Samurai Gaiden: Manabe Rokuro and Sugitani Zenjubo

This month we decided to get a little silly and talk about Ninjas.  We won’t do that very often because otherwise we would become…Ninja Gaiden.

If you don't get the joke, you don't understand how bad of a game it was.

If you don’t get the joke, you don’t understand how bad of a game it was.

So by now we’ve mentioned Oda Nobunaga quite a few times. We all know that he was a small daimyo from Owari province, he defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto at Okehazama, he was fairly accepting of Christians and used them to help tear down the militant Buddhist sects, let’s see…he was somewhat of an equal opportunity employer before that was even a thing, he was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide in 1582 at Honnoji, and he had several assassination attempts against him before that.

Wait…we haven’t really talked about any of those have we? We’ve only talked about Akechi’s betrayal. But did you know that one of the major enemies Oda Nobunaga fought against were the infamous, clandestinely-skilled…ninja?

Well you’re about to.

I told you we were getting a little silly.

I told you we were getting a little silly.

We’re going to touch on two people in this episode, because their stories are both kind of short…and are also both connected by a common theme. And that theme is trying to assassinate Oda Nobunaga.

Now what’s gotten me onto this subject? Has anyone ever played Inindo: Way of the Ninja? This KOEI game, long before they merged with Tecmo, was about an Iga ninja apprentice who has just graduated to the rank of Genin in the early 1580s.

Inindo-jp-cover

The game starts off with your character, the Ninja, being forced to flee as Nobunaga invades Iga province and lays waste to the various ninja clans within. It then quickly becomes 1582 and your character watches as Nobunaga escapes from Akechi’s betrayal, a theme KOEI would revisit over a decade later in the game where you actually play as Nobunaga: Kessen III.

Inindo-way-of-the-ninja-snes-screenshot-cut-scenegfs_40241_2_3 The game was interesting in that it had two paths…if you were over level 5 by the time you left the first dungeon and witnessed Honnoji you would get a cinematic of seeing a bandage up and badly wounded Nobunaga leaving the temple. If you were under level 5, then you would instead only see Nobunaga from a distance. This also changed what kind of enemies you would fight later in the game.

The rest of the game you try to help other daimyo to eventually grow more powerful and fight against Nobunaga, in order to avenge the Iga ninja clans.

So…why does an old game make me want to talk about that stuff right now? Because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Inindo’s release under its original Japanese title, Inindo: Datou Nobunaga.

Manabe Rokuro (??-1573)

Manabe Rokuro (??-1573)

The first person we’re going to talk about is Manabe Rokuro. Rokuro served the Hatano family of Tanba. The Hatano were defeated by Nobunaga’s best friend in the whole wide world…Akechi Mitsuhide. The story goes that Akechi negotiated the Hatano’s surrender, but Nobunaga reneged on his deal to spare the Hatano brothers and had them executed, most likely via crucifixion.

So, in 1573, after the Hatano’s fall one of the Hatano retainers sent Rokuro to Nobunaga’s capital, Azuchi. Rokuro snuck into the castle with the intent to stab Nobunaga to death in his sleep. Sadly for him, a pair of Nobunaga’s guards discovered Rokuro and gave chase.

Rokuro attempted to escape the castle, having failed his mission. But he was trapped, about to be captured by Nobunaga’s guards.

He drew forth his blade and committed suicide. Nobunaga was awakened later in the morning and informed of the incident. He had Rokuro’s body prepared and displayed in the market place of Azuchi as a reminder that assassins were not real popular in Nobunaga’s bed chambers.

Sugitani_ripped

Sugitani Zenjubo (??-1573)

Now, a story that’s a little closer to Inindo’s plot is the story of Sugitani Zenjubo. Supposedly a member of the legendary “53 Families of Koga” he is rumored to have been the lord of a castle, or a captain under the command of Saiga Magoichi, or even a commander for the militant religious sect from Negoro Temple. I even read a suggestion that he worked as a bounty hunter and was nicknamed ‘Hunter Sugitani’. I find the last idea a little silly, but either way he seemed to be from Omi.

Regardless of who or what he served, Sugitani was a master marksman. In a day when smoothbore, black powder muskets were the newest, neatest idea and a spear backed up by a bow and arrow was still the norm, being an accomplished sniper is a pretty significant feat.

Generally ‘sniping’ was an elite thing back in the day that consisted of getting away from the main force and getting within a more effective range, often ambushing the enemy or sneaking around their vanguard forces; often from an elevated position. Umm…okay, so almost exactly like modern sniping, but at relatively shorter ranges. A modern sniper rifle has an accurate range that is further than the maximum range of the guns of Sugitani’s day.

Sugitani climbed up a tree and loaded two arquebuses. He lit the fuses and sat in the tree, waiting for his target to come into range. The moment came and Nobunaga appeared, wearing Portuguese-style, plate-breast armor referred to as Nanban-do; that is Southern Barbarian Armor.

This armor was often sold with dents in it to prove that it was bullet-proof. Of course who’s to say the dents weren’t made with a hammer and the bullet resistance was falsely assumed?

Well, in Nobunaga’s case at least, it was legit. Sugitani fired the first arquebuse and hit Nobunaga in the chest, then he dropped the arquebuse and picked up the second one. He touched off the match and fired the second shot, hitting Nobunaga in the chest, again.

nanbando

The armor stopped both bullets.

Realizing his opportunity was squandered Sugitani fled the tree and attempted to escape from Nobunaga’s angry forces. However, unlike Manabe Rokuro, Sugitani succeeded in getting away.

Sugitani was a wanted man and four years after he shot Nobunaga, twice, one of Nobunaga’s retainers, Isono Kazumasa is said to have found and arrested Sugitani around Amidaji Temple in Omi province.

Sugitani was brought before his target and Nobunaga ruthlessly sentenced him to execution by beheading. But there was more to it than a simple slash at the neck.

A deep hole was dug out by the roadside and Sugitani was buried up to his neck. The dirt was packed tight so that he couldn’t move, just loose enough that he could breath. A dull-bladed bamboo saw was then placed nearby.

Passersby were then given the ability to make a few heaves with the saw, against his neck; some sources suggest after paying a small fee for the chance, others omit that fact so it’s hard to say if it was free ‘entertainment’ or not.

James Clavell used this punishment for his character Ishido, based on Ishida Mitsunari, in the novel Shogun.

Not pictured: Anyone even remotely named Ishido.

Not pictured: Anyone even remotely named Ishido.

In the end, Sugitani lived for three days while people sawed away at his neck. Quite the unpleasant way to go.

So I guess the morale of the story is…if you’re going to try to kill Oda Nobunaga: Bring a whole army with you. Otherwise you die and…well, wait Akechi was killed in battle two weeks after Honnoji.

Okay, so morale of the story is…don’t kill Oda Nobunaga. You will get killed back.

~RCS

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