Japan History: Sasaki Kojirō

Sasaki Kojiro (around 1583 – April 13, 1612) was born in a village in the province of Echizen. Known as Sasaki Ganryū, he was an important Japanese swordsman, mainly remembered for having been killed in a duel with Miyamoto Musashi. Sasaki Kojiro is also remembered for wearing a red haori and lived between the Sengoku era and the beginning of the Edo period.

Sasaki Kojirō

photo credits: wikipedia.org

His life

He lived at the turn of the Sengoku period and the beginning of the Edo period, as a boy he met Toda Seigen, martial arts instructor of the Asakura clan, becoming his pupil. This type of training takes him away from Seigen’s style, approaching kodachi, and developing a technique that makes use of ōdachi called Ganryū (“Rock Style”). Thanks to his katana called Monohoshi Zao, he develops the Tsubame-Gaeshi (“Swallow Counterattack”) technique, inspired by the bird’s flight.

In 1610 he opened a dojo in Kokura and his fame began to attract numerous martial arts students, among whom we find Miyamoto Musashi, a 29-year-old swordsman who in April 1612 challenged him to a duel that became the protagonist of many legends. The descriptive versions of the legends regarding the duel between Sasaki Kojirō and Miyamoto Musashi are varied and differ greatly in detail. On one thing the legends are all in agreement and it is the end of the duel that sees Musashi as the winner.

The final duel

The duel took place on April 13, 1612 on an island a few kilometers from Kokura. Before arriving at the place, Musashi built a bokken with an oar and showed up three hours late, that is between 9 and 11. Kojiro pulled out his sword getting very angry with Musashi because of his delay and threw the scabbard into the water. Musashi killed Kojiro with a blow to the head dealt by his wooden sword. It all happened so quickly without giving Kojiro time to use his technique.

Sasaki Kojirō

photo credits: muza-chan.net

The hypotheses of the death of Sasaki Kojiro

There are many hypotheses regarding the victory of Miyamoto Musashi, among which it is also believed that the delay was premeditated precisely to annoy the opponent. During the three hours of delay, in fact, Musashi rested while Kojiro completely lost concentration. In addition, his untreated clothing and wooden sword contributed to anger Kojiro even more. Musashi can be said to have won by playing on the opponent’s psychology.
Another hypothesis sees Musashi extend the delay specifically to take advantage of the effect of sunlight so that it could blind the opponent, yet another sees him take advantage of the low tide that would have allowed him to escape more easily.

Sasaki Kojirō

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Kojiro was (probably) deaf in one ear, but this never contributed to his loss, despite everything that seems to have happened because Musashi used the greater length of his bokken than his opponent’s sword.

The island that was the site of the duel was renamed Ganryū-jima in honor of Sasaki Kojirō.