Ninja and Honor in Taiko

Ninja are essentially the black sheep of the samurai in Taiko. They may be retainers in a lord’s house and even hold places of favor but, because of the samurai code of honor, ninja are not regarded by their peers are truly honorable samurai.

One of the main tenets of the samurai code in Taiko is that there is nothing more honorable for a samurai than dying in the service of his lord (Yoshikawa 356). The text demonstrates this on multiple occasions: before the battle against Yoshimoto, Nobunaga’s generals declare that he does not even have to ask them to give their lives for him and, during the battle and others like it, it is common practice for samurai to yell out their name and their loyalties during a charge (199, 210). These examples demonstrate the degree to which death for one’s lord is ingrained into the samurai culture in Taiko, as well as the ease with which samurai are willing to sacrifice themselves for the interlocked correlation of their lord and honor. Additionally, the practice of seppuku – or declaring that one will commit seppuku – is depicted as a common show of repentance for an error that goes against the wishes or honor of a samurai’s lord. On several occasions, Hideyoshi offers his suicide to Nobunaga or claims that he will commit seppuku when enemies/potential allies refuse to see him, saying that he will do so because he has failed Nobunaga (280). In all of these ways, it becomes obvious that a samurai’s death in the service of his lord is seen as the ultimate act of devotion and servitude.

The ninja stands contrary to all of these ideas surrounding honorable samurai death. Rather than their purpose being to die for their lord, a ninja operates under the assumption that he is no good to his lord dead, because it will mean that he has not obtained and relayed the information for which he was sent, or that his mission is otherwise incomplete (357). Though one could say that this behavior and outlook is the ninja’s honorable service to his lord, other samurai view this clinging to life as a less honorable way to live; Taiko references ninja as being called “depraved samurai,” which seems to point towards the idea that, at least from the view of other samurai, ninja are seen as less-honorable, less-notable social positions. Of course, since the ninja in Taiko try to remain anonymous, there is little direct interaction between a ninja and a regular samurai in which both parties are aware of the status of the other. The exception to this, of course, is when Hideyoshi (then called Tokichiro) correctly deduces that Ganmaku is a ninja for Nobunaga, but our protagonist is not prone to condescension and – at the time – is in a lower social class, which means that the reader does not truly see how samurai and ninja interact (120).

For ninja, the code of honor in regards to death differs from that of regular samurai because ninja must stay alive regardless of the metaphorical cost to their honor. Because of the samurai way of life, though, ninja are still perceived as less honorable members of society.

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