Miyamoto Musashi fought Sasaki Kojiro at Ganryujima on this day, April 13, 1612.
In the calm waters of the Kanmon Straights, just off the coast of Shimonoseki, is a small boat shaped island, formerly known as Funashima, or Boat Island. For over 400 years its name has gone down in history as Ganryujima. A little over 300 meters long, and just over 100 meters wide, the small island with virtually no attractions as such, is world famous as the site of the most celebrated duel of the samurai period, the fight between Sasaki Kojiro and Miyamoto Musashi.
The great duel took place on the morning of April 13, 1612. The two arch-rival swordsmen, Musashi and Kojiro had agreed to meet on the island at 8am, however Musashi is said to have arrived until a little after 10.
As he was being rowed to the small island, Musashi is said to have fashioned a wooden sword from an oar, with the intention of fighting with that, instead of a real sword. I find this most implausible, as carving such a weapon could not be done so quickly, nor easily in a rocking boat. Also, Musashi would have wanted to test the wooden sword to feel its weight and balance in advance.
As his boat approached the beach, Musashi nimbly jumped out into the knee deep water and faced Kojiro.
According to legend, the battle went something like this. Musashi jumped from the prow of the boat into the knee deep brine. “You’re late!” snarled Kojiro, drawing his oversized sword and angrily casting the scabbard into the water. “You’ve lost,…” answered Musashi. “What makes you think that?” spat Kojiro moving menacingly forward. “If you were going to win, you’d need your scabbard again later,” answered Musashi calmly striding out of the water and onto the beach, holding his carved oar behind him.
With a roar, Kojiro made the first move, and in an instant Musashi struck him down. Rumor has it, that as Kojiro slumped to the ground dead, Musashi’s headband fell away, sliced by Kojiro’s near fatal cut. (Nice bit of dramatic effect there! Again, unlikely.)
Musashi then bowed to the official witnesses, returned to his boat, and was rowed away. Instead of returning to the fishing hamlet he’d stayed at before the duel, Musashi then went to a small castle that once stood opposite the far side of the current Seto Bridge.
Apart from an interesting statue of the two warriors in battle, there is a sign post and boat shaped marker pointing out the actual site of the duel, (not quite the actual place,…find the marker, then move back about 20 meters) and a memorial to Sasaki Kojiro. Apart from that, there really isn’t much to see on Ganryujima. While there are some free for use BBQ and toilet facilities available, there are no shops, or eateries, no souvenir stands, nothing. Nothing but the atmosphere of just being there!
And for a fan of the great Miyamoto Musashi, that is more than enough!