Monday, February 14, 2011

Kogai and Kozuka

Here is a story taken from the Book “A Daughter of the Samurai” by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. It took place several years after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. I would think around 1890. My great-grandparents generation. Not so far from us...

The Author – Etsu-bo – a young Japanese girl of Samurai Family, is 14 years old. She is traveling from her home in the Province of Echigo to Tokyo where she will receive a “modern” education.

In a few words Etsu tells us a lot about proper use of various implements (Koshirae) coming with the katana. She also gives us precious inputs about Samurai mentality.

After having past one night in a house where people make a living raising silkworms, the party is getting ready to hit the road again. Etsu's older brother, now head of the family after their father's death, addresses her.

"Have you seen our host's grandmother?" asked Brother.

"No, I didn't know there was a grandmother." 
"She went early to her cushions last night; probably to escape the bustle and annoyance of our abrupt arrival. We will pay our respects to her before we leave." 

When breakfast was over, our host took us to the grand-mother's room. She was a very old lady with a reserved manner and a face of more than usual intelligence. As soon as she bowed I knew that she had been trained in a samurai house, and when I saw the crest of a naginata on the wall-rest above the shoji, I knew why Brother had wanted me to come to this room.

A naginata is a long, light spear with curved blade, which samurai women were taught to use, partly for exercise and partly for defence in case of necessity. This one bore the crest of one of our northern heroes. He was a traitor, but nevertheless he was a hero. When he was killed, his daughter was one of the group—three of them women—who defended the sorely pressed castle during the last desperate hours of hopeless struggle. 
The old lady told us, with modest pride, that she had been a humble attendant of the daughter and was with her at that dreadful time. The naginata was a memory gift from her honourable and beloved mistress.

Seeing that we were deeply interested, she brought out her other treasure—a slender, blunt knife called a kogai, which, with the throwing-dagger, forms part of the hilt of a samurai's long sword. 

In very ancient days Japanese warfare was a science. Artistic skill was always displayed in the use of weapons, and no soldier was proud of having wounded an enemy in any other manner than the one established by strict samurai rule. The long sword had for its goal only four points: the top of the head, the wrist, the side, and the leg below the knee. 

The throwing dagger (Kozuka) must speed on its way, true as an arrow, direct to forehead, throat, or wrist. 

But the blunt little kogai had many uses. It was the key that locked the sword in its scabbard; when double it could be used as chopsticks by the marching soldier; it has been used on the battlefield, or in retreat, mercifully to pierce the ankle vein of a suffering and dying comrade, and it had the unique use in a clan feud, when found sticking upright in the ankle of a dead foe, of bearing the silent challenge, "I await thy return." Its crest told to whom it belonged and, in time, it generally was returned—to its owner's ankle. 
The kogai figures in many tales of romance and revenge of the Middle Ages.

I was glad to see Brother so interested, and was happy myself in watching the old lady's face flush and light up with her memories.

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