I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

伊賀上野、三重県 (Iga-Ueno, Mie Prefecture)

Ueno-jo (上野城)

With my cousin Winston in town to visit, we natrually decided to take him far away from Kusatsu in order to give him a pleasant taste of the country. The monkeys, the snow-shuddedring Suzuka (鈴鹿) mountains, and the 1 liter vending machine purchasable cans of beers are just too vital to the Japan experience––we couldn't let him leave empty handed!
In sooth we headed out to the city appelled of Ueno in a northern valley of Mie to visit the "home of ninja." Winston has long pursued an interest in ninja history, culture, and lifestyle, and Katie and I were also intrigued to learn more about the mysterious stealth and secrecy behind the Iga Ninja clans.

We seem innocent, but wow, are you in for trouble. Katie has all of China's nuclear weapons, the ghost of Saddam Huessein, and about 50 suidice bombers under her hat.

Here is the ninja mentality. When the Samurai and fuedal lords began using their authority irresponsibly, many families decided to separate from mainstream society and develop an independent form of self-governence in rural and mountainous areas. Nijustsu arose as a means of defending themselves and their communities from governing classes who wanted to claim taxes and assert power over all within reach. Their guerilla tactics arose out of necessity, driven by the needs of self-defense and survival. At the same time, many ninjas also rented their knowledge of disguise and stealth and became assassins to abet warring samurai lords. Many a ninja were hired for mercenary duties that the proud samurai would not deign to perform due to their strict ethical code.

Sorcery and subterfuge!!!!

The Iga ninjas were finally destroyed in a series of attacks by a daimyo (fuedal lord) named Oda Nobunaga. His initial army of 4,000 warriors died and failed to conquer the Iga ninja and allies. However, a second wave of approximately 40,000 soldiers did the job, and almost entirely destroyed the surrounding villages. Some families who knew the secret of the ninja escaped and continued to practice their ways in nearby mountains.
This is by no means an entire history of ninja, only a very brief and non-expert look that I got from a few hours in Iga. But two interesting questions I thought of are;

1) What is it in human beings that makes them believe they need to rule over others? Why did the landowners during fuedal times need to control entire valleys and ranges? Why have humans always tried to take and enslave each other? Why does one man's power (in the example of this story, the samurai) derive from the number of people he can kill?

A samurai warriors helmet. I can see how this thing could literally ignite one's sense of self-righteousness. I'll bet decapitating someone while wearing this crown of Prometheus would feel pretty empowering.

Maybe we should call Freud back for this one. Or Jenna Jameson...

2) Why did the ninjas, who left the samurai realms to begin a simpler and more peaceful life, allow themselves to become tools for the samurai and very people they despised? If the ninja families truly wished to remove themselves from land struggles and warring egos, why did they reenter that society and attack it?

I know that those staunchly destructive samurai and the meddlesome ninja who did these things were not the sole representatives of their populations. But these questions should be more often attempted and pondered because these are the types of personalities who have been warring and causing the overwhelming majority of manmade casualities throughout history. The ultimate question that this leads to, one that most people hopefully do not have an automatic answer, is what ideals are worth killing for? Who, if anyone, deserves to have authority?

I elect these two strapping chaps! They sure appear trustworthy and as common as flies on a mule's ass, or rabies in a junkyard rat. I vote for Captain Pringles and his sidekicks, the 1 liter beers (with the Winston-Salem team as their understudies).

As always, I would love to hear some responses to these querries; either personally or on the blog here. Thanks for listening.

The remaining photographs are taken in and around Ueno Castle (上野城). This was actually one of the most decorated of any Japanese castle I've visited so far, as the photos reveal. Unfortunately I do not yet know the proper names for many of these object––the helmets, the human carrier, etc.––but as soon as I learn I will update those portions.


This is a hybrid of classical Japanese symbolism: the red rising sun eclipsed with a rane in mid-flight.

High tech S&M equipment. I do NOT want to play anymore!

Another Taiko (太鼓) bass drum

This was used to transport the Daimyo and other fuedal lords. The cramped space, unfortunately difficult to capture on camera, gives a good perception of human evolution over merely the past 4-500 years. I know I have a different point of reference, but this device looks more like a torture device that a vehicle of transportation. On another note, I think it's a shame that luxury kills a person's motivation to use his own body.


Blogger Dr. Gn Sulpicius Rufus said...

Well, let's see:

1) a. Kabuto is the name of a samurai helmet. In all actuality, you can just say "helmet" or if you're wanting to get more speicific, it's a "bowl helmet with decorative mask". Bowl because of the basis of the helmet design, with the red neck guard which was supposed to make one look more like a demon. b. Screw the Japanese: it's called a litter, and people who carried it were litter-bearers. It was extremely popular in Japan where roads were too marshy for wheeled transport, and cities in many cities throughout the medieval and ancient worlds.
2) From what I remember, ninja were guerrilla tacticians, but on the whole were just stealthy bastards in people's armies who would spy on the opposition. Assassinations were not the forte of the Japanese; spying was more important, and the tactics were only for evasion and not frontal combat. Samurai were as dirty as ninja: on the equavalency, samurai could take down ninja as good if not better. The legendary status developed after the establishment of the ninja clans who did the bidding of the emperor after the formation of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

At least that's what I remember. I haven't investigated it in a while.

3) Power is sweet, man. Power is security, even if it paradoxically provides none and makes one a target. I can't comment on the context I think you're speaking from: I'm really trying to pull myself into the present culture which is beginning to diverge into one omnicultural context. Power is sweet; I think that's the only answer to that.

4) Why did the Tibetans decide to be used as mercenaries, then take over part of China and fall because their lands were too lucrative? Power, money, and culture is sweet. The Romans fell under their own hubris once they struck down Carthage and Macedonia; a bunch of pasturalists with moot international aspirations suddenly rule the world and mutate into the Roman aristos who split entire countries to compete for one another. There's no incentive to work together; power is great and sweet.

5) I would definitely kill someone who was threatening me or people I know. Actually, I would take out about half the population. I think we've talked about this, though it wouldn't be through mass murder but concentrating on the individual over the next few centuries. That's at least what I'm thinking.

2:12 PM

Blogger Salem Willard said...

Dr. Snuffulufagus,
Given the style of response #5, you should see this anime series called "Death Note". It's about a high school senior who finds a book (delivered by a death god) that allow him to kill any person of whom he knows the name and face. He begins by killing all convicted criminals in prison, people who've escaped due to loopholes in the law, people the world would be better off without (I really don't see why we don't just ship them to Australia like we used to). It's pretty amazing, full of strange twists and 100+ manga books. Right now they are working on an anime series that has become so popular it is already being dubbed and displayed in America right now, I believe. Unfortuately only 18 episodes have been shown on TV and realeased on the internet––there are around 60 total!
Anyway Sean, you would make a good キラ ("Kira"=Japanese English for killer, as I'm sure you know but others may not)...I think. To get a more complete answer I will need to rummage freely around your room for 15 minutes with the Big Five Inventory. But I've been there, and I'm pretty sure it's more or less the same. I give you the キラ approval.


8:42 AM


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