(Friday Night History) Mamiya Rinzo Goes North

Today, Japanese maps (and world maps) take for granted that Hokkaido and Sakhalin are islands. This is not surprising. But there was a time when a common understanding of geography in Japan had it that the islands we now call Hokkaido and Sakhalin were connected to the Asian mainland. This week, we’re going to talk about the survey that changed that understanding with regard to Sakhalin, how it can challenge our assumptions about the Edo period, and how it laid the groundwork for Japan’s current borders.

First and foremost, we need to bear in mind that in the late 18th century, the Shogunate knew about, and was concerned about, the growth of Russian imperial influence to the north. There was an earlier strategic concern in the 17th century of potential Manchu invasion from the north, but by the 18th, the threat had shifted to the Russians, whose ships often appeared there during survey missions and amidst colonial expansion. While the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion remained in effect, even diehard supporters understood that something needed to be done in order to ensure the security of the northern border.

Mind you, there was Japanese settlement and even a feudal domain across the Tsugaru strait in what we now call Hokkaido, but this was not part of Japan proper at the time.

Let me say that again.

Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper at the time, and modern Japan– the modern imperial state that wasn’t the patchwork of semi-independent feudatories anymore– didn’t exist yet. Hokkaido wasn’t annexed until 1869.

Okay, I hear you ask, so what was it until then?

Let me introduce you to the concept of a march. A march is a borderland. It’s a concept that’s well established in European history and beyond. In the Edo period, the Matsumae controlled territory of what we now call southern Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper but was a march. Elsewhere in Ezochi, the Shogunate asserted direct control, and had the domains of northern Honshu, most notably Sendai, Aizu, Akita, and Morioka domains, administer territory on its behalf as their people and resources had less of a distance to travel.

In other words, to the Shogunate, the lands where Japanese people lived and where house Matsumae ruled, was a march. And be that as it may, it was still deemed to be at potential danger from Russian incursion. And while the land around the Matsumae territory was pretty well known, points further north were less clearly and reliably surveyed, and the Shogunate wanted to assert better control over those territories. This was especially the case starting in the early 19th century, when encounters with Russian vessels became a little more common, and the house Matsumae proved itself to be less trustworthy than the Shogunate would have desired. So I should take a moment here to do due diligence and say, let’s be real, while national defense was part of the equation here, empire building and colonization was also a motivation. We’ll come back to that in a little more detail later.

One of the most important things for planning an effective defense is knowing the terrain. While there were increasingly accurate maps of the main islands (Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the smaller islands around them, maps of Ezochi– Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the Kuriles– were less accurate. Inō Hanzaemon’s work in mapping the Japanese coastline helped significantly improve that, but his work– unfinished at the time of his death– was completed by Mamiya Rinzō, one of his students, whose work is going to be our focus today.

Mamiya Rinzō. (Image PD)

Mamiya Rinzō (1780-1844) was born into a peasant family in Tsukuba county of Hitachi Province (modern day Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture), but was elevated to warrior caste by adoption, owing in part to his distinction as a student of mathematics and surveying. He was assigned to the Shogunate administrative offices in Hokkaido in 1800, where he became a student of Inō Hanzaemon. Mamiya surveyed Etuworopsir (better known by its Japanese name of Etorofu-tō) in 1806, but in 1808, departed from what’s now the city of Wakkanai with his assistant Matsuda Denjūrō to survey Sakhalin, to the north. They split up at the southernmost point, with Mamiya going up the eastern coast and Matsuda going up the western coast, meeting at the northernmost tip. Though Mamiya had a decent amount of skill in the Ainu language, the further north he traveled, the less people he found who spoke the Ainu he would’ve known– i.e., the Ainu of what’s now Hokkaido– much less any Ainu at all. This is unsurprising, as he would’ve also been encountering Nivkh and Orok people, that far north. At the point they met, and confirmed that Sakhalin was an island, Mamiya and Matsuda erected a marker that read Dai Nihon koku Kokkyo National Boundary of Great Japan.

Yes, this didn’t go unchallenged– Imperial Russia eventually colonized Sakhalin too. Yes, in practical terms, there wasn’t much the Shogunate could do to enforce that kind of mindblowingly bold claim to all of Sakhalin. But again, let’s be clear. This wasn’t exploration for the sake of exploration, and it wasn’t simply a matter of defense. Mamiya worked for the Shogunate, and he was contributing to its expansion of power to the north.

After setting up that marker, Mamiya crossed the strait aboard an Ainu vessel, and went to the mouth of the Amur River, entering its estuary and further confirming that Sakhalin was an island and not part of the continent itself. In 1812 he returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, making possible the 1821 publication of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big.

Hakodate, in what’s now Hokkaido, as mapped by Inō Hanzaemon. (Image in PD, archived by LOC)

Shogunate policy in Hokkaido and points north benefited from both Mamiya and Inō’s work, but oddly enough, Mamiya’s work also became involved in an international incident in fairly short order. Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) is a man who honestly deserves an episode of his own, and I’ll probably do that down the road. But for now, let’s give the brief summary: he was Prussian, in Japan with the Dutch trading mission at Dejima in Nagasaki, where he served as physician and taught Shogunate retainers about Western medicine while conducting observations and some of the first European cataloguings of Japanese flora and fauna. But thanks to his professional contacts with Japanese scholars he also obtained Japanese maps of the northern frontier, including the then-recent work of Mamiya and Inō. von Siebold had planned to smuggle these maps out of the country when he left in the autumn of 1828, but the ship that was to carry him was wrecked in a storm immediately on leaving harbor. von Siebold and the other survivors returned to Dejima, the Dutch enclave and trading post in Nagasaki, and their ship’s cargo was salvaged and inspected by Shogunate authorities, which is when the authorities discovered the map. If von Siebold thought he was homebound at the time, he was sorely mistaken, as the Shogunate confined him to Dejima for the ensuing year while its court case wound its way through. By the end, von Siebold was deported from Japan for having nearly compromised national security, though he was allowed to take his collection of local flora, fauna, and books along with him, first to his residence in Jakarta (which was then called Batavia), and thence to Holland.

Philip Franz von Siebold in older years (image PD)

The Shogunate ordered Mamiya to take part in a number of other projects focused on national security, though closer to home, in the form of coast defense for the waters around Edo. You might recall some of the earlier episodes where we talked about the intentional American missions and accidental British incursions into the waters at the mouth of Edo Bay, in the 19th century– this is some of what concerned the Shogunate at the time. Mamiya died in 1844, 9 years before the Perry mission and the subsequent dramatic shift in Shogunate priorities regarding foreign policy, coastal defense, and national security. Like his mentor, Mamiya is commemorated with a bronze statue, though Mamiya’s is in Wakkanai, where he departed together with Matsuda Denjuro, on his famous trip that confirmed Sakhalin was an island. 

The border between Japan and Russia has often changed since Mamiya’s time, as have the governments of both countries. Hokkaido was, as noted above, annexed in 1869, and has remained Japanese territory ever since. For about 40 years, from the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to the Soviet invasion just prior to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sakhalin from the 50th parallel on south was controlled by the Japanese Empire, which also controlled the Kuril Islands. Today, there is a lingering dispute over the Southern Kurils, but Russia administers all of that territory.

And yet, one of the common names for the strait separating Sakhalin from the Asian continent and the Amur River estuary– sometimes called the Strait of Tartary– is still Mamiya-kaikyo. The Mamiya Strait.


(Friday Night History) “Noh and Noh Accessories”

Kanze Sakon performs the Noh play Okina in 1939. (image PD)

Noh, a traditional form of Japanese theater that derives from an older form called sarugaku, is pretty well known in the world– it’s one of the most recognizable elements of traditional Japanese performing arts. Some people conflate it with kabuki, so let me begin by offering a simple way of remembering which form of traditional Japanese theater or dance is which.

  • Kabuki has facepaint and lots of acrobatics and slapstick. Its orchestra includes shamisen.
  • Bunraku has similar musical accompaniment to kabuki but features puppets and a chanter.
  • Kagura is the ritual dance associated with Shinto shrines.
  • Kyōgen is comedic, has some slapstick and no masks, and is performed on Noh stages in between the longer, more serious Noh plays.
  • Noh has masks, a lot of slow movements and chanting, and its musical accompaniment is flute and drum.

We cool? Good.

The thing is, Noh wasn’t just a performing art for the sake of a performing art. It was also possessed of spiritual significance, as it was one way of performing rites that would pacify restless spirits. It had any number of occasions where it might be performed, as it does today. In that regard it sometimes overlaps with what we’d consider to be kagura today. At any rate, keep that in mind– it’s important to what we’re going to be talking about in this episode.

Alright. So. Noh in the Edo period was overwhelmingly the domain of the warrior caste and its hangers-on. It was expensive even at the time, so this isn’t too surprising– your average Taro the farmer is going to be more likely involved in kagura at the local shrine, rather than putting on a Noh play. While not everyone was trained enough to be able to perform the dances, as Nishiyama Matsunosuke points out, “a large warrior-class population learned the chants and instrumental accompaniments.” And for our case study, we’re going to look at Noh in the house of Date, and not only because that’s our usual purview.

House Date, which was the fourth wealthiest power in Japan after the Shogunate, house Maeda of Kaga domain, and house Shimazu of Satsuma domain, was one of Edo Japan’s most preeminent patrons of Noh. Just how preeminent do I mean? Think back for a moment to our episode about daimyo. In that episode, we learned that the general definition of a daimyo, despite how conditional it often was in practice, included in theory anyone with yearly income rated at over 10,000 koku. The Date income was about 625,400 koku, and of that, they spent about 10,000 a year on Noh alone. That should offer some sense of scale here, in terms of how extravagant was their patronage. They spent a lot on Noh, from the beginning of the Edo period through the end, but house Date was interested in Noh for quite a long time even prior to that.

Date interest in Noh is believed to date roughly to the mid Muromachi era. By the late 16th century, Date Masamune himself was so skilled with the drum that he himself appeared in Noh performances, attended by other daimyo and sometimes even the shogun. While Masamune and his descendants pursued instruction by the heirs of the major lineages of Noh– most notably Okura, Kanze, Konparu, Hōshō, and Kita– what they also did was send their own retainers to go study and pursue licensure from those schools of acting, music, propmaking, and set design. In doing so, house Date ensured that it had a cadre of professionals who were already on the rolls of their vassal-band, who could be easily and reliably called upon for the staging of different performances wherever there was need of a play or a series of plays.

In fact, Noh was there at the founding of the Sendai castle town. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new and expanded Sendai Castle on Mount Aoba included the now famous poetry writing where Date Masamune gave the city its current name. But there was more that was part of the festivities. In the orthodox history of the clan, Date Chike Kiroku Volume 2, 18th century historian Tanabe Marekata writes:

12/24 (Keichō 5 [1/28/1601]), Hour of the Dragon. His Lordship went to the groundbreaking at Sendai Castle. He changed the castle’s name spelling to 仙臺 (wizard’s platform). Once there had been a Thousand-form Buddha beside this castle, thus it was [originally] spelled 千體 (thousand forms). Later the spelling was changed to 千代 (thousand generations). This castle was said to be the ancestral residence of the former Kokubun lord, Sir Noto-no-kami Moriuji. That evening, there was a party for the groundbreaking. Five Noh were performed: Takasago, Tamura, Nonomiya, Yōrō, and Jōjō.

Clearly, it had an official role to play in the domain’s life.

A particularly noted example of a Date retainer who became a Noh expert and founded a lineage is that of Sakurai Hachiemon (alias Sakurai Yasuaki), one of Masamune’s pages who was sent to study with Okura Ujinori (1590-1665), the third son of Azuchi-Momoyama era Noh master Konparu Yasuteru (1549-1621) who was famous for having taught Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hachiemon was trained and licensed by Okura Ujinori, and Hachiemon’s descendants became a lineage of Noh masters. Interestingly, the Sakurai line became one where every successive generation was an adoptee selected for mastery of the family Noh tradition– inasmuch as adoption to continue a lineage was common in the Edo period, a line composed entirely of adoptees was uncommon. Hakugoku Zenbe’e (alias Hakugoku Kototsugu) and Kō Gorōjirō, contemporaries of Hachiemon, specialized in the taiko drum. Meanwhile, Hiraiwa Kanshichi became certified in fue, the bamboo flute that is a central part of the musical accompaniment to any Noh performance. Hakugoku, Kō, and Hiraiwa, like Sakurai, started out as pages in service to Masamune.

This cadre of performers and other specialists was divided between three geographic centers– Edo, Nara (actually some in Nara, some in Kyoto), and Sendai– putting it in easy reach of the Shogun’s capital, the imperial capital, and the capital of the Date domains. Owing to the Date domain’s decentralized organization, the family’s cadet branches, which formed the highest tier of Date vassals, also sponsored Noh actors and performances of their own. This multicentric arrangement of house Date’s Noh personnel and assets had an impact on other fiefdoms’ Noh as well as on modern Noh.

These people were, of course, paid stipends by the domain. But as with all retainer stipends in the Edo period, these tended not to rise for anything, even for cost of living. So to fill that gap, some of these Noh specialized Sendai vassals took students from other domains. This not only helped make ends meet but also spread Date Noh influence, and it positioned these families for adapting to the changes wrought by the coming of the Meiji era and the abolition of the feudal domains.

Just before that abolition, Sendai domain under the Date was defeated during the Boshin civil war of 1868-1869. As part of the punishment which the Empire imposed, two thirds of Sendai domain’s landholding was confiscated, which thus affected the domain’s income, and so the clan had to radically slash and reorganize its expenses. People like Noh actors were not justifiable expenses in this new regime. Those of the Noh professionals who were based in Sendai, whose work mostly involved other Date retainers, were shit out of luck. But those based in Edo or Nara, who already derived most of their income from private students, stayed in the Noh business. And as it turns out, some of them still exist today or existed well into the modern era. The Hiraiwa school of fue flute, for instance, was one such tradition that had once been in service of house Date; it existed until the mid-Meiji period and the death of its last inheritor. Other traditions once associated with house Date survive to this day.

In modern Sendai, Noh and Noh performances continue thanks to an organized group of devoted performers and their supporters. When I lived there in 2005, I remember seeing advertisements for free public performances of Noh, though I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend them. If you’re in Sendai, or can manage to go there one day once it’s allowed to enter Japan again, you can find more information from the homepage of what’s now called the Sendai City Association for the Promotion of Noh (Sendai-shi Nōgaku Shinkō Kyōkai) at https://sendai-nogaku.org


Stop Calling Us Warriors

The Angry Staff Officer

If you’ve been in the Army longer than five minutes, you’ve probably been called “warrior” already. Or maybe “hero,” usually used sarcastically when referring to basic trainees. But “warrior” is not used sarcastically. We have the “Best Warrior” competition. Soldiers injured in combat or in training go to “Warrior Transition Units.” Thankfully, training for new non-commissioned officers is no longer the “Warrior Leader Course,” but the “Basic Leader Course.” We in the Army managed to somehow geta “warrior ethos” into our lexicon. This word has even seeped into our Soldier’s Creed, with, “I am a warrior and a member of a team.”Another part of the creed talks about remaining “proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.”

But there’s a problem with all this “warrior” rhetoric; warriors are not soldiers. Warriors don’t transition, because warriors are part of a class. Warriors don’t have tasks, because tasks are antithetical to…

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Let’s get Grey Dawn an award!

Folks! Nominations for this year’s #DragonAwards are open– help my writing reach a bigger audience by nominating #GreyDawn for the military science fiction category! The link is as follows:


Thank you for your support! You are the wind beneath my wings, and the best damn people a girl could ask to work for.

Date Masamune’s letter to Tadano Sakujūrō

Translated by yours truly. (Source)

# # #

I just received your unexpected letter and pledge of love. Truly I feel embarrassed, and whatever I can think to say seems foolish. What could I have said to you last night while we were drinking? I’m really troubled by the fact that I can’t remember. Besides, if I doubted your feelings, I could easily get Denzō or one of the inspectors (yokome) to get you to give up, but it doesn’t seem like that’s possible. I don’t feel like I said anything, but what could I have possibly told you last night over drinks? I’m really stumped and can’t recall.

A while back, one of the attendants who serves me at mealtime dropped a note, and it looks like he’d fallen for you. I have no idea what happened to this attendant, though, so I can’t help you any further on whether or not it’s true.

I asked myself, and it’s not that. It’s that I know you almost too well, and so I could hardly contain myself in wanting to be certain of your feelings. So driven by drunkenness I must’ve slipped up and said something that I hadn’t meant to say.

You must feel angry at me, since I’m saying that this was all because of drink. I don’t blame you feeling this way. To think you slit your arms to seal a pledge of love to me in blood. I keenly, keenly feel your emotion.

If I’d been there, I would’ve stopped you with my sidearm…

I thought about simply slitting my finger and not my arms or my thighs, but that would hardly be a worthy response to what you’ve already done to pledge your love to me. Anyway, I’ve already grown old enough to have children and grandchildren.

People don’t know how to keep their mouths shut, and when I bathe, these scars would be visible to my pages, who would certainly gossip among themselves, saying “Still doing things like this at an age when he should know better.”

If this were to happen, I feel it’d be an embarrassment to my children, so instead, I only live hot-bloodedly by emotion.

As you know, when I was young I slit my arms and thighs when sharing drink, to offer blood for pledges of manly love. This much ought to be plainly obvious about me. But with the world as it is today, it’d make me a laughing matter, so I must refrain.

I swear to the myriad gods of Japan, this is because I detest marring my arms and my thighs further. It is not in the least a matter of shying away from you.

You  know my arms and my thighs, do you not? There are few places upon them that are unscarred. Though that is proof of my onetime pride in the way of manly affection, I can’t help the changing times.

You must certainly be feeling like this might be unreliable news, so I am writing this letter and sealing it in blood, as Denzō watches.

Please forgive me, and leave it at this. If you could please understand my feelings, and if I could have your compassion, then my gratitude to you would be deeper than the ocean and higher than the mountains.

Furthermore, I’ve told Denzō to relay my feelings on this.

Sincerely yours,

1st Month, 9th Day
Masamune (signature)

I am truly, truly embarrassed. Please understand my feelings.

(Friday Night History) Gesaku

There’s a rule for good satire: punch up.

This was no less the case in the Edo period. And one of the major genres through which this happened is called gesaku. While a lot of what we usually focus on in this podcast pertains to the warrior caste or those immediately adjacent to it, gesaku was primarily the domain of everybody but the samurai. These commoners used it as an outlet through which to talk romance, satire, religion, comedy, and much more.

In the first place, gesaku is actually an umbrella term. It means “playful writing,” and has a wide range of subgenres, most notably senryu poems, kibyoshi, dangibon, sharebon, kokkeibon, ninjobon, kusazoshi, and yomihon. Kokkeibon and kibyoshi, in particular, translate well to modern form. Kokkeibon is a gesaku subgenre, usually illustrated, and telling the story of commoners’ lives with a heavy focus on humor. An especially notable example of kokkeibon is Jipppensha Ikku’s Tokaidochu Hizakurige, which was translated into English by Thomas Satchell in 1960 as Shank’s Mare. Hizakurige is a lively slapstick story of two friends from Edo, Yaji and Kita, who travel west along the Tokaido Highway on pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine. Hijinks ensue, and continue through a sequel. Kibyoshi, on the other hand, are illustrated– think of them as proto-comic books– where text was woven into the images. These ranged from ten to thirty pages.

But remember, folks, this was the Edo period, where although the commoners held an increasing share of the country’s wealth, it was still the warrior caste that was in the exalted position in the societal hierarchy, and which possessed a monopoly on government and state-sanctioned violence. So we need to sidebar and talk about a daimyo named Matsudaira Sadanobu here.

Self-portrait by Matsudaira Sadanobu (image in PD)

Matsudaira Sadanobu was the son of Tayasu Munetake, one of the sons of the 8th shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune. Tayasu Munetake headed one of the Gosankyo or 3 Lords, the families that held daimyo-level income but who were not daimyo, instead being tasked with producing a ready supply of alternate heirs should the main Shogunal lineage die out, as it had before Yoshimune’s time. Sadanobu was adopted out to the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira family of Shirakawa domain in northern Honshu. The Hisamatsu-Matsudaira family was a cadet branch of the Tokugawa clan, and while it wasn’t too powerful in its own right, it still had that prestige by osmosis– however, it was also in the grip of financial crisis when Sadanobu was adopted in. He attained fame in his domain as well as in Edo for getting the domain’s finances back into working order, and used this fame as well as his birth family’s connections to get an appointment as the Shogunate’s chief councilor in 1787. In his tenure as chief councilor, he championed a series of political reforms called the Kansei Reforms, which aimed to straighten out the Shogunate’s faltering finances, make contingency plans for future disasters in the form of granaries, stabilize the population (and thus the tax base) in the countryside by sending peasants who’d moved to Edo back home to their villages, and more. But it had a darker side, in which it also attempted to legislate morality, by cracking down on gesaku and its authors.

So against the backdrop of these reforms, we need to talk about one of the most notable authors of gesaku, a late 18th century author and artist called Santo Kyoden.

Portrait of Santo Kyoden by Chokyosai Eiri, circa 1795 (held by Metropolitan Museum of Art, image in PD)

Kyoden was born into a family of lumberyard pawnbrokers, but became a skilled ukiyo-e artist and prolific author. It was Santo Kyoden who, in a 1788 gesaku work, defined the characteristics of the Edokko, the quintessential Edo townsman, as follows– translation as appearing in Gerald Groemer’s translation of Nishiyama Matsunosuke’s book Edo Culture:

1. He receives his first bath in the water of the city’s aqueduct; he grows up in sight of the gargoyles on the roof of Edo castle.

2. He is not attached to money; he is not stingy. His funds do not cover the night’s lodging.

3. He is raised in a high-class, protected manner. He is quite unlike either warriors or country bumpkins.

4. He is a man of Nihonbashi to the bone.

5. He has iki (refinement) and hari (strength of character)

But as Nishiyama observes, these characteristics were more imaginary than based in fact, as they don’t mesh with the realities of life in Edo. For example– Nagoya, not Edo Castle, had gargoyles (shachihoko) on its roof, and the aqueducts of Edo had dirty water, not anything to bathe in. Nishiyama argues that this has more to do with poking fun at hoity-toity people from the Kansai region (central Japan, the greater Kyoto-Osaka area) than anything real about life in Edo for people from Edo. At any rate, what’s certain is that Santo Kyoden was a renowned, beloved author and artist, and apparently one of the first to turn writing from something simply done for the love of it, to a career on which one could base a living. And he did not spare the powerful from his satirizing, not one bit!

Kyoden first satirized the Kansei reforms in Nitan no Shiro Fuji no hitoana kenbutsu, and modeled the plot of Jidai Sewacho tsuzumi after the murder of Tanuma Okitomo. He poked fun at the Reforms again in Koshi-jima toki ni aizome, and then drew illustrations for Ishibe Kinko’s kibyoshi work, Kokubyaku mizu-kagami.

At this point, the authorities felt that they’d had enough of this uppity townsman who wouldn’t stop making fun of them, and fined Kyoden. But in response, Kyoden released 3 more books, after which Matsudaira Sadanobu personally ordered Kyoden placed under house arrest and manacled for fifty days.

But Matsudaira Sadanobu had a secret: he was a Santo Kyoden fanboy, and he was an author of gesaku himself!

Hypocrite, much?

Yes, Sadanobu had Kyoden put under house arrest and manacled, but he also made sure to get an autograph from the man. And much more surprisingly, Sadanobu himself was the author of Daimyo Katagi, whose first half is in kibyoshi style and whose second half, written in sermonizing dangibon style, is a gesaku rant par excellence, about daimyo being posers! Historian Haruko Iwasaki even argues that Sadanobu was an avid reader of gesaku beyond the work of Kyoden alone, and that his work is particularly influenced by a then-recent work called Kyogen-zuki Yabo Daimyo (The Naive Daimyo Infatuated with Kyogen), which was written by Kishida Toho and illustrated by Kitao Masayoshi, published in early 1784. Kyogen is the comedic theatrical form that provides the lighter interludes that punctuate a longer series of Noh plays. Sure enough, the unnamed, hapless lord in Daimyo Katagi becomes obsessed with theater, falling asleep on-stage after a rehearsal one day, only to be visited by a Chinese sage in his dreams and yelled at. The sage’s rant is so incandescent that at times it seems worthy of Lewis Black’s rants. His invective tears apart everything from the daimyo’s meaningless pursuit of martial arts without understanding of what fighting actually is, to the lack of practicality of people who claim to understand military engineering without due diligence to matters of logistics and personnel, and even issues of medicine, religion, and decorum don’t escape the sage’s tirade. It’s really quite something, and I encourage you to follow the link and read Haruko Iwasaki’s translation for yourself. She translated it in 1983, and you can read it here– if you’re listening to the podcast, follow the link.

While Sadanobu went to great trouble to hide it, his personal attendants discovered Daimyo Katagi among his papers after his death, and they and their descendants were responsible for seeing it to publication in the Meiji era.

While the Kansei Reforms had a chilling effect on the freedom of non-warriors to poke fun at those in power, gesaku came back in force a few decades later. And even today, gesaku continues to revereberate via modern adaptations: Hizakurige got an outlandishly surreal, slapstick-heavy, anachronism-heavy movie rendition in 2005 as Mayonaka no Yaji-san Kita-san. I think Santo Kyoden would’ve approved.

Bans pass, politicians pass, but satire is eternal.

The Tokugawa Shogunate is dead. Long live gesaku!


  • Hibbett, Howard. Chrysanthemum and the Fish. (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002), p. 91.
  • Haruko Iwasaki, “Portrait of a Daimyo: Comical Fiction by Matsudaira Sadanobu.” Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 1-19. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/2384009
  • Matsudaira Sadanobu, “Daimyo Katagi.” tr. Haruko Iwasaki. Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 20-48. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/2384010
  • Nishiyama Matsunosuke, Edo Culture. Translated by Gerald Groemer. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997), p. 51.
  • Ooms, Herman. Charismatic Bureaucrat. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 141.
  • Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 415-416.
  • ___. Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 225.

From “Passing of the Armies”

Have they all passed, — the Fifth Corps? Or will it ever pass? Am I left alone, or still with you all?

You, of the thirteen young colonels, colleagues with me in the courts-martial and army schools of the winter camps of 1862:

Vincent, of the 83d Pennsylvania, caught up in the fiery chariot from the heights of Round Top; O’Rorke, of the 140th New York, pressing to that glorious defense, swiftly called from the head of his regiment to serener heights; Jeffords, of the 4th Michigan, thrust through by bayonets as he snatched back his lost colors from the deadly reapers of the wheat-field; Rice, of the 44th New York, crimsoning the harrowed crests at Spottsylvania with his life-blood, — his intense soul snatched far otherwhere than his last earthly thought — “Turn my face towards the enemy!”; Welch, of the 16th Michigan, first on the ramparts at Peebles’ Farm, shouting “On, boys, and over!” and receiving from on high the same order for his own daring spirit; Prescott, of the 32d Massachusetts, who lay touching feet with me after mortal Petersburg of June 8th, under the midnight requiem of the somber pines, — I doomed of all to go, and bidding him stay, — but the weird winds were calling otherwise; Winthrop, of the 12th Regulars, before Five Forks just risen from a guest-seat at my homely luncheon on a log, within a half hour shot dead in the fore-front of the whirling charge. These gone, — and of the rest: Varney, of the 2d Maine, worn down by prison cruelties, and returning, severely wounded in the head on the storm-swept slopes of Fredericksburg, and forced to resign the service; Hayes, of the 8th Massachusetts, cut down in the tangles of the Wilderness; Gwyn, of the 118th Pennsylvania, also sorely wounded there; Herring, of the same regiment, with a leg off at Dabney’s Mill; Webb, then of the corps staff, since, highly promoted, shot in his uplifted head, fronting his brigade to the leaden storm of Spottsylvania ; Locke, adjutant-general of the corps, — a bullet cutting from his very mouth the order he was giving on the flaming crests of Laurel Hill!

You thirteen — seven, before the year was out —shot dead at the head of your commands; of the rest, every one desperately wounded in the thick of battle ; I last of all, but here to-day, — with you, earthly or ethereal forms.

Waes Hael!’ — across the rifts of vision — “Be Whole again, My Thirteen!”

–Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Passing of the Armies.

(Translations) the Naoe Letter

This is the Naoe Letter, named for its author, Naoe Kanetsugu (1559-1620), who was a senior vassal in service to Uesugi Kagekatsu (1556-1623). It was written 421 years ago tomorrow, as I type this!

17th century portrait of Naoe Kanetsugu. (Image in PD)

He wrote it in response to a letter sent to Kagekatsu from Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) via the monk Seishō Jōtai (1548-1607). This was in the lead-up to the Battle of Sekigahara, where Ieyasu was at the center of one faction and his rival Ishida Mitsunari (1559-1600) centered a different faction.

Historic portrait of Seishō Jōtai. (Image in PD)

I see the Naoe Letter as Kanetsugu throwing down the gauntlet pretty hard. Unfortunately for him, the Uesugi clan lost in the Sekigahara Campaign, during which they were faced and contained by the armies of the house of Date, at the Battle of Hasedō.

* * *

I have this day received your letter of the first of the fourth month, which arrived yesterday, the 13th. I was most pleased to receive and to read it.

ITEM: Regarding our province, there are many false rumors circulating at present. So there isn’t much we can do about the Interior Minister (Ieyasu) holding reservations. Furthermore, as these rumors are now spreading it Kyoto and Fushimi, there isn’t anything that can be done. Aizu is a distant country, and my lord Kagekatsu is young, so naturally he is the target of rumor . We aren’t worried, so please be reassured.

ITEM: Regarding why Kagekatsu will not come to Kyoto, all manner of things are being said. Barely two years ago our fief was transferred, and in no time we went up to Kyoto, returning only on the 9th month of last year. Even so in this years first month we were again ordered to report to Kyoto. When can we be expected to care for our own lands’ affairs? This land is snow country, so from the 10th to the 3rd months nothing can be done. If you ask anyone who knows this land, they’ll understand. So given our request to delay our trip to Kyoto, you’ll understand that the rumors that Kagekatsu is traitorous are misunderstandings.

ITEM: You’ve said that if Kagekatsu harbors no traitorous motives then he should submit a vow affirming this. We have sent several written pledges since the Taikō’s death, but they’ve all been ignored. So sending in another document is pointless.

ITEM: Since [his service to] the Taikō, Kagekatsu has been known as an upstanding person- this has not changed. This is contrary to the world’s fickle ways.

ITEM: Kagektasu is absolutely not harboring ulterior motives. If you do not investigate and expose these evil words of strangers, and assume that he is treacherous, then it can’t be helped., Otherwise we would ask to have the chance to face our accusers and ascertain the truth of the matter. If not, then the Interior Minister is being dishonest.

ITEM: As regards Lord Hizen-no-kami of Kaga (Maeda Toshinaga), things have been settled between him and the Interior Minister. We assume this is because of the Interior Minister’s influence.

ITEM: As for Mashita Nagamori and Ōtani Yoshitsugu’s promotions, we’ve heard about it in detail. It is truly most felicitous. Sakakibara Yasumasa has acted as official go-between. And even if Kagekatsu’s stance of opposition was public, hearing opposing viewpoints is part of what’s right as a warrior. This would also serve the Interior Minister. It is better if it is known whether or not somebody is a loyal or treacherous vassal.

ITEM: First, as the matter concerns baseless rumors, we refuse to come to Kyoto. Our reasons are as stated above.

ITEM: Second, It’s been said of our gathering of weapons and materiel that we’re preparing for rebellion. These actions are the same as when warriors of central Japan gather tea implements, charcoal scuttles, and gourds. Please consider we backcountry warriors gathering spears, guns, bows and arrows as simply a difference of culture.  Even if he was planning action, what could someone in Kagekatsu’s position do? Isn’t making this into a problem a judgment that is unbecoming for the realm?

ITEM: Third, regarding roads and bridges, this is to make travel more convenient. It is the duty of one who rules a province. When Kagekatsu ruled Echigo he did the same; those bridges and roads are still extant. Here in Aizu we already built roads that go to Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, Iwaki, Sōma, Masamune’s territory, Mogami, Yuri, and Senboku, and nobody on the other side of those borders said anything. Incidentally, only the Lord Kenmotsu, Hori Naomasa, has feared this construction and spread various lies that betray a lack of understanding of what befits a warrior. The fact that only Hori Kenmotsu has made an issue of this road construction shows that he is a thoughtless person who knows nothing of the warrior’s way. If Kagekatsu had any evil intent, then Hori would’ve run into border security and adequately prepared defenses. If you doubt this, send messengers to check our border crossings from other provinces, and I believe you will understand.

ITEM: The third month of this year was the requiem for Lord Kenshin. Kagekatsu planned to come to Kyoto after that, in the summer. As he readied his arms and administered his lands’ business of government, messengers came from Ōtani and Mashita, relaying the Interior Minister’s demands that if Kagekatsu had no treacherous aims then he should come to Kyoto. But as you’ve relayed these false charges to us, if you look closely then you’ll know we harbor no deception.

Yet even though we’ve said that Kagekatsu has no traitorous intent, to receive the retort of “if you don’t, then come to Kyoto” is to be treated like a child. This world, where one who until yesterday was a traitor can, feigning ignorance, go to Kyoto and receive a reward, does not suit Kagekatsu. Though the rumors are baseless, if Kagekatsu entered Kyoto in the midst of all these lies about his intent, we would lose all honor earned by generations of Uesugi arms.

So  because you will not confront the people spreading these rumors, then we cannot come to Kyoto.

Kagekatsu is unmistakably right on this matter. We are especially aware that in the middle of the 7th month, Kagekatsu’s vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami left this clan for Edo and then went on to Kyoto. Is Kagekatsu wrong or is Ieyasu dishonest? We will leave it to the world to decide.

ITEM: Many words are unnecessary: Kagekatsu has not a whit of rebellious intent. But we are being set up so as to be unable come to Kyoto, and only be able to come by the Interior Minister’s determination. To remain at home would violate the Taikō’s will, and our pledges have already been ignored. What’s more, it would betray our young master Hideyori. Even if we were to raise our forces and make Kagekatsu ruler of the realm, we would not be able to escape the stigma of being evil men. It would be a shame for all time. Could anyone rebel withour reservations? Rest at ease. But if you believe the words of evil men as being true, then oaths and promises are pointless.

ITEM: Rumors are circulating that Kagekatsu is traitorous. They also claim that he is sending troops to garrison castles, and preparing provisions. These are the baseless words of strangers, so there is no need to heed them.

ITEM: Sending messengers to explain things to the Interior Minister is called for. Incidentally, on both the lies of evil people from beyond our borders, and Uesugi vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami’s betrayal, because Kagekatsu is suspected of treachery, there isn’t anything that can be done. If what I’ve explained above doesn’t clarify things, then there’s nothing more to be said.

ITEM: No matter what, our land is far away, so as you might surmise, the truth about us becomes like lies. It should be needless to say so, but I have written things plainly for your eyes to see.

You know the right and wrong of the world, so I have written this simply. I have voiced most humbly my reservations. To gain your will, I have spoken without concern for any rudeness. Please convey my words.

With reverent esteem.

Keichō 5, 14th of the 4th Month

[26 May 1600]

Naoe Yamashiro no kami

(to) Seishō Jōtai of Hōkō-ji

(Friday Night History) Falconry

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Hawk on Ceremonial Stand, by Katsushika Hokusai. (Image in PD)

Falconry– that is, using trained birds of prey in hunting– has, for a very long time, been a mark of upperclass culture in Japan. The term for this in Japanese is takagari. In the interest of brevity and keeping things as consistent as I can, I’m going to refer to this practice as “falconry” throughout this episode. But regardless of the specific type of bird in question, I’m still talking about takagari.

In terms of the origins of this system, its oldest forms entered Japan via Korea, as did much else in the orbit of the early Yamato court. Much later, starting in the late Heian era, the ascendant warrior caste adopted many of the trappings of court life and culture, falconry among them. And in time, some warrior clans, and the regions they inhabited, came to be known for particularly prized hunting birds. You guessed it– house Date of Sendai had that distinction. No less than all 3 Great Unifiers– Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu even wrote to request hunting birds from this distant clan that was otherwise not particularly politically concerning to them for quite a while. Other clans are also on record as having gifted hunting birds to the Date family– for example, Date Chike Kiroku, the orthodox history of the Date clan, notes that Mogami Yoshiaki, Date Masamune’s maternal uncle, sent a letter to his nephew on 17 September 1586 together with a falcon. At another occasion on 3 November 1588, Date Chike Kiroku notes that

“Three hawks (otaka 雄鷹) arrived from Moniwa, in Natori County. On the same day, Fukuhara Kura presented three skylarks caught by his hawk, to his lordship.”

According to our old standby, folklorist Mihara Ryokichi, there was a falconry center at Kome-ga-fukuro in the Sendai castle town, with a second one– added in the late Edo period– eventually set up in nearby Tsuchitoi. Mihara notes that the birds were treated better than some Date vassals– each one got its own room, and attendants caught the smaller birds that these birds of prey ate. The attendants who caught these small birds for food were called esashi. There were 102 esashi, who followed the Date lord on hunting trips in order to care for these hunting birds. Mihara notes that the esashi were recognizable by their clothing– dark blue cotton happi with a sun disk on the back– and a type of sedge hat called a manju-gasa (pictured, top left).

(Photo by Steven L. Johnson. [CC-2.0 License])

The esashi were organized into 3 units of 34 people each, with one unit commander (yogashira 与頭) and two squad commanders (tokogashira 床頭), under the command of a mid-ranking Date vassal of chakuza 着座 or meshidashi 召出しrank. A different set of personnel, dedicated falconers, who were of slightly higher kumishi rank, trained the falcons. In wartime, the falconers would be elite gunners, while the esashi were spearmen. Despite their critical service in supporting the clan’s falconing needs, the esashi were poor– got paid half a gold ryō a year, though some of them received further allotments of maybe 3 koku a year. I’ve mentioned in the past that low ranking members of the warrior caste were no strangers to the gig economy, and the esashi were no exception– their main side-job for extra income was making paper cords for tying topknots.

So. House Date took its falconry seriously.

But how does falconry work, you might ask? Well, a bird of prey– often a northern goshawk, in Japanese falconry– is trained to hunt smaller prey by being rewarded with food. And if a warrior had the financial wherewithal to be able to afford a hunting bird, they weren’t going to go out and do it alone.

(I mean really. Who do you take them for?)

No, they’re going to do it in style, as with everything else that’s supposed to showcase both their status as well as ensure their security in that status. So, say, a daimyo was on the hunt with a particularly favored hunting bird would also have personal attendants, bodyguards, porters, esashi, and so on– it wasn’t a solo affair at all.

Stick a pin in that one if you would, friends– it’s going to matter in a moment.

When Tokugawa Ieyasu received the title of Shogun from Emperor Goyozei in 1603, he began the process of setting up a legal code that would regulate the affairs of the warrior caste in order to better ensure that the peace bought by his alliances and force of arms would be a lasting one. These laws didn’t just govern military affairs, and they weren’t just a one-off matter either. They were issued in successive waves or editions, and dealt with everything from castle construction to court title usage to the affairs of temples and shrines. Among the many matters they curtailed was the raising and movement of armies and the limits of who was allowed to pursue falconry, and in what manner.

On the level of individual fiefdoms as well as the Shogunate, falconry fields were set up and rangers appointed to manage the game and plant life within. This wasn’t limited to falconry, either– some longtime followers of this podcast from back when it was just a Twitter thread may recall when I talked about the cricket ranges in service to house Date.

But by Shogunate law, there were also limitations on what game was allowed to a daimyo of a given court rank. Date Masamune, despite his efforts at quietly accruing local and international support to conquer Japan, held high court rank, and managed to ingratiate himself with house Tokugawa in part through a shared interest in falconry. Ieyasu himself granted several falconry preserves to house Date as a result, and many were the occasions where Masamune went hunting with Ieyasu. Sometimes, Masamune would also rest on his way to or from Edo in lodgings at one of these falconry preserves, and he didn’t always use a bird to do his hunting– at least one occasion noted in the Date Chike Kiroku and the Date Butoku Ibunroku notes he hunted with a matchlock gun.

But I can hear you saying, “Hey Doc, what was that about entourages and movement of armies?”

Hang on. Wait for it. We’re getting to it, friends, we’re getting to it.

Okay. So.

Large movements of fighting forces were curtailed by Shogunate law, in the interest of keeping the peace. The common expression at the time was that the Shogunate officials at the checkpoints going into Edo were to watch for “guns going in and women going out.” Now sure, a lord’s entourage to and from the capital was also armed, but it was there more for show of status than actual application as a large, organized fighting force. But the Shogunate still expected the daimyo to be able to field a fighting force on the Shogunate’s behalf if called upon. So, bearing in mind the point I often bring up– the one argued by Luke Roberts in Performing the Great Peace– the appearance of following the rules was more important than actually following the rules. Daimyo consequently had to find ways of skirting the rules to make up for that disconnect.

In house Date, one of the ways that that was made up for was by using falconry as a cover for field exercises. There were a number of places where this was done, one of them being Matsumori Castle, just north of the Sendai Castle town and located astride the Oshu Highway just north of the Nanakita River. Matsumori Castle was a small fortification once controlled by the Kokubun family, which had over time become mediated (that is, absorbed into) the Date clan, and by the late 16th century was ruled by Masamune’s uncle, Kokubun Morishige. Date forces would go there more than once a year, but the first time in a given year was in every New Year’s holiday, on the third day of the first month, for what was called Nohajime (野始め “first field”)․ As noted above, the daimyo didn’t travel alone on hunting trips, so it was only proper for the daimyo’s entourage to accompany him or his duly appointed substitute on this excursion. Ostensibly a hunting trip, it was in actuality a chance for the clan’s fighting forces to get practice maneuvering, scouting, and shooting. Date was not even the only clan to do this– house Matsudaira of nearby Aizu domain is another major example of a clan that had a similar practice.

Until the late Edo period, when there were less and less restrictions the fiefdoms actually paid attention to, it did the trick.

Today, large troop movements in Japan aren’t disguised as hunting trips, but are no less rare. And while the warrior caste no longer exists, a dedicated community of trained and licensed experts keeps the art of falconry alive. You can visit the homepage of the Nihon Houyou Kyoukai at site.falconry.jp


  • Date Butoku Ibunroku, p. 26.
  • Date Chike Kiroku 1, p. 247, 313, 460
  • ”Kokubun-shi.” http://www2.harimaya.com/sengoku/html/kokub_k.html Accessed 20 May 2021.
  • Mihara Ryōkichi. Kyodoshi Sendai Mimibukuro. (Sendai: Hobundo, Showa 58 [1983]), pp. 59-62.
  • Nihon Houyou Kyoukai. site.falconry.jp Accessed 20 May 2021.
  • Noriko Otsuka. “Falconry: Tradition and Acculturation.” International Journal of Sport and Health Science 2006 Volume 4 Issue Special Issue 2006. Pages 198-207.