Did Kurosawa really give a “samurai sword” to John Sturges?

Hi blog, long time no see.

Just been reading around a bit and noticed this article.


Now, the English phrase “samurai sword” is problematic. The word “samurai” is almost exclusively used in English to refer to a member of the medieval/early-modern Japanese social class known as buke (武家), but probably the vast majority of the physical blades that are referred to as “samurai swords” have no direct connection to the pre-modern buke, as they were produced after the old Japanese caste system was abolished and could be freely owned (purchased) by people regardless of their former social class.

I think the phrase more often than not just means “Japanese or Japanese-looking gently-curved single-edged sword”.

The question then arises: What kind of sword did Kurosawa give Sturges, if this anecdote is accurate?

Now, Kurosawa Akira was (as far as I have heard) himself of historically buke stock. This means that it is at least possible he owned a sword that had actually been carried by a “samurai” and so could be accurately called a “samurai sword”. But if this was the case, such a sword would have been a priceless family heirloom. Would he give such an item away to a fellow filmmaker, just because he enjoyed the latter’s movie? Or even because he appreciated what a tribute it had been to his own movie? Let alone a foreign filmmaker whose understanding of such a sword’s significance would probably not be much greater than that of one who would mistakenly call any mass-produced Japanese military sword a “samurai sword”?

So I would say that, if this anecdote is basically accurate, the “samurai sword” in question was not a priceless and irreplaceable heirloom that had been passed down through Kurosawa’s samurai lineage for centuries, but rather a trinket that Kurosawa bought for the occasion; pricey, maybe, but not something one should normally call a “samurai sword”, especially given that Kurosawa himself was a descendant of real Samurai.

But this is not the real issue here. I’m still not convinced that the anecdote is even accurate. I searched around a bit, and couldn’t find any source for the story prior to 2002. Now, a professional film critic might possibly have heard the story from one of the people involved (given that Ryan’s career appears to have begun in the 1980s, I doubt he himself was present at the event).

But if this story originated with something Sturges (who died in 1992) had written or said, wouldn’t it have appeared in some source prior to the article I linked to at the top of this post? And if the story had originally come from something Kurosawa had written or said in an interview, would there not be more sources available in Japanese than English?

I’m seriously asking — the problem of translating “samurai sword” into Japanese makes it difficult to locate sources for it in that language. Anyone else have any ideas?

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うちの課の 忘年会で 梅の酒
それは昨夜で 今二日酔い

十二月 師走ともいう それでもさ
我走らぬは 師ならぬあかし

わが庵に 降れる白雪 しずかなる
けれども除雪 めんどうくさい

三博士 星を見上げて ユダまでは
ラクダに乗りて 腰は痛そう

サンタさん 北極に住み 一夜中
外で働く 寒くならぬか

薔薇色の 服着て空を 飛んで来る
ヒゲも剃らない 変なおじさん

どこからか ホホホの声が 聞こえてく
恐ろしい人 サンタクロース

我今や 現代狂歌 詠みつづく
難しければ 適当に詠む


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Sankyoku-bu Concert

So yesterday I went to the Teiki Ensōkai. I had been looking forward to it since … well basically since the previous one last November.


It was amazing. There was a repeat of the piece whose premiere I attended last year (the 50th concert), and I was privileged to see the final performance in a Sankyoku-bu concert of my o-sewa ni natta senpai M. The kimono of the 4th-years were all beautiful. Two of the pieces were moon-themed; the first of these made creative use of a disco-ball, the other a spotlight against the upper-right rear of the stage. It was beautiful.

I also ran into Other M (a lot of the members of this group have names beginning with the same letter in English) for the first time in eight months. She had graduated and moved down to the Quantow to work. I was only able to exchange a few words with her, but I was still very happy to see that she is doing well.

That morning I had had my first Santa gig of this year. It’s going to be a long December. This was undoubtedly the best possible way to start it out, though. 🙂

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My mother in front of the tengu of Kurama Station

Me with Fumie at the same site, June 2010


最初はもちろん英語版ウィキペディアを見てみました。「Tengu」という記事に立派そうな参考文献のリストがあったので、それらの書籍で調べようと思いましたが、特に僕の目を引いたのはロアルド・ヌットセン(Roald Knutsen)の『Tengu – The Shamanic and Esoteric Origins of Japanese Martial Arts』(天狗:日本武道の神秘的なシャーマニズムの起源)でした。日本の古い伝説についての百科事典的な記事には少し不思議なタイトルだと思いました。それでも、僕の大好きな源義経も鞍馬山の天狗から武術を習ったというので、このような天狗と武術を繋げた伝説などを論じる民俗学の本だろうし、とても興味を持ちました。

牛若丸僧正坊隋武術覚圖 "Ushiwaka-maru (Yoshitsune) learns martial arts under Sojobo"


話は戻りますが、ヌットセン氏の本をGoogleブックスーで調べても少しガッカリしました。無料プレビューもダウンロードできる電子版もなく、読者が書いたレビューももちろんありませんでした。アマゾンもあまりためにならず、レビュー一つもなくて、自分で読んでみるのに7600円 かかるということです。しかし出版社の公式ページには不思議で興味深い要約文は載っていました。その真ん中のところに「the early discovery that the tengu of the Muromachi period were interacting with the deadly serious bugei masters(室町時代の天狗達が武芸の天才達と関わっていたことに気づいた[のが一生続く研究するきっかけだった])[…]Here were beings(この生き物達は[仏法僧が考えたジャータカや俗なおとぎ話に登場する妖怪ではなく恐ろしい]存在だった)[…]As this study shows, the part-hidden tengu under review passed on and taught the clearest theory of tactics and strategy to bushi(この研究論文が論証するように、隠れていた天狗達は武士達にもっとも鮮明な戦術や兵法を伝えたのだ)」とありますが、この本によると天狗が実際に存在して中世日本の武士に武芸を教えたということだそうです。


著者ヌットセン氏について」というセクションによると、数十年日本の伝統武術を習ったそうですが、「After studying Art and Design he served as a regular in the Intelligence Corps and followed with a successful career in graphic design, choreographing complex medieval combat sequences for a computer film project in England and the USA, and writing(造形芸術の勉強をしてから情報軍団に入って、それからグラフィックデザインのキャリアを始めて、イギリスや米国で複雑な中世戦乱のシナリオをコンピューター・フィルム・プロジェクトで計画したりして、本も書きました)」という学歴を説明する文に日本語、(日本の)歴史、俗学、神話学などの話はありません。

僕も数年間アイルランドで剣道を習いましたが、そこでもう一つ習ったことは、上級の剣道家になっても日本語や日本史を知るわけではないということです。剣道を習うのに日本史の研究は必要ではないし、日本史を正しく理解するのにも剣道の必要はありません。ヌットセン氏の作品はそれぞれ面白いはずですが、どんな参考文献を使ったか気になります。上に引用した要約文のように天狗が実際に存在したと本当に書いているかも少し知りたいです。学術的な書籍の出版社としての300年の歴史を持っているブリル社に信頼性があり、擬似説(fringe theoryは日本語で何っていうの??)なんて出版しないと思うので、好奇心がわいてきています。


ところで、もう一つ英語版ウィキペディアで気になった点ですが、よく聞く日本語表現「天狗になる」は、うぬぼれる人が死後(地獄などに行かないで)天狗になるということからできたということです。この情報源は『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』の作者水木しげるだそうで、水木氏は信頼性が高いでしょうが、僕は今までこの表現と「鼻が高い」という他の慣用句に関係があると思っていました。よく考えれば天狗の鼻は「高い」というより「長い」ですが・・・ 😛

「天狗」についての随想ですが、これぐらいで切っておきたいと思います。またいつかこの話題に戻ってみようと思います。楽しかったから。 😀

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On Tengu: Some Musings

In July, when my parents visited me, we visited Mt. Kurama (鞍馬山) in Kyoto. As I predicted, they were impressed by the huge tengu (天狗) face just outside the station, as I was when I first visited here three years ago.

My mother in front of the tengu of Kurama Station

Me with Fumie at the same site, June 2010

I decided recently to do a bit of research on tengu and write a short essay. It’s been a while since I looked into old Japanese folk-tales of ghosts and monsters, which one could say was how I got my start in studying Japanese, so it seemed appropriate.

I started, of course, by checking Wikipedia. Their article on “tengu” contains what looked like a relatively good bibliography, so I figured I’d look into some of those books. Doing so, I noticed Roald Knutsen’s Tengu – The Shamanic and Esoteric Origins of Japanese Martial Arts. An odd title, I thought, for a book cited in an article on folklore. But then, my hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune did, according to legend, learn his martial skill from the tengu of Mt. Kurama, so maybe it is a folkloric study of the relationship between tengu and the martial arts, which of course peaked my interest.

牛若丸僧正坊隋武術覚圖 "Ushiwaka-maru (Yoshitsune) learns martial arts under Sojobo"

“Yoshitsune (right) learns martial arts under Sojobo”

(As an aside, the central part of the above image actually appeared on the cover of the copy of Mitford’s famous Tales of Old Japan that I read back in 2006. No one told me that it was an image of the story of Yoshitsune, who as far as I recall doesn’t appear in that old book.)

Anyway, checking the Google Books page for Knutsen’s book proved disappointing. No preview or E-book, and no reviews. Checking Amazon was not much better: not a single review, and apparently if I want to read it I need to import it at the hefty fee of at least 7,600 yen. However, the publisher’s website included an interesting summary. The middle part of this summary (the early discovery that the tengu of the Muromachi period were interacting […] Here were beings […] As this study shows, the part-hidden tengu under review passed on and taught the clearest theory of tactics and strategy to bushi) seems to imply that at least some tengu actually existed and taught their martial skills to the warriors of medieval Japan.

Now I’m more curious than ever about the contents of this book.

The publisher’s “biographical note” on Knutsen describes him as having spent decades studying traditional Japanese martial arts, but the sentence After studying Art and Design he served as a regular in the Intelligence Corps and followed with a successful career in graphic design, choreographing complex medieval combat sequences for a computer film project in England and the USA, and writing interestingly mentions no serious qualifications in Japanese, history or folklore studies.

I studied kendō in Ireland for a few years and I can tell you being a high-ranking kendōka does not automatically grant one a degree of knowledge of the Japanese language or of Japanese history. One does not have to know about Japanese history to be good at kendō, and one does not have to be good at kendō to understand Japanese history. I am sure Knutsen’s books are all good reads, but I am curious about what kind of sources he uses, and if he actually makes the claim that appears to be attributed to him in the summary. I trust Brill not to publish something on the fringe, so I’m really curious.

Has anyone read this book, or otherwise have access to any of Knutsen’s other works?

Anyway, a point mentioned in the Wikipedia article on tengu that I found interesting was that the common Japanese phrase 天狗になる (tengu ni naru, literally “become a tengu”, but meaning “put on airs” or “become arrogant”) comes from the belief that arrogant people become tengu after death. This statement is cited to the writer of GeGeGe no Kitarō (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎), who probably knows what he’s talking about. But I had always assumed that this had something to do with the other Japanese idiom 鼻が高い (hana ga takai, literally “having a high nose”, but meaning “be arrogant”) and the fact that tengu … well, their noses are more “long” than “high”, but still. 😛

I think this is enough musing on the subject of tengu for today. I may return to this subject in the future. It has been fun.

UPDATE: I translated the above into Japanese, which can be viewed here.

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A Storm is Coming, or, Climbing Mt. Iwate

So, tomorrow is a typhoon. I’ve been in Japan in this general typhoon season at least four times so far, but never really seen anything more than the accompanying rain. Tomorrow, I’m wondering whether I’ll be able to make it to work. (>.<)

Anyway, on Sunday myself and other AJET members, as well several Interac ALTs, other members of Iwate’s foreign community, and Japanese comrades, climbed Mt. Iwate. The mountain is the largest in Iwate, and one of the largest in Tohoku. It towers over the Morioka skyline, and last time I tried it I had muscle pains for a week.

Last time, of course, I was wearing runners, jeans and a shoulder bag.

This time I bought proper hiking boots, an epic rucksack, and packed appropriately. But it was still very difficult. When I bought my boots I had a choice between 28.5 with broad width, or 29 but too tight on the edges. Apparently, my feet are about 28.7. On the way up, I stayed comfortably ahead of the other members of the self-dubbed “Slow Group”, even on a somewhat slippery and very windy 500-metre stretch (I actually deliberately stayed ahead there, since I didn’t want to interact with anyone in a way that might draw my attention away from not falling). As we neared the cabin, I got so far ahead of the rest of my group that I could no longer see them. It was the first snow. It was very cold, and with none of my companions in earshot I got a bit lonely. I sat down and waited for them to catch up.

This was not a good idea. I think sitting down in the snow almost added a nasty cold to my muscle pain.

Anyway, once the others caught up we were not far from the cabin. I sat down there. I joined about six others in deciding not to climb the cliff-face up to the summit. (Did I mention the strong winds and the snow?) The ones who came down an hour or so later apparently agreed that we were the smart ones. 😉

ashibiki no/Iwate no yama ni/noboru kana/Iwate no mine ni/hatsuyuki furite
On Mt. Iwate/that great and tall Mt. Iwate/will I climb;/on its peak/is that the first snow.

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Belated overview of the last week-and-a-half

Sorry not to post for a while. Not long after I started this blog, I entered a very hectic work week, part of which saw me on an overnight trip (Skills Development Conference for Iwate’s ALTs) and staying in a dormitory with limited internet access. Then my summer holidays were this week, so I’m currently in Kyoto.

Last weekend was a long weekend, so I had trouble getting a hotel for the full nine days, and so I took a chance with a ryokan I found on Booking.com by the name of Ryokan Hinomoto. They also didn’t have internet access, and circumstances forced me to have to change rooms in there twice. I moved to the Shijo-Karasuma Toyoko Inn on Monday and am there now. But as it turned out this week most of my friends were free in the evenings but not the afternoons, so in the afternoons I went sightseeing alone, then went out for dinner with friends in the evenings (twice in Osaka), and when I got back I tended to sleep rather than post here.

Brief outline of my activities in Kinki since last Saturday:

Saturday, 21-09-2013: Traveled to Asuka Village in Nara Prefecture to see the oldest Daibutsu statue in Japan (飛鳥大仏), on the way visiting the Soga no Iruka grave (蘇我入鹿首塚), and then stopping by the Manyo Culture Museum (奈良県立万葉文化館). I was pleasantly surprised to find that Nara’s prefectural museums are free entry for foreigners. Then I went to the Moon-Viewing Party (月を観る会), which is apparently held annually in Asuka Village, and heard lectures on the moon and the homophonous tsuki tree (槻) as themes in Man’yōshū poems and other classical literary works. (As for what tsuki is in English, apparently it’s the old name for the keyaki tree [欅], which in English is primarily known by it’s Japanese name…) This day I was overwhelmed with the majesty and age of what is in a way the oldest part of Japan. The sights of the old temple ruins, of Mount Kagu, and of the great Buddha statue were enough to move me almost to tears.

Sunday, 22-9-2013: Walked around Kyoto, met my friend N in the evening for drinks in and Irish pub in Gion. Good times all round.

Monday, 23-9-2013: Changed hotels, visited the Museum of Kyoto (京都文化博物館), which was massive, then went for a walk around the Imperial Palace Garden (京都御苑), visited the site where Murasaki Shikibu supposedly wrote The Tale of Genji. Unfortunately the Kyoto City Historical Archives (京都市歴史資料館) were closed.

Tuesday, 24-9-2013: Re-visited the Archives, which was interesting. Went to Kyoto University (京都大学) to retrieve documents related to grad school. The entrance exam looks very intimidating, so I need to brush up my ability to read not only classical Japanese grammar (古文) but also kanbun (漢文) and calligraphic script (草書体). Lot of work ahead of me. While drinking tea and waiting for the School of Letters office to open after lunch, a man approached me and asked me about the difference between the English words “atmosphere” and “ambiance”. We had an interesting chat and I gave him my e-mail. In the evening I had dinner in a Spanish restaurant in Osaka with my friend M. I realized sangria is quite tasty, but this particular restaurants “vegetable sangria” was not. (>_<)

Wednesday, 25-9-2013: Went to Osaka to meet my friend A in the afternoon. Before meeting her I tried to get the equivalent documents as mentioned above in Kyoto U from Osaka University, but it turns out their main campus is not where the literature school is, so after much to-ing and fro-ing I found it. They have a system in which prospective students contact a professor who interests them and studies under them as a kenshūsei for 6 months before starting grad school proper. It seems very interesting, but I’m not sure if any of their professors’ research interests match my own. From 17:30 I went for okonomiyaki with A from 17:30, and then afterwards to the Starbucks in Nanba, which had a surprisingly extensive library. I must go back there again …

Thursday, 26-9-2013 (today): I went back to Osaka to finish my grad school inquiries in Kwansei Gakuin University and Kansai University. Kwansei’s campus was gorgeous, but very closed off and over a kilometre uphill from the train station. Kansai was also difficult to navigate, as it is the first place I have been where neither the literature school nor the grad-school office were able to answer my questions, and I had to go to the entrance exam center. But when I got there they were very helpful. Still, I think of all the places I have been in the last few days, Kyoto University would be my first choice. I realized this week just how much I have missed this town. 😀

Now, I’m going out to get more okonomiyaki with my friend I. I’ll give more detailed descriptions of the above later, hopefully.

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Fukushima Prefectural Culture Center

I came south to Fukushima City for the latter half of the long weekend.

The weather is miserable, but I’m now in the Fukushima-ken Bunka Center for an art exhibit, and later I’ll go back to the Prefectural Art Museum for my last sight of the “Jakuchu’s Here!” Exhibit: we’ve had a good run.

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I guess introductions are in order…

So hi, everyone. My name is Ian Suttle. It sounds like “イアン・サトル” when pronounced in Japanese, so my surname isn’t often confused for a Japanese boy’s first name. I’m 25 years old, and I’m a CIR in the Iwate Prefectural Government (NPO, Culture and International Relations Division). I came to Japan last summer from Dublin, Ireland, where I studied Japanese and translation studies in DCU from 2007 to 2011.

In 3rd year of university I studied abroad in Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. There are in my opinion few experiences one can have that compare to studying abroad, particularly in Kyoto. It is difficult to describe my feelings about this experiences in words, but suffice to say it was wonderful, and as soon as I graduated university in Ireland I made every effort I could to return to work in Japan.

My hobbies include classical Japanese literature, cinema, composing tanka poetry, travel, playing shamisen, and occasionally video-gaming. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation as a comparative analysis of Peter McMillan’s 2008 translation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu with the original Japanese, and since then I have had a particular passion for that work.

Kore kara yoroshiku ne! (笑)

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