The Many Faces of Saika Magoichi

Ukiyoe painting of Suzuki Magoichi by Utagawa Yoshiiku

Saika Magoichi is an interesting figure in Japanese history, particularly because three people have been rolled into one person, mainly due to legends and pop culture references. “Saika Magoichi” is a lot like James Bond or The Doctor from Doctor Who; many people have held the title despite the name never changing. Yet, because every time you do a Google search on Saika Magoichi, you get the histories of all three men without much context on why. In order to understand Saika Maogichi and the people who held this title, you have to understand the Saika Ikki first, the history of the men who held this title, and how pop culture turns these three men into one person.

Saika Ikki

Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of information on the Saika Ikki, but here is what we do know. The Saika Ikki, also known as Saika-shu or the Saika Confederation, was a group of people who lived near Saikazaki located in Kii Province, near where modern day Wakayama City sits. They were an independent power in Japan with an economy all their own, which depended on fishing, mountain agriculture and rifle crafting. The number one thing the Saika were known for was for their usage of gun and their ability to bring together large numbers of harquebuses on demand. The name “Magoichi” was usually given to the leader of this confederation and many of them came from the Suzuki family. Their lands would later end up being abandoned or became a part of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Japan in 1585, resulting in many members of the Saika leaving and spreading out to other parts of Japan.(1)

So far, three people have been linked to the name Saika Magoichi and all three were from the Suzuki Family. They were Suzuki Sadayū (also known as Suzuki Shigeoki), Suzuki Shigehide and Suzuki Shigetomo.

Suzuki Sadayū (Suzuki Shigeoki, 1511-1585)

Starting off with Suzuki Sadayū, he was the father of Shigehide and Shigetomo, both who we will talk about next. We do not know a lot about Sadayū’s early life, but we do know that he was born sometime around 1511. It is believed that he worked as a mercenary, hence why we do not have much information on his early life. At some point, he was employed by the Hatekayama clan to help them with their fights against the Miyoshi clan. Then he would later serve the Buddhist warrior monks at Ishiyama Honganji, fighting alongside the Miyoshi when Oda Nobunaga laid siege to the fortified monastery in 1570. It is known that he brought 600 riflemen to battle, but not much is known about him after that.(2) I found in The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga that some of the Saika sided with Nobunaga during this conflict.(3) Considering that the Saika were made up of rōnin, mercenaries, Buddhist warrior monks and former bandits, it is easy to see how loyalties could be divided.(4) Considering that the reports say that Sadayū helped the defenders at Ishiyama Honganji, we can say that in the beginning, he helped them out, but because we do not have any more information on him until the Battles of Komaki and Nagakute, it is unsure to say if he would later switch sides. At the Battles of Komaki and Nagakute in 1584, Sadayū helped Tokugawa Ieyasu with his fight against the Toyotomi, but he would end up surrendering alongside him. While Sadayū swore to serve Hideyoshi, Tōdō Takatora stepped in and said that he did not trust them and believed that they would not remain loyal.(5) This is pretty ironic coming from Takatora, who ended up changing his lord seven times, serving ten different people before remaining loyal to Ieyasu.(6) Nevertheless, Sadayū was sentenced to commit seppuku. He died in 1585 at the age of 75.

Suzuki Shigehide (c. 1546-c. 1586)

Moving on to Suzuki Shigehide, we are dealing with a lot of conflicting information. It is believed that he was most likely the son of Sadayū, but it is disputed by historians because they say that they have not been able to prove it with records. On top of this, his existence is called into question due to “records not being made available to the public”.(7) Going through all the English sources I have, none of the Suzuki men are really mentioned, but the one that everyone calls into question is the one who appears the most sources, including The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga, where he is mentioned by name. While this helps some, it still muddies the water on learning the real history of Shigehide. We do not know much about his early life, just like his father, and he served alongside the Ikkō-ikki at Ishiyama Honganji, bringing 3,000 gunmen in response.(8) While it has been said that Shigehide was well-known for his hatred of Nobunaga, I found an interesting report in The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga that states that he gained permission from Nobunaga to get his revenge on the man who killed his stepfather in 1582, causing a split within Saika, so I am unsure how far that hatred went, or if it even existed at all.(9) In 1577, he fought against Nobunaga when he began his conquest on Saika and we do not hear from Shigehide again until his surrender to Hideyoshi in 1584.(10) Shigehide tried to save his family from destruction, however, he could not convince Hideyoshi, and thus, they fell into ruin. How Shigehide’s life ended varies on sources and so far, there seems to be four different possibilities. The first is very similar to his father. Some sources claim that he served Hideyoshi for a short time then committed seppuku in 1586. The second extends his service with Hideyoshi to 1598 then joined the Eastern Army for the Sekigahara Campaign.(11) The other two theories are not any more exciting, with them stating that he either became a wanderer and died late in life as a hermit or that he lived out the rest of his days as a rōnin in the Mito domain after Sekigahara.(12)

Suzuki Shigetomo (1561-1623)

Lastly, we have Suzuki Shigetomo, who is another of Sadayū’s sons. His story is very similar to Shigehide: he fought alongside the Ikkō-ikki and surrendered to Hideyoshi along with his father and brother in 1584. Unlike them, however, he would end up serving Hideyoshi for the long haul. Shigetomo became one of Hideyoshi’s generals and even participated in the Korean Campaigns by sending men from his station at Nagoya Castle. He continued to serve Hideyoshi after the Taikō’s death in 1598, siding with the Western Army. He was present at the Siege of Fushimi Castle and he would join Date Masamune’s forces after the Battle of Sekigahara. Later, he would become one of Tokugawa Yorifusa’s high ranking bodyguards. He would died of natural causes at the age of 63 in 1623.(13)

Saika Magoichi in Pop Culture

When we are introduced to Saika Magoichi in pop culture, we are given a combination of all three men known to have held the title. Because of this, their stories are extremely unique, for they become works of historical fiction with some truth spread throughout their stories. They all have some similarities: all are mercenaries, they all fight with firearms and all are represented by a crow, which was the clan mon for the Saika.

At least in pop culture that has carried over to the West, we have three different versions of Saika Magoichi: one from Nioh, another from Samurai Warriors and lastly, we have Sengoku BASARA’s interesting take on him.

Saika Magoichi as he appears in Nioh

I will go over Nioh’s version briefly. Since I am not a serious gamer, Nioh has been quite challenging to get through, so I am just basing this off of the cutscene in the first game where you face him. What I found interesting is that this version of Magoichi is based off of Shigetomo. From what I could gather, this boss fight takes place at the Siege of Fushimi Castle, to which Shigetomo was apparently present at but fighting for the Western Army. The crow spirit also holds three orbs in his talons and it makes me wonder if this is in reference to all three men who we know held the title of Magoichi. Since I have not played the game, I cannot say any of this for certain, so at this point, it is just theories based off my observations of “Let’s Plays”.(14)

Saika Magoichi’s official game artwork from Samurai Warriors 4

Looking at Saika Magoichi in Samurai Warriors, we can see that he looks the part of a mercenary. In fact, his Samurai Warriors 4 render makes him look like Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. He is rugged-looking in the face and in his dress, he carries a sniper rifle with a bayonet and the symbol of the crow is on the back of his poncho. My focus is not so much on the appearance or personality of the character, but rather the history and his personal story in the game. Throughout most of the installments, Magoichi had a hatred for Nobunaga, is best friends with Hideyoshi and develops a friendship with Masamune. There are no Buddhist warrior monks in any of the games (a least any that are outright mentioned), but they are alluded to through him, which can be seen in a cutscene from the second installment of the franchise.

In this specific cutscene, Magoichi looks around a smoldering village, which was once the Saika stronghold. He has no idea what has happened to them and the only living thing he finds in the burnt village is a dog. Hideyoshi appears behind him and asks him for forgiveness. He explains that he tried to stop Nobunaga, but the Demon King was hell bent on making an example out of the Saika, to show the world what happens when you go against Nobunaga. Magoichi does not want to hear out his old friend and instead, points his rifle at him. A bewildered Hideyoshi tries again to explain at gunpoint and the cutscene ends with the usually cheerful character staring down his old friend with a dead look in his eyes. He takes matters into his own hands later on and ends up assassinating Nobunaga during the Honnōji Incident.

With this scene, it can be speculated that Saika Magoichi was not only representing the Saika but also the Ikkō-ikki and the fates they suffered at the hands of Nobunaga at places like Mount Hiei and Nagashima. This would also explain the hatred for Nobunaga, not just in the video game, but in real life as well. Since Shigehide sympathized more with the defenders of Ishiyama Honganji, who were Ikkō-ikki, the mentioned massacres would have only fueled his hatred for the conquerer.(15)

Saika Magoichi as he appears in Samurai Warriors 5

The Samurai Warriors interpretation of Saika Magoichi takes all three men and combined them to create one person and despite his young looking appearance, he is one of the longest living characters in the franchise for he lives to see the rise of Nobunaga to the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Unfortunately, I am not sure how long this will be the case. While Samurai Warriors 5 is to be released on July 27, 2021 in the West, we have been given a glimpse of the character roster and Saika Magoichi is returning. However, with the change in game direction also comes a change in Magoichi’s character. The official site states that Magoichi is “[a] professional mercenary that always completes any request he undertakes. He has the ability to survive any battle or assassination attempt, and he has no interests in the concept of good and evil. He has no particular loyalty to anyone”.(16) As a long time fan of Magoichi, this was disheartening to read, for even though he still has that rugged look, he seems more serious than the previous versions of him, however, until the game comes out and I can play it through, I just have the website’s description to go off of.

Saika Magoichi in Sengoku BASARA Yukimura-den

Sengoku BASARA throws you a curveball with their version of Saika Magoichi, mainly because he becomes a she. We will address that in a moment, because Capcom does not just do stuff for the fun of it: there is a reason behind everything in Sengoku BASARA. She dresses in Western like fashion, and I talking like Wild West (again, think The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), wears guns like a garter belt and is also symbolized by a crow, going as far as to call her men the “Crows of Saika”.  Her timeline is just as long as her male counterpart, but the events are not the same. She is literally a hired gun, only allying herself with people who are worthy of their expertise. She has an extreme hatred for Nobunaga and served Hideyoshi for a time. During Sekigahara, she really does not take a side, remaining neutral to go after the resurrected Nobunaga. In the video game, however, the player can decide if they want fight for the Western or Eastern Army. This might also have to do with the fact that Sadayū’s sons may have served on separate sides during the Sekigahara Campaign. The reason I say that is because historians are debating if Shigehide was present at Sekigahara at all. This version of Magoichi does not serve Masamune, but it is noted that the two share some history.

It seems that Sengoku BASARA’s version of Magoichi is based off of Sadayū than that of the other “Magoichis”. It becomes really clear after a cutscene between her and the “pirate” daimyō of Shikoku, Chōsokabe Motochika, who calls her “Sayaka”. She corrects him and says that she no longer goes by that name and we find out later why. The original Saika Magoichi was killed by Oda Nobunaga when he invaded their lands and Sayaka took over as the leader and took on the name of Saika Magoichi. She wanted to avenge her master but Nobunaga was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide before she could kill him herself. She later found out that Tenkai, who is just a brainwashed Mitsuhide, has resurrected Nobunaga and she makes it her personal duty to make sure he never gets the chance to spread his terror across Japan ever again. Now, the name “Sayaka” seems similar to “Sadayū”, which makes me believe that this version of Magoichi was based off him. She is more of a true mercenary than her male counterpart, and Sadayū was mainly known for being a mercenary. The added touch that she took on the name of Magoichi also reminds us that many people have taken on the name of Saika Magoichi, and there could be some we do not know about for members of the Saika Confederation called themselves “Magoichi” as well. It is unclear though if this continued past the collapse of their lands in 1585.

The character of Saika Magoichi is an interesting one, for we do not have a lot of information on the three men reported to have held the title. Perhaps he is like James Bond, forever to be a man of mystery for Japanese historians. If that is the case, perhaps we will never know the true history behind any of these men. And are we sure it is just these three? I do not think we will ever know and maybe that is how it was meant to be.

Sources

  1. “Magoichi Saika”, https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Magoichi_Saika, last visited 7/12/2021
  2. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  3. Ōta, Gyūichi. The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga (2011), p. 152
  4. “Magoichi Saika”, https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Magoichi_Saika, last visited 7/12/2021
  5. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  6. “Tōdō Takatora”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tōdō_Takatora, last visited 7/12/2021
  7. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  8. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  9. Ōta, Gyūichi. The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga (2011), p. 426
  10. Ōta, Gyūichi. The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga (2011), p. 265
  11. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  12. “Magoichi Saika”, https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Magoichi_Saika, last visited 7/12/2021
  13. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  14. “Nioh: Saika Magoichi Boss Fight (1080p 60fps)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCR6qAxAZsk, last viewed 7/12/2021
  15. “Suzuki Magoichi”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Magoichi, last visited 7/12/2021
  16. “Magoichi Saika”, https://www.koeitecmoamerica.com/sw5/character/character25.html, last visited 7/12/2021