Blade of the Samurai

Author’s Notes: FACT OR FICTION?

In the writing process, authors sometimes take license with historical facts. Although I try to keep my mysteries historically accurate, there are places where (for one reason or another) the plotline may require a slight departure from the truth. Mistakes may also happen, though I do my best to keep them off the page.

This page explains my intentional departures, and the reasons for them. I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but even so I recommend you read the novel first! If not, the contents of this page will give some things away.

Still here? Let’s dive in!

Chapter 1

1.1. “Shinobi” vs. “Ninja.” As I mentioned in my author’s notes for Claws of the Cat, both words come from a Japanese word which is written using Kanji, or characters, borrowed from Chinese. The Chinese pronunciation of those characters is “nin sha” – from which the English language derives the word “ninja.” That pronunciation is also used in Japan, but the Japanese pronounce the characters “shinobi” – making shinobi “the Japanese word for ninja.” (A fun comment that usually gets a funny reaction.)

1.2. Gato, Hiro’s tortoiseshell cat. Most historians believe that cats arrived in Japan from continential Asia around the tenth century A.D. By the 16th century, cats had become common in Japan. Like other pets, cats were expected to perform a useful function: keeping their masters’ homes and storehouses free of nezumi (a term that encompasses both mice and rats). Although most Japanese people preferred predominantly white calico cats, I chose to give Hiro a tortoiseshell cat, named “Gato,” with a personality based on that of my tortoiseshell cat, Oobie.

1.3. Squeaky timbers used as an alarm. In the novel, Hiro “insists” that Father Mateo refrain from fixing a squeaky board, which subsequently alerts them to an intruder outside the house. Medieval Japanese castles, and some houses, were designed with “nightingale floors,” ( which squeaked when walked on. Although the timber in my novel squeaks accidentally, rather than by design, the detail is a nod to these historical “floor alarms.”

1.4. Ashikaga Saburo. In Blade of the Samurai, Kazu’s supervisor (and the killer’s victim) is Ashikaga Saburo, a fictitious second cousin of the shogun. Although Saburo is entirely fictitious, most shoguns did fill government offices with trusted family members. Not only did this ensure that the shogun could trust his officials (more than absolute strangers, anyway), it also fulfilled the Japanese tradition of promoting and helping the clan

Chapter 2

2.1. The shogun’s “records office.” During the medieval era, the shogun’s government (known as the bakufu) was a highly organized bureaucracy, which employed many officials. The various offices were multi-leveled and specialized, with each performing designated functions. The records office did exist, but in order to keep from overwhelming readers with details that were irrelevant to the novel, I’ve simplified Kazu’s position to “clerk” and eliminated a variety of co-workers who would have existed, had Kazu’s position been real.

2.2. Wards, Gates and (Missing) Walls. Like many medieval Japanese cities, Kyoto was divided into districts (or wards), many of which were separated by gates and walls. In Blade, as in Claws of the Cat, I omitted most of these “intermediate barricades” in the interest of not complicating the story unnecessarily. I needed to let the characters move from one place to another without the monotonous (if historically accurate) series of repeated identity checks that complete historical accuracy would entail. In other words: forgive me for not boring you with the samurai version of airport security screenings.

2.3. Komuso. Mendicant monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism often wore woven basket-hats called tengai, which completely covered their heads, on the theory that the hat obscured the “self” and helped the monks withdraw from the world. Komuso often played shakuhachi (bamboo flutes) as a form of meditation. Since the hat obscured the wearer’s identity, and the flute could conceal a dagger, historical shinobi sometimes disguised themselves as komuso – a fact which I use to Kazu’s advantage in the novel.

Chapter 4

4.1. The neighbor’s Akita. Prior to 1931, the dog now known as the “Akita” (named for the northern prefecture where the breed originated) was called the matagi inu (hunting dog) or odate dog. The breed existed in the 16th century, and was used for a variety of purposes, including hunting and protection. I chose to use the modern name, instead of the period-appropriate one, to avoid confusing readers (most of whom have never heard the terms matagi or odate inu).

Chapter 5

5.1. Okazaki Shrine. Okazaki Shrine sits east of the Kamo River on Marutamachi Road, and originally marked the official eastern border of Kyoto. The shrine was founded during the 8th century, when the Japanese Emperor transferred the nation’s capital to Kyoto.

5.2. The shogun’s compound. During the medieval period, the Japanese shoguns lived in castle-like mansions built within fortified compounds in the city of Kyoto. The location and size of the compound varied, depending on the date. Several shoguns’ palaces burned to the ground (by accident or by arson) and were rebuilt, sometimes after moving to an alternate location. The location I used in the novel is the accurate location for the shogun’s palace in 1565; however, I was unable to locate an accurate map of the compound and palace itself, so I hybridized the map, and the various buildings, from a map of Nijo Castle and its grounds. Nijo Castle was not built until the 17th century (close to 50 years after Blade of the Samurai takes place), and was rebuilt in the 18th century following a fire, but I liked the thought of readers being able to “walk the grounds” that Hiro and Father Mateo walked, so I made the conscious decision to sacrifice historical accuracy in favor of the story.

5.3. Miyoshi Akira. The character of Miyoshi Akira is a fictitious cousin to Daimyo Miyoshi of Yamato, who really did rule that province during the 16th century. Akira’s role as an attaché to the shogunate was real; many feudal lords sent ambassadors to their allies’ strongholds on a regular basis.

5.4. “Low, slatted ceilings.”. Unlike private residences, which often had open-raftered structures, the shogun’s palace (and those of many feudal lords) had slatted ceilings, constructed low enough to hamper the use of swords. This was considered a safety measure. In addition, the space above the ceiling was often left open, to permit the shogun’s spies to move about unnoticed and “eavesdrop” on private conversations.

Chapter 6

6.1. Tantō (dagger). The tantō is a single or double edged dagger (sometimes translated “knife”) with a length of 6-12 inches (15-30 cm). The tantō was used primarily for stabbing, but could also work as a slashing weapon. Tantō were mostly carried by samurai (and, occasionally, by women as a concealed weapon for self-defense).

Chapter 7

7.1. Matsunaga Hisahide. Matsunaga Hisahide was a talented samurai warrior, a friend and retainer of Miyoshi Chokei, daimyo (lord) of Yamato Province. Historical evidence suggests that Hisahide conspired against Miyoshi Chokei during the early 1560s, when three of Chokei’s brothers and his son died under suspicious circumstances. Chokei died in 1564, after naming his adopted son, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, as his heir. The young daimyo’s regents sent Hisahide to Kyoto. I’ve taken some liberties with Hisahide’s actions from that point forward, and none of the scenes in which he appears are based on historical facts. However, I’ve tried to keep the character of Matsunaga Hisahide as close to historically accurate as possible.

Chapter 8

8.1. Oda Nobunaga. Daimyo Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582) was a major player in the wars and power shifts of 16th century Japan. Before his death, Oda conquered over 1/3 of Japan and made a valiant effort to unify the splintered nation. In 1565, however, Oda represented a dangerous threat to the Ashikaga Shoguns, a fact which plays a major role in Claws of the Cat and the rest of the Shinobi Mystery series.

8.2. Bushido. Although the term bushido, did not come into common use until the 17th century (after the time when my books are set) it is the best, and most familiar, term for the samurai code of honor. The samurai code originates from a set of common morals, stressing honor, loyalty, frugality, and the practices and philosophies of a warrior. Even though my use of the term is historically about 50 years “early,” I prefer it to the longer (and less accurate) descriptions I would otherwise need to use to make the point.

Chapter 11

11.1. Tokaido. During the medieval period, Tokaido (“East Sea Road”) was one of the most important travel routes in Japan. The road connected Tokyo (then “Edo”) with Kyoto, and passed through 53 “stations” where travelers could obtain food, lodging, and porter services. Most people traveled the road on foot, though samurai had the right to ride (if they could afford a horse).

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Thank you for your interest in Blade of the Samurai! If you have additional questions, or just want to say hello, please feel free to send me an email through this website. I love to hear from readers!