While visiting Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera on July 6 (2021), I made a side trip to visit Seikanji–a mountain temple with beautiful views that most visitors don’t even realize is there.Read more
Remembering The 47 Rōnin
On December 14, 1702, the 47 loyal retainers of Asano Naganori, lord of Ako, avenged his death by killing another samurai, a court official named Kira Yoshinaka–whose behavior caused their lord’s death almost a year before. The event, which became known as the “Ako Incident” (赤穂事件 Akō jiken) remains an influential part of Japanese culture and history. Under the title Chūshingura, the Ako Incident has been fictionalized in numerous Japanese plays, films, and other works of art – and the story has also inspired Western works in multiple genres.Read more
Jisei – the Poetry of Death
During the medieval period, samurai often wrote special poems, known as jisei, in the hours before their deaths. The tradition originated in Zen Buddhism, and fused three important principles from Zen tradition: – The material world is transient and impermanent – Understanding reality requires an absence of self-nature and acceptance (or pursuit) of emptiness – Attachment to the world causes suffering The earliest recorded jisei was written by Prince Ōtsu, a younger son of Emperor Temmu, just before the prince’s execution in 686. Customarily, composition of jisei was done only by members of Japan’s nobility, samurai, poets, or Buddhist priests. The poem was supposed toRead more
Visiting Gifu Castle
Gifu castle sits on a hill overlooking Gifu Park, a 15 minute bus ride from Gifu Station.Read more
Tokushima Castle: Samurai Palace Ruins
During my recent research trip to Japan, I visited Tokushima Castle Park, an island of green in the center of the prefectural capital Tokushima City and the former site of Tokushima Castle.Read more
Where Did Samurai Get Drinking Water?
During Japan’s medieval era (and afterward, in many cases) samurai families (or their servants, in some cases) obtained their drinking water from wells, rivers, or mountain springs.Read more
The Story of the 47 Loyal Retainers
One of Japan’s most famous historical tales involves the revenge of the 47 ronin. More commonly known as the “Ako Incident,” the tale is immortalized in the (numerous) Japanese film(s) and books entitled Chūshingura, which tell the story of the 47 ronin who avenged their master (and then committed mass suicide).Read more
What’s in a Name? Sometimes, Confusion.
I’m continuing my “fact from fiction” series today with a look at samurai naming conventions and why they caused me a little trouble in CLAWS OF THE CAT. Most samurai received and used several names in the course of a lifetime. The childhood name was given at birth and used until the samurai completed his genpuku, the coming-of-age ceremony during which a samurai male received his swords and his adult name. In addition, samurai children often answered to various nicknames, either personal (like the ones we use for our children now) or numeric and based on the child’s age andRead more
A Word or Two About Seppuku
Seppuku (sometimes also referred to as hara-kiri) is a form of Japanese ritual suicide. Throughout most of Japanese history, only samurai were allowed to commit seppuku. The first recorded seppuku was that of Minamoto no Yorimasa, a warrior and poet who committed suicide by slashing his stomach open with his sword after suffering defeat in battle. During the medieval period, samurai committed seppuku for several reasons, most commonly to avoid being captured after suffering a defeat (in the manner of Minamoto no Yorimasa), as a penalty for shameful or criminal activity, or to expunge the shame of surviving a battle in whichRead more
Do You Know About Genpuku?
Genpuku is (or, more properly, was) a traditional Japanese coming-of-age ceremony for male members of the samurai class. The timing of the ceremony varied, at the discretion of a samurai boy’s father or the male relative in charge of his training, but it typically took place when a boy was between the ages of 12 and 17. When a samurai youth had attained the requisite skills and maturity to accept the responsibilities of adulthood, he was taken to the shrine of his family’s patron kami (a Japanese term for gods or divinities) where the ceremony was performed. After genpuku, a boyRead more