Tales of Ronin

The Ronin were vagabonds in the time of loyalty and honor. They were masterless Samurai during the warring period of Japan. When written, the term conveys characters for floating and man. It depicts a warrior adrift without a lord to serve, follow, nor stipend for livelihood. During the later phases of the Warring States, and the earlier years of the Edo period, a large number of Samurai lost their work.

There were numerous reasons for this. Some were due to their feudal lords or Daimyo losing their status because of defeat. The government took away their domains or forced to move into a smaller domain. Without a master, a Ronin and his family needs find other means of employment. During the Battle of Sekigahara, there was an estimate of over 400,000 Ronin around.

Ronin

The Reputation and Issues of a Ronin

The issue concerning these warriors was that they had weapons and had no work. They are known in engaging in various squabbles, causing trouble and becoming bandits, even to the point of falling into the world of entertainment and theater.

Ronin was also very quick in joining anyone who raised the battle flag, especially those who require more fighters to increase their army units. Basically, they were the source of military and social instability. One example would be when the Tokugawa Shogunate decided to assault and destroy the Toyotomi forces in the year 1615 at Osaka. There were about 100,000 Ronin who joined Tokugawa, and probably a similar number with Toyotomi.

The Shogunate keeps the Ronin’s large number despite the similarity, through declining permission for a Samurai to relinquish the services to their masters. With stability and peace, the appearance of new Ronin dropped. Since they needed to make a living, they had to abandon their swords to take up manufacturing, farming, or commerce.

By the 2nd half of the 17th century, the issue regarding these individuals had disappeared. Yet upon reaching the last of the Edo period, these vagabonds became prominent again. A large number of Tokugawa’s enemies became Ronin to avoid pressures of loyalty to their lord. Plus, they could freely roam the country while going against Tokugawa.

Some Daimyo even forced a few retainers to become Ronin. It was mainly to support the anti-Tokugawa movement without endangering and compromising their Domain.

The Sengoku Period – Era of Significance and Prominence
Custom Wakizashi
Japanese Military Swords

Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi was born in the year 1584, the time when Japan was recovering from over four centuries of internal conflict. He attended Samurai classes and became a writer, philosopher, and a Ronin. He is well-known due to various stories about his unique and excellent swordsmanship. Musashi is also popular as a result of his undefeated record of 61 duels during his time.

Although a Ronin, he was also the one who created the Niten Ichi Ryu School or style of swordsmanship. In his final years, he wrote Dokkodo (The Path of Aloneness) and the “Go Rin No Sho” or Book of Five Rings. These documents are given to his most important student, Terao Magonojo before his death. The Book of Five Rings focuses on the concrete sense of his Niten Ichi Ryu school, while Dokkodo deals with all the ideas and thoughts that lie behind this. He also deals with his life’s principles in a number of short concise sentences.

When it came to his teachings, Musashi was able to develop and refine a two-sword Kenjutsu style using a Katana and a Wakizashi. He called this the Niten Ichi or the Nitoichi. Musashi is a very skilled individual and also proficient in throwing weapons. He commonly threw his short sword and believed that Shuriken processes for a Wakizashi were the secret techniques of his Niten Ichi Ryu.

Miyamoto Musashi

The 47 Ronin

The tale of the 47 Ronin began in the year 1701. During the reign of  Tokugawa Tsunayoshi Shogunate from 1646 to 1709, Kamei Sama and Asano Naganori are on the lookout for visiting envoys. They are assigned by emperor Higashiyama.

Kira Yoshinaka was a powerful official and was part of the Shogunate hierarchy. He is the master of ceremonial duties during visits. Due to his part, he expects to be rewarded with rich bribes or important gifts. However, he became greatly insulted when he received what he claimed as inadequate gifts. With that, he started becoming uncooperative and even treated the lords horribly.

Asano, at first, took things stoically. Yet Kira’s actions sparked Kamei’s fury. He was ready to kill the man, yet due to his advisers, they secretly offered him a huge bribe. He started treating Kira more politely yet he still treats Asano poorly. This caused rage and humiliation, thus, leading the feudal lord to superficially wound Kira.

During this time, drawing one’s sword in the castle of a Shogun was a very serious offense. So as instructed, Asano committed Seppuku. Eventually, his family & retainers became Ronin.

Oishi Kuranosuke, Asano’s chief retainer, felt angered and claimed that the punishment Asano took was too harsh. He eventually appealed to the Ako Ronin to take revenge. About 47 Ronin joined him, creating a secret pact for vengeance. They planned and waited for the right moment, taking a year for the Ronin to avenge their master’s honor and killed Kira.

In turn, they committed Seppuku. This true story is very popular in Japanese culture. It is displayed as a form of sacrifice, loyalty, honor, and persistence that people should maintain in their everyday lives.

Sakamoto Ryoma 

Sakamoto Ryoma was a prominent figure in Japan’s history. He was part of the movement to abolish the Tokugawa Shogunate. He was most active for the Bakumatsu. Despite having a deadly reputation, experts continue to debate his true prowess as a swordsman.

Sakamoto Ryoma 

He is an imperial loyalist. His efforts were crucial when it came to mirroring the 1866’s Satsuma – Choshu Alliance. This was to set the stage for the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Ryoma is a lower-class samurai. He is a rebellious Ronin sought after by the government. Today, he is the hero and founding figure of the modern age.

Ryoma was a visionary who took advantage of his strong personality and diplomatic skills to develop his vision. This was of a modernized and unified country. Initially, he opposes having any contact with the outside world. Eventually, he understood that for a country to compete with the technology and industry of the world, Japan needed to modernize itself. He believes that people should work to achieve this. The United States inspired him to think this way since there were no legal distinctions present.

However, at the age of 33, he was assassinated.

Ryoma the Ronin

As a Ronin, he expressed his desire to assassinate Katsu Kaishu. He was a high-ranked official from the Tokugawa Shogunate, as well as a supporter of both Westernization and modernization. Katsu was able to persuade Ryoma of the importance of long-term planning to boost the military strength of Japan. So instead of assassinating the official, Ryoma began working as his assistant and pupil.

In the year 1864, the Tokugawa Shogunate began facing difficulties. This led Ryoma to flee to Kagoshima, the Satsuma Domain. It was then developing as an important center for the anti-Tokugawa movement. He then secretly negotiated an alliance between the Satsuma and Choshu provinces. These two areas were historically conflicting enemies, and Ryoma’s role as a neutral outsider was vital in bridging this gap in trust.

Sakamoto Ryoma is the Father of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This was because of him working with Katsu Kaishu in establishing a modernized naval force. It was to allow Choshu and Satsuma to be able to hold on against the Tokugawa Shogunate’s naval forces. He founded this private navy together with the trading company called Kameyama Shachu, Nagasaki City. Later on, Kameyama Shachu became the Kaientai (Ocean Support Fleet).