Ono No Komachi's Verandah
Ono No Komachi was a ninth century poet renowned as much for her own beauty as that of her poems. She's one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals and one of the very few women writers recognized in early Japanese history. Much of her poetry was written as she gazed upon the garden from this verandah in the early morning hours with her waiting attendants beholding her divine inspiration. A famous print captures one of these moments.
As I dozed
The man I love
It is dreams that
Have begun to comfort me
The man I love
It is dreams that
Have begun to comfort me
Zatoichi, Protector of the Mikoshi
Zatoichi was a blind swordsman of the late Edo era. Inside his walking cane resided his deadly flashing blade. Many was the fool whose last words were, "But he's just a blind man!" Although his skill was extraordinary, a great amount of cunning was also required for his survival.
As one who was handicapped and picked on, Zatoichi felt a natural affinity for the weak and helpless. This did not sit well with the predators of the day, causing Ichi much grief. Once his reputation grew, however, few were those who would take him on one on one. Small gangs were dispatched to end his career once and for all but Ichi always came out on top.
Guarding the garden's priceless Mikoshi artifact, Zatoichi cleverly drew the would-be robbers into this stream to even the playing field. As they sloshed around in the water his sharp ears knew just where to aim his sword while they struggled with their footing that Ichi could instinctively secure from his long practice of sightless walking. Once word got out Zatoichi would defend the Mikoshi, no robber ever dare try again.
The garden's Zen Rock Garden far predates the rest of the gardens, a remnant of early Shinto monks. It even survived the rough and tumble times when two rival gangs - one controlling the sake trade, the other the silk trade - vied for ultimate power letting nothing stand in their way. Yojimbo was a swordsman of legendary skill. Like many samurai of the Edo era he was left masterless and forced to wander the land.
His plan was to play the two rival factions against each other for his own profit. But once his treachery was discovered he was badly beaten, only escaping death by crawling under the Rock Garden's walkway. Later, once healed, he came back and sliced them to pieces!
Sen Rikyū's Tea House
Ironically, the wide open warfare of the 16th century Sengoku era also ushered in the era of chanoyu, the way of tea. And its most heralded practitioner was Sen no Rikyū. Oda Nobunaga, the first great unifier of Japan was a huge fan of the tea ceremony as was his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Of the tea ceremony Rikyu is claimed to have said, "Though you wipe your hands and brush off the dust and dirt from the vessels, what is the use of all this fuss if the heart is still impure?"
Hideyoshi, though a great conqueror, was in over his head as a ruler. Flummoxed once all of Japan had been unified, he set his sights on Korea and hoped to eventually "sit on the throne of China". Rikyu warned him against such delusional thinking and for this Hideyoshi ordered him to commit seppuku. Had Hideyoshi heeded the tea master's words, two disastrous incursions into Korea in the 1590's could have been avoided. Hideyoshi came to deeply regret his rash order and commanded Rikyu's tea house be preserved for all time.
Minamoto no Tametomo's Final Stand
In the early days of the samurai struggle for power the two dominant clans were the Minamoto and the Taira. Although ultimately victorious, the Minamoto suffered setbacks in the beginning. Minamoto no Tametomo was a legendary archer who was rumored to have his left arm six inches longer than his right which enabled him to shoot more powerful shots. Legend has it he once sank an entire ship with a single shot below the water line!
Although Tokugawa famously said the sword was the "soul of the samurai", the bow and arrow were the main weapons of warfare. In Tametomo's final stand he swam out to this rock knowing his pursuers would suffer his deadly arrows were they to try to do the same. While killing dozens who approached over the hill, at last the numbers were too many for him, forcing him to commit seppuku (the first in recorded history to do so).
Hidden Christians' Crosses
The Shimabara Rebellion of 1637 was Christianity's last stand in Japan. The revolt was prompted by the shogunate's persecution of Christians whose religion had gained quite a foothold in southern Japan. Afterwards the ban on Christianity was strictly enforced, forcing true believers underground.
But ingenious believers were still able to slyly include Christian symbols such as these crosses by disguising them as framework support.
(Credit to Scott Brooks, senior gardener, for relating this tale to me)
The Battle Of Nagashino is one of the most famous in Japanese history. It marked the end of the famed Takeda clan who was left in the foolhardy hands of the son of the legendary Takeda Shingen. Shingen was taken out by a lucky sniper shot and it was the gun that would also play a pivotal role in his son's demise.
Oda Nobunaga embraced the new technology of the gun but also realized its shortcomings with the comparatively long load times required. To defend against the well reputed Takeda cavalry, Nobunaga devised a two step plan. The first was to adopt the (then unknown) European tactic of rotating firing so that at least part of his troops were always firing. The second was to build wood palisades behind which he could more safely shoot.
Part of these palisades remain as a reminder to Oda's pioneering brilliance in his ruthless quest for victory.
Signal Blossoms In The Castle Stream
Hostage taking was a common method of ensuring peace - or at least a slowing to warfare. Some took it as a fact of life but others would not stand for it, such as Kenbei. Kenbei's sister Kimiko was taken hostage at the great Himeji castle. Problem was, even a large army would take a months long siege to bring the fortress down.
But as a builder of the castle's keep, Kenbei knew a secret way in where he and his consorts could possibly overpower his sister's guards and sneak her out to safety. But Kenbei had no way of knowing if his secret access had been discovered or if any other traps lay in waiting until he penetrated the castle firsthand.
Anxiously, Kenbei's warriors waited outside, not knowing if he had been captured or stymied in his efforts. Kenbei's absolute orders were to wait until his signal: he would sprinkle white blossoms in the castle's stream. Every castle needed a water source and while bars may keep out human invaders nothing could stop the delicate blossoms.
Play the video to see if the blossoms appear and Kimiko can be rescued!