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Cover Date: February 2004
Cover Price: US $ 2.99
Issue Tagline: None.
Format: Black & White; Standard Comic Issue; 24 pages
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Letters Column: Usagi Yojimbo Letters Column
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Ieyasu Tokugawa was proclaimed shogun, or military dictator, in 1603, a title his family would hold for the next two and a half centuries. Toyotomi Hideyori, the most serious threat to the Tokugawa, was defeated in 1615 at the siege of Osaka Castle. The samurai became a standing army with no real enemies to fight, and so spiraled into a decline, in comparison to the rising merchant class.
Trade was becoming more important to the feudal economy. Coinage had been in use for many centuries, but Japan had been primarily a barter economy based on rice. However, to keep growing cities supplied with food and goods from farther away required a less cumbersome system than rice. By 1600, gold and silver coins were in wide use. The merchant class understood the intricacies of finance, and soon grew rich speculating in rice and making loans to the samurai. Turnbull cites one example of a samurai whose annual stipend was 300 koku. (One koku was the amount of rice required to feed a man for a year, about five bushels.) This yearly stipend was equivalent to 75 ryo. But in one year, the samurai spent 38 ryo on salaries, 10 for his horse, 12 for firewood, 18 for oil, food and other daily needs, and 30 for clothes and other expenses, for a total of 108 ryo. According to one estimate, by 1700 the debts of the samurai class were one hundred times as great as all the money in the country. The poverty of some samurai forced them to sell their swords, substituting them with bamboo replicas or borrowing a pair from a friend to wear on duty. One way for a samurai to receive a larger stipend was to advance in rank - very difficult for a warrior to do in peacetime. He could also take on a part-time job such as making paper lanterns, umbrellas, fish hooks or toothpicks, or raising crickets or vegetables. In Saga province, samurai became farmers. Debt-ridden samurai would even charge to adopt a merchant or townsperson’s son into his family to raise the boy’s class status.
The martial arts gradually fell into neglect in favor of office work, as more and more warriors were trained as civil servants for peacetime. However, they still wore their two swords on the job.
It was not only the samurai who suffered, but many tradesman did as well. A sword created by the smith Kiyomitsu Shichiemon could cost as much as one koku. Kiyomitsu was used to getting orders for twenty swords at one time. However, in just the space of two generations, his grandson Chobei was forced to live in a poorhouse. Many swordsmiths earned more money from making pots and pans than swords.
In 1871 the wearing of two swords became optional, and in 1876 it was banned except for members of the armed forces.
The bulk of the research for this story came from The Samurai: A Military History by Stephen Turnbull, 1977, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York.
Dear Stan Sakai,
Hi, my name is Robbie. I really like your Usagi Yojimbo comics. I try to read them every chance I get. So I was wondering if you could put my drawing in an issue of Usagi Yojimbo.
Your friend and fan,
2666 32nd Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
I had to write to say how much I enjoyed the end of “Fathers and Sons.” I’ve always enjoyed the tales of the rabbit ronin, but this heartwarming tale made me want to say thanks.
Usagi has known sadness, and the life of the wandering samurai must be filed with hardships, but allowing us to see him smile and be a father to his son was quite enchanting. The humor was a delight (“Of course! I know everybody!”), and page 15 was beautiful. Perhaps this tale spoke to me personally, as a man, and to my relationship with my own father, and in the way you compared the two fathers and sons. Seeing Usagi and Jotaro smiling (and looking identical as well), it was good to see a father-son relationship working, even though the son doesn’t know it.
My girlfriend, who has been addicted to Usagi since I introduced her to it, particularly loved the issue and the back cover, too. Do you sell the original art for the back covers? If so, how do I go about obtaining that one in particular?
Thanks again for bringing us Usagi, and thanks for listening.
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