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: 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.

e5a08db3c80d24c5a58a2efb08e364ec

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.

Tekko 2016 East vs. West Panel Part 2 Live!

As you might have guessed from the title, today is Day 2 of the review and video upload process.  So Part 2 of the East vs. West panel is now live!  You can find it clicking on the picture below!

EastWest-Opening1

~RCS

Tekkoshocon 2014 News!

I’ve been rather critical of Tekkoshocon before, but this year we’ve decided to try it out again.  We’ve been told by folks that went last year that a lot of the things we complained about had been fixed; so we’ve decided to give it another shot after going to Baltimore’s Otakon last year.

But not only that, we’ve gone two steps further: I’m going to be hosting two panels at Tekko this year.  As it looks right now one panel, on Japanese History related to the anime/game series Sengoku Basara, will be Friday afternoon at 2pm in Panel Room 3.  The other panel on the History of the Three Kingdoms Era of China as related to the game series Dynasty Warriors will be held the same day (Friday) at 6pm in Panel Room 2.

I’ll let you all know as soon as I do if the times change.

We’ll be giving away door prizes at both panels as well, including books and computer games, and of course the chance to listen to me talk about two of my favorite subjects for an hour a piece.

So if you’re going to be at Tekkoshocon this year in early April, feel free to come on down and see either or both of my panels.

The door prizes alone are pretty nice, we’ve got some decent games to give away: Europa Universalis 3, Majesty 2, a few Uno games, a book on Ninjutsu in the Sengoku Basara panel, and who knows what else!

Oh I know what else; that’s right.  Anyway…

We’d love to see our adoring fans (maybe even both of you!) come on down to see us, especially if you’ll be there anyway.

~RCS

Sirence!

I remember seeing the show original Japanese version of Silent Library once or twice during a humorous panel at Tekkoshocon.  It was pretty good, but now apparently it’s on MTV.  I just caught an episode on YouTube and that’s what I’ve been doing.  If you enjoy watching big burly men get mistreated by their friends for small sums of cash (in the end each guy gets a little more $700 for all their troubles), especially if you enjoy watching shirtless muscle-bound men have clamps put on their nipples.

The episode happens to be about some WWE superstars, whom I’ve never heared of because I don’t watch wrestling, go through an ordeal.  The one really big guy getting smacked with a bat is great, as is his fatal Simpsons joke during the Twister Sister (a cute Twisted Sister pun) trial where says, “The goggles do nothing!”

So if you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, I’d suggest sparing it on this video…

~RCS

Free lessons in Dickjutsu by e-maill. Or if you don't get the joke, it's the subscription button.