Memorial Day 2017

Those of you who have been here for a while know that on I always make some kind of a post on the real important holidays of our nation: Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.  And guess what today is?

If you guessed Veteran’s Day, this picture is for you.

For those of you who don’t know (as disgraceful as the requirement of that sentence implies) Memorial Day is a holiday dedicated to remembering the fallen, amongst the military.  Those who have served and failed in the most important mission – coming home alive.  Failing doesn’t make them losers – serving makes them winners.  I am proud every moment I get to stand in the presence of those who have served honorably and returned home.

A lot of folks don’t make it home, though.  They most often honestly feel they are doing the best for their nation when they go overseas, when they hop aboard ship, when they snap down the visor of an pilot’s helmet, or when they have to give someone 20 pushups and they can only count to 19 thirty-five times.

“I said twenty push-ups Marine! 17…18…19…19…19…”

As far as I’m concerned if you’re willing to sign those papers, you’ve got +1 Karma in my book.  But I’ve seen my share of people in uniform who, like people out of uniform, are genuinely terrible people.  Some of them are affected by war in an irreparable way and come home to become shitty people because we can’t get them the help they so desperately need.  Some of them were shitty people before they left home and putting them in a uniform just gave them a superiority complex (they’re called officers).  But many of them are good people, good people who wear that uniform and should fill anyone near them with pride because somebody like that defends their homeland and their people.

Not all of those people make it home, but many do.  Sadly, sometimes home is more dangerous than warzones.  Take for example a little train in Portland where a psycho terrorist attacked two young women.  Several fellows stood up to the man to get him to stop, but the terrorist pulled out a knife and stabbed three of them before fleeing like a coward.  Of course before he ran away some witnesses claim he said, “This is a Free America; I can do whatever I want.”

The terrorist was eventually tracked down and arrested.  He is awaiting trial and to find out whether or not they can classify the stabbings as a hate crime.

Unfortunately two of the three men who were stabbed have died, the third is – thankfully – expected to survive as of writing this.  One of the dead was Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23.  A civilian that, judging by his actions, I would have been proud to stand in a shield wall with.

The other was Rick Best, 53, who served in the Army.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.  He was a local government official and even ran for public office at one point.  He made it home safely, but when terrorism struck his home he stepped up – underequipped and underprepared and paid the ultimate price for his bravery.

2nd Lt. Richard Collins was and airborne-certified soldier about to start a prestigious career in the Army.  That is until a terrorist approached him on the street – targeting Collins because he was black and stabbed him in the chest.  Once again, these ‘brave American heroes’ as each terrorist likes to refer to themselves as committed their crime, then bravely fled the scene as fast as they could.

Collins didn’t even get the chance to leave home so that he could make it home safely.

And not to mention the millions of homeless veterans who don’t have a home to make it to.

When we remember those who failed to make it home safely, we must also remember those who made it home but not safely.

Three heroes died recently. Remember them, veteran or not.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Court Ranks and Titles

A topic I’ve brought up a handful of times is the court rank and title of various samurai. Akechi Hidemitsu is most often known as Samanosuke, Takayama Shigetomo is usually known as Ukon, and Yamamoto Haruyuki is usually referred by his court title of Kansuke.

So what exactly are these court titles and why did all these samurai have them? Well, today we’re going to take a very basic look at Japanese court titles and examine how they worked and what they meant.

And the answer is…they often meant nothing. But we’ll get to that closer to the end of today’s discussion on Japanese Court Titles.

So the first thing to note is that the Japanese Imperial Court went through several different incarnations as far as rank structure, what ranks meant, and how ranks were signified. In the early days the system strongly mimicked the Chinese style in a form known as Kan’i where each position correlated to a particular rank and that rank was noted by wearing a different colored cap. However eventually this was replaced by wearing different colored clothing when at court.

Now without getting caught up in the drudgery of a century of Asuka-Nara minor and major political changes, let’s look at the system instituted during the reign of Emperor Mommu in the early 8th century.

The divisions of court ranks at this time were divided into princely ranks and official ranks, that is ranks for officials within the empire. Rarely will we be dealing with princely ranks, because for most of what we’re dealing with just know that those would be for the Imperial family and the like. They came in four levels: Ippon, Nihon, Sanbon, and Yonhon – that is First, Second, Third, and – you guessed it – Fourth.

The official ranks were set up in a similar fashion classed from highest to lowest as Ichi’i, Ni’i, San’i, Shi’i, Go’i, Roku’i, Shichi’i, Hachi’i, and Sho’i. The lingering ‘I’ sound on all of those the character ‘I’ which simply means rank. So from high to low that equates to First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Beginner Ranks.

The first second and third ranks were also split into two parts: Senior and Junior. So that means that you had ranks like Shoni’i, Senior Second Rank and Jusan’i, Junior Third Rank.

Ranks within the spectrum of fourth through eighth were even split into four subsections: High Senior, Low Senior, High Junior, and finally Low Junior. Can you imagine being made High Junior Sixth Rank? You’d have to introduce yourself as Juroku’i-ju.

Now I’ve just told you all of that to tell you not to worry about it much. Rarely will you see someone actually referring to themselves as Oda Shoichi’i Nobunaga. And not just because he had been dead for over three hundred years before the court posthumously awarded him the right of Senior First Rank.

“I’m what?!”

No what you always hear are actually the opposite of these things. What we’ve just talked about were Court Ranks, but things like Samanosuke and Ukon were Court Titles. These titles equated to jobs within the Imperial Court…although by the time of the Sengoku period and beyond really very few of the people who held those ranks probably actually did the jobs inherent of that position.

For instance the Ii family held the post of Kamon no-kami which can be translated as Director of the Palatial Cleaning Department or…Captain of the Janitors. Did he actually command the palace’s cleaning crews on a day-to-day basis? No, he was busy running Hikone-han. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was beneath Lord Ii to sign his name Ii Kamon no-kami Naosuke.

It was an honor to be given a post within the Imperial Court and one that many samurai wore as a badge of honor and pride. Remember that through most of the Japanese civil wars it was still ostensibly ‘fact’ that the Emperor was divine. The wars to become Shogun was essentially Head Samurai, but on paper they were still subservient to the Emperor; kind of like being Prime Minister of a monarchy. On paper the King is the highest authority in the land, but really the Prime Minister runs the government.

Now as I said – each title was basically a post in the Imperial Court and was associated with a particular court rank. Hence why I bothered to tell you anything about that court rank. So you could be given the rank of Shugoku no Jou, or Secretary of the Prisons, only if you had the equivalent court rank of Senior Eighth Rank.

So if somebody wanted to then promote you to Assistant Director of the Department of Poetry, or the Uta no-suke, you would generally have to be promoted to the court rank of Senior Sixth Rank. That is not to say that in rare occasions it didn’t work without the dual promotion, but generally how it would work is you would be given a Court Rank and that would allow you to hold a position within that rank which you could hope to be given. If you did something meritorious and earned yourself a promotion to a higher court rank, you may be given a nicer title.

So lets take a look at Akechi Hidemitsu’s title…and that is not to say he was the only one known by this title. Many samurai were known to have held by the title of Samanosuke. Samanosuke can be translated several ways such as…Vice-Commander of the Left Stables, Lieutenant of the Left Cavalry Division, or Deputy Director of the Left Stable Department. Literally it comes out to mean Assistant Head of the Left Horses.

So we can assume that Hidemitsu held the court rank of Senior Sixth Rank, since that is the equivalent post within the court. Yamamoto Haruyuki, was known by the title of Kansuke; which near as I can tell means he was an Advisor. Kansuke translates as Giving Aid, formed of the characters Kan and Suke which mean Intuition or Perception and Assistant, respectively. So an Assistant of Intuition…or an Advisor.

Takayama Shigetomo was known as Ukon this means that he held a rank in the Ukan’e, the Palace Guards-Right Division. I don’t know his formal rank in the department, but that was the department his rank came from.

The prolific writer, Murasaki Shikibu gets her name from her father’s position within the Imperial Court: Shikibu no Daijo. Shikibu no Daijo means Senior Secretary of the Department of Ceremonies and in all likelihood he would signed his name as Fujiwara Shikibu no Daijo Tametomo.

At one point in his life the aforementioned Nobunaga was known as Oda Kazusa no-suke Nobunaga, or Lieutenant Governor of Kazusa Province. Proving that court titles really meant nothing…Nobunaga did not rule over Kazusa at any point in his life – as a matter of fact, it is unlikely he ever set foot in the province.

Similarly Nabeshima Naoshige held the court title of Echizen no-Kami, however that province was ruled by the Maeda family. Naoshige was a Ryuzoji retainer who defected to the Toyotomi when Hideyoshi came aboard Kyushu and was eventually given much of their territory for himself. The Ryuzoji lands were on the other side of the country from Echizen so its unlikely he ever even went there for a visit, even less likely he ran anything in the province. But he was still considered to be the governor of that province by the Imperial Court, which by this point in time had no real power to its name.

“I’m governor of where?
…never heard of it.”

So hopefully that helps you to better understand a bit about the Imperial Ranks and Titles that we throw around all the time. If you have any questions on a particular rank or title…or you just want to know more about court ranks and titles in general, let us know in the comments. You can also check out our last video which was answering a viewer question on how Japanese swords were made or check out the playlist of all of our other videos.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Japanese Swordmaking (Audience Request!)

We’re doing all kinds of new things with the new channel. New opening and ending animations, better outros, and now we’ve got a new thing: Question from the audience. Javacentral asks us the tried and true samurai history question: “How do they make katana?”

So today we’re going to do a neat little thing and use this video to explain the process, in simplified terms, of Japanese sword-making.

Now as a caveat, we’re going to talk about traditional manufacturing. If you’ve ever seen modern sword-making it is not very interesting. A bunch of sweaty Chinese men pull hot pieces of rebar out of a foundry and run it under an auto-hammer until they’re flat.

So the first thing we need to discuss is Tamahagane. Tamahagane literally translates as “Round Steel”, but figuratively it means gem-like steel. A common misconception is that Japanese steel is of exceedingly high quality, but in reality Japanese steel is very low quality. Unlike most European swords which were made by producing pig iron and then refining it and creating steel through that process Japanese steel is made from very low-quality magnetite iron sands, called satetsu.

Satetsu.

The satetsu is traditionally placed into a clay tub, called a tatara, and then mixed with a source of carbon, traditionally charcoal. However I have seen in modern times even traditional swordmakers using a large metallic foundry wherein the iron sands and charcoal are dumped into the top and the resulting tamahagane is pulled out from the bottom.

So the myth is that katana are so strong because they’re two, or even sometimes three, different types of steel folded multiple times over to create a steel-layered weapon. The truth is that Tamahagane is actually still a fairly low-quality steel. That is why the folding of multiples types of steel is done. Not because it makes Japanese swords the greatest steel, but because without it Japanese swords would be complete junk.

Traditional-style tatara furnace.

Before the age of katana the Japanese made swords more in line with the old Chinese style, the Tsurugi being the basic type of Japanese sword during the pre-Heian periods. Even in Heian periods the de facto samurai piece was the Tachi, a sword designed for use from horseback. The katana derives from this Tachi style, but it is still different in ways. Length, the way it is worn, the way it is used, etc.

It was during the Heian period that the katana first started to really become popular and then by the Muromachi period they were the standard side-arm of the samurai.

But back to how they’re made. You see the swordsmith takes the Tamahagane and separates it into two, or as I said sometimes three, distinct types. These types would be Hagane – hard steel, Shigane – soft steel, and the third type is Kawagane – medium steel.

So the lowest and cheapest swords would just have Hagane steel, folded a few times, and forged into a sword. This would be a junk blade for a peasant person or for a simple knife. Or more modern wall-hanger swords are said to be done in this style – hence why you really shouldn’t use the modern rat-steel blades for cutting purposes.

The steel could be layered in numerous different ways and each smith could be different in how big of a medium piece he used, how thick of a hard layer, whether the softer Shigane was placed on the sides of the blade, and so on.

In the end what you get is a bunch of hard steel, which retains its shape and holds an edge well, wrapped around a softer core center, which allows for flexibility and durability. These types of steel are then forge-welded together creating a compromise of sorts between the multiple types of steel. The edge is not so hard and sharp as an all-hard steel blade, but it also won’t shatter the first time you swing it. Likewise it is not so durable as an all-soft steel blade, but you’ll actually be able to use it to cut something.

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way…let’s go onto the next step. After the various pieces of Tamahagane are forged together the smith would then coat the blade in clay mud. He would use different thicknesses and mixtures of mud before performing the quenching process.

Clay on blade.

This is a big part of why the katana is shaped as it is. The back of the blade has a different clay on it than the front, causing the molecules of steel to react differently on the front of the blade than to the back. The clay-coated quenching process also creates the wavy line on the blade, called the Hamon.

Hamon – wave pattern on blade.

Once the forging and quenching is complete the blade would then be signed, by chiseling the smith’s signature into the tang of the blade.

With the tang signed, the blade is then polished using whetstones of varying degrees of coarseness. Eventually you wind up with the beautiful, brightly shimmering, katana.

So, like I said, this was a question submitted to us by Javacentral. If you want to see what they’re up to, they’ve got an interesting video on coffee in Japan which we have the link to. Check them out and don’t forget to subscribe for more Samurai Gaiden.

~RCS

Come Joins Us At Tekko 2017!

As some of you may already know I will be attending Tekko as a panelist again this year. I’ve got 5 panels…well 4 panels and a live show in one of the panel rooms. I welcome you all to attend and here’s the run-down of what I’m bringing to the convention this year:

-Friday, April 7th-

Noon Tekko Gakkou Room – Japanese Heraldry: The History of the Mon. We’ll discuss what Kamon are, how they were utilized, how they are still utilized, where you’ve seen them, and compare them to similar Western Ideas.

2:00pm 18+ Panel Room – How To Write MORE Dirty Stuff. All you adult-y type folks interested in writing, or simply laughing at me comment on sexy gifs, can join me in the 18+ Panel Room for a lesson on Writing Dirty. We’ll address purple language again briefly before touching on setting up a scene, fore and after play.

11:00pm Panel Room 1 – Samurai Gaiden Presents: Live Rakugo! My first ever live Rakugo performance (totally *not* nervous, BTW… 0_0 ). I’ll be giving some information about Rakugo, what it is, and how it works in between my three chosen stories: Xiahou Dun’s Eye, Botan Doro ‘Peony Lantern’, and the Gyurokushujo Monogatari ‘Tale of Orihime and Hikoboshi’.

-Saturday, April 8th-

1:30pm Workshop Room – The Art of Renga – Linked Verse Samurai Poetry Workshop. Come join us and make poetry with us! We’ll give a brief overview of Waka poetry, particularly the Tanka and Renga styles and then we’ll help you to produce Renga poetry together with us! Don’t have a pen or paper? Don’t be silly; free pens and notepads will be provided for the workshop at no cost to you.

4:00 pm Tekko Gakkou Room – Waka – The Classical Japanese Poetry of the Samurai. Did you know that poetry was one of the samurai warrior’s favorite pastimes? Come learn about the poetry of Japan including Tanka, Renga, Bussokusekika, and we’ll even touch on the redheaded step child of Waka: The Haiku.

If you aren’t already going to Tekko this year, maybe considering taking a trip this weekend and visiting with us in between panels. Also a surprising request was made of me this year: I *will* autograph copies of my book if you have one and approach me with it (between panels, of course).

~Rich

Escort: Kindle Sweepstakes

For those of you who have had an interest in my book Escort, but thought it was a little pricey…know that the Kindle edition has been price reduced to $2.99.

In celebration of that, and the fact that we’re trying to build our subscriber base on Samurai Gaiden, I’ve decided to open a sweepstakes.  All you have to do to enter is follow the link below and watch our video on Valentine’s Day in Japan.

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/66bf67e556ba7ee4

Good luck to those who enter and congrats for the lucky winner!  If you don’t win, feel free to buy a copy for yourself!

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Asano Nagaakira

I imagine by this point anyone with an interest in Japanese history has probably heard of the Chushingura – the tale of the 47 Ronin. The macguffin of the story is that Asano Naganori, the Lord of Ako, breaks the law and is punished and his retainers murder the man who offended Asano and caused him to break the law.

Well…we’re not talking about that today; that was just the elephant in the room we had to address because we are going to be talking about Naganori’s cousin…Asano Nagaakira.

nagaakira_asano

Asano Nagaakira (1586-1632)

Nagaakira was the son of Asano Nagamasa. Nagamasa was one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s higher retainers – what with being brother-in-law to Hideyoshi’s wife and all. He served in many of Toyotomi’s battles and even acted as the mediator to Tokugawa Ieyasu during the end of Komaki campaign. Following Toyotomi’s victory over the Hojo at Odawara, Nagamasa was given control over Fuchu in Kofu province, worth some two-hundred thousand koku.

Nagamasa was accompanied to Odawara by his eldest son, Asano Yukinaga – also known as Yoshinaga. They both also fought in the Korean campaigns for Toyotomi, serving under Kato Kiyomasa during the siege at Ulsan. In 1598 he was named as the senior-most member of the Go-Bugyo, the 5 Administrators of Japan tasked with keeping the government working efficiently after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death. Not to be confused with the 5 Regents, of course, he was step down from there.

Lo and behold, however, that two years later when things came to a head between Toyotomi’s son, Hideyori, and Tokugawa…both of Nagamasa’s son joined Tokugawa. This may have had something to do with the fact that the elder son, Yukinaga, narrowly avoided being implicated – and subsequently executed – in the controversy surrounding Hideyoshi’s relative and one-time heir, Toyotomi Hidetsugu.

And who saved Yukinaga? Well it was actually Maeda Toshiie, however I’m sure that nearly getting executed for being friendly acquaintances with your master’s nephew-in-law is not something that really brings you around to the master’s infant son.

Another point of conflict was supposedly the fact that Nagamasa was not exactly on friendly terms with Ishida Mitsunari. Nagamasa apparently believes the war in Korea had been going well when he was sent there, while Mitsunari believed it was going poorly and advised recalling the troops.

During the battle of Sekigahara, Yukinaga commanded troops on Tokugawa’s side, leading a sizable force of 6,500 troops in the battle. Nagaakira was also present under Yukinaga’s campaign and while Yukinaga was awarded lordship over Wakayama domain in Wakasa province. Nagaakira was then made a page for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s son and heir, Tokugawa Hidetada.

Nagaakira ruled his eventual domain from here - Hiroshima Castle.

Nagaakira ruled his eventual domain from here – Hiroshima Castle.

Now we segue a moment away from the Asano clan to touch on a member of the enemy force…

Apparently one of the daimyo of the pro-Toyotomi ‘Western Army’, Hideyoshi’s half-brother, Kinoshita Iesada was moved from his 40,000 koku domain of Himeji in Harima and given control of the smaller domain of Ashimori in Bitchu province – worth a little more than half his old domain, 24,000 koku.

What does Iesada have to do with Nagaakira? Well you see, first of all Iesada was of the defeated side, but Tokugawa Ieyasu respected the valorous deeds that Iesada committed while fighting him and so he was rewarded with only having his domain reduced, rather than being totally removed.

However Iesada died somewhere between 1603 and 1610 – several sources had different lifespans listed. It seems that Iesada’s son, Kagetoshi, who had been totally removed from his previous domain, was accused of treason and the Shogunate refused to let him or Iesada’s younger sons inherit the realm.

Ashimori was then given to Asano Nagaakira, making him a daimyo in his own right, now. Fast forward a mere three years when the elder son, Yukinaga, dies without an heir. Nagaakira, who now has some pretty potent connections – being Tokugawa Hidetada’s former page, being liked by Ieyasu…oh and did I mention he married Tokugawa Furihime – Ieyasu’s granddaughter, making him Ieyasu’s grandson-in-law.

I’m sure you can see where this is going…Nagaakira is made Yukinaga’s heir and he inherits the entire domain of his late brother. So when the Toyotomi were causing trouble again and everything was leading up to the the eventual Siege of Osaka it makes sense that the pro-Toyotomi folks came after the Asano clan to get its support. Of course Nagaakira has no reason to join them – sure his father was one of Hideyoshi’s favorites, but he has ascended to great heights under the Tokugawa shogunate. He’s even married into the shogunal family. So why would the Toyotomi even bother coming to him for support?

Well, one thing I may have neglected to mentioned earlier is that…Yukinaga, his brother, died under suspicious circumstances. And the suspected leader of the ‘let’s kill Yukinaga‘ conspiracy? Tokugawa Ieyasu. So needless to say, on the outside it looked like relations may have been strained between the Tokugawa and the Asano. I’ve read that Yukinaga’s official cause of death was kidney failure, however the official records were later changed to suggest he died of complications due to syphilis – apparently caused by his habit of amorous relations. Although I don’t know for sure if those were contemporary records or more modern records, the source was vague and…not a fully reliable one, to be fair.

The Battle of Kashii was part of the battles involved in the Siege of Osaka.

The Battle of Kashii was part of the battles involved in the Siege of Osaka.

It also seems that when Kato Kiyomasa was acting as a mediator between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori that Yukinaga was also there and was believed to be a Toyotomi supporter during the peace conferences

Of course, as anti-climactic as it may seem, Nagaakira remained loyal to the Tokugawa and took part in the Siege of Osaka. His forces were also the main defenders of the Battle of Kashii, which was the first battle of the Osaka Summer campaign.

In the battle Toyotomi-loyalist Ono Harunaga led a force of three-thousand to besiege Wakayama castle…Nagaakira’s home. Nagaakira was apparently able to determine that Harunaga only had three-thousand troops, while Nagaakira had five-thousand. So Nagaakira engaged the besiegers in the field near Kashii and, after killing two of Harunaga’s lieutenants in battle, the Asano army forced the Toyotomi loyalists to retreat.

During the actual siege of Osaka, Nagaakira participated in the Tokugawa force’s rearguard. Apparently throughout the campaign Nagaakira claimed to have taken 44 heads during the combined two years of battles.

After the completion of the Osaka campaign for his valor and loyalty Nagaakira was moved to Hiroshima domain in Aki province, worth a grand total of about 426,000 koku. You know…after it was removed from Fukushima Masanori’s control in 1619.

Asano Nagakoto (1842-1937)

Asano Nagakoto (1842-1937)

Hitler receiving the Chancellorship from President Hindenberg.

Hitler receiving the Chancellorship from President Hindenberg.

With the size of Nagaakira’s domain, it made him the sixth-largest daimyo

FDR won his second term in a landslide 523-8 in 1936.

FDR won his second term in a landslide 523-8 in 1936.

in the country, Tokugawa family not included. His family remained as the lords of Hiroshima for a total of twelve generations, until the domain was dismantled as part of the Meji Restoration at which point Nagaakira’s descendant – Asano Nagakoto – was named a Marquis and served as a member of Chamber of Elders and ambassador to Italy. Nagakoto was one of the last daimyo of Japan to die, living to the age of 96 and passing away in the year 1937. A man who ruled as a samurai daimyo lived to see Adolf Hitler elected Chancellor of Germany and FDR win a landslide victory for his second term in office.

 

And it all started with Asano Nagaakira succeeding his brother as Lord of Hiroshima and keeping loyal to his grandfather-in-law.

~RCS

 

SG: Yoshitomo Update

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you all know that on our new Samurai Gaiden channel I finally fixed the Minamoto no Yoshitomo video from last year that got absolutely buggered somewhere between editing and uploading.  You can find the new video below, on our YouTube Channel, or where the old Yoshitomo video used to be in the Samurai Gaiden playlist:

 

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Valentine’s Day in Japan (incl. Tanabata Story)

Aaah, the sweet smell of a rose. Well, okay actually this one is made from brass and the perfume that was on it when I bought it has since faded. But February is still the month of love, with Valentine’s Day coming in about a week and a half.

Oh, don’t give me that look…yeah it was kind of a cheap trick to do the story of Tadaoki and Garasha last year, but this time I’m going to do a legit Valentine’s day episode. And I figure…what better Valentine’s topic than…Valentine’s Day in Japan.

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Japanese Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day made its way to Japan in the late 1930s and it was actually marketed to Foreigners living in Japan. It wasn’t until the 1960s that an actual ‘tradition’ began to develop within the modern Japanese culture.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is a little bit different than here in America. Instead of men going out and buying their wives chocolate, cards, stuffed animals, and taking the ladies out on a fancy dates…in Japan it is the women who give chocolate to the men in their lives. And not just their spouses.

First of all it is basically just chocolate, the cards, stuffed animals and the like aren’t nearly as prominent in Japan. After the Christmas holiday has ended stores will start displaying raw chocolate and chocolate making kits – the idea being that the ladies are supposed to make their own chocolate, rather than just buy store-bought candy.

Secondly the chocolate is doled out to the people in the lady’s life in one of three styles: Giri-choco, honmei-choco, or the less popular tomo-choco.

Giri-Choco means Obligation Chocolate. It is given by women to their male peers – coworkers, fellow students, etc.

Honmei-choco is the True Feeling Chocolate or Favorite Chocolate. It is given by women to their spouses, boyfriends, or perhaps to a crush to show that they like him.

Finally, Tomo-Choco is Friendly Chocolate. It is supposed to be given from one girl to another to express a deep friendship and appreciation between the two ladies.

Now here is where we start to get really fun. Just like the over commercialized American version of Valentine’s Day, the Japanese candy makers came up with a great idea – “Let’s convince men to do Valentine’s Day, too!”

I’ve read that there was an attempt to get men to buy Marshmallows for the ladies who gave them chocolates, but it didn’t become very popular. In the 1980s the Japanese started to celebrate White Day, where men were supposed to return the favor by giving gifts to the ladies who gave them chocolate – Giri or Honmei – and on top of that it is considered unseemly to give a gift less than double the value of the chocolate.

Generally the men will either buy or make a chocolate dish for the women, usually out of white chocolate, hence the name of the day where men return the favor is called White Day. It is also acceptable for men to buy the ladies small gifts such as flowers, other types or candy, or just something neat…probably jewelry.

In America, as I said before, Valentine’s Day is often a day for big, fancy dates. But that is actually usually a part of the Christmas celebrations in Japan and Valentine’s Day is usually just an exchange of chocolate.

Now a similar day occurs in July during the Tanabata festival, which is based on an old Chinese festival called the Qixi Jie or Festival of the Two Sevens. Tanabata is just the Japanese pronunciation for Qixi, of course.

In the Heian period Empress Kokken adopted part of the Qixi Festival’s idea and created the Kikkoden or Festival to Plead for Skills. Although interestingly enough you can apparently translate that in a more literal fashion to wind up with Festival of the Begging Craftsman.

Anyway, the idea was that you would write little wishes on a piece of paper and offer them up to the Shinto deities – the idea being to ask for help or luck in improving your skills. Generally ladies asked for improvement in sewing or cooking and men asked for improvement in the manliest of skills…penmanship.

Which creates an interest paradox. If your penmanship is so bad the deities can’t read it…will they still help you or not?

Not quite this Orihime.

Not quite this Orihime.

Regardless, the story behind the celebration is of the Star-crossed lovers the

He's only a swordsman in Age of Ishtaria.

He’s only a swordsman in Age of Ishtaria.

Weaver and the Herdsman, Orihime and Hikoboshi. In the story the Weaver is the daughter of the sky king and was tasked with creating heavenly fabric every day of her life, on the banks of the Amanogawa – the Heavenly River. Amanogawa is, of course, a euphemism for the Milky Way.

 

The Sky King realizes that his daughter is sad and she explains that because all she does is work on the river’s edge, she can never find anyone to fall in love with and marry. The Sky King introduces her to the herdsman, Hikoboshi, who kept his herd on the other side of the river.

Orihime and Hikoboshi fall in love at first meeting and get married. Shortly thereafter the Sky King realizes that Orihime is spending all her time with Hikoboshi and has stopped producing the heavenly fabric. At the same time, Hikoboshi’s herd is left to wander all over heaven on their own with no herdsman to command them.

The Sky King angrily separates the two lovers, sending Hikoboshi back to his own side of the river and forbidding them to see each other any longer. Orihime was despondent at the loss of her love, though, and begged her father to let her see Hikoboshi, again. The Sky King eventually relented and made a caveat – if Orihime produced lots of heavenly fabric for him, then she could meet Hikoboshi once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month, hence Festival of the Two Sevens.

Orihime did as was expected of her, but on the 7th day of the 7th month when she went to the river to meet with Hikoboshi she found that her father had removed the bridge – possibly when he first forbade them from meeting. So she could not cross to Hikoboshi’s side and he could not cross to hers.

Orihime dropped to her knees on the bank of the Heavenly River and cried so hard that a flock of Magpies were moved by her sorrow and rose to the heavens, promising to carry her across the river. They formed a living bridge so that Orihime could walk across the river and meet with Hikoboshi.

So once a year the, literally star-crossed lovers, are able to meet. And the myth goes that…if it rains on Tanabata Day it is because the magpies were unable to form the bridge and it is the lovers’ tears at being forced to wait another year to meet.

tanabata-full-1185092

Well…that was, only slightly less depressing than Tadaoki and Garasha’s story. At least no one died in it. Although I’ve gotta say I would be a might bit tempted to throw the Sky King in the river and drown him if I was Orihime. But alas, Tanabata is certainly a more touching story to found your own version of Valentine’s Day rather than the modern interpretation of the holiday which is…basically to keep candy companies in business.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Hino Tomiko

A few months ago in America we had an election for a new President. The election basically boiled down to a contest between two factions, each supporting a chosen candidate. Voters essentially had to choose between two wealthy bourgeoisie financial people with a history of racist remarks, a lack of understanding for the common man, and accusations of political corruption. And each of their factions were headed up by moneyed interests – other wealthy bourgeoisie – who cared only about their own interests over that of the country as a whole.

You know what that kind of reminds me of? The Onin War.

You know, the war that arguably began the Sengoku Period where the Yamana and Hosokawa clans openly fought against each other and brought destruction to the capital. But where did it all begin?

The difference between the American election and the Onin War are that…in America we voted with ballots and in Japan they voted with spears and arrows.

But like everything in life it all started with a woman, as life is wont to do. And that woman in particular was Hino Tomiko.

tomiko2

Hino Tomiko (1440-1496)

Tomiko was the daughter of Hino Shigemasa. Shigemasa was Naidaijin during the reign of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The Hino clan, at the time, was a strong kuge family. It was arranged that Tomiko would marry the Shogun and so she became his wife at the age of 16, because that’s how political marriage works.

Four years after the marriage, Tomiko gave birth to her first child. Unfortunately the child died later that day. Tomiko, not wanting to be ostracized as infertile or anything and replaced as the Shogun’s wife decided to blame the child’s death on the wet-nurse, Imaimari no Tsubone. Tsubone was exiled to Oki island, upon lake Biwa, and she committed suicide before arriving.

Yoshimasa was a relatively lazy man, though, and really didn’t even want to be Shogun. He wanted to retire and make someone else rule for him. Since his son hadn’t survived infancy he decided to name his younger brother Yoshimi as his heir. The idea was that Yoshimi would be taken under Yoshimasa’s wing and would eventually ascend to the position of Shogun.

Tomiko did not like this idea, she wanted to be the wife of the Shogun and the mother to the next Shogun. Unfortunately being the mother of no one, meant that she had little say in her husband’s plans.

That is until a year after Yoshimasa had already put his plan in motion when Tomiko gave birth to a fancy new son. She pushed for Yoshimasa to halt his plan to enthrone his brother, and instead name their newly minted son as heir.

Reticent? No...plotting.

Reticent? No…plotting.

This caused factions to form within the capital. Yoshimi – the brother – was backed by the very powerful Hosokawa clan, while the young son – eventually named Yoshihisa – was naturally backed by Tomiko’s family, the Hino clan and also the strong Yamana family.

And thus we have the McGuffin for the Onin War. Eventually things degraded between the Yamana and Hosokawa to the point of all-out war, destroying much of the capital and setting up what eventually became the Sengoku Period.

The Onin War is often cited as the straw that broke the camel’s back and led the way for the Sengoku Period to begin. It showed that the Ashikaga Shogunate no longer had any of the real authority they once had and that they couldn’t control their underlings: The samurai daimyo of the outer provinces. And one could argue that it was all caused by an ambitious woman who wanted her son to be ruler of the nation. That woman was Hino Tomiko.

~RCS

One could also argue it was all caused by a lazy man, but this month’s story was about Tomiko so I ended on her name, instead of Yoshimasa’s. If you’d like to hear more about the finer details of the Onin War, then let us know in the comments. If there’s anything else samurai-related you’d like to learn about, let us know that, too.

Do Not Shop at Best Buy; Don’t Use BB Credit Card!!

Note: I had originally written this last year, but shelved it because I wanted to cool down a bit from the initial issue and make sure I wasn’t just venting.  But no, you folks deserve to know what Best Buy is doing and I hope I can save you all from having the same issue.

This is a warning to anyone who shops at Best Buy. I’ve done lots of shopping there, myself. I bought my Hauppage, most of the computers and laptops I’ve owned in the past decade, and numerous cables, cords, and hookups.

I recently bought a whole new computer system there: Laptop, Desktop, the Hauppage, and all the accouterments that were necessary. While checking out the awesomely helpful worker there offered us the chance to get a Best Buy credit card. We normally say no, but he sold us on the idea of the 5% cashback in store credit.

We were buying like $1,500 worth of stuff. Now, keep in mind that we have a credit card with rewards points that give us 1 point per dollar spent. We can get merchandise (we got a free Keurig a few years back from it), gift cards (1,100 points get $100 gift card), or cash back (6,000 points gets $50 in cash).

Because of the holiday season they were running a special where you’d get bonus points for purchases made during the time we were shopping. You got a $5 Best Buy gift card for every 250 points you acquired, which would normally require $250 in purchases. But with the bonuses they were running, we would get almost 7,000 points. We would only get 1500 points on our own credit card, enough for a $100 gift card…and not much else. But the points we would get from the Best Buy Credit Card would equal out to $135 in gift cards. Sure they were all from Best Buy, but there were a few things we planned to pick up from there in the future, anyway.

Our plan also included our usual trick: Pay the card off at the end of the month so that we don’t have to pay any interest. It’s a good trick; builds credit and gets you bonuses.

So we get everything home and put it all together, happy days. We went back and used the card again to buy a few more parts that we needed a couple weeks later, even. Then the bill comes. I try to log onto their website to pay the bill off…no go, there site is currently down. No problem I’ll try it again tomorrow.

The next day I try to log on; good news it’s working. I try to create an account…won’t let me. My password isn’t good enough. I spent over thirty-fucking-minutes trying to make a password that it found acceptable. I finally had a 38-character password with numbers, letters – both capital and lowercase, punctuation marks and thought I had finally achieved victory!

Password: “Wh@t do you want from m3 you stupid organization?”

Nope, sorry…your username isn’t strong enough.

Browser closed, I’ll do it tomorrow.

So after a couple of days to get my brain back in order and gather some holy artifacts from the Vatican, Mecca, Sri Lanka, and the ruined tombs under a Temple of Ammon-Ra, I kidnapped some virgins to sacrifice and after another 30-plus minute tirade of tries I managed to create a password and username combination that it finally found acceptable.

Well apparently one of my sacrificial virgins wasn’t untouched enough, because when I tried to log on…site froze. Crashed my whole browser. I’ve only got a few more days to pay the damn bill. I’ll try one more time…nope, site’s down; crashes and won’t let me log in.

Fuck it, I’ll do it the old person way – I mean, the old fashioned way.

I write them a check and pay it off it in full. Mission complete, plan success. Now just have to wait until I get the e-mail with my gift cards in it. I was told they would be e-gift cards, that was no problem.

They didn’t come. Also started getting weird phone calls, people calling several times a day…no actual messages, just heavy breathing and the occasional bit of background chatter between people on the line. Looked up the number…a few people claim it might be Best Buy credit services. Most people claim that doesn’t make sense, because they don’t have a Best Buy credit card; number has a 65% scammer rating.

Then another number starts calling. Same thing, they claim to be Best Buy credit services, but this one has an 83% scammer rating online. No go, fellow. Then a third number starts calling, same thing as the other two.

I need a cable or something else small and electronic, so I head to Best Buy and pick it up. I could use a new microphone for the Samurai Gaiden videos, too, want to see if they have lapel mics; they do not, by the way.

I figure I’ll use the credit card again. Come to find I have a balance on it. It matches the same amount as we spent on those couple of little things I bought a couple weeks after we got the computers. They must not have been on the first bill.

No problem…I’ll pay it when the bill comes. We got the card in October, it’s now November, I’ll get another bill either late this month or early December. Hmm…no bill in December. Come to think of it…no gift cards, either. Better go into the store and see what’s up, right?

No problem, because the holidays have a super-long return policy it’s delaying everything. You see, the holidays have a 90-day return policy instead of just the normal 30-day policy, but if they let you have the gift cards after 30 days like normal…you could buy $4,000 worth of stuff and get hundreds of dollars in gift cards and then return all the stuff you bought for a full refund and then keep the gift cards.

Try logging in the website again to see what the balance is, maybe? Yeah sure, I’ll try that. Site’s down, it freezes up and locks everything up. Maybe I should try another browser? Good, the other browser doesn’t lock up the whole system…it just doesn’t go anywhere. Hit the log-in button and it just sits there and has a spinney icon on it for twenty-straight minutes. Well, beautiful, their site is a piece of shit. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow?

December…January…February…maybe I should head back in to the store and see what I can do there? I seem to remember the salesman telling me that if all else failed I could pay it off in the store. Go in there and the nice lady at customer service gives me a blank fucking look and says, “Sorry, the card is actually issued through Citibank, you can only charge on it here, you have to go into a Citibank or call them to get any issues with the card sorted out. Our you could go on to their website.”

“There website is down every time I try it. It just freezes and locks up, I’ve even tried different browsers on different computers.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to call them. I can give you a number. But since it’s Friday afternoon, they’re all gone and you’ll have to wait until Monday, I’m sure.”

It is now mid-march and I have just finally gotten the damn thing sorted out. They never sent me a bill, they reported me to credit agencies for not paying these nonexistent bills, and they charged me hundreds of dollars in late fees and interest! They also apparently sold my number to a bunch of scammers, because I now get called several times a day by these scam numbers. I finally got the website to work just long enough to get everything paid off.

And now, finally, at least I can use my gift cards now that I’ve got all that fixed up. The customer service lady told me I can go onto the Best Buy website and see them, even if the e-mails aren’t showing up.

Okay, lets see how many gift cards we’ve got. Let’s see what the website says…

“I’m sorry, your $135 in gift cards have expired. You currently have one, single $5 gift card…but if you spend $1,500 more dollars in the 2016 calendar year, you’ll become an Elite member!”

Fuck you Best Buy. Fuck you and your deal with Citibank. Fuck you both. I will never do business with you again, I will advise everyone I know not to business with you, and I will do everything within my power to keep people from doing business with you. You are a shitty company and I wish I had never shopped at your establishments. And I’m going to make damn sure I never make that mistake again.

You fucked me, hard; it won’t happen again.

~RCS

I can’t tell you exactly how many hundreds of dollars they charged me in interest and late fees, because when I alt+tabbed over to my word processor to start this post the site auto-logged me out. And I don’t intend on ever logging back in.

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