Archive for February, 2012

Preparations for the Journey

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

I wrote, before, that being selected to represent Clan Noriaibasha at the warriors’ gathering in Hiroshima is a great honor. And so it is — but it also means that I must spend some time preparing! Akane is busy packing my luggage for the long journey. Since I will be representing the clan, and will probably have to attend various social functions, I must bring at least one formal kimono. I will also need food for the journey, and tabiThe split-toed boots commonly worn by ninjasthe split-toed boots commonly worn by ninjas that slip off easily for occasions when the Emperor’s guards inspect the carriage at checkpoints… It is quite a lot to prepare, and I have not much time.

Aside from that, I must have all our opposition in Ogaribamen cleared away before I go. Otherwise, Makishi and his team will not be able to do their work in my absence.

Since Amon and the people of Clan Hekoayu are still identifying exactly who our opponents are, this makes my life quite difficult. I have been given very little time to find and kill these people. It seems every day, I receive new orders: “The twin rōninA masterless samurai, effectively an independent sword-for-hire. A samurai could become a rōnin if his lord died, or if his lord became displeased with him and effectively fired him. During the Sengoku Jidai, things were very loose, and some samurai voluntarily left their lords and went in search of other opportunities, becoming rōnin temporarily until they could find new lords. Some peasants even declared themselves to be samurai, and then went in search of lords to take them in — for them, being a rōnin was a step in their personal advancement plans.

The word rōnin literally means “wave-man”: the image is of a man who wanders endlessly, without direction, like a wave on the ocean. At the end of Pulp Fiction, when Jules Winnfield says his plan is to “walk the earth… like Caine from Kung Fu”, he’s effectively saying he’s going to become a modern rōnin after leaving Marsellus Wallace’s service.A masterless samurai; a wandering warrior whose sword was for hire.s? They are still targets, but now you must kill them separately, not together!” — “Don’t worry about the enemy ninja who wears the signs of Ten and One; he can wait for later.” — “The two merchants, the fat one in the green kimono and his skinny partner in blue. They must both die as soon as possible!” “Will Friday suffice?” “Can you make sure it’s done tomorrow? Preferably in the morning.”

Amid all this chaos, I persevere.

I Am Honored to Go to a Warriors’ Gathering

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In every town and city in Nippon, in these days of eternal strife, one can find the Mōjin fightersaccessibility issues and outright accessibility bugsaccessibility issues and outright accessibility BUGS. They are always ready to attack an unwary warrior. Like ninjas, they like to operate in stealth; they will never attack a target who has his wits about him. It is only the unwary who fall prey to their surprises.

But how to be on guard against them? Their tactics are strange, and their ways unknown to most fighters.

There will be a gathering of warriors and strategists soon, to discuss this very question. Many sages, fighting monks, and senseiA Japanese word for “teacher”, though it is also often used in the specific sense of “teacher of martial arts”.A Japanese word for “teacher”, though it is also often used in the specific sense of “teacher of martial arts”.s will be there, ready to teach and explain the techniques they have developed. It is some distance to travel, for the gathering is in Hiroshima, on the shore of the Seto Inland Sea, far west of Kansai.

We cannot send all of the fighters on the Keitai team to this gathering (much though we wish we could!). Kento regrets that he cannot go. But I am one of the warriors who had been honored by being chosen to go and represent Clan Noriaibasha. Along with Satonori, I am instructed to train and learn, and bring back the teachings to Tsukimi’s team.

Along with us two ninjas, the clan is also sending Jun-ichi the scout, who has shown himself to be quite expert at spotting the Mōjin, and his friend Daichi, a monk of the Amidist branch of Buddhism, sworn to serve the needs of the poor and dispossessed.

Thought Jun-ichi and Daichi will be helpful, still Satonori and I are the only warriors attending from Noriaibasha. Being chosen is an honor, and it shows that I am well-regarded.

The Ninja Perseveres, Even Despite Sickness

Monday, February 13th, 2012

This weekend would have been quite pleasant, except that I got sick during it. I tried for some time to tell myself that I was not ill. “It is merely allergies,” I claimed, as I sniffled and blew my nose.

This morning, it was impossible to deny that I have been afflicted by a cold of some sort. But it was also impossible to deny that I must come to Castle Noriaibasha, get my kamaTechnically, a kama is simply a farming tool. It’s like a sickle, or a small, one-handed scythe. Since farmers make up a huge segment of feudal Japan’s population, there’s nothing suspicious about carrying one around. And ninjas like to avoid suspicion.

If you take a chain with a weight or hook on its end and attach that to a kama, you’ve got a kusarigama… much more useful as a weapon, but also obviously a ninja weapon, instead of a farming tool.A farming tool, like a sickle or a small, one-handed scythe. Commonly used by ninjas because they arouse no suspicion – farmers are everywhere, after all., and then go off to Ogaribamen and see how many enemies I can kill. It is critical that I make as much progress as I can, for tomorrow, I must return to the Emperor’s court, and operations in Sanigata are about to fall behind schedule.

So I am here today. Despite the rain, I left my home and came here to the castle. I have my kama sharpened, and am ready to depart for Ogaribamen, with my straw cloak pulled tightly about me to try to keep me as warm and dry as possible.

It turns out that Sakito is not here today — he is sick. So is Ginsaku. And Kento says he is working elsewhere, at his own home. I can only wonder if perhaps he is afflicted, as well?

No matter. To Ogaribamen I go, and when the day is over, I will go home and Akane says she will make soup for me.

Summoned to the Emperor’s Court

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Tomorrow was supposed to involve a meeting in the morning to discuss how the Saitekika campaign would affect issues in Ōtsu, then another meeting with Clan Hekoayu in the afternoon. The second one would be fairly important, as we are planning to expand our campaign beyond Sanigata and into a new region, called Zaiseikyōiku. We have many questions to ask Hekoayu about their strategy recommendations, and this meeting would be the time to ask them.

But no course ever runs smoothly. I have been called to the Emperor’s court tomorrow. I must appear at lunchtime, and be ready to bear witnessjury dutyjury duty to the proceedings of the court. I must be very careful not to bring any weapons with me — not even by accident! The Emperor’s guards are very strict.

Because of this, I must miss the important afternoon meeting. I have been going over Hekoayu’s scrolls of strategy, and I have written a list of questions for Kento and Amon to ask the Hekoayu representatives. That is the best I can do.

An Assignment Full of Blood

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There is a small city in Sanigata called Ogaribamen, which we must soon take control of as part of the Saitekika campaign. For the past few days, I have been tasked with trying to devise a way for my fellow-ninja, Sakito, and I to collaborate on this task.

Today I have new orders: I am to go there myself. Alone. Once there, I should scout around enough to find all our opposition — then, slay them all! It seems Sakito is busy at the moment, and Kento is confident in my ability to kill our enemies without needing assistance.

Just the sort of assignment I enjoy. The only way it could be any better is if Ogaribamen were a large enough city to make rooftop fighting practical. But, as it stands, there are a fair number of enemies there. Soon, I will have them all identified. And shortly after that — most likely, tomorrow — the carnage will begin.

Added a little later: I have arrived in Ogaribamen, found a good sushi restaurant, and gotten myelf lunch. (One of the most tragic things about winter’s coldness is that it makes it too cold to really enjoy sushi. But now spring is on the rise, and we are having the first, early, warm days!)

Now I am sitting at a table outside the restaurant, calmly eating my sushi… and watching the town’s activity around me. I have spotted a few Ayamari already, as well as members of the Shōgakukin and Taishoku clans, who we often have to battle against. This is the art of hiding in plain sight, scouting the enemy while being unseen.

But now my sushi is done, so I must go.

The Jōgehyō Are Very Tough

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

I have been watching the Jōgehyō army from various vantage points for a couple of days now. Including watching them train and spar. Finally, I decided I must engage one of them in combat to gain a true knowledge of their mettle.

I waited until one was separated from his comrades, then got ahead of him. I could easily have jumped him from behind, but not everyone in Noriaibasha’s armies is a ninja. Many of our warriors would have to deal with the Jōgehyō face-to-face, without the benefit of surprise.

So I dropped from a roof to the street about ten feet in front of him, said, “I challenge you. One on one!” as I drew my kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
, and then attacked as I saw he was ready.

After all, I was there to test his combat skills, not his ability to detect stealthy observers.

His combat skills were… quite good. For an hour we battled, blocking and thrusting, chains whirling as we sought to tear each other’s flesh with our grappling hooks. In the end, I was able to take him down, of course.

But it was not at all easy.

The Jōgehyō do not control much territory. Though fighting these valiant warriors would be excellent practice and bring me much honor, it is not an appropriate use of my time and skills. I have reported to Kento, and he has decided that we will tell Clan Hekoayu: We are not going to battle the Jōgehyō. The strategies of the Saitekika campaign should be adjusted accordingly.

Trying the Katana, One Last Time

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Back when I was a yamabushiThe yamabushi were (and still are) a group of mystical ascetics who live high in the mountains, practicing a nature-based spiritual path called Shugendō. In the world of the ninja coder, they’re invaluable to any clan that aims to conquer more than a tiny territory, because their knowledge of the trails and mountain passes is critical for moving troops and supplies from place to place. The word “yamabushi” is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man.Mystical mountain warriors who know the trails and passes in the mountains, and can help clans move troops and supplies around. The word “yamabushi” is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man., I met a woman named Kaoru, who also followed the Way of ShugendōThe mystical path or religion practiced by the yamabushi.The mystical path or religion practiced by the yamabushi.. She is from the Kōga region, just north of Iga Province. She and I were never of the same band of yamabushi, but we got along well, and have occasionally stayed in touch.

Recently, I heard that she was to begin teaching some basic classes in the use of the katana. I once tried to learn to use that noble blade, back when I first began my path as a warrior. I have since discovered that my own natural inclinations lean much more toward other weapons, such as the ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”., sansetsukonA three-sectional staff. Looks vaguely like a nunchaku with an extra section. Famously used as an intimidation technique by one of the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who smiled evilly and then folded it up into a coat-hanger.

Three-sectional staff; weapon that looks like a nunchaku with three sticks instead of two., and manrikigusariA chain weapon with weights at both ends, which can be used for striking or entangling.A ninja weapon consisting of a length of chain with stuff at one or both ends. Generally has weights at both ends, but occasionally one weight will be replaced by a hook. The weapon can be used for entangling (by wrapping a weight around an enemy’s limb) or for a direct strike with one of the weights. It can also be used to entangle an enemy’s weapon with one end, then strike the enemy’s body with the weight on the other end. They hate that.

When the chain has one end attached to a kama, it’s known as a kusari-gama. (Kusari means “chain”; when it’s the second item in a compound word, it becomes -gusari. Similarly, kama becomes -gama in compounds.)
. But I still feel that I failed by not learning the katana.

Today she started her course, and I have decided I will give it one more try. But if my life becomes too busy, I will give myself permission to leave the class, and not consider it dishonor. After all, I have so many other things I must do, as well!

(Such as my Kongōshu style. I must continue working on that…)

A Very Important Reconnaissance Mission

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Clan Hekoayu has identified a particular group in the territory we are planning to capture. They are called the Jōgehyō army, and they have a very unorthodox fighting style. They are skilled with kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
s, like me — and they are fierce and wary.

We may not have to enter combat with them. If we do, we may not be able to beat them easily.

My task is to try find out what our options are. if we determine that the Jōgehyō would be too much effort, then we will have to tell Hekoayu to change all their plans that involve that area.

Unfortunately, I have a meeting (yes, another meeting!) in less than an hour… so my scouting will have to wait until Monday.

Beware the Tricks of Tanuki

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I have a shameful confession to make. It is an explanation for why I have been so quiet.

Last week, as I was preparing to leave Hoshiakari and go to Castle Noriaibasha, there was a knock at the door. “Who can that be?” I wondered, and opened it… to find a short, plump traveler in a straw hat.

“Pardon me, good sir,” he said, “would you happen to have any sake you can spare?”

“Is it not early in the morning for drinking?” I asked.

“Perhaps you may be right. Then might I trouble you for some tea?” he continued, insistently.

I felt wary, but… I would not wish to begrudge a traveler such simple comforts. “Wait here, and I will bring you a cup,” I said. I turned away to the kitchen. When I looked back, the traveler was in my living room! Bouncing a small golden ball!

“You should not be inside my house!” I told him. “I asked you to wait outside. It is a pleasant morning.”

“But I am inside,” he cried. “You let me in!” He laughed, and his face melted into the wide-eyed, short-snouted, furry face of a tanukiAn animal native to Japan, usually translated “raccoon-dog”. In folklore, tanuki are tricksters, known for their shapeshifting abilities and powers of illusion. They are mischievous, but usually not physically dangerous. They also have very large testicles and scrotums, and are able to expand and distort them to the point that they can use them as backpacks, drums, boats, and even houses.An animal native to Japan, usually translated “raccoon-dog”. In folklore, tanuki are tricksters, known for their shapeshifting abilities and powers of illusion. They are mischievous, but usually not physically dangerous. They also have very large testicles and scrotums, and are able to expand and distort them to the point that they can use them as backpacks, drums, boats, and even houses. — then he bolted past me, out the door, and ran away, quick as a whirlwind.

A tanuki! I knew I was in trouble now. Carefully, I checked around the house to see if anything was missing.

I quickly found the problem: My ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”. was covered with rust. In fact, it was completely turned into rust, as if it had forged from pure rust in the first place! And my kamaTechnically, a kama is simply a farming tool. It’s like a sickle, or a small, one-handed scythe. Since farmers make up a huge segment of feudal Japan’s population, there’s nothing suspicious about carrying one around. And ninjas like to avoid suspicion.

If you take a chain with a weight or hook on its end and attach that to a kama, you’ve got a kusarigama… much more useful as a weapon, but also obviously a ninja weapon, instead of a farming tool.A farming tool, like a sickle or a small, one-handed scythe. Commonly used by ninjas because they arouse no suspicion – farmers are everywhere, after all.… its blade was bent into a knot! And every one of my manrikigusariA chain weapon with weights at both ends, which can be used for striking or entangling.A ninja weapon consisting of a length of chain with stuff at one or both ends. Generally has weights at both ends, but occasionally one weight will be replaced by a hook. The weapon can be used for entangling (by wrapping a weight around an enemy’s limb) or for a direct strike with one of the weights. It can also be used to entangle an enemy’s weapon with one end, then strike the enemy’s body with the weight on the other end. They hate that.

When the chain has one end attached to a kama, it’s known as a kusari-gama. (Kusari means “chain”; when it’s the second item in a compound word, it becomes -gusari. Similarly, kama becomes -gama in compounds.)
’s links had been turned into a loop of udonVery thick Japanese noodles, made from buckwheat flour. Imagine spaghetti, only each strand is about a half-inch thick. (This makes them thick enough to match the metal in a sturdy chain, doesn’t it?)Very thick Japanese noodles, made from buckwheat flour. Imagine spaghetti, only each strand is about a half-inch thick. noodle. The Jeikyū grappling hook had been turned into an artful bouquet of flowers.

As for my sansetsukonA three-sectional staff. Looks vaguely like a nunchaku with an extra section. Famously used as an intimidation technique by one of the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who smiled evilly and then folded it up into a coat-hanger.

Three-sectional staff; weapon that looks like a nunchaku with three sticks instead of two.… in that case, the tanuki left the metal fittings alone, but the wood was transformed into nattōA Japanese foodstuff, made of partially fermented soybeans. It is very much an acquired taste… and Ichirō has not acquired it.

If you wish to know more, Wikipedia can help.A Japanese foodstuff, made of partially fermented soybeans. It is very much an acquired taste… and Ichirō has not acquired it.. As was my bō staffA fighting staff, generally about six feet long. Similar to the European quarterstaff. Often carried by mountain men and travellers as well as dedicated warriors.A fighting staff, generally about six feet long. Similar to the European quarterstaff. Often carried by mountain men and travellers as well as dedicated warriors., which was thankfully outside in the yard at the time.

I had no time to weep over my now-weaponless state. I had to go to Castle Noriaibasha and perform my daily duties there. Since the clan supplies the weapons I must use on their behalf, I was able to do my work. But for the past few days, I have come home every evening and been very occupied with trying to restore my own weapons.

I have had to cut and whittle new kama handles. I have had to visit the blacksmith’s shop to have him forge me new blades, and new chains, and a new grappling hook. My new bō is now ready, and the blacksmith will have my sansetsukon done tomorrow.

I will be much more wary of tanuki in the future.