The samurai who inspired Paul in Soul Crystals

I drop the name of a number of historical samurai in the Soul Crystals books. As the protagonist and POV, Paul Engel is well-read and a deep thinker (or overthinker) which means that he has some points of reference for his training with his katana. The katana was the most famous weapon for a samurai, but there were a number of weapons in a samurai’s potential arsenal. I won’t drone on with the Japanese names. I will just say that these include: bows and arrows, spears, glaives, longer swords, chain weapons, and even firearms. Some of those do pop up in the hands of other SC characters, but Paul (like any other Amuli) has only one bonded weapon. Just keep in mind that these warriors were more well-rounded that typically seen in fictional media.

Many of these samurai come from the Sengoku or Warring States Period which is when most of the most famous samurai lived (that and the ensuing Edo Period). It was natural for warriors to emerge during this time of war. The Sengoku Period was marked in a shift in political power. For most of its history, Japan has had an emperor. “Emperor” may sound like a powerful title, but The Emperor of Japan’s power waxed and waned over the years due to a number of factors that I won’t go into. The Sengoku Period saw the emperor relegated to a ceremonial role. The real power in Japan was in the hands of regional lords called daimyo who warred amongst themselves constantly. That period ended with the rise of a shogun which was when daimyo rose up over all the other daimyo lords and seized military control. There were a number of shogun dynasties with the last and most famous being the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)

Musashi’s name appears in the first few pages of the Soul Crystals series and is referenced many times. He is one of (if the the most) famous samurai in Japanese history. Information on his early life has been lost to time. He was likely not of nobility and had been trained in kenjutsu (the broad name for live-fighting, Japanese swordsmanship), He fought his first duel when he was only 13 and never lost any ensuing ones. These duels were always to the death. He was a ronin, or masterless samurai. He had no daimyo and fought as a mercenary. During Oda Nobunaga’s successful conquest of Japan, he was hired both by Nobunaga and Nobunaga’s various enemies at different times. This was the same for Nobunaga’s successors, Toyotomi and then Tokugawa families.

Musashi’s fighting style was marked by practicality. There was no sense of aesthetic or trying to “look cool.” He had some kind of skin condition and rarely kept his hair in a clean topknot. His most famous duel was with Sasaki Kojiro which comes up in Paul’s presentation. Musashi did everything to through Kojiro off without thinking too much about honor. He showed up late, looking bedraggled and made sure to fight with his back to the sun (to blind Kojiro). Rather than using his katana, he carved a boat oar into a sharp, wooden sword. This countered the nodachi longsword that Kojiro used. Kojiro was one of the strongest duelists of the time. His “swallow-cut” was said to be able to cut a swallow flying through the air twice before hitting the ground. Musashi won with a strike to the head.

Musashi lived his last few years as a hermit and writer. I quote his “Book of Five Rings” a few times in SC. There is a mix of Buddhist philosophy in it along with Musashi talking about best practices to be a samurai. The gest is to train with every weapon and combination and be prepared for any situation. The five rings come from the elements that Musashi said a good warrior should emulate: fire, water, air, earth, and the void. Rather than a list of sayings and proverbs like Sun Tsu’s Art of War, the book is a lot more fleshed out. If you want to learn more about Musashi in fiction, he is the title character of Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi. That work inspired Takehiko Inoue’s manga Vagabond.

Saito Hajime (1844-1915)

(An actual picture of Saito was released by his descendants a few years ago)

Traveling from the Sengoku Period to the end of the Edo Period, here is the state of Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate has ruled Japan for over 200 years in a period of strict isolationist rule. After a long period of calm, the shogunate is crashing down. In 1853, American ships rolled into Edo (now Tokyo), using the threat of military force to force Japan into opening its borders and becoming a trading partner. The new ceremonial emperor Meji and a number of other Japanese nobles fear that the shogunate is outdated and will easily be influenced by foreigners. This launches the Boshin War, a civil war between the shogun and emperor that would see the end of the samurai.

Hajime Saito was born the son of a low-ranking retainer in the shogunate. After receiving an accidental manslaughter charge in the killing of a higher-ranking retainer, he fled his home, training in dojos in Kyoto and the countryside. One of these schools became famous for the warriors it produced and the shogunate formed a military unit around it called the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi were the elite samurai troops serving only the shogun. Their two duties were guarding the shogun and working as a military police force. In an era where powerful samurai were defecting to the emperor, the Shinsengumi became famous for being the samurai hunters. They were the warriors who took down the very best of their enemies. Saito was the leader of the unit’s third division. His nickname was “The Wolf of Mibu.”

The war did not end well for the Shinsengumi. With the Meiji Restoration, the shogunate was toppled and the emperor took control of the country again. Emperor Meiji declared the samurai class outdated, and they were phased out of the army. Despite all that, Hajime Saito somehow landed on his feet. The Meiji government thought so much of his investigational skills that they made him (a former enemy) a police inspector, a role that he excelled in.

In ARC of the Amuli, Jason Saito (I wonder where I got that name?) tells Paul to find a fighting style that is advantageous to his skillset. That is what Hajime Saito’s style was all about. He was left-handed, something that would throw most opponents off. He would swing his sword upside down and backwards. He would literally flip his sword so that his blade faced himself and hold it parallel with the ground, hitting opponents with the upswing and the curved tip of the blade. At 5 feet 11 inches (the same height as me actually), he was tall for a Japanese man in his time period. With his long, strong arms, he had a great reach. Since there is no one outside of A.R.M. and A.I.M. to investigate supernatural goings-on in the Soul Crystals universe, it often falls on Paul to do detective work just like Hajime Saito.

Like most anime fans, I first became aware of Hajime Saito as a character in the Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X franchise. You can also catch a parody of him in Gintama.

Date Masamune (1567-1636) 

(Date Masamune’s actual armor)

I never name dropped Date Masamune in the SC books, but he was in my mind when I was writing the last two books. Paul Engel has a philosophical mind like Musashi and an analytical mind like Saito. I think he is a little closer to Date Masamune in character, someone who has done some dark, violent things but has a decent heart underneath it all. That is typically the modern view of Date Masamune who was about all well-rounded a person that a feudal warlord can be.

We are going back in time from Hajime Saito and back to the Sengoku and Edo Periods. Date Masamune was born in eastern Japan during a time period where a number of clans were angling for control of the region. Date Masamuna and his father, Date Terumune, made the Date clan the most prominent in the area through war. The younger Date took over the clan at 17, avenged his father’s assassination at 21, and rooted out spies among his household servants all at the same time. He survived small pox as a child, losing sight in one eye in the process. He either cut out the eye himself or had a retainer do it for him. That earned him the nickname “The One-Eyed Dragon of Oshu.” His enemies had to stare down a samurai with an eyepatch, black armor, and a crescent moon ornament on his helmet.

Date Masamune did lose a battle and forfeited the namesake Date City…but only to Toyotomi Hideyoshi who controlled most of Japan at that time. Date Masamune was so well-liked in the city that the citizens rioted when he was deposed. Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the usurper of the Toyotomi clan, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, recognized his worth and made him a foremost retainer. That did not end his rebellious streak, however. Something he seemingly did for the right reasons.

During the reunification of Japan at the end of the Sengoku Period, the conquerors wanted complete control over the people, including religion. Oda Nobunaga sought to repress Buddhism and regularly burned Buddhist temples. Christianity, namely Catholicism, was fairly new to the country. It was somewhat encouraged under Nobunaga, repressed under Toyotomi, and forcefully banned and discriminated against during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Despite all that, Date Masamune appeared to believe in religious toleration (he was a Zen Buddhist himself). This may stem from an incident where a Christian missionary used Western medical care to cure an illness in one of his concubines. The Date clan became know for hiding and helping Christians to flea Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Without the shogun’s approval, Date Masamune sent a Christian delegation to the Vatican in hoping to establish formal relations with the Catholic Church and the Western world as a whole. The shogun later shut these plans down, but the Date clan escaped punishment based on Masamune’s reputation.

Date Masamune was especially close to his daughter, Irohahime, who also bucked convention. She was married to the shogun’s sixth son, Matsudaira Tadateru but was forced to divorce him after he was stripped of his inheritance and exiled due to an insubordination charge. Irohahime rejected all future marriage proposals and never remarried. This was irregular for a female noble in this era. The theories for this are that Irohahime never stopped loving Matsudaira or that she was a secret Catholic and needed an annulment from the Church before remarrying. Whatever the reason, Irohahime became the hostess of the Date castle as well as an advisor for the rest of her life.

Date Masamune spent a good portion of life creating things rather than just destroying things. He wrote Zen poetry, even reciting a poem to Tokugawa at the shogun’s deathbed. Cooking was another hobby of his, and you can still find his recipe books today. He was known as an accomplished builder. Following the destruction of the Sengoku Period, he rebuilt a number of regional temples and castles. His largest project was the founding and building of the city of Sendai, Japan’s 12th largest city today.

So yeah, if I had to pick a samurai that Paul is like, I would say Date Masamune. All of these samurai did play a role in coming up with his swordsmanship style.

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