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.
1.1. “Shinobi” vs. “Ninja.” 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 fact which always makes me smile.)
1.2. Hattori Hiro – Shinobi Detective. My primary protagonist, Hiro Hattori (the Japanese lead with the surname, hence “Hattori Hiro”), is entirely fictitious, but his surname, clan, and profession are all quite real.
During the medieval period, shinobi clans really existed, and they often worked as spies and assassins for hire. The two most prominent ninja clans (in Japanese, shinobi ryu) were located in the provinces of Iga and Koga, not far from Kyoto. I made Hattori Hiro an Iga shinobi for two reasons. First, because of the Iga ryu’s ongoing conflict with Oda Nobunaga, a Japanese warlord (or Daimyo) who rose to power during the 1500s. And second, I’m a major fan of Hattori Hanzo (aka “Devil Hanzo”), a famous historical ninja who led the Iga ryu during the second half of the 16th century.
Most people think of ninjas as black-clad, wall-climbing assassins who appear and disappear as if by magic. That image has some historical truth, but it’s closer to myth than reality. Real shinobi worked as assassins, but also as spies and, sometimes, bodyguards.
1.3. Jesuits in Kyoto. The character of Father Mateo is fictitious, as is his missionary work among the commoners of Kyoto, but real Jesuit missionaries were working in Japan, and in Kyoto, in 1565. If you’d like to know more about Jesuits in Japan, I’ve written a short blog entry on the topic here.
1.4. A Rapid Hairstyle. Near the end of Chapter 1, Hiro re-ties his samurai topknot without assistance. The chonmage, or samurai topknot, was a time-consuming hairstyle which usually required the assistance of a trained hairdresser. The hairdresser oiled (or waxed) a samurai’s long hair and formed the distinctive folded-over knot that sat on top of the samurai’s head. Wealthy samurai visited the hairdresser several times a week, though many poor samurai fixed their hair at home (usually with assistance). For purposes of the story I gave Hiro the ability to style his hair himself– though like most samurai Hiro prefers to visit a hairdresser when he can.
1.5. “Entertainers” vs. “Geishas.” I describe the female entertainers of Kyoto’s “floating world” as “entertainers” instead of the more familiar “geisha,” because the first documented use of “geisha” (which actually translates “artist”) occurred around 1750, almost two hundred years after Claws of the Cat. Most readers wouldn’t know that, but I opted for “entertainer” to preserve the historical accuracy of the book.
A side note: contrary to some Western misconceptions, not all geishas (or entertainers) were prostitutes. Geishas specialized in conversation, performing ritual tea ceremonies, singing, dancing, and other “feminine arts,” and although men paid for a geisha’s time and companionship, those services did not necessarily extend to the bedroom. Many geisha did have patrons to whom they offered “special services,” but sexual encounters were not the primary reason a man would pay for a geisha’s company.
2.1. 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.
2.2. Shinto. The indigenous religion of Japan, sometimes also called “kami-no-michi.” Many Japanese consider Shinto a form of spirituality rather than a “religion” in the sense that Westerners use the term. For this reason, many medieval Japanese people recognized and participated in both Shinto and Buddhist faiths, and some even adopted Christianity without forsaking Shinto practices.
2.3. The Sakura Teahouse. In 1617 (52 years after Claws of the Cat) the Shogun issued an order that all brothels, teahouses and other houses of entertainment must be licensed and located inside one of Kyoto’s five walled “pleasure districts.” These districts existed during the 16th century, but in 1565 some teahouses and other houses of entertainment still existed outside the official boundaries. I placed the Sakura Teahouse outside (but near) the pleasure district of Pontocho in order to simplify the plot and also to isolate the teahouse from similar establishments.
In truth, it would be rare to find a teahouse of this nature in a residential district, but the wards on the eastern side of the Kamo River were less heavily regulated than those within central Kyoto. Placement of a teahouse in a residential ward was a stretch logistically, but it did work best for the plot so I bent the rules a bit to make it happen.
2.4. 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 the interest of simplification, I omitted most of these “intermediate barricades.” 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: please forgive me for not boring you with the samurai version of airport security screenings.
5.1. Police. By 1565, Kyoto had a two-tiered law enforcement system. All policemen were samurai, but many came from low-ranking samurai families. “Beat cops” – known as dōshin – patrolled the streets, took reports, and made arrests when necessary. Their supervisors, called yoriki, were technically “assistant magistrates” but most yoriki had no hope of further promotion.
In cities like Kyoto, yoriki often lived in barracks at the police compound. I allowed Nobuhide to live at home for plot-based reasons, but it wasn’t too big a factual departure. Special permission could, and likely would, have been granted for the son of a retired samurai general.
5.2. Magistrates. A city the size of Kyoto usually had 1-2 magistrates who served simultaneously. In addition to judging criminals, magistrates heard civil disputes between commoners and, in some cities, issued travel passes. Usually, magistrates worked in the city’s castle. I gave the Kyoto magistrate his own compound to facilitate this plot and also because I needed that “set” for future Shinobi mysteries. You’ll see it again!
6.1 Blood. Medieval Japanese culture viewed blood (and death) as defiling. Many people refused to have physical contact with the dead (and underwent elaborate purification rituals when such contact could not be avoided).
6.2 Jitte. The jitte was a specialized weapon carried by dōshin (See 5.1, police) as a symbol of office. The jitte looked similar to a modern policeman’s nightstick, but with an upward hook that extended from the top of the handle. The hook was used to capture or deflect an attacker’s sword or dagger.
6.3 The Akechi clan. The Akechi were a real samurai clan, and one of the Akechi samurai featured in Claws of the Cat did really exist. Which one? Keep your eyes peeled for the spoilers page, coming soon!
8.1 Pontocho. (aka, “Ponto-chō”) Pontocho is a Kyoto alley which runs between Shijō-dōri and Sanjō-dōri, one block west of the Kamo River. The alley was the center of one of Kyoto’s earliest and most famous hanamachi, or “pleasure districts.”
9.1 Tying the obi. In medieval Kyoto, one way to tell a prostitute from other types of entertainers had to do with the way she tied her obi. While most women’s obi tied in the rear, prostitutes wore theirs tied in the front to facilitate dressing (and undressing) without assistance.
10.1 Arquebus (aka, “tanegashima”).In 1543 Portuguese traders accidentally landed on the island of Tanegashima off the Japanese coast. They introduced the matchlock-style arquebus to Japan, and the weapon was an instant hit with samurai. (At the time, most commoners weren’t allowed to carry weapons.) By 1550 Japanese samurai purchased Portuguese firearms in large numbers. The weapons were often called “tanegashima,” after the island where the Portuguese first landed.
10.2 Francis Xavier (1506-1552). Born an aristocrat in the Kingdom of Navarre (now part of Spain), Francis Xavier studied in Paris, where he met and befriended Ignatius of Loyola. On August 15, 1534, Xavier, Loyola, and five other men founded the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious and missionary organization which also became known as the Jesuits. Father Xavier spent many years as a missionary in various parts of Asia. He was the first Jesuit missionary to reach Japan, arriving in 1549 and living there until 1551.
10.3 Ledgers.Scholars dispute whether letterpress printing arrived in Japan during the 15th Century (from Korea) or the 16th Century (via the Portuguese Jesuits), but books and ledgers were used in Japan for centuries before the letterpress. Block printing was used at Japanese monasteries (and elsewhere) from the 8th century onward, and Japan’s first novel (Genji Monogatari) was written in 1000 and widely copied and distributed in the centuries that followed. By the 16th century, private ledgers and record books were in common use, and merchants and samurai of both genders learned to read and write.
11.1 Purification Rituals. Medieval Japanese considered death and blood defiling. Persons or objects contaminated by contact with blood or death required purification by water, fire, prayers, or some combination thereof. Mayuri’s decision to call both Buddhist and Shinto priests to purify the room where Hideyoshi died was not uncommon, because many Japanese adhered to both Buddhist and Shinto purification practices.
12.1 Shamisen. A traditional Japanese instrument with a long neck and resonating strings strung across a drum-like wooden base. The instrument is played by plucking the strings with a plectrum.
12.2 Bathhouses. During medieval times, most Japanese city-dwellers bathed at least once per week (and often more). Private bath houses like the one I gave the Sakura Teahouse were rare, a luxury only the wealthiest could afford. Most people visited public bathing houses, which charged a small fee for access and either had separate facilities for men and women or separated the genders with different bathing times and dates for each.
13.1 Shogun. The military dictator and commander who acted as de facto ruler of medieval Japan. Although appointed by (and theoretically answerable to) the emperor, the shogun controlled both the army and the secular government. By 1565, the emperor had become a political figurehead, while the shogun actually governed Japan.
13.2 Female Samurai. Daughters of the samurai class were often trained in martial arts and weapons. Females rarely adopted the dress and mannerisms of warriors, but all samurai women were trained to read and write, to understand the samurai code, and, if necessary, to defend their homes and families in times of war. A female samurai like Yoshiko, who adopted masculine dress and habits, would have been a very rare but not an impossible occurrence in the medieval period (pre-1600). The end of the Muromachi period (c. 1573) saw a decline in the rights of samurai women, but at the time of Claws of the Cat, a woman such as Yoshiko could have existed. Even then, however, she would have been considered an oddity, a fact I tried to portray accurately in the book.
14.1 Promotion of Yoriki. Although yoriki, or assistant magistrates, were members of the samurai ruling class, they almost always came from low-ranking samurai families. Due to the association between policemen, crime, and death, yoriki were often considered unclean and generally prohibited from entering the shogun’s presence. Police positions were often hereditary, with a son following his father into the job. Nobuhide’s non-hereditary appointment, though unusual, is not historically inaccurate. When a father’s rank justified his son receiving a government position but the son displayed a lack of aptitude or a serious attitude problem, a police position was a reasonable compromise. However, both Nobuhide and his father would have understood that an appointment to the yoriki was the “end of the line” for the son’s career.
15.1 Burial Customs. Medieval Japanese funerals were very elaborate, and followed a variety of customs and traditions, depending upon the family’s religious beliefs. In most cases, bodies lay in state for a period of time that could range from a couple of days to several weeks (though usually on the shorter end). During this time, the deceased was dressed in elaborate armor or special clothing. Prayers were said and rituals performed. After burial (or, more commonly, cremation) the family performed more prayers and rituals for the soul of the deceased, usually for several additional weeks.
15.2 Lamellar armor and odoshi. Lamellar armor is made from small, often rectangular pieces of iron, leather, lacquered wood, or other material (known as lamellae) which are pierced and laced together into rows. During the Muromachi period, most samurai wore lamellar armor laced with colored lacings (in patterns known as odoshi).
15.3 Female ninjas (Kunoichi). The shinobi ryu (clans) trained both men and women in the shinobi arts. Unlike their male counterparts, whose training focused highly on stealth, female shinobi focused on espionage and manipulation as well as combat. They often impersonated entertainers or prostitutes in order to get close to a male target, either to obtain information or for assassination. For more information on kunoichi, check out The Criminal Element: http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/06/kunoichi-female-ninja-spies-medieval-japan-susan-spann
15.4 Samurai stipends. Medieval samurai were paid for their service, much like knights in service to a European king. But instead of lands and estates, most samurai were paid in rice (or, sometimes, in silver). Samurai stipends were measured in koku, a measurement term which means the amount of rice required to feed one person for a year. Most daimyo (warlords) had annual stipends of 10,000 koku or more, while the average mid-ranking samurai could expect a stipend of 50-100 koku a year.
16.1 Mon, and samurai heraldry. Like European nobles, samurai used family crests to identify their clans of origin. The mon, or family crest, was displayed on everything from everyday garments to banners and battle flags. The five-petaled bellflower really is the mon of the Akechi clan, and I’ve taken care to accurately represent every family crest that appears in Claws of the Cat.
17.1 Inkan. An inkan is a personal seal, usually carved from ivory or stone, which bore the characters for a person’s name. Throughout the medieval period, Japanese men (and sometimes women) used an inkan in place of a handwritten signature on official documents. A seal helped prevent forgeries and ensured an identical “signature” every time.
21.1 Akechi Mitsuhide. Akechi Mitsuhide was a real, historical samurai who became a retainer of Oda Nobunaga in 1566. For purposes of the novel, I altered his reasons for joining Oda’s forces (as well as accelerating the date by several months). The historical record contains conflicting accounts of Akechi’s reasons for deciding to throw in his lot with Oda, none of which can be proven beyond a doubt. In light of this, I felt comfortable creating a fictitious version of Mitsuhide and guessing that his motives (like those of so many samurai) might not have been exactly what they seemed.
21.2 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.
25.1 Paper-eating kittens. In short, they do exist. I modeled this behavior on my own cat, Bumblebee (aka “Oobie”), who not only chews on books but eats toilet paper straight from the roll to the point that we have to keep it in a cupboard. Truth is, in fact, stranger than fiction. And yes, I have a Bible with a partially chewed-up page.
27.1 “You know King David?” Akechi Sato’s comment, “I may go to him, but he will not return to me,” is a reference to 2 Samuel 12:23, in which King David makes a similar comment after the death of his infant son.
27.2 Genpuku. A traditional samurai coming-of-age ceremony, after which a boy was allowed to wear swords and take on the responsibilities of an adult. For more information about this ritual, see: http://www.susanspann.com/?p=2567.
28.1 Female inheritance. Yoshiko’s status as her father’s heir, while not impossible, represents a very unusual case. Until the early Muromachi period, samurai women were eligible to inherit property from their fathers – and did so with some frequency. During the late Kamakura and early Muromachi periods, however, Japanese inheritance laws moved toward a single-heir system (essentially primogeniture, since the oldest son was generally the designated heir) and laws against female inheritance were implemented. The law still allowed females to inherit, but only when the will could be authenticated and even then, only rarely.
30.1 “Entertainers are not replacements for wives.” In medieval Japanese society, a “wife” had two primary roles: bearing children and keeping the household accounts. Some samurai wives also managed the household and family interests when their husbands went off to battle, and in many cases merchants’ wives took an active part in operating and managing the family business. However, a wife was not expected to display special skill (or, sometimes, any skill) at singing, conversation, or sexual creativity. That was the role of an entertainer (or, sometimes, a prostitute).
To the medieval Japanese mind (the male mind, at least) enjoying the company of entertainers—the women later known as geisha—was not an act of unfaithfulness or adultery. Most visits to geisha houses did not involve sex. Instead, the entertainer offered a temporary “escape” and a relief from the stress of everyday life. To the modern mind, this seems inconsistent with a faithful, loving marriage but medieval Japanese culture viewed the situation very differently.
36.1 Gold koban. In reality, the koban was not minted until 1600. Before that date, the Japanese used gold coins obtained through trade with foreign nations (mostly China and Korea). For purposes of the novel, it was easier to use the koban than to explain why my characters were using foreign coinage and how they calculated the shifting value of those coins.
45.1 Seppuku. By the late medieval period, a samurai who committed seppuku often didn’t complete the disemboweling slice across abdomen. The kaishakunin (who acted as the suicide’s “second”) usually cut off the samurai’s head the moment he plunged the dagger into his belly, sparing the pain of completing the ritual cut. However, reports do exist of samurai asking the kaishakunin to delay the fatal strike until the cut was complete, in accordance with the earlier, more respected form of the ritual.
In addition, samurai forced to commit seppuku as a result of dishonor or to atone for criminal acts were often refused the assistance of a kaishakunin, and forced to endure the agony of an unassisted death by self-disembowelment. Death could occur within hours, or could take several days if the lethal cut failed to penetrate the abdomen deeply enough. I chose to allow a kaishakunin in Claws of the Cat for two reasons: From a plot perspective, the suicide ritual strikes a deeper emotional chord as it appears in the finished novel, for reasons I think the reader will find clear. And second, I’m not entirely convinced a kaishakunin would have been refused here, given the manner in which the suicide occurred. The refusal of a kaishakunin occurred more often when a magistrate or other official ordered the suicide, which—as readers will understand—is not the case in Claws of the Cat. Ultimately, the decision was a combination of “best guess” and serving the needs of the narrative.
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Thank you for your interest in Claws of the Cat! 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!
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