Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Last of the Yoshiokas


The story of Miyamoto Musashi, as recounted in Yoshikawa Eiji's novel and countless versions since then has an instantly recognizable story, with episodic duels marking stages in his training and development. One of these, of course, is with the Yoshioka school of swordsmen in Kyoto.

Musashi comes to Kyoto, challenges the present head of the family that his father had once fought, beats him, then beats his brother in a follow-up duel, and, in the morning mists at Ichijoji (the title of this blog!) has to fight his way through the whole Yoshioka school, killing the 10(?) year-old titular challenger, and making his escape over the fields towards Mt. Hiei. Their principle members beaten or dead, the school collapsed shortly thereafter.

Although the story is based on historical records, there are also conflicting accounts, principally from the Yoshioka-den, the family record. As early as 1714, in the Honcho Bugei Shoden, there are several varying accounts of the meeting - the author noted that he just wrote them all rather than trying to sort out the veracity of their claims.

Rather than examine this series of incidents themselves, I want to look a little more closely at another incident - one that seems to bear a more direct relation to the demise of the family as teachers of the sword.

The Yoshioka Family
To make things a little easier to understand, I will just give a brief guide to the principal members of the family - they are quite easy to confuse, and sorting through the various accounts available in English (and Japanese) can be quite confusing because of the similarity in names.

For a start, the founder of the family sword tradition was known as Yoshioka Kenbo, although this is often read as Kenpo in the modern reading. Confusingly, the title Kenbo was passed down to the head of the family, so Musashi also fought a Yoshioka Kenbo, and another member of the family (who we will come onto later) is referred to in the Honcho Bugei Shoden by the same name - and a confusing entry on Wikipedia doesn't help things.

Of course, they had other names, which are also a little difficult to get straight as they all start with the character 直 (Nao). And as officianados of the Musashi story know, the brothers he fought were called Seijūrō and Denshichirō (and also had Nao appellations as well).

Here is a list of the main characters in our story:
Yoshioka Kenbo Naomoto : the founder
Yoshioka Kenbo Naomitsu : the founder's brother
Yoshioka Kenbo Matasaburo Naokata: he fought Musashi's father, Munisai

The following are three brothers, and sons of Naokage:
Yoshioka Kenbo Naotsuna (Seijūrō): fought Musashi
Yoshioka Mataichi Naoshige (Denshichirō): fought Musashi
Yoshioka Seijirō Shigekata: also referred to as Kenbo in Honcho Bugei Shoden

Yoshioka Matashichirō: Naotsuna's young son slain by Musashi at Ichijoji.

I hope you noticed the names of the two brothers Naotsuna and Shigekata, Seijūrō (清十郎) and Seijirō (清次郎).
The next part is where things get interesting...

The picture is from Inoue Takehiko's Vagabond - The Yoshioka swordsmen waiting for Musashi at Ichijoji.

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