The Japanese civilians were protected during the Samurai Wars


The Battle of Sekigahara, AD 1600

The non-samurai people during the feudal era in Japan were much more protected than the people in other feudal societies in the world.  As a general principle, the battles between the feudal clans were done between the samurais and the civilians were not involved. The Samurais were living under the strict code of ethics and their honor was considered more important than their lives.

There was a famous Samurai war which determined the course of the Japanese history called the battle of Sekigahara in AD 1600.  During this battle,  a number of civilians went to the nearby mountains to watch the battle from the higher ground.

In a publication called “Gienjugonikki” written by a Shingon Buddhist priest, Gien (AD 1558-1626) , it is noted that there were civilian spectators at the time of the battle of Fushimi Castle (AD 1600) lead by Ukita Hideie.

In a Edo-era painting depicting the battle of Kuisegawa called “Kuisegawa Kassenzu Ebyoubu” owned by Gyoda City in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, several non-Samurai spectators are drawn.  On the right panel, a man who seems to be a farmer is sitting on a box. On the second panel, one priest is depicted and on the third panel,  a merchant is selling rice wine to two soldiers.

Gyoda City’s Official Website


A Japanese castle surrounded by moats. (Matsumoto Castle, Nagano)

Itazaka Bokusai (AD 1578-1655) , a physician who searved the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu
has also written in his book “Keicho Nenjuki” about the civilian war spectators during the feudal times. It is noted that the villagers were bringing their lunch and watching the battle of Sekigahara in the Kanondo building in Mitsui Temple.  It has also been written that the spectators were turning the “Gojyo Bridge” into a theater in the battle of Kyoto in  1300s.

These records are the proof that the battles in Japan were traditionally done between the soldiers and the general non-Samurai people were safe enough to be able to watch.  There were no “walled cities” in the feudal Japan because the villagers or the civilians were largely protected by the Samurai code of ethics.  Even if a Samurai clan lost a battle,  the people living in that land were not killed by the opposition.

The Japanese Emperor’s New Year’s Ceremony and the ultimate self-sacrifice

The Japanese Emperor have been called “the Great One” or “the Heavenly Child” by the people of Japan and they are known to be the descendants of divine figures in the ancient Japanese myth. One of the reasons why the Japanese people always respected the Japanese Emperor is the constant prayer he offered on behalf of the people.

There is the most important ceremony conducted by the Japanese Emperor called “Shihouhai” or “Yohouhai” on January 1st.  It means “the prayer to the four directions” or “the prayer for the world (yo).”  Other ceremonies at the Imperial Palace can be conducted by others but this particular one can be only conducted by the Emperor himself. The contents of this prayer have been a well kept secret for a long time.  However, in the recent years, the words used during this ceremony have been revealed to the public.

Before dawn on the New Year’s day out in the cold, the Emperor calls in the divinities and pray for the people.

Please have all threats go through my body first.
Please have all poisonous evil through my body first.
Please have all poisonous energies and negative intentions go through my body first.
Please have all suffering and calamities go through my body first.
Please have all natural disasters go through my body first.
Please have all conflicts go through my body first.
Please have all the wars go through my body first.
Please have all the curses go through my body first.

Historically, the Emperors of Japan felt personally responsible for what happened in the country including natural disasters.  The 56th Emperor Seiwa (AD 850-881) has stated that “Disasters do not occur by coincidence. It is all because of the lack of virtue in myself” after a flood occurred in Kumamoto.

Even when someone was planning to kill the Emperor, he still thought it was his responsibility.  The Emperor Meiji has created the following poem after Kotoku Shusui (1871-1911) , a socialist and an anarchist was arrested for planning to assassinate the Emperor himself.

If there was a sin committed by him,  Amatsu God of Heaven,  please punish myself.  What my people did is my fault since he is one of my own children.  – Emperor Meiji

罪あらば  我を咎めよ天津神  民はおのれの 生みし子なれば  – 明治天皇 御製

Although these stories did not usually make newspaper headlines,  it has been a common knowledge of the Japanese people that the Emperor’s traditional role is to pray for the peace and happiness of the people.

The Equality before the “Words” in Japanese Culture


Yaegaki Shrine, the place the first Japanese poem was composed.

There has been a sense of “equality” before the “words” in the Japanese culture.  In the ancient Japan, the Japanese poems were fairly appreciated and valued regardless of the poet’s rank and social standing.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Genesis 1:1

It was almost as if the ancient Japanese also regarded the “words” to be divine as stated in the old testament. This deep reverence for spoken words is called “kotodama” in Japanese language. “Koto” means “things,” “words,” or “phenomena” and “tama” means “soul/spirit” or “treasure.”  This word signifies the concept that the “Word” in Japanese culture has spiritual essence and is something very precious.

The ancient Japanese believed that if one speaks of something, they will literally manifest what they said.  So people in the old times were extremely careful not to say bad words. This is called “Kotoage sezu” (Not say what you don’t want).  Even now, the Japanese people have tendency to be vague and not say much when they are not sure about something.

In the famous anthology of Japanese poems, “Manyoshu,” which is said to have been completed around AD 759, the poems composed by the Emperors were published side by side to the poems composed by people without ranks.  The poems composed by the Emperors, aristocrats, government officials, farmers, soldiers, traveling female dancers, hunters and fishermen were included.  Some of the poems were composed in regional dialects.

The following poem was composed by a famous poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro to bid farewell to someone who was going far away.

This wonderful county of Yamato (Japan) is the country that the words have power to help us. So I say to you, “Good luck!”

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

The fact that someone such as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro whose rank was quite low was considered a legendary poet means that the poems were valued for their power to influence the reality and to move people’s hearts.

This tradition still exists in modern Japan. At the beginning of the year, the event called “Utakai hajime” (First Poetry Reading) is held at the Japanese Imperial Palace. The Emperor would give the yearly “theme” to the general public and anyone can enter. The poems are judged by professional poets.  If your poem is selected, you will be invited to the event at the Imperial Palace to discuss the poem with the Emperor.

Imperial Household Agency of Japan

Human Rights and the concept of People as the Emperor’s great treasure: “Oomitakara”

The concept of “the people as the nation’s treasure” existed for millennia in Japan. The word “Oomitakara” was used to mean “people” in the ancient Japan.  In the first Japanese formal historical document called “Nihonshoki”  which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s words are recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for “Oomitakara,” the People.

Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

Since the Chinese characters were considered the international language at the time, the Japanese made 2 kinds of historical documents, one in Chinese and one in Japanese language. Nihonshoki was written in Chinese and Kojiki was written in Japanese “Kana” letters.

The word “Oomitakara” was sometimes expressed using the Chinese characters 百姓 which means “all people with all kinds of last names.”  The characters 大御宝 was also used to mean “Oomitakara” which means “Great Honored Treasure.”

The Japanese word “takara” generally means “treasure.”  According to the dictionay “Genkai,” the word “ta” in “takara” is derived from “ta” as in “rice field.”  The word “kara” generally means “from” but it also means “people” or “companions” as in the words such as “harakara” and  “yakara.”  “Harakara” consists of the word hara (womb) and kara (out of, people) .  The word “yakara” traditionally meant “people that belong to the same tribe.”  Therefore, the word “takara” also meant “people at the rice field” or “companions at the field” in the old days.

The concept of “human rights” was traditionally expressed in the word, “Oomitakara” in Japan.  This was not only Emperor Nintoku’s personal credo, but it was considered something that was passed down from his ancestors as the basic principle.  The following phrase is found in book 3 of Nihonshoki  which is included in the declaration of founding the county (Kenkoku no Mikotonori) by the first Emperor Jimmu.

The Emperor’s work is to benefit “Oomitakara,” the people.

Emperor Jimmu, Book 3, Nihonshoki

It also says that the Emperor must humbly take on the throne and respect “Oomitakara,” the people. In this case, the word people (Oomitakara) was expressed using the characters元元 which means “The foundation of the foundation” or “the basis of the basis”  This suggests that the people was considered the basic foundation of the country.

A sign of the ancient civilization in Japan: 9000 years old Lacquer Accessories

The Oldest Lacquer in the World Found in Japan

In the recent years, the new archaeological findings uncovered the fact the Japanese lacquer art had much older history than previously believed. It used to be believed by many that Japan did not have much sophisticated “culture” and most of the advanced technologies had come from China in Yayoi era around (BC 300 t0 AD300).

However, the Japanese lacquer art turned out to be as old as the Japanese language itself. The word lacquer in Japanese language is “Urushi.” It is said that the origin of this word is related to  “uruwashi” (beautiful) and “uruoshi” (to make rich, to saturate) .

Six lacquer accessories found in the ancient archaeological site called “Kakinoshima Iseki” in Minamikayabe-cho in Hakodate City, Hokkaido, Japan turned out to be approximately 9000 years old based on the radiocarbon dating.

Moreover, a branch of the Japanese poison oak (Urushi)  found at the site named “Torihama Kaizuka” in Fukui Prefecture, Japan turned out to be approximately 12600 years old which is the oldest in the world. This plant was also confirmed to be endemic to Japan. According to a NPO called Reijunkan in Japan, it takes at least 10 years of rigorous care to be able to harvest lacquer from the Japanese poison oak trees.  This suggests that the ancient Japanese people were already growing the poison oak trees for the next generation to use.

Ancient Japanese Women Were Respected

The comb found in Torihama Kaizuka which shown on the cover of the book below. Numerous combs painted with red or black lacquer were found from the archaeological sites in Japan. The fact that the ancient Japanese people were making “fashion accessories” which are considered non-essential items to one’s survival show that these people were abundant enough to do so.  It also means that the owners of these combs who were probably females were respected and well taken care of. It is also possible that women themselves made these items. At any rate, it is clear that the society allowed women to have fashion items. This is a clear sign of a civilization.

The Japanese lacquer art is still the integral part of the Japanese culture. Essential Japanese utensils such as chopsticks and soup bowls are made using traditional technique. Different techniques are passed down to different areas in Japan with each one having unique characteristics.  In Fukui Prefecture where the 12600 year old lacquer art pieces were discovered,  the type of lacquer art called “Wakasa-nuri” is still being made and it is loved by people all over Japan.