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.


Atsuta Matsuri, lanterns and fireworks

There are many Japanese matsuri but today we decide to focus on Atsuta Matsuri, in the prefecture of Aichi.

Atsuta Matsuri

photo credits: thegate12.com

In the Chubu region, more precisely in Nagoya in the Aichi prefecture, if we enter the city, hidden among centuries-old cypresses, we will discover one of the most sacred shrines in Japan: the Atsuta Jingu. Venerated since antiquity with its 1900 years, it is believed to be the home of the Holy Kusanagi Sword of the Emperor, one of the three imperial insignia.
In this magical place, Atsuta Matsuri (諸ブー祭), better known as Shobu-sai, is held every year on June 5th.

Atsuta Matsuri day

Atsuta Matsuri

photo credits: kawaii-aichi.jp

Around 10:00 in the morning the celebrations begin with a special ceremony in which an imperial messenger is sent to the shrine to offer goheimotsu. These are in fact strips of white paper for Shinto rituals and which are used to celebrate a special ceremony dedicated to the gods and goddesses of Atsuta Jingu. After that, this splendid and characteristic Matsuri hosts various shows between the precincts of the Shrine.

The shows

The shows during this festival are many and varied, including kyudo, Japanese-style archery and kendo, Japanese fencing. But the real protagonist is the Atsuta-kagura, a type of traditional local Shinto dance accompanied by flutes and taiko, the typical Japanese drums. In addition to this, we find various performances including the Sumo and entertainment competitions such as the Kodomo Mikoshi, the portable shrines for children!

Atsuta Matsuri

photo credits: kawaii-aichi.jpgoinjapanesque.com

The Festival reaches its climax when, at 18:00, the five makiwara kento, huge allegorical altars decorated with 365 lanterns each, are placed next to the entrances of the three torii doors of the sanctuary and are illuminated. Of course, there are stalls offering typical products and souvenirs of all kinds.
The chatter of people stops at 21:00 in the Jingu Koen park when a wonderful fireworks display raises heads and fills the eyes with lights and colors.

photo credits: goinjapanesque.com

The Atsuta Festival is the largest festival among the approximately 70 events held at the Atsuta Shrine every year.

Atsuta Matsuri Atsuta Matsuri

photo credits: nagmag.jp, kichijapan.com

If you are in the surrounding area, don't miss these magical lanterns and fireworks show to spend a fun day in the name of tradition! Like any festival, participation is free. For any information on how to reach the location, visit the official site of the Shrine in English.


Japan History: Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide (1526 - July 1582), also known as Koreta Mitsuhide, was a Japanese general. Son of Akechi Mitsukuni, Mitsuhide served Asakura Yoshikage and in 1566 he became a messenger for the "wandering wanderer" Ashikaga Yoshiaki. However, his greatest fame was that of being one of the generals in the service of the daimyō Oda Nobunaga, and his betrayal caused his death.

Akechi Mitsuhide

photo credits: samurai-world.com

He began to serve Oda Nobunaga in 1566 after the conquest of the province of Mino and in 1571, proving himself as skilled general, he received the territory of Sakamoto as a fief. Oda Nobunaga, seeing him as one of the men he could trust most, commissioned him to pacify the Tamba region and place it under the control of his lord. His military campaigns against local clans were successful and once he conquered the territory, he was rewarded with Kamiyama Castle by becoming the governor of Hyūga province.

Betrayal

In 1579 Mitsuhide conquered Yakami Castle which belonged to Hatano Hideharu and negotiated with him the terms for pacification. Oda Nobunaga, in total disagreement with the agreements made by his vassal, had Hideharu executed. At that point, the Hatano clan retaliated against Akechi Mitsuhide by killing his mother who had been kept hostage during the negotiations. This was probably one of the reasons that led Mitsuhide to betray Oda Nobunaga.

Akechi Mitsuhide

photo credits: samurai-world.com

On June 21, 1582, Nobunaga, in an attempt to escape the coup d'état organized by Mitsuhide, took refuge in the Honnō-Ji, a Kyoto temple that Mitsuhide burned. At that point, it is not known if Nobunaga died in the fire or if he had time to make seppuku first, but at the news of his death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu gathered their armies to chase Mitsuhide. Hideyoshi was the first to find him and defeated him in the battle of Yamazaki during which Nobunaga's traitor was killed by a bandit called Nakamura. Due to his death, he was nicknamed Jūsan-kobū (thirteen-day Shōgun).

The reasons for the betrayal

Akechi Mitsuhide

photo credits: samurai-world.com

We don't know all the reasons that led Mitsuhide to betray Nobunaga, one could be what we have already said involving the murder of his mother. Another could concern the friendship that tied Akechi Mitsuhide with Shikoku daimyo Chosokabe Motochika. Around 2013, researchers discovered a series of letters in the Okayama Museum between Akechi Mitsuhide and his longtime friend, Chosokabe Motochika. The letters had been written a few months before the May 21, 1582 attack on Honno-Ji. According to the letters, Chosokabe had decided not to oppose Nobunaga and was willing to submit to the warlord. In response, it appears that Mitsuhide was trying to avoid taking part in Shikoku's submission to avoid a future dispute that could have involved Chosokabe. Just to protect his friend, Akechi Mitsuhide probably decided to betray Nobunaga.

Another probable reason was Mitsuhide's knowledge of Nobunaga's future plans that he wished to rule the nation. Nobunaga had said he wanted to become Tenka Fubu, the only ruler under the sky. For this reason, it was assumed that he wanted to overthrow the emperor so that there would be no one above him. Perhaps Akechi Mitsuhide decided to eliminate Nobunaga thus saving the imperial family and the emperor.

According to some sources he managed to save himself in the battle of Yamazaki by becoming a monk named Nankobo Tenkai. His life is completely immersed in mystery and continues, even today, to arouse doubts and create assumptions.


Japan History: Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi

Yagyū Jūbei was one of Japan's greatest swordsmen and we decided to dedicate a blog to him. Despite the little information, he is known as a warrior poet, protector of the weak and a great supporter of the samurai code.

Yagyū Jūbei

photo credits: deviantart.com

Despite the lack of documentation on the life of Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi (born "Shichirō", 1607 - 12 April 1650) we know that he grew up in a small village near Nara, Yagyū no Sato. His father was Yagyū Tajima no Kami Munenori, master swordsman of the famous Tokugawa family. Both Jubei's father and grandfather had been great masters in the art of the sword. His grandfather was the founder of the Yagyu Shinkage school, which still exists today and was famous for defeating armed samurai with bare hands at the age of 70. His father, on the other hand, was the personal tutor of three shogun and seems to have defeated seven assassins in a battle. Jubei inherited the skill from them and at 9 he was already showing signs of great strength. In fact, he replaced his father in teaching the sword to the Tokugawa family.

The life

At 24 he became the greatest swordsman of the famous Yagyu clan. He was expelled from the Edo court without any reasons, it is not known whether he was fired from the shogun, or for a pilgrimage departure.

In the following 12 years, there is no more news, until his reappearance at the age of 36 at an absolutely impressive fencing demonstration. From there, he was again integrated into the government. He managed to take control of the family lands until the death of Yagyū Tajima no Kami Munenori in 1646. He wrote his fencing and philosophy book, Tsuki no Shō (月之抄) or The Art of Looking at the Moon. He died at the age of 43 in unclear circumstances, it is not known if it was due to a heart attack, an accident during the hunt or even murdered by one of his brothers. Yagyū Jūbei was buried next to his grandfather, Yagyū Munetoshi, he was then given the posthumous Buddhist name of Sohgo.

The Legend of Yagyū Jūbei

According to legend, Yagyū Jūbei had only one eye, the other seems to have lost it in a fencing session with his father. Despite this, some portrayed him with two eyes, even if the figure of the swordsman with an eye patch always remains the favorite.

Yagyū Jūbei

photo credits: taigong788.skyrock.com/


Japan History: Shimazu Yoshihiro

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

Shimazu Yoshihiro

photo credits: japanworld.info

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

The life of Shimazu Yoshihiro: From 1587 to 1600

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

Shimazu Yoshihiro

photo credits: facebook.com

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

Yoshihiro and Mitsunari

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

Shimazu Yoshihiro

photo credits: japanworld.info

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

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

The death

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


Shichi-Go-San / Seven-Five-Three

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

Shichi-Go-San

photo credits: cacadoresdelendas.com.br

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

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

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

Shichi-Go-San

photo credits: amu-zen.com

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


Bushido: ethics and conduct, the way of the Samurai

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

Bushido

photo credits: camminospirituale.com

The 7 principles of Bushido: 7 steps towards perfection

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

Let's go into them and discover them together:

義, Gi: Honesty and Justice

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

勇, Yu: Heroic Courage

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

仁, Jin: Compassion

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

礼, Rei: Kind Courtesy

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

誠, Makoto: Complete Sincerity

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

名誉, Meiyo: Honor

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

忠義, Chugi: Duty and Loyalty

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

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


Japan History: Yagyū Munenori

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

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: wikipedia.org

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

Yagyū Munenori's career

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

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

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: doacademytorino.wordpress.com

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

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

Yagyū Munenori

photo credits: www.lunieditrice.com

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