Oda Clan

Sources: Sengoku Biographical Dictionary, Famous Sengoku Generals, The Samurai Sourcebook

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The Oda of Owari Province were originally retainers of the Shiba deputy governor family (starting from around 1400). When the Shiba’s power dwindled in the early Sengoku period, the Oda became lords of Owari, although they continued to acknowledge Shiba supremacy until the 1550s. Two main rival factions of the Oda, known as the Kiyosu and Iwakura branches, contended for decades, with the Kiyosu faction, eventually led by Oda Nobunaga, becoming dominant by 1555. The Oda rose rapidly with Nobunaga’s drive for national hegemony but lost most of its influence following his death. The Oda’s roots are obscure and while Nobunaga claimed Taira descent, this was and is impossible to confirm. In fact, the relationship between the Kiyosu and Iwakura Oda is unclear.

Oda NobunagaOda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was the second son of Oda Nobuhide and united the feuding branches of the Oda and consolidated his hold over Owari by 1558. In 1560 he won a stunning victory at Okehazama, defeating the powerful Imagawa Yoshimoto. In 1564 he defeated the Saito clan and made his capital at Gifu. Campaigns against the Azai and Asakura clans followed, including the battle of Anegawa in 1570. In 1571 he destroyed the temples of Mount Hiei, ending forever their military and political influence. Other religious rivals caused him more problems, however, and his campaign against the Ikko-ikki at Nagashima and Ishiyama Honganji lasted a decade. In 1575 he fought the decisive battle of Nagashino, famous for its prominent use of firearms. In 1576 he built Azuchi castle, and towards the end of his life conducted successful campaigns in Ise and Iga provinces, while loyal generals attacked the Mori and Uesugi domains. At the pinnacle of power he was assassinated by one of his leading retainers, Akechi Mitsuhide, while residing at Honnoji temple in Kyoto. He was a shrewd politician and an innovative military leader.


Oda NobutadaOda Nobutada (1557-1582) was the eldest son of Nobunaga. He fought in many of his father’s campaigns once he had come of age, and by 1575 was trusted to lead on his own. He was responsible for bringing down the Takeda’s Iwamura Castle in 1575 in a two-part siege. He later joined Tsutsui Junkei in forcing Matsunaga Hisahide to commit suicide in 1577 at Shigizan. In 1582 he led an army into Shinano as part of the invasion of the Takeda lands and besieged Takato Castle. He was in Kyoto when Akechi Mitsuhide rose against his father and killed him at Honnoji temple. Having failed to save his father, he withdrew to Nijo Castle, where he was besieged and forced to commit suicide by the Akechi forces.


Oda NobuoOda Nobuo (1558-1630), also commonly known as Oda Nobukatsu, was the second son of Oda Nobunaga. In 1569 he was adopted into the Kitabatake family following the submission of that family to guarantee Oda control over Ise province. He assumed leadership of the Kitabatake clan in 1576. He was involved in the Oda campaigns in Iga province and Nobunaga had intended to send him against the Chosokabe clan of Shikoku (as a surviving letter indicates). Nobuo inherited much of Owari as well as Ise after the death of Nobunaga in 1582. His claim to his father’s position was supported by Tokugawa Ieyasu, leading to the 1584 Komaki campaign, but Nobuo felt compelled to make a separate peace with Hideyoshi by the end of the year. He became the guardian of Toyotomi Hideyori after Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. He betrayed the Toyotomi clan at the Siege of Osaka, however, and as a result, he was permitted to remain a daimyo by the Tokugawa shogunate.


Oda NobutakaOda Nobutaka (1558-1583) was the third son of Nobunaga and was adopted into the Kambe family of Ise. After the death of his father he joined Hideyoshi’s army and at the Battle of Yamazaki helped defeat Akechi Mitsuhide. He was supported as heir to the Oda clan by Shibata Katsuie and defied a request by Hideyoshi to release Samboshi (the late Oda Nobutada’s son) into his custody. Afterwards he plotted with Katsuie against Hideyoshi but acted recklessly by raising his banners at Gifu Castle before the Shibata were in a position to help him. Faced with Hideyoshi’s army, he quickly submitted, only to rebel the following spring. He was briefly besieged at Gifu, then committed suicide when he learned that Shibata Katsuie had taken his own life following his defeat at the Battle of Shizugatake.


Akechi MitsuhideAkechi Mitsuhide (1526-1582) entered Oda service in 1566 after serving the Saito clan of Mino province.  In 1577 he was assigned with subduing Tamba province, which would be given him in 1580. In 1582 Nobunaga ordered Mitsuhide to prepare his troops for duty against the Mori clan. Mitsuhide duly gathered his army, but suddenly attacked and killed Nobunaga on June 21, 1582. Akechi troops also pursued and besieged Nobunaga’s heir, Nobutada, who committed suicide. In the aftermath of the coup, Mitsuhide failed to gain support from local lords despite personal connections to the Hosokawa clan and the Imperial Court. Within thirteen days of the assassination of Nobunaga, Mitsuhide was defeated by Hashiba (Toyotomi) Hideyoshi at the Battle of Yamazaki. He escaped the battlefield but was killed soon afterwards. He is sometimes called the “thirteen-day shogun.”


Hashiba HideyoshiHashiba Hideyoshi (1536-1598), better known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was allegedly born in Nakumura, a village in Owari. At some point he entered service to the Oda clan, though the historical record does not mention him prior to around 1570. Tradition has that he was at one time a sandal-bearer for Nobunaga and played an important role in attaining the 1567 victory at Inabayama, supposedly building a castle in a single night. In 1573, after victorious campaigns against the Azai and Asakura clans, Nobunaga appointed Hideyoshi daimyo of three districts in northern Omi province. He was chosen to lead a campaign against the Mori clan 1576 and he was to be occupied with this mission for the next six years. He swiftly reacted to the 1582 assassination of Oda Nobunaga, defeating Akechi Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki. A charismatic figure, he would go on to subdue all of Japan by 1590 and launch two unsuccessful military campaigns in Korea. Despite being an infamous philanderer, he struggled to produce an heir, and in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu effectively seized power from his young successor, Toyotomi Hideyori.


Shibata KatsuieShibata Katsuie (1530-1583) served Oda Nobunaga throughout the latter’s career. He initially supported Nobunaga’s elder brother, Nobuyuki, and launched a failed coup against Nobunaga in 1556. Nobunaga killed his brother but pardoned Katsuie, and from that point Katsuie served Nobunaga faithfully. In 1567 he divorced his wife, Nobunaga’s sister Oichi, so she could marry Azai Nagamasa and thereby cement an alliance between the Oda and Azai clans. Nagamasa would break the alliance in 1570 and attack the Oda clan along with the Asakura clan, and after Nagamasa’s defeat and death, Katsuie and Oichi would re-marry. Katsuie earned great fame when, in defending Chokoji temple from an assault by the Rokkaku clan, he smashed the water storage vessels and led a charge against the besiegers, which resulted in a victory. After Oda Nobunaga’s assassination in 1582, he allied with Oda Nobutaka and Takigawa Kazumasu against Hashiba Hideyoshi, who Katsuie considered an upstart. Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie at the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583. He retreated to Kitanosho Castle and committed suicide along with Oichi.


Maeda ToshiieMaeda Toshiie (1538-1599) entered Nobunaga’s service in 1551 as a page and later became a military commander. He apparently earned the ire of Nobunaga, who exiled him, but he returned to Nobunaga’s good graces by 1560. Nobunaga later rewarded him for his service by appointing him the head of Maeda clan, despite Toshiie having four older brothers. He fought at Anegawa and Nagashino, and was named lord of Echizen in 1574. After Nobunaga’s death he initially supported Shibata Katsuie, fighting at Shizugatake, but he later shifted his allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and as a reward he had Kaga province added to his domain. He fought against the Hojo in 1590 and conducted administrative duties during the Korean campaigns. Before dying in 1598, Hideyoshi named Toshiie to the council of Five Elders to rule as regents until Toyotomi Hideyori came of age. Toshiie, however, died just a year later, and in 1600, Tokuguawa Ieyasu seized power.


Takigawa KazumasaTakigawa Kazumazu (?-1586) was one of Nobunaga’s most loyal men, and served him from about 1558 onward. He was given land in Ise province sometime around 1569 and supported Oda Nobuo, heir to the Kitabatake house. Kazumasu also rendered service to the Oda in domestic matters, assisting in the construction of Azuchi Castle in 1578. Kazumasu’s battle record was mixed, as he had fled from Mikatagahara and acted poorly during the first Iga Invasion. Following Nobunaga’s death he supported Shibata Katsuie, but submitted to Hideyoshi after he was besieged in Kanagawa. He assisted Hideyoshi during the Komaki Campaign against Tokugawa Ieyasu by attacking Kanie Castle along with Kûki Yoshitaka. He afterwards retired into obscurity.


Niwa NagahideNiwa Nagahide (1535-1583) was one of Oda Nobunaga’s chief retainers and married to his niece. He was present at many of Nobunaga’s battles and was named one of the administrators of Kyoto after Nobunaga entered that city in 1568. He was given the task of building Azuchi Castle and for his efforts was awarded a fief at Obama in Wakasa Province. After Nobunaga’s death in June 1582, Nagahide hesitated in attacking Mitsuhide himself, but did join Hideyoshi’s army in Osaka and took part in the Battle of Yamazaki. Nagahide was neutral during Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s war with Shibata Katsuie, but did support the former the next year, marching against Sassa Narimasa during the Komaki Campaign. After 1575, Niwa was often referred to as Korezumi Gorozaemon.


Sassa NarimasaSassa Narimasa (1539?-1588) served Nobunaga from his early career in Owari. In 1575 he was given lands in Echizen but he was transferred to Etchu in 1581 and immediately conducted a land survey there. While under the Oda banner, Narimasa fought at Nagashino (1575), Tedorigawa (1577), Arakawa (1581), and Uzu (1582). He supported Shibata Katsuie during the Shizugatake Campaign, and the following year threw in his lot with Tokugawa Ieyasu. When faced with the approach of Hideyoshi himself in 1585, Narimasa surrendered. He lost Etchû but was spared and was given a fief in Higo Province in 1587 but was made to commit suicide the following year for poor administration.


Hori HidemasaHori Hidemasa (1553-1590) was from Owari province and began his career in the service of Nobunaga. In 1581 he was ordered to conduct a land survey in Izumi and during the course of the survey the Makinoji (a branch temple of the Kongobuji of Mt. Koyo) took up arms on 11 June. Hidemasa attacked the temple and burned it. Later that year he was awarded Obama Castle in Wakasa and in June 1582 joined in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s attack on Akechi Mitsuhide. He fought at Yamazaki and soon afterwards defeated Akechi Mitsuharu at Uchide-hama, near Otsu. He went on to secure Sakamoto Castle, which became part of a large fief he was awarded in Omi. Hidemasa participated in the Komaki Campaign (1584) on Hideyoshi’s side, and led 3,000 men at the Battle of Nagakute. He joined the Toyotomi army besieging Odawara Castle in 1590 but died in camp during the campaign.


Ikeda NobuteruIkeda Nobuteru (1536-1584), also known as Ikeda Tsuneoki and Ikeda Shonyû, began his career as a common soldier under Nobunaga, to whom his mother had acted as a wet-nurse. He received his first command in 1557 and served at the Battle of Okehazama that same year. In 1566 he was given the castle of Kinota in Mino province and in 1570 he was made the commander of Inuyama Castle following his participation in the Battle of Anegawa. After the death of Nobunaga in June 1582, he fought for Hideyoshi at Yamazaki. He participated in the Komaki Campaign in 1584, and was a commander at the Battle of Nagakute against the Tokugawa. He died during the battle, slain by a Tokugawa samurai.


Mori YoshinariMori Yoshinari (1523-1570) was the eldest son of Mori Yoshiyuki. He is said to have first served the Saito of Mino, though this period of his life is hazy. Around 1555 he became a retainer of Oda Nobunaga and may have been present for Nobunaga’s capture of Kiyosu Castle that same year. A veteran of Iwakura (1558) and Okehazama (1560), he assisted Nobunaga in his campaign against Saito Tatsuoki and in the course of it was established at Kanayama Castle (1565). He led his men with Nobunaga to Kyoto in 1568, along the way participating in the attack on the Rokkaku’s Kannonji Castle. He was established at Usayama Castle in Ômi Province (near Ôtsu) along with Oda Nobuharu and some 4,000 men. In September of 1570, Usayama was attacked by an Azai army of 30,000 men. Yoshinari and his eldest son, along with Nobuharu, fell in the fighting.


Takayama UkonTakayama Ukon (1522-1614), whose formal name was Shigetomo, was the son of Takayama Tomoteru and joined Oda Nobunaga when the latter entered Kyoto in 1568. He was given Takatsuki Castle in 1573 and assisted in the siege of the Ishiyama Honganji. He initially supported Araki Murashige’s rebellion against Oda Nobunaga in 1578 but was persuaded to switch sides at the behest of the Jesuit Padre Gnecchi-Soldo Organtino (Ukon was a Christian). He was allowed to retain Takatsuki after Araki fled to the western provinces. After Nobunaga died, Ukon supported Hideyoshi and took part in the Battle of Yamazaki and in the Shizugatake Campaign (1583). He was destined to fall out of favor, however, and at least in part due to his religious convictions. He was deprived of his domain in 1587 and eventually ended up with Maeda Toshiie in Kaga. In 1617 he was exiled to Manila, where he died of illness not long after arriving.


Hayashi HidesadaHayashi Hidesada (?-1580) was a son of Hayashi Hachirozaemon and acted as a childhood tutor to Oda Nobunaga. He plotted with Shibata Katsuie and Oda Nobuyuki against Nobunaga in 1557 but was pardoned for his actions and went on to govern land in his native Owari Province. Hidesada was active in government following Nobunaga’s arrival in Kyoto in 1568 and tended to various administrative and diplomatic tasks. After 1577 he was ordered to attend to Oda Nobutada, Nobunaga’s heir, and accompanied him on both military and domestic assignments. Hidesada was abruptly purged from the Oda ranks in 1580 on charges of treasonous behavior. He probably lived in Kyoto but died in few years.


Inaba IttetsuInaba Yoshimichi (1515-1588), also known as Inaba Ittetsu, was at first one of the three major generals of Mino, gaining the collective title of the Mino Triumvirate alongside Ando Morinari and Ujiie Bokuzen. In 1561 Inaba joined his Triumvirate in betraying Saitō and arraying their forces against Mt. Inabayama, helping Nobunaga gain control of Mino as a result. He was present at the Battle of Anegawa (1570). After Nobunaga Oda died in the assassination at Honnōji, Ittetsu sided with Hideyoshi Hashiba in the war of succession that followed. He served in Hideyoshi’s headquarters during the Komaki Campaign (1584). His son, Inaba Masanari, was the husband of Lady Kasuga, who established the Ooku, the harem for the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period.

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Takeda Clan

Sources: Sengoku Biographical Dictionary, Famous Sengoku Generals, The Samurai Sourcebook

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The Takeda clan traditionally controlled the province of Kai (modern-day Yamanashi Prefecture). Minamoto no Yoshikiyo, brother of the famous samurai Minamoto no Yoshiie, founded the Takeda line in the 12th century. During the Genpei War, they sided with the Minamoto in their conflict with the Taira . In the Sengoku period, Takeda Nobutora (1493-1574) fought against his rivals in the Hojo, Imagawa and Uesugi clans and to keep Kai pacified. His son, Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), conquered the provinces of Shinano and Suruga and clashed with Uesugi Kenshin several times at Kawanakajima. Shingen’s successor, Katsuyori (1546-1582), sought to continue Takeda expansion but suffered a decisive defeat against allied Oda-Tokugawa forces at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. In 1582 the Oda-Tokugawa alliance invaded Takeda territory and many top Takeda retainers died or defected. Katsuyori and his family committed suicide following a major loss at the  Battle of Tenmokuzan, bringing an end to the clan.


Takeda Shingen

Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), also known by the formal name Harunobu, was the eldest son of Takeda Nobutora, daimyo of the province of Kai. With the support of leading retainers, Shingen overthrew his father in 1541 while the latter was visiting his daughter (the wife of Imagawa Yoshimoto) in Suruga province. Afterwards, Shingen launched a successful campaign to subjugate Shinano province, which eventually led to conflict with Nagao Kagetora (better known as Uesugi Kenshin), the ruler of Echigo province. Shingen and Kenshin had a series of indecisive battles at Kawanakajima from 1553 to 1564. In 1565, Shingen ordered his son and heir, Yoshinobu, to commit suicide for purportedly plotting against him. He then invaded provinces belong to the Imagawa, exploiting Yoshimoto’s sudden death at Okehazama. After capturing Suruga, Shingen turned westward and defeated Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1572. He died under mysterious circumstances the following year. (He was not, however, killed by a sniper, as is sometimes claimed.) His battle standard supposedly contained the phrase “Furinkazan” (“Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain”), a reference to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “be swift as the wind, silent as a forest, fierce as fire, immovable as a mountain.”


Takeda KatsuyoriTakeda Katsuyori (1546-1582) was the son of Takeda Shingen and a daughter of the Suwa clan, who Shingen had made a concubine after defeating them in 1542. In 1565, Katsuyori married an adopted daughter of Oda Nobunaga, who gave birth to a son, Nobukatsu, two years later. Also in 1565, Shingen forced his son and heir, Yoshinobu, to commit suicide after his implication in a plot to overthrow his father. Shingen named his grandson, Nobukatsu, his new heir, with Katsuyori acting as regent until the boy came of age. When Shingen died unexpectedly in 1573, Katsuyori assumed control of the Takeda but could not maintain the military successes of his father. The Oda and Tokugawa clans inflicted a tremendous defeat on him at the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, with several prominent retainers slain. He withstood an Oda-led invasion until 1582, when he committed suicide along with his family following a loss at the battle of Temmokuzan.


Takeda NobushigeTakeda Nobushige (1525-1561) was a younger brother of Shingen, favored by their father, Nobutora, to become the leader of the Takeda clan. In 1541, Shingen seized power in a bloodless coup and took power for himself. Despite his disinheritance, Nobushige served his brother loyally. He authored the Kyûjukyu Kakun, a code of 99 rules for clan members to guide their behavior. He died  at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima in 1561, fighting against the forces of the Uesugi retainer Kakizaki Kagaie. He is buried on the battlefield.


Takeda NobukadoTakeda Nobukado (1529-1582) was a younger brother of Takeda Shingen. While not famous for his military accomplishments, he was a talented artist known for portraits of his family. He also served his clan as a body double for Shingen due to the resemblance between he and his brother, and is one of the main characters in the Akira Kurosawa period film, Kagemusha (a term referring to a “political decoy”). He acted as advisor to Katsuyori at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. Oda forces captured and executed him  at the Zenkoji in Shinano province during the 1582 invasion of the Takeda domain.


Ichijo NobutatsuIchijo Nobutatsu (1539-1582) was a younger brother of Takeda Shingen, albeit by a different mother, and lord of Ueno castle in Kai. He fought at Mikatagahara in 1573 under Shingen and at Nagashino in 1575 under Shingen’s successor, Katsuyori. He was deployed to the northwest of Nagashino castle. Oda forces executed him and his son, Nobunari, along the banks of the Fuji River after their capture during the 1582 invasion of the Takeda lands.


Nishina MorinobuNishina Morinobu (1557?-1582), also known as Takeda Harukiyo, was a son of Takeda Shingen. In 1561 the Nishina clan of Shinano province adopted him to cement their relations with the Takeda clan. He defended Takato Castle in southern Shinano against the invading Oda forces in 1582. Oda Nobutada, Nobunaga’s heir and commander of the Oda army, attempted to negotiate the capitulation of the castle, but Morinobu declined and committed suicide. Before his death, he allegedly predicted the downfall of the Oda clan.


Takeda NobutoyoTakeda Nobutoyo (?-1582) was a son of Takeda Nobushige and therefore a nephew of Takeda Shingen. He served as lord of Komoro Castle in Shinano province. When the Hojo clan sent troops to attack Shingen following the Takeda’s 1567 invasion of Imagawa territory, Nobutoyo aided Takeda Katsuyori during the 1569 siege of Kanbara Castle, capturing it from the Hojo defenders. He commanded troops at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino and survived, but died after he was captured in the 1582 Oda invasion of the Takeda domain.


Akiyama NobutomoAkiyama Nobutomo (1527-1575) served Takeda Shingen as a retainer and was known as the “Bull of the Takeda.” He earned distinction during the conquest of Shinano province and acted as lord of Takato Castle after Shingen captured it in 1545. In 1572, Nobutomo seized Iwamura Castle in Mino province, capturing Nobunaga’s aunt (who Nobutomo married). He defended the castle against the Oda and Tokugawa until 1575, when the loss at Nagashino crippled the Takeda clan. Nobunaga’s heir, Oda Nobutada, successfully besieged the castle and Nobutomo was crucified along the banks of the Nagara River on the Nobi Plain.


Amari TorayasuAmari Torayasu (?-1548) was one of the chief instigators of the bloodless 1541 coup against Takeda Nobutora and his replacement with his son, Takeda Shingen. He along with Itagaki Nobutaka served two generations of the Takeda clan. He was a major commander in the Takeda campaign to conquer Shinano in the early 1540s. He was famous for his ferocity and strength but was killed by troops belonging to Murakami Yoshikiyo at the 1548 Battle of Uedahara, the first defeat that Takeda Shingen suffered in his life.


Anayama NobukimiAnayama Nobukimi (1541-1582), also known as Beisetsu, was said to have been an expert on firearms within the Takeda clan. He was Shingen’s nephew, but also became his brother-in-law when he married Shingen’s sister. He fought in the major Takeda battles of the 1560s and 1570s, before betraying Shingen’s successor, Katsuyori, and defecting to the Oda clan following the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. His motives are unknown, though a popular story is he blamed Katsuyori for the forced suicide of Yoshinobu. He was in the capital region in 1582 during the assassination of Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji. Due to having hemorrhoids, he had to take a special escape route. He was ambushed shortly thereafter alongside the Uji River, likely by former Takeda retainers.


Asahina Nobuoki.pngAsahina Nobuoki (1528-1582) was originally a retainer of the Imagawa clan based in Suruga province. He fought on the Imagawa side against Oda Nobuhide during their clashes at Azukizaka in the 1540s. He later served the Takeda clan after Shingen invaded Imagawa territory in the 1560s. He commanded troops at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino and defended against the subsequent Oda invasion of the Takeda lands. After the Takeda’s demise, he committed suicide.


Ashida NobumoriAshida Nobumori (1526-1575) served the Takeda clan as lord of Mitake Castle in Kai province. After the Takeda invaded Imagawa territory in 1567, he received command over Futamata Castle in Totomi province. Following the defeat of the Takeda at 1575 Battle of Nagashino, Tokugawa Ieyasu besieged his castle. Nobumori died of illness during the siege.

 


Atobe KatsusukeAtobe Katsusuke (1547-1582), also known as Atobe Oinosuke, served as an advisor to Takeda Katsuyori and counseled him to engage the Oda and Tokugawa forces at Nagashino in 1575, which culminated in a overwhelming loss for the Takeda clan. He died during the 1582 invasion of Takeda territory. His son Masakatsu later became a Tokugawa retainer.

 


Baba NobufusaBaba Nobuharu (1515-1575) was known as Baba Nobufusa before receiving the character for “haru” from Takeda Harunobu (better known as Takeda Shingen). He had served Nobutora but supported Shingen in the 1541 coup. Shingen entrusted him with Fukashi Castle in Shinano province. In 1564 Shingen further granted him lordship over Mino province and placed him in the vanguard of the Takeda invasion of Imagawa territory in 1568. He died performing rearguard action after the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. He supposedly advised against the battle but sacrificed himself so Takeda Katsuyori could retreat. Before his death, he supposedly fought in 21 battles without ever being injured.


Hajikano MasatsuguHajikano Masatsugu (1545-1624) served the Takeda clan as a retainer. His father Tadatsugu was killed in 1561 at the fourth Battle of Kawanakajima. When Takeda Shingen marched on Odawara Castle in 1569, he tested the depths of the flooded Sasao River until only the banner on his back was visible. After the fall of the Takeda, he served as a Tokugawa retainer, participating in the Komaki Campaign as well as the sieges of Odawara and Osaka castles. He died in 1624, one of the last of the Takeda generals.


Hara TorataneHara Toratane (1497-1564) served the Takeda clan in their conquest of Shinano. After the 1541 coup ousted Nobutora, he continued to serve under Shingen. In 1553 he briefly switched service to the rival Hojo clan based in the Kanto region, but soon rejoined the Takeda clan . He received possession of Hirase Castle after Shingen took it from the Ogasawara clan during his conquest of Shinano. In 1561 Toratane was wounded in battle at Warikadake Castle and rendered incapable. He succumbed to his injuries in 1564.


Itagaki NobutakaItagaki Nobutaka (1489-1548) led the bloodless 1541 coup against Takeda Nobutora along with Shingen and fellow retainer Amari Torayasu. He was instrumental in Shingen’s subsequent campaign to conquer Shinano, capturing several castles belonging to the Suwa clan. He was supposedly responsible for a ploy in which the head of the Suwa clan, Yorishige, was taken to the Takeda capital for “protection” only to be murdered. He died in 1548 while leading the vanguard at the Battle of Uedahara against the forces of Murakami Yoshikiyo.


Kiso YoshimasaKiso Yoshimasa (1540-1595) was the son of Kiso Yoshiyasu, one of the Shinano warlords who unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the Takeda conquest of the province in the 1540s and 1550s. He was lord of Fukushima Castle and became Shingen’s son-in-law. After the Takeda defeat at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino, he defected to the Oda clan and helped them in their invasion of the Takeda domain. Toyotomi Hideyoshi later confiscated his lands.


Kosaka MasanobuKosaka Masanobu (1527-1578) served as a Takeda retainer, operating mostly along the northern border of the clan domain. Shingen took him as a lover in 1543, when Shingen was 22 and Masanobu sixteen. Shingen entrusted him with Komoro Castle in Shinano province, which Shingen had taken from Oi Mitsutada. Masanobu later commanded Kaizu Castle from 1560, on the border with Echigo province. He therefore featured heavily in the Battles of Kawanakajima (1553-1564) between Shingen and the warlord of Echigo, Uesugi Kenshin. He remained on the northern border during Shingen’s conquest of Suruga and march westward against the Tokugawa. He thus was not present at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino, after which the Takeda clan collapsed. He died from illness in 1578 and Oda troops killed his sons during the 1582 invasion.


Naitô MasatoyoNaitô Masatoyo (1522?-1575) was initially banished (along with his brothers) by Takeda Nobutora, but was recalled after Shingen seized power in the 1541 coup. Masatoyo served as the Takeda clan as lord of Minowa Castle in western Kozuke Province, after the Takeda captured it from the Nagano clan (Uesugi retainers) in 1566. He fought with some renown at the 1573 Battle of Mikatagahara after Takeda Shingen invaded Tokugawa territory in the Totomi and Mikawa provinces. He led the vanguard at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino, a battle he allegedly advised Takeda Katsuyori not to engage in. He died during the battle, supposedly shot with numerous arrows before a samurai beheaded him.


Obu ToramasaObu Toramasa (1504-1565) was a Takeda retainer who served Takeda Nobutora and then Takeda Shingen following his seizure of power in 1541. He took command of Uchiyama Castle in 1546 after it was captured from the Oi clan. He was famous for his bravery and his penchant for having his troops wear armor lacquered red, a custom repeated by his brother Yamagata Masakage and later Ii Naomasa. Shingen’s eldest son and heir, Yoshinobu, was a ward to Toramasa, and both were implicated in a 1565 plot to overthrow Shingen. Shingen forced both Toramasa and Yoshinobu to commit suicide. According to legend, it was his brother Masakage who betrayed him to Shingen.


Oyamada NobushigeOyamada Nobushige (1539-1582) served the Takeda clan as lord of Iwadono Castle, a fortification on a mountain well-known for its defenses. He fought in the clan’s struggles against the Uesugi, Hojo and the Tokugawa. Following Shingen’s death and the 1575 Battle of Nagashino, he invited Takeda Katsuyori to seek refuge in his impregnable castle, but then refused to admit Katsuyori when he arrived. Katsuyori committed suicide with his family and Nobushige defected to the Oda clan. Nobunaga allegedly criticized him for his betrayal, however, and had Nobushige executed by Horio Yoshiharu, an Oda samurai.


Sanada YukitakaSanada Yukitaka (1512-1574), also known as Ittokusai, was possibly descended from the Unno clan in Shinano province. In 1541 he lost control of his ancestral stronghold, Sanada Castle, after it fell to the Murakami clan. He fled to the Nagano clan, retainers of the Uesugi, before accepting an invitation to join Takeda Shingen. In 1550 he regained Sanada Castle as Shingen conquered Shinano province, and allegedly acted as a strategist and advisor to Shingen in his later campaigns in the 1560s and 1570s. He died in 1574, shortly after Shingen’s death.


Sanada NobutsunaSanada Nobutsuna (1537-1575) was the eldest son of Sanada Yukitaka who became a retainer of the Takeda in his own right. He fought against the Murakami clan during the 1550-1551 siege of Toishi castle. He would go on to become a veteran of the later Takeda campaigns against the Uesugi, Hojo, Imagawa and Tokugawa . When his father died in 1574, Nobutsuna inherited his position. He participated in the 1575 Battle of Nagashino against the Oda and Tokugawa alliance, commanding a cavalry unit. He was killed along with his younger brother, Masateru, leaving his brother Masayuki to inherit Sanada clan leadership.


Sanada MasayukiSanada Masayuki (1544-1608) inherited control of the Sanada clan in 1575, following the deaths of his older brothers Nobutsuna and Masateru. In 1580 he led an invasion of Kozuke province and captured Numata Castle from the Hojo clan. He remained neutral in 1582 when the Oda and Tokugawa clans invaded Takeda territory, the Sanada clan becoming effectively independent. He refused a request by Tokugawa Ieyasu to return Numata Castle to the Hojo. In 1585 he defeated a more numerous Tokugawa army sent to punish him at his newly constructed Ueda Castle. After aligning with the Toyotomi forces in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu exiled Masayuki and his son Yukimura to Kii province. Masayuki died in 1608, possibly killed on orders from the Tokugawa shogunate.


Tada MitsuyoriTada Mitsuyori (1501-1563) served the Takeda as a retainer, first under Takeda Nobutora and then under his son Shingen. He was allegedly born in Mino province but traveled to Kai to learn archery, where he entered Takeda service. He fought in several battles during the campaign to conquer Shinano province, and he was present at the battles of Uehara in 1541 and Sezawa in 1542. He acted primarily as a captain of infantry under Itagaki Nobutaka. He was supposedly an expert in nighttime attacks. He missed the 1561 Battle of Kawanakajima due to an illness he would die from in 1563.


Yamagata MasakageYamagata Masakage (1524-1575), also known as Iitomi Genshiro, served the Takeda clan as a retainer in the 1560s and 1570s. He was a veteran of many battles and considered an experienced commander. He was a younger brother of Obu Toramasa and purportedly informed Takeda Shingen about the 1565 plot by Toramasa to lead a revolt with Shingen’s son and heir, Yoshinobu. Shingen forced Toramasa and Yoshinobu to take their own lives as a result. Like his brother, he had his troops wear red lacquered armor in battle so they were more distinctive. He led the left flank of the Takeda forces at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino, where he died with many other Takeda retainers.


Yamamoto KansukeYamamoto Kansuke (1501-1561), also known as Haruyuki, was a possibly fictional individual acclaimed as a great strategist of the Takeda clan. Modern historians doubt his existence, suggesting he was invented by Takeda family chroniclers as a strategist figure for Shingen. Whatever the case, it is said he was a samurai from Mikawa, physically disabled and blind in eye, who helped the Takeda in their conquest of Shinano with various plots and schemes. He came up with a battle plan — the so-called “woodpecker plan” — for the fourth battle at Kawanakajima in 1561, but was outwitted by Uesugi Kenshin. Shamed by his failure, he charged into the enemy ranks and sacrificed himself.


Yakota TakatoshiYakota Takatoshi (?-1550) was a Takeda clan retainer who initially served as one of the key commanders under Takeda Nobutora in his struggles to pacify Kai province. Takatoshi later attracted Takeda Shingen’s attention for his bravery in battle and his skill at bow and arrow. He was killed in close combat with the Murakami clan at Toishii Castle in 1550. His death came as a blow to Shingen, who had advised his younger retainers to follow Takatoshi’s example. Takatoshi’s heir, Yasukage, was killed at the 1575 Battle of Nagashino.

Tsujigiri

Wafting through thick clouds, the silvery moon beamed down upon the throngs of people bustling along Shijō Street. Although it was still only early evening, massive crowds packed the avenues, filing in and out of shops, hordes of men328px-Hara_Hayato_no_sho_holding_a_spear gravitating toward the red light districts. For generations, civil war had raged throughout Japan, and the capital had been the scene of more than its fair share of bloodshed and destruction. Months ago, one of the preeminent warlords in the country, Tokugawa Ieyasu, had defeated his main rival at the Battle of Sekigahara, and while some hoped this would finally mean an end to conflict and the establishment of peace, many remained uncertain that such peace would last. Simultaneously longing for tranquility and anxious of resurgent violence, the city’s heart pulsed. Its residents were caught up in the pleasures of the moment, as no one knew what tomorrow would bring.

Susumu, who was propelling his way through the masses, had no time for leisure. A man of modest means, he could rarely afford to fritter away his meager income on distractions, especially with a pregnant wife at home. Normally this hour would find him at home, but his beloved Narumi had come down with a severe fever overnight. The local physician had diagnosed the illness, but lacked the remedy. Speeded by love for Narumi and the unborn child inside her, Susumu had rushed from store to store, just as they were closing for the day. After several unsuccessful attempts, he had found the cure, and while it had cost him a considerable sum, his only worry was getting it to Narumi as soon as possible.

The multitude on the main streets was making travel difficult, however, and Susumu could feel his frustration building. When a hideous woman with a coat of white powder on her face grabbed him by his sleeve, luridly offering him her services, he pulled away and ducked down an empty alley. Growing up, he had known the center of the city intimately, but since moving to the outskirts over five years ago, his memory of landmarks and shortcuts had faded. Still, he thought he recognized where he was, and as imperfect as his recollections were, sticking to the main streets entailed only more delay. He cursed as his feet struck unseen objects leaning against the plaster walls on either side of him, but he kept moving forward. When he reached the end of the alley, he swung left onto another busy road. Pushing past a group of drunken ronin, samurai who served no master, he recognized another back street, and hurried down it, fingers still white-knuckled around his medicine pouch.

One of the ronin called after him, berating him for his rudeness. Susumu ignored the harsh words and strode on. The city had seen a glut of these useless, unemployed and often vicious warriors in the aftermath of Sekigahara. After his victory, Tokugawa Ieyasu had reduced or confiscated the lands of lords who had opposed him, and many – or all – the samurai serving those lords suddenly found themselves cast off without support, purpose or direction. When the country had been at war, it had been easy enough for a samurai to find work, as capable commanders, administrators and strategists were always needed. Peace, however precarious, rendered those positions unnecessary. Once part of a privileged and often haughty class, the ronin demonstrated no caste was above humility – and, sometimes, even humiliation.

Despite their downfall, Susumu felt no sympathy for the ronin and had little love for the samurai in general. Even the hungriest and shabbiest among them still behaved as social superiors to the wealthiest merchants and the most skilled artisans, which was their entitlement. No member of the martial caste hung his head or offered apology for the incessant murder, arson and forceful appropriation the capital alone, much less the country at large, had been witness to for over a century. Although there was a natural order to the world that Susumu understood, he also knew no one was more responsible for the strife and suffering that filled the recent past and loomed large on the horizon than these restless warriors.

Sprinting through the shadows, Susumu stayed focused on his mission. Soon the streets grew vacant, making his heavy breathing and footsteps the only sounds. He took this to mean he was reaching the edge of the city and quickened his pace. After a few more twists and turns, however, he found himself staring at a dead end, a high wooden gate barring his way. Grumbling, he followed the wall along the gate until the end of the block and crossed the street, but again there was no route between the buildings. He finally came to an intersection with a signpost pointing in the direction he had come.

He cursed at his foul luck. He would have to double back! It couldn’t be helped. He let out a sigh and was about to turn around when he heard steps coming up from behind. He had not seen or heard anyone for a while and an inexplicable chill iced down his spine. He began to move at a casual pace, as if by being as unobtrusive as possible he would meld into the night.

“Hold on a minute!”

In spite of his rising panic, the commanding voice forced him to halt. A breath paused in his throat. He slowly craned his neck over his shoulder as he calculated the surest means of escape. He suspected they were a bang of common criminals, moving in on solitary prey. Susumu had no intention of parting with what little money he had if he could help it.

Yet he quickly saw that these were no simple thieves. They were five men, all dressed in flashy fine quality kimonos of various colors, some with their shoulders covered by much larger women’s kimonos decorated with floral or animal patterns. Each wore their unkempt hair free and messy, cascading down their necks and backs. At their waist, they wore the double swords distinctive of the samurai – the katana and its slightly smaller companion, the wakizashi. No words passed between them as they moved sideways, eyes fixed on Susumu. They were fanning out, surrounding him on either side. He could smell malice on the air even if they had not yet drawn their blades. There was no mistaking they were out for blood.

One man stepped forward from the rest. He looked much younger than the others, his cheeks untouched by stubble. 331px-Arimura_JisaemonThin, sleepy eyes peeked out from beneath strands of silky blackness, sizing up Susumu as if he were a piece of meat. Without a change in countenance, he used his left hand to pull the sheath of his katana forward, the moon glimmering against the black lacquer finish. With his other hand, long delicate fingers curled around the grip of the hilt. His right shoulder dropped suddenly as his steps became longer and longer.

Susumu had spun around and was running long before the steel left its scabbard. Dizzy with panic, he almost tripped over his own feet as he dashed up the road, where he saw lamps burning behind curtains. He tried to call for help but the discordant noises that emerged from his mouth contained nothing coherent, only raw terror. His hands seeped with sweat and he could feel the medicine in his grasp coming loose. He ran on and on, not daring to look behind him.

He felt the warmth and the wetness before he felt the pain. It was if someone had poured hot oil down the collar of his kimono, soaking it. Then someone set it on fire. The searing agony roared through him, sending him into convulsions. The ground beneath his feet vanished, then came crashing up to meet him as his face collided with dirt and dust. He lay on his stomach as a cold breeze blew over the diagonal cut the sword had made across his back, from his neck to his buttocks. He screamed and screamed until he breathed no more.

Daisuke watched uneasily as the man before him, hands shaking, poured himself some more sake. Although the pair was drinking in a humble brewery in one of the capital’s seedier districts, it was still a major faux pas for a person to refill his own cup. It was becoming readily apparent that Daisuke had made a serious error in his judgment.

“How long did you say you had been traveling?”

“I would reckon five or six years,” slurred Daisuke’s guest, a ronin named Ishikawa Genpachi. He took a long sip and then smacked his lips with appreciation at the warm, intoxicating liquid. Beneath thick hairs on unshaven cheeks, his face burned red with inebriation.

“And in that time, which masters have you studied under?”

Genpachi paused a moment and cleared his throat, obviously buying time. He kept his eyes down as he rattled off names. “Yamada Ryushin, Okuyama Chikuzen, and Usami Kogetsu.”

Daisuke tapped his chin. “I’ve never heard of any of those swordsmen…”

“They’ve never heard of you either!” Genpachi snapped, suddenly flush with anger. He tugged at the two swords tucked in his sash. “What would someone like you know about the Way of the Sword?”

Holding up his hands in a conciliatory gesture, Daisuke grinned wide. “Of course, you’re right, Ishikawa-dono. I meant no offense by my ignorance. Please, relax and enjoy yourself.”

Seemingly soothed, the drunken samurai picked up his cup and slouched forward. He acted as though the whole world weighed down on him, but he showed no sign of gratitude for the stream of liquor Daisuke was supplying him with. Indeed, since Daisuke had approached him on the street and invited him into the brewery for a round or two, the samurai had yet to speak a word of thanks. Eager to accept charity but also too proud to acknowledge it, he represented the worst contradictions of the ronin. Daisuke realized now he had picked another flawed candidate.

It had been seven days since his master had sent Daisuke on his covert task, and seven days had passed without success. He had initially been optimistic that finding a swordsman of some skill would be easy enough, given the abundanceSamurai_goldfish_peddler of begging samurai roaming the city like wild dogs. He had clearly underestimated how difficult it would be to sort through the dregs. Most of those he interviewed had erased whatever knowledge of the sword they may have once had with alcohol, while a majority of those still in complete possession of their faculties either seemed too arrogant, too meek or otherwise uninterested in whatever someone of a lower rank had to say. Moreover, he could not settle for just anyone; he could not bring a candidate before his master unless he was absolutely confident the warrior had all the qualities his master needed. His master trusted his judgment and he did not want to squander that trust by bringing forward an unworthy selection.

Producing a pouch filled with currency, Daisuke counted out the cost of the drinks so far and plopped them on the table. He stood and bowed to Genpachi, careful to show the proper subservience a commoner owed one of his betters. “Thank you so much for deigning to sit and drink with me, Ishikawa-dono. I appreciated your company.”

Shocked by the abrupt end to their drinking session, Genpachi stood as well – or attempted to. Like a tree branch jostled by the wind, he swayed left and right before he caught the table to steady himself. In the process, however, the jar of sake fell and shattered, shards of ceramic spilling everywhere, the earth soaking up the lost spirit.

“Please take care,” Daisuke said, more concerned about the sharp fragments on the ground than the condition of Genpachi.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Genpachi asked, taking Daisuke by the sleeve. Suddenly he was all smiles and laughter. “Come, sit down with me. I’ll tell you more about my adventures as a wandering swordsman. There’s no sense in letting this sake go to waste…!”

“The sake is already gone,” Daisuke pointed out, surprised by the level of obliviousness Genpachi had reached.

“We can purchase some more,” Genpachi said, by which he meant Daisuke could. “Please, sit down! We’ll call over the brewer to bring us some more. Hey, brewer! Hey, brewer!”

The brewer was nowhere to be seen. Daisuke wagered the modest old man who ran the establishment had no doubt decided to keep to one of the back rooms until the armed and volatile samurai had his fill and left. Rather than being discouraged by the lack of service, however, Genpachi just raised his voice more and began beating the table with his fist.

A voice came from the door. “Tsk, tsk. I heard this was a nice place to drink, but I suppose I heard wrong. Drinking here would only give me a headache.”

A bushy-haired samurai with thick sideburns stood at the entrance. One hand held open the curtain that hung over the doorway while the other hung limply over his swords. His tattered kimono, the color of umber, matched the hue of his skin, which the sun had thoroughly leathered. He carried himself with confidence, but not hubris. Daisuke followed the new arrival’s eyes to the spilled sake.

“What concern is it of yours?” barked Genpachi, good humor leaving him again. “This is a private gathering.”

“Don’t worry,” the bushy-haired samurai said as he strolled in. “I won’t be staying.” He made his way across the room and then disappeared down a hallway. He returned moments later, carrying a jar of sake by his side. “Have either of you seen the owner? I’d like to pay for this.”

“I believe he is somewhere back there,” Daisuke said timidly.

“Oh? Don’t tell me this idiot scared him off.”

Genpachi’s jaw dropped several centimeters.

“Being an obnoxious drunk and wasting sake are both dishonorable acts,” the bushy-haired samurai said tiredly. “But getting in the way of my drinking is the worst crime of all.”

Daisuke read the situation immediately and took two steps toward the door.

Genpachi, fuming, reached for his weapon, but by the time he was ready to use it the bushy-haired samurai had set his sake jar down and drawn his own weapon. Lunging forward, he made a horizontal slash that set Genpachi on his heels. Genpachi clasped a hand to his neck, checking to see if his throat had been slit. Yet his palm came away clean. He glanced at something tubular and hairy rolling on the floor that resembled a tea whisk. His eyes widened as he realized what it was. It was his topknot, a symbol of his status as a samurai, cut and cast from the top of his head. He choked on curses caught in his mouth, thoroughly overcome at the extraordinary speed he had witnessed and the terrible disgrace that had been done to him. Probably more out of embarrassment than sense, he staggered hurriedly towards the exit and left.

Daisuke too was stunned. Not only had the bushy-haired samurai demonstrated his skill with the sword, but his choice to spare Genpachi’s life suggested a self-control and integrity he had been looking for, but had so far found wanting. While there was no difficulty in finding two warriors in the capital willing to fight over something as mundane as sake, it was exceedingly rare to find one that would show restraint and precision over extravagance and overindulgence. This was a man who acknowledged fate had robbed him of some of his dignity, but who also knew he possessed the means to retain some of it even in squalid state.

The bushy-haired samurai had sheathed his katana, picked up the sake jar and had almost reached the door when Daisuke deftly stepped in front of him, eliciting a curious expression.

“Sir, please forgive me, but I was wondering if I could speak to you for a moment.”

The bushy-haired samurai looked him over. “What do you want from me?”

“I have been searching for someone like you… I need your services, sir.”

“Oh? What is it? Is your village being attacked by bandits?”

Commoner though he was, Daisuke rankled at the question. He carried himself as the relatively affluent city dweller he was, not some country yokel. “No, sir. My master wants to hire an individual with your abilities for some discrete work.”

“Is he looking for a bodyguard?”

Daisuke smiled knowingly. “No, sir. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Nodding, the bushy-haired samurai took his meaning. “My name is Nagai Ryōichi,” a flicker of interest lightening up his features. “I am listening.”

The ronin who called himself Nagai Ryōichi waited patiently for his audience with Daisuke’s master. Daisuke had taken him straight from the brewery to a well-to-do neighborhood favored by the financial elites of the city, where the major dealers and traders kept their residences. The home they entered smelt strongly of burning incense, making the somber mood of the place even more acute. After removing his sandals and swords, Ryōichi followed Daisuke down a long, narrow corridor to a room decorated with paintings of chrysanthemums on the walls and sliding panels. The samurai sat on his haunches upon the wooden planks that lined the floor as Daisuke left to tell his master about his guest.

320px-Yamana_toyokuniDaisuke soon reappeared and knelt by the side of the panel he had slid open. A balding, barrel-chested man approaching middle age appeared, clothed all in white. It was evident he had not shaved or trimmed his receding hair in some time. Anyone would have identified him as being in mourning for a recently deceased family member. With downcast eyes and deliberate movement, he sat down opposite Ryōichi and folded his hands in front of him.

“Nagai-dono,” the balding man said, “I beg your forgiveness for bringing you into a home polluted by the stain of death.”

Ryōichi suppressed a sardonic laugh. “Like most of my kind, the stench of death has followed me for quite some time.”

The balding man gave Daisuke a look before returning his attention to the samurai in rags. “Daisuke has brought to my attention your willingness to entertain a potential job offer that requires no small amount of finesse, prudence and care. Before we proceed, I think that I should be clear: I would like to hire you to kill someone.”

Ryōichi nodded. “Your man implied as much when he approached me. Considering the neighborhood we are in, the smell of incense and the way you are dressed, am I correct in guessing that you are a wealthy merchant seeking someone to avenge the death of a relative?”

Flashing half a smile, the balding man tilted his head. “You have it exactly, Nagai-dono.”

“You have my deepest condolences.”

The mourner nodded in acceptance of these words while Ryōichi drilled his eyebrows together in thought and then spoke aloud. “All that was simple to deduce. But if you want me to kill someone, then you must know who it is that killed your relative. If you know that, why not go to the police? They wouldn’t ignore a rich man like you.”

The balding man sighed heavily, releasing repressed fury as he exhaled. “The police are not ignoring me. The truth is that they cannot do anything because, legally, no crime occurred.”

“A case of kirisute-gomen,” said Ryōichi. “Of course.”

“This was not just kirisute-gomen,” the balding man replied. “This was tsujigiri.”

Since time immemorial, samurai enjoyed the right of kirisute-gomen – to freely kill any member of the lower classes, from the lowliest leatherworker to the most famous craftsman in Japan. Ostensibly, the honorable members of the samurai class would only kill a commoner if he or she warranted it by behaving disrespectfully, but the reality was that samurai often abused kirisute-gomen when it pleased them. In these days of peace, it was not unheard of for bored, puffed-up samurai to wait at quiet crossroads and cut down the first peasant to pass by – sometimes to test a new sword or to try out a new swordsmanship style, or even for no reason at all. This was known as tsujigiri, and while it rightly flared tempers throughout society, the relatives of those killed had no option for legal or even financial compensation.

“Who was killed?” Ryōichi asked.

“My son, Susumu,” the balding man said flatly. “We were… estranged. All my life I have known only competition and the pursuit of profit. A person does not get ahead in business unless they are prepared to sacrifice what they already have to obtain more.” Buddhist prayer beads clicked between his fingers. “I never should have tried to be a father. Some people just aren’t meant to raise children. When he was old enough, Susumu left this house and moved to the edges of the capital. He made and sold straw hats. I thought he was a fool to choose poverty, the very existence I clawed my way up from. But he never asked me for money. When I asked after him people told me he was happy.”

“He was killed in the outskirts of the city?”

“No. He only came into the capital to buy a medicine he couldn’t get elsewhere. His wife was pregnant and gravely ill… When he never returned, she died, along with my unborn grandson.” The balding man, struggling to keep his emotions in check, balled his hands into fists and took several deep breaths.

“How do you know who killed him?”

“The police found his body in a place where several peasants had been killed, all instances of tsujigiri committed by the same pack of dogs. Locals know to avoid the area because they will be murdered with impunity, but Susumu didn’t know…”

“Are they ronin who do it?”

The balding man shook his head. “No. One of the deputies charged with keeping an eye on the Imperial Court, Hakkaku Gen’ichirō, has three sons. The third is named Mitsuo, and he’s an insufferable braggart and troublemaker. He shows neither reverence nor respect for anything, yet his father’s position in the government protects him. He and his friends are the worst kind of samurai – kabukimono!”

The kabukimono were a relatively new phenomenon in the capital. Whereas samurai had once made names for themselves through acts of martial valor, some had taken to attracting attention with outrageous behavior, such as wearing their hair long and undone, singing and brawling in the streets, and so on. It did not seem to bother them that their deeds reaped infamy rather than fame, perhaps because being known as hooligans surpassed not being known at all. They were warriors in a world without war, so they went to war against the world. They were by far the most common practitioners of tsujigiri.

“Hakkaku Mitsuo thinks he cannot be touched, least of all by a commoner like me,” the balding man said. “He may be above the law, but he is not beyond your blade.”

“Why hire me? Why not hire a professional assassin?”

“I cannot risk this being traced back to me. If the son of a government official is killed, even a minor one, the police investigation will be exhaustive, and I cannot risk using one of their usual suspects. The capital, however, is overflowing with ronin, and if Mitsuo and his gang were to encounter one in the street and a fight were to break out… Well, that would be far less strange than Mitsuo being poisoned or stabbed in his sleep.” The balding man inclined his head in a show of deference. “Nagai-dono, although you are a samurai yourself, Mitsuo and his gang are a disgrace to your class. My reasons for wanting vengeance may be selfish, but no one can dispute that their repeated practice of tsujigiri deserves a righteous punishment!”

Ryōichi held up a hand. “There is no need for fancy words. My price is 20 gold coins.”

The balding man bristled. Daisuke gasped audibly. While Ryōichi had shown a suspension of morals by allowing commoners to enlist him in assassinating another samurai, his naming his own price bluntly crossed over into the vulgar. Was this a ronin’s coarseness or the crass act of an overconfident and shameless fool? Daisuke wondered if he had not erred after all in the man he had chosen.

After hesitating, the balding man collected himself. “You will be paid after the fact, of course.”

“Of course.” Ryōichi made as if to stand, but the balding man stopped him.

“Nagai-dono, before you leave,” he said, “would you please tell me a bit about yourself? Forgive me, but I feel as though I should know more about the man I am entrusting with this serious task. Pray tell, have you been without a master long?”

“Since Sekigahara.”

“Is that so? And which lord did you serve under?”

“One of the losers.” Grinning, Ryōichi rose to his feet. “Pardon me if I don’t share my story with you. Your man has seen what I am capable of and my word is my bond. As long as you pay me, you need not worry about anything else. Hakkaku Mitsuo is a dead man.”

Stalking the streets like stray dogs in search of scraps, Hakkaku Mitsuo and two of his companions rambled through one of the run-down quarters of the capital. It had been almost a month since Mitsuo had cut down his last peasant – some dirty bumpkin who had met his death like a coward, screaming until he passed out – and, having just gotten his sword sharpened, he reasoned it time to test the sharpness of the blade. He had announced his intentions to his comrades before leaving their favorite brothel, and he had even managed to tempt two of them away from the seductive qualities of the eager whores. Like Mitsuo, they loved playing with swords even more than they loved playing with women.

They walked along the street to an intersection where they enjoyed laying in wait for their victims. While they favored this locale for its usual isolation, tonight they spotted two men speaking in hushed tones in the center of the crossroads. The two unknown men cut short their conversation as Mitsuo and his friends approached and one began walking in their direction. Although it was poorly lit, they could see by the light of the moon that the man heading toward them carried the two swords of a samurai. Disturbed at seeing such a man here, Mitsuo’s friends slowed their gaits, but Mitsuo went on unperturbed.

“Watch this,” Mitsuo whispered over his shoulder, the edges of his lips curling.

Suddenly, Mitsuo picked up speed and, quite deliberately, brushed up against the unknown samurai, who was clearly caught off guard. “Hey!” Mitsuo shouted, his voice so loud as to part the darkness around them. “You bastard! Watch where you’re going!”

The other samurai, who had bushy hair and thick sideburns, arched his eyebrows. “You bumped into me,” he said coolly.

“No, you walked right into me,” Mitsuo argued, “and the scabbard of your katana struck mine! Even a filthy ronin like you should know better than to be so reckless.”

The bushy-haired samurai’s face erupted with mirth. “You must be Hakkaku Mitsuo.”

Mitsuo, taken aback at hearing his name uttered by a total stranger, wavered, but kept his braggadocio going. “So you’ve heard of me. If so, you should know that I’m quite the swordsman. It’s unfortunate that you decided to cross paths with me and act so rudely.”

“I’ve heard you’ve killed many men,” the bushy-haired samurai said. “Or, to put it more accurately, you’ve slaughtered many unarmed peasants.”

Furrowing his brow, Mitsuo grabbed the handle of his sword. “What is the life of a common man to a warrior? I have a right to kill a peasant if I want, and as many as I want!”

The bushy-haired samurai nodded. “That’s true. A person’s name and status can get them many things in this world. But, these days, there is very little money cannot get you, too.”

Mitsuo’s companions drew their swords, followed by Mitsuo. Stepping back, the bushy-haired samurai drew his as well.

“My name is Nagai Ryōichi,” the bushy-haired samurai said. “You should know that I have been hired to kill you.”

Mitsuo let out a roar of laughter and lifted his katana above his head. He charged blindly, his blade dropping in a swooping333px-Kagehisa_and_Yoshitada_wrestling arc. The tip clicked against the hand guard on Ryōichi’s sword hilt, and with a hefty push Ryōichi shoved his attacker away. Seeing an opening, one of Mitsuo’s companions rushed in from Ryōichi’s left, sword and arm outstretched. Stepping aside to dodge, Ryōichi followed up with a rapid slash. The outstretched arm flopped to the ground, detached from its owner. Mitsuo attacked again, this time with more control, but again Ryōichi used his own weapon to deflect. At the last moment, he pulled his sword away, leaving Mitsuo to fall forward as all his strength went into cutting the air. Ryōichi rolled on his heels, nearly escaping the stab of Mitsuo’s second follower, who had snuck to his rear. The sneak attack had been aimed at the middle of Ryōichi’s back, but ended up leaving only a scratch. Pivoting, Ryōichi completed his spin with a two-handed thrust into the second follower’s stomach. Out of reflex, the stabbed man put his hands around the katana plunged into his gut, but succeeded only in slicing his hands as gravity pushed him off the blade and to the ground.

It was plain to see Mitsuo wavering after witnessing both of his friends so easily dispatched. His lips trembled and his knees wobbled. The steel he held between his fingers shook, like a weak root supporting a man on the edge of a cliff. Still, his arms and feet remained motionless. He was planted where he was, frozen in fear. He stared straight ahead, at the stranger and his weapon coated in blood. His two companions had been rendered useless in mere seconds – one clearly dead, the other flopping around like a fish out of water, clutching the stump where his arm had been. He waited for Ryōichi to come at him, but the bushy-haired samurai remained motionless himself, locked in a defensive stance.

Mitsuo raised his sword high one more time, and ran, shouting curses at his enemy.

What happened next was a blur. When he regained his senses, he was panting, covered in sweat, every limb feeling like a porous sponge. He had swung his sword; he knew that, as his muscles ached from the power he had invested in the decisive blow. He took a deep breath, hurrying to recapture his composure—

The breath never came. It was then he realized that his throat had been cut open.

Gasping, he collapsed. All he could hear was the nauseating sound of him inhaling air, only for the air to be released again in the hole that had been made in his neck. All he could see was the bushy-haired samurai named Ryōichi walking away into the shadows, not even looking back at the bloody scene left in his wake. Soon, both his hearing and his sight began to fade, washing away into white noise and total blackness.

As predicted, Mitsuo had returned to the crossroads where he had slain Susumu and countless others before, just three nights after Ryōichi had been hired. Daisuke had stayed around just long enough to watch the deed done, and had then retreated to the rendezvous location where Ryōichi would receive his payment. He leaned against the railing of the Kamo Bridge and watched the river running beneath, the sound of water calming his nerves. Although Ryōichi had been the one to do the killing tonight, Daisuke felt strangely ill at ease.

Half an hour passed before Ryōichi arrived. He looked a bit anxious, but still calm for a man Daisuke had seen take the lives of three men. “I am sure the master will be pleased,” he said, his voice low. “And you too must take some pleasure that a beast like Hakkaku Mitsuo no longer sullies the word ‘samurai’ with his cold-blooded murder of innocent people. We suspected that someone like him would not last long against—”

Ryōichi waved a hand in the air, as if batting away the words before they reached his ears. “No need for flattery. Just pay up.”

Daisuke opened his mouth as if to say something more, but instead frowned and offered from within his kimono a pouch containing the 20 gold coins, as promised. With hardly a nod, Ryōichi scooped it up, placed it inside his own kimono and started to walk toward the other side of the bridge.

Daisuke opened his mouth again, hesitated, and then broke into a sprint after Ryōichi. He grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. “Wait!”

Annoyed, Ryōichi grimaced. “What is it?”

“I don’t understand you!” Daisuke protested. “Mitsuo was a disgrace to his class! He massacred people who did nothing wrong, solely because he was free to do so! You did an honorable thing tonight, and all you seem to care about is the money!”

Ryōichi chuckled. “A truly honorable samurai would never have betrayed his class and become a sword-for-hire, especially for someone like your master – who pays others for their labor and then profits from it, never lifting a hand himself.”

“He wanted to avenge his son!”

“And he had the money to buy revenge,” Ryōichi replied. “Perhaps the loved ones of Mitsuo’s other victims will also rejoice at the news of his death, but in the end what I did tonight was so your master could feel better – not for the sake of some abstraction like ‘honor’ or ‘harmony.’ Mitsuo may be dead, but someone just like him will be waiting at some crossroads tomorrow night, looking to kill a passerby with impunity. You shouldn’t think that one man or one act could stop the injustice that this world ignores – and encourages.”

Daisuke shook his head. “You’re wrong!”

“Believe what you want. Where was ‘honor’ and ‘harmony’ during the civil war, when vassals rebelled against their lords and took their place? The low overtook the high. Tokugawa Ieyasu may be on top now, but it was not so long ago he showed obeisance to someone else. Now that the time of war is over, there is no more use for warriors. Now it’s time for trading and prosperity, so merchants like your master and their vaults of wealth will be supreme. Once again, the low are overtaking the high. Samurai who cling to their privilege and the hope of glory won by the sword are living in the past. Boys like Hakkaku Mitsuo listen to the war stories of their grandfathers and fathers, thinking they too will someday become swordsmen – only to find that life denied to them. Just like it was denied to me, when I was cast out to beg and be spat upon, when it was only years ago I enjoyed endless praise for my bravery on the battlefield and devotion to swordsmanship.”

“I am praising you now,” Daisuke pointed out. “I’m telling you, you did a good thing.”

Ryōichi chortled. “Hakkaku Mitsuo committed tsujigiri a dozen or two dozen times. Meanwhile, a warlord like Tokugawa Ieyasu conscripts tens of thousands of peasants into his armies to fight and die to enrich him and his clan. If I killed him, maybe that would make a difference.” Perked up at the idea, he began to rub his chin. “Nah. That’d require too much work, and besides, some other bastard would just take his place.”

Daisuke, still dissatisfied, gazed down at his sandals.

Ryōichi placed a reassuring hand on his head. “Times change and people have to change with them. Be content that you have a steady job, food in your belly and a roof over your head.” With that, he turned and made once more for the other side of the bridge.

“If history has no more use for you,” Daisuke called, “then what will be your calling?”

“Don’t worry,” Ryōichi answered, smiling over his shoulder. “No matter how much things change, there will always be someone who wants someone else dead.”

Bitterness

The bushy-haired samurai walked at a leisurely pace down the country road, taking in the lush meadows shimmering under spring sunlight. By his ratty blue kimono, unshaven face and unkempt hair, it was apparent that he had fallen on hard times, undoubtedly one of the many unemployed warriors wandering Japan in the aftermath of the recent civil war. He was just one of countless penniless ronin roaming the land now, and though it seemed he had not one cent to his name, he still wore at his side the two swords indicative of his rank – the katana and the shorter wakizashi. In his right hand he also carried a large wicker basket, the contents being concealed by several layers of white cotton cloth.

As he went, the samurai spotted smoke rising not too far away. Taking a closer look, he saw a seated figure at the top of a grassy mound. He began to walk towards the figure and the smoke, soon spying that it was a man in his twilight years with a163px-Amakasu_Omi_no_kami shaved head, sitting informally upon a spread-out rug. As he came closer, he noticed several items used in tea ceremonies also on the rug: a tea bowl, a bamboo spoon and whisk, cleaning napkins, and the source of the smoke: a small fire, over which hung an iron kettle. The man had forsaken the conventional tiny teahouse most ceremonies were conducted in for an empty field on a beautiful day, with the vast blue sky as his canopy and the fresh air as additional refreshment. Although the scene was clearly cozy and casual, the advanced age of the old man and his fine tea items gave it an air of sophistication and solemnity.

The old man was focused on a pouch of powdered tea when the samurai started approaching him. He eventually looked up and, startled, recoiled slightly at the sight of the warrior in front of him. The samurai instantly set down his basket and made a deep bow at the waist. “I am sorry if I scared you. I was walking by and saw you enjoying this lovely day. It has been a long time since I have seen the tea ceremony performed.”

Laughing congenially, the old man waved a dismissive hand. “There is no need for apologies. I was off in my own little world. You are more than welcome to join me, if you would like. What I am doing hardly qualifies as a true tea ceremony, but such things are always more enjoyable with company. Please, take a seat. What is your name?”

The samurai spoke his thanks and took off his straw sandals. He kneeled down on the rug, removed his swords and placed them at his side. “My name is Sugiura Ryoichi.”

“A pleasure to meet you. These days I am called Satomi Sozen.”

“An honor, Satomi-dono, I am sure. Do you live nearby?”

Sozen nodded his head as he tended to the kettle and the fire. “I do. I have a hut not far from here. Many years ago, I was once a samurai such as you. I tired of war, however, and shaved my head, gave up my swords and turned myself over to studying the sutras and practicing meditation. Once and awhile, when the weather is agreeable, I dust off my old tea items and relish the tranquility of the ceremony alongside the beauty of nature.”

Ryoichi smiled politely. “Tranquility is a foreign concept to me. Before his household was abolished, the lord I served forbade any interest in poetry, writing or gaming. He stated that such things would make us womanly and weaken our spirits. He conducted tea ceremonies from time to time when other lords visited him, but he often sneered in private that many so-called samurai often cared more for their expensive tea items than they did for mastering the art of war. I fear you may find me to be a crude boor.”

“I am but a humble hermit,” said Sozen, “and cannot judge others. Still, with due respect to your former master, I would disagree with his perspective. Many clans, including the one I was descended from, can trace their lineage back to aristocratic families. They have always patronized the arts and embraced culture. I suppose it all depends on how a samurai defines himself: as only a warrior, devoted only to fighting, or as a noble spirit dedicated to honing his mind and spirit as well as honing his skills with the blade.”

“Very well spoken,” Ryoichi said, impressed with the eloquence of his companion.

Sozen, content with the fire, turned from the kettle and offered Ryoichi a bean paste confection, a simple sweet often presented at the beginning of the tea ceremony. Ryoichi took a bite and made a noise indicating his appreciation. “I know that the ceremony is often conducted in silence, Satomi-dono, but I would like to continue our conversation.”

“By all means. As I said, you could hardly call this a true tea ceremony.”

Ryoichi arched an eyebrow. “Yes, all things have their true nature, don’t they? But, just as there is controversy over whether samurai should be cultured or not, drawing a distinction between the way things ought to be and the way they are is no easy task.”

161px-Akashi_Gidayu_writing_his_death_poem_before_comitting_SeppukuAs his guest spoke, Sozen picked up his pouch of powdered tea and, using a small bamboo spoon, placed a tiny amount of it into his tea bowl, a dirt-colored earthenware container that, to the untrained eye, seemed rough and rudimentary. But Sozen knew that it was a priceless piece of art. In fact, it had been a gift from Oda Nobunaga himself, who during the civil war era had been one of the premier warlords in Japan before his death.

“In my time wandering the land,” Ryoichi continued, “I have thought a good deal about the contradictions of my class. For example, we samurai are expected to follow a code of honor and loyalty, one that puts death before disgrace. Once we swear fealty to a master, we are supposed to continue in service to our dying breath. Of course, I am living proof that many of us who are cut loose continue to exist, even when our purpose is unclear.”

Sozen nodded as if listening closely, but truly he was thinking that this ronin loved to hear his own voice. This should not have been surprising, he observed, as he too had once craved human contact when he had begun his hermitage decades ago. He had grown accustomed to stillness, however, and now cherished it even more than his tea items.

“If you look at events from the recent civil war, however,” mused Ryoichi, finishing his sweet, “there are ample cases of members of our class behaving in a manner most shameful. I am sure you are familiar with the misdeeds of Matsunaga Hisahide, who assassinated so many of the lords he served, to say nothing of his destruction of the Buddhist temple in Nara. Perhaps you have heard of the Bessho clan of Harima, which refused to surrender even after Oda Nobunaga besieged their castle and prevented any supplies from coming through? Rather than starve to death, the defenders of the castle killed their lord and his brothers and then threw down their weapons to save themselves.”

Using the kettle upon the fire, Sozen started to ladle hot water into the bowl with the tea inside. Taking up the bamboo whisk, he began to whip the powder and water into a heavy froth. “I suppose there comes a time in every man’s life,” he said softly, “that he realizes that virtues society espouses are not consistent with the behavior of most people. I suppose that is why they are lofty ideals to be strived toward, but rarely achieved.”

“Again, very well said, Satomi-dono,” Ryoichi said, nodding his head in agreement. “All human beings are flawed, even those of us who are held to a high standard. But it must be said that, even in light of this fact, some crimes are so heinous as to be unforgiveable.”

“What do you mean?”

Ryoichi shut his eyes and paused. “Satomi-dono, do you know about the former lord of Settsu province, Nakamura Tomohiro?”

The whisk in Sozen’s hand suddenly stopped.

“It is said that he originally served the Miyoshi clan, but his talents came to be known by Oda Nobunaga, who took him on as a vassal. Nobunaga gave him Settsu province and several castles, and for many years, Nakamura fought for the Oda in many of their battles. Then, one year, he rebelled against his lord and managed to hold out for quite some time. His retainers betrayed him, however, and it is said he fled to the west, leaving behind his family and his followers – all of whom were subsequently executed in Kyoto.”

Slowly Sozen set the tea bowl down, his face turning ashen. He gradually raised his eyes from the bowl to his guest, who kept on smiling politely as he talked, as if nothing had changed. The once bright and relaxed old man seemed as though he had seen a ghost.

“Can you imagine that?” Ryoichi asked. “He left behind his wife and children. Apparently he took only his favorite concubine with him – and his favorite tea items. It is said that his tea bowl had been a gift from Oda Nobunaga himself for his service.”

Sozen said and did nothing. A long moment passed, and this time silence seemed an enemy and not a friend to the elderly320px-Musashi_vs__Bokuden hermit. Eventually Ryoichi picked up the tea bowl, turned it so that the bowl faced towards him, and then sipped the tea up. He then cleaned the tip of the bowl with his fingers, turned the bowl back around, and placed it in front of Sozen, bowing in thanks. Sozen still did nothing, staring at Ryoichi with sad eyes.

“Very bitter,” Ryoichi finally proclaimed, his tone becoming harsh.

Sozen took a deep breath, a grimace forming on his face. “You have come for me, then?”

Ryoichi tilted his head and tapped one of his knees. “Your wife’s family paid me to find you. I have to say, it wasn’t easy. Two things gave you away, though. I met some men who told me about a man who lived in this area who had very nice tea items – priceless ones, in fact. They thought it odd that a hermit would have such treasures. I agreed.”

“I could not stand to give them up,” Sozen said with a sigh. “Made with such care, with such precise attention to detail and always so tasteful, so close to perfection…”

“Not like human beings?” said Ryoichi. “No, like you said, human beings may strive for perfection, but they always fall short. Politics determined your marriage and fate decided the characteristics of your children. So you abandoned them and took with you the two things that were in fact closest to your heart: your concubine and these tea items.”

With alarming swiftness Ryoichi grabbed his katana. Acting on reflexes, Sozen put up his hands feebly to defend himself. Instead of drawing, however, the samurai raised his still-sheathed sword and slammed the hilt down so it landed in the middle of the tea bowl. Shards of ceramic went flying as the bowl cracked into pieces. Sozen felt a pain in his chest as if the sword had been thrust into the center of his heart. He was speechless.

Ryoichi composed himself and set the sword aside again. “When your dead wife’s family approached me, I assumed they wanted me to kill you. But they were very specific: they wanted you to suffer. For two long decades, they have lived with grief for the woman you cast away, as well as your sons and daughters. They instructed me that it would be fitting that I take your beloved things from you, so you could finally know their bitterness.”

It took a moment for this to fully register with Sozen. “Hifumi.” He bit his bottom lip as he thought of his former concubine, who for many years now had posed as his quiet and unassuming wife. He thought of the many years that they had lived together here in the country, savoring the simple rustic life, alone and isolated. She was old now, like him, grey and wizened but still graceful. She was the only person he could not live without.

“She was the second thing that betrayed you.”

Shocked, Sozen’s eyes widened and his jaw hung open. “What?”

344px-Seppuku-2“Not willingly,” Ryoichi said, somewhat reassuringly. “When I went to your hut and found you absent, I had to convince her that her survival depended on her telling me where you had gone off to. I wasn’t entirely honest with her about that.”

He reached over to the wicker basket he had been carrying and placed it in front of him. He pushed it toward Sozen, who had grown even paler. He gaped at the basket, frozen.

Ryoichi raised himself up, picking up his swords and slipping on his sandals. He smoothed out his kimono and ran a thoughtful hand through his wild, shaggy hair. Looking up at the idyllic sky and the pastoral scene around him, he let out a satisfied sigh. Slowly, he started to walk back toward the unpaved road he had been on before, this time headed back in the direction he had come from.

Meanwhile, Sozen still sat on his rug, motionless. He noticed now that there were specks of crimson upon the white cotton cloth inside the basket, and that whatever was within the cloth was large and round. There came from it an unpleasant odor, hitherto masked by the pleasing aroma of the springtime flora abundant around them. It smelled bitterly.