Oda Nobunaga – 織田 信長

Oda Nobunaga in a 16th-century portrait (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Oda Nobunaga in a 16th-century portrait (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today we are going to talk about a very famous person from Japanese history, namely Oda Nobunaga. He was a powerful Daimyo (大名) and warlord, who initiated the unification of Japan, a process that would be continued by Nobunaga’s successors Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康). Nobunaga is also often portrayed in modern media as well.

Oda Nobunaga was born in 1534, in the Owari Domain. As a young boy he was known for his bizarre behaviour, and he was called “the fool of Owari”. When firearms were introduced, Nobunaga quickly became fond of them. He was also known to play with other kids, no matter what rank they were from. He later accepted a position at the Imperial Court, and quickly climbed the ranks.

As he gained more power in the Imperial Court, he started to look homewards, and decided to unify the Owari Clan. He started to ruthlessly get rid of any opposition to him as head of the clan, and not even his uncles were safe.

In 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto gathered an army of 25,000 men, together with the Matsudaira Clan, and started his march toward Kyoto, with the excuse of aiding the frail Ashikaga shogunate. Nobunaga, however, could only gather a force of about 3,000 men, and his allies and advisers would all advice against a frontal assault on Yoshimoto’s forces. However, as the larger force were celebrating earlier victories, and making camp, Nobunaga had his forces make a “fake” army out of straw some distance away from the enemy, and then sneaking around the main forces. As a thunderstorm broke out, Yoshimoto’s men took shelter, but Nobunaga took action, and set up his troops. When the storm passed, Nobunaga charged, and the battle of Okehazama was soon won.

After the battle, the Imagawa Clan’s power weakened, and they lost their influence over the Matsudaira Clan. This led to Nobunaga forging an alliance with Matsudaira Motoyasu, who would later become Tokugawa Ieyasu. This battle is also where Nobunaga first noticed the talents of his servant and sandal-bearer Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

An imagined portrait of Oda Nobunaga (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

An imagined portrait of Oda Nobunaga (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In Mino, Saitō Yoshitatsu died suddenly of illness in 1561, and was succeeded by his son, Saitō Tatsuoki. Tatsuoki, was young and much less effective as a ruler and military strategist compared to his father and grandfather. Taking advantage of this, Nobunaga moved his base to Komaki Castle, and started his campaign in Mino. By convincing Saitō retainers to abandon their incompetent and foolish master, Nobunaga weakened the Saitō clan significantly, eventually mounting a final attack in 1567, capturing Inabayama Castle, and send Tatsuoki into exile.

After taking possession of the castle, Nobunaga changed the name of both the castle and the surrounding town to Gifu. Remains of Nobunaga’s residence in Gifu can be found today in Gifu Park. Naming it after the legendary Mount Qi in China, on which the Zhou dynasty started, Nobunaga revealed his ambition to conquer the whole of Japan. He also started using a new personal seal that read Tenka Fubu (天下布武) which means “All the world by force of arms”. In 1564, Nobunaga had his sister marry Azai Nagamasa, a daimyo in northern Ōmi Province. This would later help pave the way to Kyoto.

Nobunaga is remembered in Japan as one of the most brutal figures of the Sengoku period and was recognized as one of Japan’s greatest rulers. Nobunaga was the first of three unifiers during the Sengoku period, and was well on his way to the complete conquest and unification of Japan when Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his generals, forced Nobunaga into committing suicide in Honnō-ji in Kyoto. Akechi then proceeded to declare himself master over Nobunaga’s domains, but was quickly defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Nobunaga appears frequently within fiction and continues to be portrayed in many other anime, manga, video games, and cinematic films. Many depictions show him as villainous or even demonic in nature, though some portray him in a more positive light. He appears in movies such as Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha”, and in the recent movie “Goemon”. He is also portrayed in a positive light in video games such as “Kessen III”, “Ninja Gaiden II”, and the “Warriors Orochi”-series. There is a whole series of games named after him, in “Nobunaga’s Ambition”, and he also appear in the “Shogun: Total War”-series, as well as in “Civilization V”. Nobunaga is also a playable character in the recent game “Pokémon Conquest”, who’s original title is “Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition”, and therefore a cross-over between the “Nobunaga’s Ambition”-series, and the Pokémon universe.

Nobunaga might not have been the friendliest man, but he started the idea of a unified Japan. And even if he never lived to see it to completion, his actions and reputation made sure that the two succeeding shogun’s continued his work, and gave him a place in Japanese history, and in the collective memory of the Japanese people.

Now let’s play some Pokémon Conquest… I want to see how well well Nobunaga can use that Eevee, and beat the other poké-warlords!

"Pokémon Conquest", where you can see Oda Nobunaga portrayed in the upper middle. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Pokémon Conquest”, where you can see Oda Nobunaga portrayed in the upper middle. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Hanzômon – 半蔵門

Our school is located in the Hanzômon area of Tokyo. But what is Hanzomon, and where does the name come from? Well, let’s find out! ^_^

The Hanzômon Gate in the 2007. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

The Hanzômon Gate in the 2007. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

Hanzômon, or 半蔵門, means “the gate of Hanzô”, and was a gate to the old Edo Castle, or today’s Imperial Residence. It was located in Edo Castle’s westernmost part. The gate led straight on to the Kôshû Kaidô, one of the “Five Highways” of Edo Period, and connected Edo with today’s Yamanashi Prefecture. This gate has given it’s name to the area of Hanzômon, as well as the Metro Station in it’s vicinity.

The Hanzômon Gate in the Meiji Period. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

The Hanzômon Gate in the Meiji Period. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

The area inside of Hanzômon was known as the Fukiage (吹上, “clean blown”) in the Edo Period, and was where previous Shôguns and their families were housed. Today, this area houses the Fukiage Imperial Gardens, the Imperial Palace, the Biological Research Institute, and much more. The Hanzômon Gate is mainly used to accessing the residences of the Emperor and his closest family. It is not open for the general public, however. During WWII, the original gate burned down, and in it’s place stands the Wadakura Gate (和田倉門).

Hattori "Hanzô" Masanari. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

Hattori “Hanzô” Masanari. (Photo courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia)

The gate itself got it’s name from the famous samurai and ninja Hattori Masanari, and his son with the same name. They often used the name “Hanzô” (半蔵) to refer to themselves, a tradition that has been used at least three times before the father/son duo. Another theory is that during a Sannô Matsuri, the statue on top of the float, or “dashi”, had to be cut in half in order to be able to pass through the gate, as the statue was too big. Hence, “half statue” becomes 半像, which is also read as “hanzô”. However, the established theory is the former, as the Hattori family and their vassals, about 200 men from the Iga Clan of ninjas, built a large mansion outside of the gate, and were in charge of patrolling and securing the area from Yotsuya (四谷) to the Kôshû Kaido.

So why not book a class with us, and while you are in the area, you can take some time to enjoy the history and beauty of the Hanzômon area. ^_^

Edo (江戸)

Our school is named Cosmos Tokyo, because it is where we are: in Tokyo. But what about the history of Tokyo? It wasn’t the capital all the time, and wasn’t there something called the Edo Jidai. How did Edo change into what we know today?

Pocket Map of Edo (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Pocket Map of Edo (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Let’s start with Edo (江戸). The name means literary “bay-entrance” or “estuary”. It started out as a small fishing village in the 15th century, when it came under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康). The village was built around a central castle, like most towns and villages were at the time. The area surrounding the castle was mainly for high lords’, or Daimyos’ (大名) residences that they used when visiting Edo, and the area was known as the Yamanote (山手). (This is where the JR Yamanote Line got it’s name from.)

The system of Sankin Kôtai, or “alternate attendance”, brought many Daimyos to Edo, together with their samurais and vassals, sometimes for long periods of time. This large presence of Samurais contributed largely to the character of Edo, which set it apart from Osaka and Kyoto. None of the other two cities were ruled by a Daimyo, or had such a large presence of Samurai. Kyoto was mainly dominated by the imperial court and the Buddhist temples, and Osaka was the country’s commercial centre, and therefore dominated by the merchant class, or chônin (町人).

Nihonbashi (日本橋) (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Nihonbashi (日本橋) (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The “centre” of Tokyo was Nihonbashi (日本橋, “Japan bridge”). This bridge was, and still is, in the commercial centre of Edo, an area known as Kuramae (蔵前, “in front of the storehouses”). Here fishermen’s, tailors, craftsmen and other merchants would sell and buy goods and produce. This good were either coming in to Edo, or going out from it, on either ships to Osaka or other cities, or along one of the five main roads of Japan. Two of these main roads that connected the country are Tôkaidô (connecting Edo with Kyôto) and Hokkaidô (connecting Edo with… well the north). These main roads were all considered to have their start at Nihonbashi.

Edo was the centre for the Shoguns power from the establishment of the Tokugawa bakufu (幕府, “government”) until the fall of the bakufu, known as the bakumatsu (幕末, “end of government”). Since it was “only” the Shogun, and not the Emperor, it wasn’t the capital. That right was reserved for Kyôto. After the bakumatsu, in the second year of his reign, the emperor Meiji moved to Edo, and the city changed name to Tôkyô, or “the eastern capital”.

If you want a more detailed look into the life in Edo, and how it developed and turned into the Tokyo we know today, I really recommend a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku.



Ultraman performs his Ultra-slash move (Photo courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

Ultraman performs his Ultra-slash move (Photo courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

We have previously written about two sub-genres of the Tokusatsu (特撮) genre of Japanese movies: the Kaiju (怪獣) movies, and the Super Sentai (スーパー戦隊) series. This time we take a quick look at the long-running series “Ultraman”.

“Ultraman” also falls under the Tokusatsu genre, and was first aired in 1966, on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). The series has become a major pop culture phenomenon in Japan, and has spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, imitators, and even remakes and parodies.

Ultraman fights Neronga. (Picture courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

Ultraman fights Neronga. (Picture courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

The central characters of the “Ultraman” series were created by the same special effects pioneer that was in charge of bringing the first Godzilla to life in 1954: Eiji Tsuburaya from Tsuburaya Productions. The final design of Ultraman ended up being a mix between alien designs from the American pulp magazines of the 1920’s, with the design of the classic “Roswell Alien”.

The first series starts when Shin Hayata, a member of the Science Special Search Party (科学特別捜査隊 “kagaku tokubetsu sôsatai”) is flying in his plane, and suddenly he crashes into a red light-sphere. This sphere turns out to be the transport for a giant being known as Ultraman.

Ultraman Dyna fights Grossyna (Photo courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

Ultraman Dyna fights Grossyna (Photo courtesy of http://ultra.wikia.com)

Feeling guilty for having killed the human, he merges his essence with Shin, and brings him back to life. Hence, Shin serves as the human form, working with the Science Special Search Party, and whenever they run out of resources or solutions, Shin activates his “beta capsule” and transforms into Ultraman.

Another connection between Godzilla and Ultraman, is that the principal monsters in the Ultraman series was played by Haruo Nakajima, the same suit actor that played Godzilla. Also, famous monsters like Godzilla and Baragon would appear in the Ultraman series, just slightly altered, and under different names. And sometimes the alteration would only be a slight repaint with a spray can, or similar quick alterations.

If you haven’t seen anything of Ultraman, give it a go. When two of the men behind the original Godzilla are involved, it can only be great!

Tsukuyomi – The God of the Moon

Over the last two weeks we have written about Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, and Susanoo, the god of storms and the seas. Time has come for the last of the “Big Three” in Shinto: Tsukuyomi – the God of the Moon.

Tsukuyomi (月読) is a compound of “tsuku” 月 (meaning “moon, month” and is today read as “tsuki”), and “yomi” 読 (meaning “to read”). However there are sources that gives another spelling of his name, like the Nihon Shoki. There it is written 月弓 “tsukiyumi”. However, it is thought that the reading “tsukiyumi” is only a variation of the pronunciation, which has led to this alternate spelling.
Another interpretation is that it might be “tsukiyo” 月夜 (“moonlit night”), and “mi” 見 (“seeing, watching”).

Tsukuyomi differs a little from the moon-gods of ancient Greece and Rome in that he is a male. This is seen in the old sources such as the Kojiki and Man’yôshû, where he is sometimes mentioned with the suffix “-otoko” 〜士 (“man, gentleman”).

Amaterasu emerges from the cave, with the other gods gathered to cheer her up. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Amaterasu emerges from the cave, with the other gods gathered to cheer her up. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

As mentioned before, Tsukuyomi is the brother and husband of Amaterasu, and brother to Susanoo. They were born when their father Izanagi was purifying himself after having been through the underworld. Tsukuyomi was born out of Izanagi’s right eye. Tsukuyomi was the second god to appear, following his sister Amaterasu, and before Susanoo.

“Wait, the god of the moon, and the goddess of the sun are married? Why are they not together in the skies then?” you might be thinking. Well, one day Amaterasu was invited to a feast, but could not attend. So she sent her husband instead. The feast was presented by the goddess of food: Uke Mochi. When everyone had arrived, and the feast started, Uke Mochi turned to the sea and spat out fishes. Then she turned to the forest she spewed out wild game. And finally, she turned to the rice fields and coughed up rice. Tsukuyomi thought the food looked delicious, but he was so disgusted with how Uke Mochi had produced the food that he killed her. When Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, found out about this, she was so angry that she never wanted to see him again. So she is forever making sure to move to the other side of the sky, separating day from night.

And this ends our series on the “Big Three”. Whenever you look up in the sky and see the sun, or the moon, or feel the breeze on your skin, you know that the ancient Japanese were thinking about these gods and goddess. And they are fickle, and wild gods, with short tempers, and full of “human” flaws. Much like the mythology of Greece, or the Norse gods. However, they give us great stories even to this day. ^_^


P.S. The Japanese aren’t to fond of depicting the God of the Night, so it was hard to find pictures that wasn’t from a game, anime, manga, or Amaterasu or Susanoo.

Susanoo – The god of Seas and Storms

Susanoo and the Water Dragon, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Susanoo and the Water Dragon, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Last week we talked about Amaterasu – the godess of the Sun, and the main diety of the Shinto religion. In that text we also mentioned her brother and husband Tsukiyomi (the God of Moon and Night). Today we take a closer look at her other brother: Susanoo.

Susanoo (須佐之男) is the Shinto god of seas and storms. He is also known as “the Powerful Storm of Summer”. As we mentioned in the post about Amaterasu, she and her brothers were born when their father Izanagi purified and washed himself after having gone through the underworld. Amaterasu and Tsukiyomi were born out of Izanagi’s left and right eye respectively, and Susanoo was born from the nose. Susanoo also had a famous sword known as Totsuka-no-Tsurugi (十拳剣 “Sword with a length ten times it’s handle”), or also called Orochi-no-Aramasa (蛇之麁正).

As with most of he stories about the Shinto gods, the oldest sources are the Kojiki (古事記) and the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀). These two chronicles speak of a long-standing rivalry between Susanoo, and his sister Amaterasu (like with most brother-sister relationships, perhaps?). One day, Susanoo was told to leave heaven, and before leaving he went to bid his sister farewell. She was suspicious of Susanoo’s motives, and in order to convince her about his sincerity, Susanoo challenged her to a bet. They each took one thing from the other, and from that object they summoned new gods and goddesses. Amaterasu created 3 goddesses out of Susanoo’s sword, and Susanoo created 5 gods from Amaterasu’s neckless. Amaterasu then claimed that the 5 gods were hers, because they come from her neckless, she thought she had won, but Susanoo then claimed himself the winner as his sword had created goddesses.

Susanoo and Yamata-no-Orochi (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Susanoo and Yamata-no-Orochi (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Another story about the relationship between the two sibling gods is one where Susanoo grows restless, and in a fit of rage goes berserk. While wrecking havoc upon everything around him, he destroys Amaterasu’s rice fields, and killes her servants, among other things. This causes Amaterasu to go and hide in a cave for some time, and there is no sun. In the end she is persuaded to come back out, and Susanoo is banished from heaven, and he traveled to the province of Izumo, in the east part of today’s Shimane Prefecture.

Here he meets a family, headed by an old man by the name of Ashinazuchi, who tells Susanoo about the eight-headed, and eight-tailed, snake called Yamata-no-Orochi (八岐の大蛇). The family used to have 8 daughters, but the snake had eaten all but one, and he was soon coming back for her. Susanoo decided to help the family, if he was allowed to marry the last daughter: Kushinada-Hime. They married, and Susanoo turned her into a comb, to be able to have her close to him while battling the giant snake.

Susanoo as portrayed in the Kagura (sacred dance) "Orochi" (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Susanoo as portrayed in the Kagura (sacred dance) “Orochi” (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

He built a huge fence, with eight gates in it. Behind each gate he placed a huge barrel of sake. When the snake came, he put one head through each of the gates, and drank the sake, and fell asleep. While being knocked out, Susanoo could easily cut of the heads of the snake, and its tails. And in the forth tail, he found a sword, that he would later give to Amaterasu as a reconciliation gift, and be allowed back into heaven. This sword later became known as the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (草薙の剣), and is one of the Japanese Imperial Regalia.

In popular culture, Susanoo can be found in many different games, mangas, and animes: In “Naruto”, the Uchiha family can use their strongest ocular power, the Mangekyo Sharingan, to summon a powerful diety named Susanoo; in the video game “Puzzle & Dragons”, Susanoo is a collectible god; in the video game “Okami” he is one of the protagonists; he showed up in the card game “Android: Netrunner” from Fantasy Flight Games; and he appears in the tabletop roleplaying game “Scion”.

As you can see, Susanoo is a rough, wild character, who isn’t even afraid of his sisters wrath, and who carries out both great deeds of heroism, as well as acts of vandalism. A great warrior, well worthy the title God of Seas and Storms.

"Nihon ryaku-shi", where Susanoo is depicted.

“Nihon ryaku-shi”, where Susanoo is depicted.

Super Sentai – スーパー戦隊

The Kyôryû Sentai Zyuranger, that became Power Rangers in America. (Photo courtesy of power ranger.wiki.com)

The Kyôryû Sentai Zyuranger, that became Power Rangers in America.
(Photo courtesy of power ranger.wiki.com)

Last week we talked about Kaiju (怪獣) movies, or Monster movies, with monsters like Godzilla, Rodan, and Gamera. We also mentioned in that post that the Kaiju genre is a form of Tokusatsu movies. Tokusatsu (特撮) means “special photography”, and the name refers to movies with a lot of special effects in them. This week we return to this type of movies, to look at a different genre: the Super Sentai Series!

Super Sentai Series (スーパー戦隊シリーズ) got it’s name from the Mechas, or Super Robots, that the heroes commonly use, and from the Sentai (戦隊) which means “task force”, or “fighting squadron”. There are two more genres in Tokusatsu, which are related to the Super Sentai in style, and they are the Ultraman Series, and the Kamen Rider Series. We will come back to these in the future.

Denji Sentai Megaranger. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Denji Sentai Megaranger. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The typical format of a Super Sentai Series is the illustration of the fight between good and evil. The good side usually consists of 5 people, but sometimes less than that. These heroic main characters receive super powers, in one way or another, which can be magical or technological in nature. And they are easily recognised by their characteristic colour-coded uniforms, with red, blue, black, yellow, and pink as the most common colours. They usually fight with advanced weapons, martial arts skills, and with robots/mechs against the forces of evil.

Speaking of which, the forces of evil are usually threatening to conquer or destroying the world. Every week the heroes will have to fight through an army of underlings, and a “monster of the week”. This monster fight is usually not an easy task, and usually ends up in the monster transforming into a giant version, forcing the heroes to assemble/transform their robots into an equally big version, and the fight continues, until our heroes win.

Kousoku Sentai Turboranger. (Photo courtesy of http://www.jefusion.com)

Kousoku Sentai Turboranger. (Photo courtesy of http://www.jefusion.com)

The many different Super Sentai Series have been somewhat distributed outside of japan, with France, Spain, Portugal and Brazil airing a few of the earlier series in the 70’s and 80’s. Hawaii has seen a long tradition of airing the series’ on Hawaiian television, in its original Japanese, with English subtitles. Sacramento, Los Angeles and the California area has also had a few series shown on local television.

Ressha Sentai ToQger. (Photo courtesy of www.orendsrange.com)

Ressha Sentai ToQger. (Photo courtesy of http://www.orendsrange.com)

There have been 38 different Super Sentai Series’, and I won’t list them all here. I will mention a few that usually stands out in each decade:

  • Battle Fever J (70’s)
  • Choudenshi Bioman (80’s)
  • Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman (90’s)
  • Kyôryû Sentai Zyuranger (90’s) (which became Power Rangers under Saban Entertainment)

The list can be made much longer, and there are tonnes of movies, OVAs, and other productions besides the series. And since the Super Sentai phenomenon has been around since the 70’s, it has shown up in many other places, such as video games, game shows, and other television shows. There has also been a lot of parodies and spoofs (one funny one in particular you find Here!).

So why not grab your colour-coded jump-suit and helmet, and head into this fascinating part of Japanese culture? Who needs anime, when you can fight guys in rubber suits? ^_-

The RV Robo from Gekisou Sentai Carranger. (Photo courtesy of powerranger.wikia.com)

The RV Robo from Gekisou Sentai Carranger. (Photo courtesy of powerranger.wikia.com)