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: 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

Samurai Gaiden: Akechi Samanosuke Hidemitsu

We brushed upon the battle of Yamazaki and Akechi Mitsuhide’s betrayal of Oda Nobunaga in the video on Takayama Ukon Shigetomo, last month. This month let’s talk about arguably the most famous Sengoku Samurai in video games, Akechi Samanosuke.

Akechi Hidemitsu (1560-1582)

Akechi Hidemitsu (1557?-1582)

What does Hamlet and the Betrayal at Honnoji have in common? Well…Demons, of course!

That’s right! We’re talking about Capcom’s very own Onimusha: Warlords. Originally released, in Japan, on January 25th, 2001; that makes it fifteen years old this month. Fifteen years old? I…remember when it was released; I was in High School.

I’m gonna need a minute!

Well, regardless of showing my age there, let’s talk about the hero of the game: Akechi Samanosuke. Did you know that he is based off a real person? Akechi Hidemitsu, also known by his government title, Sama no-Suke. The rank of Sama no-Suke roughly translates to Vice-Commander of the Left Cavalry Division.

Now the Onimusha series opens with Hidemitsu watching the Oda and the Imagawa fight at Okehazama. In reality Hidemitsu was probably only three years old when that happened. His birth date is generally regarded as either 1557 or 1560, Okehazama having occurred in 1560.

Hidemitsu was the son of Akechi Mitsuyasu, making him Akechi Mitsuhide’s cousin; although he is often referred to as Mitsuhide’s nephew in some translations. Hidemitsu’s father, Mitsuyasu, was the son of Akechi Yorihisa while Mitsuhide’s father, Mitsukuni, was the son of one Akechi Mitsutsugu. So…their branches of the Akechi family had separated at least 3 generations ago.

Most likely the term ‘nephew’ is used because Mitsuhide was thirty years older than Hidemitsu, so they use it to notate the age difference between the two cousins. That would be my guess.

Anyway, Hidemitsu, unlike his Onimusha counterpart was actually not strongly opposed to Oda Nobunaga. Hidemitsu is rumored to have advised against attacking Nobunaga when Mitsuhide decided to betray the Oda and kill him at Honnoji. Nonetheless, Mitsuhide decided the surprise attack was still going to take place and Hidemitsu led the charge.

At this point we all know what happened. And if not…let me know in the comments and that might be another Samurai Gaiden at some point.

Anyway, long story short, the Akechi are victorious and Hidemitsu is placed in charge of Mitsuhide’s old castle at Sakamoto. Mitsuhide takes over the capital, plunders Azuchi castle, and begins his takeover of the capital region.

Legends claim that Hidemitsu found Nobunaga’s head in the burned out remains of Honnoji and buried it with honor. These are more than likely false; if for no other reason than the fact that Mitsuhide probably would have lost trust in Hidemitsu for such an action and had him executed for treason.

When Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to the capital region to avenge Nobunaga, Mitsuhide fought him at Yamazaki. Again, long story short, Mitsuhide was defeated and killed in the battle. Part of the reason for this was that Mitsuhide’s allies didn’t come to his aid as quickly as he would have liked; or at all in many cases.

One of those allies was Akechi Hidemitsu. Hidemitsu brought his army from Sakamoto to aid his Uncle-Cousin but Yamazaki was over before he arrived.

Hidemitsu got caught up fighting against Hori Hidemasa at Uchide-hama shortly after Yamazaki’s completion. Hidemitsu’s forces were defeated by the Hori and Hidemitsu was forced to flee, riding atop his horse, Great Bay, he floated across the southern tip of Lake Biwa and rode as hard and fast as he could to Sakamoto castle to prepare a defense.

Unfortunately for Hidemitsu the Hori were right behind him and quickly besieged the castle. Deciding that the war was over Hidemitsu murdered what remained of the Akechi family and after setting fire to the castle, he and his retainers committed seppuku.

Not quite the daring rogue portrayed in Onimusha, rather more like a loyal lackey to his arguably more famous cousin. Nonetheless an interesting figure, especially contrasted to how he is depicted in modern lore.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Takayama Ukon Shigetomo

Here in December many will celebrate the Christian Holiday of Christ’s Mass. The celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Christianity. This coming year will also probably lead to a celebration for Japanese Christians as the Vatican plans to perform a beatification of a martyred samurai, that’s fancy Catholic speak for a type of formal acknowledgement of completion of miracles or martyrdom in the name of Christ; Latin for “To Make Blessed”.

That samurai in question is the Sengoku Daimyo….Dom Iustus, also known as Takayama Ukon Shigetomo.

Takayama Shigetomo (1552-1615)

Takayama Shigetomo (1552-1615)

Shigetomo, as we’ll refer to him for the duration of this post, was born Takayama Hikogoro, the son of a relatively small regional lord in Yamato province, Takayama Tomoteru. Tomoteru was the lord of Sawa castle and served the Matsunaga family, whom you might remember from the Ashikaga Yoshiteru video as the main force behind the attack and murder of Yoshiteru.

Tomoteru was an early adopter of Christianity and had his son, Shigetomo, baptized a year before Matsunaga Hisahide led the assault on Yoshiteru’s mansion at Nijo. Shortly thereafter the Matsunaga and the Miyoshi came to blows over how to puppeteer the new Shogun and the Takayama castle at Sawa was easy prey for the Miyoshi advance.

The Takayama were now ronin, but got hired into the Oda forces through the good graces of another Christian daimyo, Wada Koremasa, who allied with Oda Nobunaga after he became Ashikaga Yoshiaki’s patron to make him Shogun.

A few years later when Oda came to serious blows with the Miyoshi the Takayama were stuck in the middle of things, again. One of the Miyoshi samurai, Araki Murashige, besieged the Takayama castle and their new master, Wada Koremasa came to their aid.

Unfortunately for the Takayama, Koremasa died fighting against Murashige’s forces. Even with Koremasa’s death, though, Murashige wasn’t able to capture the castle. Once the initial war was over the elder Takayama became one of the chief advisors to Koremasa’s son, Wada Korenaga.

Sadly for them, Korenaga didn’t much like the Takayama clan. Korenaga plotted the murder of Tomoteru and young Hikogoro, now known by his adult name, Shigetomo. Tomoteru decided to make the first move and he invited the young lord over to the Takayama home. Korenaga arrived with an armed escort and this is where we first get to see young Shigetomo in action.

You see Shigetomo led a group of fifteen samurai in a brutal assault on Korenaga’s escort and in the end Korenaga was dead. During this time the elder Takayama had been negotiating with Araki Murashige, who had recently defected to the Oda side.

Murashige made no argument against the Takayama taking over the Wada lands, centered around Takatsuki castle, and neither did their overlord, Oda Nobunaga. Most likely because Nobunaga had originally won over the Wada clan by supporting the Ashikaga Shogunate and this was the same year that Nobunaga chased Yoshiaki out of the capital and usurped his throne.

Five years passed with the Takayama ostensibly retainers of the Araki clan, until Araki Murashige led a revolt against Nobunaga. This was a very inopportune time for Nobunaga, as he had his forces spread out toward his borders, and Murashige was in the middle of his realm. Nobunaga had also just completed blockading the besieged temple-fortress of the Ishiyama Honganji.

If the Araki revolt wasn’t dealt with quickly and efficiently, dissension could brew elsewhere in the Oda realm and the Honganji might actually be able to break the stranglehold on them; the stranglehold that it had taken Nobunaga years to plan and carry out.

Murashige’s home base of Itami was surrounded by several smaller castles which protected it from assault, chiefly of these against Nobunaga were Ibaragi, held by a certain Nakagawa Kiyohide, and Takasaki Castle…held by our very own Takayama clan.

Nobunaga had a Jesuit missionary brought to negotiate with the Takayama, knowing that both Tomoteru and Shigetomo were devout Christians. Nobunaga gave simple terms: If Takasaki surrenders, Nobunaga will aid the Jesuit churches in the area. If the fort doesn’t surrender…then Nobunaga will wipe the churches out and expunge the Christian influence in the area.

Shigetomo refused to endanger the Christian populace of Takasaki and fled the castle in the night, much to the chagrin of his father. Tomoteru sent messengers to Araki Murashige apologizing for Shigetomo’s lack of loyalty; most likely because Murashige currently held several members of the Takayama clan as political hostages.

The Takayama were in an especially precarious situation when Shigetomo and his new priest friend went to Ibaragi and convinced the castellan there, Nakagawa Kiyohide, to surrender to Nobunaga.

In the end Nobunaga was successful and Murashige’s home of Itami was besieged and Murashige wound up fleeing his imminent destruction. To his credit, Murashige released the Takayama hostages unharmed even with Shigetomo’s betrayal.

At that point Nobunaga rewarded Kiyohide and the young Shigetomo. Kiyohide got to keep his castle at Ibaragi and Shigetomo’s father was forced to retire in favor of his son.

Tomoteru shaved his head, denounced his Christian faith, and became a Buddhist monk by the name of Zusho. This is ironic for two reasons. The first of which is that when Christianity first spread to the capital region, Tomoteru had been an ardent foe, trying to convince Matsunaga Hisahide to expel the Christians. The second reason you’ll discover as we continue to talk about his son, Shigetomo.

Now Shigetomo owned Takatsuki…and he immediately set to work on converting the population to Christianity. Christian history applauds Shigetomo’s work as just and holy, however many Japanese of the time and certainly now, believe that Shigetomo was basically a Japanese Torquemada.

They believe that he forcefully converted the populace of Takatsuki to Christianity. Shigetomo spent five years there in power and in that short time he converted 72% of the populace, that’s 18,000 people, to Christianity. That’s a lot of ‘willing’ converts.

Especially taking into account the fact that Shigetomo reportedly looted and destroyed numerous Buddhist temples, converting the ones he didn’t tear down into Catholic Churches? Ehhh… either way it irked the local population of Buddhist monks who petitioned Nobunaga to force an end to the conversion.

Nobunaga had recently torched and murdered the entire populace of the Enryakuji Temple Complex and was currently fighting three separate fronts of fanatical Buddhist Warrior Monk sects. Needless to say he really didn’t seem to care about what Takayama did to the temples in Yamato.

Now, regardless of whether Shigetomo was just a brilliant Sermon-writer or was actually holding a Japanese Inquisition he also managed to convert several other prominent men and women to Christianity. Kuroda Kanbei and Hosokawa Tadaoki’s wife, Tamako, among them.

Now we have arrived in the year 1582 when Akechi Mitsuhide betrays Nobunaga at Honnoji. Toyotomi Hideyoshi races back into the capital region and along the way he passes through the province of Settsu where both Kiyohide and Shigetomo have brought their armies and they joined the Toyotomi vanguard, eventually leading troops on the frontline during the Battle of Yamazaki.

When the Toyotomi and Shibata went to war later in the year over a succession dispute on which of Nobunaga’s sons would succeed him, Shigetomo and Kiyohide were sent north to be the first line of defense against the Shibata.

The Shibata lord, Katsuie, sent his nephew, Sakuma Morimasa to make an opening break into the campaign. Sakuma attacked Shigetomo’s post of Iwasakiyama which Shigetomo apparently decided was an untenable position and he abandoned the fort, fleeing to the castle at Tagami where Toyotomi’s half-brother, Hidenaga was stationed.

Sakuma went on to assault nearby Shizugatake and actually managed to kill poor Kiyohide who was guarding it, however this put Sakuma too far south compared to the rest of Shibata’s army. Toyotomi counterattacked and defeated Sakuma, paving the way for Shibata’s eventual defeat.

Shigetomo is largely considered to have been a coward during this campaign, however he may have been charismatic enough to convince Toyotomi that it was in his benefit in the end. After all, if Iwasakiyama hadn’t fallen so easily, Sakuma might not have been so hot-headed and arrogant as to march all the way to Shizugatake and get taken by surprise.

This is surprising given the fact that he was actually on fairly bad terms with Toyotomi at the time, because he refused to light incense at Nobunaga’s funeral; citing the fact that Christians were not permitted to participate in the rituals of infidel religions.

Either way Shigetomo got the chance to redeem himself in 1584 when he participated in Toyotomi’s invasion of Shikoku. He apparently performed well and was awarded a fief at Akashi in Harima province, worth roughly 60,000 koku.

As with Takatsuki, Shigetomo immediately went about tearing down or converting temples and converting the populace. And once again the cries of the local monks were ignored. That is until after Toyotomi managed to diminish the power of the warrior monks in the capital region, something he depended on Shigetomo to help with, and decided that Christianity was gaining too much ground in Japan.

Shigetomo participated in Toyotomi’s invasion of Kyushu in 1587 and before he even got back from helping to win that war, Toyotomi had him removed from his fief at Akashi and made a ronin. Shigetomo took up with the far more politically powerful Konishi Yukinaga, another Christian daimyo that was given a large fief in Kyushu.

Shigetomo eventually wound up wandering his way to the Maeda lands and took up under Maeda Toshiie, whose wife we talked about a few months ago, and remained there for several years, even after Toyotomi and Toshiie’s deaths.

In 1614 when Tokugawa Ieyasu banished the Christians from Japan Maeda Toshitsune, Shigetomo’s lord at the time, believed he would be troublesome. However in the end Shigetomo acquiesced to the Shogunate and boarded a ship to be removed from the country.

He was exiled to the Philippines where he was welcomed by the local Jesuit missionaries and some reports suggest that he was offered the chance to lead a Spanish-funded invasion of Japan, but turned down the offer, instead opting to remain peacefully in Manila.

Which he did for the next 40 days, wherein he died of illness.

Shigetomo was, and still is, a polarizing figure in Japan. Christians laude him as a pillar of faith and heroism and many others despise him as a cruel betrayer and coward. Either way he must have been well-regarded by some back in his day to have accomplished all that he did.

The conversion of notable samurai and their wives and servants, not to mention being welcomed into Maeda Toshiie’s ranks, suggest that he was a skilled and well-spoken man. He is considered to have been good with poetry and the Tea Ceremony as well.

So in the spirit of Takayama Dom Iustus Shigetomo…Merry Christmas for you Christians out there and Happy Rohatsu Day for everyone else.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Yasuke, the 1st Black Samurai

Tales of a large man in the service of Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano are resounding through the streets of Kyoto. They say he is as dark as the night sky, over six feet tall, and as strong as ten men!

Citizens of Kyoto beat down the door of a Jesuit missionary’s home, crushing several people in the melee, just for a chance to see the strange man. This man, commonly referred to as either Yasuke or Kurosuke, is making the rounds on social media lately. So we’ve decided to talk a bit about him. Yasuke, the First Black Samurai.

Yasuke (??-??)

Yasuke (??-??)

Yasuke, as he is commonly referred to nowadays, is suspected to have been born in what is now known as Mozambique. It is unknown what his name originally was but in the old days he was referred to as Kurosuke in Japan, which simply means Black Man.

Yasuke was brought to Japan by the visiting Inspector of the Catholics, Alessandro Valignano, who was tasked with increasing the conversion levels of the Japanese and maintaining friendly relations with the Japanese warlords in control at the time.

He replaced the trends of Francisco Cabral, who treated the conversion of the Japanese as something of ‘fixing the barbarians’. Instead he began instituting seminaries within Japan and training native priests. He also convinced the Jesuits to attempt to act Japanese: To dress like them, learn the Japanese language, participate in common rituals, etc.

This was in the hopes of making the conversion from Shinto-Buddhist to Christian as seamless as possible, compared to Cabral’s way of openly criticizing the Japanese way of life and trying to force European culture onto the Japanese people.

Regardless, Valignano had a certain African slave in his retinue, Yasuke. Yasuke was quite the imposing thing to see on the streets of the capital city, Kyoto. One day a group of onlookers kicked in the door of one of Valignano’s associates in Kyoto and trampled several people to death, just to catch a glimpse of Yasuke.

This event brought Yasuke to the attention of one Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga called for Valignano to bring Yasuke to the castle and present him for inspection. Believing that he had been painted black with ink, Nobunaga had Yasuke stripped and bathed in front of him. When it was proven that Yasuke’s skin was truly black, Nobunaga was even more intrigued.

Yasuke was also able to speak at least basic Japanese, if not actually somewhat fluent in the language. To this end Nobunaga enjoyed conversing with the man and after some time of entertaining, either Valignano gave Yasuke to Nobunaga as a servant or Nobunaga requested Yasuke be given to him.

Given Valignano’s stances on how to interact with the Japanese and how much of his success was due to Nobunaga’s good graces, I imagine that the latter is true; Valignano probably saw this as another way to get in good with Nobunaga.

One story I’ve heard on the trade was that Valignano gave Yasuke’s service over to Nobunaga as Yasuke was a slave and so it was just the gift of property from one man to another to Valignano. But Nobunaga, not familiar with the slave trade, assumed that a man of Yasuke’s stature was a retainer of some minor prominence, like a Knight Bachelor, whom Valignano was loaning into Nobunaga’s service. As such Nobunaga honored the man by making him samurai and giving him title or lordship over one of Nobunaga’s castles.

This story is pretty dubious though, first and foremost because Nobunaga never made Yasuke a lord in his own right. Secondly, the European slave trade was alive and well in the Philipinnes, Malaysia, India, and the rest of Southern and Eastern Asia by this point in time. I’ve read reports that the Japanese in Kyushu had started selling people who owed them money and their own children to the Europeans to take as slaves back to Europe. So the idea that Nobunaga wouldn’t know what an African slave’s role in the master-slave relationship was is pretty dubious, too.

Either way Yasuke became a member of Nobunaga’s regular retinue and was at some point even made one of Nobunaga’s weapon bearers. It was during this time that one of Nobunaga’s relatives gave Yasuke a gift of money to live on; some sources I read said a nephew, maybe one Tsuda Nobusumi, others said it was one of his sons, probably Oda Nobutada.

Nobunaga also is said to have honored the man by granting him the name we know generally know him by, Yasuke. The reason for this name is unknown, however a theory is that Yasuke was a member of Makua tribe of Mozambique and was originally named Yasufe. Another dubious account, since the Makua weren’t enslaved by the Portuguese until several years after Nobunaga’s death, in the mid-late 1580s.

Another theory as to the name is that Yasuke was from the Yao tribe of Mozambique and so they simply called him Yao-suke basically Yao Man or more stylistically, Man of the Yao People. But really nobody knows, especially since it is spelled about four different ways in various different sources. It may have just been something Nobunaga liked the sound of one day and so he called him that. We are talking about a man who nicknamed two of his chief generals Inu and Saru, that is Dog and Monkey.

"Steve? Wait, wait...you've got a face like a potato. I know what I'll call you...Potato-Face!"

“Wait, wait…you’ve got a face like a potato. I know; I’ll call you…Potato-san!”

Nonetheless Yasuke was apparently present at Nobunaga’s side when he marched east and fought against Takeda Katsuyori in Shinano and Kai. By this time the Takeda was all but broken and between the Oda, Tokugawa, and Hojo picking away at them, nothing was left.

Nobunaga returned to the capital region and some time later was visiting Honno Temple. Akechi Mitsuhide, as might know by now, attacked said temple and killed Nobunaga. Yasuke was present for this and he was part of the group who fled to Azuchi castle with Oda Nobutada after Honno Temple burnt to the ground.

Akechi attacked Azuchi castle and Nobutada was defeated, Yasuke is rumored to have fought for some time against Akechi’s men but was eventually forced to surrender.

Akechi is largely regarded as to have said something about Yasuke not being Japanese, possibly called him a beast, and told his men that Yasuke wasn’t actually involved in the dispute since he was a foreigner. Yasuke was taken prisoner and handed over to the nearest Jesuit church. Another claim I personally find dubious is that the church was ecstatic about Yasuke being freed by Akechi as they were very worried about him being killed; considering he was a slave, I highly doubt they were really all that worried about him. If anything they were worried about the fact that someone as learned and physically imposing as Yasuke would be able to fetch a really high price from another Japanese warlord.

As for the claim that Mitsuhide called Yasuke a ‘beast’, it is often touted to show Mitsuhide as the ‘evil backstabber’ to also make him sound like a racist. The problem with this is that…the Japanese at the time were very Xenophobic and referred to all of the Europeans, and the people who came along with them, as Nanbanjin or Southern Barbarians.

The Japanese believed that the Europeans were from Western India, since they didn’t understand how large the world was compared to them, and believed they came from the south since they landed on the southern tip of Kyushu, Tanegashima Island. So to Mitsuhide, and his peers, Yasuke, Valignano, Cabral, and any other non-Japanese basically was considered a beast to them.

At this point Yasuke disappears from the history books. There is a reference to an African Arquebusier working for the Arima clan a few years after this, but it’s highly unlikely that this person is Yasuke.

Yasuke is often regarded as the First Black Samurai, or even the only Black Samurai.

Except, of course, for Forest Whitaker.

~RCS

DJ Comic: January Holidays Part 2

DJComic_008

There was no week thingy going on and I couldn’t really come up with anything good so I just added more days.

Too bad the Festival of Sleep holiday doesn’t happen more often.

Honestly Rich could go on for hours talking about just Oda Nobunaga.  I have no idea how Rich remembers all this stuff.

Rich tries to make every day cuddle up day.

Close enough, right… right?

Ͼ-Mimi

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