Entering the World of “Samurai’s Blood”

By : April 19, 2011 : CategorySamurai's Blood

When a war lasts for one hundred fifty years, it is not like a war won by the same men who began it. Victorious soldiers feel the uplift of completion, and of hope waiting just around the next corner. When a war is measured in generations there is only the unceasing rhythm of the seasons, attacks and counterattacks, and vicious grudges whose causes have passed into legend or even myth.

So it was in Japan for the century and a half of Sengoku-Jidai. The power of the Ashikaga Shoguns had been destroyed by famine, flood, betrayal, and corruption by around 1450, although they did not mark dates as such. Forces loyal to Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen fought for a decade in Kyoto over Shogunal succession. A shock wave of violence rocked the nation, a single shriek inside an echo chamber that split into a thousand smaller conflicts. The hands of servants turned on their masters, the weak and the gentle fell away, and the people were sharpened to a keen edge as decade followed bloody decade. In Azuchi Province, a man left his infant son to fight and was killed. One hundred twelve years later that man’s great-great-grandson, unaware of the irony of his fate, killed the great-nephew of the man who had cut down his ancestor.

On the western coast of the north end of Honshu, Japan’s main island, was the realm of the Sanjo Clan, in what was at one time called the province of Dewa. During Sengoku-Jidai, the Sanjo Clan’s shrewd and honorable stewardship spared their realm from much of the devastation of the war around them. As a result their people grew to love them, and sent their sons to Castle Bifuyo, stronghold of Clan Sanjo, to protect the province at the bidding of the Sanjo Daimyos (lords). Thus the men of Dewa Province bought peace and prosperity for the price of well-oiled swords, taut bowstrings, and constant vigilance.

After one hundred fifty years of strife, Japan was once again reunited by the iron fist of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose family would rule in Edo for more than two centuries. Peace came to the land, and many samurai had no wars to fight. Some left their masters and became ronin, others tried to find ways to remain useful. Still others descended into the basest forms of crime and oppression. The old men who had spent their lives waiting to die began to despise the young men who would not have to.

Many of the most savage and evil samurai, unable any longer to quench their blades in battle, retreated to the farthest corners of the land, to outflung provinces like Dewa, where threats from indigenous peoples and simple distance limited the reach of the Tokugawa Clan, at least in the early stages of their reign. The added weight of these broken souls did not fall easy on the leaders of these lands, even leaders normally as steadfast as Clan Sanjo.

During the period of reunification Sanjo Ichiwara, then Daimyo of all Dewa Province, peacefully abdicated his power and entrusted Castle Bifuyo to the eldest of his five sons, Sanjo Ujimori. Ujimori became a Daimyo in the spirit of his ancestors, renowned for his wisdom, for his finely honed spirit, and for his ability to navigate the treacherous waters of a nearby struggle without damage to his people. The Sanjo Clan prospered, and the people were happy.

And yet sometimes peace is more dangerous than war.