SAMURAI BLOG (Updated Everyday)

.....and samurai who became a legend for doing nothing except dying. Really.




c. 1185

Gozen Tomoe
Tomoe in traditional drama

You know Japan never had as much space for female warriors as China always had, so if we brush aside the semi-mythological Empresses of time immemorial, the national history is rather bald in this matter. Well, this is one of the very scattered anomalies.

Tomoe was the concubine of Minamoto Yoshinaka (a.k.a Kiso Yoshinaka), who fought until the last samurai in his company had fallen against Minamoto Yoritomo's soldiers -- a rehearsal in the art of fratricide that Yoritomo seemed to have been striving to attain the excellence of (the Kiso episode happened only a few years before Yoritomo's own brother, Minamoto Yoshitsune, suffered the same thing).

When the Minamoto clan took Japan over from the Taira, Kiso Yoshinaka was the one who drove the clan out of Kyoto. Minamoto Yoshitsune and his brother Noriyori decided that their job was to kick the Taira clan out of every temporary shelter they built, so the Tairas were constantly moving until at last there was nothing before them but the vast blue sea -- where Yoshitsune and Yoritomo finished them off.

All that took quite some time to happen, and afterwards Minamoto Yoritomo settled himself down in Kamakura, got himself the title 'Shogun' from one of the most exasperating Emperors in the history of Japan (Go-Shirakawa), and.....started to eliminate members of his own clan.

It started with Kiso Yoshinaka because he was the brightest star that shone those days (Minamoto Yoshitsune hadn't yet eclipsed him).

In his early thirties, Kiso Yoshinaka had already earned some scary Japanwide reputation in prowess at battles. His nicknames were 'General of the Rising Sun' to the courtiers, and 'Demon Warrior' to average citizens. His captains were called 'Four Demon Kings of Kiso's' -- Imai, Higuchi, Tate and Nenoi.

With such a ripe videogamelike appelations, even Minamoto Yoritomo in his most deadly season couldn't face Kiso himself -- commander for the 'Kill Kiso' project was Yoshitsune, though he, according to tradition, wasn't jealous at all at anyone, unlike his older brother Yoritomo who had made envy a business.

Accustomed to the warriors' way of life, Kiso Yoshinaka couldn't fit himself into the new position of one in power; he openly despised Minamoto Yoritomo's court and new sort of chums, which, he said, was a lair of effeminate chickens. As Shogun, Yoritomo started to brush shoulders with Princes and other such civilians, and of course Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Kiso and all those persons couldn't get along. He and Yoritomo exchanged unprintable lexicons several times in public on this subject.

This should have been solved just by Kiso's moving out of town and as far away from the court as possible -- but Minamoto Yoritomo just saw a chance to kick him out of the planet altogether. He waited until the chance matured into a legitimate reason to bring his dream of lawful murder to life.


Gozen Tomoe
Tomoe in classical painting

It came one day when Kiso, getting mad at some courtiers for something (just what thing, has been unclear until today), burned down a part of one of the palaces.

The equally angry Emperor Go-Shirakawa released an official statement that since then on Kiso Yoshinaka was the enemy of the state (click here for how things like that meant). Minamoto Yoritomo's job as a Shogun was to crush such guys to dust.

Kiso was badly outnumbered because the rest of Japan was against him, as was bound to be when one was dubbed the official rebel of the year. He lost one battle after another; even his 'Demon Kings' couldn't do much.

When they reached the area of Otsu, there were only four people left of Yoshinaka's army.

These last four included Tomoe.

She refused to leave Kiso although it was beyond any doubt that he would eventually die in a few more minutes.

He asked her to go away, over and over, until she relented.

But her way of retreating from battle was absolutely unyielding.

She galloped alone right into the middle of Onda Moroshige's cavalry (consisting of 30 men), and cut Onda's head -- a farewell gift for her soulmate Kiso, and a way to underline her statement that she wouldn't retreat on her own will.


Minamoto Yoritomo
Minamoto Yoritomo
Kiso Yoshinaka
Kiso Yoshinaka


* In Japanese, Tomoe's name is usually written as 'Tomoe-gozen'. This has been usually erroneously anglicized into 'Tomoe Gozen', as if there has ever been a family or clan named 'Gozen'.

The truth is, '-gozen' means nothing else but 'Ms.' So 'Tomoe-gozen' is 'Ms. Tomoe'.

Usually this was used in the olden days to address a member of the social class that could be said of as 'entertainers' (prototype of the Tokugawa era's geishas). Being from a class in society that wasn't allowed to assume family or clan name, and yet -- considering their sorts of clients -- some of them flew within the so-called 'high society', the addendum 'Ms.' seemed to be taken as a bridge between the two yawningly separated realms of low-classed birthright and high-classed milieu.

Click here for everything about the making & the meanings of Japanese names, nicknames, and titles.


Click here for 2 Other Famous Samurai Concubines: Minamoto Yoshitsune's & Taira Kiyomori's



1544 - 1579

Takenaka crest
Takenaka Hanbei
Takenaka Hanbei in a painting made in 1848:
a domestic scene among hordes of warlike portraits of other Generals.
He's nearly the only one of the 'Warring States' men whose bio
seemed to be 'civilian' to 19th century brushworkers.
The pic above him is the Takenaka family crest.

He was a famous General working for the Saito clan of Mino (today's Shizuoka). Everybody thought he would either serve where he's at for eternity, or get out of there to make his own dynasty. But all of a sudden he announced retirement from any military and political biz. Before anyone got a chance to stop gasping, he had already been out of sight, far away high on the mountain, in a slapdash hut whose door was always shut. He was only 28. He's Takenaka Hanbei, Lord of Kurihara.

In 21st century, no one thinks of squeezing him into a computer game. Why, even in his own times people already forgot who he was after he went to seclusion. Everyone had, except warlords; which were the source of Takenaka's headache. He and his younger sister Takenaka Oyu (oh yeah, you must have heard of her, since she is forced into spicing up samurai RPG's) and a boy named Kyotaro (this one must have been in your list, too, for the same reason) never descended the mountain. The latter two's job was to kick out unwanted visitors (and that meant all visitors).


Takenaka Hanbei Takenaka Hanbei Takenaka Hanbei
Takenaka Hanbei in 20th century drawing,
his hangout at Mt. Bodai, and his picture
when still a General of the Saito clan

Until one day Oda Nobunaga's favorite General Toyotomi Hideyoshi showed up and refused to move any single inch before Takenaka opened the door. Gods knew how, but in short Toyotomi got a return call from Takenaka Hanbei a few weeks later at his domain, the Nagahama castle around today's Hikone. Toyotomi needed him to train Oda's men, but he refused; the man he wanted to serve was Toyotomi himself, not Oda Nobunaga (his sister was of the same opinion, so rumor went; she was thought of as one of Toyotomi's consorts despite her brother's silent objection). So it went like that. Takenaka stayed with Toyotomi, training his troops, reorganizing his army, working out battle strategies, and so forth, until his death of TB -- just three years before Toyotomi became THE power of nearly-united Japan.

A life so linear and in a way also so square and -- compared to Toyotomi's or Oda's bios -- 'uneventful' surely doesn't contain the necessary ingredients to cook up a romance with. But Takenaka Hanbei was the one who taught the later Lord Chancellor of Japan, the blissbringer of history of the nation, all that he knew in statecrafting. As a man he held forth to the code of honor that was entirely his own, even when it clashed against the samurai codes (click here for the story and pictures).

When other 'Warring States' characters have been depicted in full armor and such, the existing visual rep of Takenaka Hanbei is him in a domestic scene -- standing abstractedly, clad in daily kimono, inside his own hut. That alone tells us something of greatness. It isn't synonymous with glory. Or else he wouldn't even have been painted of by anybody.




1527 - 1596

Sakai crest
Sakai Tadatsugu
Sakai Tadatsugu in a 21st century grafix, and the Sakai family crest

Sakai Tadatsugu, Lord of Takazaki, was just another brave Captain as far as many were concerned. But he's legendary anyway; a great chunk older than his boss Tokugawa Ieyasu, when the future Shogun was still held a hostage in his father in-law's place, the Imagawa clan's HQ, Sakai was the young Tokugawa's God-given greatest gift. Especially since the shotgun-marriage worked very well unless he were James Bond; Lady Tokugawa was a prolific spy at the Tokugawa clan's expense.


Sakai Tadatsugu
Classic pic of Sakai Tadatsugu, made in 18th century

Despite the bleak circumstances of the time, Sakai kept assuring Tokugawa that the day would come when the Lord's clan would rise across the feudal ceiling and to the stratosphere -- without him, Tokugawa might have just succumbed to incurable melancholy. With him, he nurtured the characteristically Tokugawan trait: being pathologically vengeful and unreasonably mean. Oh, well. But it's still all the same; Sakai Tadatsugu was not to get kicked aside or else you wouldn't get the Tokugawa shogunate.

In the famous Nagashino war (click here for story and pictures) against the Takeda clan of Kai, Sakai Tadatsugu impressed not just Tokugawa Ieyasu but also the entire Warring States. He initiated brilliant tactics and pulled those off successfully, too. Even Oda Nobunaga thought this was a great sonofagun (Sakai was a good sniper, too).











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