It's 15 minutes but well worth the watch if you have the time.
This is our matchlock troop, the highlights of 2012, from a grand total of 17 local area events.
We won the national championships in Wakayama in 2005 and it has been an upward fight ever since, thanks to the extraordinary character of our Taicho. We have taken part in subsequent national gatherings on the Island of Tanegashima (where Portuguese guns first came ashore in 1543, and from where JAXA rockets are launched today), in Hikone (at the castle of the Ii family), and we represented Japan in Oporto Portugal at the opening ceremony of Japan Week in 2010.
There are around 25 more or less active matchlock companies throughout Japan, but we are possibly the most prolific.
On Sunday April 7th we will have the first reenactment display of Heisei 25 at T Castle, under the cherry blossoms. About 90 mins drive from here. The weather is looking dodgy to say the least.
This week I have been checking over the equipment to make sure everything is working and nothing is missing after the winter.
The first couple of days I dismantled the guns, cleaning out any excess gun oil residue and making sure everything was clean, smooth and problem-free. The long gun and the bajozutsu are wrapped and packed ready in their gun case, and the heavier Ozutsu is now slung safely in its gun box.
Ramrods, powder flask, match cord, holsters, pads, registration papers, Doran tool box with internal bits, se-oi-bata, ukezutsu, tachi and belt, netsuke and inro, shogi camp stool, checked.
Starting yesterday I began to sort out the armour and fix any weak or broken strings. Sewing alone has taken me several hours, eg loose kusari-katabira around the edges of the Kote, strips of decoration separating away from the hai-date, shoulder padding broken away from the straps, etc. The fusa needed to be reattached to their agemaki. Dusted off the kabuto and checked the shinobi-no-o and zukin. Gave everything a quick internal puff of Fabreze. I also sprinkled some 'gold' dust onto the black lacquer Maedate yattoko/kuginuki since much of it has worn away with use. The can of gold dust that I had was too obviously coppery red, but two days ago in an artist's supply store I found a jar of yellow brass dust which balances out the effect. Only gold can ever really be gold, though!
Need to air the Hita-tare under-clothing tomorrow.
Then place one large gun box, one gun case, one helmet bag, one large armour bag, and one change-of-clothing bag in the hall for a 5:45 am start on Sunday. Our leader will never cancel for any weather, unless the Matsuri organizers make a spot decision to cancel the whole event.
Half hoping it gets cancelled as I do not really want my beloved guns laid out on the castle steps in the rain waiting for the event to start. Our leader reckons it's important to show that, come wind or rain, we all do our duty.
What a strange day. It gusted and poured all night and into the morning, killing four people and wounding many more around the country. 'Like a typhoon', the weather bureau had warned. 'People should stay indoors.' Still we went. Ninety minutes in a packed convoy. We lugged everything up to the changing room, loaded the guns, readied the flags and banners and put on our armour/armor. The sun seemed to be out as in the eye of a storm. 60% chance of rain all day. Would it be cancelled? We marched to the castle and up the steps on a carpet of sakura petals. An hour's wait and we moved into position on the steps. The display took thirty minutes. Spots of rain, but still the weather held. Perhaps a thousand people had turned up and we did the deed. What a shambles for our first display of the year. Cords were blown off by the wind. So many misfires we had the crowd laughing. There was even time for photographs afterwards, and then the rain started to come down so we marched back to the base. "K" nackered I was, until yesterday, but again we had upheld our name and reputation.
Three of our members wearing Tsuyama Castle armoury Katchu from Muromachi times. The Mori 森 family held dominion there until mid Edo when Matsudaira took over at Tsuyama. Under the gold Dai 大 for Matsudaira can still be seen the faint shape of the original 十 Christian cross of Mori, painted over. Both on the do and kabuto.
Just been putting the equipment together for another 'enbu' demonstration tomorrow, this time at a small hilltop castle which used to be the seat of a branch of the Ikeda family, Susai Castle in Yoshii Cho. Been ill since Wednesday so my checklist run-through has not been as thorough as it should have been, and I have an uneasy sense of foreboding about tomorrow. Is there something I have forgotten? The weather looks good and the Sakura are still blooming up there, apparently. The villagers provide food stalls and hand out locally-brewed sake in freshly-cut bamboo cups.
Last Sunday it was interesting in the changing room beforehand. People came round showing what they had made during the winter months. K Kun had made a superb Kuginuki Maedate from a thick sheet of rusty iron which originally covered the gates of Edo Castle. S San showed me his Netsuke, and hanging from it an Inro which opened to show his lighter inside. The Inro is covered in lacquered leather and really looks the part. I had made a leather butt cover which I sewed tight and finished with two brass eyelets for final tying shut. When we stand our guns on lawn or stone, damage is otherwise inevitable, so each of us has some clever trick for protecting the prow. (My word for the part which would be the shoulder rest on a modern gun)
Last Sunday was a day that will live in infamy. A beautiful day, but for me difficult as I had a stomach bug and felt dizzy throughout. We are not supposed to wimp out, cancel at the last minute, etc., so I wanted to show them that some of us are made of sterner stuff. Luckily we have over the years got the local helpers trained, so this year they were waiting to help out. They had a small truck parked at the foot of the hill ready to carry the guns and heavy equipment up, so we could just jump in the people carriers and get waved through the Sunday morning walkers as they made their way along the narrow crest track to the castle. The final 100 yards up to the main gate is especially steep and has to be walked by everyone, and it crosses the remains of a tiny moat which surely never held water. In full armour and carrying two guns, each step is an exertion. This year they had seats for us inside the walls, and tables on which to display the weapons and equipment for the 'handle & experience' afterwards.
Despite this being the second display this year, we are still not firing in coordination, as if we have not yet awoken from hibernation. Since the police will not allow use of blackpowder for practice, newcomers have to learn on the battlefield with what is handed out on the day. 'Open your pan lids!' the Tai-Cho shouts, and some of our greener members have already knocked the trigger and dropped their matchcords, BLAM, PHUTT, WOOF, BLADOOOOM, from the center of the line, before he has waved his Saihai and shouted 'Hanate!' He has put the reliable Mr K, me, Mr D and Mr Y in the last four spots to re-establish momentum, if, for example, we are supposed to be doing a sequenced firing. The crowd is rarely fooled however, but the final flourish can be better than nothing.
When my turn came to push my cavalry pistol forward and raise it, there was an ominous click. 'Fuhatsu!' (misfire) I shouted, warning the leader and telling the next person to fire without hesitation. Odd, I thought. My burning cord had fallen square onto the pan hole. I lifted it off cautiously and blew on it. Glowing nicely again. Fixed it to the serpentine. Hmmm... The pan was full of priming powder, though now with a smattering of ash. Er.... how could that be? I gently wiped off the ash with my little finger and just then it happened. My pistol has one little weakness. Sometimes for no apparent reason the serpentine will suddenly drop. With a bright flash and thunderous explosion the gun went off, rocketing backwards down to my feet. One golden rule we have firing black powder blanks is always keep your muzzle pointing upwards towards the sky. (Different for other gun settings I now, where people are usually encouraged to keep guns pointing at the ground.) Anyway, no-one was hurt and instinctively I shouted 'OK!!!' although I wish I had had the presence of mind to say something clever in Japanese, even that old chestnut 'Daijobu!' Our leader surmised that I had suffered a 'Chihatsu' hangfire (slow burn), where the powder is lit but takes a few seconds to ignite the main charge. I knew better, and admitted it was my fault. If I had shut the lid and it had been a Chihatsu, the explosion could have blown the brass lid off into the crowd. I kept it open, but I should not have affixed the cord until I was ready to shoot... aaarrrggghhh.... and for the rest of the display I felt like a stupid greenhorn.
No time to mope, however, as the third display is coming up this weekend and it's time to start getting prepared. The guns will need to be wiped clear of the gun oil I sprayed on them on Tuesday with the big clean. Some of our members who are working will not bother with the cleaning of their guns if there is only a week in between displays, but this I cannot do. Two days in a row, perhaps, but I do not want to leave that corrosive blackpowder residue inside any longer than absolutely necessary.
Rain forecast for Sunday. Maybe not going to be possible to wear the 'good' armour. Fall back to the repro stuff once more.
We are going to a village in the north of the prefecture called Shinjo-Son, where the houses form an arc at the foot of the mountain. One long curving main street overhung with Sakura, planted it is said in honour of the great victory of Admiral Togo Heihachiro over the Russian fleet in 1905. The 'Gaisen Sakura'. (L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris is called the Gaisen Mon in Japanese.) Having walked in procession through the town, we will line up across the bridge and fire over the waters up the valley into the wind.
Piers, do you use true black powder, or a substitute like Pyrodex? When I shoot black powder shells in my old double guns, I find that hot soapy water is the best, and easiest, way to clean the barrels. But I can heat the barrels (mildly) to drive off any residual moisture (and then apply oil).
I'm with you on cleaning promptly; black powder residue is extremely corrosive.
Best of luck with the next event; we're looking forward to hearing how it goes.
Thanks. Great shot, Jeff. Unlike in Europe with modern smokeless powder, we use traditional old black powder, very smoky! Hot water to clean the barrels and heat to dry, yes. (Not tried adding soap, though.)
The wind was cutting and I was glad I had thought to wear a thermal undershirt under the Hita-tare. Wishing I had worn a Jimbaori on top. They must have worn extra protection in the winter, unlike those portrayals showing identical armour year-round.
It was sleeting and the ground was covered in snow as we drove up the mountain on Sunday morning. Over the pass and down into a sort of Shangri-La valley where it was a few degrees warmer. The rain fell quite heavily as we marched through the town and eventually we had to take shelter. Luckily we got a break of half an hour to file onto the wooden bridge over the river and do the display before the rain started again. In the crowd, we were told, were the Albanian Ambassador and his wife. I went over and gave them a quick indication of what was about to happen. Good of them to stand there in that whistling wind. Found this YouTube clip of us firing the Bajo-zutsu. I am third from the far end. www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzK_Bh1u06Q
The rain was occasionally mixed with snow and at one point even turned to hail and I felt glad to be wearing armor/armour, even cold iron.
Here is Mr K wearing his Zunari?, and his Maedate made from Edo Castle gate iron. A real man will wear his valuables in the rain without complaint, and will even shrug it off when questioned...
LOL, great article. 40% women! In Japan there is a phenomenon been going on for two or three years with women called "Rekijo". Anime and Manga have recreated history for the people and there is a strong young female following who then became deeply interested in Samurai history. Rekijo means "female history nut".
On Boy's Day we will be doing a reenactment up-river at Kawahara-Jo from whence Toyotomi Hideyoshi directed his famous siege of Tottori Castle. First sound of black powder guns in 430-odd years. We have been forewarned that the place will be flooded with Rekijo.
Piers, Whilst there you must visit the Watanabe Museum in Tottori - more armour and weapons than you will see anywhere else. When I was last there there were 480 or so armours stood on terraces like a football crowd. More interestingly, there are rackloads of items like umajirusi and so forth. Ian B