Saturday, 15 August 2015
In 1582, immediately following the news of the betrayal of Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji temple, Hanzō proposed that his lord Tokugawa Ieyasu escape to a safe haven, with an entourage of remnant ninja clans from Iga, and their one-time Koga rivals, and then, when the time was right, attack the traitor who had killed Nobunaga. Ieyasu agreed, and the company departed for Mikawa. Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest, and like a forest it's easy to lose your way... to get lost... to forget where you came in.
Approaching the Otogi pass, on the border of Iga and Koga, Hanzō shot a signal rocket skyward. When leyasu arrived at the summit, 300 ninja were already gathered. He rode in a kago litter basket, and Hanzo himself guarded the future shogun’s side. Guided by the ninja, the retinue negotiated difficult places day and night, receiving reports about the repercussions of the Honnoji attack, and the movements of various daimyô. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut.
Tokugawa was so impressed by this escort’s display of bravery that he permanently retained two hundred of the ninja band on his payroll, officially forming the ‘Men of Iga,’ under the command of Hattori Hanzo. In 1590, when leyasu entered Edo, they accompanied him, and assigned the critical duty of protecting the West Gate of Edo Castle, the Hanzōmon gate, in the area of Hanzocho. To this day ‘Hanzo’s Gate’ still stands, burned to death in a blaze of glory by flaming oil. The creation of a ninja quarter outside the west gate was astute, because it was from the back of the castle that the people within would escape and an enemy would stage a surprise attack. Ninja were best qualified to guard such a place. His own clan was recruited to spy on Tokugawa’s enemies, performing assassinations, reconnaissance, sabotage, demolitions, kidnappings, and other forms of espionage black ops. Ninja operatives worked undercover as rōnin in the castles of many of Ieyasu’s enemies, and his spies were omnipresent. Hanzo's ninjutsu skills procured his clan a healthy living for two centuries. In a folk song from Mikawa in the early 1600s, Hattori Hanzo was identified as one of the three bravest retainers of the Tokugawa Shogun. Lord Tokugawa has brave retainers. Hattori Hanzo is Hanzo the Daredevil...
Hanzō lived the last several years of his life as a monk under the name ‘Sainen.’ He built the temple Sainenji, named to commemorate Tokugawa Ieyasu's elder son, Nobuyasu, accused of treason and conspiracy by Oda Nobunaga and ordered to commit seppuku by Ieyasu. When Nobuyasu was instructed to end his life, Hanzo was called in to act as the official second, but refused to take the sword. After hearing of Hanzo's ordeal, Ieyasu valued the loyalty.
“Even a demon can shed tears.” He had said.
On December 23, 1596 Hanzō died at the age of 55. His remains, and his favorite spears, lie in Sainenji today. What never rests is the quarter millennium leadership of his lord, who remade the country into what Japan is today.
Hattori Hanzo: ‘Funny, you like samurai swords... I like
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)
Friday, 14 August 2015
Hattori Hanzo: Why do you need Japanese steel?
The Bride: I have vermin to kill.
Hattori Hanzo: You must have big rats if you need
Hattori Hanzo's steel.
The Bride: ... Huge.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)
Robyn and I were almost at Tokagawa Ieyasu’s story, and his Nikkō shrine. The namesake of the man who saved his life and then helped him become the ruler of united Japan wasn’t a Tarantino character, but he could have been.
Hattori Hanzo’s life story is fuzzy, which is to be expected since he was a ninja, renowned as a supernatural otherworldly warrior, a master of the art of invisibility and teleportation and psychokinesis and precognition and psychomancy. In legend, it was said that he could sit behind a hand-held fan, bow, and then suddenly disappear, only to reappear in the next room. He had mastered the art of using a rope to capture an enemy who snuck up behind him as he sat in seiza posture. He could clairvoyantly discern the plans and strength of an enemy army, or make an object explode by cursing it. Tales of his exploits, dressed in black, flying through the sky, swimming underwater, tunneling beneath the ground, and vanishing into the darkness, are the template for a transcendent culture of ninja mythology. One well-known anecdote about Hanzo and Ieyasu exemplifies the power of his suggestion.
‘Takugawa Ieyasu was fond of the martial arts, and was a sharpshooter, a master swordsman, and an excellent swimmer himself. One day in his twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth year, when he was living in Mikawa, he grabbed Hanzo Hattori by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to a river, and pulled him underwater. While Hanzo continued to calmly hold his breath, Ieyasu had to break the surface, gasping for air. He crawled ashore, pale and exhausted.
“How long can a ninja stay underwater?” He asked.
“One or two days, Lord. However long you request.” Replied Hanzo, who then dived beneath the water. Several hours passed and there was still no sign of him. Ieyasu became worried. He and his retainers began calling Hanzo’s name. Then Hanzo rose to the surface with bursting air bubbles. He was not out of breath, but smiling. He handed Ieyasu something, and the general let out a cry of surprise. It was the short sword the future Shogun had put on, after dressing on shore.
“I was not beneath the water all the time,” Hanzo told his astounded listeners. “After diving beneath the water, I swam ashore, hid behind a rock, and napped. When I was called, I dove underwater and surfaced. I apologize for taking your short sword, Lord, but this is ninjutsu.” leyasu was impressed.’
Hanzo was born in Mikawa in 1542, the son of a retainer of the future shogun Tokugawa leyasu’s grandfather. As a child he returned to his Hattori family roots in the small inaccessible mountain-ringed Iga basin that had spawned the unconventional fighting strategies, guerrilla tactics, espionage skills, and deceptive trickery known as ninjutsu. For the 100 years from the Ônin War through the Sengoku, from the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries, the region had been unconquered by outside warlords. The mountains discouraged attack, and its inhabitants never tried to expand their dominion beyond them. But there was no shortage of local violence, and each village had a castle behind whose walls arms were stored and plots were hatched.
Despite its isolation, the absorbable technologies of Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya, and all the arts necessary for ninjutsu could be acquired within a radius of 45 miles from Iga. An Onmyodo Chinese system of divination had been brought from Kyoto, the village of Yagyu was home to a venerable school of sword technique, and the Hozoin temple in Nara supported a unique spear fighting style. Warriors specializing in demolition, political warfare, and intelligence gathering established over 70 clandestine tactical martial institutes in the surrounding mountains.
In 1550, Hattori Hanzo began his training on Mount Kurama north of Kyoto, at the age of eight; he became a full-fledged ninja four years later. At 16, he fought his first battle for the Oda Clan (a night-time attack on Udo castle), where he earned the nickname, ‘Hanzo the Ghost,’ and, as a master ninja two years after that, became known as Oni no Hanzō ‘Devil Hanzō,’ because of the fearless tactical expertise of his spear fighting. From 1569 to 1572 he laid siege to Kakegawa Castle, engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat as a Tokugawa ninja in the middle of a river at the Battle of Anagawa, and valiantly won, with a night raid, the Battle of Mikatagahara, despite being outnumbered four to one.
Thursday, 13 August 2015
Kenshin's forces attacked him in waves, in a devastating ingenious kuruma gakari ‘winding wheel’ formation, in which every unit was replaced by another, as it became weary or wounded. The Uesugi vanguard, led by one of Kenshin’s Twenty-Eight Generals, Kakizaki Kageie, tore through the Takeda like a chainsaw. Shingen’s commanders fell, one by one. Seeing that his pincer plan had failed, Yamamoto Kansuke took up a long spear and charged alone into the mass of Uesugi samurai. He suffered more than 80 bullet wounds before retiring to a nearby knoll to commit seppuku.
Eventually, Uesugi’s forces penetrated the Takeda command post, and one of the most legendary single combats in Japanese history ensued. Kenshin himself burst into the headquarters, taking Shingen by complete surprise. Unable to draw his sword in time, Shingen fended off Kenshin’s fierce mounted sword slashes with his tessen iron signalling war fan, in one-on-one hand-to-hand combat. He received three cuts on his body armour and seven on his war-fan before one of his retainers, Hara Osumi-no-Kami, speared Kenshin's mount and drove him off. The site of this encounter is now known as the ‘three sword seven sword place.’
Meanwhile, Masanobu's stealth force had reached the top of Saijoyama and, finding the Uesugi position deserted, hurried down the mountain to the ford, taking the same path they had expected to find the fleeing Uesugi on. After desperate fighting, the numerical superiority of Masanobu 12,000 men punched its way through the 3000 warriors that Kenshin had prudently left behind to defend his rear. Just in time, Masanobu's samurai pressed on to aid Takeda's main force, falling on the rear of Kenshin's army, and driving them into and across the Chikuma River. Many Uesugi drowned. Others were cut down by the Takeda. Shingen was saved.
Because the Takeda were the last army on the field, they had nominally won the day, but it was a Pyrrhic victory at best. A ten percent mortality rate was typical for a Sengoku samurai battle, but at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima, Kenshin's army suffered a devastating 72 percent casualty cost of 3000 men, and the Takeda ‘victors’ lost 62 per cent, or 4000 soldiers, including several of Shingen’s most able generals, his younger brother Nobushige, his great uncle Murozumi Torasada, and Yamamoto Kansuke. One of the biggest and bloodiest battles in Japanese history had ended in another draw.
On the morning of the following day Kenshin sent three of his generals to burn what remained of their encampment on Saijoyama. Shingen, his army weakened, made no attempt to stop them, nor to interfere with Kenshin's subsequent withdrawal back to Echigo province.
After the battle, Shingen uncovered two plots on his life, the first from his cousin Katanuma Nobumoto, and the second, a few years later, from his own son Yoshinobo, both of whom he ordered to commit seppuku.
The Tiger and the Dragon met for the fifth and final time on the plain of Kawanakajima three years later. They skirmished for two months, and then withdrew.
Although rivals for more than fourteen years, Shingen and Kenshin were known to have exchanged gifts a number of times, most famously when Shingen gave away a precious sword, which he valued greatly, to Kenshin. In 1570, a number of Hōjō clan daimyô boycotted salt to Shingen’s Kai province. When Kenshin heard of the blockade problem, he secretly sent him supplies, and a letter. My ideals are not your ideals; your desires are not my desires... but wars are to be won with swords and spears, not with rice and salt.
He concluded with a challenge for Shingen to prepare his best forces to meet again on the battlefield, an example of noble chivalry for his and all time.
Shingen, a veteran of over forty campaigns and one of the first warlords to widely integrate firearms, was himself killed by a gunshot wound. On his deathbed he commended Kenshin as an honorable warrior, and instructed his son to rely upon him. Upon hearing of his death, Kenshin dismissed his retainers’ advice to attack the Takeda as childish, and wept aloud at the loss of so worthy an adversary.
‘Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake;
A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;
I know not what life is, nor death.
Year in year out-all but a dream.
Both Heaven and Hell are left behind;
I stand in the moonlit dawn,
Free from clouds of attachment.’
Uesugi Kenshin’s Death Poem, five years later.
Wednesday, 12 August 2015
Uesugi Kenshin was born nine years after Shingen. In 1544, at the age of 14, he was also required to betray a family member to gain power, in this case from his older brother, Harukage, who was forced to commit suicide.
Kenshin was famed for his honorable conduct, his military expertise, and his advocacy the ‘way of the warrior as death.’ Fate is in Heaven, the armor is on the breast, success is with the legs. Such was his ferociousness in the five battles of Kawanakajima against Takeda Shingen, some of his followers, and others, believed him to be the avatar of Bishamonten, the Buddhist god of war.
The first three battles, fought every two years in 1553, 1555, and 1557, were but dress rehearsals on the Kawanakajima plain south of Nagano, for the fourth, largest and bloodiest of the lot, which caused greater casualties for both sides, as a percentage of total forces, than any other battle in the Sengoku.
Kenshin was the aggressor, determined to destroy Shingen once and for all. In mid-September 1561 he left his fortress at Kasugayama with a massive force of 18,000 warriors, headed south across the plain.
He took up a position on Saijoyama, a mountain to the west of, and looking down upon, Shingen's Kaizu castle. Kenshin was unaware that the redoubt contained no more than 150 samurai and their followers, and that he had taken Kaizu’s commanding general, Kosaka Danjo Masanobu, completely by surprise. Here the Dragon patiently waited for the Tiger’s response.
Shingen, ninety miles away at his great citadel of Tsutsujigasaki, quickly learned of Kenshin's move from signal fires and messengers, and immediately marched for Kaizu with 20,000 men, approaching Kawanakajima on the west bank of the Chikuma River, keeping the river between him and Saijoyama. He reached Kaizu 24 days after Kenshin's arrival.
Because both warlords knew that victory would require the essential element of surprise, neither made a move. Shingen was allowed into his fortress at Kaizu.
One of Takeda's 24 trusted generals, the seventy-year old, one-eyed Yamamoto Kansuke, devised a strategy called ‘Woodpecker,’ that he believed would bring success. The plan called for Shingen to divide his army in two, to trap the Kenshin’s army between them. Masanobu was to lead a force of 12,000 up the backside of Saijoyama under cover of night and attack from the rear, and drive Kenshin's army down to the plain. There, Shingen would be waiting with another 8,000 men in a mighty kakuyoku ‘crane's wing,’ a formation designed to surround and entrap an advancing army and destroy it with flanking arrow and gunfire.
At first all went according to plan. Masanobu and Shingen arranged their men in total darkness. Shingen waited for dawn in his tent on the plain, and Kenshin's army to come fleeing down the mountain, right into his hands. However, Kenshin had anticipated the plan. Under cover of the morning fog, his force of 10,000 men had quietly crept down Saijoyama’s western flank, using bits of cloth to deaden the noise of the horse's hooves, and taken up position directly in front of Shingen's position.
When he opened his tent at daybreak of September 10 1561, and the fog broke, instead of the battered, disorganized, and fleeing army he was expecting, Shingen was hit with a fierce head-on assault of pounding hoofs and flags and Heaven and Earth.
Tuesday, 11 August 2015
The Tiger, Takeda Shingen, was born in 1521. An accomplished poet in his youth, his definition of samurai parental loyalty was equally figurative. Everyone knows that if a man doesn't hold filial piety toward his own parents he would also neglect his duties toward his lord. Such a neglect means a disloyalty toward humanity. Therefore such a man doesn't deserve to be called ‘samurai.’ At the age of 21, after his coming of age ceremony, he led a bloodless coup against his father.
His war banner read Fū-Rin-Ka-Zan, ‘Wind-Forest-Fire-Mountain,’ taken from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and his aspiration to be as swift as the wind, as silent as a forest, as fierce as fire and as immovable as a mountain.
Due to the prowess of his army’s ‘Twenty-Four Generals,’ Shingen turned the Takeda clan in the most powerful in the country. Of these, Kōsaka Masanobu was the Tiger’s best known homosexual lover, in Japanese shudo tradition. Shingen signed a pledge that he was not involved in, nor had any intentions of entering into, a sexual relationship with a certain other retainer, and asserted that ‘since I want to be intimate with you.’ He would in no way harm the boy, calling upon the gods to be his guarantors.
Shingen revered learning and, as you may have already forgotten, was the first to introduce soy sauce as a seasoning to his army.
‘Learning is to a man as the leaves and branches are to a tree, and
it can be said that he should not be without it. Learning is not
only reading books, however, but is rather something that we
study to integrate with our own way of life. One who is born into
the house of a warrior, regardless of his rank or class, first
aquaints himself with a man of military feats and achievements
in loyalty, and, in listening to just one of his dictums each day,
will in a month know 30 precepts. Needless to say, if in a year he
learns 300 precepts, at the end of that time he will be much the
better. Thus, a man can divide his mind into three parts: he
should throw out those thoughts that are evil, take up those ideas
that are good, and become intimate with his own wisdom… I
would honor and call wise the man who penetrates this principle,
though he lacks the knowledge of a single Chinese character. As
for those who are learned in other matters, I would avoid them
regardless of how deep their knowledge might be. That is how
shallow and untalented this monk is.’
But Shingen was also a strict disciplinarian, and there is an exemplary story in the Hagakure, relating his execution of two brawlers, not because they had fought, but because they had not fought to the death.
‘Once a master was on his way to a reading at the Jissoin Temple
in Kawakami. One of his pages had gotten drunk and started a
quarrel with a boatman on a ferry. Once the ferry docked the
page drew his sword, but the boatman struck him on the head
with an oar, and the other boatmen gathered around ready to
beat the page to death with their oars. The master pretended not
to notice what was happening and walked away. Another page
ran to aid his friend, apologized to the boatmen, calmed down
the injured page, and took him back to the master’s house. That
night the master took the disorderly page’s swords. The master
is first to blame for not rebuking the drunken page and taking
control of the situation before it got out of hand. After the page
had been struck down there was no reason to apologize to the
boatmen, even though the page had acted unruly. At that point,
the master should have apologized to both the page and the
boatman for what he was about to do and killed them both in
one stroke. The master had a coward’s heart.’
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716
Soy sauce. No sauce.
Monday, 10 August 2015
Zen has no secrets other than seriously thinking about life and
Takeda Shingen, the Tiger of Kai
‘Those who are reluctant to give up their lives and embrace death
are not true warriors.... Go to the battlefield firmly confident of
victory, and you will come home with no wounds whatever.
Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive;
wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death.
When you leave the house determined not to see it again you
will come home safely; when you have any thought of returning
you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that
the world is always subject to change, but the warrior must not
entertain this way of thinking, for his fate is always
Uesugi Kenshin, the Dragon of Echigo
Sometimes we pass over small incidents that might help us appreciate more celebrated men and events. The interactions of minor samurai often told the bigger story better.
In Chinese mythology the Tiger and the Dragon were always bitter rivals who tried to defeat one another, but neither was ever able to gain the upper hand. In the mid 1500s of the Sengoku, it became the fulfillment of a prophecy.
The Tiger of Kai and the Dragon of Echigo would thrash each other to a bloody standstill, in the eleven years it took to fight the five Battles of Kawanakajima.
Sunday, 9 August 2015
Luis Sotelo was burned at the stake in Ōmura, on August 25, 1624, at the age of 50, together with two other Franciscans, a Jesuit, and a Dominican. Before his execution, he left an account of Hasekura Tsunenaga. returning to Japan as a Christian hero.
‘My other colleague, the ambassador Philippus Faxecura, after he
reached his aforementioned king (Date Masamune), was greatly
honored by him, and sent to his own estate, to rest after such a
long and tiring journey, where he made his wife, children,
servants, and many other vassals into Christians, and advised
other nobles who were his kith and kin to accept the faith, which
they indeed did. While he was engaged in these and other pious
works, a full year after his return, having provided much
instruction and a great example, with much preparation, he
piously passed on, leaving for his children by a special
inheritance the propagation of the faith in his estate, and the
protection of the religious in that kingdom. The King and all the
nobles were greatly saddened by his passing, but especially the
Christians and Religious, who knew very well the virtue and
religious zeal of this man. This is what I heard by letters from the
very Religious who administered the sacraments to him, and who
had been present at his death, as well as from others.’
Luis Sotelo, De ecclesiae Iaponicae statu relatio
For his part, Masamune died in Edo at the age of 70 on June 27, 1636, of esophageal cancer. Fifteen of his samurai committed ritual junshi seppuku to follow him. Three hundred and thirty years later, in October of 1974, his grave was opened. Inside, along with his remains, archeologists discovered his tachi sword, a letterbox with a paulownia crest, and his armor. From the study of those remains, they determined that Masamune had type B blood. According to the Japanese practice of Bura-Hara, based on the myth that blood type determines personality, type B's are selfish and whining. I’m type B and I don’t believe it. Dare Masamune just wouldn’t have cared.
‘I am Sanada Nobushige, no doubt an adversary quite worthy of
you, but I am exhausted and can fight no longer. Go on, take my
head as your trophy.’
Sanada Nobushige, Battle of Tennōji, June 4, 1615. A Hero who
may appear once in a hundred years, Crimson Demon of War,
Number one warrior in Japan.