Japan Traditions: Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri

One of Japan's most famous matsuri is the Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri held in the city of Nara on the fourth Saturday of January.

photo credits: matsuritracker on flickr

Le Origini

On the top of the third hill of Mount Wakakusa we find the Uguisuzuka Kofun, a keyhole-shaped tombstone.
Legends say that in the past if the mountain was burned by the end of January in the new year, it was possible to repel deaths returning from their graves. On the contrary, if the mountain was not burned by the end of January, a big period of misfortune layed before the city of Nara. As a result, the stories tell that people passing by Mount Wakakusa began to ignite the mountain without permission.

 

photo credits: smartus & matsuritracker on flickr

Following this, there were some incidents where the fire from Mount Wakakusa came to approach the boundaries of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temple repeatedly. Because of this, in December 1738, the Nara magistrate's office (Bugyosho) prohibited people from burning the mountain. However, the arson fires continued at the hands of anonymous people and on some occasions approached the nearby cities and temples. To avoid similar dangers, the city of Nara established a rule to allow people to burn the mountain with the participation of representatives of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temples along with the Nara Bugyosho at the end of the Edo period.

photo credits: toshimo1123 on flickr

The Yamayaki festival (burning mountain) comes from superstitions to calm the spirits of the dead at the Uguisuzuka Kofun located at the top of the mountain, so the Yamayaki could also be considered as a moment of service in memory of the dead.

Modern history and present day

Since 1900, there have been a series of changes related to Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri. Firstly, the time was shifted from day to night and even its date moved to 11 February (Day of the Empire), although during the period of World War II, the celebrations were held during the afternoon. Later, in 1910, the organization passed into the hands of the prefecture of Nara.

 

photo credits: karihaugsdal on flickr

After the end of the war, the Yamayaki once again became an evening event together with a fireworks display of over one hundred fireworks.
During the fifties, the date of the Yamayaki was moved to January 15, the "Coming of Age day", while in 1999, due to the implementation of the so-called "Happy Monday System Act" (law that moved some public holidays on Mondays) , the festival was celebrated on the Sunday before the "Coming of Age day".

photo credits: toshimo1123 & nwhitely on flickr

Since 2009 we find the combination that still exists today, where the event is held on the fourth Saturday in January with a fireworks display of hundreds of fireworks.
On this matter, this is the only event in Nara that uses the Shakudama fireworks that have a diameter of over 30cm. An absolutely magical fireworks display that we guarantee will always remain engraved in your memories.

Mount Wakakusa

Mount Wakakusa is 342 meters high and 33 hectares wide and is covered with grass with delicate slopes. Here you can see deers, seasonal flowers and plants, like the traditional Japanese cherry trees in spring and the fantastic autumn colors typical of Japan. Also from its top, it is possible to see the whole panorama of the city of Nara with all its historical part.

 

photo credits: 158175735@N03 & mashipooh on flickr

Mount Wakakusa is surrounded by many UNESCO world heritage sites such as the temples Todaiji and Kohfukuji and the spring forest of Mount Kasuga, so be very careful to avoid accidents such as spreading the fire.

The parade

Led by the sound of shell horns played by the mountain priests of the Kinpusenji Temple, more than 40 people face the solemn parade through the park, wearing the traditional costumes of the representatives of the temples of Kasugataisha, Todaiji and Kohfukuji and of the officers of the judiciary office of Nara in the Edo period.

 

photo credits: toshimo1123 & katiefujiapple on flickr

The event begins with the Gojinkahotaisai, the sacred fire acceptance ceremony held at the Tobohino park, on the site of the Great Round Bonfire. In this ceremony, the sacred fire is transferred from the Great Round Bonfire to the torches. Following this, the parade will take the sacred fire to the Nogami temple. Once arrived at the Mizuya temple, the sacred fire brought by time Kasugataisha will be transferred to a series of torches. Once at the Nogami Temple, at the base of Mount Wakakusa, the sacred fire forms another great bonfire.

 

photo credits: katiefujiapple on flickr

During the parade, the fire is accompanied by constant prayers in the first place for the safety of the Yamayaki. The fire is then transferred back to the torches, accompanied by the songs of the priests of the temples Todaji, Kohfukuji and Kinpusenji. At this point, the parade moves towards the big bonfire in the center at the base of the mountain where it is lit, thus giving birth to the spectacle of light and heat.

photo credits: nara-park.com

Access

Mount Wakakusa is about a 10 - 15 minute walk from the Todaiji temple and Kasuga Taisha. The mountain can also be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara station in about 35 minutes or from JR Nara station in about 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can use buses departing from both the station and Kasuga Taisha for a small fee.
If you are in Japan during this period, the next Yamamaki will take place in a few days, January 26, 2019. Do not miss it and we’ll wait for your stories!

photo credits: ks_photograph


Japan History: Hasekura Tsunenaga

photo credits: wikimedia.org

Tsunenaga Rokuemon Hasekura (1571 - 7 August 1622) was a Japanese samurai and servant of Date Masamune, the daimyo of Sendai, famous for having led numerous delegations of ambassadors that led him to travel the whole world.

He led a delegation of ambassadors in Mexico and later in Europe between 1613 and 1620, after which he returned to Japan. He was the first Japanese officer sent to America and the first to establish relations between France and Japan.

The Spaniards began their travels between Mexico ("New Spain") and China, through their territorial base in the Philippines, following the journeys of Andrés de Urdaneta in the sixteenth century. Manila became their definitive base for the Asian region in 1571.
Contacts with Japan began due to the continuous shipwrecks on the Japanese coast, at which point the Spaniards began to hope to expand the Christian faith in Japan. The attempts to expand their influence in Japan met strong resistance from the Jesuits, who had begun the evangelization of the country in 1549, as well as the Portuguese and the Dutch who did not wish to see Spain trade with the Japanese.

In 1609 the Spanish galleon San Francisco shipwrecked on the Japanese coast at Chiba due to bad weather on its way from Manila to Acapulco. The sailors were rescued, and the captain of the ship, Rodrigo de Vivero y Aberrucia, met Tokugawa Ieyasu.

A treaty under which the Spaniards could build an industry in the east of Japan was signed on November 29 1609, so that Spanish ships would be allowed to visit Japan if necessary.

The embassy project

Luis Sotelo, a Franciscan friar who was proselytizing in the Tokyo area, persuaded the Shōgun to send him as ambassador to Nueva España (Mexico). In 1610 he sailed to Mexico with the Spanish and 22 Japanese sailors aboard the San Buena Ventura, a ship built by the Englishman William Adams for the Shogun. Once in New Spain, Luis Sotelo met the Viceroy Luis de Velasco, who agreed to send an ambassador to Japan, in the person of the famous explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, with the mission to explore the "Gold and Silver Islands" that were thought to be east of the Japanese islands.
Vizcaíno arrived in Japan in 1611 and had many meetings with the Shogun and the feudal lords, but he was not very respectful of Japanese customs, and he found the Japanese to be against Catholic proselytism. Vizcaíno eventually set off in search of the "Silver Island", during which he encountered bad weather, which forced him to return to Japan with serious damage. The Shogun decided to build a galleon in Japan, in order to bring Vizcaíno back to New Spain.

Statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Coria del Río
photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com

Date Masamune was head of the mission and Hasekura Tsunenaga was appointed one of his attendants. Date Maru was called by the Japanese to build the galleon and later he was joined by San Juan Bautista, called by the Spaniards. With the participation of technical experts from the Bakufu, 800 naval workers, 700 blacksmiths, and 3,000 carpenters it took 45 days to build the whole ship.

After its completion, the ship sailed on 28 October 1613 from Ishinomaki to Acapulco in Mexico, with about 180 crew members, including 10 Shogun samurai, 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 between merchants, sailors and Japanese servants.

The ship arrived in Acapulco on 25 January 1614 after three months of navigation, and a ceremony welcomed the delegation. Before the trip to Europe, the delegation spent time in Mexico, visiting Veracruz and then embarking on the fleet of Don Antonio Oquendo. The emissaries left for Europe on the San Jose on 10 June, and Hasekura had to leave most of the group of Asian merchants and sailors in Acapulco.

The fleet arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on October 5, 1614.

The Japanese embassy met the Spanish king Philip III in Madrid on January 30, 1615. Hasekura handed over a letter from Date Masamune to the sovereign and the offer for a treaty. The king replied that he would do what was in his power to meet the demands.

On February 17, Hasekura was baptized by the king's personal chaplain and renamed Felipe Francisco Hasekura.

Statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Civitavecchia
photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com

France

After travelling through Spain, the delegation sailed into the Mediterranean Sea aboard three Spanish frigates to Italy. Because of the bad weather, the ships was forced to stay in the French bay of Saint Tropez, where they were received by the local nobility, with amazement from the population.

The visit of the Japanese people is recorded in the chronicles of the area as a delegation led by "Filippo Francesco Faxicura, Ambassador to the Pope, from Date Masamune, King of Woxu in Japan".

Many picturesque details of their behaviour and appearance were remembered:

"They never touch the food with their hands, but they use two thin sticks holding three fingers".
"They blow their noses in soft silky sheets of the size of a hand, which they never use twice, and then throw them on the ground after use, and were delighted to see that the people around them rushed to pick them up."
"Their swords cut so well that they can cut a thin sheet of paper by resting it on the edge and blowing on it."
("Reports of Mme de St Tropez", October 1615, Bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Carpentras).

The visit of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Saint Tropez in 1615 is the first documented example of relations between France and Japan.

Italy

The Japanese delegation arrived in Italy, succeeding in obtaining an audience with Pope Paul V in Rome, in November 1615, disembarking in the port of Civitavecchia, reason why even today Civitavecchia is twinned with the Japanese city of Ishinomaki. Hasekura handed the Pope a letter decorated with gold, with a formal request for a commercial treaty between Japan and Mexico, as well as sending Christian missionaries to Japan. The Pope accepted without delay to dispatch the sending of missionaries but left the decision of a commercial treaty to the King of Spain. The Pope then wrote a letter to Date Masamune, of which a copy is still preserved in the Vatican. The Senate of Rome gave Hasekura the honorary title of Roman Citizen, in a document which he later brought to Japan and which is still visible today and preserved in Sendai. In 1616, the French publisher Abraham Savgrain published an account of Hasekura's visit to Rome: "Récit de l'entrée solemnelle et remarquable faite à Rome, par Dom Philippe Francois Faxicura" ("Tale of the solemn and remarkable entry made in Rome by Don Filippo Francesco Faxicura ").

Conferral of honorary Roman citizenship to "Hasekura Rokuemon"
photo credits: wikimedia.org

Second visit to Spain

For the second time in Spain, Hasekura met the king, who declined the offer of a commercial treaty, because he thought that the Japanese people did not seem an official delegation of the sovereign of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He, on the contrary, had promulgated an edict in January 1614 ordering the expulsion of all the missionaries from Japan and had begun the persecution of the Christian faith in the country. The delegation left Seville for Mexico in June 1616 after a two-year period in Europe. Some of the Japanese remained in Spain, more precisely in a village near Seville (Coria del Río), and their descendants still have the surname Japón.

Return to Japan

In April 1618 the San Juan Bautista arrived in the Philippines from Mexico, with Hasekura and Luis Sotelo on board. The ship was bought by the Spanish government, with the aim of building defences against the Dutch. Hasekura returned to Japan in August 1620 and found the nation very changed: the persecution of Christians in the effort to eradicate Christianity had been active since 1614, and Japan was moving towards the "Sakoku" period, characterized by overwhelming isolationism. Because of these persecutions, the trade agreements with Mexico that he had tried to establish were denied, and much of the effort in this direction had been in vain.

It seems that the embassy he represented has had few results, but has instead accelerated Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada's decision to cancel trade relations with Spain in 1623 and diplomatic relations in 1624.

What happened to Hasekura after the diplomatic adventure is unknown, and the stories about his last years are numerous. Some argue that he abandoned Christianity, others said he defended his faith so deeply as to become a martyr, and others said he remained a Christian in intimacy, professing his faith in secret. Hasekura died in 1622, and his tomb is still visible today in the Buddhist temple of Enfukuji in the prefecture of Miyagi.

In 2015, was the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Keichō Kenō Shisetsudan, the first official delegation from Japan. A procession was held in historical costume in the main street of Civitavecchia for a historical re-enactment of the entrance to the city of the delegation led by a Hasekura Tsunenaga. In the evening, a concert was organized by local choral musicians at the Church of the Holy Japanese Martyrs. This event was also attended by Civitavecchia Mayor Antonio Cozzolino, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Reconstruction Policies of the city of Ishinomaki, Junichi Kondō, the Ambassador of Japan Kazuyoshi Umemoto and Consorte and citizens of both cities.

The delegation of Japan landing in Italy
photo credits: it.emb-japan.go.jp


Japan Travel: Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Era

The Meiji Period (明治 時代 Meiji jidai, "period of the illuminated kingdom") is one of Japan's most famous historical moments. It expands from October 23, 1868 until July 30, 1912 and includes the 44-year reign of Emperor Matsuhito.

photo credit: Wikipedia

Following the fall of the Tokugawa Yoshinobu shōgunate, the era of Emperor Meiji, the first with political power, began. It is precisely during these years that the political, social and economic structure of Japan began to change based on the Western model.

Following the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1866, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was named as his successor, remaining in power a few months, until November 1867, when the shōgun submitted his resignation and ceded his powers to the court. In January 1868, Tokugawa's troops were replaced in Kyoto by a coup. And it is precisely in this period that the Meiji Restoration begins, restoring power to the emperor after centuries of shogun’s rule.

photo credit: Wikipedia

The first action exercised by the new Meiji government was to give some more privileges to the samurai class, which remained dissatisfied with the previous regime. Following the numerous contrasts in 1869 the daimyō were appointed governors of their feuds. However, the latter were suppressed in 1871, allowing the "formal" centralization of power and the reinforcement of the imperial institution. Not everyone agreed to the renunciation of their feuds, but to maintain order and stability, the government persuaded the daimyō with promises of strong rewards.
Along with this compromise, the government also compromised with the samurai class, approving a law that allowed them to carry out any occupation in the business field and public administration (the most popular were the institutional police body and the imperial army) . As a result of this, the maintenance of the samurai class was taken over by the central government, also by giving the remuneration.

In this new state, the image of the emperor became more and more significant and in June 1869, with the "oath of the Charter" in favor of the emperor Meiji, the first constitution was born. Here the full powers of the central government were enunciated, even if the political decisions of the country were still entrusted to an oligarchic government.
Until 1881, the regime governed in an authoritarian way with no opposition from the ruling class, but it is in this year that a great crisis broke out. Here, with a request to the emperor, he invoked the desire to transform the government into a parliamentary form.

photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite the difficulties, the Meiji period remains one of the most important eras and one with more changes in Japanese history. It is here that the foundations were laid for today's government of the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Meiji temple

Located in the heart of Tokyo and surrounded by a natural and urban forest, the Meiji-Jingu is a pearl of Shintōism and one of the city's most symbolic sanctuaries.

 

Located in the Yoyogi park, in Shibuya, the structure was completed in 1920, in honor of Emperor Meiji (1852 - 1912) and his wife Shôen (1849 - 1914). The shrine was also the victim of the bombings during the Second World War, but rebuilt completely soon after. This is a great demonstration of Japanese gratitude to this emperor, and the most striking example is the huge park that surrounds this place of worship, with more than one hundred thousand trees sent by the inhabitants of the archipelago in honor of the memory of this emperor.

To access the sanctuary, still in activity, you have to cross the large surrounding forest and pass under the magnificent Torii in cypress. Before you can enter the courtyards and sacred buildings, you must respect some rules of etiquette, such as the purification of the body with water and the greeting to the Torii.

 

It's amazing how after passing the big Torii gate, Tokyo's noisy comings and goings are replaced by the quiet sounds of the forest and the thick foliage of trees. Here temple visitors can take part in typical shinto activities, such as offerings in the main area, buying goodies and amulets, or writing your own wishes on the famous ema tablets. It is not rare, in fact, to find people of all ages who buy these wooden tablets and express their desire by writing on these supports. Once you have expressed your wish, you can hang the ema on a central support in the temple and subsequently they will be recovered by the priests who will then send messages to the Kami (gods).

The Meiji Jingu is one of the most popular temples in Japan and at this time of year, just after the Omisoka, it regularly welcomes more than three million visitors for the Hatsumode, the first prayers of the year.
In the northernmost part of the temple-related lands, visitors can find the treasure house of the Meiji Jingu, built a year after the temple was opened. In this place are contained many personal objects related to the Emperor and the Empress, including the carriage that accompanied the emperor to the formal declaration of the Meiji constitution in 1889.

 

A large area of the southern part of the temple lands is occupied by the Interior Gardens, which require a small entry fee. These gardens are particularly popular in mid-June to admire the blooming of the Iris flowers in all their glory, together with the famous Japanese gruidae birds. And if you have enough patience, you might have the opportunity to see a small flock of these fantastic birds cross the lake, a unique and magical spectacle.

 

Also, walking along the inner streets of the temple and the park, you can come across what I call "wall of sake", a wall of gigantic sake barrels, a gift for the emperor by all the sakagura of Japan . Opposite this wall, on the other hand, it is possible to find a wall of wine barrels, a gift to the emperor from all the foreign nations.

Also, in preparation for the 100th anniversary in 2020, renovations are taking place for some of the temple buildings, scheduled until October 2019, so if you plan to visit Tokyo in 2020 you can not miss this goal, between an Olympic race and the other!


Japan History: Tokugawa Ieyasu

Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, Jan. 30, 1543 - June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate, who effectively commanded the Battle of Sekigahara in Japan in the 1600s until the reconstruction of Meiji in 1868. Ieyasu obtained power in 1600, became shōgun in 1603, and abdicated in 1605 remaining in power until his death in 1616. He was one of the three unifiers of Japan, along with Lord Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, originally Matsudaira Takechiyo, was the son of Maytsudaira Hirotada, the daimyo of Mikawa of the Matsudaira clan and of Odai-no-kata, the daughter of the samurai lord Mizuno Tadamasa. His parents were 17 and 15 years old when Ieyasu was born.
In the year of his birth, the Matsudaira clan broke up. In 1543, Hirotada's uncle, Matsudaira Nobutaka, defeated the can Oda. This gave Oda Nobuhide a way to attack Okazaki. Hirotada divorced from Odai-no-kata by sending her back to his family to remarry again, in fact Ieyasu had 11 brothers and sisters.
As Oda Nobunaga continued to attack Okazaki, Hirotada in 1548 asked for help from Imagawa Yoshimoto who accepted the alliance.
Oda Nobuhide, having learned of this agreement, had Ieyasu kidnapped by his entourage on his way to Sunpu. Ieyasu was only five years old at the time.
Nobuhide threatened to execute Ieyasu unless his father broke all ties with the Imagawa clan. However, Hirotada refused, stating that sacrificing his son would show his seriousness in his pact with Imagawa. Despite this refusal, Nobuhide chose not to kill Ieyasu, but instead held him hostage for the next three years in the Manshoji Temple of Nagoya.
In 1549, when Ieyasu was 6 years old, his father Hirotada was assassinated by his own vassals, who had been corrupted by the Oda clan. Around the same time, Oda Nobuhide died during an epidemic. The death of Nobuhide has dealt a blow to the Oda clan. An army under the command of Imagawa Sessai besieged the castle where Oda Nobuhiro, the eldest son of Nobuhide and the new head of the Oda clan lived. With the castle about to fall, Sessai offered an agreement to Oda Nobunaga, the second son of Nobuhide. He offered to renounce the siege if Ieyasu had been delivered to Imagawa.

Photo credits: Rekishinotabi on flickr

The ascent to power (1556-1584)

In 1556 Ieyasu officially became an adult, with Imagawa Yoshimoto presiding over his genpuku ceremony. Following the tradition, he changed his name from Matsudaira Takechiyo to Matsudaira Jirōsaburō Motonobu. He was also allowed for a brief period to visit Okazaki to pay homage to his father's grave and to receive the homage of his nominal servants, guided by the karō Torii Tadayoshi.
A year later, he married his first wife, Lady Tsukiyama, a relative of Imagawa Yoshimoto, and changed his name to Matsudaira Kurandonosuke Motoyasu again. When he was allowed to return to Mikawa, Imagawa then ordered him to fight the Oda clan in a series of battles.
Motoyasu fought his first battle in 1558 at the Siege of Terabe. Terabe's castellan in western Mikawa, Suzuki Shigeteru, betrayed Imagawa by defeating Oda Nobunaga. This was within the territory of Matsudaira, so Imagawa Yoshimoto entrusted the campaign to Ieyasu and his servants of Okazaki. Ieyasu led the attack in person, but after taking external defenses, he began to be afraid of a counterattack, so he retired. As anticipated, the Oda forces attacked its lines, but Motoyasu was prepared and drove out the Oda army.
He managed to deliver supplies to the siege of Odaka in 1559. Odaka was the only one of the five frontier forts challenged by the Oda clan attack, nevertheless it remained in the hands of Imagawa. Motoyasu launched diversions against the two strong neighbors, and when the garrisons of the other forts came to his aid, Ieyasu's supply column managed to reach Odaka.
In 1560 the leadership of the Oda clan had passed to the brilliant leader Oda Nobunaga. Imagawa Yoshimoto, head of a large army (perhaps 25,000 people) invaded the territory of the Oda clan and Motoyasu was assigned a separate mission to capture the stronghold of Marune. So he and his men were not present at the Battle of Okehazama where Yoshimoto was killed in Nobunaga's surprise assault.

The Alliance with Oda

With the death of Yoshimoto and the Imagawa clan in a state of confusion, Motoyasu took the opportunity to assert his independence and bring his men back to the abandoned Okazaki castle to claim his place.
Motoyasu then decided to ally with the Oda clan. A secret agreement was needed because Motoyasu's wife, Lady Tsukiyama, and her newborn son, Nobuyasu, were held hostage to Sumpu by Imagawa Ujizane, Yoshimoto's heir.
In 1561, Motoyasu conquered the fortress of Kaminogō, detained by Udono Nagamochi, attacking in the night, setting fire to the castle and capturing two of the sons of Udono, who he used as hostages to free his wife and son.
In 1563 Nobuyasu was married to Nobunaga's daughter Tokuhime.
For the following years, Motoyasu undertook to reform the Matsudaira clan and make peace with Mikawa. He also strengthened his main vassals by assigning them lands and castles. These vassals included: Honda Tadakatsu, Ishikawa Kazumasa, Kōriki Kiyonaga, Hattori Hanzō, Sakai Tadatsugu and Sakakibara Yasumasa.

In the early days of Mikawa Ieyasu's daimyō he had difficult relationships with the temples of Jōdō, which became increasingly numerous in 1563-64.
During this period, the Matsudaira clan also faced a threat from a different source. Mikawa was an important center for the Ikkō-ikki movement, where the peasants united with the militant monks under the Jōdo Shinshū sect and rejected the traditional feudal social order. Motoyasu undertook several battles to suppress this movement in its territories, including the Battle of Azukizaka. In a fight, he was almost killed by two bullets that did not penetrate his armor. Both sides were using the new gunpowder weapons that the Portuguese introduced to Japan only 20 years earlier.

Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Growing political influence

In 1567, he changed his name again, this time to Tokugawa Ieyasu. In doing so, he claimed the descent from the Minamoto clan. No evidence was actually found for this alleged lineage from the Emperor Seiwa. Yet, his family name was changed with the permission of the Imperial Court, after writing a petition, in which he was awarded the courtesy title Mikawa-no-kami.
Ieyasu remained an ally of Nobunaga and his soldiers were part of the Nobunaga army that conquered Kyoto in 1568. At the same time Ieyasu was expanding its territory. Ieyasu and Takeda Shingen, the head of the Takeda clan in the province of Kai, made an alliance with the aim of conquering the whole territory of Imagawa. In 1570, Ieyasu's troops conquered the castle of Yoshida (modern Toyohashi), and entered the province of Tōtōmi. Meanwhile, the Shingen troops conquered the province of Suruga (including the capital of Imagawa, Sunpu). Imagawa Ujizane fled to the castle of Kakegawa, which Ieyasu laid siege to. Ieyasu then negotiated with Ujizane, promising that if he surrendered, he would help Ujizane regain Suruga. THe latter had nothing left to lose, and Ieyasu immediately ended his alliance with Takeda, forcing a new alliance with Takeda's enemy, Uesugi Kenshin of the Uesugi clan. Through these political manipulations, Ieyasu obtained support from the samurai of the Tōtōmi province.
In 1570, Ieyasu established Hamamatsu as the capital of his territory, placing his son Nobuyasu at the head of Okazaki.
The same year, he led 5,000 of his men to support Nobunaga at the Battle of Anegawa against the Azai and Asakura clans.

Conflict with Takeda

In October 1571, Takeda Shingen, now an ally of the Odawara Hōjō clan, attacked the Tokugawa lands at Tōtōmi. Ieyasu asked Nobunaga for help, receiving from him about 3,000 soldiers. At the beginning of 1572 the two armies met in the battle of Mikatagahara. The considerably larger Takeda army, under the expert leadership of Shingen, overwhelmed the Ieyasu’s troops and caused serious casualties. Despite his initial reticence, Ieyasu was persuaded by one of his generals to withdraw. The battle was a great defeat, but in the interest of maintaining the appearance of a dignified retreat, Ieyasu shamelessly ordered the men of his castle to light torches, play drums and leave the gates open, to adequately receive the returning warriors. To the surprise and relief of the Tokugawa army, this spectacle made General Takeda suspicious, so instead of besieging the castle, they camped out for the night. This error would have allowed a band of Tokugawa ninja to raid the field in the following hours, further disrupting Takeda's disoriented army, and in the end, Shingen's decision resulted in the cancellation of the entire offensive. Incidentally, Takeda Shingen would not have had another chance to advance on Hamamatsu, much less on Kyoto, since he would have died shortly after the siege of Noda Castle a year later, in 1573.
In 1575, Takeda attacked Nagashino Castle in the province of Mikawa. Ieyasu appealed to Nobunaga for help and the result was that Nobunaga personally headed a very large army (about 30,000 fighters). The Oda-Tokugawa force of 38,000 fighters won a great victory on June 28, 1575, at the Battle of Nagashino, however Takeda Katsuyori survived the battle and retreated back to the province of Kai.
For the next seven years, Ieyasu and Katsuyori fought a series of small battles, following which Ieyasu's troops managed to wrest control of the Suruga province from the Takeda clan.

In 1579, Ieyasu's wife and his heir Nobuyasu were accused by Nobunaga of conspiring with Takeda Katsuyori to assassinate Nobunaga, whose daughter Tokuhime (1559-1636) was married to Nobuyasu. This is why Ieyasu ordered his wife to be executed and forced his eldest son, Nobuyasu, to commit seppuku. Ieyasu then named his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada, as heir, since his second son was adopted by another rising power: the general of the Oda clan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who would soon become the most powerful daimyo of Japan.
The end of the war with Takeda came in 1582 when a combined Oda-Tokugawa force attacked and conquered the province of Kai. Takeda Katsuyori was defeated at the Battle of Tenmokuzan and then committed seppuku.

Uma containing the ashes of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Nikkō
Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Death of Nobunaga

At the end of June 1582, Ieyasu was near Osaka and far from his territory when he learned that Nobunaga had been murdered by Akechi Mitsuhide. Ieyasu managed the dangerous journey back to Mikawa and he was mobilizing his army when he learned that Hideyoshi had defeated Akechi Mitsuhide in the battle of Yamazaki.
Nobunaga's death meant that some provinces, governed by Nobunaga's vassals, could be conquered. The head of the province of Kai made the mistake of killing one of Ieyasu's helpers so he promptly invaded Kai and took control. Hōjō Ujimasa, head of the Hōjō clan, responded by sending his much larger army to Shinano and then to the province of Kai. No battle was fought between the Ieyasu’s troops and the great army of Hōjō. However, after some negotiations, Ieyasu and Hōjō accepted an agreement that left Ieyasu in control of the provinces of Kai and Shinano, while Hōjō took control of the province of Kazusa (as well as pieces from both the provinces of Kai and Shinano).
At the same time (1583) a war was waged to rule Japan between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie. Ieyasu took no position in this conflict, relying on his reputation both for prudence and for wisdom. Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie at the Battle of Shizugatake and with this victory, he became the most powerful daimyo in Japan.

Ieyasu and Hideyoshi (1584-1598)

In 1584 Ieyasu decided to support Oda Nobukatsu, the eldest son and heir of Oda Nobunaga, against Hideyoshi. This was a dangerous act and could have led to the annihilation of the Tokugawa clan.
The Tokugawa troops took the traditional Oda stronghold of Owari while Hideyoshi replied by sending an army there. The Komaki campaign was the only time one of Japan's great unifiers fought each other. The campaign proved to be undecided, and after months of marches and unsuccessful feuds, Hideyoshi resolved the war through negotiation. First made peace with Oda Nobukatsu, and then offered a respite to Ieyasu. The agreement was stipulated at the end of the year and Ieyasu’s second son, Ogimaru (also known as Yuki Hideyasu) became Hideyoshi’s adoptive son.
Ieyasu's aide, Ishikawa Kazumasa, chose to join the daimyo and so he moved to Osaka to be with Hideyoshi. However, few other Tokugawa keepers have followed this example.
Hideyoshi was understandably suspicious of Ieyasu, and this was five years before they fought as allies. The Tokugawa did not participate in the invasions of Hideyoshi of Shikoku and Kyūshū.
In 1590, Hideyoshi attacked the last independent daimyo in Japan, Hōjō Ujimasa. The Hōjō clan ruled the eight provinces of the Kantō region in eastern Japan. Hideyoshi ordered them to submit to his authority, but they refused. Ieyasu, even if he was a friend and occasional ally of Ujimasa, joined his great strength of 30,000 samurai with the huge Hideyoshi army of about 160,000 men. Hideyoshi attacked several castles on the edge of the Hōjō clan with most of his army besieging Odawara Castle. Hideyoshi's army captured Odawara after six months. During this siege, Hideyoshi offered a radical deal to Ieyasu. He offered to Ieyasu the eight provinces of Kantō that were about to take from Hōjō in exchange for the five provinces Ieyasu controlled at the time, including Ieyasu’s one, Mikawa. Ieyasu accepted this proposal. Prey to the overwhelming power of the Toyotomi army, the Hōjō accepted the defeat, the top leaders Hōjō killed themselves and Ieyasu entered the field taking control of their provinces, putting an end to the clan kingdom of over 100 years.

The Battle of Sekigahara (1598-1603)

Hideyoshi, after another three months of illness, died on September 18, 1598. He was nominally succeeded by his young son Hideyori but, at only five years, the real power was in the hands of the regents. In the next two years Ieyasu made alliances with various daimyōs, especially those who had no love for Hideyoshi. Fortunately for Ieyasu, the oldest and most respected, Toshiie Maeda, died just a year later. With Toshiie's death in 1599, Ieyasu led an army to Fushimi and conquered Osaka Castle, Hideyori's residence. This angered the three remaining regents and began to structure their plans on all fronts for the war. It was also the last battle of one of Ieyasu's most loyal and powerful servants, Honda Tadakatsu.
The opposition to Ieyasu focused on Ishida Mitsunari, a powerful daimyo who was not one of the regents. Mitsunari conceived Ieyasu's death, and news about this plot reached some of the Ieyasu generals. They tried to kill Mitsunari but he escaped and obtained protection from none other than Ieyasu himself. It is not clear why Ieyasu protected a powerful enemy from his men, but he was a strategist and may have thought it would be better to drive the enemy army with Mitsunari rather than one of the regents.
Almost all Japanese daimyōs and samurai split into two factions: the western army (Mitsunari group) and the eastern army (anti-Mitsunari group). Ieyasu supported the anti-Mitsunari group and formed them as its potential allies. Ieyasu’s allies were the Date clan, the Mogami clan, the Satake clan and the Maeda clan. Mitsunari allied himself with the other three regents: Ukita Hideie, Mōri Terumoto and Uesugi Kagekatsu and many daimyō from the eastern end of Honshū.
In June 1600, Ieyasu and his allies transferred their armies to defeat the Uesugi clan, who was accused of planning an uprising against the Toyotomi administration. Before arriving in the territory of Uesugi, Ieyasu learned that Mitsunari and his allies had moved their army against Ieyasu. He held a meeting with the daimyos and they agreed to follow him, so he led most of his army west to Kyoto. At the end of the summer, Ishida's forces captured Fushimi.
Ieyasu and his allies marched along the Tōkaidō, while his son Hidetada followed the Nakasendō with 38,000 soldiers. A battle against Sanada Masayuki in Shinano province delayed Hidetada's forces, so they did not arrive in time for the main battle.
Fought near Sekigahara, this battle was the largest and one of the most important battles in Japanese feudal history. It began on October 211600, with a total of 160,000 men facing each other. The battle of Sekigahara ended with a complete victory of Tokugawa. The western block was crushed and in the following days Ishida Mitsunari and many other Western nobles were captured and killed and Tokugawa Ieyasu was now the de facto governor of Japan.
Immediately after the victory at Sekigahara, Ieyasu redistributed the land to the vassals who had served him, he left some the daimyōs unharmed, like the Shimazu clan, but others were completely destroyed. Toyotomi Hideyori (Hideyoshi's son) lost most of his territory that was under the management of the western daimyō, and was degraded to ordinary daimyō, not to a governor of Japan. In subsequent years the vassals who had sworn loyalty to Ieyasu before the battle became known as fudai daimyō, while those who promised him loyalty after the battle (in other words, after his power was unquestioned) were known as Tozama daimyō. The latter were considered inferior to the Fudai daimyōs.

Shōgun (1603-1605)

On March 24, 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu received the shōgun title from Emperor Go-Yōzei and he was 60 years old. He had survived all the other great men of his time: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Shingen, Kenshin. As shōgun, he used his last years to create and consolidate the Tokugawa shogunate, which inaugurated the Edo period and was the third shogunal government (after Kamakura), claiming the descent from the Minamoto clan, through the Nitta clan. His descendant will then marry into the Taira clan and the Fujiwara clan. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan for the next 250 years.
Following a well-established Japanese model, Ieyasu abdicated his official shōgun position in 1605 and his successor was his son and heir, Tokugawa Hidetada. There may have been several factors that contributed to his decision, including his desire to avoid being bound by ceremonial duties, to make it harder for his enemies to attack the true center of power and to ensure a smoother succession of his son. The abdication of Ieyasu had no effect on the practical extension of his powers or his government. However, Hidetada assumed the formal role of the shogunal bureaucracy.

Ōgosho (1605-1616)

Ieyasu, as a retired shōgun (大 御所 ōgosho), remained the effective ruler of Japan until his death. He retired to Sunpu Castle, but also oversaw the construction of Edo Castle, an impressive construction project that lasted for the rest of Ieyasu's life. The result was the biggest castle in all of Japan, the cost of building it was supported by all the other daimyōs, while Ieyasu collected all the benefits. The central donjon, or tenshu, burned in 1657 and today, the Imperial Palace is in place of that castle.
In 1611 Ieyasu leading 50,000 men, visited Kyoto to witness the coronation of Emperor Go-Mizunoo. In Kyoto, Ieyasu ordered the reconstruction of the imperial court and buildings, forcing the remaining Western daimyos to sign an oath of loyalty to him.

In 1613, he composed the Kuge Shohatto (公家諸法度), a document that submitted the court under the daimyo’s close supervision, leaving them as simple ceremonial nominees.
In 1615 Ieyasu prepared the Buhat shohatto (武家諸法度), a document that illustrated the future of the Tokugawa regime.

Relations with foreign powers

Like Ōgosho, Ieyasu also oversaw diplomatic affairs with the Netherlands, Spain and England. Ieyasu chose to remove Japan from European influence from 1609, although the shogunate continued to grant preferential commercial rights to the Dutch East India Company and allowed them to maintain a "factory" for commercial purposes.
From 1605 until his death, Ieyasu frequently consulted with the English master of arms and pilot, William Adams, who, fluent in Japanese, assisted the shogunate in the negotiation of commercial relations.

Significant attempts to limit the influence of Christian missionaries in Japan date back to 1587 during Toyotomi Hideyoshi's shogunate. However, in 1614, Ieyasu was sufficiently concerned about the Spanish territorial ambitions that he signed an edict of Christian expulsion. The edict banished the practice of Christianity and led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries. Although some minor commercial operations remained in Nagasaki, this edict drastically limited foreign trade and marked the end of Christian witness open in Japan until 1870.

Siege of Osaka

The last threat to Ieyasu's dominion was Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi’s son and rightful heir. He was now a young daimyo who lived in Osaka Castle. Many samurai who opposed Ieyasu gathered around Hideyori, claiming to be the legitimate ruler of Japan. Ieyasu criticized the opening ceremony of a temple built by Hideyori because it was as if he had prayed for the death of Ieyasu and the ruin of the Tokugawa clan. Ieyasu ordered Toyotomi to leave Osaka Castle, but the inhabitants refused and summoned the samurai to gather inside the castle. Then the Tokugawa, with a huge army led by Ieyasu and the shōgun Hidetada, besieged Osaka Castle in what is now known as the "winter siege of Osaka". In the end, Tokugawa was able to join the negotiations and an armistice after the attack and after threatening Hideyori's mother, Yodo-dono. However, once the treaty was agreed upon, Tokugawa filled the castle's outer moats with sand so that his troops could cross it. Through this stratagem, Tokugawa obtained a huge tract of land through negotiation and deception. Ieyasu returned to Sunpu Castle, but after Toyotomi refused another order to leave Osaka, he and his allied army of 155,000 soldiers attacked Osaka Castle again in the "Osaka Summer Siege".
Eventually, in 1615, Osaka Castle fell and almost all the defenders were killed including Hideyori, his mother (Hideyoshi's widow, Yodo-dono) and his newborn son. His wife, Senhime (Ieyasu’s niece), pleaded to save the lives of Hideyori and Yodo-dono, but Ieyasu refused and forced both to commit a ritual suicide, or perhaps both killed. In the end, Senhime was sent back to the Tokugawa clan alive.

The death

Ieyasu died at the age of 73 in 1616. It is thought that the cause of death was cancer or syphilis. The first Tokugawa shogun was posthumously deified with the name Tōshō Daigongen, the "Great Gongen, the light of the east". It is believed that a Gongen is a Buddha who appeared on Earth in the form of a kami to save sentient beings.
In life, Ieyasu had expressed th desire to be deified after his death to protect his descendants from evil. His remains were buried in the Gongen mausoleum in Kunōzan, Kunōzan Tōshō-gū. As a general opinion, many people believe that after the first anniversary of his death, his remains were buried again in the Nikkō Shrine, Nikkō Tōshō-gū and they are still there today. Neither of the two sanctuaries offered to open the tombs, so the location of the physical remains of Ieyasu is still a mystery. The architectural style of the mausoleum became known as gongen-zukuri, or gongen style. First he was given the Buddhist name Tosho Dai-Gongen, then after his death he was changed to Hogo Onkokuin.

Ieyasu Tomb in Tōshō-gū
Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Ieyasu's rule era

Ieyasu had a number of qualities that enabled him to rise to power. He was both attentive and audacious, in the right times and in the right places. Calculating and subtle, Ieyasu changed alliances when he thought he would benefit from the change. He allied himself with the late Hōjō clan, then he joined the army of conquest of Hideyoshi, who destroyed Hōjō and he himself took over their lands. In this he was like the other daimyo of his time. That was an era of violence, sudden death and betrayal. He was neither very popular nor personally popular, but he was feared and respected for his leadership and his cunning. For example, he wisely kept his soldiers out of Hideyoshi's campaign in Korea.
He was capable of great loyalty: once he allied himself with Oda Nobunaga, he never went against him, and both leaders took advantage of their long alliance. He was known to be loyal to his friends, and was said to have a close friendship with his vassal Hattori Hanzō. It is said, however, that he remembered the wrongs he had suffered and that he executed a man because he had insulted him when he was young.

Ieyasu protected many former Takeda servants from the wrath of Oda Nobunaga, who was known to harbor a bitter rancor toward Takeda. But he also knew he was ruthless, for example, he ordered the executions of his first wife and his eldest son, a son-in-law of Oda Nobunaga and he was also Hidetada's wife uncle.
He was cruel, implacable and ruthless in eliminating Toyotomi survivors after Osaka. For days, dozens and dozens of men and women were hunted down and executed, including Hideyori’s eight-year-old son from a beheaded concubine.
Unlike Hideyoshi, he had no desire to win anything outside of Japan. He just wanted to bring order, end the open war and rule Japan.
While at the beginning it was tolerant of Christianity, its attitude changed after 1613 and Christian executions increased sharply.
Ieyasu's favorite pastime was falconry. He considered it an excellent training for a warrior. "When you go to the countryside, you learn to understand the military spirit and the hard life of the lower classes: you exercise your muscles and you train your limbs. You can walk and run and become indifferent to the heat and cold, and therefore it is very unlikely that you may suffer from some disease ". Ieyasu often swam and even in old age it is said that he swam in the moat of Edo Castle.
He also took a scholarship and religion, attending scholars such as Hayashi Razan.

Two of his famous quotes

Life is like a long journey with a heavy burden. Let your pace be slow and steady, do not stumble. Persuade yourself that imperfection and inconvenience are the greatest thing of mortals, and there will be no room for dissatisfaction or despair. When ambitious wishes arise in your heart, remember the days of extremism that you went through. Tolerance is the root of all tranquility and security forever. Watch the wrath of your enemy. If you only know what it means to conquer, and you do not know what it means to defeat. Find flaws in yourself rather than others.

The strong virile in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means limiting one's inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, pain, fear and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called a patient. I'm not as strong as I could be, but I always knew and practiced patience. And if my descendants want to be as they are, they have to study patience.


Japan History: Italy & Japan 150 Years of Friendship

Italy & Japan 150 Years of Friendship

Photo Credits: Ambasciata del Giappone

150 years of friendship between Italy and Japan was celebrated in 2016.
This relationship between these two countries dates back to 1866, on the 4th of July, when an Italian military ship sent by King Vittorio Emanuele II arrived in Yokohama port to offering a treaty of friendship and commerce.
Back then, both countries had a common goal. They were eager to close the economic distance that separating them from the other more influential and powerful countries in those days.

Photo Credits: L'inviato Speciale

An alliance for better or for worse

After the end of First World War, Italy and Japan experienced same outcome. They both won the conflict, however both felt "betrayed" following the Versailles Treaty. Italy suffered from the indignation of not getting all the territories that it expected while Japan suffered from diplomatic defeats in the rejection of Japan's bid for a racial equality. Moreover, the two countries were experiencing critical post-conflict economic situations that would have led towards a totalitarian regime of the Second World War.
In 1937, Italy went against the Russian’s communist politics, like how Japan did when they signed the Anti-Komintern Pact with Hitler's Germany. In the following year, the fascist national party landed in Japan, and Mussolini's works were translated into Japanese. The Germany-Japan-Italy Tripartite Agreement was signed, creating the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo alliance. In that period Mussolini made several visits to Japan.
All those who refused to join the fascist party in Japan were interned in the camps at Nagoya.
The atomic bombs dropped to Nagasaki and Hiroshima hit Japan hard and both Italy and Japan had to recover from the tragedies caused by the war. At the end of the Second World War, both countries underwent radical transformations.

Photo Credits: Il turista curioso.it

An eternal bridge

The bridges built between the two countries continued to multiply over the years. In 1970, the first intercontinental television link between NHK and RAI broadcasters led to new cultural exchanges, allowing the products and lifestyles, from food to martial arts and increasingly intense linguistic exchanges, to grow ever closer.

In recent times, the mutual influence between the two nations also translated into architectural works.
Architect Kenzo Tange, who gave Tokyo its present-day landscape, designed numerous buildings in Italy, like the towers of the Bologna exhibition center and the business center of Naples, while Renzo Piano designed the Osaka airport and Ushibuka Bridge.

These days, Japan and Italy continue to enjoy cordial and friendly exchanges, growing and strengthening their relationship with each other as they always have through the past 150 years.

Metropolitan Governement Building Shinjuku Park Tower
Photo Credits: Japan italy Bridge

Ushibuka bridge, Photo Credits: Wikipedia.org


Japan History: Forty-seven Ronin

Forty-Seven Ronin

A band of rònin (samurai without a leader) avenges the death of their master. This event is known as the revenge of the forty-seven rōnin (四 十七 士 Shi-jū-shichi-shi, forty-seven samurai), and also as the Akō incident (Akō jiken) or Akō's revenge. It is considered as a historical event in Japan.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia.org

The story tells of a group of samurai who was left without a leader after their daimyō Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku for assaulting Kira Yoshinaka, a court official whose title was Kōzuke no suke. After waiting and planning for a year, the rōnin avenged their master's honor by killing Kira. In turn, they were forced to commit seppuku because of the murder crime. This story has been made popular in Japanese culture as a symbol of loyalty, sacrifice, perseverance and honor; values people should look for in their daily lives. The story's popularity grew during the Meiji era, when Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became important in national heritage and identity.

The fictional story of the Forty-seven Rönin is known as Chūshingura. The story has been made popular in numerous forms, including bunraku and kabuki. Because of the shogunate laws of censorship in the Genroku era, which prohibited the portrayal of current events, the names were changed. The first Chūshingura was written about 50 years after the event.

The censorship laws had subsided a bit 75 years later, at the end of the eighteenth century, when Isaac Titsingh recorded for the first time the history of the forty-seven rōnin as one of the significant events of the Genroku era. It continues to be popular in Japan, and every year on December 14, in the Sengakuji Temple, where Asano Naganori and the rōnin are buried, a festival is held to commemorate the event.

In 1701, two daimyōs, Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori and Lord Kamei Korechika of the Tsuwano domain, were ordered to organize a reception for the emperor's messengers to the castle of Edo, during their sankin-kōtai service to the shōgun .

Asano and Kamei were to receive instructions on the necessary court code from Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka, a powerful Tokugawa Tsunayoshi shogunate official. He got very angry with them, either because of the insufficient gifts they offered him, or because they could not provide the bribe requests. Other sources describe him as naturally rude and arrogant or corrupt, this behavior offended Asano, a devoutly moral confucian. According to some reports, it seems that Asano was not familiar with the complexities of the shogunate court and had not shown the right amount of deference to Kira.

Initially, Asano endured everything stoically, while Kamei raged and prepared to kill Kira to avenge the insults. However, Kamei's advisors avoided the disaster for their lord and teamed up by collecting and giving Kira a big bribe; Kira then began to treat Kamei well and this contributed to calm him down.

However, Kira continued to treat Asano hard to the point of insulting him, calling him a country farmer without good manners, and Asano eventually stopped holding back. At Matsu no Ōrōka, the main hallway of Honmaru Goten residence, Asano lost his temper and attacked Kira with a dagger, wounding him in the face. They had to intrude the guards to separate them.

Kira's injury was not severe, however attacking a shogunate official within the boundaries of the shogun's residence was considered a serious crime. Any violence was completely forbidden in Edo's castle. Akō's daimyō had used his dagger inside Edo Castle, and for this crime, he was ordered to make seppuku. Asano's assets and lands had to confiscated after his death, his family were ruined, and his servants had to become rōnin, as according to the general rule of the time.

The news arrived to Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano's chief adviser, who took over the command and transferred the Asano family before delivering the castle to government agents.

Forty-seven men, among the over 300, and especially their leader Ōishi, refused to allow their lord to take revenge. They teamed up in secret swearing to avenge their master and kill Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for that.

Kira was however well guarded and his residence had been protected. The ronin realized they should not rise Kira’s and other shogunate authorities suspicion, so they dispersed and became merchants and monks.

Ōishi took residence in Kyoto and began to frequent brothels and taverns. Kira feared a trap and sent spies to monitor the former servants of Asano.

One day, Ōishi, returning home drunk, fell down and fell asleep in the street. A man, Satsuma, was so enraged by this behavior of a samurai that he began to insult him, kicking him in the face and spitting on him.

Not long after, Ōishi divorced from his faithful wife after twenty years of marriage. He did not want to harm her her when the rōnin have taken their revenge. He sent her away with their two younger children to live with her parents. He asked their eldest son, Chikara, whether he would have preferred to stay and fight or leave. Chikara stayed with his father.

Ōishi started to behave in a strange way and very different from the samurai style. He attended geishas (particularly Ichiriki Chaya), he drank every night and spoke obscenely in public. Ōishi's servants bought a geisha, hoping she would calm him down. All this was a plot to free Ōishi from Kira’s spies.

Kira's agents reported all this to Kira. Kira was then convinced he was safe from the servants of Asano, considering one year and a half elapsed he judged them without the courage to avenge their master. Thinking they were harmless, he lowered his guard.

The rest of the rōnin gathered in Edo, and in their roles as merchants and workers, had access to Kira's house, becoming familiar with the environment and people. Okano Kinemon Kanehide married the daughter of one of the builders of the house, managing to get the project. All this was reported to Ōishi. Others gathered and transported their weapons to Edo.

After two years, Ōishi was convinced that Kira was completely unaware, and everything was ready. He left Kyoto, avoiding the spies watching him, and joined the whole band gathered in a secret meeting place in Edo to renew their oaths.

On January 30, 1703, early in the morning, Ōishi and another rōnin attacked Kira Yoshinaka's home in Edo. According to a carefully defined plan, they would divide into two groups and would attack armed with swords and bows. A group, led by Ōishi, would attack the main gate; the other, led by his son, Ōishi Chikara, would attack the house through the back gate. A drum would sound the simultaneous attack, and a whistle would signal Kira's death.

Once dead, they planned to cut Kira's head and place it as an offering on their master's grave. They would then wait for their planned death sentence. All this had been agreed during a final dinner, during which Ōishi had asked to be careful and save women, children and other defenceless people.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia.org

Ōishi had four men at the fence and entered the caretaker's house, capturing and binding the guard. He then sent messengers to all neighbouring houses, to explain that they were not robbers, but servants avenging the death of their master and that no harm would be done to others. One of the rōnin climbed up to the roof and announced aloud to the neighbours that the matter was an act of revenge. The neighbours, who hated Kira, were relieved and did nothing to thwart the plan.

Following setting up the archers to prevent house residents asking for help, Oishi played the drum to start the attack. Ten of the Kira keepers prevented the attack of the house from the front, allowing Chiishi Chikara to attack from the back.

Kira, terrified, took refuge in a closet on the veranda, along with his wife and his maids. The rest of his servants, sleeping in the barracks outside, tried to enter the house to save him. After passing the defenders at the front of the house, the two parts led by father and son joined and fought the servants who were entering. The latter, realizing they were about to lose, tried to ask for help, but their messengers were killed by the archers already set up to prevent this.

After a fierce fight, the last of Kira's servants was defeated; the ronin killed 16 men of Kira and wounded 22, including his nephew. However,  there were no signs of Kira. They searched the house and the cries of women and children. They were beginning to despair when Ōishi checking Kira's bed, discovered that it was still warm, so he knew Kira could not be far away.

In a courtyard hidden in the back, they discovered a man who was hiding and was easily disarmed.

He refused to say who he was, the ronin, however, knew he was Kira and they whistled. The rōnin gathered and Ōishi, with a lantern, confirmed he was indeed Kira and as a final proof, he discovered on his head a scar of Asano's attack.

Ōishi knelt, and in consideration of Kira’s high degree, he respectfully addressed him, telling him that they were Asano's servants, come to avenge him as the true samurai should, and inviting him to die like a true samurai should, killing himself. Ōishi said he would act like a kaishakunin ("second", the one beheading a person who committed seppuku to spare him being unworthy of death) and offered him the same dagger that Asano used to kill himself.

However, no matter how much they begged him, Kira crouched, wordlessly trembling. Seeing that it was useless to continue, Ōishi ordered the other rōnin to killed him by cutting off his head with the dagger.

They turned off all the lamps and fires in the house and left with Kira's head.

One of the rōnin, Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to go to Akō and report that their revenge had been completed. (Although the role of Kichiemon as a messenger is the most accepted version of the story, other sources see him escape before or after the battle).

The rōnin, on their way back to Sengaku-ji, stopped in the street to rest and refresh themselves.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia.org

At dawn, they quickly brought Kira's head from his residence to the tomb of their lord in the temple of Sengaku-ji, marching for about ten kilometres across the city, causing a great sensation on the road. The story of revenge spread rapidly and everyone praised them and offered them refreshment during their journey.

Arriving at the temple, the remaining 46 rōnin (all except Terasaka Kichiemon) washed Kira's head in a well, and set it down with the dagger in front of Asano's tomb. They then offered prayers to the temple and gave the temple monk the remaining money, asking him to bury them decently and offer prayers for them. The group was divided into four parts and placed under the guard of four different daimyōs.

Two friends of Kira came to take his head for burial.

Edo shogunate’s officials were embarrassed. The samurai had followed the precepts by avenging their lord's death; however, they also challenged the shogunate's authority by executing revenge, which was forbidden. As expected, the rōnin were sentenced to death for Kira's murder; the shogun eventually ordered them to commit seppuku honourably instead of having them executed as criminals. It is known that each of the assailants ended his life in a ritual manner. Ōishi Chikara, the youngest, was only 15 years old on the day of the attack, and only 16 the day he committed seppuku.

Each of the 46 rōnin killed himself on February 4, 1703. The forty-seventh ronin, identified as Terasaka Kichiemon, eventually returned from his mission and was forgiven by the shogun (it is said because of his youth). He lived until the age of 87, dying in 1747, and was buried with his companions. The assailants who died of seppuku were buried in the ground of Sengaku-ji, in front of the tomb of their master.

Their clothes and weapons are still kept in the temple, along with the drum and the whistle; their armour was all homemade since they did not want to raise suspicion by buying one.

The tombs became a place of veneration and people gathered there in prayer. They were visited by many people over the years since the Genroku era. One of the visitors, Satsuma who laughed and spat at Ōishi in Kyoto, begged forgiveness for his actions and for thinking that Ōishi was not a true samurai. He then committed suicide and was buried near the river.

Although revenge was seen as an act of loyalty, there was actually a second goal: re-establishing Asano's lordship and finding a place where their fellow samurai could serve. Hundreds of samurai who served Asano had been left without work, and many were unable to find a job, as they had served under a dishonoured family. Many lived as farmers or did simple crafts to make their living. The revenge of the forty-seven ronin erased their names and many of the unemployed samurai found work.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia.org

Names of The Forty-seven Rōnin

Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio/Yoshitaka (大石 内蔵助 良雄)
Ōishi Chikara Yoshikane (大石 主税 良金)
Hara Sōemon Mototoki (原 惣右衛門 元辰)
Kataoka Gengoemon Takafusa (片岡 源五右衛門 高房)
Horibe Yahei Kanamaru/Akizane (堀部 弥兵衛 金丸)
Horibe Yasubei Taketsune (堀部 安兵衛 武庸)
Yoshida Chūzaemon Kanesuke (吉田 忠左衛門 兼亮)
Yoshida Sawaemon Kanesada (吉田 沢右衛門 兼貞)
Chikamatsu Kanroku Yukishige (近松 勘六 行重)
Mase Kyūdayū Masaaki (間瀬 久太夫 正明)
Mase Magokurō Masatoki (間瀬 孫九郎 正辰)
Akabane Genzō Shigekata (赤埴 源蔵 重賢)
Ushioda Matanojō Takanori (潮田 又之丞 高教)
Tominomori Sukeemon Masayori (富森 助右衛門 正因)
Fuwa Kazuemon Masatane (不破 数右衛門 正種)
Okano Kin'emon Kanehide (岡野 金右衛門 包秀)
Onodera Jūnai Hidekazu (小野寺 十内 秀和)
Onodera Kōemon Hidetomi (小野寺 幸右衛門 秀富)
Kimura Okaemon Sadayuki (木村 岡右衛門 貞行)
Okuda Magodayū Shigemori (奥田 孫太夫 重盛)
Okuda Sadaemon Yukitaka (奥田 貞右衛門 行高)
Hayami Tōzaemon Mitsutaka (早水 藤左衛門 満尭)
Yada Gorōemon Suketake (矢田 五郎右衛門 助武)
Ōishi Sezaemon Nobukiyo (大石 瀬左衛門 信清)
Isogai Jūrōzaemon Masahisa (礒貝 十郎左衛門 正久)
Hazama Kihei Mitsunobu (間 喜兵衛 光延)
Hazama Jūjirō Mitsuoki (間 十次郎 光興)
Hazama Shinrokurō Mitsukaze (間 新六郎 光風)
Nakamura Kansuke Masatoki (中村 勘助 正辰)
Senba Saburobei Mitsutada (千馬 三郎兵衛 光忠)
Sugaya Hannojō Masatoshi (菅谷 半之丞 政利)
Muramatsu Kihei Hidenao (村松 喜兵衛 秀直)
Muramatsu Sandayū Takanao (村松 三太夫 高直)
Kurahashi Densuke Takeyuki (倉橋 伝助 武幸)
Okajima Yasoemon Tsuneshige (岡島 八十右衛門 常樹)
Ōtaka Gengo Tadao/Tadatake (大高 源五 忠雄)
Yatō Emoshichi Norikane (矢頭 右衛門七 教兼)
Katsuta Shinzaemon Taketaka (勝田 新左衛門 武尭)
Takebayashi Tadashichi Takashige (武林 唯七 隆重)
Maebara Isuke Munefusa (前原 伊助 宗房)
Kaiga Yazaemon Tomonobu (貝賀 弥左衛門 友信)
Sugino Jūheiji Tsugifusa (杉野 十平次 次房)
Kanzaki Yogorō Noriyasu (神崎 与五郎 則休)
Mimura Jirōzaemon Kanetsune (三村 次郎左衛門 包常)
Yakokawa Kanbei Munetoshi (横川 勘平 宗利)
Kayano Wasuke Tsunenari (茅野 和助 常成)
Terasaka Kichiemon Nobuyuki (寺坂 吉右衛門 信行)


Japan History: Date Masamune

Date Masamune

Photo Credits: samurai-archives.com

Date Masamune (伊達 政宗, September 5, 1567 – June 27, 1636) was a regional ruler of Japan's Azuchi–Momoyama period (last part of the Sengoku period) through early Edo period. Heir to a long line of powerful daimyōs in the Tōhoku region, he went on to found the modern-day city of Sendai. An outstanding tactician, he was made all the more iconic for his missing eye, as Masamune was often called dokuganryū (独眼竜), or the "One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu".

Early life

Date Masamune was born as Bontemaru (梵天丸) in Yonezawa Castle (in modern Yamagata Prefecture). He was the eldest son of Date Terumune, a lord of the Rikuzen area of Mutsu, and Yoshihime, a daughter of Mogami Yoshimori, daimyo of the Dewa province. He received the name Tojirou (藤次郎) Masamune in 1578, and the following year he married Megohime, the daughter of Tamura Kiyoaki,  lord of Miharu castle, in Mutsu Province. At the age of 14, in 1581, Masamune led his first campaign, helping his father fight the Sōma family. In 1584, at the age of 17, Masamune succeeded his father, Terumune, who chose to retire from his position as daimyō.

Masamune's army was recognized by its black armour and golden headgear.  Masamune himself is known for a few things that made him stand out from other daimyōs of the time. In particular, his famous crescent-moon-bearing helmet won him a fearsome reputation.

As a child, smallpox robbed him of sight in his right eye, though it is unclear exactly how he lost the organ entirely. Various theories behind the eye's condition exist. Some sources say he plucked out the eye himself when a senior member of the clan pointed out that an enemy could grab it in a fight. Others say that he had his trusted retainer Katakura Kojūrō gouge out the eye for him, and this, together with his fearsome temperament, made him the 'One-Eyed Dragon' of Ōshu.

Military campaign

The Date clan had built alliances with neighbouring clans through marriages over previous generations, but local disputes remained commonplace. Shortly after Masamune's succession in 1584, a Date retainer named Ōuchi Sadatsuna defected to the Ashina clan of the Aizu region. Masamune declared war on Ōuchi and the Ashina for this betrayal and started a campaign to hunt down Sadatsuna. Many clans, even formerly amicable allies, fell. In the winter of 1585, one of these allies, Hatakeyama Yoshitsugu, felt defeat was approaching and chose to surrender to the Date. Masamune agreed to accept the surrender, but on the heavy condition that the Hatakeyama give up most of their territory to the Date. This resulted in Yoshitsugu kidnapping Masamune's father, Terumune, during their meeting in Miyamori Castle, where Terumune was staying at during the time. The incident ended with the death of Terumune while fleeing Hatakeyama men clashed with the Date troops near the Abukuma river.

A general war ensued between the Date and Hatakeyama, the latter drawing on support from the Satake, Ashina, Soma, and other local clans. The allies marched to within a half-mile of Masamune's Motomiya-jo, assembling some 30,000 troops for the attack. Masamune, having only 7,000 warriors, prepared a defensive strategy, relying on the series of forts that guarded the approaches to Motomiya. The fighting began on the 17th of November and did not progress well for the Date. Three of his valuable forts were taken, and one of his chief retainers, Moniwa Yoshinao, was killed in a duel with an opposing commander. The attackers pressed towards the Seto River, which was the last obstacle between them and Motomiya. Date attempted to turn them back at the Hitadori Bridge but was driven back. Masamune brought his remaining forces within Motomiya's walls and prepared for what would surely be a gallant but futile last stand. But the next morning, the main enemy contingent picked up and marched away. These were Satake Yoshishige's men. Their lord had received word that in his absence the Satomi had attacked his lands in Hitachi. Apparently, this left the allies with fewer men than they believed possible to bring down Motomiya, for they too retreated by the end of the day. This brush with utter defeat was likely a factor in turning Masamune into the renowned general he would one day be known as. In the wake of the battle, peace was struck with the Hatakeyama and Soma, although this was to prove short-lived.

In 1589, Date defeated the Soma and bribed an important Ashina retainer, Inawashiro Morikuni, over to his side. He then assembled a powerful force and marched straight for the Ashina's headquarters at Kurokawa. The Date and Ashina forces met at Suriagehara on 5 June when Masamune's forces overcame the faltering Ashina ranks, breaking them. Unfortunately for the Ashina, Date men had destroyed their avenue of escape, a bridge over the Nitsubashi River, and those who did not drown attempting to swim to safety were mercilessly put to the sword.

By the battle's end, Masamune could count something like 2,300 enemy heads in one of the more bloody and decisive battles of the Sengoku period. Masamune then proceeded to make the rich Aizu domain his base of operations.

However, this would be Date Masamune's last expansionist adventure.

Photo credits: wattention.com

Statue of Date Masamune in the city of Sendai in the ruins of the Sendai Castle

Service under Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu

In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi seized Odawara Castle and compelled the Tōhoku-region daimyōs to participate in the campaign. Although Masamune refused Hideyoshi's demands at first, he had no real choice in the matter since Hideyoshi was the virtual ruler of Japan. However, the delay infuriated Hideyoshi. Expecting to be executed, Masamune, wore his finest clothes showing no fear in facing his angry overlord. But Hideyoshi spared his life, saying that "He could be of some use".

Following the conclusion of the siege, Masamune was forced to relinquish his newly won holdings in Aizu and was give Iwatesawa and the surrounding lands. Lands that would have earned him less, though. Masamune moved there in 1591, rebuilt the castle renaming it Iwadeyama, and encouraged the growth of a town at its base. Masamune stayed at Iwadeyama for 13 years and turned the region into a major political and economic centre.

He and his men served with distinction in the Korean invasions under Hideyoshi and, after Hideyoshi's death, he began to support Tokugawa Ieyasu, apparently at the advice of Katakura Kojūrō. For this reason, Masamune was awarded the lordship of the huge and profitable Sendai Domain, which made Masamune one of Japan's most powerful daimyōs. Tokugawa had promised Masamune a one-million koku domain but, even after substantial improvements were made, the land only produced 640,000 koku and most of the earnings were used to feed the Edo region. In 1604, Masamune, accompanied by 52,000 vassals and their families, moved to what was then the small fishing village of Sendai. He left his fourth son, Date Muneyasu, to rule Iwadeyama.

Masamune would turn Sendai into a large and prosperous city.

Although Masamune was a patron of the arts and sympathized with foreign causes, he was also an aggressive and ambitious daimyō. When he first took over the Date clan, he suffered a few major defeats from powerful and influential clans such as the Ashina. These defeats were arguably caused by recklessness on Masamune's part.

Being a major power in northern Japan, Masamune was naturally viewed with suspicion. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had reduced the size of his land after his tardiness in coming to the Siege of Odawara against Hōjō Ujimasa. Later, Tokugawa Ieyasu increased the size of his lands again but was constantly suspicious of Masamune and his policies.

Although Tokugawa Ieyasu and other Date allies were always suspicious of him, Date Masamune, for the most part, served both Toyotomi and Tokugawa loyally. He took part in Hideyoshi's campaigns in Korea, and in the Osaka campaigns too. When Tokugawa Ieyasu was on his deathbed, Masamune visited him and read him a piece of Zen poetry.

Masamune was highly respected for his ethics, and a still-quoted aphorism is, "Rectitude carried to excess hardens into stiffness; benevolence indulged beyond measure sinks into weakness."

Patron of culture and Christianity

Photo Credits: wikimedia.org

A letter written by Masamune to Pope Paul V

Masamune expanded trade in the otherwise remote, backwater Tōhoku region. Although initially faced with attacks by hostile clans, he managed to overcome them after a few defeats. In the end, he eventually ruled one of the largest fiefdoms of the later Tokugawa shogunate. He built many palaces and worked on many projects to beautify the region. For 270 years, Tōhoku remained a place of tourism, trade and prosperity. Matsushima, for instance, a series of tiny islands, was praised for its beauty and serenity by the wandering haiku poet Matsuo Bashō.

Other than being known to have encouraged foreigners to come to his land, Masamune also showed sympathy for Christian missionaries and traders in Japan. In addition to allowing them to come and preach in his province, he also released the prisoner and missionary Padre Sotelo from the hands of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Date Masamune allowed Sotelo as well as other missionaries to practice their religion and win converts in Tōhoku.

Moreover, he funded and promoted an expedition to establish diplomatic relations with the Pope in Rome, even though he was likely motivated at least in part by a desire for foreign technology. In this, he was similar to other lords, such as Oda Nobunaga. For the expedition he ordered the building of the exploration ship Date Maru or San Juan Bautista, using European ship-building techniques. He sent one of his retainers, Hasekura Tsunenaga, Sotelo, and an embassy numbering 180 people on a successful voyage that included places as the Philippines, Mexico, Spain and Rome, of course. Previously, Japanese lords had never funded this sort of venture, so it was probably the first of such voyages. At least five members of the expedition stayed in Coria, Spain, to avoid the persecution of Christians in Japan. 600 of their descendants, with the surname Japón (Japan), now live in Spain.

When the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, Masamune had to obey the law reversing his position, and though disliking it, let Ieyasu persecute Christians in his domain. However, some sources suggest that Masamune's eldest daughter, Irohahime, was a Christian.

Photo credits: it.wikipedia.org

Replica of the galleon Date Maru, or San Juan Bautista, at Ishinomaki, Japan

Masamune had 16 children, two of whom were illegitimate, with his wife and seven concubines. He died in 1636 at the age of 69. In October 1974, Date Masamune’s grave was opened. Inside, along with his remains, archaeologists discovered his tachi sword, a letterbox with a paulownia crest, and his armour. From the study of those remains, they determined Masamune to have stood 159.4cm tall, and having type B blood.

As a legendary warrior and leader, Masamune is the character of various Japanese dramas. He was also played by the famous Ken Watanabe in the popular 1987 NHK series Dokuganryū Masamune.

Photo credits: wikimedia.org

La tomba di Masamune al mausoleo di Zuihōden


Japan History: Ishikawa Goemon

Ishikawa Goemon

Photo credits: data.ukiyo-e.org

Ishikawa Goemon (石川 五右衛門, 1558 – October 8, 1594) was a semi-legendary Japanese outlaw hero who stole gold and other valuables to give to the poor. It is precisely because of this characteristic he is sometimes referred to as the Robin Hood of Japan. There are many stories with him as the protagonist and that describe him as a popular hero who fights against powerful enemies to help the weakest. The authenticity of these stories, however, is not always certain.

In his first appearance in the historical annals, in the 1642 biography of Hideyoshi, Goemon was referred to simply as a thief.

There are many versions of Goemon's background and accounts of his life. According to one of them, he was born as Sanada Kuranoshin in 1558 to a samurai family in service of the powerful Miyoshi clan in Iga Province. In 1573, when his father, possibly Ishikawa Akashi, was killed by the men of Ashikaga shogunate, the 15-year-old Sanada swore revenge. He then began training the arts of Iga ninjutsu under Momochi Sandayu. Very skilful pupil but of impetuous temperament, he was forced to flee when his master discovered Sanada's affair with one of his mistresses.

Some other sources state his name as Gorokizu, whose origins were traced to Kawachi Province and he was not a nunekin (runaway ninja). He then moved to Kansai region, where he formed and led a band of thieves and bandits as Ishikawa Goemon. With this gang he robbed the rich feudal lords, merchants and clerics, sharing the loot with the oppressed peasants.

According to another version, which also attributed him a failed attempt on Oda Nobunaga's life, he was forced to become a robber when the ninja networks were broken up.

What is certain is that Ishikawa Gomen soon became a popular hero especially loved by peasants, and there are numerous anecdotes about his adventures. It is said that once, he had entered a room to perform a theft but was distracted by the smile of a child. Ishikawa began to play with him losing the right moment to pull it off. Another story is about his attempt to assassinate the great general Oda Nobunaga. Once inside Oda’s building, he hid in the attic right above the general's bedroom. When he went to bed, Ishikawa made a hole in the ceiling right where Oda’s head was. From that hole he lowered a thread aiming at the daimyo's mouth, dripping poison down it. However, Oda Nobunaga's sleep was light and, awakened, he managed to foil the attack in time.

Photo credits: wikipedia.org

There are also several conflicting accounts of Goemon's public execution by boiling in front of the main gate of the Buddhist temple Nanzen-ji in Kyoto.

According to one version, some of Goemon’s followers were eventually caught and forced to reveal the name of their leader.

In another version, Goemon tried to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Some say he did it because he wanted to avenge the death of his wife Otaki and the capture of his son Gobei, but some others say it is because the shogun was a despot. He entered Hideyoshi’s room, in Fushimi Castle, but was caught red-handed by the guards because he knocked a bell off a table. Some legends speak about a magical incense burner that was able to sound the alarm in case of intrusion. He was then captured and sentenced to death, thrown alive in boiling oil into an iron cauldron, along with his younger son.

But if Goemon met his end like this, then the stories diverge on his child’s fate. Some say he was able to save him by holding him above his head, and his son was then forgiven. In other versions the father at first tried to save the son by holding him high above his head but, once realised that it was futile, he plunged him deep into the bottom of the cauldron to kill him as quickly as possible. Then he stood with the body of the boy held high in the air in defiance of his enemies until he eventually succumbed to pain and injuries.

Even the very date of his death is uncertain, as some records say this took place in summer, while another dates it on October 8, in autumn. Before he died, Goemon wrote a famous farewell poem, saying that no matter what, there always shall be thieves.

A tombstone dedicated to him is located in Daiunin temple in Kyoto, while the traditional Japanese bathtub, usually made of iron or wood, is now called goemonburo (Goemon bath)

Kabuki theatre and Popular Culture

Photo credits: img00.deviantart.net

Ishikawa Goemon is the subject of many classic kabuki plays. The only one still in performance today is Kinmon Gosan no Kiri (The Golden Gate and the Paulownia Crest). It is a five-act play written by Namiki Gohei in 1778, in which the most famous act is Sanmon Gosan no Kiri (The Temple Gate and the Paulownia Crest). Here Goemon is first seen sitting on top of the Sanmon gate at Nanzen-ji. He is smoking an oversized silver pipe called a kiseru and exclaims "The spring view is worth a thousand gold pieces, or so they say, but 'tis too little, too little. These eyes of Goemon rate it worth ten thousand!". Goemon soon learns that his father, a Chinese man named So Sokei, was killed by Mashiba Hisayoshi, and starts to prepare his vengeance.

His character also appears in the famous tale the Forty-seven Ronin, first staged in 1778. In 1992, he appeared in the kabuki series of Japanese postage stamps.

In popular culture, there are generally two ways in which Goemon is portrayed: either as a young, slender ninja or as a powerful bandit.

Goemon is the protagonist of the Konami video games series Ganbare Goemon, as well as a television series based on it. He is the subject of the Shinobi no Mono novels and film series, starring Ichikawa Raizō VIII as Goemon. In the third instalment, Shinobi no Mono, known in English as Goemon Will Never Die, he escapes execution while another man is boiled in his place. Goemon was also a subject of several pre-WWII Japanese films such as Ishikawa Goemon Ichidaiki and Ishikawa Goemon no Hoji.

More recently, in the 2009 film Goemon, he is portrayed by Yōsuke Eguchi and depicted as Nobunaga's most faithful follower and as associated with Hattori Hanzō.

 

Goemon’s character also appears in many other video games like the series Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi,  Blood Warrior, Kessen III, Ninja Master's: Haō Ninpō Chō, Shall We Date?: Ninja Love, Shogun Warriors, and Throne of Darkness. He is also an Initial Persona in Persona 5 by Yusuke Kitagawa and makes his appearance in the taiga drama Hideyoshi, as well as in the film Roppa no Ôkubo Hikozaemon, and in the manga series Kaze ga Gotoku and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo.

But perhaps, the most famous of all is Ishikawa Goemon XIII from Lupin III (Rupan Sansei), the direct descendant of the legendary thief created by the mangaka Monkey Punch.