When discussing the middle-ages, focus on Europe as well as the various countries and states often comes to mind. However, other countries around the globe also experienced this transitional period known as the “middle ages” between the 1200s and 1600s.
Needless to say, these transitional experiences were slightly different for countries other than England. A large focus might involve Europe, yet Feudal Japan also experienced changes and transition during the period often called the "middle ages".
The middle ages was a time period that ended roughly around AD 1500, and this blog entry focuses on Japanese warriors and customs during Japan’s Feudal era. Therefore, the focus will be the comparison between the significance of Japanese warriors and Microsoft’s character of Shin Hisako featured in 2013’s "Killer Instinct" video game.
With further reference to the popular arcade-style 2D fighter, the character most often called simply Hisako plays a major role in the comparison between this aspect of the 2013 video game with Japanese culture and customs of the feudal Japanese states.
According to the "Killer Instinct" data base:
In her previous life as the eldest daughter of a samurai, Hisako has retained her fighting abilities with her signature naginate taken from her dying father.
In the 2013 video game, "Season Two" which was released in 2015 for Xbox One features the story of Hisako. Despite the game’s setting as the present (twenty-first century), Hisako (who lived during the middle-ages in Japan) is featured as a character- as her spirit is awoken by the antagonizing forces of Ultratech (evil company featured within the video game).
Photo by Shawn Waters
During this component of the game, the player (like other arcade fighting video games) chooses a character and attempts to complete their corresponding story. Furthermore, the prelude to Hisako’s story provides insight of the character’s background as a Feudal Japanese warrior.
The story depicted by Microsoft in "Killer Instinct" portrays the life of Hisako, prior to her death at the age of nineteen. The young girl wished to follow in her father’s footsteps (the path of a Japanese Samurai) as he was quite notable through his position within society.
More specifically, Hisako views this path as an admirable route and wanted to fulfill her destiny to impress her family. However, in 1493 their village is set on fire. This event leads to a fire which causes extensive damage and spreads fast. Hisako, in order to prove her strength and bravery enters the burning village as told through her story. Hisako proves her strength and nobility by saving as many villagers as she can. However, Hisako unfortunately perishes in the fire.
Samurai in Armour, hand-coloured albumen silver print by Kusakabe Kimbei, c. 1870s–90s; in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
J. Paul Getty Museum (object no. 84.XA.700.4.58), digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
Although Hisako did not survive, her decision to save the villagers further displays the integrity present in the life of a warrior. Even in death, the character of Hisako represents true strength and admirable behaviour. Keeping that in mind, the attitude demonstrated by the character is recognizable within real world views and attitudes that were present in the lives of Japanese warriors.
Karl F. Friday discusses the attitudes of the samurai warrior in his book "Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan" which covers many aspects of the life of samurai warriors. According to Friday:
In early medieval Japan, honor and reputation lay at the heart of a warrior’s self-perception, and provide the context within which the conventions of war must be evaluated. A samurai’s reputation, honor and pride were almost tangible entities that took precedence over all other obligations. (137)
In the life of a Japanese samurai warrior, pride and honour were the most important aspects of life. For Japanese warriors, every decision and choice made in life often reflected the reputation they would present to the world. No matter the circumstances these people faced, the preservation of their integrity and self-image was of the most importance.
Although the use of male pronouns are not idea, keep in mind we are discussing the middle ages.
Moreover, this concept of overriding integrity and honour is comparable to Hisako from the 2013 video game "Killer Instinct." Throughout her story, Shin Hisako makes the choice of saving her fellow villagers which reiterates the expected characteristics of a samurai warrior. With respect to Friday’s work, every decision made by the samurai warrior reflects their reputation and the way they view themselves.
In order to achieve the status of a samurai, one would have to be highly honourable and dedicated to their profession. Not just anyone could fit this position. Samurai warriors highly valued their reputation. No matter the result or the consequences of decisions made, the most significant aspect of their profession was the value of and maintaining their existent reputation.
For samurai warriors, the focus was not necessarily their status as a unit. However, this attitude was determined on an individual basis. More specifically, warriors of Feudal Japan often refused to follow orders from their superior officer because it could possibly tarnish their existing reputation. Keeping that in mind, the most important thing to Japanese warriors was their reputation. Therefore, Japanese warriors felt there was always room for improvement when it came to their reputation in society.
Image taken from "The Crow" (1999)
Feudal Japanese warriors constantly wanted to make sure their reputation was the best it could be, and even went to great lengths to enhance their existing reputation. In terms of Shin Hisako, there is a connection between the character’s idealistic behaviour and that of the samurai warrior. The constant goal of the samurai is to preserve and maintain a reputation which consists of honour and a positive self-image. Thus, the fatal decisions of Shin Hisako reflect the attitudes that prevailed during the Japanese Feudal era.
The Modernist Son, 2020-2021.
Karl F. Friday. "Samurai, warfare & the state in early medieval Japan". Routledge. New York, New York. 2003.