The temperature here was 37 degrees yesterday. In the summer we like to strip off, but imagine wearing full armour, parading around the park, standing waiting in the sun and then doing a 30 minute demonstration, going back to remove your helmet for half an hour (reloading the guns) and then going out to do this whole display a second time. The first year at Akashi, always held in mid-June, we did this four times in one day!
I will resist the temptation to quote Nietzsche... surely you must feel "stronger" after the experience!
"Pain is a weaknesses in the body, that passes with time"
At least that´s what my PT used to say when I was lying in a fetal position after an hour in the gym...
Sounds unbeareble, to be honest. Remember when I was in Uwajima looking at the castle (what else) It was in the middle of september and it was 35 degrees. This castle is situated on a pretty steep hill. I probably lost a gallon of sweat during the climb up.
I actually thought about the poor samurai with about 20-25 kg of gear, running up hills like this, in the middle of the summer. Can understand that they wanted nerigawa armours to ease their loads. Dont even get me started on the castle at Bitchu Matsuyama. 480 meter straight up a mountain...
Bitchu Matsuyama is magical and well worth the climb!
Uwe, the beginning of October can still be very hot, but autumn is wonderfully long in Japan.
On Sunday we leave at 4:50 am. By the time we get to Akashi at 8:30 it will be very hot. First we will unload the trucks of about 15 large gun boxes, 20 regular gun cases, 20 heavy bags and boxes of armour and all the rest of the equipment, including flags, poles, banners, gongs, etc. They will not allow us to use the air-conditioned room so we will change in the very narrow corridor with people pushing through all the time, no chairs or tables, and we will be dripping with sweat, even before we start to put on the underwear. Your name will be shouted out to collect priming powder and pre-loads of black powder and you will be expected to find your guns and load them, again in very cramped space outside on the balcony, watched by guards from the security company. You might be called to help set up the banners, or to help a new member put on his or her armour. All of this against the clock, as you have to be dressed and ready to carry all your other clobber (guns, horagai, match, sashimono, etc.) outside to line up for the first procession. Then the tourists surround you to take photos... and some of them spot my knobbly crooked nose poking out of that red face under the helmet.
Found this video from the Kawahara Castle event on Children's Day (Boy's Day) on 5 May.
It's 12 minutes long, so don't bother unless you really like this sort of thing.
For me it holds meaning for a number of reasons. Although the sound is not as good as the clips above, you do get some very clear close-up shots of a nearside gun which gives a good feeling of how they are in the hand when you are firing them.
Secondly, I was wearing my 'good' armour bits that day and this is the first video evidence I have found of it! You can see the black/brown lacquered early Edo Shi-no-mi toppai with gold shikoro, the gold sode and gold sune-ate. You may notice me toeing something uncomfortably. I was trying to nudge my gun rest forwards, but at the same time my Se-oi-bata (sashimono) was getting caught on the tent behind me.
I'm curious to know where you get your "slow match" cord, and how it is made. Years ago I dabbled in European-style matchlocks, and made match from flax (linen) cord that you boil in a potash solution and then add a small amount of lead acetate to. It makes a far superior match to the common variety (often cotton) soaked in potassium nitrate.
Since the Japanese are perfectionists, I wonder if they came up with a similar solution.
Jeff, you are absolutely right. The Japanese do make a good match cord. I believe there is at least one little back shop in Japan still making it. Every so often we place an order for 1,000 yards or so. With 20 plus active musket companies in Japan, perhaps there is still a profit to be had? They like to point out prints of European musketeers with the match lit from both ends, to show that if one end goes out, as was often the case, they still had something burning. The cords we use here have nothing impregnated, we are assured. The cotton is woven to guarantee a clean burn throughout, and unless wet they are extraordinarily consistent. Naturally other materials were used for match cord, such as bamboo. (I have an original bamboo cord here.) I imagine they were not as reliable but would do at a pinch. Perhaps that is why the bamboo ones get passed down. As spares, possibly they were never used?
On the other hand I have heard that chemicals were mixed in sometimes in expectation of bad weather. The result would be a brighter and faster burning cord, I should imagine, but I have not seen such a cord.
An excellent read, Jeff. Many thanks. The woven cord in those pics looks exactly the same as the cord we use. The weave, the shape of the burning point, etc. Maybe ours is not actually cotton. I wonder what the true story is? Let me ask again to double check. "They call me double-check Dubcek..."
Incidentally we are always told to blow once before fixing the cord. You need to shoot pretty quickly after that or more ash will form. The ash doesn't really 'drop off' unless it's a windy day but grows gently longer. I have had misfires where for some reason I had to wait before firing and the ash must have formed a barrier between the burning tip and the priming powder in the pan. Click, ... silence.
This blogging photographer usually takes high quality shots every year. You can tell his work by the frozen stills and the black background. This year he seems to have been focussing his camera on me! Nuts... oocamera.exblog.jp/18997628/
The guy in the red armour on my right is my sword teacher. The Do has an old Mori family Christian cross painted over with a Ken-dai representing the Matsudaira family who took over from Mori at Tsuyama Castle.
For the first three years or so they used me for their PR posters throughout the Kansai region. It was so hard to get even a single poster off them, despite repeated requests, that by the third year I secretly and very guiltily took one down off the wall as a memento! I still can't figure out what the deal is.
Tomorrow's Himeji Castle Festival is the best and the worst display of the year. Up at 5am already soaked in sweat. Forecast for 35 degrees, and swelteringly humid in full armour. Until one of us passes out from heat exhaustion no-one will dare say how crazy this is. Even more spectators there I expect because they have finally persuaded NHK to do a Taiga Drama next year based on Kuroda Kambei.
They always have a stage set up in the park for the midday display, but it is covered in steel plates which roast the soles and keep you dancing gently.
This year the police have finally given permission for us to have extra powder and fire during the parade in the evening on the main street to the station, in front of the special guest stand. We follow directly behind the horse with "Ikeda Terumasa" riding it. Other groups do special numbers, but we have always posed with our gun serpentines clicking under shouted orders and meekly shouting DOHNnnn..... (Japanese for 'Bang').
Tomorrow we are split into two 'han', both heading over to the Japan Sea coast to separate events. One lot is for Amako（Amago) the scene of the famous battle at Gessan Tomita Castle where Yamanaka Yukimori (Yamanaka Shikanosuke) defended against the Mouri, and the other is for Tottori Castle. I will be in the latter group, and having heard that there is an archaeological dig underway around the moat and gateway just by where we strut our stuff I am hoping to be able to ask them what they have found. Tottori fell after a bitter siege by Hideyoshi, so it will be interesting to see if any artifacts have surfaced.
Despite the burning late summer sun and 32 degree temps, both gun displays went well. At Amako they had five or six people in the crowd who announced that they were from the newly-formed Matsue teppotai from further west, which has some female gunners. These visitors said they had been generally just pointing their guns and firing away but that they had learned a lot today about how a display might or could be done. 14 of our members took part.
In Tottori, there were thirteen in our han, eight samurai with long guns in line, out of which four stepped forward to fire bajo-zutsu/tanzutsu, two to fire 10 Monme Shi-zutsu guns, one to fire the 20 Monme, one to fire the 30 Monme and one to fire the 50 Monme as the finale to the display. Normally I would fire the 20 Monme, but today the owner of the 50 Monme kakae-o-zutsu said he had a pinched nerve and wondered if someone else could fire it for him. There was silence in the room. You can partly guess the rest of the story. 50 grams of black powder is 772 grains = 28 drams...?
The siege was awful, with terrible death from disease and starvation, people pulling out and eating the straw used in the walls.
After their Time Team are finished there next year, apparently Tottori City has allocated a huge budget towards rebuilding part or all of the old castle. The hill upon which it once stood, overlooking the city, looks to me a little like a kabuto, a Momonari kabuto.
It takes about an hour and half to climb, and there is the ever-present danger of bears up there.
Never a good idea to fire an unfamiliar gun that someone else has loaded.
As you can see in the pics, the pan fizzed and went down and fizzed again, and gradually the gun became so heavy I could no longer hold it up. Each second seemed an eternity. I was at the limit of my strength, gasping, and I thought my heart would burst. Finally it was pointing almost directly at the concrete railing in front of me. Suddenly there was a roar and it lifted itself clear. I put the gun down and felt my legs turning rubbery as I tried to stand up; I staggered backwards and very nearly fell over!
Well, the year is drawing to a close, but we still have a few more displays in the pipeline. This Sunday we will gather right outside Okayama Castle walls under one of the original Yagura turrets, where sheets will be spread out and everyone will get changed into their kit and load the guns. The Daimyo (actually a non-Ikeda Daimyo, but from an area east of here) always requests me to tie his Shinobi-no-o chin knot. Teams of volunteers will ferry the gun boxes and cases up to the lawn in front of the Tenshukaku main keep. Perhaps twenty or so gunners will perform. Besides firing in line (and individually on the big guns) we will also be expected to parade as part of the samurai Gyoretsu through this part of the city. The only question is, do we use the Ikeda banners or the Ukita banners, ie do we show loyalty to the Daimyo line installed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, or the locally popular one deposed by him after defeat at Sekigahara?
Record-breaking temperatures for October this year of over 30 degrees, but the weather forecast promises that it will be cooler this Sunday. Palms together that they are correct. "Nam myo ho renge kyo..." "Nam-mai da!" (Namu Amida Butsu).
Quick shot of the Tsukimi Yagura 月見櫓 or Moon-viewing Turret and our field camp. We wore Ukita 'Se-oi-bata' (back-carry-flag) sashimono as it was the Ukita Festival, pre-Ikeda era. Our line display went comparatively well, especially as 17 of us were able to get the first broadside off in 'one' blast, admittedly slightly lumpy, and the crowds clapped enthusiastically. Good if you can get them on your side and it lifts the tone for the rest of the proceedings.
PS When I click on the pic it turns itself upright...? The joy of iPhone technology. Hope it's not only me!
Here is the poster for the event. The Kanji character Mon is read 'ko' from Kojima from where Ukita Hideie's family hailed (originally they were from Korea by some rumours) but many people stop us and ask how to read it. The Ken-katabami 剣カタバミ Mon under the horse was his other Mon, the three-petal Oxalys flower, the petals interspersed with 'ken' blades.