Questions & Answers

• Samurai

Q: Why did samurai have odd hairdo like that?


Answer: There's no accepted notion about the bizarre custom.The most plausible reason was that Sengoku warriors needed to cool theirs helmet-covered heads during the battle. And this hair style became sophisticated in the Edo Period, symbolizing respectable samurai .
To fix the hairdo, they first shaved the hair at the top while leaving the long hair around the ears (just call to mind Predator in the movie without headgear.) Then the long hair was gathered at the top of head to tie a harmonica-like topknot.

Q:Are there people who have samurai spirit in today's Japan?

Answer: One person comes across my mind. His name is Ochiai Hiromitsu, a well known ball player in Japan, and he won triple crown third times, field manager of Chunichi Dragons as of 2011. He has a samurai spirit for good or ill. His peculiar behavior attracted much attention and sometimes caused controversy. Throughout his career as a ball player and manager, he concentrated his endeavor on the things that he considered useful in bringing victory to his team.

For example, when he was field manager, he relieved a pitcher who was close to accomplishing a no-hitter with the firm commitment to his team's victory. No field manager would do that, but he did and got criticized as being inhumane. He said he was hired to bring victory to the team, and didn't say much more. He won the devision title four times and brought the championship victory in Japan Series once. He is a victory supremacist because he said he was paid for it, he is taciturn, and hates such things as lobbying to promote baseball like other leading persons in the business.

He is a real fighter. He is disliked and feared by many, and respected by a few. But that's what samurai was all about. I believe he is a monument to samurai spirit. Generally speaking, the number of people who have samurai spirit and act accordingly is very small. They are an endangered species in today's Japan. I think this is because their fervent, sometimes intolerant, independent spirit does not go along with the capitalist society, and their inherently radical attitude constitutes barriers to their promotion in the skillfully organized bureaucratic society, preventing them from exerting any influence.

Q:How well did a Japanese sword (Katana) cut?

Answer: If used by a sword master, it's said to be able to cut the opponent literally in two with a single stroke. If used poorly by an average samuai, it bent, broke off, and got saw-edged quite easily, making it an awkward weapon to use. In short, the performance of Japanese swords depended largely on the skill of the user. But its portability, versatility, and long-reach advantage made it the most popular weapon in the Japanese history.

Q: How long should I need to practice to be able to use the sword as is intended?

Answer: I'm no expert on martial arts, but it would take at least five years subject to the training under a swordplay master.

Q: How did they defeat the enemy in armor using Japanese swords?

Answer: Since Japanese swords weren't sturdy enought to withstand the shock of beating, they developed special skills to cut or thrust the unguarded parts of enemy body (like the thumb, instep, groin, armpit, etc.) or shoot out through the gap between armor components.

Q: In samurai dramas, samurai wore long and short swords. Do they use them at the same time?

Answer: Generally speaking, they're used seperately. In Sengoku, they used the short one in the hand-to-hand combat or to cut off enemy heads. In the peaceful Edo period, the short sword (called wakizashi or Kodachi) was supposed to be used under the roof to minimize the interference from the pillars and partitions.

There were swordsmen who could use the long and short sword at the same time with the long one in one hand and the short one in the other. This skill was called "Nitoryu" (two swords fighting style), but it remained outside the mainstream of swordplay. Miyamoto Musashi was known as a master of Nitoryu.

Q: Did samurai have three names?

Answer: Yes. The first one was the family name. In early times the second name often showed the title given by the court, but later they used the middle name of their choice related to the places they lived, ancesters' court titles, fathers' names, bynames, etc. The third name, being an official name, was used in the limited occasions like Imperial events or after death.

In samurai dramas and novels, they are usually called by the combination of the first and the third names. This is because the second names, particularly of historical figures, changed many times in their lifetime, making the faithful reproduction impossible and meaningless entertainment-wise.

Q: Could a sword master win out in the fight with many samurai opponents, like ten or more?

Answer: I'm afraid I don't know. My guess is like fifty-fifty, depending on his fighting style and the skills and type of weapons the enemy had. If the master was skillful enough to try to focus on putting the opponents out of action by, say, cutting their thumbs, arms, legs, carotid arteries, etc, there may have been a chance of his winning.

Q: War paintings on the folding screens depict many foot soldiers wearing humble armor. Are they samurai too?

Answer: No. Most of them are drafted or volunteer foot soldiers called "ashigaru or zohyo". In addition to the role as a main force of the troop, they took care of transportation, construction of roads and fortresses, not to mention chors of all sorts.

Under the deteriorating social enviroment, long-running cool weather and resulting starvation in medieval times, they did many bad things with abandon. The worst zohyo were not so much soldiers as bandit members. Those foot soldiers who were so lucky and gifted as to survive and win fame at the battlefield were promoted to the samurai class. Many of the samurai in the Edo period descended from those foot solidiers.

Q: Why did samurai kill himself?


Case 1) The losing castle commander in chief did it to finalize the battle and save his followers' lives.

Case 2) The samurai of defeated troops who had no way-out did it to die a glorious death. To get killed by enemy foot soldiers was considered disgraceful.

Case 3) The samurai who misconducted himself in the master-servant relationship did it to die as the samurai.

Case 4) The samurai who was sentenced to die on ground of military offense did it to die a glorious death.

Q: Why did samurai choose Harakiri from among many methods much easier to kill himself?

Answer: Since ancient times the abdomen had been thought where the real self resided. The act of cutting it and showing its inside demonstrated that he was fair and square being true to his name. And there's one more reason. To die in Harakiri was an extremely agonizing method of killing oneself, and the samurai adopted the most detestable method to prove his valor.

Q: Was it really possible to die by cutting one's abdomen himself?

Answer: From I read I should say yes. If he cut deeply into it, he could die of shock death due to major bleeding. But there were cases where the cut was not deep enough and they could not die immediately, causing them to thrash about with pain for a couple of days. To eliminate the ungainliness like this, they asked someone to deliver the fatal blow by beheading them. It's called "Kaishaku", and was anything but a shame, indicating how difficult it was to die in Harakiri.

When there was no suitable person around, they chose other methods like cutting in the throat. In the peaceful Edo period, they just pretended to cut it, and the beheading samurai (Kaishaku-nin) completed the Harakiri ritual.

Q: You look like you love to talk about death, Harakiri, and cruel things. Aren't you a horror freak?

Answer: I don't think I am. The fact is I cannot talk about samurai spirit without taking into account the fear of death and physical pain. Living side by side with the thought of death they built up tough samuai spirit which is not only mental attitude but also their code of conduct.

• Ninja

Q: Did ninjas skulk up and down wearing black outfits and masks all the time?


Answer: No. The black outfits were worn when they did the job of ninja seriously like attacking a fortress as a squad, or sneaking into a castle guarded by enemy ninjas. Usually, they lived a normal life wearing a disguise of merchants, street performers, sarugaku actors, monks, farmers, wood choppers, craftmen, etc. Beside black outfits, there were mazarine, and dark brown outfits.

Q: Is it true that they could take a leap from tall trees, or high-jump the walls of three or more meters in height?

Answer: Even ninja could not go against the laws of nature. And they didn't take an unneccessary risk. If there's a high wall ahead, they would shin up in silence instead of clearing it by high jump, or go with their fellows and cooperate with each other like a cheerleader squad.

Q: I want to jump high like ninja. Please give me advise.

Answer: Get some seeds of hemp (choose nonnarcotic hemp) and sow them in the backyard. When they grow to one meter high, it's the time you should start high-jump training. Simply continue to high-jump the seedlings every day. They grow swiftly to reach a height of four meters in four months, and you will have become a top athlete by then. This is said to be the way ninja practiced high-jump. Good luck!

Q: Which is stronger, a ninja fighter or K-1 fighter?

Answer: K-1 will. Ninja per se were not so strong. They live in the darkness, not in the spotlighed, caged ring.

Q: Which is stronger, a ninja or samurai?

Answer: If a ninja agent saw his samurai opponent weaker than him, he would go at him and win. If he saw the samurai as strong as or stronger than him, he would simply get away, and come back with some measures to outmanuever the opponent. I cannot tell which was stronger, because they were not supposed to fight on the same footing.

Q: How effective was shuriken (a ninja star)?

Answer: Its hit probability was said to be about five out of ten at a distance of three meters. Double-edged, straight shuriken seems to be able to cut deeper into the opponent than the star shuriken, but it's not certain because the straight shuriken must be thrown with adjusted power so as to point the tip exactly to the target. Shuriken was sometimes poisoned with numbing agent, and didn't need to get stuck deep in the opponent. Please remember that ninjutsu included medication.