Things You May Wonder about the Samurai

Are there still samurais in Japan?
Not really. Although more than 5% of Japanese population can trace their lineage to the samurai families, they are ordinary citizens with ordinary jobs who don’t carry a sword and who don’t know how to use a sword. They also never brag about having the samurai blood because in today’s society it’s been considered a bit irrelevant. In 1870s the han system (the feudal clan system) was abolished, and the ken (the local government system) was installed. The annual salary of the samurai (3 tons of rice) were suspended, their land was confiscated and they were prohibited from carrying arms and armors. Therefore, the samurais lost their jobs and tried to find new jobs. Some become office workers, bankers, military or police officers

How can you become a Samurai?
In the Edo era, samurai’s life was ruled by the shogunate, therefore the only way to become a samurai was to be born in the samurai family, adopted by a samurai family with a permission of authorities or get married with a samurai.
However, in the warring states period, some talented peasants eventually became samurais. After Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned the peasants from carrying swords in 1590s, it was almost impossible for someone to become a samurai.

How did the samurai armies fight?
The samurai armies did not have one big group. The army consisted of multiple sonae (regimen) consisting of 300~800 warriors. Within each sonae there were several “kumi,” a group consisted of about 20~30 men. The whole army was led by So-Daisho (daimyo), the sonaes were led by samurai taisho, the ashigaru (foot soldiers) were led by ashigaru taisho, kumis were led by kumi gashira. Each sonae had ashigaru archers and arquebusiers on the front line followed by ashigaru spearmen, followed by low ranking samurai and followed by mounted high ranking samurai.
The war used to start by ashigarus shooting arrows followed by the pikemen ashigarus slowly advancing towards the enemy. The samurai then used to attack the rival forces and their actions used to determine the result of the war. The daimyo led the war from all the way back giving the commands to the regiments communicated by the men called gunkan.

Were there female samurais?
Yes! If you were female born in the Samurai family, with no male heir or your relatives had no ability to be a samurai, then you needed to rule the family and serve for your masters. Additionally when a samurai died in the batte field his wife must have protected the household which required strength and training. It so said, about 5% of warrior were female in the warring age. There are also many famous female samurais such as Tomoe Gozen who fought in the Genpei War (1180~85). The legend goes that she was so strong that she could battle against 1000 men alone. Most Japanese are familiar with the white-skinned brave fighter Tomoe Gozen.

Why does the samurai mask have a mustache?
If you were born in the samurai family, you became samurai when you were around 13 years old. Once you become samurai, you were sent to the battle field, if you did not have any face cover, the opponents could easily recognize you as an unskilled warrior. To prevent this happening, the samurai wore masks and intimidated their opponents.

What were the weapons of the samurai?
The first samurai were the mounted archers, the bow and arch were very important for the samurai though they were mostly used for hunting in the past 400 years. When a baby samurai was born he was given a small bow and arrow to convay wish for the health and success of the baby boy. The asymmetric (so that the samurai can shoot by kneeling) Japanese bow is known to be the longest in the world.
The katana was the most important tool for the samurai but it was more commonly used during the Edo period since it is not designed for dueling. The rifles were heavily used during the warring states period but mostly by the foot soldiers (ashigaru). Not because it is dishonorable to kill the enemy from the distance, but because it does not require much training unlike the katana. So that job was given to the ashigaru. The cannons were commonly used during the sieges of Osaka Castle and Shimabara.

How did the samurai train?
Once you were born in the Samurai family, you held a wooden sword in your both hands before you have chop sticks and needed to practice sword fighting from the early childhood. When you become 5 years old, you needed to practice sword fighting with other children in the clan taught by sword masters or someone in your family members. The samurai kids were given real wakizashi around the age of 7 and sent to live in a sword master’s house around the age of 9. Samurai boys were sent to the battle field at the early age of 13. Samurai did not practice any of the modern martial arts (karate, judo, etc.). Their practice is most similar to kendo or iado (sword fighting by using bokken).

Why did not the shogun kill the emperor?
Emperor was considered to be the son of a god who can communicate with many gods. If Shogun wanted to change or kill the emperor, he needed to find someone else to become the new emperor. Shogun could not have become an emperor even if he killed emperor. Because, the shogun was not an Emperor but a military leader.

Were the samurai best warriors in the world?
The last war the samurai got involved was fought 420 years ago (The Battle of Sekigahara in 1600) and the last armed conflict took place about 380 years ago (the Shimabara rebellion in 1639). Being a samurai was more about the honor and the principles, not necessarily the fighting ability. The most famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, was actually a ronin, a low level samurai. Contrary to the common view, the samurai actually did not usually fight in the front rows, in the front rows there were foot soldiers “ashigaru” (who usually carried the rifles after 1550s). Behind them there was a different level of foot soliders who carried very long spikes. Behind them the cavalry, or the samurai who were mounted swordsmen. Contrary to the common belief, the katana was rarely used in the battles because it gets dents so easily and it cannot kill a samurai with an armor. Most of the time, the samurai threw stones at each other or used spears with spikes to pull the enemy from their horses. When the enemy lost the balance, then the samurai took out their dagger (tanto) or wakizashi to stab from the points that are not covered by the metal armors (belly, the corners of the torso, etc.).

Why did the samurai commit “seppuku” (harakiri)?
Although the word harakiri is in Japanese, the Japanese word for ritual suicide is seppuku. The samurai cut their belly off because they believed the spirit rested in the belly. Seppuku is done if a samurai is disgraced, heavily wounded or shamefully defeated. Since it is very painful, the samurai cannot cut the belly all the way; a few moments later another samurai (kaishakunin) who is standing behind finishes the job. There are two kinds of seppuku: the one where the samurai voluntarily commits the act and the one where he is charged with the seppuku (e.g. the case of 47 samurai). In the latter case, the samurai wears a white kimono, writes his death poem, gets his last meal where the last plate has a blade without a handle. After half way through, the kaishakunin chops the head but only 60% to make sure the samurai’s head does not roll on the floor (not honorable) or fly away and hit someone. At the end, it looks like the samurai is holding his head in his hands.

How did the Samurai fight with heavy helmets?
Samurai leaders or feudal lords wore decorative helmets that can weigh up to 10kg. These men stayed at the intrenchment, and gave commands. So that their men needed to recognize the leader from the distance. This was especially important in the battles where many rifles with heavy smoke were used. The actual warriors wore simple and lighter helmets.

Kyoto’s Samurai Spots

Genko-an Temple

At summer’s end in 1600, a castle fell. With his reduced garrison of three hundred samurai, Torii Mototada knew he didn’t stand a chance against the advancing wave of the Western Army, lead by Ishida Mitsunari. To the man everyone stationed at Fushimi Castle would die, but in doing so they would delay Mitsunari–just enough–so that Tokugawa Ieyasu and his Eastern Army could close the gap between them and crush this uprising once and for all. The sacrifice would be worth it.

The siege lasted twelve days. Fires broke out. The defenses fell. One by one the small garrison was cut down or committed suicide to avoid capture and dishonor. In the chaos, impressions of footprints, handprints, and faces were pressed in blood to the floorboards, memorializing the final hours of bravery of the warriors of Fushimi Castle.

Following the battle of Sekigahara which saw Mitsunari’s final defeat, Ieyasu ordered what could be salvaged from the burnt out ruins of the castle be brought to Kyoto. There, the blood stained floorboards were fixed to the ceilings of newly constructed temples to rest the spirits of the fallen samurai in peace. One such temples is Genko-an.

Genko-an was originally founded in 1346, however it has undergone significant renovations and restorations since then, and has a fresh, vibrant feel to it that is accentuated by its several wide terraces to the gardens outside. Two notable features at Genko-an are its round Window of Realization representing Zen maturity, completeness, and enlightenment, and the square Window of Delusion, representing confusion, ignorance , and samsara. The well-kept gardens are a delight to view at any time of year, showcasing Japan’s seasonal flora in all their spectacular beauty. Genko-an’s chitenjou can be viewed from the main hall. One can see footprints and handprints here in sobering clarity, reminding guests of the sacrifice of Mototada’s garrison that fell over four hundred years ago.

Genko-an was originally founded in 1346, however it has undergone significant renovations and restorations since then, and has a fresh, vibrant feel to it that is accentuated by its several wide terraces to the gardens outside. Two notable features at Genko-an are its round Window of Realization and enlightenment, and the square Window of Delusion.

Nijo Castle

Following his decisive victory over Mori Terumoto and the Western Army at Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu was eager to consolidate his power. As part of his plan to do this, he ordered the construction of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, not far from the Imperial Palace. Although Tokugawa operated out of Edo (present day Tokyo), the position of Nijo Castle in what was then the seat of the Imperial court was symbolic of his unification of the west and east of Japan. Tokugawa wouldn’t be officially recognized as shogun until 1603, however the construction of Nijo Castle from 1601 until its completion in 1626 is largely considered to be the starting point of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Nijo castle remained the central location of Tokugawa power in Kyoto until November 9, 1867 when the 15th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu officially resigned and returned governing power to the Emperor, following a period of civil unrest in the Kansai region. Ironically, this makes Nijo Castle both the start and end points of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Today, Nijo Castle sits on 275,00 square meters of Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward. Having survived fire, flood, and lightning strike, as well as modernizing updates and building additions from other historic locations, Nijo Castle nonetheless retains much of its historic, picturesque beauty from its days as the palace of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Comprised of two concentric rings of fortifications, the castle boasts moats, gardens, towering parapets, opulent reception halls, and the famous chirping nightingale hallways designed to alert residents of potential intruders. Yearly cultural events are staged at Nijo Castle, including dazzling light ups of both sakura and momiji. Steeped in history, Niji Castle is a visually stunning destination for those looking for a quiet return to the days when shoguns ruled Japan.

Today, Nijo Castle sits on 275,00 square meters of Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward. Having survived fire, flood, and lightning strike, as well as modernizing updates and building additions from other historic locations, Nijo Castle nonetheless retains much of its historic, picturesque beauty from its days as the palace of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Honnoji Temple

It is early morning on June 21, 1582. The air is warm and slightly humid from the rains. The sun has not yet risen and under the cover of darkness an army surrounds Honno-ji, a small temple in central Kyoto. Inside sleeps Oda Nobunaga, warlord at the height of his power. With only three weakened enemy clans left to defeat before his goal of consolidated power is complete, Nobunaga rests easy. Unbeknownst to him, his enemy comes not from the Mori, Hojo, or Uesugi clans, but from his own army. Akechi Mitsuhide, one of Nobunaga’s generals, has chosen this night to betray his master. Caught off guard with only a small retainer and the bulk of his army suppressing rebellion elsewhere, Nobunaga’s fate is sealed. To avoid the dishonor and humiliation of having his head captured by a mutineer, Nobunaga orders his loyal servant Mori Ranmaru to burn the temple to the ground before committing suicide. The reasons for Mitsuhide’s betrayal are not altogether clear, but most historians agree that he harbored a grudge against Nobunaga for a combination of factors ranging from public humiliation to fears of exile. Mitsuhide did not profit off of his betrayal for long. He was defeated by Hashiba Hideyoshi at the battle of Yamazaki, and while fleeing was killed by bandits.

Today, Honno-ji sits near Kyoto Shinkyasho-mae Station, having been rebuilt several times following devastating fires. Its location in downtown Kyoto makes it an easy stopover for shoppers perusing Teramachi, or the Shijo shopping district. The small grounds are the site of several memorials, including one for Oda Nobunaga. For a small fee of 500 yen, guests can view items associated with the warlord, and pay their respects to a great figure in Japanese history themselves.

Enryakuji Temple

Enryaku-ji (延暦寺 Enryaku-ji) is a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hiei in Ōtsu, overlooking Kyoto. Mount Heiei is where the ninja tradition was born. In 1571, Oda Nobunaga burned the temple and hundreds of monks died during the raid. After the Enryakuji incidednt there was a big fight between the ninja and Oda Nobunaga in Iga.

Hachidai Jinja

In 1604, four years after his involvement in the battle of Sekigahara, Miyamoto Musashi, one of Japan’s most famous swordsmen, challenged Yoshioka Seijuro, the head of the Yoshioka school of kenjitsu, to a duel. The Yoshioka school was one of the eight major kenjitsu schools called the Kyohachiryu, and defeating their head in a duel would cement Musashi’s legacy as one of the premier swordsmen in Japan. The duel was fought with wooden swords, and when Musashi struck Seijuro’s shoulder, breaking his arm, he was declared the winner. Seijuro later retired as the head of the school, leaving it in the hands of Yoshioka Denshichiro who quickly challenged Musashi to another duel, this time to the death. Musashi made short work of Denshichiro, killing him with a blow to the head with his wooden sword. This left the school in the hands of twelve year-old Yoshioka Matashichiro who likewise challenged Musashi to a duel, at night, outside of Hachida Jinja. Suspicious of the odd timing of the duel, Musashi arrived earlier than the appointed time and found Matashichiro surrounded by a small personal army bent on ambushing the swordsman. Having none of this, Musashi waited until an opportune moment to leap from his hiding place and run at the boy, cutting off his head. Surrounded by hostile swordsman, musketeers, and archers, Musashi drew his second sword and fled through the rice fields, cutting his way through with both blades. Thus, ni-ten ichiryu was born.

Hachidai Jinja sits in northern Kyoto’s Sakyo-ku ward, in the Ichijoji district. Its out of the way location scenically located at the base of a mountain with several other temples along the incline makes it a perfect destination for travelers looking to experience some of old Kyoto without the bustle of tourists. A piece of the Sagarimatsu, an ancient pine tree used as a waypoint for travellers in feudal Japan is preserved here. It was at this pine tree that Musashi defeated the Yoshioka school once and for all. Decedents of this pine are carefully cultivated near the original location, just down the street from Hachidai Jinja.

Hachidai Jinja sits in northern Kyoto’s Sakyo-ku ward, in the Ichijoji district. Its out of the way location scenically located at the base of a mountain with several other temples along the incline makes it a perfect destination for travelers looking to experience some of old Kyoto without the bustle of tourists.

Nanzenji Temple

During the 16th century there was a famous ninja whose name was Ishikawa Goemon. His philosophy was just like Robin Hood. However he was caught by the Shogun Toyotomi. He was boiled alive in a giant pot. The incident took place in front of the Nanzenji Temple in 1594.

Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺), whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan.

Omiya Inn

The Tokugawa shogunate had fallen. A new era was dawning, not in small part thanks to Sakamoto Ryoma. But when one induces a monumental turn in history, one tends to make enemies. Though the pro-loyalists had succeeded in removing power from the shogunate, Tokugawa loyalist remained operative in Japan. On December 10, 1867, a group of assassins made their way to Omiya Inn where Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro were staying. Met at the door by Ryoma’s ex-sumo wrestler bodyguard, the assassin presented himself as an ordinary guest who wished to see the famed swordsman. When the bodyguard turned to see if his master was accepting guests, the assassin cut him down and the rest of his compatriots advanced on the upper floor where Ryoma was staying. Ryoma, hearing the noise but thinking little of it, was caught off guard. The room erupted into chaos. Lamps were overturned and the room was reduced to darkness. Both Ryoma and Nakaoka suffered fatal wounds from the altercations. Ryoma died that night, and Nakaoka followed two days later. The Shinsengumi, Tokugawa’s police force in the Gion district, were later implicated in the crime, and their leader, Kondo Isami was executed for it. An ex-member of another Tokugawa force, the Kyoto Mimawarigumi later confessed to the assassination. To this day, historians are unable to determine conclusively who, exactly, was responsible for Ryoma’s death.

The original Omiya Inn, the site of Ryoma’s assassination no longer exists. Its former location is marked by a memorial outside of a convenience store on Kawaramachi Dori, in downtown Kyoto.

Gesshin-in Temple

In 1867, Ito Kashitaro, a senior officer of the Shinsengumi broke off from the famous Kyoto Bakufu police force to form his own organization called The Guardians of the Imperial Tomb. This group withdrew to operate out of Gessin-In in southern Higashiyama. This new group was Imperialist in opposition to the Shinsengumi, and for their defection, they were hunted down and killed by the remaining Shinsengumi.

The exact details of the betrayal and the executions are unknown, however it is speculated that Saito Hajime, a captain of the Shinsengumi charged with routing out spies, was sent to infiltrate The Guardians of the Imperial Tomb. This however may be a conflation of his duties to ferret out spies within the Shinsengumi. Whether or not he was charged with spying on traitors is not within credible historical records.

Ryozen Museum of History

The Ryozen Museum of History is dedicated to the events and artifacts of the Bakumatsu–the end of the Bakufu period, which led to the Meiji Restoration. Located in the Gion district, the museum houses several artifacts from the period, as well as a gift shop selling Ryoma and Shinsengumi items.

Chion-in Temple

Located in Higashiyama-ku, Chion-in is a large temple complex dedicated to the Pure Land Buddhist sect. First established in 1234, it memorialized Honen, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism. Chion-in houses several features unique to Japan, or otherwise interesting in nature.

Chion-in also boasts the famous nightingale floors. These chirping floorboards were meant to warn the Tokugawa shogunate when unwanted visitors were advancing in the night by rubbing two pieces of metal together when pressure was applied from above. Chion-in is also one of the locations where The Last Samurai was filmed. In the movie, the large stone steps and the grand, palatial architecture of the temple was meant to represent Edo castle.

Terada Inn

March 8, 1866 was a night of well-deserved rest for master swordsman Sakamoto Ryoma. A pro-loyalist, he had just helped negotiated an alliance between Choshu and Satsuma–two clans with a long history of rivalry. The alliance was a big step toward finally ending the Tokugawa shogunate and Ryoma was taking his rest at Terada Inn along with his friend Miyoshi Shinzo. Unfortunately, the local Fushmi bugyo caught wind of the fact that a high profile pro-loyalist was staying at the inn, and sent twenty armed assailants to arrest him. Ryoma was, however, not caught off guard and although the inn was a tight space for fighting so many people, Ryoma and Miyoshi managed to fight them back with pistol and sword, long enough for the pair to escape out of a back entrance only mildly injured.

The Terada Inn was no stranger to conflicts between the pro-loyalist and Bakufu factions. Four years earlier the inn was the stage for the failed plans of a pro-loyalist uprising that came to nothing after daimyo Shimazu Hisamitsu discovered and foiled the plot.Today the Terada Inn sits in the southern Fushimi ward of Kyoto. Although the wooden structure has been reconstructed, it still bears the marks of Ryoma’s battle against the Bakufu patrolmen in bullet holes and sword cuts. The inn also features several bits of Ryoma memorabilia for interested guests to view, as well as the stunning traditional Japanese interior that so wonderfully preserves the atmosphere of old Japanese inns.

Gojo Ohashi Bridge

In the latter years of the Heian period, as the legend goes, an immense warrior monk named Benkei stood upon Gojo Ohashi Bridge, challenging any passing swordsman to a duel. It was his goal to collect one thousand swords this way, and with his great height and incredible strength, he had won nine hundred ninety-nine battles and taken his rival’s swords each time. For his one thousandth battle, he challenged a young man named Minamoto Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune was an accomplished swordsman himself, and despite his young age and his relatively small size, he defeated Benkei on the bridge. Benkei then pledged himself to Yoshitsune, and followed him as a loyal retainer throughout his travels. When Yoshitsune joined with his brother Minamoto Yoritomo to defeat the rival Taira clan in the Genpei War, Benkei naturally fought at his side. However, Yoritomo soon grew jealous of his brother’s successes and Yoshitsune and Benkei were exiled, living their lives as pursued fugitives until they were eventually betrayed by Fujiwara no Yasuhira. Inside Fujiwara’s residence, Yoshitsune was forced to commit suicide, while on the bridge outside Benkei fought off hundreds of Yoritomo’s samurai. Retreating back at Benkei’s incredible prowess, Yoritomo’s forces launched a flurry of arrows at the lone monk and still the giant did not fall. After some time the samurai cautiously approached the arrow riddled warrior, only to discover the Benkei had died standing up. Yoshitsune’s head was captured and brought to his brother, ending the story of the famous pair of warriors.

While the actual fight between Benkei and Yoshitsune happened at the site of present day Matsubara Bridge, the event is nonetheless commemorated at present day Gojo Ohashi Bridge where a statue of the two swordsmen in battle stands. This current Gojo Ohashi Bridge was constructed in 1959, nearly eight hundred years after the Kamakura period was begun by the Minamoto victory in the Genpei War.

Ichiriki Chaya

In 1701, daimyoAsano Takumi-no-kami Naganori was appointed ambassador of envoys from the Imperial Court in Kyoto. His job was to receive official guests from Kyoto at Edo Castle on behalf of the then ruling shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. To help him in this task, Tokugawa also appointed Kira Kozuke-no-suke Yoshinaka as protocol official. Unfortunately, the relationship between Asano and Kira soon soured. On a day when Asano was scheduled to meet guests, he drew his sword on Kira in an attempt to kill him, following a spate of verbal insults directed at the daimyo. For this act of unsanctioned aggression, Asano was sentenced to commit suicide. Kira was permitted to go free without punishment. All of Asano’s lands were seized and the samurai he retained were dismissed, making them ronin–masterless swordsmen. Of these ronin, Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshi gathered forty-seven of his compatriots and withdrew to Kyoto to plot their revenge. The plot took two years to manifest. Conscious of the increased scrutiny that would be laid upon them after their master had been wronged, Oishi feigned repose at Ichiriki Chaya, a tea and geisha house in central Kyoto. There he drank, gambled and caroused until Kira let his guard down in 1703 enough for the forty-seven ronin to finally avenge Asano. Following their code of ethics, they turned themselves in for their crime shortly after, and were all sentenced to commit suicide on the same day.

Over three hundred years later, Ichiriki Chaya still stands in the Gion district of Kyoto. Its access is extremely exclusive however, and guests must have close ties to the house already established before being permitted to enter. For a limited time in 2006, at the request of the Kyoto City Tourist Association, a small number of foreign guests were permitted to enter without being chaperoned by established patrons. Entertainment at Ichiriki can be as much as $8,000 USD per night, making the tea house both economically and socially closed to most visitors.

Ikedaya Inn

In the dying days of the Edo period, characterized by brutal conflicts between the Bakufu and pro-Imperial loyalists, Emperor Komei sought a peaceful reunification via an alliance between the Imperial Court and the Tokugawa Shogunate. The peaceful resolution to a centuries old conflict was an idealistic and overly ambitious goal for a nation weakened by factitious civil conflicts and pressed by foreign interests. In Kyoto, the Bakufu’s elite police force, the Shinsengumi, fought to contain numerous plots and treasons from bands of roninacting out vengeful aggressions and assassinations. One such incident took place at the Ikedaya Inn. Following the arrest of Shintaro Furutaka, samurai formerly employed by the Choshu and Tosa han gathered at the inn to plot a mass arson in Kyoto, starting with the Imperial Palace. Through historically disputed interrogation techniques, the Shinsengumi were able to extract this information from Shintaro and staged a raid against the pro-Imperial loyalists at Ikedaya Inn. Eight shishi were killed and twenty-three were arrested in the raid. It’s worth noting that the shishi claimed they were only plotting how to rescue Shintaro from the Shinsengumi, but historians are divided on all accounts of intent and method by both the shishi and the Shinsengumi.

The place where the pro-Imperial loyalists were hiding and were caught. Eight shishi were killed and twenty-three were arrested in the raid.

Nijo Jinya

Many ninja also lived near Nijo castle. One of the famous ninja buildings was Nijo-jinya. This house was also used as an inn and a center where people traded rice. The house has an architecture that is convenient for the ninja.

Traditional house of samurai period with four hundred years history that converted into inn for residins and viewing y visitors. Best combined with a tour to Nijo Castle.

Sanjo Bridge

Sanjo Bridge was a place where the samurai displayed the chopped heads of their arch-rivals. There are also reports that Hideyoshi Toyotomi (the samurai who built Osaka Castle) displayed the chopped heads of his adversaries on the bridge and threw the head of Sen no Rikyu (The founder of Tea Ceremony who later was charged with seppuku) under the bridge. No doubt, the bridge is most famous for being the last battle stage for Shinsengumi and the Choshu clan during the Bakumatsu period.
The second half of the 19th century was a turbulent time in Japan. Tensions between pro-Imperial loyalists and shogunate loyalists starkly divided the country. Old grudges from the founding of the Tokugawa regime continued to fester. The Mori clan, which had been defeated by Tokugawa Ieyasu at the battle of Sekigahara two hundred and fifty years earlier, now maneuvered for power with a series of loose alliances, calling themselves Choshu han. Unfortunately, the Choshu weren’t unified in their goals or methods. While some participated in violent anti-foreigner expulsions at the behest of the Emperor, others actively plotted against the Imperial palace in Kyoto. This had them declared enemies of the Imperial Court in 1866.

In September of that year, a signboard was erected at Sanjo Bridge, publicly announcing that the Choshu han were enemies of the state. Its placement was strategically significant, as Sanjo Bridge was historically the final leg of two of Japan’s “Five Routes” for travelers embarking on long journeys. Placing the indictment there ensured that it would be seen, and travel broadly across the country. This angered the Choshu who repeatedly tore down the sign whenever it was replaced. Finally, a detachment of Shinsengumi was sent to capture the vandals and bring them to justice. Thirty-four Shinsengumi were sent in three units. Two dressed as beggars on the side of the bridge, laying in wait. When eight samurai approached the sign to destroy it, three were brought down while the remaining five escaped.

If you go to the Sanjo Bridge from the Sanjo Shopping Street side (Starbucks would be on your left) the 2nd pole on your right still has the scratches from the last fight between the Choshu clan samurai and the Shinsengumi fighters. There is no explanation in English so you can stop by the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum which is 3 minutes from the bridge to learn more about the samurai.

Sanjo bridge is also special as you can still see the supports under the bridge that are about 400 years old. In the Spring and summer, many people sit by the river and some musicians perform near the bridge. You get a very unique small town feeling passing on the bridge in the early evening anytime of the year.

Sanjo bridge is also special as you can still see the supports under the bridge that are about 400 years old. In the Spring and summer, many people sit by the river and some musicians perform near the bridge.

Yogen-in Temple

At summer’s end in 1600, a castle fell. With his reduced garrison of three hundred samurai, Torii Mototada knew he didn’t stand a chance against the advancing wave of the Western Army, lead by Ishida Mitsunari. To the man everyone stationed at Fushimi Castle would die, but in doing so they would delay Mitsunari–just enough–so that Tokugawa Ieyasu and his Eastern Army could close the gap between them and crush this uprising once and for all. The sacrifice would be worth it.

The siege lasted twelve days. Fires broke out. The defenses fell. One by one the small garrison was cut down or committed suicide to avoid capture and dishonor. In the chaos, impressions of footprints, handprints, and faces were pressed in blood to the floorboards, memorializing the final hours of bravery of the warriors of Fushimi Castle.

Following the battle of Sekigahara which saw Mitsunari’s final defeat, Ieyasu ordered what could be salvaged from the burnt out ruins of the castle be brought to Kyoto. There, the blood stained floorboards were fixed to the ceilings of newly constructed temples to rest the spirits of the fallen samurai in peace. One such temples is Yogen-in.

Yogen-in is a tiny temple first established in 1594. It was reconstructed with the floorboards of Fushimi Castle in 1621. Sitting behind the much larger Sanjuusangen-do temple, all Tokugawa shoguns starting from Hidetada are enshrined here. The temple offers guided tours in Japanese, and aside from the chitenjou–the blood ceiling– it is most famous for its decorative cedar sliding doors with depictions of Chinese lions, elephants, and kirin painted on them. Photography is not permitted in Yogen-in, and the dark interior gives it a somber, subdued atmosphere, suitable for the memorial it is intended to be.

Yogen-in is a tiny temple first established in 1594. It was reconstructed with the floorboards of Fushimi Castle in 1621. Sitting behind the much larger Sanjuusangen-do temple, all Tokugawa shoguns starting from Hidetada are enshrined here.

Old Japanese Photos

Samurai in Armour

Three men dressed as Samurai warriors in full traditional armor, holding longbows.

A man in an elaborate robe and apron, holding two swords.
Japanese Tattoo

View of a nude man from the back, with a red and blue tattoo covering his back and arms. He is leaning on a wooden fence.

Two women being pulled in a rickshaw by a man wearing a straw hat.
Geisha House

Two story building with several women standing on the upstairs balcony and a few men standing outside the front door. A sign over the front door reads “Nectarine/ No. 9”.
Weaving Silk

A woman operates a loom with foot pedals while another woman looks on.
Young Woman with Fan

Three-quarter length portrait of a young woman holding a fan with elaborate combs and flowers in her hair.
Dressing Obi

A woman kneeling behind another woman, arranging her obi (sash).

Two sumo wrestlers, wearing loincloths and crouching before a match, with a robed official standing behind them.
Freight cart

Two men pulling and two men pushing a cart filled with large bales of hay.
Umbrella Maker

An umbrella maker sits on a low stool, applying paper to the ribs of an umbrella. Other umbrellas at various stages of assembly are around him.
Happy New Year

Two people bowing towards each other. A boy stands to one side, carrying a large package.
Hair Dressing in Japanese Style

A man seated on the floor with another man standing behind him, arranging his hair.
Pilgrim Going Up Fujiyama

Portrait of a man wearing a broad hat, and traveling clothes, holding a walking stick, in front of a studio backdrop of Mt. Fuji.
All the licenses and royalties belong to The J. Paul Getty Museum

Samurai armor

Helmet, Mask, Cuirass, and Collar of an Armor (Gusoku)

The breastplate of this armor is overlaid with a tooled, gilded, and painted piece of leather likely imported from Holland, reflecting the growing interest in European culture and goods in Japan in the eighteenth century, and the creative ways in which this interest was manifested in armorers’ art. Decorative European leather, often originally intended as a wall covering, was used to embellish a range of equipment, including sword mountings and equestrian tacks.

Armor full set (Gusoku)

It features a kusazuri (skirt) with an extremely rare color scheme of silk lacings in red, yellowish-green, black, and white. The mon (heraldic badge), in the form of three whirling commas (mitsudomoe mon), is that of the Okabe family, feudal lords of Kishiwada (present day Kishiwada City in Osaka Prefecture). The armor is signed on the inside of the helmet: Eichizan no Kuni Toyohara jū Bamen Tomotsugu Saku (Bamen Tomotsugu living in Eichizan province, Toyohara village).

Armor (Yaroi)

The yoroi is characterized by a cuirass that wraps around the body and is closed by a separate panel (waidate) on the right side and by a deep four-sided skirt. In use from around the tenth to the fourteenth century, yoroi were generally worn by warriors on horseback.
The breastplate is covered with stenciled leather bearing the image of the powerful Buddhist deity Fudō Myō-ō, whose fierce mien and attributes of calmness and inner strength were highly prized by the samurai.

Helmet, Cuirass, Shoulder Defenses (Sode), and Arm Defenses of an Armor (Nimaido Gusoku)

Armor embossed in high relief came into vogue in the eighteenth century, a period of peace and stability under Tokugawa rule. With less concern about battlefield functionality, armorers explored new decorative possibilities, including embossing, a technique that would have compromised the armor’s defensive qualities, since it created catch points for an opponent’s weapons. The Myōchin, among the most well-known armor-making families of the period, specialized in this difficult but spectacular technique.

Armor (Gusoku)

This example comes from the armory of Date Yoshimura (1703–1746), daimyo (lord) of Sendai. The helmet bowl, signed Saotome Iyetada, dates from the sixteenth century; the remainder of the armor was constructed in the eighteenth century. The breastplate is inscribed inside with the armorer’s name, Myōchin Munesuke (1688–1735). The embossed ornament on the solid iron plates is characteristic of the Myōchin school.

Armor (Yaroi)

This armor was donated to the Kurama Temple, near Kyoto, by one of the Ashikaga shoguns. During the late Edo period, it passed into the possession of Sakai, daimyo (lord) of Wakasa, then military governor of Kyoto. Sakai had the armor refurbished and its silk lacings replaced with leather ones in the syle of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The oldest part of the armor, the helmet bowl, dates from the late Kamakura period (early fourteenth century).

Armor (Gusoku)

Although constructed in the traditional sixteenth-century gusoku (complete set) fashion, this is actually an example of the revival of earlier armor styles during the Edo period. It was part of the large collection of Japanese arms and armor formed by Arms and Armor Department founding curator Bashford Dean around 1900, during his extended stays in Japan for scientific research. The armor was included in the Metropolitan Museum’s 1903 loan exhibition of Japanese arms and armor from Dean’s private collection, which the Museum purchased in 1904.

Armor (Gusoku)

The breastplate and backplate of this distinctive armor are constructed of hinged iron plates. This design affords a similar degree of protection as solid-plate armor but provides greater flexibility and a closer fit for the wearer. Hinged cuirasses of the seventeenth century are rare, and were among the most expensive and time-consuming types of armor to produce. They are believed to have been used primarily by the Uesugi family and associated domains.

Armor (Yaroi)

During the eighteenth century, there was a revival of interest in medieval Japanese culture. As the demand for historical styles of armor began to increase among the wealthy lords, contemporary armorers studied the older forms and techniques in order to duplicate them. This example imitates a yoroi of the twelfth to thirteenth century. It is characterized by a helmet with prominent rivet heads and a wide, flaring neck guard and by a large cuirass with a separate panel on the right side, large square shoulder guards, and a deep four-sided skirt.

Armor (Gusoku) of the Maeda Family

The armor is decorated in several places with the plum blossom mon (heraldic emblem) of the Maeda family, who were daimyo (feudal lords) of Kaga Province (the southern part of present-day Ishikawa Prefecture) and the second largest landowners in Japan after the Tokugawa family.

Edo Period Mask

Muneakira’s masterpiece, this mask by Muneakira was already famous when it was first published in 1763. It represents Jikokuten, guardian of the East, one of the Four Kings of Heaven. The mask is also one of the few to retain its original silk head covering sewn to the upper edges.

Cuirass (Armor for the Torso and Hips) and Greaves (Lower Leg Defenses)

The lavish decoration of this cuirass focuses on the theme of archery. The silver character yumi in the center of the breastplate is Japanese for “bow.” Below, there is a golden arrow entwined by dragons. A large sachihoko, a mythological animal that could control rain and therefore create favorable conditions for the use of bow and arrow, is depicted in silver and gold on the backplate.

Cuirass of a Dō-maru

This armor is believed to have been given by Date Masamune (died 1636), one of the most famous daimyo (lords) of his time, to a high-ranking samurai in his service, Shiraishi Bungo.

Armor (Gusoku)

The breastplate is embossed in high relief with designs featuring a dragon and clouds. Made in late 18th–19th century in Japan.
For the manufacture of this armor, the masters used Iron, lacquer, gold, silver, copper alloy, leather, silk

Armor (Gusoku)

The helmet crest (maidate) has a gilt-copper moon flanked by rising silver waves. The shoulder guards (sode) are decorated in gold lacquer with the image of a rabbit springing from seafoam, possibly a reference to Chikubushima, a popular Noh play.

All the licenses and royalties belong to Metropolitan Museum

Things You May Wonder about the Ninja

How can you become a Ninja?
One can only become a ninja if he/she is born in a ninja family in a ninja clan. There were only two ninja clans in Japan (Iga and Koga) though hundreds of ninjas moved to Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period. If you were born in the Ninja community, you could become a ninja. Ninja training requires a lot effort and commitment, that is why the culture of ninja gradually disappeared since there was not much need for professional ninjas in the Meiji period.

How did the Ninja train?
A lot of theories about the way ninjas trained remains a mystery because ninjas were mostly considered spies and they did not leave much written records behind them. The ninjutsu is a concept that was recently put together in 1900s.
And also in Japan there are dozens of RYU’s (an independent training way or training school) which differ from one another. The oldest ninja training Ryu is Tokagure Ryu though not all ninjas trained in the Tokagure Ryu way. Almost all ninjas trained on stealth walking, fast running and surviving in the wild, making poisons and explosives from the early childhood.

Were there female Ninja?
Yes! If you were born in the Ninja community, you can become a female ninja. Female ninjas knew how to use the ninja weapons but they also disguised as a beautiful girl to seduce the or pretended a sick girl in order to sneak into the Samurai mansion. The female ninjas were called kunaiichi, their sword was different from male ninjas’ sword (not straight and does not have a hand guard).

If a ninja and Samurai had a fight who would win?
If it is an individual fight, the samurai is likely to win though the ninja often used the weapon called kusari gama (sickle with chains) which can be quite effective to stop a samurai with two sharp blades.
1- Samurai were the only ones who carried 2 swords (katana and wakizashi). Ninja usually did not carry any swords. Some ninjas carried only 1 short sword.
2-Samurai were the only ones who traveled by a horse. A samurai with horse is more advantageous than a ninja without a horse.
3-Samurai are more experienced in combat fighting. Ninja specialized in espionage and covert fighting.
4- The samurai were not allowed to have any job except fighting (in the medieval times). Ninja were farmers who were hired as mercenaries.
If it is a small-group fight in a rugged terrain, the ninja may win. The ninja have better survival skills compared to the samurai. If it is a large-group fight, the samurai are likely win.
The ninja and the samurai usually collaborated. However, in certain occasions, they fought against each other. During the war of Tensho-Iga (1581), the ninja clans were devastated by the samurai (The forces of Oda Nobunaga). Even though the ninja were defeated, their guerrilla fighting skills impressed the samurai. The samurai started using the ninja spies after the 1580s.

Were there other warriors in feudal Japan besides the samurai and ninja?
Yes there were warrior monks who challenged the samurai clans for a long time mostly known as sohei. The most well known warrior monk group was Ikko Ikki who ruled some regions in the Northwest Japan in the 1500s. Ikko Ikkis belonged to the Jodo Shinshu Honganji sect of buddhism who used Ishiyama Honganji as their headquarter. They did not wear a helmet and mostly fought by pole arms. They caused heavy damages to the armies of Oda Nobunaga who eventually defeated them in 1580. Similar to Ikko Ikki there were also Yamabushi, the mountain hermits who practiced shuugendo (the esoteric religion that is the combination of Buddhism and shintoism). They were close to the Ikko Ikki and ninjas. Many researchers claim there are similarities between the tactics and lifestyles of yamabushi and the ninjas. Yamabushi disappeared from the history along with Ikko Ikki when Oda Nobunaga burned Ishiyama Honganji in 1580 that was located right where Osaka Castle is located today.


The role of Ninja in Feudal Japan

The ninjas were most active in the 1600s and 1700s being hired as spies and assassins for the daimyos. Although their image is usually associated by assassination, most of the time they were spies who could walk very silently, run very fast and make poisons and simple explosives. They usually worked as individuals or small groups.
In Japanese, ninjas are usually called “shinobi” which means spy. Spies always existed in the history of Japan. In the 12th century two clans in the central Japan area, Iga and Koga, were a little different from the other samurai clans. They did not have a typical samurai system and they had more communal lifestyles. Some families in Iga and Koga (e.g. The Mochizuki family) were in close contact with the Yamabushi (mountain hermits) who practiced shuugendo and some families in Iga and Koga practiced distinct martial arts, the most well known was Tokagure Ryu. These two societies emerged as the first ninja clans but they usually did not fight for or against the other samurai clans in battles except for defending their territories against Oda Nobunaga’s forces in 1579 and 1581. They won in 1579 but lost in 1581.

The History of Ninja

Japanese people believe that the ninja have some supernatural powers such as controlling others’ minds or walking on the river. This is perhaps because people in the Iga and Koga regions had long been practicing hypnosis and botanics that arrived from China in the 6th century when Buddhism was introduced to Japan.
• Prince Shotoku (574 ~ 622) reportedly had a famous spy named Otomono Sahito who is considered to be the fist ninja in history.
Despite the fact that the Iga and Koka towns are very close to Nara and Kyoto, the residents were not ruled by any samurai clan and commonly practiced shuugendo (esoteric Buddhism that promoted mountain training).
During the Nara period (710~794) the yamabushi (back-cap wearing mountain monks) emerged. They abstained from pleasurable things, maintained simple lives in the mountains and they were good fighters.
When the Tang Dynasty in China fell in 907, many monks and generals came to Japan and shared their knowledge of warfare and the eastern philosophy mostly around Central Japan including the towns of Iga and Koga.
In 1162, a samurai from the Genji clan moved to Iga after losing a battle against the Taira clan and renounced his samurai status. He changed his name to Daisuke Tokagure. He later met with Kain Doshi, a Chinese monk who was exiled from China to Iga. Together they developed Tokagure-ryu, the first organized practice of defense and stealth techniques. These techniques are also called ninpo-taijitsu.
Historical records indicate the existence of shinobi during the Muromachi Period. There are references to ninjas who secretly burned the Hachimanyama castle and infiltrated the Ototsu Castle during the Nanbukochu wars (1336~1392).
During the Sengoku period (1477~1615) everyone was aware of the guerrilla fighters in Iga and Koka who maintained a communal life different from other towns in feudal Japan. Oda Nobunaga’s son tried to invade the town of Iga in 1579 but got defeated badly.
In 1581, Oda Nobunaga attacked the town again with the army of 40,000 men, The ninja were vastly outnumbered and lost against the army. Oda Nobunaga reportedly killed most of the Ninja back then during the Tensha-Iga battle.
It is said that Hattori Hanzo from Iga, saved the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu in two occasions and was given the task of guarding the Shogunate in Tokyo. The district known as Hanzo-mon in Tokyo refers to the area where Hanzo’s ninja guards used to live.
During the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868) the need for ninja gradually decreased because of the peaceful political environment and the Kogi-Onmitsu, 3000 strong intelligence agents working for the shogunate.
Today there are dozens of Tokagure-ryu ninpo and ninjutsu dojos in and outside of Japan. The leader of Tokagure-ryu of Japan is Masaaki Hatsumi who is in his late 70s and the name of his organization is Bujinkan. Genbukan Dojo which also teaches ninpo techniques has been popular all around the world.

 Ninja facts

-Although some people consider ninjas as sneaky disloyal assassins, there are not many cases where ninjas were not loyal to their master while a number of times some samurai betrayed their masters (e.g. Akechi Mitsuhide).
-Since the ninja could not own horses and did not carry swords unlike the samurai, they had to run so fast in order to survive. Some ninjas could run more than 50km in one day. They trained up in the mountains to have larger lungs.
-Not being detected was one of the most important things for the ninja. That’s why they did not smoke and eat spicy stuff before the missions. They always took herbal showers in order to not to have any bad body odor that can alert the enemy.
-Ninjas mostly ate red beans and black rice believing that black food made them healthier. Ninjas ate lots of vegetables and carried cookies that are made of dried red bean paste.
-Most of what is known about ninja and ninjutsu are criticized for being fiction because the ninjas were spies who did not leave written records behind them. While there are hundreds of black and white photos of samurais from the 1800s, there is no verified ninja photo from the 1800s. What we know about the ninjas today are mostly the word of mouth.
-The concept of ninja became popular in the Western World when James Bond fought against a group of ninja in the 1967 movie titled you only live twice.
-Ninjas usually did not wear a black outfit in order to not stand out. Their preferred color was navy blue , the least visible color in the dark.
-Ninjas were mostly farmers, the influence of farming can be seen on most of their weapons, particularly the sickle and chain and the ninja knife kunai.
-Ninjas were expected to weigh less than 60 kgs, not because they may cause the roofs they are running on collapse but being lighter and nimble helped them spend less time looking for the food and run faster.
-The shuriken (ninja star) were rarely used as the ninja cannot carry many of them (heavy and makes noise) and it makes more sense to keep it and use it as a knife. Occasionally the ninja threw them in the opposing directions to distract the enemy.
-Many Japanese castles and temples have a kind of floor called nightingale floor, the ones that squeak one someone steps on. Those floors were made to hear the silent ninjas who raided castles in the middle of the night. No matter how light the intruder is , the nightingale floor makes the chirping sound (e.g. the floors at the Nijo Castle).
-For silent walking the ninja trained by walking on a large piece of rice paper and they were not sent on a mission if they could not walk without any sound.
-One of the less known weapons of ninja is the egg-shells. After making a hole underneath, they filled them with either gunpowder and ash or irritating chemicals.The ninja threw the chemical filled at their targets to either distract attention or gain time for escape.

Hiroo Onoda, the Last Ninja (1922 ~ 2014)

Onoda was trained in the Nagano Spy school which is considered as a modern day ninja school in Japan. He was dispatched to Lubang Island in the Philippines on December 26, 1944. The Island was taken by the US forces in August, 1945 and they announced the end of the war by leaving thousands of leaflets in the mountains for commandos to turn themselves in.
Onoda and his three friends thought the leaflets were a trick and did not surrender. Over the years, Onoda’s friends died and he managed to survive on the hills of the remote Pilipino Island. He was found by a Japanese traveler who told him the war was over. He did not believe him and refused to surrender. Finally the Japanese government found the man who was the commanding officer of Onoda. The officer, who back then was a bookseller in Tokyo, ordered him to surrender. Onoda returned his weapons including a samurai sword and a dagger that he should have used if he was to be captured. Being trained as an intelligence officer at a spy school and surviving 29 years in the wild perhaps gives him the title of the last ninja.


The Ninja Training Techniques

Nyudaki no-jutsu – Locating the weakest staff
Yogi Gakure – Using an object for distraction
Joei-on jutsu – The way of concealing the sounds
Bajutsu – Horsemanship
Sui-ren – Water skills
Bo-ryaku – Strategy. The ninja were trained to think strategically. Not only defeating one enemy but also how to overcome a group and sometimes how to defeat the enemy without fighting (acting politically etc.).
Choho – Espionage. The ninja studied the techniques of how to gain trust and how not to look or act suspicious.
Inton-jutsu – Escape techniques
Ten-mon – Meteorology
Chi-mon – Geography
Seizon-jutsu – Survival skills. Surving in the wild, hunting and gathering skills, tracking skills.
Spiritual training – Seishin teki kyoyo
Know yourself, your needs and desires
Know the nature, environment and the universe
Understand the importance of destiny
Be in harmony with the nature and society (harmony)
Understand others and have empathy (heart)
See and observe your environment (eye)
Love yourself and others (love)
Tai Jutsu – Combat Training. Fighting with no weapons
Daken-taijutsu – Punching, kicking, blocking
Jutai-jatsu – Close fighting, grappling, submission holds and escape holds
Taihen-jutsu – Silent movement, leaping, falling, rolling and tumbling
Kenjutsu – Swordmanship
Bojutsu– Staff fighting (Using Bo (Long stick))
Shurikenjutsu– Throwing blades- Throwing shuriken stars
Yarijutsu – Spear fighting. The ninja trained with the spears commonly used by the samurai as follow:
Te-yari – A short spear
Naga-yari – A long spear
Tetsu-yari – A metal spear
Sanbon-yari – A three bladed spear
Kama-yari – A spear with an additional half moon blade
Naginatajutsu (Spear with a katana ending/Polearm)
Kusarigamajutsu – Chain and sickle weapon
Kayakujutsu – Fire and explosives
Hensojutsu – Disguise Techniques . The ninja were trained to be able to impersonated at least 7 different characters as a monk, a samurai, a merchant, a craftsman, a farmer, a performer and an ordinary peasant. The ninja used to carry at least 2 costumes with them and the colors of their outfit was different inside and outside (so that they can reverse their clothes after the mission).
Shinobi-iri – Sneaking in and stealth techniques
Nyukyo no-jutsu – The correct timing
Monomi no-jutsu – Locating the weakest point

Books and Quotations about Martial Arts part 3

The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.
One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.
In the art of peace, a single cut of the sword summons up the wondrous powers of the universe. That one sword links the past, present, and future; it absorbs the universe. Time and space disappear. All of creation, from the distant past to the present moment, lives in the sword. All human existence flourishes right here in the sword you hold in your hands. You are now prepared for anything that may arise.
Never fear another challenger, no matter how large; Never despise another challenger, no matter how small.
Large does not always defeat little. Little can become large by constant building; large can become little by falling apart.
The penetrating brilliance of swords
Wielded by followers of the Way
Strikes at the evil enemy
Lurking deep within
Their own souls and bodies.
Do not fail
to learn from
The pure voice of an
Ever-flowing mountain stream
Splashing over the rocks.
One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.
The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.
To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.
When you bow deeply to the universe, it bows back; when you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you.

― Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

In an argument, you may silence your opponent by pressing an advantage of strength or of wealth, or of education. But you do not really convince him. Though he is no longer saying anything, in his heart he still keeps to his opinion, the only way to make him change that opinion is to speak quietly and reasonably. When he understands that you are not trying to defeat him, but only to find the truth, he will listen to you and perhaps accept what you tell him.
Judo should be free as art and science from any external influences, political, national, racial, and financial or any other organized interest. And all things connected with it should be directed to its ultimate object, the benefit of Humanity.
Before and after practicing Judo or engaging in a match, opponents bow to each other. Bowing is an expression of gratitude and respect. In effect, you are thanking your opponent for giving you the opportunity to improve your technique.
Walk a single path, becoming neither cocky with victory nor broken with defeat, without forgetting caution when all is quiet or becoming frightened when danger threatens.
Nothing under the sun is greater than education. By educating one person and sending him into the society of his generation, we make a contribution extending a hundred generations to come.
Judo is a study of techniques with which you may kill if you wish to kill, injure if you wish to injure, subdue if you wish to subdue, and, when attacked, defend yourself
Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment. Consider fully, act decisively.
The pine fought the storm and broke. The willow yielded to the wind and snow and did not break. Practice Jiu-Jitsu in just this way.
Face your fear, empty yourself, trust your own voice, let go of control, have faith in outcomes, connect with a larger purpose, derive meaning from the struggle.
To ask may be but a moment’s shame, not to ask and remain ignorant is a lifelong shame.
The purpose of the study of judo is to perfect yourself and to contribute to society.
It is not important to be better than someone else, but to be better than yesterday.

― Kano Jigoro

Humans have yet to dwell upon the consequences of their
actions. People have yet to admit the bad that they do to
nature, for example. Actually, most people spend their time
finding fault in the action of others, rather than their own.
Looking for the meaning of life, one man can discover the order of the universe. To discover the truth, to achieve. a higher spiritual state, that is the true meaning of ninja.
Don’t think that any one technique is the end. there is no end.
There is no perfect technique. Just when you think you’ve got
them, you’re dead because you didn’t.
Breathe life into the weapon, don’t take life away from it.
Keep walking, because walking is life.
If you do something and it saves your life, it was good
taijutsu. In a real fight, you aren’t worried about what’s pretty.
You’ve got to learn to utilize the space (between you and
your opponent). Distancing is very important.
Forget your sadness, anger, grudges and hatred. Let them pass like smoke caught in a breeze. Do not indulge yourself in such feelings.
When weak or injured always continue training as you should always be able to adapt in any condition.

― Masaaki Hatsumi

Books and Quotations about Martial Arts part 2

The principle of avoiding conflict and never opposing an aggressor’s strength head-on is the essence of aikido. We apply the same principle to problems that arise in life. The skilled aikidoist is as elusive as the truth of Zen; he makes himself into a koan—a puzzle which slips away the more one tries to solve it. He is like water in that he falls through the fingers of those who try to clutch him. Water does not hesitate before it yields, for the moment the fingers begin to close it moves away, not of its own strength, but by using the pressure applied to it. It is for this reason, perhaps, that one of the symbols for aikido is water.
The mind is like a fertile garden,” Bruce said. “It will grow anything you wish to plant—beautiful flowers or weeds. And so it is with successful, healthy thoughts or with negative ones that will, like weeds, strangle and crowd the others. Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are the weeds that strangle confidence.
We are like blades of grass or trees of the forest, creations of the universe, of the spirit of the universe, and the spirit of the universe has neither life nor death. Vanity is the only obstacle to life.
For the uncontrolled there is no wisdom, nor for the uncontrolled is there the power of concentration; and for him without concentration there is no peace. And for the unpeaceful, how can there be happiness?
For example, if you are fearful your mind will freeze, motion will be stopped and you will be defeated. If your mind is fixed on victory or defeating your opponent, you will be unable to function automatically.
Those who are patient in the trivial things in life and control themselves will one day have the same mastery in great and important things.
Only after several years of training did I come to realize that the deepest purpose of the martial arts is to serve as a vehicle for personal spiritual development.
To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.
Always remember: in life as well as on the mat an unfocused or ‘loose’ mind wastes energy.
Only through practice and more practice, until you can do something without conscious effort.
When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.
When an untoward event occurs in your life, react to it without haste or passion.
When you lose your temper, you lose yourself—on the mat as well as in life.
What stands in the way of effortless effort is caring, or a conscious attempt to do well.
A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action.
I can defeat you physically with or without a reason. But I can only defeat your mind with a reason.

― Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.
Do not sleep under a roof. Carry no money or food. Go alone to places frightening to the common brand of men. Become a criminal of purpose. Be put in jail, and extricate yourself by your own wisdom.
You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.
There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.
Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.
The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions
The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win.
Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.
You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.

― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

Mistakes are our teachers,’ explained Sensei Yamada, bowing before the Buddha. ‘As long as you recognize them for what they are, they can help you learn about life. Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.
Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Impatience is a hindrance. As with all things if you attempt to take shortcuts, the final destination will rarely be as good and may even be attainable.
A samurai must remain calm at all times even in the face of danger.
The impossible becomes possible if only your mind believes it.
Wherever it is you may be, it is your friends who make your world.
There is no failure except in no longer trying.

― Chris Bradford, The Way of the Sword

Books and Quotations about Martial Arts part 1

The Yamato spirit is not a tame, tender plant, but a wild–in the sense of natural–growth; it is indigenous to the soil; its accidental qualities it may share with the flowers of other lands, but in its essence it remains the original, spontaneous outgrowth of our clime. But its nativity is not its sole claim to our affection. The refinement and grace of its beauty appeal to our æsthetic sense as no other flower can. We cannot share the admiration of the Europeans for their roses, which lack the simplicity of our flower. Then, too, the thorns that are hidden beneath the sweetness of the rose, the tenacity with which she clings to life, as though loth or afraid to die rather than drop untimely, preferring to rot on her stem; her showy colours and heavy odours–all these are traits so unlike our flower, which carries no dagger or poison under its beauty, which is ever ready to depart life at the call of nature, whose colours are never gorgeous, and whose light fragrance never palls. Beauty of colour and of form is limited in its showing; it is a fixed quality of existence, whereas fragrance is volatile, ethereal as the breathing of life. So in all religious ceremonies frankincense and myrrh play a prominent part. There is something spirituelle in redolence. When the delicious perfume of the sakura quickens the morning air, as the sun in its course rises to illumine first the isles of the Far East, few sensations are more serenely exhilarating than to inhale, as it were, the very breath of beauteous day.
A truly brave man is ever serene; he is never taken by surprise; nothing ruffles the equanimity of his spirit. In the heat of battle he remains cool; in the midst of catastrophes he keeps level his mind. Earthquakes do not shake him, he laughs at storms. We admire him as truly great, who, in the menacing presence of danger or death, retains his self-possession; who, for instance, can compose a poem under impending peril or hum a strain in the face of death. Such indulgence betraying no tremor in the writing or in the voice, is taken as an infallible index of a large nature—of what we call a capacious mind (Yoyū), which, far from being pressed or crowded, has always room for something more.
Did not Socrates, all the while he unflinchingly refused to concede one iota of loyalty to his daemon, obey with equal fidelity and equanimity the command of his earthly master, the State? His conscience he followed, alive; his country he served, dying. Alack the day when a state grows so powerful as to demand of its citizens the dictates of their consciences!
Ritterlichkeit ist eine Blume, die auf dem Boden Japans nicht weniger heimisch ist als ihr Symbol, die Kirschblüte. Sie ist kein vertrocknetes Blatt einer uralten Tugend, die im Herbarium unserer Geschichte verwahrt wird, sondern ein lebendiges Etwas von Schönheit und Macht, das unter uns weilt.
There are, if I may so say, three powerful spirits, which have from time to time, moved on the face of the waters, and given a predominant impulse to the moral sentiments and energies of mankind. These are the spirits of liberty, of religion, and of honor
Bushido as an independent code of ethics may vanish, but its power will not perish from the earth; its schools of martial prowess or civic honor may be demolished, but its light and its glory will long survive their ruins. Like its symbolic flower, after it is blown to the four winds, it will still bless mankind with the perfume with which it will enrich life.
Read Hearn, the most eloquent and truthful interpreter of the Japanese mind, and you see the working of that mind to be an example of the working of Bushido.
Tranquillity is courage in repose. It is a statical manifestation of valor, as daring deeds are a dynamical. A truly brave man is ever serene; he is never taken by surprise; nothing ruffles the equanimity of his spirit.
It is a brave act of valor to contemn death, but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live
Filial Piety, which is considered one of the two wheels of the chariot of Japanese ethics—Loyalty being the other.

― Inazo Nitobe, Bushido, the Soul of Japan

Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.
It is said that what is called “the spirit of an age” is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.
It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.
Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.
Whether people be of high or low birth, rich or poor, old or young, enlightened or confused, they are all alike in that they will one day die.
Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.

― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Mistakes are our teachers,’ explained Sensei Yamada, bowing before the Buddha. ‘As long as you recognize them for what they are, they can help you learn about life. Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.
Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Impatience is a hindrance. As with all things if you attempt to take shortcuts, the final destination will rarely be as good and may even be attainable.
Wherever it is you may be, it is your friends who make your world.
A samurai must remain calm at all times even in the face of danger.
The impossible becomes possible if only your mind believes it.

― Chris Bradford, The Way of the Sword

Harakiri and Suppuku

What is Harakiri (Seppuku)?
It can be considered as honorable death or ritualistic way of ending the life of a samurai. Only samurai can perform harakiri, commoners cannot (They can but no-one would care). The custom dates back to the 12th century as a means for the upper and samurai classes exclusively to atone for crimes, regain lost honour, or avoid disgraceful capture. When executed correctly it was considered to be the noblest way for a samurai to die, and from eyewitness accounts of such ritualistic suicide, probably the most painful.

How is it done?
Seppuku in its most common and recognizable form became a highly ritualized spectacle of noble and artistic suicide in the 1700s. The condemned man wore a ceremonial white death kimono and was permitted a final meal. The execution blade, which could range in size from a long sword to a ceremonial knife, was then served in the last plate, and he would be expected to write a death poem before stabbing himself in the abdomen and cutting first from left to the right and then upwards. Upon completing the cut, his second (kaishakunin) would step forward to issue the killing blow to the condemned man’s exposed neck. However if honour was to be preserved in the act, it was expected that this cut would not severe the neck completely, but allow just enough flesh attached for the head to fall naturally forward into the executed man’s arms. In this way, not only the viewers clothes are not stained with the blood but also the head drops among the two hands of the samurai as if he is holding his head. Women who performed seppuku–often the wives of samurai wishing to avoid capture–would tie their legs together before cutting to preserve a modest posture in death. Variations of the ritual exist without seconds, in which case the condemned man would be expected to strike the final blow to his own throat or heart.

Are Seppuku and Harakiri the same?
Seppuku and harakiri are in essence the same thing. Both refer to the same form of self-execution via disembowelment, and both ostensibly mean “[to] cut the stomach.” The difference between the two words is entirely etymological. Seppuku derives from an on-yomi or Chinese reading of the kanji characters 切腹, while harakiri is a kun-yomi, or native Japanese reading of the same characters in reverse. Due to the historico-political association of Chinese characters with early Japanese aristocratic and governmental literature, the term “seppuku” is almost always used in a written context, while “harakiri” is its verbal equivalent.
There are 2 kinds of Harakiri
Seppuku could be either voluntary or obligatory.
Voluntary seppuku was often committed to restore honour for a misdeed or a failure, or else to avoid capture by an invading army. Obligatory seppuku could be requested by the victor of a conflict as a term of surrender and subsequent peace. In such cases, the leader(s) of the losing side were compelled to commit seppuku, thus removing all further political and military opposition to the victor.
Obligatory seppuku was also used as a means of capital punishment for disgraced samurai who had committed acts of treason or violent crimes. Those who resisted such punishment were restrained while it was acted upon them by another. In the case of the “47 samurai” the seppuku was obligatory handed by the shogunate. During the obligatory seppuku, the blade without the “handle” wrapped with a fabric is given to the samurai to make sure he does not fight back.

The last harakiri in Japan
Yukio Mishima is one of the most interesting characters who ever lived in Japan. He was a famous author who worked as an actor and model. After studying martial arts and kendo, he founded his own private militia (tatenokai) consisting of martial arts students with the focus on the far right ideology and the importance of the emperor of Japan. In 1970 he and his four men from tatenokai trespassed into a Japan Self defense Forces outpost in Tokyo. Mishima encouraged the troops at the base to rise up to reinstate to imperial constitution. This was an obvious attempt for a coup in Japan. But the soldiers did not take him seriously and he ended his life by seppuku on Nov. 25, 1970. Mishima’s seppuku is especially noteworthy because of the failure of his second to correctly deliver the killing blow, resulting in an agonizing series of hacks at Mishima’s neck until his head was finally fully removed.

Why did they cut the belly?
In ancient Asia many believed that the spirit rested inside the belly, slitting the belly let the spirit go free. Also one has to be very brave and mentally strong to be able to perform such kind of act which can only be carried by a true samurai. Although it is reported that in some occasions the samurai lost themselves and collapsed before the ritual and were forcefully beheaded.
Why did the samurai commit seppuku?
Seppuku began on the battlefield as a means for routed samurai to avoid capture, torture, and dishonour. As it evolved, it became a way for disgraced samurai to regain honour by their own hands, as opposed to being executed by another. Seppuku was thus an act that required some form of permission by a figure of authority. Although in the Sengoku period some samurais committed seppuku after their lord died, this practice was banned during the Edo period.

Who did harakiri?
The earliest record of seppuku was that committed by Minamoto no Yorimasa in 1180. Without any accompanying ritual or codified way of performing the act, early seppuku was likely a painful and drawn out process. Some historically notable acts of seppuku include that of Oda Nobunaga, who engaged in ritual suicide to avoid capture when surrounded at Honno-ji temple in 1582; philosopher and tea master Sen-no-Rikyu who was ordered to commit seppuku in 1591 by his lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi over differences of political opinion; Torii Mototada who in 1600 bravely and held his garrison of 300 samurai at Fushimi Castle against the overwhelming siege by the forces of Toyotomi Hideyori; Saigo Takamori who committed seppuku in 1877 after he got wounded during the Satsuma rebellion and and Yukio Mishima who committed seppuku in 1970 after a failed coup d’état.