Overview and Brief History of Sasaki Kojiro
Sasaki Kojiro, who also went by the names Sasaki Kojirou and Sasaki Ganryu, was an esteemed swordsman born in the Fukui Prefecture in 1585. He was considered to be the best one of his field during the Sengoku Period and the earlier years of the Edo Period.
The truth behind who introduced Sasaki Kojiro to swordsmanship remains uncertain up to this day. Toda Seigen and Kanemaki Jisai are the two masters many people debate about regarding Sasaki Kojiro’s study of the Chujo-ryu style of swordsmanship.
Toda Seigen was a master Chujo-ryu swordsman of the 16th century and was equally skilled in the art of kodachi (a kind of short sword). Kanemaki Jisai, on the other hand, was another student under the guidance of Toda Seigen before serving as the teacher of Ito Ittosai and, conceivably, Sasaki Kojiro.
Nonetheless, it is a fact that Sasaki Kojiro excelled in using the nodachi (a kind of long sword/katana). According to ancient texts, Sasaki Kojiro traveled to different provinces after having defeated the younger brother of his master. Not long after, he founded his own school that he aptly named after him as Ganryu, which means “the style of the large rock” in English.
It was only when his school rose in popularity that the accounts of his life became reliable. Among the many stories told by these records include how he fought off three enemies using a tessen (a type of Japanese war fan), how he was regarded as the chief master of weapons by Hosokawa Tadaoki, and his many successful duels.
The Signature Sword and Technique of Sasaki Kojiro
As previously mentioned, Sasaki Kojiro was able to master the use of the nodachi. This served as his preferred weapon of choice during duels. Compared to the standard katana which typically measure seventy centimeters in length, nodachi swords often feature a blade length of more than ninety centimeters.
Sasaki Kojiro’s favored sword was known as the monohoshizao, which literally translates to mean “the laundry drying pole” in English. Although his sword was significantly longer and heavier compared to those of his opponents, each of Sasaki Kojiro’s attacks were incredibly precise and swift.
In line with this, his signature move/technique was known as the Tsubame Gaeshi or the Turning Swallow Cut, aptly named after the motion of the attack which mimicked that of a swallow’s tail while flying.
During the feudal era of Japan, Sasaki Kojiro’s technique was feared and respected by all who knew it. Although there are no concrete descriptions of his attack, a lot of texts compare it to the two other renowned moves of the time known as the Ganryu Kosetsu To and the Kinshi Cho Ohken. Both of these techniques consisted of fierce and swift strikes that were executed in downward then immediately upward motions.
It is believed that Sasaki Kojiro developed this technique during the year 1605.
The Duel of Sasaki Kojiro and Miyamoto Musashi
Among all the duels Sasaki Kojiro engaged and succeeded in throughout his life, his final battle with Miyamoto Musashi stands as the most popular one.
Miyamoto Musashi, who also went by the names Miyamoto Bennosuke, Shinmen Takezo, and Niten Doraku, was a master swordsman and ronin (a samurai with no master) of his time. He was known for his unique double-bladed style of swordsmanship and set that record for highest number of undefeated duels (60).
Sasaki Kojiro, being incredibly skilled in his own style of swordsmanship, served as the long-time rival of Miyamoto Musashi. Throughout their lives, the two skilled swordsmen engaged in many battles prior to their final duel in 1612.
According to records, Sasaki Kojiro and Miyamoto Musashi agreed to fight one another on April 12, 1612, on the Island of Ganryu, just a little off the shores of the province of Bizen. The battle was supposed to start early in the morning but many texts state that Sasaki Kojiro and the witnesses of the duel waited several hours for Miyamoto Musashi to arrive.
By the time Miyamoto Musashi had arrived, Sasaki Kojiro was already in a state of rage, having been disrespected by the former. As such, he immediately drew his sword and threw away his sheath.
The duel was relatively short. After seeing Sasaki Kojiro’s irritability and anger, Miyamoto Musashi provoked him to make the first move. This attack was immediately countered by Miyamoto Musashi, who broke the left ribs of Sasaki Kojiro before delivering a deadly strike to his lungs.
With the death of an equally great swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi felt a great sense of sadness which led to his spiritual awakening. He bowed to his fallen, noble opponent and the witnesses of the duel before leaving the island and making a vow to never engage in lethal battles ever again.
Up to this day, the battle between Sasaki Kojiro and Miyamoto Musashi is surrounded by debates regarding the latter’s late arrival and how this affected the fairness of the duel.
According to the supporters of Sasaki Kojiro, the intentional delay of Miyamoto Musashi was not only disrespectful but dishonorable, as well. On the other hand, Miyamoto Musashi’s supporters believe that his decision was simply a tactical move to unnerve his enemy. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the duel served as the most significant one for both swordsmen.
During the same year, Miyamoto Musashi briefly opened a fencing school.
Sasaki Kojiro’s Statue and Quotes in Ganryujima
Ganryujima, or Ganryu Island, is a relatively small island that is shaped like a boat. It used to be known as Funashima, which translates to mean “the boat island” in English. Situated just a few meters off the coast of Shimonoseki, a city of the Yamaguchi Prefecture, tourists can take a 10-minute ferry ride to the island from the Shimonoseki Harbor for 400 yen per person, one-way.
Being the place where Sasaki Kojiro and Miyamoto Musashi had their final battle, the island features a stunning statue of the two swordsmen in battle, as well as several signposts that each present a quote or interesting bit of information about the duel.
Given the small size of the island, there is not much else for tourists to do other than to enjoy its scenic views and atmosphere. Aside from public toilets and BBQ facilities, tourists should take note that there are no restaurants, shops, or souvenir stalls available on the island.
Possible Side Trips in the Yamaguchi Prefecture
A trip to Ganryujima rarely lasts for more than half a day, given the island’s lack of tourist attractions and amenities. Before or after exploring the site of Sasaki Kojiro’s final battle, tourists can choose to take a side trip or two to the many options offered by the Yamaguchi Prefecture:
Akiyoshidai refers to a plateau of the Yamaguchi Prefecture’s Mine City. It is considered to be the most abundant place in Japan in terms of karst formations. Limestone pinnacles are scattered all throughout the expanse, providing visitors with an incredibly unique sight to see.
For those who want to explore the area using a car, a winding road that goes through the highland is available. Alternatively, visitors can also choose from a wide array of hiking trails that cover the entire plateau.
During the spring and summer seasons, tourists can expect the place to be shrouded in fresh greenery. Come autumn, these colors changed into stunning shades of red, orange, and yellow, before finally being covered in a white blanket of snow during the winter season.
The small city of Iwakuni is located in the southeastern portion of the Yamaguchi Prefecture. Its main tourist attractions include:
The Kintai-kyo Bridge serves as the most iconic landmark of Iwakuni City. It has been a part of the city for several centuries and is primarily made out of wood. The bridge consists of five arches which are held over the Nishiki River by large stone pillars.
It is rarely used as an everyday bridge by pedestrians and requires visitors to pay certain fees when walking across it.
Admission Fee: 300 yen per person (roundtrip); 940 yen per person (for crossing the bridge and access to the ropeway and castle across the Nishiki River)
The Iwakuni Castle dates back to the earlier years of the Edo Period, particularly during the year 1608. It is situated on Mount Shiroyama and is partially surrounded by the Nishiki River. Four floors make up the castle, which stands 200 meters above the city of Iwakuni.
From the Kintai-kyo Bridge, tourists need to take a short walk towards the lower station of the ropeway that connects to the top of the mountain, just a few meters away from the castle.
Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:45 PM, daily except on the last day of the month
Admission Fee: 260 yen per person (for the castle); 550 yen per person (for the ropeway, round-trip); 940 yen per person (for crossing the bridge and access to the ropeway and castle)
The Kikko Park is located across the Kintai-kyo Bridge, as well. A statue of Kikkawa Hiroyoshi, Iwakuni City’s third ruler who commissioned the construction of the Kintai-kyo Bridge, welcomes visitors into the park.
Beyond this statue, tourists can find several fountains, walking paths, and interesting attractions such as:
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, from Tuesday to Sunday
Admission Fee: N/A
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, from Thursday to Tuesday
Admission Fee: 500 yen per person
Iwakuni Art Museum
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, from Friday to Wednesday
Admission Fee: 800 yen per person
White Snakes Museum
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily
Admission Fee: 200 yen per person
Hours: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM, from Tuesday to Sunday
Admission Fee: N/A
Admission Fee: N/A
Hours: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily
Admission Fee: N/A
Hagi is known for its old castle town and various temples and shrines. Tourists should make it a point to visit at least one of Hagi’s top attractions listed below:
Old Castle Town
The old castle town of Hagi originally served as the Mori Clan’s primary base. Throughout the centuries, the stunning mansions, merchant shops, and other structures have been kept well-preserved. Several residences, museums, and religious structures are open to the public for tourists to explore and appreciate.
The Tokoji Temple was built during the year 1691. Its wooden buildings and tranquil forest ultimately offer visitors with a serene experience.
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily
Admission Fee: 300 yen per person
Address: 1647 Chinto, Hagi 758-0011, Yamaguchi Prefecture
The Daishoin Temple served as the family temple of the powerful Mori Clan. It was founded in 1656 and is under the care of the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily
Admission Fee: 200 yen per person
Address: 4132 Tsubaki Omi, Hagi 758-0061, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Sasaki Kojiro in Japanese Pop Culture – Fate/Stay Night, Vagabond, Etc.
Given Sasaki Kojiro’s mastery in swordsmanship and his controversial demise, he is often used as a character in different mediums of Japanese Pop Culture. Some notable works of fiction that feature Sasaki Kojiro, or at least his signature weapon, technique, or ability, include:
Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island – shown as a highly confident and competitive version of himself.
Vagabond – shown as a deaf man who is saved and raised by an old samurai after finding him in the sea, holding onto a long sword.
Samurai Warriors 2 – shown as a soft-spoken and cultured psychopath, whose entire face is painted in white.
Samurai Showdown – used as an inspiration for the video game’s character, Ukyo Tachibana.
Brave Fencer Musashi – appears as a summoned hero who saves the Allucaneet Kingdom’s princess.
Fate/Stay Night – appears as a nameless spirit summoned to take the role of an assassin.
Dark Souls – a reference is made to Sasaki Kojiro’s monohoshizao
Way of the Samurai 4 – one of the weapons included in the video game is referred to as “The Laundry Pole”