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There are two distinct groups of ghouls in Japan, one "home-grown" and one of immigrants. The Japanese ghouls are from the same Dreamlands as good old American ghouls, but the foreign team is originally from Mongolia.
Called the Gama-ichizoku (蝦蟇一族), or Toad Clan, ghouls have been in Japan since prehistory, and were generally known as 'gaki' or hungry ghosts:
Now, the gaki are usually said to be invisible to the human eye, but in fact this was a metaphor, rather than a literal statement. They were so good at disguising themselves as 'normal' people that when they revealed themselves it seemed as they appeared out of nowhere.
As befits a clandestine group, their name was "disguised" by applying the normal meaning for gama, which is 'toad'. (The ghoul's crouching walk and apparent deformities match nicely with the toad name). So, to people who know nothing of their real form and purpose, they're known as the Gama-ichizoku (蝦蟇一族), or Toad Clan, whereas those familiar with them know them as the Gama-ichizoku (餓魔一族) — which, if you wanted to be really melodramatic, could be roughly translated as the Clan of Starving Evil. These names are applied to all ghouls in Japan, whether native or of Mongolian in origin.
Japanese Ghouls are not followers of Mordiggian. Without the restriction of waiting for the meal to die without help, the situation of the Japanese Ghoul improves considerably. It certainly eliminates cremation as an obstacle.
The ghouls were not present in Japan in great numbers prior to the Mongolian invasions of 1274 and 1281. As part of the Khan's armies, however, the ghouls were always in the fighting, and especially in the clean-up detail. When the massive invasion fleet of the Khan invaded Japan in the Fukuoka region, a large number of troops were in fact ghouls, and (thanks to their toughness) most of them survived the decimation of their human fellows.
The Early Years
So, these Ghouls are separate from the Dreamlands Ghouls that the Tainihodo have the relationship with. They would be heretical and all "made" Ghouls. I need to work out how they would have acquired the Consume Memory and Consume Likeness spells without any connection to Mordiggian or the usual sources.
The first possibility that comes to mind is that they did have some contact with Dreamlands Ghouls in something like a missionary expedition from the Dreamlands. The Traditionalists might have seen them as poor pagans in need of enlightenment. The Mongol heretics took what worked for them and ignored the religion. Since they were living in an area where cremation was the norm, strict Mordiggianism didn't catch on.
ASIDE: actually, in spiritual and magickal matters they would be more like the Anzique than the Mordiggian worshippers. The Anzique have a ritual that gives results much like Consume Memory, and so do the Tcho-Tcho. So these Mongol/Japanese Ghouls are Ghouls in body only. They have the physiology but share none of the traditions or culture. In the years between the failed Mongol invasion of (1281?) and Yagyu Jubei's contact with them in the 1630s they had to cobble together their own culture in the least desirable real estate of Iga and Koga. If they had/have a religion, it would probably be devoted to a GOO associated with the Anzique or Tcho-Tcho.
The best path I've found for so far for pulling Ghouls and ninja together is through the machinations of Yagyu Jubei. Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi (or Mitsutoshi. Damn these multiple names.) was the first son of Yagyu Tajima No Kami Munenori; the swordmaster to the Tokugawa shoguns.
The Yagyu lived in a strategically important location near Nara City (which had been the first capitol of Japan) in the Yamato river basin, which also touched the southern edges of Kyoto. Access through the Yamato plains was essential for any general hoping to consolidate rule over all Japan. Currying favor with the landed gentry and samurai of that locale, therefore, would be a crucial factor for any ambitious warlord east of Kyoto.
When Munenori pledged fealty to Ieyasu, he probably brought more to the table than his fighting prowess. He may have also brought the services of an already well-established intelligence network that criss-crossed the Yamato. The warriors he gathered from Yagyu No Sato may also have been decisive in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.
Munenori became sometsuke (sort of overseer over the other daimyo) under Ieyasu. Japanese politics being what it was, it would make sense to put a spymaster overseeing the other daimyo. They were all plotting on their own, and a successful shogun was one that could spot treachery before it could get underway.
Since Munenori was swordmaster as well, the official fencing style of the shogun became the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu. Consequently, instructors from that school were requested by many clans, and these instructors became part of the intelligence network spreading out into the different provinces.
Munenori trained three successive shoguns in swordsmanship: Ieyasu, Hidetada and Iemitsu. Munenori's son, Yagyu Jubei, first appears in official documents as a young attendant to the second Tokugawa shogun, Hidetada, in 1616. He subsequently became a follower of the third shogun, Iemitsu.
I'm scrambling around here to get a timeline, because he died in 1650 at the age of 44, which would have made him about 10 in 1616. Which helps supply the date for his missing 12 years.
Yagyu Jubei apparently dropped off the face of the Earth between his 24th and 36th years, which would be the years 1630-1642. Then, at the end of that period, Jubei wrote the Tsukimi No Sho (The Text of Looking at the Moon). The forward to this manuscript has some cryptic and tantalizing hints of what he was up to, but do not decisively solve the mystery of that missing decade. ASIDE: Gotta get a look at that text to see what hints are in the forward.
His father died in 1646, at which time Jubei took over the family domains.
Although legends say that some sort of disgrace or conflict with Iemitsu led to his 12-year disappearance, he came out of obscurity briefly in (1639? certainly during the mysterious period) for a family demonstration of swordsmanship for Iemitsu.
Although all paintings of Jubei during his lifetime show him with two good eyes, legend has him dressed in black, with a shock of hair tied simply with a cord, a flat sword guard covering his blind right eye, and sedge hat obscuring his features. He travels about the countryside incognito, until he whips out his avenging sword to save the innocent from wicked evildoers. You've got to love that.
I am going to go with the legends. Yagyu Jubei lost that eye during the missing years.
What he was doing for those 12 years was a mission for the shogun. He was seeking candidates to become covert operatives — ninja. This was a period with no warfare (but nonetheless the Golden Age of swordsmanship, with a lot of ronin wandering about trying to make reputations for themselves) because the Tokugawa shoguns knew what it took to stay on top: intelligence and the ability to make proactive moves before things could spin out of control into warfare.
His search would inevitably lead him to Iga and Koga, and there he would hear the tales of the supernatural abilities of the mysterious clans living in the most inaccessible regions.
What the Ghouls brought to the table was their speed, strength, agility, perfect interrogation methods (Consume Memory), secrecy, and being outside of any code of conduct. What Jubei offered was gainful employment, a career path and the (secret) patronage of the shogun. And maybe an ongoing tribute of condemned criminals to reduce the forays on the inhabitants of the countryside.
He sealed the agreement by giving them his right eye. I haven't decided what they gave him yet. One possibility that occurred to me is that he had a Ghoul eye under that sword guard, through which he maintained communications to the Ghouls when back in Kyoto. He became sort of a living covenant between the shogun and the Ghouls.
The Mongolian ghouls drifted through the lower rungs of Japanese society since arriving in Japan, ending up (for no particular reason) in the Iga and Koga regions of Japan, now famed for their ninja warriors. They were, in fact, the original ninja, provided with a host of capabilities that normal men could not hope to achieve, such as shape-changing, ability to climb almost anything, enormous resistance to physical injury, and ability to go without sustenance for long periods of time. In later years the ghouls gradually pulled back from the public eye, and their disciples — men who hoped to attain their skills — began establishing a name for themselves as ninja. They did not possess the abilities of the ghouls, but the ghouls had ensured that the people of Japan feared them, and that fear itself was sufficient to establish the reputation of the ninja. Their training program and a few interesting tactical inventions brought them mastery of espionage operations in Japan for centuries.
The "rules of engagement" for a samurai are very strict, and preclude such useful activities as assassination, preparing traps, or turning from combat to bring back valuable information. But daimyos that read their "Art of War" were aware of the usefulness of espionage and covert warfare. Think of warriors unburdened by the samurai code as the weapons of mass destruction of the time. No one wanted them used, but you'd be a fool to let the other side have them when you didn't.
The depiction of assassins as the "weapon of mass destruction" of its time is based on readings about the Assassins. In their region of the world, you simply did not renounce or lie about your faith. The thought of an enemy that could pretend to be a devout member of your own faith for years and years while waiting to be "activated" was a scary thought. The faithful could not respond in kind. The difference between Hassan i Sabbah's soldiers and the soldiers of all the surrounding kingdoms was that difference. Hassan's troops earned their way to Heaven by doing something that would condemn everyone else to Hell.
I know that some people will argue that of course the samurai weren't so stupid as to leave themselves at a disadvantage over something as ethereal as a code. I disagree. The samurai commitment to the code is something that doesn't translate very well to Westerners. Let's put it this way: an individual samurai might run through the jungle and avoid combat to save his life, and maybe even bring back the information, but they would all have a problem with being ordered to do that. Why me? Don't you think I am honorable? It could be conceived of, but was nonetheless unthinkable. If denying themselves useful military tools over a principle seems stupid or some bizarre Asian thing, remember that the US disbanded the Black Chamber because "gentlemen do not read each others mail."
So, Iga and Koga with their population of hard fighting Eta became the recruiting pool for these unconventional warriors. They could creepy crawl and recon without loss of honor, because they had no honor to lose. They could hide or backstab or kill a sleeping enemy. They could drop their weapon and run like a mofo if it got the information back to their lines. They were not expected to stand and have an honorable, glorious death.
The first generations of ninja were probably scouts and long range recon patrols. But, once the utility of these warriors was established in warfare, covert ops beckoned.
So, ninja became assassins and spies. Most assassinations were done from a distance when the target was in the field. Ninjas as early snipers. But when an enemy didn't stray from his fortress other methods had to be used. Female operatives known as kunoichi were used to catch an enemy with his pants down and vulnerable. Slipping poison into his food or drink. These "invisible" assassins were invisible by appearing to belong. There was a short story called "The Invisible Man" that illustrates the concept. The "invisible" killer of the story was the mailman. Every time the surveilling police were asked if anyone came to the door, they said no. In their minds, since the mailman was supposed to come to the door he didn't count. Invisible. Or hiding in plain sight like a Purloined Letter.
Then again, what better disguise for a ninja than to travel with players? It's one way to get past the walls without having to climb them with claws, and no incriminating clothing other than his stage costume.
Well, there's always a need for covert ops, whether by governments, corporations or criminal organizations. Most probably don't know just what they are dealing with, they just know they get good results.
However, I do see one use for them that offers some eerie possibilities.
Due to the traditions and procedures of the Japanese legal system, lawsuits are nowhere nearly as common as in the US or even Europe. Consequently, one of the most lucrative *legal* activities of the yakuza is debt collection. Well, the transactions are legal even if the methodology often isn't. It has been estimated that gangsters forcibly collect one-half of all unpaid debts in Japan.
So what happens when the debt is enormous and the debtor is so powerful and well-protected that a midnight knock on the door is out of the question? The savvy yak brings in contractors: the pros from Iga.
Now, it would not do to have these debtors simply disappear. They would be missed, and besides, they have to be around to liquidate their property and pay off those debts plus handling fees. What the new ninja excel in is intimidation so horrifying that no victim ever goes to the authorities.
Using the skills they have been perfecting since Jubei's time, the neo-ninja can abduct a debtor in the night from his well-guarded home and take him to a secure location for convincing. He is trussed-up like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange," eyes wide open so he will miss none of the presentation. Then, after the situation and it's resolution is explained to him, the pros from Iga bring in a live person (preferably someone the debtor knows and cares for), kill them, prepare them, and sit down and have a feast starring them for the edification of the deadbeat. To seal the deal, the debtor is forced to eat some of the meal. If he vomits they give him more until he keeps it down. They seldom have to resort to Stage Two, which is cutting off pieces of the debtor for a shared snack.
Think something _very_ small scale, maybe brought back by some WW2 veteran that picked up a Tcho-Tcho sort of appetite in the Pacific. I'm reading Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and there's a "Japanese soldier meets cannibals" chapter, so maybe that's where this idea came from… And after all, we have not yet touched upon the matter of the veterans….
It would be a nice variant on the usual Tcho-tchos-running-a-ramen-stand plot. And it would fit exceedingly well (IMHO and all that) in a Japanese suburban setting - imagine just a bunch of guys that normally stop for a few drinks after office hours in some downtown bar, and once in a while eat a teenaged girl.
All very polite, all very low-profile. Some wilder elements tend to overdo it, but they get caught pretty fast.