This practice of Japanese selling other Japanese into slavery came to the attention of Hideyoshi, who placed a ban on the trade, ordering all slaves that were captured in the campaign of the Shimazu to be returned to their original dwellings. The Portuguese, who were particularly targeted by Hideyoshi`s edict against slavery, complained that they had lawfully acquired their property and that if the Japanese themselves wanted to stamp out the practice then they should cease selling their countrymen for profit. The only dilemma for Hideyoshi came later after he had pacified most of northern Kyushu, for in the wake of disturbances the peasantry began to revolt against the rule of his subordinates. As a remedy, Hideyoshi thus ordered these revolts to be suppressed, which they were with great suffering. What it also meant was that the subordinates of Hideyoshi took more slaves from the rebelling villages and sold them to traders, pirates, and allies. Neither did this practice halt with the Kyushu campaign. When Hideyoshi`s forces invaded Korea, they carried their tradition of slavery with them. Fujimoto records an example of a Satsuma retainer who, after writing to his family, tells them that he has acquired some slaves from among the Koreans, and is sending them to his household to be held as `a gift`, in much the same manner as a modern businessman might send a souvenir from places he has visited. Slaves could be used for any purpose and could be sent anywhere. Another example cited by Fujiki tells of a retainer who was entertained by some young women during the Osaka Campaign. After enquiring about their origins, they inform him that they were captured by the Shimazu army in Bungo and subsequently shipped to Kawachi where they had spent most of their lives.
Fujiki also explains that in the battlefields of the Sengoku era, the main task of capturing enemies for ransom fell upon the lower class of samurai, who had more to gain from trading a captive for gold than following the upper class practice of killing anyone he managed to capture. Most of the nobility and high levels of samurai did not expect to be captured alive on the battlefield, and indeed such a fate would be deemed utterly humiliating, thus the high incidences of ritual suicide among the upper class. If an upper class samurai captured an opponent of the same status, he would put him to death and then have his head shipped (or carried) to his commander as proof of his prowess. It did not suit upper class samurai to kill those of lower rank (if they captured them), for their heads would not make as significant an impact. Indeed, it was not uncommon for upper class samurai who had failed to take any heads during a battle to pay their lower class colleagues to go out and fetch a head from among the corpses and claim it had been taken during the fighting (although this practice was severely frowned upon). Severed heads were the most common form of proof that samurai had performed their duties, and thus during the Korean campaign ships crammed with the heads of slain Korean soldiers were shipped back to Nagoya (in northern Kyushu) for inspection and verification.
Wholesale slaughter of captives by lower class samurai did not occur so frequently, for samurai of similar status to themselves could simply be sold off as slaves for which money would be given. That in itself proved a great incentive to keep captives alive and use them for one`s own purposes until they either died or were sold off. The only problem here, of course, was that lower class samurai would not merely satisfy themselves with slaves taken on the battlefield, but would take them wherever they found them, including from villages in their lord`s territory if it suited them. Kato Kiyomasa had to issue orders to his own troops warning of punishments should they dare to take slaves from country that he had pacified (and Fujiki provides plenty of other examples of such edicts against taking slaves from allied territories). The basic rule was that anything within the lands controlled by one`s own lord and allied generals were off-limits to slavery, but once the border was crossed into enemy territory anything was fair game (as evidenced from the activities of Uesugi Kenshin`s armies, who in their frequent forays into Shimotsuma, Hitatchi, Musashi, Mutsu, and Shinano ravaged the territory of the Hojo. These jaunts were usually timed to co-incide with the coming of winter, when the Uesugi knew that their opponents were stocked up on winter provisions. Thus they would sweep down from Echigo, take what they wanted, and then leave in the spring. These incidents in themselves would strain the relationship between a lord and his servants, as they expected protection from such threats and when that didn`t happen they would search about for a better candidate) (this information is also in the book titled “Mura kara mita Sengoku daimyo”). Indeed this very act was the spark that led Hojo Ujimasu to relinquish his title to head of the household and retire after he realized that he did not possess the means nor skill to be able to defeat the Uesugi or properly protect Hojo territory. The relationship between lord and village was reciprocal, hence any failure on the part of one would lead to repercussions for the other.
It appears, from the documents that Fujiki quotes, that the Uesugi specifically planned their attacks to coincide with winter not merely because they would be assured of capturing wealth in the Kanto, but it allowed the army to sustain itself over the winter months on the property and goods of the rulers of the east. This would become a particularly acute need in spring, when food was most scarce and starvation threatened to devastate the population. Indeed the records taken from a myriad of venues throughout Japan show that early spring through to early summer were the worst times for finding foodstuff, and that many died from want of food brought on by successive droughts and floods (particularly during the mid to late 16th Century). The villagers of Echigo, and subsequently their rulers, realized that a means to reduce the number of mouths to feed was to embark on campaign – not a bad strategy in itself when one considers that the villages would solve the problem of supply and population at the same time.
The `Akutō`, Pirates, and Traders of the Battlefield:
There is probably a need to once again take a look at the figure of the `miscellaneous` soldier, for it wasn`t just soldiers from villages looking to gain wealth who caused the mayhem that ensued when battle got underway. Part of this can be discerned from the household laws (Article 27) of the Ketsujō (Musubishiro) family. Strategy that called for a surprise attack on an enemy camp at night in secret (known as `kusa` or grass, and yagyō, or evening work) relied upon the experience and expertise of the `akutō`. However at this stage, amongst those close to the daimyo, an `akutō` would be designated as an assistant, although their real work would only occur in the evening which often called for the use of young women. Essentially, this `akutō` was a young person of considerable courage. If they were to be killed in the course of carrying out their duties, they would forfeit any reward and their property. In the territory of the Ketsujō, for `kusa` and evening work, usually this meant that they would employ…” akutō among others, who could run, and were of upstanding character”. In short this meant the hiring of professional groups of akutō and shinobi, whose skills included capturing and securing individuals in enemy territory. The articles of duty for a certain daimyo included a clause for `taking an individual female` from enemy territory, an example that is repeated nowhere else in openly acknowledging the taking of captives in this manner.(130)
Thus when the Ketsujō family drew up pacts of friendship with villages which bordered upon hostile territory, they included a clause within their list of promises stating that any person from those villages who until now had come into the possession of the Ketsujō would be returned, and that in future the Ketsujō would not engage in `night theft, `asagake`, or infiltration (norikomi). Any who would break this promise would be severely punished. These `night thefts, asagake, and infiltration` were the same type of work as that introduced before via the `kusa` and `night work`, that being stealth strategy using during the night. Each time this was used, the `akutō` would steal someone away from their village, thus as a show of goodwill, all captives were to be returned. The capture of prisoners was one method of payment for `theft, asagake, and infiltration`, and was silently acknowledged as such among themselves. Article ninety-eight of the Ketsujō laws states that `those persons who remove genin (the lower classes – the poor), samurai, or peasants from their homes, for the purposes of theft, asagake (conflict), kusa (night espionage), storage (ie, banditry), or encounters (ie, spying) and do not disclose such activities, are to be dealt with swiftly”. What we see from this document is that many forms of work existed for those who could infiltrate enemy positions at night, and that the Ketsujō weren`t adverse to using either bandits or spies. Mercenaries could thus act as they wished – as samurai (young `gangs` or ashigaru), genin (messengers or allies), or villagers.(131)
The laws of the Imagawa household (仮名目緑三一条) also state…” We shall cease relying upon the cooperation of those who would fight on behalf of the enemy”, in sum, every effort will be made to prevent acts that would mean employing mercenaries from among the enemy, from which we can surmise that mercenaries were free to choose whomever they wished to fight on behalf of, whether they were enemies or allies.(132)
Prof Fujiki also makes mention (from pages 153 to 160) of the phenomena of peasants seeking refuge within castles or fleeing into the depths of the mountains (practices that were known as `shiro agari` (城あがり) and `yama agari` (山あがり) alike ). A majority of the examples are taken from the latter part of the Sengoku era (from 1580 onwards) yet they do illustrate how castles functioned as a refuge point from invading armies (although seeking refuge within a castle did have its drawbacks, namely the lack of provisions which were exacerbated by prolonged sieges). Another point that Prof Fujiki makes concerns Tachibana castle in Chikuzen province, a castle that was ruled over by Betsugi Akitsura (later known as Tachibana Dōsetsu). What the evidence shows is that villages that were within eight to ten kilometers of the castle sought refuge within the castle, whilst those villages that lay further afield would flee to the mountains at the approach of an army (which in this case was the army of the Akizuki). The evidence also states that those who flocked to the castle were the `ashiyowai` (足弱), in other words, the old, women, and children. Prof Fujiki then goes on to give further examples of `shiro agari` from the Kantō region, thus demonstrating that castles did indeed function as refuge points and were not entirely devoted to military purposes. They were a safe haven (of sorts) in an environment of internecine strife.