Japan attracts visitors from all over the world, with many being drawn to the country because of the samurai. Japanese history is entwined with warriors who followed a strict code of honour, devoting their lives to duty. There were many proud samurai and one of the most famous was Toyotomi Hideyoshi. A capable general and politician, Hideyoshi was considered the second ‘great unifer’ of Japan. He rose to prominence during the 1500s and founded the Hashiba samurai line.
I’m fascinated by samurai history, so I couldn’t help but be excited to interview a descendent of Hideyoshi. I’m pleased to present a conversation with Michiko Hashiba about what it means to come from a family of samurai.
Thanks for agreeing to talk Michiko. I imagine you must feel proud to come from a long line of samurai like the Hashiba clan. How far back can the Hashiba line be traced?
Our family name can be dated back to around 1500s. We are descendants of Toyotomi Hideyoshi or Hashiba Hideyoshi. He was given the surname Hashiba and the honorary court office Chikuzen no Kami.
Are there any particular traditions that your family have kept with you?
Music mainly. My mother was a musician and played many traditional instruments, koto, shamisen, Biwa and Kokyū. My sister trained in many different styles of martial arts including Ninjutsu. We were brought up in England so we didn’t follow many.
I’ve heard you’re a musician producer. What kind of music are you involved with and does it have any connection to your heritage?
My mother taught me everything I know, I learned to read music before I could read roman. I prefer modern music and produce and engineer what my work place has to offer from punk bands to rock and Jpop. I’m very disciplined and take no messing in my studio, so maybe that’s what I bring from my samurai heritage.
As you were brought up in Manchester, what are your thoughts on the city?
I was born and raised in Manchester, Altrincham. Even though that’s Cheshire we’re really Mancs at heart. It’s a second home but I’m afraid to fly so may not visit again for a long time.
Do you feel there are any differences between male and female samurai?
I honestly believe there isn’t. They go by the same codes and rules. My sister could beat any man and believe me she’s knocked out a few in her life. I once read they fought together side by side but modern values hide many truths from long ago. Modern values made women the lesser of the sexes and men wrote the history books. Megumi once told me if she’d been around 500 years ago she would have been the Emperor’s body guard without question.
I think it’s amazing your sister was an MMA fighter and collector of swords. Do you feel she incorporated the samurai lifestyle into her training?
All the time. She was honourable, fought for people who couldn’t fend for themselves, stood up to bullies and nearly went to prison for breaking a perverts jaw on a train. Witnesses made sure she didn’t serve time.
What do you think it was about samurai that inspired your sister?
I really don’t know the answer to that. She had her reasons and kept them to herself. As strong as she was she was also a private person. It’s a similar reason she never asked me why I studied music, but then we never asked each other really. We were twins so maybe our own twin arrogance got in the way of asking. You know like you’re my twin so you should know the answer without asking me! (Laughs)
What is your understanding of bushido and do you think it still have relevance in the modern day?
To me Bushido is about the art of war and I’m a very anti-war peace loving hippy. I know it defined laws and rules on society also. It produced art and music and a civilized certainty. I’m not so keen on a class society though, everyone is equal.
Are there any Japanese exhibits that you’d recommend people see to get a better appreciation of samurai?
I do recommend people visit Kyoto during the Gion Festival. I’d also recommend the Edo-Tokyo Museum.
Do you think the image of the samurai has become romanticised in the west?
I do think so, they are seen as heroes who are untouchable and indestructible. But they are not. They are just experienced and well trained, much like the SAS are today. Like any human they can be killed. My heart always skips a beat when I hear the sad story of Nakano Takeko. She was a hero to my sister.
As a country, what does Japan mean to you?
It is home. I live and work here. I love my job and my friends. I miss Manchester sometimes but Kyoto will always have a special place in my heart.
Female samurai are some of the most capable fighters in history. A comic character who represents their strength is Katana and you can find out more about her by reading this analysis of her backstory.