Shitsuden: Present-day look at past martial systems ~ Part 1

There are many styles of Japanese martial systems that one can study today. From hand-to-hand systems, competition-driven systems like kendō and Atarashii Naginata (sports-centric “New-Style” Naginata), to classical systems, many study both in and outside Japan. Yet, with the variety that’s available, there is an even greater number of martial systems that are no longer available. While they are not physically present, traces of them exist in the form of handwritten scrolls, manuals, and licensing documents. A term for this in Japanese is “shitsuden” (失伝).

Today’s post will be the 1st of a 2-part discussion on shitsuden. This post will give an overview of what shitsuden means, as well as go over the prime causes of shitsuden in martial arts.

WHAT SHITSUDEN MEANS

The term shitsuden refers to traditions or systems that possess specific types of skills, talents, or knowledge of applicable use that have been discontinued and no longer in practice (whether partially or completely). While commonly used in regards to martial arts, it is not a term solely for this field. Japan has a history of people specializing is certain areas of occupations which feature technical skills that are deemed significant to pass down to the next generation. Examples of this, but not limited to, are chadō (茶道, tea ceremony), nō, (能, theatrical performance), gakki (楽器, music instruments), and chiryōhō (治療法, medical treatment).

Passing traditions down supports the value in them, as well as ensures their survival into the next generation. Certain families would keep these traditions within their family line to elevate their worth, while some traditions are shared and supported by large numbers of people or groups. Martial systems is an area that is especially vast with an unfathomable number of individuals and families taking part in it one way or the other. Due to this, there is a great number of martial systems that have ceased and are considered lost, some more longer than others. Present day Japanese martial arts schools tend to talk about lost styles or skills that are related them, which peaks many practitioners’ interest to the point they do research on shitsuden styles…including myself.

CAUSES OF SHITSUDEN

What classifies certain martial systems, whether specific parts of it or its entirety, to be classified as shitsuden? Below are the following cases, which will be analyzed in numerical order.

① Local style

② Loss in value of use

③ Lack of inheritance

④ Sudden death of head teachers

Note that these are not the only causes of shitsuden, but possibly the most common cases.

POINT #1

Local styles were quite common in ancient Japan. Before this country was unified, most of Japan was made up of territories, countries, and the like. These areas were usually governed by a land owner of some sorts. Considering the openness of bearing arms by warriors, having a form of martial training locally was a necessity. Unlike how martial arts is treated today, some areas may have had their own special system that fitted the needs for the locales to be able to defend themselves; even if the knowledge came from a large, reputable style like Chūjō ryū¹ or Yagyū Shinkage ryū², the knowledge may have been reorganized for personal purposes and renamed. In other cases, these local systems may have been restricted from being shown or taught to those from different territories. Systems like these are known as “otomeryū” (御留流).

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A portion of a printed scroll of “Shinshin ryu Iai” (真々流居合之巻き), a sword-drawing style once used by the warriors of Owari-han, Koka Prefecture. From “Watanabe Toshi-ke Monjo – Owari-han Kokamon Kankei Shiryō (渡辺俊経家文書-尾張藩甲賀者関係史料)

Due to being small, and possibly of no more use once the constant civil wars were ceased by the governance of the Tokugawa shogunate, local styles like these tend to come to an end. This is especially true for styles that were restricted from being taught to outsiders.

POINT #2

Maintaining value in combative arts differ depending of the time period. When Japan was divided, there was a need to be prepared to fight against invaders, or if needed to go to war. This urgency began to fade once Japan was unified and the people’s way of living changed. With the urgency to go into battle with neighboring territories turned to a thing of the past, training people for combat outside of the military became a minor occupation.

Several turning points played significant parts in affecting the waning need for martial systems. One of these was the unification of Japan in the early 1600s. Accomplishing this feat, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the 1st of the Tokugawa shogunate, wanted to ensure no more large-scale battles ever took place by prohibiting the use of battlefield weapons, as well as restricted the length of bladed. These restrictions affected those martial systems that possessed a curriculum for such purposes, causing them to abandon such weapons like naginata (薙刀, glaive)³ and yari (槍, spear), as well as putting away documented strategies for war like shirodori (城取 establishing a fort), jindori  (陣取, troop formations and positioning), and the likes.

Sections of kamajutsu (sickle techniques) from an old Takagi ryū Chūgokui Mokuroku. Only the names of the techniques are listed, but not how the actual techniques are performed. Thus, this skillset is lost. From “Takagi-ryu Chugokui Mokuroku” by Dr. Stephen Greenfield.

 

Another turning point took place after the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu in 1868. The lead up to this involved bloody conflicts in public spaces, and assassinations on political figures as different groups struggled either maintain the currently established rule of the Tokugawa family, or reign in a new governing system in the name of the Emperor. With the Tokugawa forces losing in the final conflict called Boshin war, the military-centric government ended along with the abolishment of the Samurai class. This opened the doors for a new way of life for everyone.

After the political turmoil, Japan continues to surge forward in becoming more modernized. Along with focusing on different trades & businesses, citizens took part in more productive hobbies, activities, and recreations. What they steered away from was martial arts, especially the traditional ones. During the final years of the Tokugawa Bakufu, many martial styles still trained with a focus of killing or maiming. The violence that erupted during the power struggle that eventually lead to the end of the Tokugawa rule left a bad taste for many, which caused them to steer away from martial arts even more. Traditional schools either had to adapt their systems to the change of times and make it less “violent”, or to take down their sign boards and move on to another profession. While some schools were able to keep value in their systems through the use of competition such as Hokushin Ittō ryū, for the many that couldn’t adapt let their martial system discontinue.

POINT #3

Inheritance and how it was conducted is an interesting topic. Throughout history, inheritance is important in order to keep one’s family line going. The same goes for martial arts styles. In the past, inheritance is usually given to the older child, usually a boy. If no child by blood was present, then possibly a relative. Adopting someone into one’s family for the sake of inheritance was also a practiced option, as well as allowing certain individuals who are not blood relatives to “inherit⁴” the family name.

While he spoke about ninjutsu as a topic in many books, Fujita Seiko claims that he did not pass down the specifics of his own style of ninjutsu to anyone. Left pic is a page from chapter “Ninjutsu no Hōhō” (忍術の方法, The Methods of Ninjutsu) from his book “Ninjutsu Hiroku” (忍術秘録).

 

Regarding martial systems, there are cases where there was no heir present, which caused those headmasters to take the secrets of their respected styles to their grave. Then there are those unique cases where a worthy heir could not be found; some headmasters could not find the required traits in those around them to inherit their martial system, even in their own children. A popular case is in Fujita Seiko, who was a person who made a name for himself for his wealth of knowledge in different areas of martial arts in the early-mid 1900s. Although he passed down to his students systems such as jōjutsu, shurikenjutsu, and kenpō, he publicly claimed that the secrets of family-style ninjutsu would not be taught nor passed down to anyone.

POINT #4

The sudden death of those with knowledge of a martial system is always a big concern. When headmasters, or even senior teachers for that matter, die at a premature time before teaching every aspect of a martial system, this leads to lost information. This is especially true when certain areas of skills are held back because they are “reserved” for those students that have reached a certain level or considered worthy. While there is merit in reservation, this can backfire if those areas are kept to one individual for too long.

An example that comes to mind is Kanemaki ryū⁵ and its current curriculum. During WWII, many teachers are said to have been recruited to fight, and is also stated that many lost their lives in the war. Kanemaki ryū, a school that teaches battōjutsu, is said to have specialized in more areas regarding kenjutsu, such as kumitachi (組太刀, sword techniques done in paired forms). However, this is no longer the case because the successor during the time of WWII went to war and perished before passing down this knowledge. While this is stated in numerous Japanese sites, there is no official word from the current school of Kanemaki ryū. If this case is true, then it is a standing example of how invaluable information can be lost.

CONCLUSION

This ends our look at the term shitsuden means and how certain martial systems can be classified under this. In part 2, we will look at how lost or discontinued martial systems are are collected, analyzed, and in certain cases, recreated.


1) Chūjō ryū Heihō (中将流兵法), which is well known for its kenjutsu, is an example of a shitsuden (lost) style. For more on this, please visit an older post here.

2) Yagyū Shinkage ryū (柳生新陰流) is a martial system that specializes in kenjutsu. A branch of Shinkage ryū, this particular line is maintained by the Yagyū family today.

3) This is in reference to battlefield-style naginata, which were longer and much heavier than the ones used for protecting one’s home or castle.

4) In some instances, a family name was given for political reasons, or to boost certain families’ power and influences. Sometimes granting the use of a family name had a price on it, whether it be with money or a different form of payment.

5) Kanemaki ryū (鐘捲流) is once said to have kenjutsu based on the teachings of Chūjō ryū. This included proficient use of a short sword like a kodachi (小太刀). To understand how it may have been, please refer to an older post on Chūjō ryū here.

The Parallel use of Kōhaku (紅白)

In the Japanese language, there is a word called “kōhaku” (紅白)¹, which stands for the colors red and white. Historically², these two colors play a unique role. They can be used in pairs, or at opposite extremes in distinguishing groups. For example, the colors on Japan’s flag are represented by the colors red and white. Other familiar items include “kōhaku maku” (紅白幕, red & white curtain), kōhaku chōchin (紅白提灯, red & white paper lanterns), and other types of decorations used for celebrations. The two colors are also used for food and treats, such as “kōhaku mochi” (紅白餅, red & white rice cakes) and “kōhaku manjū” (紅白まんじゅう, red & white steamed buns with various filings), which are commonly used for ritualistic occasions. In activities and sports, two teams are created for the sake of competition; one team is called “akagumi” (紅組, red team) and the other “shirogumi” (白組), and each may carry a corresponding flag or handkerchief as to indicate which side each member is one.

 

Examples of how red & white are used in the following: Japanese flag (top-left), kōhaku manjū (top-right), kōhaku chōchin (bottom-left), kōhaku maku (bottom right)

 

Recently, I came across two words in a old Japanese document I am translating, each based on one of the two colors mentioned above. The document in question is related to warfare and swordsmanship in the past, and features a section that deals with what a warrior can do even when no weapon is in hand. Although used separately, in the context the two words appear in really signifies the parallel existence that kōhaku represents.

Sections from the document Tsuki no Sho (月の抄), which feature the 2 words discussed below.

 

The first word is “sekishu” (赤手)³. Literal translation would be “red hand”, which is actually correct if we are talking about the color of someone’s hands. However, depending on the subject matter, the use of the color red has a different meaning. Here’s the dictionary definition from one of the resources I use for translations called “Kotobank“:

__________

せき‐しゅ【赤手】

〘名〙 (「赤」はむき出しの意) 手に何も持たないこと。なんの武器もないこと。素手(すで)。空手(からて)。徒手(としゅ)

__________

The above definition expresses that the manner in which red is used in this word is to mean “exposed” or “naked”. Together, sekishu stands for “bare hands”, or having no weapons in hand. It has the same meaning as other words of similar use, such as “sude” (素手), “karate” (空手), and “toshu” (徒手).

On a separate note, the word “hakushu” (white hand) doesn’t exist historically. Instead, there is the word “shirode” (白手) . It has no reference to fighting, but instead refers to a type of glaze used on porcelain.

 

Examples of fighting empty handed.

 

The 2nd word from the document is “hakusen” (白戦). If translated literally it reads “white battle”, but this is not the correct meaning. Taking a look at the definition once more found on Kotobank:

__________

はく‐せん【白戦】

〘名〙 手に何も持たないで戦うこと。

__________

Hakusen means “unarmed battle”, where no weapons are used to fight. The use of “haku” (white) is to express a plain, natural form, without the addition of anything else (in the form of weapons, those will add another flavor, or “color” so to speak). A similar word to this is “hakuheisen” (白兵戦), which also can refer to hand-to-hand combat⁴. As for an equivalent “akasen” or “sekisen” using the color red, none exists as far as I can tell from my research.

In conclusion, kōhaku has a strong cultural influence on words, actions, and events. Based on the context mentioned above, we see how red and white are used to mean literally the same thing through the two words sekishu and hakusen. These are great examples of the parallel use of the two colors that represent the word kōhaku. To this day, these colors a popularly used in special occasions in Japan year round, which can be experienced visually even in public events and festivals.


1) There are several ways of writing the word red. For kōhaku, the character “紅” is used. However, one of the more common ways of writing the word red is with the character “赤”. On top of this, there are different pronunciations for both red & white. Here’s what’s used in the article:

Red = aka, seki, ko

White = shiro, haku

2) There are several theories behind the origin of the word kōhaku. One theory is that the colors red and white were used to distinguish the warring armies as early as during the Genpei Gassen (源平合戦, 1180 – 1185). Another is that the word has even older roots, where the colors represent life (red, such as a new born baby) and death (white, such as the white garments worn by those who have passed away).

3) Can also be pronounced as “akade”

4) Actually, this is partially correct. The full meaning of “hakuheisen” is close-quarter combat, which primarily refers to the distance where warriors were close enough to use their pikes, swords, knives, and (if nothing else was available) fists or grappling techniques during Japan’s warring period in the mid century. The root of this is in the word “hakuhei” (白兵), which is a special terminology that refers to “unsheathed, bladed weapons” used for fighting, which became especially prevalent during 1500s. From Edo period onward, due to less dependency on large battlefield weapons and more development in martial techniques in civilian clothing, the use of hakuheisen adapted according to how fights were later conducted. Especially in the later years, hakuheisen was used to refer to numerous methods for close-range fighting, from bayonets to even CQC.

Hayashizaki Shigenobu: Pioneer of Sword-Drawing

For over half a year, we have been working on the basic skills and finer qualities of battōjutsu, as taught in Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group. Having a great interest in battōjutsu early in my martial arts career, I’ve personally been training in this based on different instructions received alongside with kenjutsu. For those curious, battōjutsu (抜刀術) is a systematic approach to drawing out a sheathed Japanese sword to cut, often labeled as “sword-drawing” and “draw-cutting”¹. Generally the techniques for sword-drawing are widely recognized by a more modern title, “iaidō²” (iai for short), although there are certain martial schools that still use the term battōjutsu (battō for short)³.

For today’s article, we’ll take a look into the origins of battō (iai), which is tied to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, the founder of this unique sword system. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:

 

THE BEGINNING

The origins of battō/iai as we know it today takes place around the mid 1500s by a young man named Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu (林崎甚助源重信). While many martial schools give credit to his extraordinary development of techniques for fast “draw-cutting”, the reasoning for him even creating such a sword style was under grim conditions. To understand this, we’ll look further into the family he was born into.

Pic of a statue of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, which is housed in Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From the book “Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden”.

While Shigenobu is widely known under the surname “Hayashizaki”, he was originally from the Asano family. He’s the son of Asano Kazuma Minamoto Shigeharu (浅野数馬源重治) and Sugano (菅野). Shigeharu, Shigenobu’s father, was once a guard acting as lead inspector of the northern section of the Imperial palace. From 1538 he was employed as an officer to serve Mogami Inaba-no-Kami Mitsuhide (最上因幡守満英), who was the 6th lord of Tateoka castle in Dewa Country (present day Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Sugano⁴, Shigenobu’s mother, was from the Takagi family of Tateoka, Dewa Country. Shigeharu and Sugano would get married in 1540, and later have Shigenobu in Tateoka in 1542. Upon his birth, Shigenobu was given the name “Tamijimaru” (民治丸).

In the Asano family, their ancestral deity⁵ was “Kumano Myōjin” (熊野明神), whom they prayed to. Kumano Myōjin (also referred to as “Hayashizaki Myōjin” in some sources) was housed in a 3-room shrine within “Arayato no Ji” (荒宿の地), an area located in the northeast section of Hayashizaki grounds of Ōkura forest (present day Hayashizaki, Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Shigeharu continued with these customs and paid his respects with his family when they had the chance to visit Kumano Myōjin shrine.

 

REASON FOR VENGEANCE

Sometime in 1547, Asano Shigeharu went to go play a game of Go⁶ with a priest at the Kumano Myōjin shrine. After spending his day doing so, he was returning home late in the night. On his way home, Shigeharu was targeted by a warrior named Sakaichi Unsai (坂一雲斎)⁷, who apparently harbored ill intentions against him. Using the night as a cover, Unsai ambushed Shigeharu and murders him. Later Shigeharu’s death is notified to his family members, as well as the identity of the murderer. Fueled with anguish, Sugano and her son plotted to get revenge against Sakaichi Unsai.

Shigenobu and his mother would remain in Tateoka, where he began receiving training in kenjutsu at the age of 8 from Higashine Keibu Tayu (東根刑部太夫)⁸, who was a warrior of Tateoka castle. In 1554, Shigenobu, at the age of 13, would periodically stay at Kumano Myōjin shrine to pray not only for protection and success in extracting vengeance to his family’s ancestral deity, but to receive further instructions to perfect his use with the sword. Armed with his late father’s family sword called Nobukuni (信國), he trained in the methods of kenjutsu, and worked hard in developing a style that would prove effective against his target. Instead of just merely practicing how to swing a sword in a duel-like fashion, Shigenobu focused on techniques that evolved around drawing the sword out of its sheath to deliver unpredictable cuts. The family sword he trained with was a rather long one, measuring to 3 shaku 2 sun⁹. Possibly made for use on the battlefield, this sword gave him exceptional reach. To effectively use it for fast-draw cutting purposes, especially against someone who used a shorter sword, Shigenobu would need to develop methods for drawing this long sword out with speed.

 

BIRTH OF BATTŌJUTSU AND HAYASHIZAKI SHIGENOBU

It is said that in 1556, Shigenobu underwent a special ritual called “Hyakunichi no Sanrō¹⁰”, where he spent 100 days at the shrine devoting himself to prayer for guidance in perfecting his ability in battō. Sometime during the evening of the 100th day, Shigenobu witnessed a divine vision. While sleeping, he was visited by Kumano Myōjin in his dreams, who demonstrated to him a secret technique called “Manji Nuki¹¹”. In learning this, Shigenobu became enlightened to the inner secrets of sword-drawing. With this revelation, he decided to call his sword system “Shinmyō Hijutsu no Junsui Battō¹²”, and set off to train further to a master-like level with the sword.

An insert from ”Jinrin Kinmō Zui, vol. #7″ (人倫訓蒙図彙7巻) from year 1690. Entitled “Iai Torite” (いあいとりて), it depicts a swordsman using methods of iai (sword-drawing method) to defeat 2 opponents. From Wikipedia.

Reaching the age of 18 in 1559, Shigenobu changed his name from “Asano Tamijimaru” to “Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu”¹³. This was to identify his growth, as well as paying homage to the grounds where he was nurtured into a swordsman, Hayashizaki. In recognition of this growth, his sword system today is respectively called “Hayashizaki Musō ryū¹⁴”,  as this title reflects how he was divinely enlightened in the secret methods of battō.

Assuming his new name and role as a swordsman, Shigenobu set out to fulfill his family’s desire for revenge on his father’s murderer, Sakaichi Unsai. This doesn’t happen overnight, however, as time was needed to possibly track down his target. This finally becomes a reality, for in 1561 Shigenobu was able to locate Sakaichi Unsai at his home in the capitol city Kyō (present day Kyōto, Japan). Details of the confrontation varies depending on the source which tells it, so no concrete info on how it transpired. What all sources agree on is that Shigenobu was able to cut down Sakaichi and successfully extract revenge. With his mission completed, he then returned back to his hometown, and paid his respects at Kumano Myōjin shrine. He also offered the Nobukuni sword to the shrine.

 

SPREADING THE KNOWLEDGE OF SWORD-DRAWING

Upon returning home, Shigenobu was caring for his sick mother. However, a year after successfully carrying out revenge, Shiguno passed away in 1562. With no other responsibilities at hand, Shigenobu left Hayashizaki to travel around Japan and further refine his martial skills. He crossed into a few areas well known for their martial combat. For example, it is said that in 1563 he went to Kashima and received tutelage from Tsukahara Bokuden¹⁵ (塚原卜傳), founder of Kashima Shintō ryū¹⁶. Shigenobu was able to learn the secret method of Kashima Shintō ryū’s highest technique, called “Ichi no Tachi¹⁷”. It is also mentioned that he studied Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō ryū¹⁸. Outside of kenjutsu training, Shigenobu studied “Onmyō Kaigō¹⁹ during his stay at Ichi-no-Miya (present day Omiya)²⁰ in Owari Country (present day Aichi Prefecture). The philosophy from Onmyō Kaigō was also incorporated into his sword-drawing style.

Outside of his own personal kenjutsu training, Shigenobu took the role of instructor for his own sword system. For example, in 1563 he resided in Yonezawa, Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture) for some time. During this, he was actively instructing his style of battōjutsu to those in Akai Village, Wakamatsu (Fukushima Prefecture). During the course of his journey Shigenobu gained other students. Notable names that developed their own sword drawing style based on Shigenobu’s teaching include the following:

  • Tōshimo Tsuke-no-Kami Motoharu²¹ (founder of Shinmei Musō Tō ryū²²)
  • Tamiya Heibē Shigemasa²³ (founder of Tamiya ryū²⁴)
  • Katayama Hōki-no-Kami Hisayasu²⁵ (founder of Hōki ryū²⁶)
  • Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu²⁷ (founder of Ichi-no-Miya ryū²⁸)

 

A pic of Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From Wikipedia.

In his later years, Shigenobu stayed for about a year in the residence of his student, Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu in Kawagoe, Bushū (present day Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture). In 1617, he received permission to leave on a short trip to Ōu (north-eastern section of Japan). However, during the same year he later became very ill in the middle of his travel, and passed away. Although he passed in an untimely manner, his name and his system of sword-drawing lives on. In recognition to his life, the Kumano Myōjin shrine was renamed to “Iaijinja” (居合神社).

 

ENDING

This concludes the history of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, and how he developed the martial system of sword-drawing. I hope this was a good and informative read for everyone.


1) Other older names used for the system of draw-cutting includes “saya no uchi” (鞘の内), “iai” (different from the modern naming convention, these are written as either 居相 or 坐合), “bakken” (抜剣), and “nukiawase” (抜合).

2) 居合道. Iaidō is the modern, non-violent approach to sword-drawing, which stems from the older version “iaijutsu” (居合術).

3) There have been many debates regarding the differences between the names “battō” and “iai”. Some points made range from one specializing only in seated forms to one incorporating practices such as test cutting. The truth is, there are no real differences, for they both mean the same thing.

The use of either battō or iai throughout history lies on certain factors. One example falls on which naming convention was popular at given time. Another, depended on current headmaster of specific school and what principles & philosophies that were intended to be expressed. We also have to keep in mind that as Japan moved more to periods of less wars and conflicts, some surviving schools changed their curriculum from being combat-oriented to self-development. Iaidō is a prime example of this.

All in all, while the various sword-drawing styles of today may focus on specializing in certain traits, the underlining meaning between the words battō and iai are the same.

4) Sugano is unusual as a given name. On top of this, she is also associated with another name that is written as “志我井”. This could possibly be her given name, but pronunciation is obscure.

5) Known as “soshin” (祖神)

6) 碁. Go is a Japanese board game where players try to dominate the territory of their opponent.

7) Some sources also indicate that he was known by the name “Sakagami Shūzen” (坂上主膳).

8) “Tayu” is not his given name, as it indicates his position or rank. Why is his given name not revealed is unknown.

9) 3 shaku 2 sun = 96.96 cm or 38.2 in.

10) 百日参籠

11) 卍抜. Another way it is written is “Manjiken” (万字剣).

12) 神妙秘術の純粋抜刀

13) This is done in a ceremony when a boy reaches his coming of age, which is called Genpuku (元服).

14) 林崎夢想流. Also known as “Shin Musō Hayashizaki ryū” (神夢想林崎流). Take note that Hayashizaki Shigenobu himself did not name his sword system this, but later generations did in remembrance of his contribution.

15) There is an article about Tsukahara Bokuden, which can be read here.

16) In Japanese sources, this is mentioned in a vague manner, as it is stated alongside with Shigenobu’s travel to Kashima to study under Tsukahara Bokuden. Under who and exactly where he studied Katori Shintō ryū is not made clear. While historically Bokuden learned Katori Shintō ryū at a young age, as an adult he started his own martial system.

17) The full title of what Shigenobu is said to have been taught is “Kashima Shintō ryū Saikō Hiden Tenka Dai Ichi no Ken” (鹿島新当流最高秘伝天下第一之剣).

18) 鹿島新当流

19) 陰陽開合. While the exact details are not described, this is related to rhythmic exercises, which is found in specific martial systems such as Taikyokuken (太極拳).

20) Old name is 一宮, new name is 大宮

21) 東下野守元治

22) 神明夢想東流

23) 田宮平兵衛重正

24) 田宮流

25) 片山伯耆守久安

26) 伯耆流

27) 高松勘兵衛信勝

28) 一宮流

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

This is part 2 of the discussion on Kyūsen no Michi. Here, we narrow our focus more on the components that defined how this militaristic system worked to craft those into warriors according to how battles were engaged and played out. Whereas the usage of the word “kyūsen”, along with militaristic history of Japanese archery was covered in part 1, for part 2 we will go over the known different groups & styles of archery, as well as a few recognized innovators concerning the bow & arrow. This discussion will also include some categorizing within the world of kyūsen, along with some comparing and contrasting, will be in order.

A good number of handy sources were used for this discussion, including the following:

Take note that part 2 became much bigger than intended in order to give a proper insight of Japan’s archery. Despite it’s size, it does not give a 100% definitive overview, as there are some information not added, lest it grows into something on the level of a research paper. Still, part 2 should provide enough insight on how significant and respected Kyūsen no Michi was to the point that many warriors invested their lives into it.

KORYŪ VS SHINRYŪ

In order to properly cover the specifics that make up Kyūsen no Michi, it is important to know that, on a technical and cultural level in relations to combat purposes, there are two types of archery (kyūjutsu in Japanese). The first is called Koryū kyūjutsu (古流弓術, Old-style archery), while the second is called Shinryū kyūjutsu (新流弓術, New-style archery). The categorization of these are both based on time period, equipment, and technique:

  • Koryū – Ancient times, with notable structuring from Heian period until early 1400s period
  • Shinryū – Around late 1400s onward until the abolishment of the warrior class in late 1800s

MANY SCHOOLS OF ARCHERY

Due to how integral kyūjutsu was in a warrior’s career, many groups specialized in it. Some groups preserved the lessons on archery as their own family styles, while others would learn that particular style and represent it usually indicating that they are a branch of it. Below are lists of some of the well known archery styles throughout Japan’s history, along with the founder and the time they were alive.

The first one is for those that fall under the Koryū kyūjutsu category:

Kyusen List01

The next list shows the styles that fall under the Shinryū category:

Kyusen List02

Along with this, are the different branches related to Heki ryū:

Kyusen List03

While the records pertaining to archery found in manuals & documents list these mentioned above and many more, take note that a lot of them are no longer in existance. The styles that are still active include Ogasawara ryū, Honda ryū, Takeda ryū, and Heki ryū Insai ha.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD & NEW

Here are some general descriptions between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu. Note that this is more in reference to how they were conducted before the warrior class was abolished as a whole.

A listing of archers of Taishi ryū, by rank. From Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū Kyūjutsu

  • Generally categorized as reisha (礼射), or “ceremonial-centric archery”, due to the emphasis on etiquette, customary practices, and focus on displaying shooting prowess.
  • During battles, archery was primarily use, both from long range to close range
  • Off the battlefield, archers demonstrated great focus and control while shooting targets at various distances.
  • Engaged in outing activities requiring feats of shooting while on horseback, such as hunting, and special target courses classified under Kisha Mitsumono (騎射三物)
  • Unison between rider and horse, called “jinba ittai” (人馬一体) in Japanese, was important
  • Considered a developing practice since ancient times, ceremonial practices within archery slowed abit due to power struggles from Heian period to early Muromachi period, as archers in battle was of necessary use
  • Once the ways of Koryū kyūjutsu was seen non-viable in combat during Muromachi period (around start of 1400s), it was revitalized and preserved in Ogasawara ryu through restructuring.

NOTES

  • Despite being considered reisha due to its high focus in shooting ability and ritualistic customs, Koryū kyūjutsu had fighting elements and was indeed acceptable training for combat
  • While much of the skillset emphasized on shooting from horseback, archers did also practice shooting while on foot
  • On foot, the bow was held at an angle when shooting arrows.
  • Although some existing styles such as Ogasawara ryū Reihō (小笠原流礼法) practice solely reisha, few groups such as Bushido Shinkōkai and Dai Nihon Kyūbakai preserve the fighting element of Koryū kyūjutsu not only with the bow & arrow, but with the tachi and naginata.

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Generally labeled as busha (武射), or “military-centric archery”, as this was designed specifically for use on the battlefield according to the new direction wars were approached.
  • Developed during Muromachi period between mid to late 1400s, when the tactics of war switched to large infantry, formations, and close range skirmishes
  • For the sake of combat efficiency, archers primarily performed on foot, but also had knowledge on how to shoot while on horseback
  • Archers were trained to coordinate together using group tactics
  • Trained to work under all types of conditions, including wet/bad weather, at night, on a boat, in a tower, and when the need to switch to close range fighting arised
  • Used barricades, such as tate (楯), as defense against long range attacks, as well as fenced areas as protection against flankers/disrupters
  • Contested with firearms (i.e. rifles, cannons) from mid-ending 1500s.
  • From Edo period (1603~1868) onward, once firearms took precedence in how wars were conducted, groups such as the Shimazu clan retained the effectiveness of archery by studying & incorporating rifle formations.

NOTES

  • Shinryū kyūjutsu isn’t completely unique and different. It was built off of koryū kyūjutsu, inherited certain aspects, then redefined specifically for combat purposes, thus why it’s called “the new style of archery”
  • Yoshida Shigeharu (吉田重春) is credited for implementing customary practices to Heki ryū starting in the mid 1600s. However, as it is not the same as reisha of Ogasawara ryū, Heki ryū’s is called taihai (体拝).
  • Today, existing Shinryū kyūjutsu styles such as Heki ryū retain busha, as well as practice taihai.

DIFFERENCES IN TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT

Here’s a short comparison between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu.

A mokuroku (list of techniques) of Ban Dōsetsu ryū kyūjutsu. Fron Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū kyūjutsu

  • Archers used larger bows, such as fusedakeyumi (伏竹弓, made out of wood and bamboo) and marukiyumi (丸木弓, curved wooden bow)
  • During the Heian period, wore large box-like armor called ōyoroi for added protection
  • Smaller draw due to technical issues such as mobility limitations while on horseback, large kabuto (helmet), etc.
  • Archery done by cavalry was called kisha (騎射)
  • Closing the range while on horseback increase accuracy to vulnerable areas
  • Wore tomo (lefthand glove) to prevent string from injuring hand on return
  • Carried tachi on left side

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Used smaller bows
  • Archery done while walking was called hosha (歩射)
  • From the Muromachi period onward, archers wore revised, slim fitting armor, which allowed less restrictions in drawing skills and mobility while on foot
  • Used larger draw and other techniques to increase an arrow’s power and penetration capabilities (i.e. allowing the bow to turn ccw in the hand)
  • Carried uchigatana (slightly shorter battlefield sword for upclose fighting) and unique equipment to adapt to certain situations, such as uchine (打根), spear point on top of bow, etc.

DISTINGUISHED INDIVIDUALS

Below are a few renown archers that are pioneers in Japan’s history of archery.

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

Picture of Ogasawara Sadamune. From Shūko Jisshu (集古十種). From Wikipedia.

 

  • Born in 1292, Sadamune was a warrior from Matsuo, Shinano Province (present day Ida City, Nagano Prefecture)
  • As a member of the established Ogasawara clan, he worked for the Kamakura Bakufu through Hōjō Sadatoki
  • Made a name for himself in Heian Kyō (Imperial capital, present day Kyōto) during the early-mid 1300s, as he participated in many battles such as the campaigns against the Mongol invasions, assault on Emperor Go-Daigo, the attack on Kusunoki Masanari’s Akasaka castle, and the battle of Kamakura
  • Sadamune earned merits for his efforts, was named “Shinano Shuei” (信濃守衛, Protector of Shinano), and established his residence in Shinshū prefecture.
  • Known for his involvement in zen, and was a worshiper of Marishiten, the “God of War” (武の神, Bu no Kami)
  • Sadamune created “Ogasawara ryu Reihō”, which features the rituals, etiquette, and customs practiced by high-ranking warrior families
  • Ogasawara ryū Reihō contains reisha, the preservation of Koryū kyūjutsu, which includes ceremonial practices, expert level with the bow & arrow, and feats of archery while on horseback
  • Sadamune established the principles of “sha – go – rei” (射・御・礼), which are the standard for reisha
  • His contributions inspired others to learn and add this to further their worth as warriors

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

A picture of Heki Danjo Masatsugu. from the collection of the Toda household of the Bishu-Chikurin branch. From Wikipedia.

 

  • Birthdate is uncertain, although some sources say around 1444
  • Believed to have been born in either Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture) or Iga (present day Mie Prefecture)
  • Originally studied Henmi ryū, Masatsugu participated in many battles in the northern parts of Japan, such as Ōnin War (1467~1477)
  • While serving as a warrior, Masatsugu had opportunities on the field to utilize the bow & arrow according to how it would prove useful
  • Main focus on the redivision of archery was on militaristic usage, both in and outside of the battlefield.
  • Established the principles of “kan – chū – kyū” (貫・中・久¹) as the highest level of Heki ryū kyūjutsu
  • After a life of battles, Masatsugu traveled around Japan to test his methods. It is from this time he meets Yoshida Shigekata.
  • After choosing his successor (Yoshida Shigekata), Masatsugu retired by living in one of the temples within the mountainous region called Kōyasan located in Kishu (present day Wakayama Prefecture)
  • Some of the titles he used includes “Rurikōbō” (瑠璃光坊) “Dōi” (道以) , and “Itoku” (威徳)
  • Masatsugu is known as the “pioneer who revitalized the archery of Japan”, as he brought attention to the new ways the bow & arrow could be used in battle during a time where many viewed them as obsolete.
  • Despite his fame through the effectiveness of Heki ryū, much mysteries surround his existence, to the point where some researchers speculate that Masatsugu could be a fabrication

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

  • Born 1463, Shigekata came from Gamō County, Ōmi Province (present day Ryūō Town, Gamō County, Shiga Prefecture)
  • Was a retainer of Rokkaku Sazaki in Ōmi Province (present day Shiga prefecture)
  • Shigekata was a skilled archer, studied different archery styles such as Ogasawara ryū, Takeda ryū, and Henmi ryū
  • When Heki Danjō Masatsugu came to visit the Rokkaku clan, he encountered Shigekata and tested him on his archery abilities. Yoshida was able to pass the test, which from there Masatsugu instructed him on the highest levels of Heki ryu before passing successorship to him.
  • Discerned the effectiveness of Heki ryū according to the times by organizing the lessons
  • Shigekata is recognized for passing down the teachings of Heki ryū to others through his family style “Heki Yoshida ryū”, which held the highest teachings of this style of archery.
  • Not much info on him, despite his legitimate family line
  • Due to the lack of info, some researchers speculate if he and Heki Danjō Masatsugu were the same person

CONCLUSION

We’ve come to the conclusion of Kyūsen no Michi. This is just a small sample of the large amount of information found in Japan’s archery history, especially when dealing with the technical side of things. Stay tuned, as we will move on to a different phase pertaining to how Japan’s methodology to combat changed and developed.


1) There is another version, which is “hi – chū – kan” (飛・貫・中). They are not 100% the same. Here’s a quick explanation.

  • kan – chū – kyū = Penetrate the target, always hit the target, and last long enough to keep doing the first two points
  • hi – chū – kan = Shoot from long range to hit the target, always hit the target, and penetrate the target

They are both associated with Heki ryū. The difference may be between the different branches and the methodology that was passed down in each one.

On another note, there are other modernized 3-point principles, but they pertain to kyūdo and are geared more towards one’s shooting form.

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 1

The next martial system that influenced how the bushi fought is called “Kyūsen no Michi” (弓箭の道), which translates as “the path of the bow & arrow”. An older term that comes from China, there is very little differences, if any, from Kyūba no Michi (弓馬の道). Much of the practice of archery as a system for military purposes has been covered in a previous post part of this series. Due to the role the bow & arrow played in Japanese history, the topic of Kyūsen no Michi will be divided into 2 parts. For the first part, to avoid restating similar info from before, I will go over the existence of the term in various documents, as well as a brief summary of the use of archery in Japan during warring times based on certain criteria.

DOCUMENTATION

The word kyūsen, which can also be pronounced as “kyūshi” or “yumiya¹”, is but one of the preceding labels that identify the use of the bow and arrows for war purposes. The term may have been 1st adopted sometime after the 9th century, with one of the influences possibly being a song found in “Heishakō²”, which is a collection of war-related songs composed by a renown Tang Dynasty poet named To Ho³. Although short, the stanza goes as the following:

“行人弓箭各在腰”

This line translates as the following below:

“The warrior departing for war carries a bow and arrows at his side”

Artwork called “Ujigawa” (宇治川), which depicts two warriors riding into the Uji River with bow in hand, rushing towards an ongoing battle. Artist is Haishi Kōji. From the book “Jōyō Kokugo Benran” (常用国語便覧).

As much of the culture from China was being brought over to Japan, many aristocrats would share contents such as Chinese poetry and literature, and adopt what was written into their lifestyles. The warrior class would do the same, as they adopted many things related to the bow, from methods on how to make a bow from specific materials, to adding ceremonial customs that would treat archery almost like a religious practice.

The word “kyūsen” would appear later in Japanese works, such as Heiji Monogatari (平治物語), Heike Monogatari (平家物語), Taiheiki (太平記), and Azuma Kagami (吾妻鏡). In the way it’s used, kyūsen depicts someone who’s a warrior, or those who were disciplined for military activities. It is expressed that for one to be accepted as a bushi (武士, warrior) or trained in bugei (武芸, martial skills), learning how to use the bow & arrow was an important part of it.

EARLY HISTORY

We learn that the bow & arrow was placed in the center of the warrior culture from written accounts of warfare from the 12th century onward. With bows in hand while on horseback, warriors were ready to let their arrows fly as depicted in events such as the attacks in Kyōto during Heiji no Ran (1159-1160), disputes between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the Genpei Gassen (1180-1185), and the continual unrest due to the establishment of militaristic governance throughout the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Pic of part a of picture scroll where warriors using bow & arrow are attacking residence of the burning Sanjō Palace. From “Heiji Monogatari Emaki” (平治物語絵巻).

For combat, common tactics with the bow & arrow included ya-awase (矢合わせ, raining arrows) at the commencing of a battle, and kibamusha (騎馬武者, mounted warriors) using the bow while closing the distance. Despite acting as an army, infantry and elite soldiers engaged with the enemy in 1-on-1 skirmishes predominantly. Outside of combat, warriors spent their time using the bow & arrow in pasttime activities known as “Kisha Mitsumono” (騎射三物). This included equestrian recreations where one displays their skills in shooting. Hunting was also an activity warriors spent their time doing, usually in groups.

Since the Japanese spent centuries battling one another due to internal strife and a struggle for power, their tactics were, for the most part, universal amongst the many warrior families and armies commanded by feudal lords. This would change, however, once their country was in danger to an outside threat.

MONGOL INVASION

In the 13th century, Kublai Khan declared himself not only emperor of Mongolia, but acquired sovereign power in China and made Korea submit as a vassal state. In the mid 1200s, he would then turn his sights on Japan and threatened them to submit under his control and order several times. Despite advise from the Imperial court, the current shogunate at that time (primarily controlled by the Hojo clan) refused. After making preparations, Kublai would set out troops from both Mongolia, China, and Korea, and put forth the 1st Mongol Invasion on Japan in 1274⁴. As the first real foreign threat, almost all feudal lords and warrior families combined their efforts to fight for their country instead of for personal gain against one another. They did their best to prepare their forces and head to the northern border of Kyūshū, which is where the Mongolian forces used to embark on Japan.

While the Japanese expected the same customs for conducting battles based around their tried and true strategies, they were gravely mistaken; their customs and strategies were ineffective against an enemy that did not abide to them. Instead, they were faced with unpredictable tactics from the invaders, which included advancing and retreating tactics by archers, and multiple attackers against single opponents. The Mongol force also utilized weaponry far advanced, such as smaller bows that had a heavier draw, poisoned and fire-rocket arrows, explosives, and swords with more curvature. The leather armor that the Mongol invaders wore also gave them favorable defense against the Japanese weapons such as the tachi; although long, the blade of the tachi was thin, with accounts stating that they broke after becoming snagged in the leather armor. As for the bow & arrow hailed favorably by the Japanese warriors, it did not fair so well either; its initial purpose of shooting down single opponents proved difficult against enemies who would retreat out of its effective range, or close the gap in groups. Such unforeseeable tactics brought much fatalities within the Japanese warriors’ ranks, especially in the earlier battles.

Section of the artwork depicting invaders from the Mongol army fighting against Japanese warriors. Here, a kibamusha (cavalry warrior) is slain. From “Mōko Shūrai Gassen Emaki” (蒙古襲来合戦絵巻)

In the end, the Japanese warriors were able to win through the natural occurrence of high winds that sank many of the invaders ships at night, alongside with night raids on any surviving ships. Defeated, Kublai Khan would wait several years before attempting another invasion in 1281, only to face similar results due to ill-prepared sea vessels against turbulent winds on the sea. Despite their overall victory, the Japanese discovered that there were flaws in their current arms & tactics, especially those that heavily depended on fighting on horseback and using the bow & arrow. In order to compete with the outside world, they had to adopt new weaponry, and improve on their tactics.

NEW TACTICS

Although starting after the 1st phase of the Mongol Invasion, military groups and specialists put great effort in redefining their approach to warfare once the threat of Kublai Khan was over, especially during the later years of the Kamakura period. For starters, greater emphasis was placed on larger numbers of troops. In order to utilize troops better, battle formations were also incorporated, which divided them into groups and serving specific purposes. With a larger army, swarming & rushing upon the enemy became the prime objective, which had troops focus more on using close-range weapons, such as the uchigatana, nagamaki, and the yari.

While the skill level and etiquette associated with the bow & arrow were retained for high-class warriors, it saw less use than normal as they did not fit in well with the new tactics for battle. On top of this, armor was modestly improved with added defense against arrows. Instead, the yari was given precedence in overall use and versatility⁵, as seen in the increase of group tactics of spearsmen. The yari was also used by cavalry, which was specialized on and made popular by certain feudal lords such as Takeda Shingen in the mid 1500s. While raining arrows was still a valuable strategy, archers would stay back, hidden behind cover or surrounded by fences.

Woodblock painting called “Samurai Archer”. Dated 1899. Artist is Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方). From ukiyo-e.org.

At certain points did the bow & arrow see improvements. For example, in the late 15th century, new tactics incorporating groups of archers shooting while walking was being incorporated into the battlefield. Credited to Heki Danjō Masatsugu⁶, this allowed specially trained archers to advance and give addition cover to fellow troops, as well as to better assist with retreating tactics. In the mid 16th century, some armies would have archers work side by side with gunners, and incorporate long range tactics to both deal damage while dealing with flankers. On top of this, the use of fire arrows by archers, which was learnt from the tactics by the Mongol and Korean soldiers during the aforementioned Mongol Invasion, became commonplace, especially by those who commanded navy fleets such as the Murakami clan.

All in all, dwindling use of the bow & arrow would continue throughout the Sengoku period (1467-1600) until the end of civil battles due to the Tokugawa shogunate from Edo period onward. In its demise, the dependency on firearms in battle would grow immensely due to factors such as the influences from Western countries, improvements in the overall technology, potential damage they deliver, and the less demand of skills to use them. Despite the shift in focus, some warrior groups who still saw value in the bow & arrow kept the skills and tradition alive, where it is still practiced even today.

ENDING

We’ve come to the end of this brief overview of what Kyūsen no Michi is and how it depicts the importance of the bow & arrow throughout the history in Japan. In part 2, the discuss will focus on specific groups that represented excellence in the use of bow & arrow, as well as few individuals who are considered pioneers in Kyūsen no Michi.


1) When referring to the kanji “弓箭”, both pronunciations “kyūsen” and “yumiya” share this. “Kyūsen” is a more “foregin” way of stating bow & arrow, whereas “yumiya” is more native dialect. Later, yumiya would use the kanji “弓矢”, possibly to make the term more Japanese-like.

2) 兵車行. Pronounced as “Bīng Chē Xíng” in Chinese. This roughly translates to “Songs of the War Chariot”.

3) 杜甫. Pronounced “Dù Fǔ” in Chinese.

4) This particular matter concerning Kublai Khan is generally known as “Genkō” (元寇). This term was 1st used during the Edo period by the Tokugawa shogunate to refer to this event. Before that, another name was used, which was “Mōko Shūrai” (蒙古襲来). Both literally mean “Mongol Invasion”. Within this event, there was 2 invasion attempts, with the 1st one called “Bunei no eki” (文永の役, Campaign of Bunei period), and the 2nd one called “Kōan no eki” (弘安の役, campaign of Kōan period).

5) Before the Kamakura period, Japanese warriors used another type of polearm called the hoko (鉾), which was a shorter, single or double-edged bladed weapon. Derived from a Chinese variant, it was primarily a stabbing implement. The yari, on the other hand, was a much larger polearm with a longer blade that, depending on design, was versatile for not only thrusting, but for cutting and striking.

6) 日置弾正正次

Tales of Bravery: Nasu no Yoichi

In my previous post I spoke about Kyūba no Michi as a systematized martial system used during the Heian period to Kamakura period. There are many stories and tales of warriors who represent this, some displaying remarkable skills against unfavorable odds, or impeccable judgment during critical moments to change the tide in their favor.

An example of this is “Heike Monogatari¹”, which is a written account of the conflicts between the Taira clan and Minamoto clan as they struggled for power to rule over Japan. In it is the heroic tale of a young warrior named Nasu no Yoichi² and his display of archery prowess. The setting takes place at the end of a battle at Yashima³ in 1185, where the Taira had moved out into the sea, and hid then 8-year old emperor Antoku on board of one of 8 boats attached together. These boats were positioned a good distance in the sea away from the shore, where the army of the Minamoto stood out of reach. As a form of a taunt, a crimson red fan with a circle drawn in the center was placed on a pole of a boat many yards away from the shore where the Minamoto army watched from, daring them to shoot it down.

Nasu no Yoichi, an individual known to possess exceptional archery skills within the ranks of the Minamoto army, was chosen among his peers to shoot the fan down. Riding his horse out into the turbulent sea, Yoichi’s fate, along with the pride of the Minamoto army, will be determined by a single arrow.

23ed28de-da39-4eab-bce4-7ec50b017567

Drawing of Nasu no Yoichi on a kakejiku (hanging scroll). Yoichi is shown drawing his bow, in preparation to take a shot at a fan.

In the original source, this tale is told entirely in 2 chapters, which are “Ōgi no Mato⁴”, and the other called “Yuminagashi⁵”. Here is the original Japanese text, along with an English translation done by myself, of this critical moment.

__________

矢の射度距離には少し遠かったので、海へ一段(約十一メートル)ほど(馬を)乗り入れたけれども、さらに扇との間は、七段ほどはあろうかと見えた。

時筋は二月十八日の午後六時頃のことであったが、ちょうどその時、北風が激しくて、磯を打つ波も高かった。船は揺れ下がり、揺れ下がり漂うので、扇も竿先で不安定にひらめいていた。沖には平家が船を一面に並べて見物する。陸では源氏が(馬の)轡を並べてこれを見る。どちらも、どちらも、晴れれがましくないということはない。

Yoichi rode his horse into the sea around 21 meters, as the shooting distance was too far from the shore. Even then, the distance of the fan appeared to be at a distance around 147 meters.

The time was around 6 pm, evening, of the 28th day of the 2nd month. Yet, at the time the wind from the north was blowing strongly, and the waves that crashed upon the shore were tall. As the boat bobs up and down, the fan also waves around on the pole troublesomely. Out in the sea, members of the Taira gather to one side of their boat as they look on. At the shore, Yoshitsune looks on while straightening the bit of his horse. There is no one, absolutely no one, who would not say this moment is grand.

与一は、目を塞いで、

「南無八幡大菩薩、我が下野国の神、日光権現、宇都宮、那須の湯泉大明神、どうかあの扇の真ん中を射させてくださいませ。これを射損じるものならば、弓を切り折り、自害して、人に再び顔を向けないつもりです。もう一度、本国へ向かわせようとお思いならば、この矢を外させなさるな」

と心の中で祈念して、目を開いたところ、風も少し吹き方が弱まり、扇も射やすそうになってきた。

As Yoichi closed his eyes, he prays in his heart, “Praise to bodhisattva Hachiman, god of Shimotsuke Province’s Nikko Gongen⁶ in Utsunomiya. Oh, great god of the Nasu family’s Yuizumi shrine, please allow me to shoot straight into the center of the fan. If I am disgraced by my shooting, I will not face my people again, as I will split my bow, and kill myself. Please, let this arrow not miss its mark, as I want to be able to return to my home country.”

Opening his eyes, he notices the wind blowing in his direction started to die down, while the fan appeared easier to aim at.

sub014-那須与一-平家の舟の扇の的-透かし

Ehagaki (postcard) showing a depiction of Nasu no Yoichi shooting the fan off of the pole on one of the Taira’s boats.

与一は、鏑矢を取って、(弓に)つがえ、引きしぼって、びゅんと放つ。小兵とはいうものの、十二束三伏の(長さの矢を射る)弓は強い。浦に響くほど長く鳴って、狙いを外さず扇の要の端から一寸ほどをおいて、ひゅんと射切った。鏑矢は海へ入ったところ、扇空へ上がった。しばらく虚空にひらめいたが、春風に一もみニもみもまれて、海へさっと散ってしまった。

Taking his whistling arrow and nocking it on his bow, Yoichi draws the string back, and lets the arrow fly. While appearing small in frame, he is a very strong archer who can group 12 arrows while pulling a long bow. The screech from the whistling went on for a long time, as it echos off the waves. The arrow did not miss its mark, as it propels straight through the center of the circle just a bit away from the outer edge. As the whistling arrow sailed into the sea, the fan rose skyward. It flutters around in the air for a bit, then is tossed around once, then twice by a spring breeze. Finally, the fan crumbles into the sea.

__________

Yoichi’s miraculous deed is an example of Kyūba no Michi, and how the importance placed upon the bow could near decide victory or defeat. Look out for more tales as such, as I will be adding those that correspond with the different phases of Japan’s martial systems.


1) 平家物語

2) 那須与一. In some sources, such as “Nasu no Yoichi no Katari” (那須与市語), the name is also written as “那須与市”.

3) Known as “Yashima no Tatakai” (屋島の戦い) in Japanese.

4) 扇的

5) 弓流

6) This is a shrine, presently known as Nikkō Futaarasan Jinja (日光二荒山神社) , located in Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.

Reiwa no Hajimari: Enthronement of the New Emperor

On May 1st, from around 10:30 am¹ the official ceremony where now Emperor Naruhito ascended upon the throne and became the 126 Emperor of Japan commenced. This took place at the Imperial Palace located in Tokyo Prefecture. The ceremony, entitled “Shin-Tennō Heika Sokui” (新天皇陛下即位), was televised and almost 2 hours long! Of course, this included waiting time, as well as departure time of both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Emperor Naruhito (2nd from right) and Empress Masako (right) stand in front of their guests during the enthronement ceremony.

To summarize, the live broadcast of the ceremony consisted of several segments, a few more significant than others:

1) The arrival of new Emperor Naruhito & guests to the palace (即位の儀式へ)

2) Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (剣璽等承継の儀²)

3) Arrival of new Empress Masako (皇后雅子さまが皇居へ出発)

4) Invitees taking audience before the new Emperor & Empress (即位後朝見の儀³)

5) First speech by the new Emperor (初おことば⁴)

Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (sword, mirror, and jewels) to Emperor Naruhito.

Some segments were much shorter than others. Still, it was a momentous occasion for many who were able to watch the ceremony.

Final moments of the ceremony. Click on each pic for a short description.

From here on, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako represent the Imperial family. May 1 is also the start of the new era Reiwa, which also marks their time of reign.


1) Japan is 13 hours ahead of where I live, so the ceremony has long past from the time of writing this post.

2) Pronounced “Kenji tō Shōkei no Gi”

3) Pronounced “Sokui go Chōken no Gi”

4) Pronounced “Hatsu Okotoba”.