Daimyo's New Armor
By Richard C. Shaffer
Based On: Kejserens nye Klaeder, by Hans Christian Anderson
Himageki was a blacksmith who specialized in making armor. However, he was very poor and could not afford quality materials. When the lord of his province raised taxes to help fund a war with the clan to the south, the peasants rebelled.
Himageki thought this would be his greatest opportunity to find work. However, the peasant armies could not afford to fund his armor making and turned him down. They welcomed him into their ranks, but he favored construction rather than destruction.
Himageki heard of a call for arms from the local lord, to fight against the rebellious peasants since the lord had returned from his war in the south. He made his way to Nanao Castle and presented himself to the lord’s retainers there.
“So what do you claim?” asked the samurai retainer at the gate where Himageki had prostrated himself.
“I believe that I can make the greatest armor in the land for our lord!” cried the destitute smith.
“Do you have anything that can prove your abilities?”
“I have but one suit of armor,” answered the man, and he displayed a single breastplate.
“You call that a suit of armor?” laughed the samurai, “Come back when you’ve finished the whole thing.”
“You don’t understand,” cried Himegeki as he crawled toward the gate. “Just try it out!”
The Samurai grinned devilishly and ordered Himegeki to put the breastplate on. He quickly did so, rising to his feet and displaying the plate around his body, “You see? It is very comfortable and lightweight, made from the finest materials I could find!”
The samurai drew his sword and struck Himegeki in the chest, knocking the man to the ground. They were all surprised when Himegeki stood back up rubbing his backside, “Ouch! That hurt, you know…”
The armor had sustained a large gash, but it had not gone all the way through and Himageki was amazingly unharmed. The samurai was convinced of Himageki’s skill and quickly had him brought before his master. “Lord Togashi! This artisan has produced such a fine piece of armor, that even my blade could not pierce it!”
“I see.” The man sitting upon a raised dais ran his fingers through his thin beard. He had been lord of the province since he raised an army to murder his younger brother fifteen years earlier. “I need good armor for my soldiers. Would you be willing and capable to produce one hundred suits of armor for me?”
“My armor is not for the common soldier,” stated Himageki, “The armor I make would be more suitable for your closest retainers, if not for yourself, my lord. If you will pardon my brashness.”
“Is that so?” asked the lord, intrigued by the idea. But he was not a fool, either, and saw through the man’s ploy to get rich. “And how much do you suppose that a suit of armor for myself would cost?”
“Please do not think me a greedy merchant,” stated the artisan, “I am a maker of fine wares. If the illustrious Lord of Kaga were to wear my armor, everyone around the country would call upon me to make armor for them as well! If you will provide me a place to sleep and a meal or two a day, I will produce your armor free of charge.”
“So for a few bowls of rice and a bale of straw, you will provide me with the greatest suit of armor in the land?” asked the lord.
“I am but a poor blacksmith, your lordship, so I must ask you to provide the materials for the armor,” admitted Himegeki, “As such, I cannot be expected to charge you for my services!”
“Fair enough, you are a generous man,” the lord smiled. “So be it. You may rest and dine for the day, but tomorrow I expect to be sized and for you to begin work on my new suit of armor.”
Himageki bowed low to the man and accepted his new charge, thanking him graciously. He ate the finest food in the castle and was given a room in the lord’s own guest chambers. The following morning he was up bright and early and waiting for the lord to rouse.
“I want to ensure that every drop of lacquer and every bit of cord fits perfectly my lord,” stated Himageki and he spent half the day measuring every inch of Togashi’s body. Once the measuring was through he looked at all of his numbers and nodded his head. “If you will excuse me for the day, my lord, I must retire to my chambers and calculate these numbers.”
“You are not going to begin work today?” pouted the lord, having hoped to get the armor produced quickly to show it off.
“Forgive me, my lord, but it will take me the rest of the day and some of the night to figure out how much material I will need,” responded the man humbly and Lord Togashi took him at his word.
The next morning Himageki was again waiting at the lord’s door and he presented him with a slip of paper, it read, “Hyaku Kin. Nijuu Sho. Sanjuu Tan.”
“What is this?” asked the lord.
“I will need one-hundred pieces of Gold to melt into lacquer,” answered the man proudly, with steady determination, “I will also need twenty bottles of ink, of varying colors, as well as thirty bolts of your finest silk to spin into thread.”
“Do you think me a fool?” asked the provincial lord. “You plan to run off with my money as soon as I give it to you!”
“Where could I run, my lord?” asked the man. “I am housed down the hall from you, inside your illustrious castle.”
He pointed to the paper again. “And how would a frail old man like me carry all that out of the castle without being seen?”
Togashi had no choice but to admit defeat in the matter. It was impossible for the man to smuggle a small chest of gold coins, twenty bottles of ink, and enough fabric to outfit thirty people in full silken kimonos, “Very well, but do you really need gold?”
“Yes, my lord,” stated the man, “Silver would do, but gold is much stronger once it has been tempered with my technique. If you want to be truly protected, I will need the gold.”
Togashi decided to go ahead. If nothing else, he could always melt the piece of junk back into coins later. After he had the man executed for his failure, of course. Togashi ordered his retainers to gather up the necessary materials and had them provided to Himageki.
“I will also need two, no…maybe three bottles of sacramental sake,” informed the man, “I will use them to bless the armor, to ensure that even Bishamonten-dono’s sword cannot strike you down.”
Intrigued by the thought, Togashi ordered a dozen bottles of sake to be provided to the man, all blessed by the clan’s personal priest. Togashi waited impatiently, feeding Himageki and keeping him in his guest chambers for three days before finally calling on the man to present him the armor.
“But it is not ready, my lord,” answered the man, “I will need at least two more days to work on the shinguards and the wristguards.”
“I want you to show me what you have now, then,” ordered Togashi. “You can work on the rest later.”
“Very well, but I had hoped to surprise you with the finished result in its entirety,” pouted the smith. He went back into his chambers and made preparations.
Togashi called his chief retainers to a council session to show off his new armor. Himageki knew full well that his ploy was at an end. In truth all he had done was eat the food, drink the sake, and quietly use the meager amounts of thread he’d produced to sew the coins into his own clothes.
He quickly concocted a plan and went to the council session, lugging an empty armor box. He sat it down in front of all to see and opened it up, empty as could be. He mimed pulling something out of the box and turned to face Togashi, “I must warn you my lord, it is a little heavier than I anticipated, because I haven’t finished refining the details.”
“Are you joking?” asked Togashi, surprised by the man’s gall. “There’s nothing there.”
“What?” Himageki pretended to be confused, “I told you it was unfinished, my lord. But I must warn you, when I mixed the sacramental wine with it, I used a little too much and blessed it too strongly.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” asked a retainer angrily.
“The armor has taken on a strange feature,” responded the artisan. “It is invisible to the eye of all those unfit for their rank. Only those who deserve the rank they have been given are able to see it.”
He chuckled. “It is a good thing I was not born a samurai like you gentlemen, or a common fool like myself would be unable to see it!”
The retainers sat around in silence, quietly contemplating the stupidity of the man’s claim. Until one retainer rose to his feet angrily and chastised the artisan. “This is wholly unacceptable!”
The other retainers joined in, chiding the man for his blatant tomfoolery. Even Togashi himself joined in. “Lord Motoori, what do you propose we do with the ‘Master Artisan’, here?”
“I think you should order him to completely re-dye all the cords,” cried the retainer, “There is way too much red in that suit. It clashes horribly with the gold coloring of the armor. The men in the field will think you some kind of fool when they see you!”
The other retainers were all silent. None of them were able to see the armor at all, much less pick out specific colors of the cords. Even lord Togashi himself was aghast at the man’s declaration.
“My apologies,” stated the artisan. “I will do as you suggest, immediately. If that is all right with you, my lord?”
“Yes of course,” cried Togashi after a moment’s hesitation. “And like I said before, there is hardly anything there! I expect the shoulder plates to at least be done when you are here next.”
“Of course my lord, as you wish,” the artisan pretended to box up his wares carefully and made his way to the guest chambers again to breathe a sigh of relief.
He was immediately thankful to have been born in a province which had suffered such infighting as this one. The Togashi clan had been usurped by their retainers, particularly the Motoori and the Yamagawa families, several decades ago. Lord Togashi had used his charisma to raise a peasant army which subdued his younger brother and took control of the Togashi clan from the two retainer houses.
Even now the Motoori and Yamagawa families vied for control over the ear of the Togashi lord, to secure their power base for later usurpations. Of course, thanks to the extremely high tax rates to fight wars for a failing Shogunate, Lord Togashi’s charisma was useless now.
He’d won a few successes against the peasant armies which sprang up while he was away fighting, but his resources were strained by this venture of the war and he needed to end it quickly. Preferably before his own retainers decided to band together with the peasants and rebel themselves.
Himageki ate and drank his time away, continuing to sew the coins into a fine silken kimono he’d made for himself. He also filled the sake bottles with the ink as he emptied them and made friends with the servants who let him keep the sake bottles as souvenirs of his time there.
He offered to remember them and cut them in on the deal, since he planned on selling the bottles as the Lord of Kaga’s own sake bottles once he left the castle. Met with the chance for their own wealth, they greedily accepted the plan and even reported back to Togashi and the other retainers that Himageki was making good progress on the armor.
They spread the rumor about the armor’s blessed features, that only those worthy of their rank could view it. The Togashi retainers at once feared and relished the opportunity to look upon it and see if they were truly worthy of their posts.
And that day came as Lord Togashi announced that he would display the finished suit of armor to the troops as soon as Himegeki was done. Himageki informed Togashi that he needed only one more day to complete the work and went about madly sewing the last few coins into his new kimono.
The following day Himageki carried out his empty box and placed it on the ground at Togashi’s feet. Although inwardly, he was nervous, outwardly he appeared calm and confident. “If I may, my lord?”
Togashi nodded his head and spread his arms out. “Will it be heavy?”
“Oh, no my lord,” responded the artisan, “I have finished the tempering process, it will feel about the same weight as wearing a second set of clothes.”
“But it will protect me from harm, right?” asked the daimyo, concerned for his safety.
“Of course, my lord. I’ve added extra padding to the inside as well, so that impacts won’t hurt as badly.”
“Excellent,” commended the lord, as Himageki pretended to put the armor on him.
Once he was done he stepped back and made a sweeping motion with his arms. Togashi turned about and looked at his troops and retainers hoping for a good response. The soldiers hesitated, but having heard the rumors about being unfit for their positions if they couldn’t see the invisible armor, they steadily began to cheer in acceptance of the armor’s looks.
Until one retainer, Yamagawa, stepped forth and hushed everyone, “I cannot permit this debauchery to go on any longer! There is nothing there!”
The troops and other retainers gasped in horror, but Himageki could tell that they were slowly starting to agree with a man as powerful as Yamagawa. Himageki decided he needed to act quickly. The small key he used to unlock the armor chest was still in his hands.
Thinking quickly he reached forth and drew the shortsword of one of the nearby soldiers and brought it down upon Togashi’s shoulder. However he stopped the blade just an inch from actually connecting. He then reached forward as if the sword was stuck and grabbed the blade to mimic prying it off.
While he was pretending to pry the sword off of Togashi, who was frozen in fear from the sudden attack, he pressed the key against the blade. The soldiers fell upon Himageki and restrained him as the minister, Motoori, approached, “My lord are you all right?”
“Y-yes, yes I am,” muttered Togashi.
“You see? It was all a ploy!” stated Yamagawa, “He just pretended not to strike you down!”
“My sword!” cried the soldier as he regarded it with horror. Everyone turned to face him as he held it up. “The blade is nicked! It made contact with something strong enough to dent the edge!”
Yamagawa went pale as everyone suddenly turned back to face him. Motoori, his main rival, aside from Togashi, himself, grinned at the older minister, “It seems as though Minister Yamagawa simply cannot see what everyone else here can.”
“This…this whole thing is a farce,” denounced the minister as he backed away from his colleagues and master, “It is some kind of…uhh, the devil’s own trickery!”
“Take Minister Yamagawa away, remove him of his seals of authority,” ordered Togashi, “And then gently retire him to his home to consider his inabilities.”
The soldiers escorted the fuming minister away and released Himageki who knelt before Togashi. “Please, forgive me, my lord!”
“It is all right,” said Togashi with a reassuring smile. “You were only proving the strength of your armor. I was never in any real danger. Besides you have proven that one of my chief ministers was unfit for his post.”
“I was apologizing because of my armor’s weakness,” proclaimed the artisan, “The sword should never have become stuck like that! It should have bounced off harmlessly. I am truly a failure!”
“Of course not!” Togashi knelt to drag the man to his feet. “You were right though, I barely felt the impact at all.”
“Thank you for your forgiveness, my lord.” Himageki pretended to weep.
“Of course, of course,” the charismatic lord assured, but suddenly he had a greedy glint in his eyes. “If I gave you another fifty pieces of gold, could you make it even stronger?”
“Of course,” admitted the artisan, concealing his surprise. “I don’t think I could use more than another hundred coins. Anything more than that would just weigh you down, and by that point you would be wholly impenetrable.”
Togashi saw the opportunity of a lifetime. When news reached him that Yamagawa had committed seppuku, ritual suicide. Out of disgrace for being fired, Togashi ordered that Yamagawa’s family be dispossessed and his whole estate be plundered.
Togashi used some of the money from Yamagawa’s estate to fund Himageki’s improvements to his invisible armor, while using the rest to treat himself to a glorious celebration and to arm his troops with the finest weaponry he could purchase for the coming battle with the peasant rebels.
“What do you think, Motoori-han?” asked Togashi as Himageki pulled the armor out.
“Quite nice, truly a fine specimen, indeed,” stated the minister.
Himageki fitted Togashi with his new armor. “Impenetrable to anything, even the sword of Bishamonten-dono himself!”
“Excellent!” cried Togashi and he was struck with inspiration, “Tell me, could you make armor like this for my soldiers, too?”
“My lord is that wise?” Motoori’s tune suddenly changed, secretly fearing that there was nothing there.
“What do you mean?” Togashi narrowed his eyes at Motoori, fearing the man could not see the armor, after all.
“Well of course I, uhh, mean,” Motoori thought quickly, “Do you truly want to outfit your men with impenetrable armor? What if they rebel? Not to mention that outfitting twenty-thousand troops with armor like yours would require millions of gold coins!”
“He is right,” admitted Himageki. “My lord, your suit of armor took me three weeks and two-hundred gold coins to produce. I could not outfit your whole army so easily!”
“Alas, I had hoped to make my army invincible,” whined the man.
“But wait!” Himageki was struck with sudden inspiration. “What about silver?”
“Silver?” Motoori’s shoulders slumped. He realized he had been beaten in a battle of wits by the swindling artisan. He had a feeling that he’d talked himself right into the palm of the old man’s hand.
“Silver is only a third as valuable as gold, but it is half the strength,” claimed Himageki. “For fifty pieces of silver, I could outfit a soldier with something almost as strong as your armor was in my first demonstration!”
“Really?” Togashi fingered his thin beard with a wry cackle. “So be it! Motoori-han, how much silver can the treasury spare?”
“I suppose…” he minister was caught between a rock and a hard place. If he spoke against the artisan he could end up like his former colleague, Yamagawa. But if he spoke in favor, he could contribute to the bankruptcy of the clan. “We could spare about a thousand pieces of silver.”
“Only enough to equip twenty men?” Togashi was displeased by the lackluster results. “That means my armor alone is equal to that of more than a dozen men. Wait, that’s it!”
“What is, my lord?” Motoori was frightened by his lord’s brash decisions. He was reluctant to admit, but he still couldn’t see the armor himself. Not to mention he feared the artisan was just a con-man and Motoori was nervously trying to defend against his conning of the clan as a whole.
“We shall sell off the gold in the treasury for silver!” Togashi’s mind was racing with enthusiasm, “Each piece of gold will give three pieces of silver! That means that with sixteen pieces of gold, I could equip a man with armor.”
“Don’t forget about production time, my lord,” warned the minister, “It took the artisan three weeks to make one suit, we don’t have that kind of time.”
“Oh, drat,” Togashi slumped in his seat, rebuked by his own minister and with good cause. “And I’d thought I’d arrived at a great plan.”
“Actually, my lord,” suggested Himageki, “Silver is much easier to work with than gold. I chose gold for your suit because gold is lighter in weight once it is tempered with my technique.”
“Really?” Togashi was again hopeful. “How long would it take you to produce a suit of armor for one of my soldiers?”
“Probably about a day, if you supply me with a large furnace and a score of men to help me actually melt the ore down,” responded Himageki.
“Wondrous!” cried Togashi as he leapt to his feet, “Then I will commission my men to begin aiding you, immediately.”
“I will of course need the other ingredients as well,” stated the artisan, “But all in about a quarter of the amount for the soldiers.”
“Motoori-han, make it happen! I want to equip one-hundred men!” Togashi pointed at Motoori who had a concerned look on his face, “What is it Motoori-han?”
“Uhh, you really want me to sell off five-thousand pieces of gold for fifteen-thousand pieces of silver?” the minister was humbled by the proposition.
“Not to worry,” laughed Togashi, “I won’t take away the hundred gold coins I rewarded you with when that dolt Yamagawa was found out.”
“Oh!” Himageki looked at Motoori. “Is that why you asked me to record your measurements as well, Lord Motoori?”
The minister was taken aback by the comment and Togashi looked upon him menacingly. “Oh, really? So you want a suit of armor like mine? No wonder the first thought you’d had was that someone would rebel against me…You!”
Despite Motoori’s devout refusals, Togashi ordered him to be dragged away, stripped of his position and for his estate to be sold off to fund Himageki’s work. Within one hundred days Togashi had his whole vanguard unit arranged in invisible armor, which each man had painstakingly pretended to put on so that no one would realize they could not see the armor.
Like his colleague before him, Motoori committed suicide in shame at his failure and demotion. The remnants of both clans went over to the peasant armies and gave them support, but Togashi was not worried, for he had invincible armor to outfit his men.
“Himageki-han,” Togashi regarded the artisan with a grin. “With the recent suicides of my two top advisors, I am promoting you to the rank of general. You will lead my forces alongside me in the coming battle.”
Himageki bowed low at the honor and he was quickly outfitted in the finest silken robes that Togashi’s weaver could produce and given the seat of honor among the war council. Once he was in position he looked around the room, then he looked upon Lord Togashi and gasped.
“What? What is it, Himageki-han?” Togashi was concerned about the man’s look.
“I…,” Himageki bowed low to Togashi and the retainers who remained. “I must concede that I can no longer see the armor, which I had crafted myself. This proves I am not fit for the position of general.”
The council gasped and Togashi looked down upon himself. “To not see the fine workmanship you’ve done, yourself. That is truly a crime under heaven!”
“If you will forgive my lord, I will hand in my new seals and retire back to my job as an armorsmith,” the artisan apologized
“If you feel that is right,” offered the lord. “Let me at least give fifty pieces of silver, so that you can get by without coming to want.”
“Thank you my lord, but I cannot accept such a kind gesture,” admitted the man, “You will need that money for the coming war.”
Togashi had to admit the veracity of the man’s statement. He’d almost pushed the clan into poverty with his excessive spending on troops and armaments already. He was struck by an idea, however. “I’ve heard you enjoy collecting souvenirs, correct?”
“Y-yes, my lord,” admitted the artisan, caught off guard by the man’s exclamation.
“Then at least allow me to provide you with a carriage and two oxen to pull it for you,” offered Togashi. “That way you can carry all of your souvenirs from your stay and can use it as shelter wherever you go.”
“Thank you very much, my lord!” cried Himageki, and Lord Togashi made it all so. Himageki spent all day fitting out the carriage. He packed so many ‘empty’ sake bottles and empty silk-covered boxes into the carriage that the pair of oxen struggled to pull it away.
Within the month, Togashi made his plans for a decisive campaign against the riotous peasants. He gathered up his men, placed his invisibly-armored elite forces in the front of the army and marched on them.
The battle began and ended in a matter of minutes, as the peasants, numbering over one hundred-thousand fought against the forces of Lord Togashi’s mere thirty-thousand.
The fighting was bitter and they were very quick to discover that the armor was not just invisible: The peasants slaughtered the vanguard unit with ease. They overran the center column and began spreading through the Togashi ranks like wildfire.
Once the unprepared vanguard crumbled, the rest of the army went with it and Togashi was chased back to his home castle where, after a prolonged siege, he finally committed seppuku in disgrace; much like his former retainers.
The riotous peasants took over the entire province and made it, Kaga no-kuni, the first peasant-run province in the medieval period of Japan. Himageki, however, found himself retired in the capital, never having to build another suit of armor for the rest of his long life.