clan to maintain his rule. In fact, he chose Yoshihiro's son Shimazu Tadatsune as his successor. In 1609, Yoshihiro and Tadatsune began a punitive expedition against the Ryūkyu kingdom.
He appears to have fought in 52 battles during his lifetime and was a skilled commander.

The death

Yoshihiro retired to Sakurajima and started teaching the younger generation. He died in 1619 causing the suicide of many of his servants who had joined him for the rest of his life.


Shichi-Go-San / Seven-Five-Three

November 15th is the day of Shichi-Go-San (七五 三, 7-5-3). This festival celebrates the rite of passage for girls aged 3 and 7 and children aged 3 and 5. These numbers are considered particularly lucky, like all odd numbers.

Shichi-Go-San

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Shichi-Go-San is the culmination of three traditions developed in the Heian period. The celebration first started among the court nobles who celebrated the passage of their children to "average childhood". It was then adopted by the Samurai class to mark the important growth milestones.

Up to 3 years of age, a child will have shaved hair. After the age of 3, they would then be allowed to grow their hair a little longer. 5-year-old males could wear the hakama (袴, a traditional garment that resembles a wide skirt-pants up to the ankles and tied to the waist) for the first time, while the seven-year-old girls replaced the simple cords, used to tie their kimonos, with the traditional obi (帯, the traditional silk belt). After the Meiji period, this practice was also adopted by ordinary citizens, introducing the ritual visit to a Shinto shrine to remove evil spirits and wish their children a long and prosperous life.

Shichi-Go-San and the subtle changes in the modern era

Shichi-Go-San

photo credits: amu-zen.com

Like most Japanese traditions, Shichi-Go-San keeps the rituals of the Meiji period almost completely intact. The only aspect falling into disuse is the hair rule. Five-year-old boys and seven-year-old girls still wear colourful kimono for visits to shrines.
The three-year-old girls usually wear the hifu (a dress similar to a slightly padded waistcoat) along with their kimono. Some children wear clothes closer to western fashion. Today many photos are taken in this occasion.
A decorated envelope containing sweet Chitose ame (千歳飴) will be given to each boy and girl celebrating the Shichi-Go-San day. The name ‘Chitose ame’ means “the candy of a thousand years". It is wrapped in transparent edible rice paper and is shaped like a long thin stick. Traditionally red and white, it serves as a symbol of longevity.


Bushido: ethics and conduct, the way of the Samurai

Between the period of the Kamakura shogunate (1185) and the Muromachi period (1336) the code of moral conduct known as Bushido took shape (武士道, the path of the warrior). Formally adopted and applied by the "bushi", the warriors (Samurai) in the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867), this code of conduct is a re-adaptation of the principles of Buddhism and Confucianism. Originally adapted to the warrior caste, after the Meiji Restoration (1866-1869), the Japanese nationalist movement adopted by Bushido as a discipline of behavior.

Bushido

photo credits: camminospirituale.com

The 7 principles of Bushido: 7 steps towards perfection

Honesty, justice, piety, duty, honour, and loyalty were the principles that had to be pursued until death. If this were not followed, the penalty was the dishonour to be expiated through the seppuku (切腹) or harakiri (切り). Both of these terms indicate the ritual of honourable suicide through the cutting of the belly. Harakiri is used in speech, while seppuku is most used in writing.
Each Samurai was therefore required to follow 7 fundamental principles that we can define as "perfect morality".

Let's go into them and discover them together:

義, Gi: Honesty and Justice

There are no middle ways, there is only the right or the wrong. It is necessary to be honest in dealing with others, to believe firmly in the justice that comes from oneself, not from other people. The true Samurai never has uncertainties about honesty and justice

勇, Yu: Heroic Courage

The heroic courage of the Samurai rises above the masses. A warrior is not afraid to act, he does not hide in the shell like a turtle, despite the risk and danger. Heroic courage means to live completely, fully, wonderfully, it is not blind but strong and intelligent.

仁, Jin: Compassion

The intense training makes the samurai quick and strong. He is different from the others, he acquires a power that must be used for the common good. He possesses compassion, takes every opportunity to be helpful to his fellows and if the opportunity does not arise he does everything to find one. The compassion of a Samurai must be demonstrated above all in regard to women and children

礼, Rei: Kind Courtesy

The Samurai have no reason to behave in a cruel way, they don't need to show their strength. A Samurai is also kind to enemies. Without this demonstration of external respect, a man is little more than an animal. The Samurai is respected not only for his strength in battle but also for how he interacts with other men. The best fight is the one who is avoided.

誠, Makoto: Complete Sincerity

When a Samurai expresses the intention to perform an action, this is practically already accomplished, nothing will prevent him from completing the express intention. He needs neither to give the word nor to promise. Speaking and acting are the same thing.

名誉, Meiyo: Honor

The Samurai is the only judge of his honour. The decisions you make and the actions that follow are a reflection of what you actually are. You can't hide from yourself.

忠義, Chugi: Duty and Loyalty

For the Samurai to perform an action or to express something is to become its owner. He assumes full responsibility, even for what follows. The Samurai is immensely loyal to those he cares about. He remains proudly faithful to those for whom he is responsible.

For several years I myself have adopted these 7 virtues as a path to follow. I find them essential in everyone's life because we are all warriors. Every day we face challenges and every day we must aim for that spiritual perfection that, if pursued to the end, would lead to a better world.
Are you ready to take these steps?


Japan History: Yagyū Munenori

Yagyū Munenori (1571 - 11 May 1646) was a Japanese swordsman, founder of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, one of two official sword styles sponsored by the Tokugawa shogunate (the other was Ittō-ryū).

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: wikipedia.org

He became a great expert in the fencing art thanks to a long almost monastic path dedicated to teaching in the Shogun family. It is in this place that we discover its true nature: guide and political adviser to three shogun and head of an "intelligence" body he created. Yagyū Munenori will lead Japan, in complete secrecy, for almost thirty years.

Yagyū Munenori's career

Munenori began his career in the Tokugawa administration as a hatamoto, a direct holder of the Tokugawa clan. Later his income was increased to 10,000 koku, making him a fudai daimyo, or a vassal lord in the service of the Tokugawa. Subsequently, Yagyū Munenori also received the title of Tajima no Kami.

Munenori entered the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu at a young age, and later became a sword instructor for Ieyasu Hidetada's son. He also became one of the main advisors of the third Igitsu shogun.

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: doacademytorino.wordpress.com

Shortly before his death in 1606 he passed the guidance of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū to his nephew Toshiyoshi. After that, Toshiyoshi entered the service of a branch of the Tokugawa clan that controlled the province of Owari. Toshiyoshi's school was based in Nagoya and was called Owari Yagyū-ryū, while that of Munenori, in Edo became known as Edo Yagyū-ryū. Takenaga Hayato, the founder of Yagyū Shingan-ryū, was a disciple of Yagyū Munenori and received from him secret teachings (gokui) of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū.

Around 1632, Munenori completed Heihô Kadenshô, a treatise on Shinkage-ryū sword practice and how it could be applied to life and politics. The text is still in print today in Japan and has been translated several times in English. Translated into Italian: "The sword that gives life" it is a compelling biography of Munenori and a series of essays regarding sword techniques.

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: www.lunieditrice.com

His sons Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi and Yagyū Munefuyu were also famous swordsmen.


Kitsunebi Matsuri, when folklore comes to life

In ancient Japanese folklore, the Kitsunebi (狐火, foxfire) was a yōkai that, overnight, suddenly appeared as a glowing red-orange and sometimes blue light. The Kitsunebi gradually increased to cover vast areas, reaching even 4km! It was believed that they were torches of a procession of foxes marching for their wedding. The lights were sighted by farmers in the mountains and were considered a good harbinger for the harvest. In fact, the greater the number of lights seen, the more fruitful was the harvest. However, no human was allowed to approach: those who tried were condemned to vanish.

Kitsune

photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com

In particular, the stories tell of the marriage between Otonosama, the king who lived in Furukawa, and Okon, the daughter of the fox God. This fascinating image is the origin of the Hida Furukawa Kitsunebi Matsuri (騨古川きつね火まつり). This festival is celebrated every year, on the fourth Saturday of September in Hida Furukawa, a picturesque and rural town full of beautiful landscapes, where even today you can breathe a life far from the frenzy of the metropolis.

Kitsunebi Matsuri

photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com

Happiness and prosperity!

Like almost all the festivals we are used to now, the Kitsunebi Matsuri also aims to bless the harvest, happiness and prosperity for families.

Kitsunebi Matsuri

photo credits: myjapantravels.wordpress.com

But what exactly does the Kitsunebi Matsuri consist of??

First of all, all the participants have fox mustaches drawn on their faces, be they children or elderly, shopkeepers on the road or tourists. It begins with the blessing of local businesses: the dancers carry a dongamaki, a 5 meter long snake, door to door.

Kitsunebi Matsuri

photo credits: myjapantravels.wordpress.com

After that the main event begins. We could say that it is a marriage, but not a common one, but a solemn procession in which the foxes' wedding is celebrated, the Kitsune no Yomeiri.

photo credits: myjapantravels.wordpress.com

The future spouses, a couple bound in real life, are chosen by a pool of candidates at the national level in the town where the wedding ceremony will be held. The long march will lead the bride to the groom as night falls when the Kistunebi begins (a torchlight procession). Those who attend the whole procession will be blessed and can make a wish like a good harvest, or happiness for their family or prosperity in business.

photo credits: tokyopic.com

A romantic curiosity

From 1392, throughout the Muromachi period until the end of the nineteenth century, when Western wedding ceremonies replaced traditional Japanese ceremonies, weddings were held at night and the bride was escorted to her new home by a parade of lights.


Japan History: Kusunoki Masashige

Shimazu Takahisa was born May 28, 1514, son of Shimazu Sagami no kami Tadayoshi (1492-1568), adopted by Shimazu Katsuhisa. He became the lord of Kagoshima after Katsuhisa's escape in 1526. He conquered the aforementioned city in 1536 and extended his authority throughout the province of Satsuma.

photo credits: wikipedia.org

He was one of the first daimyō to employ firearms in battle during the siege of Kajiki in the province of Ōsumi in 1549. In that same year, he welcomed Francis Xavier to Kagoshima. He granted Jesuit protection to spread Christianity in his domain, later withdrawn under pressure from local Buddhist monks. Takahisa also had diplomatic relations with the Ryūkyu Kingdom.

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15th head of the Shimazu clan, he supervised the transfer of the clan's headquarters from Shimizu castle to Uchi castle in 1550 when he sent Ijūin Tadaaki to Shimizu to suppress the rebellions and secure control of the Shimazu over the province. In 1554 his troops won against the Hishikari, Kamō and Ketō clans during the siege of Iwatsurugi. His son Shimazu Yoshihisa later completed the defeat of these clans and secured control of the Shimazu over the rest of the Satsuma province.

photo credits: global.rakuten.com

He officially retired in favor of Yoshihisa in 1566 and in 1569 the Iriki-in and Tōgō clans were defeated and he secured control over Satsuma. The following year he rejected a naval attack by members of the Kimotsuki, Ijiki and Nejime clans. He died on 15 July 1571.

His idea of ​​promoting relations with foreign people and countries is very important.

His sons were Yoshihisa, Yoshihiro, Iehisa and Toshihisa.

photo credits: wikipedia.org


The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri and the rampant euphoria

Let's return to talk about Japanese festivals and today we talk about the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri.

Every year, generally during a weekend in mid-September, the streets of Kishiwada, a small town near Osaka, are invaded by the fervor and euphoria for the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (岸和田だんじ祭).

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

photo credits: airfrance.co.za, mainichi.jp

The celebrations originated in 1703, by the daimyō Okabe Nagayasu (部長泰). He prayed to the Shintoist gods for a bountiful harvest and this is still the meaning of the festival. However, what makes this celebration special is that it is a speed race pulling the danjiri.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

photo credits: Justin Yoshida

Danjiri are traditional wooden structures, carved and finely decorated by skilled carpenters and local sculptors. These wagons have the form of small shrines containing the deities and, during the days of the festival, they are precisely dragged through the streets of the neighborhood. Given their weight (they can exceed 3 quintals), the festival is also considered a moment to demonstrate one's courage. In fact, these structures must be towed with only the help of ropes and at full speed!

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

photo credits: Justin Yoshida, Justin Yoshida, japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp, MJY-shogun, Justin Yoshida

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri celebrations

During the festival celebrations, there are 35 danjiri involved, each of them being pulled by a team, representing the respective district of the city. At the control of the structure, on its top, there is the daiku-gata (大工方, master craftsman) whose wild dance serves as encouragement for his team and the crowd. Given the stunts in which he engages, the master craftsman risks his life constantly, but not only this! As we can easily imagine, this festival is also dangerous for all other participants due to the danjiri's dizzying speed. The wood splinters left behind and the fact that you have to elbow your way in to follow them is a danger to the crowd. Four hours of breathless running that ends with a big drinking moment around this wagon, to which dozens of paper lanterns are hung.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

photo credits: rove.me, Gavin Kealy

More than 500,000 visitors come to Kishiwada to experience the thrill of this celebration, what do you think? Do you find this parade electrifying?


Japan History: Kusunoki Masashige

Kusunoki Masashige, (1294 - 4 July 1336) was born in Minato-gawa, province of Settsu, and was a 14th century samurai who fought for the Emperor Go-Daigo in the Genkō war.

Kusunoki Masashige

photo credit: ninja.fandom.com

Much of his early education took place in the Kanshin-ji temple in Kawachinagano, in the south of Osaka, where he later organized major restoration work.

Legend has it that the emperor Go-Daigo had a dream in which he was taking refuge under a camphor tree (the "kusunoki"). This dream brought him to the surname of the warrior who would support him. Indeed, in 1331 Kusunoki joined the emperor Go-Daigo in a revolt to wrest government power from the shogunate, the military dictatorship that had dominated Japan since 1192. Although numerically stronger shogunate troops captured the emperor, Kusunoki fled continuing to use guerrilla tactics.

The capture of Kusunoki near Nara in 1332 proved to be a serious threat to the government. The shogun then concentrated all his forces against Kusunoki. In one of the most famous battles in Japanese history, Kusunoki successfully defended the fortress of Chihaya against the upper shogunal forces.

Kusunoki Masashige

photo credit: davtov2000.blogspot.com

From 1333 to 1335

In 1333, Go-Daigo rewarded Masashige with the governorate of the province of Settsu and the province of Kawachi and promoted him to the fifth degree. Subsequently, he received the appointment on the Records Office and Settlement Board. However, one of the loyalist generals, Ashikaga Takauji, betrayed Go-Daigo and led an army against Kusunoki. Takauji took possession of Kyoto, but only temporarily before Nitta Yoshisada and Masashige forced Takauji to flee. In 1336 Takauji was again a threat to Kyoto.

During the short period following the imperial rule, Kusunoki was governor of the central Japanese provinces of Settsu. The real power in the countryside, however, continued to be held by the great hereditary lords, Ashikaga Takauji and Nitta Yoshisada. The latter openly challenged themselves to obtain the loyalty of minor feudal leaders.

Kusunoki suggested to the Emperor to take refuge on the sacred Mount Hiei and allow Takauji to take Kyoto. This is to allow him to descend from the mountain and, with the help of the monks of Mount Hiei, trap Takauji.

Go-Daigo was not willing to leave the capital and insisted that Kusunoki meet Takauji's forces on the field. Kusunoki, in what would later be seen as the last act of samurai loyalty, accepted obediently. The battle, which took place in Minatogawa, in present-day Chūō-ku, Kobe, was a tactical disaster. There are two reports of the proposal made by Kusunoki Masashige to the emperor Go-Daigo, the Taiheiki and the Baisho Ron, entbe ingorati. One was that they would group together and attack from two sides, the other was that they would take General Takauji back on their side.

Kusunoki's army was only 50 of the 700 knights. According to legend, the last words of his brother Masasue were Shichisei Hōkoku! ("I wish I had seven lives to give to my emperor!") Obviously Kusunoki Masashige agreed.
At his death, his head was sent to Kanshin-ji and buried in a tomb known as Kubi-zuka.

Eboshigata Castle and Ishibotoke Castle were both built along the route of the Koya Kaido, a famous pilgrimage route that stretches between Kyoto and Koyasan. Designed not only to protect the path from bandits, these were also an important source of income as travelers were forced to pay a toll.

From 1335 to the Meiji restoration

In 1335 Go-Daigo sided with Nitta Yoshisada against Ashikaga Takauji. As head of the imperial forces, Kusunoki defeated Takauji's troops in January 1336 and forced him to flee the capital. A few months later, however, Takauji returned to the head of a large army. Kusunoki suggested temporarily withdrawing so he could fight Takauji's forces at a point where the terrain was more favorable. The emperor insisted that Kusunoki meet enemy forces before occupying the capital. In the final battle on the Minato River, near the modern Kobe, Kusunoki fought bravely for many hours. His troops were finally overwhelmed and committed suicide rather than face capture.

His son, Kusunoki Masatsura, served as the emperor's successor, 12-year-old Go-Murakami, in a relationship of mutual trust that reflected the figure of his father Kusunoki and kept the flame of loyal resistance alive.

After the imperial restoration in 1868, a splendid sanctuary was erected on the site of Kusunoki's death. His loyalty to the emperor and his being one of the greatest military strategists in Japanese history, made him a legendary figure. He also received the highest decoration from the Japanese Meiji government in 1880.

photo credit: wikipedia.org

Legend

After the introduction of Neoconfucianism as a state philosophy by the Tokugawa shogunate, Kusunoki Masashige was declared with the emperor Go-Daigo forerunner of the synocentric absolutists. During the Edo period, scholars and samurai who were influenced by neoconfucian theories created the legend of Kusunoki. They consecrated him patriotic hero, with the name of Nankō or Dai-Nankō, incarnation of loyalty, courage and devotion to the Emperor. Kusunoki later became a sort of patron saint of the WWII suicide bombers. His spiritual heirs were those who sacrificed their lives for the emperor.