The truth of Ninja -Ninja Encyclopedia-

The Thief Ninja Ishikawa Goemon

The rascal loved by people

Goemon in the anime Lupin the Third

Goemon in the anime

"Lupin the Third"

Regardless of whether itfs in the Western or Eastern world, there exist men, supported by people in spite of being villains. They are the people called "chivalrous robbers". For instance, Robin Hood, Arsene Lupin, Billy the kid, Bonnie and Clyde and Lu Bu (˜C•z) in the " Three Kingdom Saga (ŽO‘Žu) " in China. Ishikawa Goemon (Ξμ Œά‰E‰q–ε) is one of them. Goemon is thought to be a ninja. He abused ninjutsu which he acquired for stealing but he has had great popularity among people since the Edo-period. In Kodan (u’k) and Kabuki (‰Μ•‘Šκ), his actions have been told about and have attracted large audiences. In Japan, criminals with multiple crimes regarded with little affection are spoken about in the following way " He is like Ishikawa Goemon ". In contemporary entertainment such as in the "Lupin the Third ", there is a character named Goemon who is the master of the sword. Needless to say, he is an imitation of Ishikawa Goemon. However in his case, his character is created as a samurai instead of a ninja. At any rate, especially in Japan, people enjoy stories with gangsters who are on the side of the weak. A typical example is the Yakuza (ƒ„ƒNƒU) movie starring Takakura Ken (‚‘qŒ’). The lifetime of Goemon may not necessarily be so, though it is a fact that Goemon has been regarded as a chivalrous robber. Now, we are going to look at the life of Goemon and whether his legend is true or false.

Until Goemon became a thief

Goemon was born the a son of a Samurai in the late of 16th century. The place was maybe Kouchi (‰Ν“ΰ), which is in Osaka prefecture today. Since an early age, Goemon was a clever but rowdy liar. As a teenager, Goemon lost his parents, he sold his ancestral lands and went on a journey of wandering. Later, he reached Iga (ˆΙ‰κ) and learned ninjutsu (”Ep) . He stayed in the deep mountains for several years in order to master ninjutsu. Goemon was the apprentice of Momochi Tanba (•S’n ’O”g) who was the famous leader of Iga and knew the secrets of Iga-ninjutsu. He was so talented as a ninja, but his behavior was quite bad. Goemon could be quite violent and had his own rules. Goemon had a love affair with the wife of his teacher Tanba. At last, he stole gold coins from his teacher and escaped from Iga with the woman. According to a certain tradition, Goemon killed the woman because she got in the way of him running away.

The actions of Goemon as a robber

Goemon and his son in the boiled oil

Goemon and his son

in the boiled oil

Later, Goemon came to Kyoto and began his professional activities as a robber. As Gomon organized a group of thieves and ravaged the city of Kyoto. They were armed with swords, spears, bows and arrows and plundered gold, silver and property from Daimyo (‘ε–Ό) residences. Goemon himself settled in his mansion in the city. By day, they pretended to be merchants and searched target places and in the night they invaded their objectives. Their conduct was organized enough to appear that they were ninjas. They often scattered something that they stole to people. This was maybe to create a disturbance for pursuers. Their actions were so remarkable that missionaries formed " the Society of Jesus " who had stayed in Japan in those days recorded. People in Kyoto got really fearful of the Goemons but the end came eventually when some of their companions were arrested and as a result of their punitive torture, they confessed the name of their leader. Soon Goemon was captured and his execution was decided. There is another another story. Goemon received a request to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi (–Lb G‹g) who was the absolute ruler of Japan then, he tried to invade the residence of Hideyoshi but it was so reckless that he was arrested and caught red-handed.
In 1594, 10-20 members of the robber group were crucified on a riverside, and the execution method of Goemon was "boiled in a kettle". Goemon was set in a kettle filled with oil with his son and the kettle was gradually heated with a bonfire. According to an oral tradition, at first Goemon lifted his son over his head, soon after the temperature of oil got high, suddenly Goemon sank his son into the oil to kill him.
Accordingly Goemon was killed, but something interesting happened before it. Just before his execution, Goemon saw Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Then Goemon said to Hideyoshi. " Indeed I stole a fortune, it is true that I am a thief but you are also a thief because you stole the whole country of Japan. " The farewell poem which Goemon composed just before his execution is really famous in Japan. " Even if the sands on the rivers and the shores ran out, the seeds of thieves would never die".

The secret of the popularity of Goemon

Goemon in Kabuki

Goemon in Kabuki

After the death of Goemon in the Edo-period, almost all entertainment media adopted the life of Goemon in their works including Kabuki (‰Μ•‘Šκ), Kodan (u’k), joruri (ς—Ϊ—ž) and Kibyoushi-Bon (‰©•\Ž†–{) (a kind of novels in the Edo-period). Even historical playwrights Chikamatsu Monzaemon (‹ίΌ –卢‰q–ε) and Ihara Saikaku (ˆδŒ΄ Ό’ί) picked up Goemon in their works. Certainly, Goemon behaved flamboyantly as a thief but he did not necessarily work for poor people like Robin Hood. His conduct was basically for only himself. So, what was the cause of his great popularity? A certain hypothesis can be thought up. The age of the Edo-period was a society of feudalism ruled by the Tokugawa-family (“ΏμŽ). People could not help living under the rigid status system. It goes without saying that criticism of authorities was strictly forbidden even if people had dissatisfaction with the Tokugawa-family. By the way, Goemon was a man against the authorities in those days. Further to this, the enemy of Goemon was Toyotomi Hideyoshi whose family would have been beaten by Tokugawa-Ieyasu (“Ώμ ‰ΖN). In short for the Tokugawa-family, Goemon was the rival of a rival. As Goemon damaged Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it was OK for the Tokugawa-family that people flattered Goemon. At the same time, it may have provided a point of interest for the general public during those strict times. It can be thought that the popularity of Goemon was realized in the point that the profits of both the ruler and the ruled corresponded.