Recently a young reader asked me “Where did you get the idea for Mitsuka Manuyoto?” Mitsuka is a character in Owl Ninja, the second book in the Samurai Kids series.
Throughout the Samurai Kids writing process my constant companion is The Book of Five Rings by the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, even today, considered without a doubt the best. When Musashi’s ghost heard that question, I am sure he laughed. For much of Mitsuka is drawn from Musashi. And that’s one of the wonderful things about writing history. It provides its own starting points and ideas.
Musashi was not only a skilled swordsman but a very interesting man. He is almost as famous for his unkempt appearance. There’s even a little gossip – was it that he didn’t like having a bath or did he have an illness? I suspect if you are the best swordsman in the world then no-one argues too much about whether you smell or not! He was also a man with a sense of humour and an integrity that led him to put his sword aside for the wooden bo (he tired of winning by killing opponents he admired). Eventually he decided he’d had enough of battle and retired to paint birds on silk. The dichotomy of the man of who excelled at war but at the same time exalted in the pattern of canary feathers immediately attracted my writer’s interest.
But while Mitsuka too is a great swordsman and could do with a dunking in something wet, he is otherwise totally fictional. His clumsiness and his devotion to his former teacher are his alone. As is the reason why he hasn’t got any trousers when the kids first meet him. Taking off your trousers can be a useful opponent-distracting strategy!
We stop underneath a giant cherry tree. But Sensei’s space is already taken by a large dirty man in the ragged remains of a red kimnon and jacket. Snoring there without his trousers on. We don’t know which way to look. Sensei makes it even harder when he sits down next to the tramp.
Despite his idiosyncracies and his tendency to drop his sword, in his own time, Mitsuka is the best there is. Even better than Mikko. And when he has a blade especailly made for him by Sensei’s old friend, the master craftsman Onaku:
The ronin reaches for it, eyes bright as he recognises the Sword Master’s handiwork. From here I can see the grip is unusual. It melts into the ronin’s hand and as flesh and sword join together, I hear the blade sing. Everyone can. It drowns out the thump of the drum.
Note: A ronin was a wandering samurai who, unlike most of his peers, served no master.
You can download a fact sheet about Musashi from the Samurai Kids website or read about him in the Chi! Jin! Yu! newsletter. You can read more about Mitsuka Manuyoto in Owl Ninja, the second book in the Samurai Kids series.