Japan History: Furuta Shigenari

Furuta Shigenari (Motosu District, Gifu Prefecture, 1544 - July 6, 1615) was a Japanese warrior who lived during the Sengoku period. He was the son of tea ceremony master Furuta Shigesada (known by his Buddhist name Kannami, later renamed Shuzen Shigemasa) who was also one of the younger brothers of the lord of Yamaguchi-jo Castle in Motosu-gun County, Mino Province. While pursuing a career as a warrior, Oribe also acquired a sophisticated taste for the tea ceremony from his father and seems to have been adopted by his uncle.

Furuta Shigenari, the samurai who was also a master of the tea ceremony

Author: SaiKaiAngel

Furuta Shigenari

photo credit: https://it.wikipedia.org/

Furuta Shigenari became Oda Nobunaga's servant when Nobunaga attacked the Mino province in 1567. In 1569, Shigenari married Sen, one of the younger sisters of Nakagawa Kiyohide (the lord of Ibaraki-jo castle in Settsu province).

In 1576, Oribe became an administrator of Kamikuze no sho (now, Minami-ku Ward of Kyoto City), Otokuni-gun district, Yamashiro province. He later joined Hashiba Hideyoshi's (later Toyotomi Hideyoshi) army during the attack on Harima Province and Akechi Mitsuhide's army during the attack on Tanba Province, making a successful career as a war leader despite his small salary of 300 koku.

As a master of the tea ceremony, he is widely known as Furuta Oribe. His common name was Sasuke, his first name was Keian. The name 'Oribe' as master of the tea ceremony originated from the fact that he was awarded the rank of Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade, Director of Weaving Office.

During the period of his union with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Furuta Shigenari met master Rikyū and became one of his favourite pupils for about ten years during which he wrote two works: Oribe Densho ("The Book of Secrets") and Oribe Hyakka ("The Hundred Precepts"). His relationship with Rikyū was so intense that he was not afraid to disobey the common lord Hideyoshi when Rikyū left in exile for Sakai. During Toyotomi Hideyoshi's rule, the generation of tea masters of the Nobunaga period, Yamanoue Sōji, Sen no Rikyū, Tsuda Sogyu, Imai Sokyu, died out in a few years. All the tea masters were philosophical and political opponents of the military expansionism of warlords such as Hideyoshi, and the importance of the discipline of tea placed them in great social and political authority, so, like Rikyu, they were exiled or forced to commit suicide. The art of tea, once Nobunaga's generation ended, became a state ceremony in the Tokugawa Restoration period and Furuta Shigenari became the most important tea master of the new generation. He also taught the shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, Kobori Enshū and Honami Kōetsu. However, accused of plotting a conspiracy against the Tokugawa, he was ordered to commit seppuku in 1615.

The influence

Furuta Oribe's influence encompassed all ceremonial practice from the practice of tea preparation, to artistic and architectural styles, furniture and the style of ceramics.
In fact, Oribe-ryū was the style of ceremony he oversaw, as was the style of Oribe-yaki ceramics. He also designed a type of lantern (tōrō) for the tea garden, known as Oribe-dōrō.

Japan History: Fukushima Masanori

Fukushima Masanori (1561 - August 26, 1624), whose name was originally Ichimatsu, was born in Owari Province.

Fukushima Masanori, one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake

Author: SaiKaiAngel

Fukushima Masanori

photo credit: wikipedia.org

Son of Fukushima Masanobu, Fukushima Masanori was a Japanese general and daimyō in the service of the Tokugawa, also famous for being one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake. It is also said that he may have been a cousin of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Masanori stormed Miki Castle in Harima Province and, during the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583, defeated Haigo Gozaemon and had the honour of taking the first head, that of the enemy general Ogasato Ieyoshi.

Fukushima Masanori took part in many of Hideyoshi's campaigns; it was after the Kyūshū campaign (1586-1587) that he became daimyō, receiving the fief of Imabari in Iyo province; shortly afterwards he took part in the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) and distinguished himself once more during the Battle of Chungju.

Following his involvement in the Korean campaign, Masanori was involved in the search for Toyotomi Hidetsugu. He led 10,000 men in 1595, surrounded the Seiganji temple on Mount Kōya and waited for Hidetsugu to commit suicide. On Hidetsugu's death, Masanori received Hidetsugu's former fief of Kiyosu in Owari province.

Being hostile to Ishida Mitsunari, Fukushima Masanori came into sympathy with Tokugawa Ieyasu; Ishida burned Masanori's castle on a pretext and during the Battle of Sekigahara launched the first attack on Ukita's troops, remaining in the front line throughout. Having won the battle and captured Ishida, Masanori beheaded the enemy daimyō in Kyoto along with Anko and Konishi. Masanori received the fief of Hiroshima in Aki, but Ieyasu never fully trusted Masanori, so he ordered him to rebuild the Nagoya castle so that he could spend some of his income.

At that point, Masanori asked to take part in the siege of Osaka (1614-15), but was forced to remain in Edo. The new Shōgun, Hidetada, trusted Masanori even less and, after Ieyasu's death, accused him of misrule and transferred him to the fief of Kawanakajima. Fukushima Masanori's younger brother Masayori had already been deprived of his fief at Yamato in 1615.

Fukushima Masanori

Il posto di comando di Fukushima Masanori a Sekigahara
photo credit: samurai-world.com

It seems that his descendants became hatamoto in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate. The hatamoto were samurai under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate in feudal Japan. All three shogunates in Japanese history had direct contacts, only in earlier shogunates they were called gokenin. However, in the Edo period, the hatamoto were the senior vassals of the Tokugawa dynasty and the gokenin were the junior vassals.

Fukushima Masanori owned one of the three great spears of Japan: Nihongo, or also called Nippongo (日本号). Used in the Imperial Palace, the Nihongo was later owned by Masanori Fukushima, and then passed into the hands of Tahei Mori. It was recovered, restored and is now in The Fukuoka City Museum.

Japan History: Chōsokabe Motochika

Chōsokabe Motochika (1538 - 11 July 1599) was a Japanese daimyō of the Sengoku period and was born in Okō Castle in the Nagaoka district of Tosa province. The eldest son of Chōsokabe Kunichika, Chōsokabe Motochika was such a sweet boy that his father was worried about his nature, and it seems he was nicknamed Himewako, "Little Princess", by his vassals.

Chōsokabe Motochika, also known as Himewako

Author: SaiKaiAngel

Chōsokabe Motochika

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Despite these concerns, Chōsokabe Motochika proved to be a skilled and brave warrior in his first battle, defeating the Motoyama clan in 1560 at the Battle of Tonomoto. After defeating the Motoyama and forming alliances with local families, Chōsokabe Motochika was able to build his power base on the Kōchi Plain. While remaining loyal to the Ichijō, Motochika with a force of 7000 men marched on the Aki clan, rivals of the Chōsokabe, defeating them in 1569 during the Battle of Yanagare. At that point Chōsokabe Motochika could concentrate on the Ichijō.

During the rule of the Hata district of Tosa, Ichijō Kanesada was a very unpopular leader and because of this, Motochika wasted no time in marching on the Ichijō headquarters in Nakamura and in 1573 Kanesada fled. At that point, the Ōtomo clan provided Kanesada with a fleet and with that he returned, leading an expedition that the Chōsokabe defeated at the Battle of Shimantogawa. At this point Kanesada submitted to the Chōsokabe, who probably had him assassinated in 1585.

Chōsokabe Motochika became the sole ruler of Tosa, and one of the problems the Chōsokabe faced was their own territory. Because of his poverty, he was unable to pay his generals, so he began to look to neighbouring provinces.

The unification of Shikoku

After the conquest of Tosa, Chōsokabe Motochika prepared for an invasion of the province of Iyo, against the lord of that province Kōno Michinao, a daimyō who had been driven from his domain by the Utsunomiya clan, helped only by the Mōri clan. But at this time the Mōri clan was at war with Oda Nobunaga, so they were unable to help Michinao, however the campaign in the Iyo province was not easy.

In 1579 a Chōsokabe army of 7000 men, led by Hisatake Chikanobu, attacked Okamoto Castle, held by Doi Kiyoyoshi in southern Iyo. During this siege, Chikanobu was killed and his army defeated. Motochika returned the following year with some 30,000 men to Iyo and forced Michinao to flee to Bungo province. With the Mōri and Ōtomo engaged on other fronts, Motochika was free to continue his conquest of the island and in 1582 was able to continue his raids on the Awa province to defeat the Sogo clan, giving him control of the island in 1583.

Chōsokabe Motochika

photo credits: mvbennett.wordpress.com

In 1579 Chōsokabe Motochika entered into communication with Nobunaga who seemed to have praised him, although in private he referred to him as a bat on a birdless island and planned to conquer Shikoku in the future, planning to give it to his son Nobutaka. This did not happen, due to Nobunaga's death in 1582.

Involved in the ensuing dispute between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu the following year, he promised Tokugawa his support, although he made no direct moves to that end. Hideyoshi instead sent Sengoku Hidehisa to block any interference from Motochika. The Komaki campaign between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu ended in a peace treaty, and in 1584 Hideyoshi invaded Shikoku with 30,000 troops from the Môri clan and another 60,000 from Hashiba Hidenaga. Motochika managed to retain control of the Tosa province thanks to the terms decided by Hideyoshi.

Chōsokabe Motochika is remembered both for his 100-article Code of Chōsokabe and for his tenacity in founding a very strong castle-city from Oko to Otazaka and then to Urado. However, the problems caused by Morichika's appointment as heir led to the clan's undoing. After Nobuchika's death in battle, Hideyoshi suggested that Motochika's second son, Chikakazu, be appointed heir.

But when Motochika resigned, he made Morichika, his fourth son, his heir, because he felt Chikakazu was physically incapable of assuming leadership of the family. With this in mind, Chikakazu retired and died of illness in 1587. When Chōsokabe Motochika was called to Hideyoshi's invasion of Kyūshū, he and Sengoku Hidehisa were called in.

Their mission was to raise the siege of the Ōtomi clan. Despite the wise advice of Chōsokabe Motochika, generals Ōtomo and Sengoku did not adopt a defensive position and attacked the forces of the Shimazu clan at the Battle of Hetsugigawa, defeating the allied troops, but at the same time Nobuchika, Motochika's heir, died. At that point Toyotomi Hideyoshi praised Motochika's thinking and offered him Ōsumi as compensation for his loss, but this was refused.

In 1590 Motochika led a naval contingent in the siege of Odawara and in 1592 commanded 3000 soldiers in the invasion of Korea. On his return from Korea he retired to Fushimi, became a monk and died on 11 July 1599.

Sakura, an in-depth look at the flower symbol of Japan

We continue our series of in-depth articles dedicated to the Japanese culture and today we talk about Sakura, the flower symbol of the Rising Sun. "The perfect flower is a rare thing. One could spend a lifetime looking for it, and it would not be a wasted life."

Sakura 桜 Symbolic flower of Japan

Guest Author: Flavia

This is how Ken Watanabe began in a scene from the famous film 'The Last Samurai' (2003) as the rebel samurai Katsumoto, against the backdrop of a beautiful Japanese garden. How could we not remember this scene from the film which, despite some historical inaccuracies, is able to give us moments like this. Surrounded by splendid trees in bloom, Katsumoto-Watanabe is simply staging the prototype of Japanese aesthetic sensitivity towards nature. In this case, towards flowers. But here we are talking about one flower in particular... the cherry blossom, an undisputed object of age-old admiration: the Sakura (桜 - さくら).

We are all familiar with cherry blossoms: their beauty is obvious, admiring them a natural consequence. This, I would say, needs no explanation. We can, however, talk about the particular importance of this delicate little flower in Japan, so much so that it has become a "moral" symbol (the official one is the chrysanthemum).

The term 'Sakura' refers to both the flower and the tree - known as the 'Japanese cherry tree' - a type of cherry tree characteristic of the Far East. There are about a hundred varieties of Sakura in Japan, including the big cities. But the most common are the Yamazakura and especially the (Somei-) Yoshino, with its typical pale pink-white colour, which has been admired by the Japanese for hundreds of springs.


photo credits: japan.stripes.com

The Sakura is an institution in Japan, with its own special symbolism and deep meaning. It appears on the famous 100 yen coin and frames Fuji san, Japan's other great symbol, on the back of the current 1000 yen note. It is so popular that the National Meteorological Agency issues a special Sakura Zensen ( 桜前線 ) bulletin every year to update on the status of the flowering. The media informs the population daily about the best spots, so that they can adjust for the beloved Hanami (flower-gazing) activity, deciding where and what variety of Sakura to see.

Flowering proceeds from south to north, as the climate is milder in southern areas. So if you arrive in Japan when the flowering has already passed in the centre-south, look at the calendar, you might still be in time to catch them in Hokkaidō!

Mankai 🌸  Flowering

The average flowering time varies according to geographical location, but in any case it is short: a few days, maximum ten days. It starts in Okinawa, around the end of January, gradually moving northwards with the last buds opening around mid-May in Hokkaidō. This is the approximate time period. Bad weather, disturbances or sudden changes in temperature can obviously affect the duration of flowering, given the extreme delicacy of the little flower. It all depends on the climate and the year: it can happen that the flowers bloom a little earlier or later, or that the blooming is interrupted by a sudden change in climate. The time of the flowering boom is known as Mankai (満開), which in fact means 'full opening'.


photo credits: japan.stripes.com

As mentioned above, most cherry trees are of the Somei-Yoshino variety, but there are over a hundred species. Some are even capable of producing edible fruit. Of the criteria for distinguishing between the different types, the most immediate is undoubtedly the number of petals, which can be ten, twenty or even more. The most common are the classic five-petalled Sakura, both wild and cultivated.

🌸  Types of Sakura

But let's look at some examples of more unusual cherry trees. In addition to Somei-Yoshino, the most cultivated and popular, we can find:

  • Yama-zakura (山桜), the 'Mountain Cherry'. Very popular, it ranks right after Somei-Yoshino in terms of popularity. It has large pink buds and five petals.
  • Fuyu-zakura (冬桜), or "Winter Sakura". As the name suggests, it is a cherry tree that begins to blossom in autumn and continues in winter, although not continuously.
  • Yae-zakura (八重桜), the "Double Cherry Tree". So called because of its 'reinforced', i.e. very full-bodied, bud with more than five petals. It is associated with the ancient capital Nara (奈良).
  • Shidare-zakura (枝垂桜), i.e. "weeping cherry tree" because its branches fall, like a willow, creating a cascade of pink flowers. It is the official flower of the Kyoto prefecture.
  • Ichiyō (一葉), "a leaf". It owes its name to a leaf-like pistil that emerges from its centre when fully open. It is one of those that can have 20 to 40 petals.

sakura sakura

photo credits: Akemi K on Flickr, medigaku.com, Pinterest

Ippon-zakura (一本桜) are defined as all cherry trees planted "in solitude". These include Japan's three great cherry trees, the Sandai-zakura (三大桜). The trio consists of the Jindai-zakura in Yamanashi, the Usuzumi-zakura in Gifu and the Takizakura in Fukushima. Jindai and Usuzumi belong to the Edohigan variety (from which Yoshino is also derived), while Takizakura is a weeping cherry tree. In particular, the Jindai-zakura, located in the Jissōji temple (實相寺), is perhaps the oldest in Japan: it is about two thousand years old and has a circumference of 13 and a half metres!

Spring (春), season of hope

The act of contemplating trees in blossom dates back to the Nara period (8th century). Initially the prerogative of the imperial court of Kyoto, over the centuries it was extended first to the category of samurai and then to the rest of the population. Let us say that in the beginning it was the plum tree (梅-Ume) that was the object of attention. The plum tree represented the link with China, as it originated there. But already in the Heian period (8th-12th centuries), due to the interruption of relations with Middle Earth, the Ume was ousted by the more autochthonous Sakura. From then on, spring-themed poems began to refer to Sakura even only as "flowers" (花-Hana) and the word "Hanami" also became interchangeable with "sakura". Linguistic details, however, are indicative.

Spring (春- Haru) has always been characterised as a symbol of rebirth, of generating power.

In ancient times, the blossoming of cherry trees was associated with prosperity, as it presaged an abundant rice harvest. In order to propitiate a good harvest the following year, the beginning of the planting season was opened with a series of rituals ending with joyful celebrations under the Sakura. In the 18th century, Shōgun Yoshimune Tokugawa further promoted this custom by planting Sakura trees in various areas.

Today, spring is the season for students, graduates and undergraduates, who rely on the auspiciousness of the blossom. April marks the start of the new school year for students, while graduates and many school leavers are preparing to enter the world of work. April also marks the start of the new fiscal year in Japan. In short, the cherry blossom season brings with it some beginnings in that land. Therefore, it is duly celebrated with the Sakura Matsuri (桜祭り) festival.


photo credits: Pinterest, Pinterest

Sakura in sweets and delicacies

Sakura and spring are also celebrated through food, in keeping with good Japanese tradition. Famous is the Hanami Bentō (花見弁当), or the bentō that is a must during a picnic under the cherry blossoms. For those who don't know, the bentō is a box for a picnic lunch, used by the Japanese all year round, but in this period it has a Sakura theme. You might find Sakura Onigiri (桜おにぎり) in there, for example, rice balls with salted Sakura on top.

However, there is also cherry blossom tea (桜茶, Sakura-cha), possibly combined with Sakura-Mochi (桜餅), a typical rice cake with red bean paste, wrapped in a salted cherry leaf. Sakura infusion is offered to newlyweds on their wedding day as it is considered a good omen. Wagashi (和菓子) - the traditional Japanese confectionery - come in a variety of sakura-themed varieties. Again, among the more commercial products: just as you can have Matcha-milk, there is also an all-pink Sakura-milk. And we could go on and on, but perhaps we'd better stop, otherwise our mouths will water too much!

photo credits: kitchenbook.jp, pinterest.fr

Hanami (花見), admire the buds

Hanafubuki (花吹雪): "snowy storm of buds". This is how the spectacle of falling petals from cherry trees in bloom is defined, whose rain colours the landscape in a kind of "spring snowfall". If one of these petals (花びら- Hanabira) falls into one's sake glass while making Hanami, it is a propitiatory sign of good health.
As mentioned at the beginning, the word "Hanami" means the practice of looking at cherry blossoms (花= flower(s), 見= watching). Nowadays, Hanami celebrations can range from simple picnics to more elaborate celebrations with music and entertainment. They can also take place at night, in which case, we talk about Yozakura (夜桜) or "sakura by night". The result, you can imagine: an evocative nocturnal Hanami, amid paper lanterns and moonlight.


photo credits: power-shower.com

However, the peculiarity of Hanami is not in simply witnessing this spectacle of nature: it is in assisting it by capturing its fleeting appearance. The beauty of the buds also lies in their transience. In those who contemplate them, a feeling of sweet melancholy arises... which the delicacy of these flowers is able to evoke when, having detached themselves from the tree, they float carried by the wind or a delicate breeze, to then settle on the ground. An emotion given by the realisation that this is nothing other than the ultimate nature of human existence itself: destined, sooner or later, to have an end.

"So I come to this place with my ancestors and a thought comes back to me: like these sprouts we are all dying... recognising life in every breath, in every cup of tea, in every life we take away... " [ Katsumoto Moristugu - The Last Samurai ]

photo credits: YouTube

Symbolism of Sakura: mono no aware (物の哀れ)

The symbolism of Sakura is therefore both sweet and bitter, but this should not surprise us, as we are familiar with the Japanese feeling of "Mono no aware". In other words, a "pathos for things" characterised by a delicate hint of nostalgia, due to the awareness of their constant change. A concept that our Sakura embodies to perfection and of which he inevitably becomes the spokesman. Its beauty is enchanting but evanescent, ephemeral. So contemplation becomes sweet because of the delicacy of the flower, but also melancholic... because it is aware of its evanescence. Thus we contemplate its splendour but with an aftertaste of sadness. In a few words, this is the essence of Sakura.

Once again we are faced with an aesthetic that transcends the exterior. An exterior whose beauty hooks individuals, then leads them to a wider form of contemplation. We have seen this well, also in our article dedicated to Wabi-Sabi 侘寂. This has never been more true than in the case of the Sakura.

Cherry blossoms thus symbolise the transience of life and cyclicity. Because they blossom in all their glory, but their show remains for a limited time. The transience of life, youth and beauty: a metaphor that nature itself seems to want to offer every year and which Japan has been particularly careful to capture. At the same time, however, they are also a symbol of (re)birth and hope... because every year they come back to bloom in all their splendour.

Wonderful and a symbol of vitality on the one hand, extremely fragile on the other: this is their dual nature. Given this awareness, the reference to Buddhism is inevitable.

Symbolism of Sakura: other meanings

Other more specific meanings attributed to Sakura have to do with the number 5. So, naturally, it is the classic five-petalled cherry tree that best lends itself to this type of symbolism. The number 5 is said to recall the Japanese cosmogonic myth (about the birth of the 'cosmos'), according to which there were originally two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, who fathered five children; the birth of the fifth child, the god of fire, would prove fatal to the mother-goddess Izanami. Izanagi, distraught, thus killed this son, from whose parts the mountain gods would then originate. The number 5 also refers to the Japanese esoteric Buddhist concept of the five orientations (cardinal points plus the centre) and the five elements of water, fire, earth, ether and vacuum.

More generally, cherry trees can also be associated with clouds simply because of a visual issue: their mass blossoming can be reminiscent of clouds in the sky. A bit like the expression 'Hanafubuki' we saw earlier, where fubuki (吹雪) alone means 'snowstorm'.


photo credits: Flavia

As the Sakura, so the Samurai

But back to our Katsumoto-Watanabe, his sentence actually ended with "...this is Bushidō". In fact, Sakura was also associated with the ideal of the way of the warrior and the figure of the samurai (侍), so much so that it became the emblem of the category. You will say, where is the similarity? In the fact that the cherry blossom embodied the qualities typically associated with the samurai (courage, purity, honesty, loyalty...). As the Sakura dies at the height of its splendour, so the samurai at the height of his vitality and strength was ready to die if the time came. In this sense, his life, however grand, was as fragile as that of a cherry blossom. However, he was not afraid of death, since it was experienced as a last ideal act and the only possible honourable end, in the name of extreme loyalty to his values.

In the cherry tree, the bushi (warrior) found his model and identified his life with it. Just like the delicate little flower, he had to lead his existence giving his all, through dedication in every gesture, until his last sigh. All that mattered was to "burn" as much as possible through that fuel, which was his life force. In all this, there could be no room for the fear of death. On the contrary, it was in the warrior's last moments that his beauty shone brightest.

So the Sakura, so the bushi: just like in the proverb "Hana wa sakura-gi, hito wa bushi" ( 花は桜木-人は武士 ) that is "Among the flowers the cherry tree, among the people the warrior". The samurai in battle could fall under the blows of the opponent, just like buds that fall to the ground detached from the branches by a gust of wind or rain. Just like so many small, triumphant buds, the samurai flourished, only to meet their fate.


photo credits: Pinterest

This identification was also used in various ways by Imperial Japan centuries later. Among others: the Sakura was reproduced on the sides and in the name itself of the Ōka ( 桜花 ) airplanes to symbolise the extreme act of the Tokkōtai (Special Attack Unit) Kamikaze at the end of World War II. The pilots themselves, on the verge of their suicide mission, are said to have embarked carrying a cherry branch.

Nowadays, the Sakura may symbolise the martial arts.

"Woman sitting under the cherry blossom trees"

photo credits: appareassociazione.blogspot.com

This is the image that could be drawn - certainly the one I see - by observing the ideogram of "sakura". This is far from being the explanation why the kanji 桜 has this specific form, but it lends itself well to such an interpretation. Especially given its present simplified form. Before leaving us, we cannot conclude without a parenthesis on the writing and the cherry tree kanji.

As you can see in the picture above, Sakura's ideogram 桜 is composed on the left of the radical 木 (=tree), on the right of three dashes with the character 女 (=woman) below. The little part in pink, tell the truth: doesn't it really resemble the petals of a flower?

Actually, this part used to be written in a more elaborate way and had nothing to do with the meaning. It was written like this: 櫻. Later on, it underwent a process of simplification, like so many other ideograms in both Japan and China (where they come from). Bearing in mind that ideograms derive from pictograms, let us observe our character in its transition from pictogram to ideogram in the images below.


photo credits: shufam.hao86.com, shufa.m.supfree.net

This was its transition, and then in more modern times it changed exactly as follows: 櫻 🡪 桜 (in China it became 🡪 樱 ). The double 貝貝, which preceded the present three hyphens, indicated "necklace"; while the single 貝 still means "shell". So you see how, by investigating the Chinese etymology, the real historical evolution is revealed. Be careful, however, because the whole right-hand side (i.e. 嬰) of the ideogram 櫻 has reason to be there solely for a phonetic reason. (Not for reasons of meaning, which is also different between Chinese and Japanese). That is, that part has been "put" there to give the pronunciation to the kanji 櫻 as a whole.

But beyond this brief digression, we still like to see it like this: like a little woman under a flowering tree. Right? Since we are dealing with the simplified character today, we can safely indulge in this reading of the kanji which, coincidentally, is very reminiscent of the image of a woman under the blossoming cherry trees. And it certainly helps a lot to remember the ideogram. After all, this flower also recalls femininity. It is no coincidence that Sakura, or the variant Sakurako (桜子or 櫻子), are quite common female names in Japan.


photo credits: pinterest.it


Guardians of Japan - Episode 01: "Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan" review

Here we are again with a new web series by Japan Italy Bridge! As you know, we aim to communicate and promote Japanese culture and companies in Italy and vice versa.

Since it is not possible to travel in this period, we have decided to try to shorten the distance between Italy and Japan even more by telling you not only about our experiences but also by sharing what we know about the Land of the Rising Sun.

We have already produced a web series dedicated to the promotion of Japan here in Italy called "Bringing Japan to Italy" and now we start with this new series dedicated to the history of Japan and mainly to those figures that fascinate us Westerners: the Samurai. For those who have been following us for some time, you already know that we have a fairly rich column on this subject on our blog and now we have decided to delve into it all through a video podcast.

So at each episode we are going to analyse the life and adventures of Japan's most important Samurai and we decided to dedicate the first episode to the review of the TV series "Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan" that you can find streaming on Netflix! We had already anticipated the arrival of "Age of Samurai" on Netflix and now after a full immersion we are ready to tell you what it is about, our impressions and also some curiosities!

We hope you enjoy this first episode and we are really curious to receive your feedback. Stay tuned because in the next episodes not only will you be able to discover the true history of Japan, but there will also be many surprises waiting for you, enjoy!

Authors: Erika Panzeri, Angie Antenucci // Japan Italy Bridge
Editing: Erika Panzeri // Japan Italy Bridge
Some of the footage in the video is owned by Netflix, we do not claim property of that footage.

Business Focus: How to approach the Japanese market

Here we are again with the column dedicated to the Business Focus and today we are talking about how to approach the Japanese market. Starting from start-ups up to large companies, very often we tend to forget to approach and target the Japanese public and this is a mistake from the beginning. Why eliminate a slice of the market that represents the third world power in terms of consumers?

How to approach the Japanese market

Autore: Erika 

As we mentioned earlier, the Japanese market represents the third largest slice of the world by consumer level. Instead, did you know that social media platforms, even the biggest ones, consider the Japanese market as the second largest market in the world? This is because China, which would occupy the second place, has blocked many foreign companies and corporate policies, causing the focus to shift to Japan.

However, very often companies make the mistake of excluding Japan from their marketing strategies. This is because the Japanese market is also one of the most difficult to approach. In reality, you just need to be able to adapt to their mentality and ways.

The obstacles of the Japanese market

mercato giapponese

One of the biggest problems that Western companies find when approaching the Japanese market is primarily the language barrier. In fact, the average Japanese customer prefers to use their own language for both private relations and business exchanges. In fact, according to EF, Japan ranks 55th in the chart table in terms of knowledge of English.

If we add to this the fact that Japan is a country that is very attached to tradition and also to its customs and traditions, the approach to this market becomes even more difficult. However, this should not stop us, but rather stimulate us to find a way to reach this market. So, what kind of marketing strategies and tactics could we adopt? How to deal with this situation?

Digital is the solution

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The strategy is actually not that complicated, digital and new media are our solution. If we're talking about startups in fact, often the available budget is limited and splitting this on different platforms to have more presence could actually be counterproductive. Better to focus your savings on digital. Over the years of working with Japanese companies and people, we've tried many different ways to promote companies. So here are our tips on where to focus.

Facebook & Instagram ads

In the past, we've already addressed how new digital media, and social media in particular, can help us set our company sailing internationally. In particular, the ads feature of Facebook and Instagram is one of the best tools to target specific users. Both start-ups and established companies should take advantage of this tool to be able to reach their audience.

The two social media platforms obviously have different demographics, with Facebook reaching a more adult audience in Japan and Instagram reaching a younger audience. By combining the two platforms and using them to promote your company, you can reach a wider audience. Obviously, before embarking on a promotional operation, it is important to study your mission and your target audience to be able to reach the right niche audience on the right social.

Twitter ads

One of the most successful social networks in Japan is definitely Twitter. Twitter has more monthly active users (45 million) than any other social media platform such as Instagram (33 million) and even Facebook (26 million) in Japan.

Twitter is a bit of a "controversial" platform, you either love it or hate it. However, when used for business it can become a really powerful and effective media as much as Facebook, especially when it comes to ads. In some cases, depending on the industry, it could even outperform Facebook. Twitter also reaches a very young audience and many Japanese companies have used Twitter ads not only to increase their brand awareness but also to increase their profit organically. If you want to reach the young audience in Japan, Twitter could be the solution for you.

Influencer Marketing

And finally we come here, to Influencer Marketing, what we believe to be the strategy that works best internationally today. In today's world, we are all bombarded by the myriad of advertisements, focusing on influencer partnerships could become a positive thing.

However, influencer marketing can be a double-edged sword. The first step to pay attention to and that will determine the success of a good campaign is the correct choice of the influencer with whom to collaborate. In this case it becomes even more important to be able to find the right influencer who is in line with your image and who has an audience in line with your target.

Obviously, being able to collaborate with big names like Chiara Ferragni or Naomi Watanabe is really difficult, however, there is a category that should not be underestimated: micro-influencers. They have limited followers compared to the others, but they also have a higher engagement rate. These could not only be loyal customers or brand advocates but also be able to bring the audience to your niche.

Investing in marketing is always a great choice and startups that may not have an infinite budget can narrow down their strategy to something targeted and functional. The Japanese market may seem strange but it has the potential to be the springboard for your company. Absolutely not to be ignored.

Japan History: Azai Nagamasa

Azai Nagamasa (1545 - 26 September 1573) was a Japanese daimyō, son of Azai Hisamasa, from whom he inherited the leadership of the clan in 1560 when Hisamasa was forced to step down in favour of his son.

Azai Nagamasa, the head of the clan Azai

Autore: SaiKaiAngel

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Nagamasa became one of Nobunaga's enemies in 1570 due to the Azai's alliance with the Asakura clan, fighting against him in important battles including the Battle of Anegawa. Nagamasa and his clan were destroyed by Nobunaga in August 1573, and he committed seppuku during the siege of Odani Castle.

Conflict with Oda Nobunaga

Not only the arch-enemy of Oda Nobunaga, Azai Nagamasa also became his brother-in-law, as he married his sister Oichi in 1564. Oda Nobunaga sought to establish relations with the Azai clan because of their strategic position between the lands of the Oda clan and the capital, Kyoto.
The great conflict began when in 1570, Oda Nobunaga declared war on the Asakura family by besieging Kanegasaki castle. The Asakura and the Azai had been allies since ancient times. In this war, contrary to many who wanted to honour the alliance with the Asakuras, Nagamasa preferred to remain neutral, siding with Nobunaga. In the end, the Azai clan chose to honour their ancient alliance with the Asakura and came to their aid. Therefore Nobunaga's army, which was marching on the Asakura lands, retreated towards Kyoto. However, within a few months Nobunaga's forces were on the march again, but this time they marched on the Azai lands.

The Battle of Anegawa

In the summer of 1570, Oda Nobunaga returned to attack with Tokugawa Ieyasu and an army of around 30,000 men in Omi province against the Azai and Asakura. The Battle of Anegawa took place on two fronts, Oda against Azai, Tokugawa against Asakura. Although outnumbered, Nagamasa's troops managed to hold off the Oda troops and it seemed as if victory was assured, but when Tokugawa Ieyasu came to Nobunaga's aid after defeating the Asakuras, the situation was reversed.


Over the next two years the Azai were under constant attack from the Oda, who came to besiege the castle of the capital, Odani in 1573 in the famous Siege of Odani. It is during this period that the Azai are seen to be loosely aligned with numerous anti-Oda forces, including the Asakura, Miyoshi, Rokkaku and various religious complexes.

With no way out, Nagamasa carried out seppuku in August 157e along with his father Hisamasa, sending Oichi and his three daughters to Nobunaga who decided to spare them. This did not happen with Nagamasa's only male heir, Manpukumaru, who was executed by General Toyotomi Hideyoshi on Nobunaga's orders.

Oda Nobunaga made sure that his sister, Oichi, was not informed of this, but she eventually came to this suspicion.
It seems that Nobunaga harboured a strong grudge against Nagamasa because of his alleged treachery, although it was he who broke the agreement first. It is also said that Nobunaga had the skulls of Nagamasa, Hisamasa and the Asakura chief lacquered so that they could be used as mugs, but this fact is not only not historically accurate, but could also be invented to further discredit Nobunaga's reputation.

photo credits: wikipedia.org

It should be added that Nagamasa's three daughters were of great importance, starting with the fact that they married very famous men:

  • Chacha, or Yodo dono, was the second wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and mother of his heir Hideyori.
  • Hatsu, married daimyo Kyōgoku Takatsugu.
  • Oeyo, or Sūgen'in, was the wife of the second Tokugawa shōgun, Hidetada, and mother of his successor Iemitsu.

Business Focus: Content Strategy, everything you need to know before you start

We continue our column on Business Focus talking about Content Strategy. Last time we talked about Native Advertising which is closely related to content marketing. So today, let's go and see what to do before jumping into the fray!

Content Strategy, how to lay the foundation for a solid campaign

Author: Erika 

Probably some of you have already heard of Content Marketing, after all it is one of those types of promotion that is going for the most along with Native Advertising. However, a campaign cannot work separately from a more comprehensive and long-lasting strategy.

"Having a precise and structured content strategy is key to creating winning digital campaigns."

This is not only one of our mantras, but it should be that of every company that decides to approach (even for the first time) digital marketing. In fact, there is no content marketing without content strategy, or at least not one that works profitably.
So it's extremely important to study and understand how we can leverage a winning strategy for our business, whatever it may be.

What are Content Marketing and Content Strategy

Content Strategy

First of all, let's understand what it actually is.

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of useful and valuable content. All this aimed at a well-defined target audience in order to attract and acquire potential customers and make them take profitable actions.

The content strategy instead deals with the more "theoretical and strategic" aspects. In the strategy we must in fact include all sides related to the planning and management of content throughout its life cycle. This includes not only the creation and publication of the content, but also a careful analysis. In fact, we're talking about a study that involves aligning content with a company's goals, content development, production, measurement and even archiving. This entire phase precedes the implementation of the content itself.

Content strategy is what lies upstream, everything that defines and regulates the practical development process. In fact, the figure of the content strategist does not deal with the production of content, but focuses the attention to the planning of the same. This is the person responsible for deciding not only when content should be published but above all why it should be produced. In fact, each content is a single brick that goes to lay the foundation for the success of the whole communication strategy. It is therefore important to have a well-defined project, studied and that can be analyzed in every step.

Content Strategy: What you need to know before you start

We've said that content strategy is ultimately nothing more than a strategy that envisions a company's business goals and then uses content as the primary means to achieve those goals.

Content can be of various types but one of the important focuses that these have in common is the intelligent use of stories and creative writing, in any form, but we’ll talk more on that in another article.

Content marketing, even in Japan, focuses on a variety of content that can range from a blog post to a confirmation page. The task of these productions is to build a connection of trust between a company's products or services and its target audience. This becomes more fundamental in Japan, where gaining the trust of the customer means everything and has much more weight than in other countries. In fact, as we've mentioned in the past, the Japanese people are basically a traditionalist nation that doesn't like change. In fact, once the target audience trusts and relies on a specific company, they never leave it again.

But this is just the beginning of the Content Strategy concept, so let's take a more specific look at what is involved in a good strategy.

Content strategy: The Vision

Content Strategy

When we decide to approach something, if we want this thing to be successful, the fundamental basis is to have a clear vision of what this is all about.

Defining the goals, objectives, what we hope to accomplish and how we hope to accomplish it are the first steps toward writing a good business plan. This starts with a vision of what we want the company to be in three to five years, and then creating an action plan to achieve that vision. This is the foundation of a good strategy.

In addition to making a list of all these things, it is equally important to measure with milestones and goals that are solid enough to challenge ourselves but at the same time flexible and adaptable to any situation. And in this regard, this pandemic has certainly taught us very quickly that everything is mutable and everything can change in a matter of very few days. Hence precisely the importance of having stable and precise goals, but at the same time flexible and adaptable to any occasion. This will allow you to have things well clear and under control, and to start your journey from a stronger position.

This is all part of content strategy. Dealing with the vision, the pros and cons of how and why a piece of content will be created, managed, archived or updated.
At the end of the day, content strategy boils down to writing and planning content with specific goals and objectives in mind. Nothing we're going to share should be disconnected from everything else in the content and business goals. That's really where vision and purpose come into play.

Planning for success

Whatever project you're working on, whether it's personal or for a client, if you want to grow your content it becomes a matter of visibility. Inevitably we will find ourselves fighting for the top spot on google or finding our audience on social. To do this though, it means we need a strategy or otherwise a plan of action.

By now we know what we want to achieve with the content that we are going to create. The correct question to ask ourselves now is "how can we achieve it? In what way?" So let's talk about the method.

Surely the first step is to have an edge over the competition, but we can't all be Chiara Ferragni and be first in the field. So how can we do that? The answer is to have a solid and smart content marketing plan in place.

Getting discovered is one if not THE big ask in recent years and at the root of it all is always interpersonal relationships. Getting our friends and their friends to read and share is the first step toward expanding our audience. This could be the beginning of our strategy.
However, in order for this to work, we need to find the exact target of not only our audience but also our content. To get to this point we need to take a close look at what has already been done and how it is working, so let's talk about analytics.

Here's another important word in all strategies and, more generally, in all work: analysis.

Content review is indeed one of the most important steps in developing our strategy but it's not the strategy itself. Doing a careful review of all the content that has already been shared, even by our competitors, will help us better understand what can work and what can't. Next, we can go deep into analyzing our own content and repurposing it to see what might be more successful.

Thinking strategically really comes down to asking good and right questions at each step of the process.

Give the right purpose to your content

Content Strategy

In today's world, where our smartphones and dashboards are crowded (or rather overcrowded) with all kinds of content, it becomes really important to carefully select what we are going to share. Throwing any kind of photo or video into the ether just to create presence no longer makes sense. It's much better to invest time and energy in creating content that has a chance and a clear purpose.
Let's remember that we want our content to be successful, to reach our audience and to make us gain something, be it brand awareness or other kind of profit. So why waste content before it has a chance?

The audience is now used to receiving endless content input and we want to make sure ours succeeds. We want to make sure that our content reaches our audience and leaves a good impression. We already know that Japanese audiences are not easy to impress. So, how can we achieve this? Simple, by planning our content and thinking strategically.

The key is always to have a strategy before creating any content. We should not just push out content for the sake of it, but rather think about its quality as well, and fit it into a specific time frame.

So, before we jump into the content creation fray we need to ask ourselves the right questions. What do we want to achieve? How does this new content fit in with the content we already have or are thinking about planning? What is the big picture of our content?

These are all fundamental questions to answer before we begin our production. Let's not forget that we have a specific purpose, whatever that may be, and that purpose needs to be well defined. For example, are you creating content to increase brand awareness or generate leads? There are many purposes, but the important thing is to be clear about what they are so you can plan the right strategy.

Give your content a purpose and you'll give your audience a reason to read, watch a video, like or re-share. The audience is not a flock of people but a living, intelligent organism, capable of understanding exactly where a piece of content is coming from and why we are publishing it. This is even more valuable with Japanese audiences who are increasingly attentive and selective in their search for content.

If we're creating a piece of content for a reason and planning it in advance as part of our strategy, the audience will notice. Similarly, if we were to do the opposite and throw things out randomly, without a specific strategy behind it, the audience will notice it too.

That's why purpose is so important.

Here’s the bottom line

Creating an effective content strategy that manages to connect with an audience and inspire them to action can seem really complicated. However, as we've come to realize, it's the foundation of any successful marketing campaign. Creating content that has a purpose, that is part of a larger vision and that connects us with our audience is the foundation of any good communication strategy.

It's not always a skill or resource that we find within all companies, which is why there are realities like ours that take care of following this whole part even on behalf of third parties. We take care of creating this model, producing the content and maintaining the work done and then repeating it. Our efforts are put into creating a strategy that will allow your potential audience to discover you. This makes it easier for you to focus on other aspects of your work, or just relax without having to think about it!