T H E---R E A L------L I F E
M O R I-----R A N M A R U
---L O R D--O F--I W A M U R A

Mori Ranmaru crest
[ Mori family crest ]

 

Iwamura

IF YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT IWAMURA IS, CLICK THE WORD

 

The most-famous valet in the world, Mori Ranmaru, died with Oda Nobunaga at the Akechi Mitsuhide ambush. He was still below 20 years old that morning (records vary about his age; the life-span given by producers of games in 21st century seems too short, 1565-1582). His life was full to the brink with all sorts of stuff that today's 60 years-old retired salarymen could never ever get -- thank God they never even know what's amiss. On June 21, 1582, not only Ranmaru left this messy old planet; his younger brothers Mori Nagataka (born in 1566) and Mori Nagauji (born in 1567) died fighting until their last. Their eldest sibling, Mori Yoshitaka (1552-1570), already lost his life serving Oda Nobunaga's Generals in battle. It seemed as if the fabulous Mori boys specialized in dying young -- something beautiful in itself for some people. None of those deaths was for nothing, mind you.

Oda Nobunaga saw Ranmaru for the first time when he was showed around by the father, Mori Yoshinari, the Judge of Gifu, who had just joined the Oda clan in 1555. That time Ranmaru wasn't yet 6 years old. Oda liked the boy instantly. Mori Ranmaru was, so people said, very handsome, perhaps in the way Japanese animation movies of this century depict their 'beautiful boy' heroes. But if he was only good-looking Oda Nobunaga wouldn't have cared much about him.

The thing about Mori is that he was the opposite of Oda's Judas, Lord Akechi Mitsuhide (that's part of why they hated each other, click here for stories about it). Mori was smart, fast, practical, and completely tuned in when it comes to Oda Nobunaga's whimsical schedules and everchanging moods. If Oda Nobunaga blasted through everybody's ears because of something, people said that the only safe place was behind Toyotomi Hideyoshi or Mori Ranmaru. The latter was safer than the first, since toward Toyotomi Oda didn't spare any speck of reconsideration whenever he felt like getting furious. As far as the available records go, there had never been any observable occasion when Oda Nobunaga got angry at Mori at all.

Mori's younger brothers served Oda Nobunaga, too, a few years after Mori got there. Their dad Yoshinari died in a battle for the Oda clan, and their mom became a Buddhist nun afterwards, so they lived with Ranmaru and it was only practical that they all shared the job, especially since Mori Ranmaru had grown older -- usually a boy retired from being a valet and started to be a regular soldier around their coming of age or shortly after, say, between 15 and 18 years old. But it was clear that Oda didn't want Mori to leave him, and the boy himself didn't think of going to. His mother, too, was entirely okay with it; Oda Nobunaga took care of all her offsprings anyway. Ranmaru's mom, though supposed to mind nothing but the many gods of the religion, still worked for Oda Nobunaga's interests whenever she could. Like, relaying some info about a suspicious scheme of a warlord next door to Oda's territory, or searching for agents. Oda Nobunaga's aversion to ninjas sometimes manifested itself as a sort of phobia; he never trusted those in that profession, unlike Toyotomi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (the latter even relied heavily on his special ninja force; click here for story and pictures). The Mori family could help a little to ease his political mind in this.

Mori Ranmaru was invaluable within the Oda clan's HQ because no one else could cope with Oda Nobunaga's need for speed. The rest of the people only fell into indescribable chaos and constant confusion because Oda notoriously never planned anything ahead (at least, he never bothered to tell anybody about it), and then he demanded the order to do anything to get done that very second. Tradition said that Mori even gave what Oda wanted before he did want it -- this was a nearly impossible mission for anyone else.

It's all about practical things in daily life; whenever Oda Nobunaga shouted "My horse!" he expected the brute to have been led right where he happened to stand; Mori anticipated this and so it went as Oda wanted it to. When Oda's wrath was out of proportion, Mori left him alone just for the right length of time, and said the right thing to wipe it off. Mori took care that simple pleasures in Oda's daily life never ran out, such as red wine, which was hard to get those days. He also maintained the same schedules as Oda's -- namely, nobody knows when they were going to do what -- to practice karate, swordsplay, archery, riding, and so forth.

Strangely, Mori Ranmaru's relationship with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda Nobunaga's favorite General, was good enough. They weren't jealous of each other or something. Though a bit looking down at Toyotomi (everybody was, even though most didn't dare to show it), Mori treated him warmer than other Generals, even as the latter were true-blue noblepersons.

Being a warlord's valet in 16th century Japan was a zillion miles away from being one around the Buckingham Palace. First requirement for the job was the same as being a soldier, nothing less.

If in a battlefield the last defense had been broken through, a Lord only had his valets to fight the enemy. If there was a good sniper lurking around, valets might catch the death fired toward their master. No less than soldiery qualities were needed in the job that, in normal days, only concerned household management.

During a war, at home was just the same as in the battleground anyway. And Japan was always in a war, when Mori Ranmaru lived. Especially around his own vicinity. And a valet wasn't entitled to protection by soldiers -- they were not counted as civilians. They got to get alert every time.

All in all, the job was even tougher than a soldier's, because Private X or Sergeant Y (their equivalence in Japanese, I mean) didn't have to know which wine was supposed to be served at their Lord's dinner, and they didn't have to do errands like taking the horses in or out of the inner yard, and their job description didn't include maintenance of the Lord's personal armory. Valets worked 24/7. That's why many boys dropped out of the profession in a few days or weeks; they couldn't bear it.

Bisexuality was characteristic of olden-days Japan. Some valets served their master in this direction, too, and some did not. There is no extant record on how Mori Ranmaru was in this matter, therefore we better suspend conclusion. (Click here for the women in Oda Nobunaga's life, just as a postscript).

So, anyway, Mori Ranmaru was one tough teenager. He was also a good swordsman, a laudable archer, and a great rider -- all three were also Oda Nobunaga's own points of excellence.

So Mori Ranmaru started out as a sort of a pageboy. When he died in Kyoto in 1582, he was Lord of Iwamura.

Mori Ranmaru's life was short, but that's the way of the samurai. He had nothing to regret, too. Yet he wouldn't have thought that in the 21st century there are many people around the globe who remember him, in whichever kind of memory. It wasn't just that he served an immortal; Mori in himself was a character worthy of recalling whenever we talk about the Japanese 'Warring States' of 16th century.

Probably because of all the deaths of the previous Mori bros, the youngest of Ranmaru's brothers, Mori Tadamasa (1570-1634), crossed over and joined the victors of the day, the most powerful pensioner in the world, Tokugawa Ieyasu -- and his son Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada -- after Oda Nobunaga was no more. It was a wise choice to some.

 

 

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