In 1450 the Hatakeyama family split over the issue of succession. Both factions, Hatakeyama Yoshinari and Hatakeyama Masanaga, vied for the office of Kanrei (the Shogun’s deputy official). The evil and self-centered powerful samurai Yamana Sozen switched loyalties between the two factions of the Hatakeyama family depending on the advantage, whereas another extremely powerful samurai Hosokawa Katsumoto attempted to bring the Hatakeyama family together.
By 1467 Yamana saw an opportunity to destroy his rival Hosokawa by informing the Shogun Ashikaga Yosimasa that Hosokawa had interfered in the succession to Yoshimasa’s Kanrei. Yamana wanted the Shogun’s permission to punish Hosokawa, but the wisdom of the shogun prevailed; he issued a reprimand rather than a punishment. Nevertheless the precursors to the horrendous Onin War (1467-1477) were developing; Yamana on one side, Hosokawa on the other.
When the Hatakeyama family split, Yamana saw an opportunity to raise his power by assembling an army and defeating the split Hatakeyama family. Yamana spread a lie which was aimed to alarm Kosho’s father. The lie was that Hosokawa was about to attack Hatakeyama Yoshinari or Hatakeyama Masanaga to take their land. Being loyal to both men, even though they were rivals, Kosho’s father sent messengers to each with information about the impending attack by Hosokawa. At the same time he obtained permission from his lord in Etchu to mobilize a command. Hatakeyama was placed in command of the Etchu forces. He called all available samurai to readiness.
His own daughter, as a loyal vassal of the family, and the women training with her, were summoned. Hatakeyama informed the women that his family factions were in danger by outside attack. He split the group into two sections, appointed a leader for each section and told each leader that she was to take her best women warriors and go to one or the other castles in danger. At the castles they were to protect the women and children in the palace, even against the opposing factions should the Hatakeyama factions attack each other. The women dispersed in different directions on horseback within hours.
Kosho was among the kunoichi bushi (women warriors) that went to Hatakeyama Masanaga’s castle. She was under the command of Jojo Sensei’s chief student, Ichi. Jojo Sensei was now over 70 years old and remained in Toyama to offer protection to the daimyo’s family.
Yamana Sozen was ambitious and ruthless. He was known for his scarlet complexion when he got angry, a state that made him almost apoplectic. Although Yamana was Hosokawa’s father-in-law he envied and distrusted Hosokawa and resolved to destroy him. Yamana desired to plunge the country into war as long as he attained the final victory and power. His plans included all of the heinous deeds of the age where war had ruled for hundreds of years. He was not beyond any ruthless act and at this time schemed to get Hosokawa and Hatakeyama to war.
Yamana’s men, disguised as Hosokawa’s men, stormed the castle of Hatakeyama Masanaga at night. Using rope ladders and grappling hooks several samurai climbed the outer wall, fought a few skirmishes and unbolted the main gate. Within minutes the “Hosokawa” army swept thru the castle.
When the alarm was sounded Kosho and Ichi were sleeping. They bolted out of bed, each knowing that this was the final hour for which they had been trained.
“To die for the women,” Ichi yelled.
“Hosokawa’s” men were already in the hall. Kosho stood to fight the men while Ichi ran straight to Yoshina’s, Hatakeyama’s wife’s, room. Kosho noted the men were lightly armored for maneuverability. This gave her an advantage because she didn’t have to hit exactly where the armor’s weak points were but could slash thru in many places. Kosho cut and slashed holding the men back as she retreated into the women’s quarters little by little. One samurai after another defied death to get within striking range of Kosho but all in vain. Each would rush forward in hasso-gamae (an attacking position) some with death defying kiai. Deftly Kosho would dispatch the samurai before he got to within his striking range.
As Kosho approached Yoshina’s room Ichi opened the door. Kosho stabbed her naginata into one man and gave it a quarter twist. The blade came off as it was designed to do. She, of course did this, so that none of the men could equal her advantage by using the naginata against her. She then fled into the room. As she passed the threshold the door was immediately closed and barred. Kosho reached above the door and took another naginata, this one slightly shorter than the last one. The samurai hit the door. It held. They pounded. Ichi and Kosho guarded the door with their blades in tsuki-gamae (a defensive position). But the door held and finally the pounding ceased.
Men’s voices were outside the door. Kosho and Ichi heard them but could not discern the meaning of the words. In the silence Ichi turned to Yoshina; what was her desire; live and be taken by the “Hosokawa’s” men with possible rape and torture or die now by Ichi’s merciful and fast blade. Yoshina chose to live and let her children have a chance at life too, even with disgrace if necessary. The beating on the door resumed, but Kosho sensed it was a decoy. Suddenly thru the window came one of “Hosokawa’s” men on a rope. Kosho cut only once. Screams. He never touched his sword but died with the rope in his hands. Another came; another cut. A total of six samurai died attempting the window; then no more.
A few seconds later smoke started coming under the door. “Quick”, yelled Ichi. “It is poison!” Kosho’s robe was off in an instant. She caulked the door frame with her clothes, becoming woozy and dizzy. Pounding resumed on the door. Kosho fell to the floor unable to rise from the poison air as she saw another man come thru the window. Ichi cut this one but she, too, was failing from the poison. Soon all were on the floor unconscious.
As Kosho woke, Ichi was staggering to her feet. “Come on,” she said, “we must get to Takakeyama-sama’s room in case he needs us.” She grabbed her naginata and staggered.
Kosho retorted, “No, Ichi, our duty is to protect his wife, Yoshina, and their children. We must not go anywhere, but prepare to die here.”
Ichi knew Kosho was right.
The two assessed the women’s quarters. None of the women appeared harmed.
Their clothes were intact. There was no blood except from the dead men. Only, as they looked around, they found that Naniko, the daimyo’s only female child, was missing. The alarm went out; “Naniko is missing.” Men and women in the hall screamed to get the alarm to Hatakeyama as soon as possible.
Hatakeyama Masanaga flew into the room. He was bloody and bruised. Fire lit his eyes. “Where is Naniko?” he yelled. All remained silent for a moment.
Ichi then stepped forward. “Hatakeyama-sama, the attackers put poisoned air under the door and came thru the window. There are seven dead men here by our blades. We then sloughed into oblivion. When we woke Naniko was gone and the door we had protected open. That is all I know.”
Hatakeyama stormed out the door.
Ichi and Kosho examined the seven dead men. They found that the Hosokawa mon (crests) that the dead men used were poor quality, so unlike the proud quality mon they expected of Hosokawa. All of the garments were new and also poor quality. Kosho began to suspect that the dead men were not of the Hosokawa clan at all.
Kosho, took the sword out of the scabbard of one of the dead men. She removed the tsuba (the piece that separates the blade from the handle) and the tsuka (hilt or handle) by pulling the rivet. Under the tsuka Kosho found inscriptions on the nakago (tang of the blade = part that inserts into the handle when both are riveted together). She first found the name of the sword-maker then the name of the owner. Neither helped. She flipped the tang over and there on the opposite side was a crest. The crest was not Hosokawa’s crest but Yamana’s crest. She handed it to Ichi.
Kosho grabbed another sword and similarly dismantled it. The tang bore the name of a samurai known to be one of Yamana’s vassals. Kosho showed that piece to Ichi also. Hosokawa had not attacked. Yamana’s men were disguised as Hosokawa’s men during the attack. Kosho took the two disassembled swords and ran to find Hatakeyama before he ordered a counter-attack on Hosokawa.
When Kosho presented the evidence to Hatakeyama, he was stunned. The evidence was convincing beyond doubt. He had been fooled. Hatakeyama withdrew into his chambers knowing now that his daughter may well be dead and that Yamana killed her while making it look like Hosokawa had kidnapped her, a deceptive technique to create war between Hosokawa and himself.