Posts Tagged ‘heralds’

An Unfamiliar Face From a Familiar, Old Clan

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

I arrived at Castle Noriaibasha this morning to find a priestess waiting in the courtyard… with a variety of food. “Good morning!” she said brightly, and offered me some.

There were rice and eggs, takuana type of Japanese pickle, often eaten as a traditional breakfast fooda type of Japanese pickle, often eaten as a traditional breakfast food and umeboshia pickled plum, a traditional Japanese food often eaten as part of breakfast or luncha pickled plum, a traditional Japanese food often eaten as part of breakfast or lunch. There was tamagoyakiJapanese omeletJapanese omelet, and miso soup, and even nattoA traditional Japanese food made of partially-fermented soybeans. It’s hard to describe; Wikipedia may be helpful.A traditional Japanese food made of partially-fermented soybeans., for those who like such things. And there were both broiled salmon and mackerel! But who was this woman, and why should I eat her food?

It turns out her name is Kaori (not to be mistaken for Kaoru, the yamabushi who’s teaching a katana course!), and she is one of the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi., the clan of heralds who placed me with Clan Noriaibasha in the first place! She is here on something of a continuing goodwill mission, to meet with various priests and nobles and remind them that the Shomei-gumi is always ready to supply talented people to aid in any endeavor.

I introduced myself, and she said she has heard my name mentioned at their castle. I told her I had originally been placed here by Megumi, and then Kaisei became my contact, and they were both gone from the gumi now… but they had reported to Rina. Was she still there?

No, she is not. It seems the Shomei-gumi is as turbulent as ever.

But Kaori gave me information on how to contact her, in case I should ever need to speak with someone at the Shomei-gumi again. And I took some tamagoyaki, and of course some of the broiled salmon and mackerel, and went off to my weapons locker to prepare for the day. And now, I must depart and go kill people.

Real-world Note: If you’re confused by the selection of breakfast foods, you may want to learn more about traditional Japanese breakfasts:

on About.com
on Wikipedia

The cultural subtext to the listing of foods in the second paragraph is basically, “Wow, this was quite a diverse spread of tasty breakfast foods!”

More Change in the Shomei-gumi

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

On Friday morning, I was lacing up my tabithe split-toed boots commonly worn by ninjasthe split-toed boots commonly worn by ninjas and getting ready to journey to Castle Noriaibasha when I received a message from the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi.. It seems my contact there, Kaisei, has left the group to pursue other ventures.

Luckily, with heralds’ groups like Shomei, “he has left to pursue other ventures” is not a code phrase for “he has gone to join his ancestors”. I am sure that Kaisei — who I found to be intelligent and pleasant, and with good taste in shōchūA strong, clear, distilled liquor that’s often described as “Japanese vodka”. May be made from rice, wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or any combination of them. Also known in Korea as “soju”.A strong, clear, distilled liquor that Westerners often describe as “Japanese vodka”. Also known in Korea as “soju”. — is still in fine health.

But it does make me wonder about the health of the Shomei-gumi. When I first joined them, my contact was Megumi, who placed me with Clan Noriaibasha. Then she left and was replaced by Kaisei. Now I have an entirely new contact. Such rapid changes do not bode well.

Still, Noriaibasha is pleased with me, and will likely take me in as a full clan-member when my contract is complete. All I need to do is wait.

Upheaval in the Shomei-gumi

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Two weeks ago, I had a lunch meeting with Megumi, the herald of the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi. who secured me my position with Clan Noriaibasha. Her supervisor, a woman named Rīna, was also there. The two of them wanted my advice on some other warriors who might be of use at Noriaibasha… and Rīna also mentioned that they had been in touch with Tsukimi, the commander of the Keitai Team. Apparently they have heard very good things about me from Tsukimi — her instructions to the Shomei-gumi were “Please send us two more of Ichirō”.

I told them their words bring me honor, and I will strive to continue to bring honor to Shomei.

Last week, I received a message from Shomei, telling me that Megumi had left the group to seek her fortune with a new clan in Hikone. My new contact in the group is a man named Kaisei, who reports to Rīna as Megumi once did.

So we recently met at a bar in the capital, to get to know each other. He proves to be a friendly, convivial fellow, but also with a thoughtful side — he has spent time meditating on what it means to be a herald and why he enjoys it, just as I have spent time meditating on what attracts me to the Way of the Ninja.

Also, we have similar tastesWe both like good bourbon.We both like good bourbon. in shōchūA strong, clear, distilled liquor that’s often described as “Japanese vodka”. May be made from rice, wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or any combination of them. Also known in Korea as “soju”.A strong, clear, distilled liquor that Westerners often describe as “Japanese vodka”. Also known in Korea as “soju”..

Kanezukai Campaign Nearly Done

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The Kanezukai campaign is coming to a close. I have made Risako very happy by slaying a great many enemies in Nara, the ancient city, and also throughout Izumi Province. Today, she is coordinating messages with our major in the field, who will be dealing with the peasants of the captured territories tomorrow.

There is still a nest of opposition in tight-walled, small-streeted Fujiwara-kyō. I will probably not have the time to eradicate them before our final push tomorrow. Today is too busy with interviewing a 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. who the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi. thinks would be a good fit for placement with Clan Noriaibasha, and with a meeting with Jōji, the priest in charge of the Kirin-dō project.

We will have to hope that the opponents in Fujiwara-kyō cannot stop our assault. I have worries, but they are minor.

The Last Temptation Before the New Era

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Back in July, I met with one of the nobles and one of the fighters of Clan Ōkiten, who are based in Kamishichiken. This clan operates in the same areas as Clan Iwinaga, so my knowledge would be useful… and they also need ninjas with Pagoda Bearer skill.

But they are very busy and hectic, like a small upstart group, and I am not sure I would thrive there.

Today, I suddenly received a message from their herald. It is not simply a request for another appointment or negotiation; they want to actually offer me a position with the clan. I could use 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”., not the strangely curved wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s “baby brother”.

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the “baby brother” of the longer katana. that Noriaibasha would require. I would roam the back streets and alleys of the pleasant Kamishichiken district, and never have to travel to Izumi Province…

But I do not think I would thrive. And negotiations with Noriaibasha are so close to being completely concluded.

I have told Ōkiten no.

And, almost like a blessing from Buddha, a few minutes later I received a message from Megumi, the herald of the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi.: I can report to Castle Noriaibasha tomorrow to begin my service there.

A Whirlwind of Interviews

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Akane’s mother is visiting from Edo, but this has not slowed down my hunt for a new clan.

Only a few days ago, I was contacted by a herald who told me of a possible position with Clan Noriaibasha, one of the mightier of the clans of Izumi Province. Within a day, she had arranged a meeting with one of their captains, who was impressed with my kata and told the herald that he would like me to visit the army’s barracks next week. I have high hopes for the outcome of this visit.

In the meantime, I will spend much of tomorrow speaking with the warriors of Clan Gakkotsu, who make some interesting helmet-fittings that are thought of highly by many warriors and nobles. They are probably too young a clan for me, but it is not certain, and they are worth investigating.

And today I spoke with the chief warrior of Clan Zajutsukura. Yes, the very same clan that was sometimes an ally of Clan Tenya. The man I spoke with knew me by reputation, and he said that it was not his decision to break off his clan’s alliance with ours. We spoke of the kata I developed for Tenya, and the missions I had performed on behalf of both our clans. We are agreed that I should come to speak with others of his clan, and make a determination of whether I would be well suited to join them.

In the meantime, Akane and I are busy with entertaining her mother during her short stay with us. Akane’s mother is quite fond of the cocktails I mix with sake and shōchū, so we bring her back to her inn every night in a happy mood.

I continue with my Jōgesen studies when I have time. This is not as often as one might wish, but I am making progress.

The Days Creep Forward

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

The world is full of perplexing things. After my discussion with Binya of Clan Atsuzen — which I thought had gone so well — I heard from his herald that my answers had not been sufficiently pleasing. I have asked her to supply me with more information, so that I might improve my skills.

But the timed test kataA sequence of moves in martial arts, performed as a practice exercise to train the fighter’s muscle memory and reflexes in preparation for real combat. May be anywhere from a brief, 15-second movement to a full sequence that takes five minutes or more to complete. Usually solitary, but there are some two-person kata.

You may wish to see some videos of standard karate katas.A sequence of fighting moves used as a practice technique in martial arts. for Clan Shōnindō? I was not able to complete all the moves and strikes in the time allotted, and I suspect that nobody could. But what I did complete was apparently sufficient to please them. Next Tuesday, I will visit Castle Shōnindō and meet with Kirika, the warrior woman I have spoken with. I shall probably meet others of the clan, as well.

I am still fairly sure that Clan Shōnindō is too small and young for me. But the fact that they have female fighters among them speaks well for them.

In the meantime, I have yet another test coming up today, this time of my Aka Hōseki JōgesenA very popular sansetsukon (three-sectional staff) style.A very popular sansetsukon (three-sectional staff) style. skills. I have not even touched the 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 a year, and I was honest about this when speaking to the herald who is trying to connect me with some gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi. in Kawachi Province. Truly, I suspect that either the gumi or the herald must be somewhat desperate to consider me for their clan, as I am given to understand that they require a Jōgesen expert.

For my part, taking their test costs me nothing but an hour of my time, and may help me refresh a bit. Since I already expect to do poorly, failure cannot harm my self-esteem.

To be honest, I think I am taking this test partly out of boredom. With the exception of yesterday, when I bore a message swiftly to KamishichikenOne of the entertainment districts in Heian-kyō, the capital.One of the entertainment districts in Heian-kyō, the capital. for my friend Arina, I have had no missions to complete. Even that example of courier duty did not include any combat. I must find something to occupy myself.

Test Coming Up. Am I Ready?

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I have been very busy talking to heralds, and even to representatives of clans who might want to take me in. It seems that a flurry of messages back and forth is often needed just to set up one meeting with a clan’s scout.

On Tuesday, I spoke with a captain of Clan Mitsugenso, who was a pleasant type and enjoyable to talk to. Sadly, his clan uses a great deal of mounted combat, and I would have to do horseback riding with armor on. This is not my Way; it would only lead me to be conflicted and unhappy, as I have been before.

A discussion yesterday, with a man from Clan Atsuzen, went quite well. Binya of Atsuzen asked me many questions about combat, urban stealth techniques, and so on, and seemed quite pleased with my answers. I await word from their herald to see what the next steps will be… though I am unsure if the style and culture of the clan will suit me. I must visit their castle and evaluate the atmosphere there.

Finally, last week I spoke with a warrior from Clan Shōnindō. She seems to have been satisfied with my words, because that clan now wishes to evaluate my fighting skills. I will shortly receive a test kataA sequence of moves in martial arts, performed as a practice exercise to train the fighter’s muscle memory and reflexes in preparation for real combat. May be anywhere from a brief, 15-second movement to a full sequence that takes five minutes or more to complete. Usually solitary, but there are some two-person kata.

You may wish to see some videos of standard karate katas.A sequence of fighting moves used as a practice technique in martial arts., which must be performed within a short time.

Time limits are not my friend. I have long known that my problem is not in performing executions well or silently; it is in performing them quickly.

So, even though Shōnindō is probably much too small a clan for me, I still should throw myself into this exercise. I must practice being faster, and this will be a good way to do it.

And who knows? I may even succeed.

The messenger who will administer the test should be arriving shortly. I must prepare myself.

GanbarimasuJapanese for “I will do my best” or “I will persevere and not give up”, or even “Charge!” if said with the right emotion.Japanese for “I will do my best” or “I will persevere and not give up”, or even “Charge!” if said with the right emotion..

Your Herald Only Hurts Your Clan’s Cause

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I have just spoken with a man from a clan called Supurānku, who have need of fighters. They are growing quickly; already they are large enough to meet my size requirements easily. But they are still a young clan, and they retain the mentality of one. According to the captain I spoke with, the clan “strives to retain the culture of a small, young, and eager clan.”

This is exactly what I do not need. I told him of my misgivings, and this is a great step for me. Normally, when a clan’s representative tells me that they like my skills and they want to move forward with negotiations, I do not know how to say, “I am honored, but I must respectfully decline, for your clan’s Way and mine are not in alignment.” But I am learning, and I told the captain that I was doubtful.

It only makes me angry then, to have this politeness and professionalism returned by the sudden arrival of one of their heralds, who tried to convince me that I should continue negotiations with Supurānku, and that I will never find an army that gives me what I need. He proved entirely unable to notice my polite statements that we had nothing further to discuss, and I spent far longer talking to him — and listening to his unwanted pep talk — than he deserved.

So even as I am learning to say, professionally, “Your clan is not for me”, it seems I must work harder on learning to say, professionally, “You are irritating me and wasting both our time. You will go away, now.”

When the captain left, my impression of Clan Supurānku was simply that it was a nice enough clan, but not for me. Now, my impression is one of distaste and, honestly, anger. But I have no time for rage; I must put on my tabithe split-toed boots worn by ninjasthe split-toed boots worn by ninjas and prepare to journey into Yagyū, to meet with a man from Clan Kaiketsusaku, who may perhaps be more reasonable.

Weekend Kata Practice, and a Hard-Working Herald’s Message

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

There is a fair in Iga tomorrow. Akane and I will be having friends over to join us at our house, so we have made sure it is clean and welcoming. Between bouts of cleaning, I have spent the day playing with a 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”. kata that my friend Michio described to me recently:

“I can see that there will frequently be situations where I have to hang from a tree branch, roof, or overhang, stab an enemy, then haul his body up into the place where I am in order to avoid being detected. And I have a kata that seems to work for that. It was a good learning exercise.” Curiously, I have never had to solve this exact problem, though it’s similar to one I’ve dealt with before.

So I agreed to work out a kata for it, without having seen Michio’s. Then we can compare them. It will make a good way for him to check how well he is learning the martial arts, too.

Well, either it’s harder than it looks, or I’m going at it entirely the wrong way. But my focus has been very scattered these past few days.

I did not go to Yagyū today, of course. But while I was practicing in the yard in front of Akane’s and my house, I got a message from a herald anyway. A singularly unhelpful message, much like the previous message from one of this herald’s gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi. yesterday: It specifies what weapon skills and fighting styles I would need to know, but nothing else. There is no mention of any of the things I need to know to decide if I am interested or not.

Where is the clan’s headquarters located? Would I be constantly on the road from Iga to their castle, and exhausted by all the travelling by the time I even arrived every morning? And is this with a clan at all, or with a larger army? Where do they fight, and what are their objectives and strategies?

On Monday, I have appointments with two other herald gumis. Perhaps I can have lunch with a friend along the way.