The Solution To Apu

The recent kerfluffle about Apu thanks to Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, The Problem With Apu, has had some ups and downs; mostly downs. I’ve read a few articles and opinions on it – including praising the fact that Apu is actually, at least for a Simpson’s character, a nuanced and well-developed character as far as South Asian characters go. I’ve also read a lot that gripe about his representation and how it affects American culture – particularly how shitty we act in other countries (sometimes it seems like the people who can afford to travel are the worst kinds of people).

Hank Azaria, the voice of Apu, recently came out saying that he has no problem stepping aside from voicing Apu and would like to see actual South Asian writers coming into the writing room to give a more legitimate direction for Apu.

But changing something like could be a big issue or a lot of people, not jus the racists – anything with a solid enough fan base will receive backlash for making any kind of change, especially one as big as that.

Azaria said the phrase “I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new.

Well I think this is the perfect opportunity to do just that. And Simpson’s writers – here’s a free idea to try it out with:

Have Apu go in for surgery on his septum. I know two different people who had a deviated septum surgically repaired and it changed their voices.

So have Azaria voice Apu through the first half of the episode, go under the knife, and come out with a new Indian voice actor playing the role.

In the heart of Simpson throw-away gags, you could simply replace Azaria with a new voice actor and when Homer comes into the Kwik-E-Mart to buy something there’s just a new actor playing Apu. When Homer mentions his voice has changed have him simply say, “I recently had a deviated septum repaired and it has changed my voice. For the better, I think.”

You could even give a nod to how people were upset that Lisa was used as the voice of ‘Can’t change a racist caricature just because people are suddenly politically correct’ and have her in there at the time of the scene. As Homer walks out have her look at the audience (as if looking at Apu) and give a thumbs up and/or a wink.

You could even play it off as having Apu smile awkwardly and then look behind him as if trying to figure out who she was winking to.

That’s what I’d propose if I was in the writing room on the Simpsons, at least. Which by the way…I’m willing to do. 😉


Veteran’s Day: 2017


This year I decided to do something a little different to honor Veteran’s Day. My long-time followers (hi both of you!) might already know that I generally honor Veteran’s Day with humor; I figured a playful little set of Soldier: 76 Play of the Games from Overwatch would be a fun way to celebrate this year.

And as always, my fellows who are serving, have served, and may serve in the future: There is no greater honor than knowing you are out there on watch.

Also, GameJutsu starts, in earnest, on Monday the 13th with Episode 2.  Expect weekly releases, every Monday at 0730 hours — err, that’s 7:30am for you civvies.

Samurai Gaiden: Inatomi Sukenao


In the year 1542 Portuguese matchlock firearms made their way, via shipwreck, to Tanegashima island. Many warlords and their samurai retainers gained renown for their way of using these new firearms, such as the Saiga and Oda clans.

But few samurai could claim to have founded their own gunnery dojo. Today we’ll talk about just one such individual – the arguable founder of the Inatomi-ryu school of gunnery, Inatomi Sukenao.

Inatomi Sukenao (1552-1611)

Sukenao was born near the capital city of Kyoto in 1552 and would have matured into adulthood in the late 1560s, which was about the time when Oda Nobunaga made his way into that region. Sukenao was the son of a no-name samurai named Inatomi Naohide, but that made him the grandson of Inatomi Sukehide.

Sukehide was said to have trained in gunnery arts with Sasaki Yoshikuni and developed a unique style of gunnery tactics. Sukehide also formed a foundry specializing in casting firearms, and particularly large ones that we commonly refer to as…cannon.

The Inatomi were hereditary vassals of the Isshiki clan of Tango province. When the Hosokawa family conquered the Isshiki in 1578, Sukenao would have been 26 years old. With Tango province being handed over to the Hosokawa the Inatomi family became Hosokawa vassals.

Now you see, Sukenao was the third generation cannon-maker. He had trained with his grandfather in what was to become known as the Inatomi-ryu school of Gunnery Martial Arts. Historical records seem to have differing accounts on who founded the school – Sukenao or his grandfather Sukehide – but they all seem to agree that Sukehide laid the framework that Sukenao built upon.

Sukenao was a bit of a strange fellow in his own right, it seems. He supposedly had a habit of wearing two suits of armor, one on top of the other, earning him the nickname Ni-ryo Gusoku or Two Collar Armor. Which is weird, but not the first time I’ve heard of that. You might remember when we were talking about the aftermath of the first Battle of Uji there was a giant of a warrior monk who wore two suits of armor as well.

Sukenao started his service, like his father and grandfather, as a samurai of the Isshiki clan of Tango province. However in 1578 the Oda clan came a-knocking on the Isshiki door. Hosokawa Fujitaka, with his son whom we’ve mentioned before – good ‘ol psychopath Tadaoki – were the leaders of the invasion.

The Isshiki were defensively strong, having once been a prominent clan of the realm, they were able to mostly hold the Hosokawa forces at bay. Oda Nobunaga sent Akechi Mitsuhide, back when they were still on good terms, to aid the Hosokawa. After Akechi’s arrival one of the Isshiki’s vassals, the Nuta, betrayed them and defected to the Oda.

Between Akechi’s reinforcements and the Nuta’s betrayal the Isshiki leader, Yoshimichi, was caught up in his castle as Yumiki. When the castle fell, Yoshimichi committed seppuku, leaving what remained of the Isshiki clan to his son, Yoshisada.

By the way I’ve also seen Yumiki Castle as Yumi Castle and Yuminoki Castle. Sukenao participated in the defenses at Yumiki and some accounts suggest he was in charge of the garrison defending the castle and is said to have continued to fight the Oda with a small cadre of gunnery soldiers. Impressed with his determination and courage they offered him the chance to defect as well and he agreed, becoming a samurai of the Hosokawa clan – serving our favorite nutjob, Tadaoki.

It was during this time under the Hosokawa that the Inatomi-ryu school of gunnery really started to pick up. With a wealthy, influential patron who had connections to the capital and Oda Nobunaga’s favor a gun school was a pretty solid investment.

One story posits Sukenao as sitting in a teahouse and being annoyed by the squawking of birds on the roof. He acquired his gun, aimed at the rooftop, and fired, hitting a bird without damaing the roof. The rest of the birds, presumably, were awed by his marksmanship and departed the roof.

Now, it was most likely under Tadoaki then, that he participated in the Korean invasions during the Imjin War. He was apparently a participant at Kato Kiyomasa’s Ulsan Castle defenses – well probably the capture of Ulsan before that, too.

Sukenao was one of the men tasked with guarding Tadaoki’s wife, Garasha, who was a political prisoner of the Toyotomi in Osaka castle. We’ve spoken before about what happened in 1600 when Ishida Mitsunari attempted to gather political hostages from amongst those within Osaka castle. But long story short, Garasha, bid one of her guardians to kill her to prevent Ishida from taking her captive to use against Tadaoki. Or, as we mentioned in that same story, the guards may have been under Tadaoki’s orders to kill Garasha if she was in danger of being captured.

Sukenao was part of the group of guards that were holding Ishida’s men at bay long enough for Garasha’s death to take place. Once she was dead, he and a few of his cronies decided…no point in sticking around, and like Sir Robin before them, they bravely ran away – they did.

Because of his abandonment of his post, Tadaoki came to distrust and resent Sukenao. There may be some indication he wanted Sukenao dead – which is actually kind of likely given the stories I’ve read about Tadaoki.

Sukenao, thus, was made a ronin after either fleeing Tadaoki’s wrath or being fired by Tadaoki. In all likelihood he probably never returned to the Hosokawa after abandoning his post. Tokugawa Ieyasu vouched for him though, because he wanted to ensure the Inatomi school of gunnery continued and he probably wanted to make sure that the Toyotomi rebels didn’t get that kind of information and training on their side. So Ieyasu arranged for Sukeano to serve his fourth son, Matsuidaira Tadayoshi. Tadayoshi was given control over the Owari domain of Kiyosu, worth some 520 thousand koku.

Unfortunately for Sukenao, Tadayoshi was wounded during the fighting at Sekigahara. He died in the year 1608 at the age of 28. His younger brother, Tokugawa Yoshinao, was given control of his lands and Sukenao was permitted to remain within the domain and transfer his employment to Yoshinao.

I’m not totally sure on the specifics but at some point within the Owari domain he adopted his elder sister’s son, Inatomi Hideaki, because he had no children of his own. Around this time he is said to have had a dream that led him to take the tonsure, become a Buddhist monk, and travel to Rikuji temple.

Sukenao died in the year 1611, passing the Inatomi clan onto his nephew whom he had adopted. And apparently that trend continued as Hideaki died without heir and passed the clan onto his younger brother, Hidetaka somewhere between 1645 and 1648.

Some places in Japan still celebrate the Inatomi-ryu’s Gun Corps and school of marksmanship with displays of marksmanship and re-enactments to this day.

Samurai Gaiden: Hatamoto

Note: Watch the video…you get to see me in costume in crude Viking armor with a silly axe.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a game by a little Indie group called Logic Artists. It was called Expeditions: Conquistador wherein you played as a Spanish Conquistador sent to 15th century Central America. Along with you was your Hermandad, a group of your most trusted supporters.

Well Logic Artists have recently released a new game in the Expeditions series…Expedition: Vikings. And that is why those of you following me on social media have seen very little of me over the past month.

In Vikings you have a Hird with you, which is your most trusted supporters amongst your tribe of Scandinavian warriors. These Hirdsmen are the characters you will travel through Denmark and the British Isles with – they are your only supporters when you cross the ocean as a Viking.

So…were there similar ideas to the Hermandad or the Hird in Japan?

Of course there were. They were called Hatamoto.

Hatamoto literally means Under The Banner, denoting someone who would be nearby you in a military camp i.e. someone ‘Under Your Banner’. You see Hata means flag or banner and Moto, of course, means underneath or at the base of.

Hermandad, as I mentioned from Conquistador, means Brotherhood and can easily be compared to the Italian term Fraternity. Hermandads were essentially groups of vigilantes who took up arms to protect the local populaces of Iberia from the Moors. One theory is that they actually modeled themselves off the Shurta, an Islamic peacekeeping force of the post-Mohammed Muslims. I find this ironic since they were Christian Spaniards who, ostensibly, were protecting fellow Christian communities from invading Muslims…by acting like the Muslim police.

A good example of a Hermandad in contemporary media is actually, strangely enough, Kurosawa’s epic film Seven Samurai. In the movie a group of, you guessed it, seven samurai gather together to protect a village from bandits. This would be a Japanese version of a Hermandad.

As for the Viking version of things, a Hird was a group of a Scandinavian lord’s closest personal retainers. You may have heard of Huscarls – that is Freemen of the House. Freemen of course referring to the fact that they were not slaves and the house referring to the immediate household of the lord in question. Huscarls were also known as Hirdsmen, members of a lord’s Hird – his household. This is because in Scandinavian societies lords would often have large houses, hence the term longhouse, where their immediate family and servants would live in the longhouse with them. If not inside, then they would often live very nearby. So someone who lived in the lord’s house and served the lord and his family could be a member of his Hird.

So I told you all that to tell you this…Hatamoto were similar to Hermandads and to Huscarls, but they were not the same. The Hatamoto were the closest retainers of a daimyo. They may be family members or just clansmen from a family who had served loyally, perhaps for very a long time.

In our story of Minamoto no Yoshitomo’s betrayal of his father and brothers, the two men I mentioned who carried out his deeds: Kamada Masakiyo and Hadano Yoshimichi – they would be similar to Yoshitomo’s hatamoto. Minamoto no Raikou’s four chief retainers – Watanabe, Usui, Urabe, and Sakata would be his hatamoto.

Of course…in the times of both Yoshitomo and Raikou, they wouldn’t have been called Hatamoto. They would have been Gokenin – Housemen, stemming from Goke which means house and Nin which means person. Aha, see the similarities between the Gokenin and the Hirdsman?

Now one thing to note is that there was another, similar term: Kenin. Kenin were retainers, indentured servants of a household who were in a classification above slaves. Sometimes the honorific prefix ‘Go’ was attached to the word Kenin, turning it into Go-Kenin…which basically meant ‘Prestigious House Man.’ At times these two version of Gokenin are apparently used somewhat interchangeably but once you start getting into the later Heian periods and into the Sengoku the Go-Kenin version really doesn’t apply to the type of people who eventually evolved into the Hatamoto. Most hatamoto were free men of samurai status, or even daimyo in their own right, not indentured servants of a prestigious house.

Technically speaking, the Gokenin were the retainers who served the Kamakura and Muromachi Shoguns directly. The Gokenin acted on the authority of the Shoguns and could collect taxes, gather and field an army, and spend on public works as they saw fit – in the Shogun’s name and on what was theoretically the Shogunate’s lands.

So eventually the Gokenin gave way to the Hatamoto – the closest retainers of a daimyo, any daimyo. As I said, technically speaking the Gokenin served the Shogun directly; but Hatamoto could serve anyone. In the game series Total War: Shogun a general and lords have a slew of elite armored cavalry guarding them – the game refers to these horsemen as the lord’s Hatamoto.

Technically the term Hatamoto could refer to anyone working within the lord’s command tent; the person in charge of lord’s camp guards was the Honjin-Hatamoto.

Eventually as we get into the Edo period Hatamoto became the title for the closest retainers of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Tokugawa Hatamoto were mostly the retainer families who had served Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Matsudaira clan before that, when he was in Mikawa and stayed with him when he moved to the Kanto. Clans like the Ii, Honda, and Sakakibara.

Hatamoto were generally given lands surrounding the Tokugawa’s own domain. This is because they were expected to be the most loyal and dedicated to the Tokugawa cause. This created a buffer zone between the Tokugawa and the Fudai, the Inner Lords who had supported Tokugawa at Sekigahara but did not have the tenure under the Tokugawa to be hatamoto. Clans such as the Maeda, Kuroda, and Hosokawa.

Outside of the Fudai were the Tozama, daimyo and their clans who fell in line after Sekigahara but were either neutral in the fighting or had actually supported the enemy during the battle. Clans such as the Shimazu, Mori, and Tachibana.

Just like the various levels of daimyo, there were also various levels to the Hatamoto. On the higher end you had Hatamoto who were promoted to daimyo-level status like the Ii and Honda clans which held over 150,000 koku domains each. When Hatamoto held daimyo titles, meaning they had more than 10,000 koku worth of land, they were often placed into the Fudai Daimyo classification; because they were no longer Hatamoto – they ruled their own lands, now.

Legitimate Hatamoto would, essentially, make less than 10,000 koku per year. Beneath them was a class that utilized a term we’ve already heard before: Gokenin. Only now, these two terms mean something much different than when they were first introduced.

Gokenin and Hatamoto were both direct retainers of the Shogunate, however Hatamoto were the higher-class and were granted permission to request an audience with the Shogun. If they were in town and dinner was held, they could presumably sit in the hall with the Shogun as one of his retainers. Gokenin, however, did not have such permission and were not allowed audiences with the Shogun.

That is not to say that Hatamoto were always better off than Gokenin…but a Hatamoto was likely to have higher income, more control of their lands, and more chances for promotion. Even so, I’ve read that during the Edo period nearly a quarter of the Hatamoto ranks were destitute.

There is a term describing how powerful the Hatamoto and the Gokenin were – numerically speaking, of course. The Tokugawa utilized the term Hatamoto Hachimanki or the Eighty Thousand Shogunal Retainers. In reality there were likely only around six-thousand Hatamoto during the Edo period and about 20,000 Gokenin; at their most numerous.

For a smaller daimyo their hatamoto would consist of their most ardent personal retainers, much like the Hirdsmen of Expeditions: Viking are to your main character.


This is where I’ve been!

Samurai Gaiden: Battle of Kizakihara (1572)

If you’ve been watching Samurai Gaiden for a while, I’m sure you’re rather familiar with the battle of Okehazama. In the year 1560 the relatively weak warlord Oda Nobunaga was invaded by the powerful warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto. However in the plains of Okehazama Nobunaga brought about a resounding surprise victory over Yoshimoto ending the political aspirations of the Imagawa and cementing Nobunaga’s dominance over the area. Two-thousand Oda soldiers versus twenty-thousand Imagawa soldiers!

If you’ve played Onimusha you’ve at least seen a representation of Okehazama, as I mentioned in the Akechi Samanosuke video which I’ll link to in the description.

But what about the Okehazama of Kyushu, as one particular battle is sometimes called? Let’s talk about that battle today…the Battle of Kizakihara, Kyushu’s very own Okehazama

Battle of Kizakihara (1572)

So here’s the set up. Ito Yoshisuke has secured himself the rulership of the Ito clan from his brother, Sukemitsu in the year 1533. He then went about expanding the influence of the Ito clan, bringing it to new heights not seen since they were first founded by Fujiwara Korekimi in the Heian period.

This, of course, brought him into conflict with the neighboring Shimazu clan, ruled by Shimazu Takahisa.

Yoshisuke had also gone to the capital and presented a pretty good case for the Ito, winning himself the court rank of Jusan’i –Junior 3rd Rank.

Yoshisuke was certainly a good daimyo; a qualified commander and good political backstabber. When the Kitahara and Hongo clans were at war he sided with the Kitahara – however when the Kitahara suffered a succession dispute Yoshisuke was quick to swallow them up.

Their master Kitahara Kanetaka fills up about half a sentence in history books, his most notable feat being murdered by an Ito retainer.

Ito Yoshisuke (1512-1585)

So like I said before, Yoshisuke has made a case for the Ito in the Imperial Court and spent some time in Kyoto. After seeing the pomp and luxury of the capital he decided to start styling himself like a courtier, rather than a common samurai. He had begun dressing like a courtier and was living a luxurious lifestyle, having placed his relative, Ito Sukeyasu in charge of his army.

The Ito had allied with the Sagara, the Kimotsuki, and the Nejime…effectively surrounding the Shimazu on three sides.

Yoshisuke began encroaching on Shimazu territory and made the war pretty official by invading and capturing Obi castle in southern Hyuga. With the Sagara taking territory from the Shimazu on the north, the Kimotsuki from the south, and the Ito from the east…Shimazu Takahisa had to do something. Especially since his uncle, Shimazu Tadachika had died as a result of the Ito and Kimotsuki capturing Obi castle.

Shimazu Takahisa went about beating back the Kimotsuki and Nejime first, securing a strong base in Osumi province. With the Kimotsuki threat nullified for the moment he made preparations for a battle against the Ito. His armies moved into position at the Osumi-Hyuga border, however Takahisa died before the fighting could begin.

Just a quick council meeting to compose poetry, before we ride out and slaughter a numerically superior force!

Now I believe that Takahisa had already retired in favor of his eldest son years before his actual death, but there is some reason to believe that his death could be a weak point for the Shimazu side.

So there it was…Takahisa’s second son, the indomitable Shimazu Yoshihiro leading three-hundred Shimazu soldiers on the Osumi side of the Kizakihara and Ito Sukeyasu commanding three-thousand soldiers on the Hyuga side of the field.

Now for your own reference if you’re planning on looking up more information on the battle, it is sometimes called Kizakibaru – same characters in Japanese, just different way to pronounce them.

So on the fields of Kizakihara we have the Shimazu outnumbered ten to one. Yoshihiro is somehow able to convince the Ito forces that they have a larger army than they really do.

Shimazu Yoshihiro (1535-1619)

Sukeyasu is too concerned to give straight out battle to them so he withdraws from the field and wages a surprise night attack on Yoshihiro’s nearby fort of Kakuto. Yoshihiro split his army into 3 parts…

One unit assembled of about 60 men reinforced Kakuto fort, while another unit of 40 gunners took a position behind the Ito army some distance away from the fighting. They laid in wait.

Yoshihiro then led the majority of his forces, around 130 men, around Sukeyasu’s formation and attacked him from behind. Yoshihiro proved himself a brave commander in the fighting, but when Sukeyasu turned his army around and put the brunt of his significant numbers against the Shimazu, Yoshihiro called for a retreat.

Sukeyasu, seeing victory within his grasp, chased Yoshihiro’s army. As Sukeyasu’s army was just about to catch up to Yoshihiro’s forces, the arquebusiers opened fire into Sukeyasu’s forces, throwing them into disarray.

I imagine Ito Sukeyasu looking far more confused than he does in this artist’s rendition.

The pursuit was finished. But Yoshihiro was quick to turn his main force around and charge into Sukeyasu’s confused army. Before Sukeyasu could get his army coordinated enough to wage a proper counter offensive to Yoshihiro’s…originally counteroffensive, the forces sent to reinforce Kakuto fort rushed out and attacked Sukeyasu from an unprotected flank.

Sukeyasu, though outnumbering the Shimazu forces badly, was now engaged on three flanks. Yoshihiro is a pretty impressive commander, I must say, to have surrounded a force ten times his size. In the process his army actually manages to overtake the Ito command center, killing several prominent Ito generals; including Ito Sukeyasu, himself.

Instructions: How to surround 3,000 soldiers with only 300 of your own.

In the end the Ito army was routed and fled back to Yoshisuke in utter defeat. The Ito clan would never again reclaim their lost prosperity. Within two years the Shimazu would subjugate the Nejime, a branch of the Kimotsuki, and forced the Sagara to remain on the defensive. Shimazu Yoshihiro would take the opportunity to actually recapture some of the Ito-held lands.

Yoshisuke would be defeated again by the Shimazu at Takabaru in 1576 and then again at Tozaki-Kamiya the year after that. In the end the Shimazu would conquer the Ito and Yoshisuke would while away the rest of his life in Kyoto, eventually dying in the city of Sakai in 1585. His younger son, Ito Suketaka would join the Toyotomi and have a small amount of the Ito lands in Hyuga province restored after the Shimazu’s defeat in the 1580s; but they would never again see the heights they achieved before their unexpected loss to the numerically inferior Shimazu forces at Kyushu’s Okehazama…Kizakihara.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.

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!


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