A handheld crossbow is called a shudo

Ōyumi was a giant type of crossbow that is mainly a mystery. It was first introduced in 618AD by the Korean kingdom of Koguryo with two Chinese prisoners of war to man it. By 675AD they were used in large scale warfare. When the Korean kingdom Scila and Tang China invaded another Korean kingdom in 894, Japan sent ships in the sea battle against the Chinese. They used crossbows, but it isn’t clear if they were ōyumi or handheld bows. Throughout the 900s, daimyos complained that the ōyumi they had were going to waste because no-one knew how to use them.  During the Nine-Year War [1053-1062] the Japanese called ōyumi “ishyumi” [stone bows] because they used them to fling rocks. The last mentioning of a ōyumi was when Fujiwara no Yasuhira’stroops made a wall to stop the Samurai leader Minamoto Yoritomo (who became the first shogun) from advancing north in 1189. No ōyumi survived so we don’t know what they looked like. What do you think? 

Japanese Wako no.2

Wako is a Japanese translation of the Chinese word Wokou. The first mention of a Wako clan was when Fujiwara Sumitomo a powerful diamyo [baron] got sent to destroy the first pirate clan known on orders from the emperor because it was swelling in size and posed a threat to eastern Japan in the mid 900s. When he killed the leader of the clan the pirates said that he was the new leader, he accepted and invaded eastern Japan. By then another pirate clan had formed and Fujiwara died fighting them. Afterwards an official from the imperial court fought the remainder of both pirate clans on a windy day so the wall of shields the pirates erected blew down. Both of the early pirates clans were wiped out but other Wako clans continued all the way into the early 1600s.   

Japanese Wako

Wako where Japanese pirates from approximately 900 to 1600 AD. They operated in the seas around Japan, Korea, China and south-east Asia. The name Wako was originally Chinese, Wa meant both dwarfs and Japanese and Ko meant Pirates. Actually the Wako were criminal clans that ranged from Japanese buccaneers to Chinese raiders to Korean ex-navalists. At certain times the Wako clans managed to invade the coast of Korea, China and Taiwan. Some Daimyos created Wako clans to raid on their behalf and in exchange for protection and legality of their actions they had to pay a portion of the spoils to the Daimyo. 

In my next post I will tell you a story about the early Wako.

The Tokaido Road

The Tokaido road is an Edo period paved highway, one of the two running from Tokyo to Kyoto. It was infamous for its bandits. Later, at the height of the Tokugawa shogunate (c.1700) they organized a defence force and employed bandits as police officers. At one time, the head of the Tokaido police force was even an ex-leader of a gambler gang!  In 2019, when I went there, the places that weren’t overgrown by forest were only used by locals, tourists, and hikers. It was lot more peaceful.

Japanese Castles

Japanese castles are on stone bases and have tall towers, high walls, wide moats and are beautiful to look at. Forts that senior officers lived in began in the 1070s, but castles in a grand scale -as a home as well as a fort, were built from 1400 to 1700. Some castles were so big, they were as large as the town that surrounded them.                        

A changing point in warfare and the history of Japan was the siege of Osaka castle that was thought to be impenetrable, but the defenders were tricked because the attackers agreed to “peace” if they filled in the moats. Then they attacked after all. When Osaka lost in 1616, the Tokugawa family came into power for the next 250 years. 

My favourite castle is Matsumoto castle, one of the ten remaining original keeps. What is yours?


Shogi is the Japanese form of chess. Its predecessor is thought to be an ancient Indian game that in Europe became chess. There are some differences: shogi is on a 9×9 board, it has more pieces (silver general, golden generals and lances), when you capture a piece you can put it back in the game; and you can get promoted. It was first mentioned in Japanese style in 1210 but became popular with the non-samurai classes in the sixteenth century. Want to play?

Samurai Women

In medieval Japan Samurai where not only warriors but also a class. There even were samurai women. For examples, at the Shimbara rebellion (1638?), a group of samurai women burst through the gates and attacked the besieging troops and Tomoe Gozen who led some armies of Shogun Minamato no Yoritomo in the Genpei war (1180-1185). Did you know that they could wear swords but they usually wore a long dagger?

Ancient greek olympics

In an ancient Greek Olympics there was a mystery competition a bit like a Triathalon called a                                           

Pentathlon in which athletes competed in running, long-jump, discus, javelin and wrestling.

It first appeared at the Olympics in 708 BC. We do not know how people won or the order of the events except we do know that wrestling came last. Which order do you think they competed in and how might they have decided who won overall?

The Real Trojan War

The Trojan war is thought to be historically a conflict between the Assuwa confederation and the Ahhiyawa kingdom [Mycenaeans]. The Assuwa was a confederation of 22 cities including Wilusa, which is also known as Troy. Historians say the conflict ran from 1278BC to 1184BC. The Assuwa confederation broke off from the Hittite empire after the battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites in 1274BC when it gave up the Aegean coastal lands. 

The Lycians and the Pelasgians (allies of Troy) in the legend were the Luka and the Palest tribes of sea people. The evidence for the Mycenaeans attacking the confederation rather than just Troy was when they destroyed the land of the confederation and a little bit beyond.

Do you know any good facts about the Trojans?

Greek trade

In ancient Greece, international trade began about 750BC because of factors like colonisation, spread of coinage, less pirates and interstate alliances. Greek pottery was in great demand and has been found on the Atlantic coast of Africa. The most important exports were wine and olives, while cereals, spices and precious metals were imported. Most traders didn’t have their own vessel so they rented a ship from a special ship-dealer. If the boat sank the trader didn’t have to pay, so some traders deliberately scuttled their ship!