Katana : Japanese traditional sword – Part 2 –
Katana : Japanese sword (2)
Japanese swords are famous as samurai’s weapons, but was it impossible for common people like farmers to own them?
Japanese swords for civilians
If you have seen an old film “Shichinin no samurai” (Seven samurai) by Akira Kurosawa, you might think that Japanese farmers in the old times haven’t got proper weapons to protect themselves, let alone the knowledge of how to fight.
In the film, farmers in a small village suffered from frequent looting by a bunch of lordless samurai, and they wanted to hire skilled samurai who could fight against the villains for them.
The story seems to take place in 1586
*, the “Sengoku” (Warring States) period.
In fact, there were lots of battles everywhere as you can imagine from the name of the period, so most of the farmers had got their weapons including Japanese swords and they did fight against authorities when necessary.
There were leagues which local lords, merchants, farmers and / or “ji-zamurai” (local samurai) organised, and some of them raised riots.
The word “ikki” refers to the leagues and their activities, but probably many Japanese think of riots by those leagues.
One of the most famous “ikki” in the “Sengoku” period is “Ikkou-ikki” (Ikkou revolts).
“Ikkou” is abbreviated word for “Ikkou-shuu”, a sect of Buddhism.
People including samurai who believed in the religion revolted against feudal warlords.
They were quite powerful, and even occupied a province of “Kaga” (southern part of present “Ishikawa”) once.
Nobunaga Oda had great difficulties and it took ten years to overpower those “Ikkou” people.
In 1588, Hideyoshi Toyotomi ordered “Katana-gari” (sword hunt), seizing weapons from civilians to avoid those kind of troubles and to separate people from different classes much more clearly.
Later in Edo era, travelers were allowed to carry “waki-zashi” to protect themselves.
Also, some civilians were given a permission to have their own family name and carry two swords, katana and waki-zashi, like samurai from the government to praise their achievement and / or good behaviours.
You can tell this from the line by Kanbei, the leader of samurai, speaking to Kikuchiyo, a samurai imposter.
The line is like “You are born in February 17 in 1574. This means you are 13 years old this year.”
You may say “1574 + 13 = 1587, so “this year” in the film must be 1587!”
However, before adopting a solar calendar in 1873, everyone got old on January 1 no matter when your birthday was, and every new-born baby was one year old (there were no zero year old baby).
This age-counting method is called as “kazoe-doshi” (lit. counting age).
The “kazoe-doshi” method was still commonly used even after the government established a law in 1902 to adopt Western system of counting age solely and exclusively.
So, the government had to enact another law in 1950 to encourage people to use Western age-counting system instead of “kozoe-doshi”.
Thus, if Kurosawa intended to make a film as authentic as possible, it should be 1586.
I believe Kurosawa had tried to be true to the history, because I’ve heard he was such a perfectionist that he prepared a real letter in an envelope to use for a film, in spite of the fact he just needed the envelope.
(It was the same for the audience whether a letter was there or not, because inside of the envelope was never shown.)
And the film has the reputation as a very well researched creation.
So, it was a big surprise when I knew that the very basic setting – helpless farmers hired samurai to protect their village – was quite improbable whether the story took place in 1586 or 1587 (it was clearly before “katana-gari” in 1588).
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