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Ziro Hour Part 1 of 3, 3/1/12

Ziro Hour, A Shogun 2 AAR

Part 1 of 3

Lloyd Sabin, 1 March 2012

Read part 2 here - Read part 3 here

Grogheads’ Lloyd Sabin channels his inner warrior monk as he shares an AAR of Shogun 2.

The Beginning

Throughout my entire childhood I watched the clans evolve. Over time, some adapted the technology of foreigners, like firearms or clothing, as the Kiso have. Other clans became so reclusive that it is impossible to even find a member today. That is, until it is too late and an unfortunate victim finds himself hunted like an animal by an Hattori assassin. Still others abandoned war altogether for money, stooping to the lowest levels to make a living as merchants like the Matsuda…a shameful display!

I have not done any of these things and I never will. My name is Ziro Maeda and I have fled the lands of my birth clan, the Date, in the northeastern reaches of Honshu by order of my father. It hurts me to admit this, but the Date are effete and callow, bullied by more warlike clans like the Takeda and the Uesegi to provide food, weapons and men for those larger clans’ armies. Why? The Date could not organize quickly enough to survive. So now they are slaves.

My father saw what was happening and sent my brother and me southwest, to the mountains of Kaga province. My brother did not survive the journey, succumbing to the cold and snow in the upper passes. After two months of travel I finally descended the last mountain trail, thin, ill and desperate for a meal. Seeing the high walls of Kaga’s fortress monastery in front of me, I wept. I cried for my brother, yes, but also tears of joy that I was alive.

I approached the stone and wood archway and my senses were overwhelmed. My nostrils filled with the scents of different flowers and plants, my ears buzzed with the chirping of birds and bugs, and I could hear the stomping and shouting of men training somewhere within the fortress. After weeks of tramping through nothing but the sterile wastes of the mountains and burying my brother, I was finally beginning to feel alive again.

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At that point, before I could even ask permission to enter the gate, the huge wooden door opened from within, making a heavy grinding sound. A dozen monks, clad in heavy white and brown robes and wooden shoes, geta, watched me approach. Some were holding large pole staffs tipped with curved blades, some kept brown and white dogs at their sides. I stood still for a moment, doubting myself, wondering if I had made a terrible mistake.

They looked me over silently. I stood, staring back, for what felt like many moments. One of the monks keeping a dog by his side let it slip and the brown and white Akita came running towards me. I stood my ground and put my hand out. The dog sniffed it, then started to lick it. I raised my hand in the air, remembering some of what my father taught me about big dogs when I was a boy. The dog sat and his tail began to wag.

The monks were amused, and some started to laugh. The captain walked over and called his dog back. He asked me a couple of questions, where I was from, why I was there and what I wanted. I told him that I had left my home province on my father’s order and that I was originally from Date territory. I also told him that I lost my brother on the trip down to Kaga and could not bear the shame of going back to be a slave.

The captain was quiet for a long time and the other monks had lost interest, walking back into the fortress. Only the dog still eyed me with interest. Finally the captain responded that, against his better judgment, he would take me in. I would have to be fattened up, he said, and ‘constructed’ from the bottom up. He then slapped me on the shoulder and welcomed me to Kaga, one of two home fortress monasteries of the Ikko Ikki.

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Constructed from the Bottom Up

The next 10 weeks were the most difficult of my life. The captain, who seemed friendly enough when I first met him, turned into my own personal demon. From before dawn until after midnight every day I was hounded by him and required to serve the brotherhood. I helped prepare food, maintain the monastery grounds and assisted in the armory. I was immersed in intense physical training: running miles each day, climbing walls, and training with bows and staffs.

There were a few other novices training with me but as we were so engaged in Buddhist study, work and training I didn’t know much about them other than their names. By the end of the 10 weeks I had put on weight, was nimble and fast on my feet, could parry with a staff and had earned the right to carry a real naginata. I was also given two new permanent work assignments assisting in the kennels with care, feeding and training of the order’s dogs, and regular maintenance responsibilities in the fortress’ Buddhist temple. I grew to enjoy both very much.

I was very thankful that my father sent me to Kaga. Over the course of the next year I tended to my kennel and religious work, continued practicing with the naginata and visited the towns under Ikko Ikki influence throughout the province. I saw my brothers tend to the needs of the people, both financially and spiritually and I grew to strongly believe in our cause. My captain was still my own personal demon, criticizing mostly my skill (or lack thereof) with the naginata and ordering that I take up the arquebus. Fortunately for me my shooting skill pleased the captain far more than my work with the pole staff and drilling with firearms replaced drilling with the naginata. I was still expected to be able to handle both.

During this transition, the Ikko Ikki grew in strength and I visited Echizen, a neighboring province also controlled by the Ikko Ikki. This was a time of personal change for me as I had to accept the fact that making money was not a crime. The Ikko Ikki funded their activities through commerce, controlling almost all trade with Kyoto, as well as building alliances with clans as far afield as the Mori and Asai. Simultaneously, forces were aligning against us as other clans, most notably the Oda and the Takeda, began viewing the Ikko Ikki as a threat.

Perhaps they were correct!

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The Ikko Ikki Go to War

Warfare amongst the clans was spreading and getting worse. Heading back to Kaga I was told that I would soon use the fighting skills I had learned over the course of the last two years to defend the common people. It was strange to me because I had never thought that I would be called to actually fight. I learned to enjoy my training, but I was not sure if I had the fortitude to kill another man. When the daimyo Oda Nobunaga unleashed his forces on us, there was no more time to doubt.

The Oda were well connected to the shogunate, wealthy, and sported a well-equipped army of thousands of samurai. I would be lying if I said I was not terrified when given my first marching orders to bring the war to the Oda directly by marching to Mino province preemptively. I was told it was rightly Ikko Ikki territory and that we were not being deployed as invaders but as liberators. We were to remove the yoke of the ruling Oda samurai and restore wealth and power to the commoners.

After being issued new weapons at Kaga fortress, including a new arquebus, a naginata (against my captain’s wishes), and two dogs I had personally raised in the kennel, I joined a column of my brothers as well as thousands of peasant volunteers and marched towards Oda lands in Mino. Along the way, women and children threw chrysanthemums and blossoms in our path as we passed through different towns, and I felt like a hero just for being there. The nagging doubt in the recesses of my mind was almost gone.

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Combating the Oda, Mastering Fear

The flowers and excitement disappeared once my column crossed from Echizen into Mino, which had been occupied by the Oda for several months. Marching into the valley, our blades shined in the sun. Those lucky enough to have armor (I did not) also gleamed. We arrived at the precipice of a lush green valley, and proceeded to march down into it. My fear grew as the forest canopy rose above us and the sun seemed to disappear. Only the sound of thousands of marching feet could be heard, drowning out the sounds of countless birds and animals. After marching for another hour, we could begin to smell smoke and noticed a clearing ahead of us. The keep of the Oda fortress with its green slated roof appeared above the trees.

Our captains ordered us to halt. My fear grew as we simply stood there, waiting. Finally we were given the order to march towards the fortress, naginatas, spears, and swords drawn. Closer and closer to the gate we got until we could see that it was open. Not missing a beat we marched straight through it, not knowing what to expect. As we poured into the fortress, different units were ordered to seize walls, secure gates and take the keep. I was ordered up on top of one of the walls. Securing my area, I waited, listening for any sound of resistance as the other units went into the keep.

After a long wait, one of our monks appeared on the roof of the keep. To him would go a great honor, despite the fact that the whole fortress was empty. It was a strange, cold feeling of disappointment…so much adrenaline built up and then given no release because there was no fighting to be done. Where were the thousands of Oda samurai in their lamellar armor, festooned with yellow and black battle standards? After spending the night in the fortress feasting on Oda food and sake, some farmers and peasants came down into the valley. They were a little suspicious of us but after some time warmed up, and told us that the Oda troops had left their fortress just hours before we arrived. Mino was now ours.

Our captains now split our army. A garrison would be left in Mino to secure it, and the bulk of the Ikko Ikki would march through newly conquered South Shinano, link up with the conquering Ikko Ikki army there and then march on to our next target: the Takeda held province of Kai.

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Marching Towards the Takeda and Vengeance

After a few days rest at the castle in South Shinano, my spirits lifted in anticipation of finally getting revenge on one of the clans that had always struck fear into the heart of my home province. Memories of mounted samurai in red lamellar armor storming through my village were still fresh to me. I took comfort in finally being able to earn my vengeance.
As thousands of Ikko Ikki poured into Kai, the ground took a deep dip and high, treeless hills rose on either side of us. Again I felt uneasy, as I did in Mino, and this time I was justified. As our captains pushed us to run towards the higher ground, a battle cry echoed through the valley. I knew that sound.

The rumble of thousands of horse hooves grew and drowned out the battle cry. My unit was ordered to form a spear wall with our naginata. The red-armored horsemen charged down the hill towards us as I braced myself. My two dogs, barking up the hill, stood firm next to me, ready. Then, from behind us we heard another battle cry. More Takeda horsemen coming at us up the hill! We had been flanked and were in a terrible position.

Some of my brothers foolishly broke and ran. They were the first to die. Another naginata unit was called in immediately behind us to face the horsemen to our rear. As both cavalry units rushed our positions, we all braced our pole staffs and let out a battle cry of our own. Horseflesh, blood, and broken armor flew everywhere as both units of cavalry smashed into us. My dogs charged the horses, nimbly running amongst them, snapping at their vulnerable legs. Wave after wave of cavalry tried to break us and some of my brothers who remained to fight were taken down. All along the line men went down with the most gruesome wounds.

The Takeda took heavy casualties, our naginata acting as huge hooks and spears, dragging them from their horses and ripping through their armor. As they wheeled around to charge again, thousands of armored samurai archers appeared all around us.

I am ashamed to say that ultimately my entire unit broke and ran upon seeing the archers. The battle was lost when we broke formation and were easy pickings for the cavalry. All was chaos as thousands of monks scattered like rats and ran for their lives. Screaming, I watched dozens of my brothers get brutally mowed down. The Takeda pursued us far into South Shinano until they finally tired of the slaughter. Months were needed to rebuild and try again, and my want for revenge only grew.


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