Episode 6–“Stranger Searching”

[Important note: This is a complete summary of the episode containing major spoilers. Please be sure you want to know this info before you read; spoilers are not blocked or hidden in any way so this is your only warning. If you aren't 100% sure you want to know who lives, who dies, who gets hurt, who walks away and who's responsible, please pack your katana and walk right now. My feelings will not be hurt. Thank you.]

Nihonbashi, Edo, a bright morning. Townspeople look up in surprise at a clomping sound. A troop of men comes over the wooden bridge wearing big wooden clogs–Dutch style–and baskets over their heads. Everyone stares...

Another location. There’s a banner hanging over the street: "Fourth Annual Eating Contest". And here’s our trio. Fuu can’t believe their luck: they’ve just arrived in Edo, and here’s free food, all you can eat! Perfect for people as hungry as we are.

They step up to the table and a man asks for their fee. We thought it was free, they say, crestfallen; Jin adds that they wouldn’t be here if they had any money. That’s OK, says the man, just give me something of value; the winner gets all the entry fees. Mugen and Fuu hand over their sword and tanto. And you, samurai?–asks the man. [He calls Jin this because of his two swords; only members of that class were permitted to carry more than one.] Jin-san replies with dignity that he won't part with his soul so easily, but Mugen yanks the swords out of Jin’s obi and lays them on the table. Jin is in shock. Mugen and Fuu blithely insist that it’s just for a little while, since they’re so hungry they’re sure to win; Mugen adds "if we’ve paid this much to enter, there’s no way we’ll lose." Fuu grabs Jin by the arm and hauls him away from the table, and in they go. Mugen pauses to notice an odd figure waiting in the line, a tall burly guy in a big straw hat and wooden shoes...

Inside, it’s like a cross between a sports event and Iron Chef, with enthusiastic announcers commenting on the eating action. All of last year’s best competitors are here again, including the winner, Sonosuke the Bottomless Stomach, and Izumi, known as "The Queen of Eating" and "The Sweet Tooth Queen". The dish being served is a local favorite, anago-don: barbecued conger eel and rice. The only rule is that the one who eats the most bowls wins; when you’ve had enough, you set down your bowl and press your palms together. And they’re off!

Jin is the first to quit, after only two bowls. Why’d he even enter? –puzzle the commentators. Jin is sweating. I should never have let this happen, he mutters. Mugen, please... [and you know that wasn’t easy to say...] But Mugen starts to waver. Jin glares and orders him to eat, but it’s no use; he reels and falls off the bench. Saving their cutlery is up to Fuu.

And it looks like she might; contestants drop like flies until only four are left: Sonosuke, Izumi, Fuu, and the big guy Mugen spotted in the queue outside. On they plow, easily bypassing "last year’s record-setting 22nd bowl". Izumi falls behind and quits; Sonosuke too; but Fuu and the big fellow eat on. Her stomach is as big as the galaxy, it is one with the cosmos!–marvel the commentators. Are we witnessing the evolution of the human stomach? 27th bowl and Fuu seems to be going strong, but a pesky fly starts to annoy her, and–fatefully–she claps her hands together trying to catch it. UH-oh: too late. She’s out of the competition. The big guy whoops happily and flings away his hat in elation.

Outside on the steps. Jin is despondent ("..my katana..."); Mugen’s just pissed off. Fuu, grossly bloated and looking miserable, tries to explain about the fly. Up walks the big guy, beaming cheerily and saying what a lovely day it is; he’s very visibly carrying all three swords. Jin is riveted. Mugen and Fuu look him over suspiciously: your accent’s weird, you have blue eyes, and red hair... But he says no, no, I really am Japanese; my name is Jouji.

Whoever you are--says Jin--that sword you have is my life. Please give it back.

No, says Jouji flatly. "I didn’t mean for free," counters Jin, and Jouji eagerly makes an offer: he wants a tour guide. If they’ll show him the sights of Edo, he’ll return Jin’s katana. Mugen says count him out, he doesn’t know anything about Edo, and Fuu says they need to get about their search, but Jin firmly overrules them both, telling Jouji that he’s so knowledgeable he’s been called "the Map of Edo". Liar, mutters Mugen, but quietly...

So they tour Edo, though it’s immediately apparent that Jouji knows a lot more about it than any of them do. Mugen and Fuu, to their credit, at least try to give poor Jin some backup. ("Um, that’s Statue #1, and that’s Statue #2...") Jouji isn’t bothered at all by their ignorance, seems delighted just to be here and loves everything they see, no matter how ordinary ("Wow! This must be Edo sushi!") Meanwhile, we see a grim-looking bunch of armed men combing the city, asking everyone if they’ve seen a foreigner...and the basket-headed guys are still trooping around as well...

After a fireworks display Jouji buys them all dinner, and Jin suggests that’s enough sightseeing for one day, but the big guy wants to see more. Suddenly the armed men barge in, calling out that they know a foreigner is hiding in here, and anyone who shelters him will be charged alongside him; you’d better turn him in if you know what’s good for you. Mugen comments that a tone like that makes him all the more determined to hide the man; so what if I don’t want to turn him in? --The posse stops short. We admire your nerve, says their leader, but you’d better apologize if you want to live. [Well, you know Mugen, now he’d sooner die than give in; it’s time to kick butt.] Hey, he says to Jouji, gimme back my sword. No, he says. What?! This is no time to argue!–yells Mugen. Too late. The troop leader points and orders the foreigner arrested.

Brawl ensues, with the guys giving a sterling display of unarmed dinner-table combat, Mugen making good use of skewers and Jin actually breaking off someone’s swordpoint with his teacup. They flee the place, evade capture and then scold Mugen for starting a fight–-what’ll we do if they throw us out of Edo? Guys like that just piss me off, he grumbles, not sorry in the least.

The basket-headed group is seen staring at the kicked-out door of the restaurant...

Our quartet ends up outside a theatre where Yamato Nadeshiko is performing. [--it's a standardized fictional name for the ideal Japanese woman; see her entry in the Character Guide.] Jouji’s apparently a fan. Is this her house? he asks eagerly. You’re kidding, right? retorts Mugen. Fuu and Jin remind him that he’s a fugitive and it’s not safe for him to attend the performance, but he says this is the last thing he’ll ask of them; he’ll give back their swords if they’ll see the show with him. Fair enough, says Jin wearily.

Nadeshiko is gorgeous and Jouji is wide-eyed with admiration during the whole performance. She’s beautiful, I have to meet her!-–he cries after the show. Um, that’s not a her, Fuu tries to say, but he’s off. I don’t think he understands, says Fuu uneasily...

Nadeshiko is indeed a man performing as a woman, as was the custom of the time, and for a moment no one is sure how Jouji is reacting. But then the truth, well, comes out. I like men better, he admits. And you’re just my type... will you listen to my story?

He’s really Dutch; his name is Isaac. He was persecuted at home in Holland for his love of men, called a queer and a pervert, and was very unhappy. Then he read a book from Japan that changed his life, a shocking book called "Nanshoku Okagami", by a man named Saikaku Ihara. [Historical note: He was a very popular poet and novelist, and this is his most famous work, a short-story collection published in 1687. It explores various aspects of gay male life in 17th century Japan, especially as seen in the lives of samurai. The title means "Great Mirror of Male Love" and nanshoku is still the word generally used to refer to this highly formal type of male relationship.] It was a revelation to Isaac, because it advocated a view of sexuality as something that can transcend normal life, "a high technique that can be considered like swordsmanship or the tea ceremony", and spoke highly of bushido --the "way of the samurai"--as a culture built on strong male relationships: "prepared to die, they swore to honor their brothers", he explains. He was overwhelmed by his discovery and decided Japan must be a gay paradise, where he could be himself at last.

[So my guess is: he didn't really need a tour guide, he just wanted to be escorted around by two good-looking guys.=)]

At just this dramatic point the troop that’s been chasing him arrives. There’s the foreigner and his friends! Why do you want to arrest me? I’ve done nothing wrong!–-Jouji/Isaac cries. The troop leader coldly replies that even roaches are more free to live in Japan than Westerners. Unacceptable!–cries another voice, and we all turn to see that the basket-headed group has arrived–-and they throw off their baskets to show they’re all Europeans. Arrest them!–-yells the troop leader, and Mugen’s had enough, and clocks the guy with one of his metal-clad sandals. --Better yet, the leader orders--kill them all!

All run out of Nageshiko's dressing room, Mugen draws blood on one of the guards with his thumbnail, and Isaac throws Mugen and (finally!) Jin back their swords. Mugen! snaps Jin, checking the pursuit with a fast glance--Mugen's a step closer and armed a few seconds sooner than Jin. Got it, grins Mugen, clipping the first two militia and buying our gang a little escape time, and off they run with the troop on their heels. Ooh, a samurai sword fight!–- cheers Isaac, running after them. [You have to love him, he’s such a fanboy...]

Mugen in the lead, everyone runs through the backstage area of the theatre and out onto the stage–-Mugen, Jin and Fuu, Isaac, and the militia. Everyone’s swords are out and it looks close for our guys until the Dutchmen bring up the rear, charging in full tilt. Do you know what this is?, one cries, holding up a goshuin (document from the Shogun). It’s Isaac’s permit to be here: he’s Isaac Titsingh of the famous Dutch East India company, Governor-General in charge of trade. ("Nanda?" --"what was that?"--asks baffled Mugen. It means he’s a special foreigner recognized by the Shogun, explains Jin.) --Isaac’s countrymen tell him--speaking Japanese-subtitled Dutch!--that they’ve been looking everywhere for him; an important meeting with the Shogun is very near, and they’ve been putting it off saying he was ill, but he must come with them. I don’t want to, he says unhappily. You must, they tell him.

[Historical note 2: even though he has permission to be here, he's only supposed to mingle with two classes of people, other merchants and whores. Wandering the streets and hanging out with the locals is exactly the sort of thing the Shogun would not like to hear he'd been up to, but he's so in love with the culture that he just can't help it. Like I said, such a fanboy...=)]

So he bids his new friends farewell on the bridge. I hoped to live here as a Japanese, he sighs, but I guess that isn’t possible. But someday this country will accept people like me, he says, smiling; someday it will open up its asshole. Who the hell would open their asshole for you? smirks Mugen, and Jin asks to be excused. They head off across the bridge.

One more thing, says Fuu. Do you know anything about a samurai who smells like sunflowers? I’ve been looking for him a long time. No, he says, but I do know sunflowers were originally brought here by the Dutch. Do you have any more clues? Well, I don’t know if it’s a clue, but I have something of his, Fuu says, and she pulls one of the charms off her pink tanto. He picks it up from her palm: a little skull on a cord. He holds it up, looks at it closely, and blanches. Put this away and don’t let anyone see it, he tells her, it’s dangerous in this country. But why? I can only tell you one thing, Isaac says: you’ll surely find a clue if you go to Nagasaki. Nagasaki, she repeats thoughtfully.

And takes off after Mugen and Jin. So, what now? Mugen asks her. You already know, says Fuu, trotting on ahead.

(and in voice-over the credits, they express their bafflement: "Huh?" "We do?" "First I'd heard of it...")

Amalgam is proud to present three selections from the Nanshoku Okagami here.

See some original art from this episode here.

Incidentally, when that guy tells Isaac that even roaches are more free to come and go in Japan than foreigners, he's being literal. The 5th Shogun had forbidden the killing of any animal or bug in Edo, so the place was overridden with insects and feral dogs for quite some time. No wonder "stray dog" is such a common insult.

2012 update: Shinobu Maehara writes: "Isaac's full name is Isaac Titsingh - a rather famous historical figure. If you listen carefully to the Japanese pronunciation in the episode, it's 'isa-ku chiching' which confirms this." --See Character Guide for more.

Samurai Champloo characters, visuals and materials (c) 2004 manglobe.
Original story synopsis written and (c) 2004 by Paula O'Keefe.

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