When badass skull-cleaving samurai warrior Taira no Masakado was decapitated after his failed attempt to overthrow the Emperor of Japan in 940 AD, his severed head was hung outside the gates of the Imperial Palace to serve as a warning to others not to ever ever fuck with the Emperor. Every night, after dark, the decapitated head of this creepy samurai would allegedly come to life, curse everyone out with incredibly harsh and damning language, gnash its teeth like an animal, and mean-mug the entire town. For three months this animatronic hate-skull hung outside the palace, and instead of decaying or decomposing the way severed heads are supposed to the already-intense face supposedly just continually kept looking more and more pissed off every single morning. Finally, one night, the head of the man known as “The First Samurai” ripped itself off the post, hovered in the air for a moment, and then randomly flew off to the east. The head landed near the previously-unknown town of Edo, where some fishermen buried it and built a shrine on the spot they found it. Today the site is considered so sacred/haunted/whatever that this shrine still stands untouched on a chunk of land in downtown Tokyo’s financial district where the property value massively exceeds that of pretty much any other piece of real estate in the world.
Welcome to Badass of the Week’s MONTH OF SPOOOOOOOKY HALLOWEEN SHIT.
Ok, it’s not really going to be a month of spooooooky Halloween shit because I’d rather kill myself than try and present ghost stories as legitimate history every week, but I do think I’m just going to write about some really really bad motherfuckers for the rest of this month, and, hey, if there’s some SPOOOOOOOKY HALLOWEEN SHIT that goes along with it then fuckin’ a, right?
Taira no Masakado, the First Samurai, was a hardcore bastard so totally ruthless, brutal, and unstoppable that you could almost legit believe that his rage would continue manifesting itself physically even after the death of his body. A powerful landowner during the Heian Era of Japanese History, Masakado was famous for launching the first true rebellion against the Emperor since the establishment of the Kyoto Government 100 years earlier. By the time he was done, the entire countryside of Japan was burning, and the groundwork had been forged for all of the powerful daimyo and samurai that would follow.
Masakado was born probably around 903 AD, at the height of the Heian Era, when shit in the Japanese countryside was pretty fucked up. The Emperor in Kyoto didn’t really do much, leaving power in the hands of landowners and provincial governors, most of whom had private armies so they could more efficiently rip off and beat up the people they were supposed to be protecting. Bandits, starvation, and corruption were rampant, and everything had a seriously Wild West vibe to it.
Taira no Masakado was one of 12 grandsons of a very powerful leader of the Taira Clan, a family of ultra-wealthy landowners, but Masakado was pretty far down in the pecking order for getting to do cool shit. He tried to become the police chief of Kyoto but was rejected, so he begrudgingly went back to the family farm for a boring life in the country. He tried to spice things up by marrying one of his many second cousins, but her dad, Masakado’s Uncle Kunika, told Masakado to fuck off. Which I guess is understandable if it was because he was against cousin-humping, but in reality it was because Masakado didn’t have enough money or glory and Uncle Kunita didn’t think Masakado was borrowing his sandals let alone boning his daughter.
What was less cool was when Uncle Kunika hired an unruly mob of pissed-off heavily-armed horsemen to pull their fucking samurai swords and ambush Masakado while he was riding through the countryside with a couple friends.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Uncle Kunika’s goons launched arrows at Masakado and his buddies, but luckily the wind was blowing really hard that day and the arrows blew off course and slammed harmlessly into the ground around the samurai. Masakado took one look at this mob of assholes racing forward to kill him, drew his katana (well, it was probably a tachi but who cares), and ran screaming straight-on into the onrushing horde with his blade screaming for blood. Swinging, chopping, slicing, and swearing like a fucking sailor, Masakado and his friends murdered their would-be assassins to shreds, executed any wounded survivors mercilessly, and then rode to the home of the goon squad’s leader and burned it to the ground.
Remember how this guy’s head still talked shit to people after his death? Yeah… this was not a guy you wanted to piss off. And now… now he was angry.
Fuming with rage at his betrayal, Masakado next rode to Uncle Kunika’s house, killed him in the face with a fucking sword, burned the farm to the ground, and then went on the run as an outlaw bandit leader.
This sets off a huge clan war that makes the Hatfields and McCoys look like the pillowfight intro in a girl-on-girl porno. Uncle Kunika’s son Sadamori showed up with a bunch of his buddies and attack, but Masakado and his motherfuckers wreck him, burn his home, torch his lands and his crops, and lay waste to the villages in his territory, killing and plundering with impunity. Sadamori complains to the Emperor, who demands that Masakado appear in Kyoto to answer for his crimes, and Masakado doesn’t even bother to respond to the emperor’s letter… which is a big deal in Feudal Japan.
Well, in 936 something strange happens. The Emperor dies. He’s replaced by his son, and the first thing the son does is pardon all Japanese landowners for their crimes. So Masakado isn’t an outlaw anymore, he’s just a guy.
Content, Masakado goes home and gets some sleep. He awakes in the middle of the night to Sadamori’s guys surrounding his house trying to kill him.
Masakado kills like a dozen guys fighting his way out of there and picks right up where he left off.
Unable to find peace, Masakado becomes a hardcore warrior roaming the lands like a samurai biker gang with a hardcore vendetta against everything ever. Men hear of his reputation and flock to follow him, swelling his ranks with bandits, warriors, and disgruntled minor nobles. They help the vice-governor of Musashi province overthrow the governor and seize power. He burns the capital of Hitachi Province and arrests the governor after that asshole stole two years’ worth of grain from his own citizens. He gets official seals printed with his face on them and uniforms for his troops. Before long, he’s the dominant power in eight provinces in eastern Japan and people are telling him he should just go overthrow the Emperor and be done with it.
Around this time, weird stuff starts to happen in Japan. Earthquakes. Rainbows. Lunar eclipses. Random flocks of butterflies flying together through the capital.
So of course in 940 AD the Emperor shits a brick and the calls for the death of Taira no Masakado at all costs. He hires Masakado’s cousin-nemesis, Sadamori, to hunt down the traitor and bring his head back to Kyoto on a pike. Sadamori is all too happy to oblige.
Unfortunately for Sadamori, not only does he get his fucking face wrecked in his first battle with Taira no Masakado, but Masakado also manages to capture Sadamori’s wife and most of his gold in the battle.
Sadamori eventually regroups, puts together a vastly overwhelming force that outnumbers Masakado by a wide margin, and defeats his hated rival. Masakado is killed fighting a last stand, swinging wildly with his sword and hacking down people despite numerous wounds all over his body. His head is put on a pike and paraded through the streets of Kyoto, then hung outside the palace, where it comes to life at night and scares the piss out of the people who live in the city.
It’s worth nothing, just for spooky Halloween shit, that Masakado’s daughter (known as “Takiyashi the Witch”) continued to live in the ruined palace even after Sadamori’s men looted and burned it. There’s some weird-ass awesome art associated with her.
The Shinto shrine known as “The Hill of Masakado’s Head” lies in some of the world’s highest-priced real estate, in the middle of the Tokyo Financial District near the palace Tokugawa built for the Emperor in the 17th century. The shrine is built on the burial spot of Masakado’s head, and he is said to haunt people and cause earthquakes and plagues when people mess with him or don’t respect his head.
But the story gets even weirder. In 1923 the Emperor decided he was sick of Masakado’s bullshit, revoked the long-dead samurai’s status as a Shinto god of fury, bulldozed his shrine, and built the Imperial Finance Ministry on top of it. Within two years, fourteen people who worked at the Ministry were dead, from reasons ranging from “workplace accident” to suicide. Nearly a dozen others were injured. In 1940, exactly 1,000 years after Masakado’s death, a bolt of lightning struck the Ministry, set it on fire, and the entire place burned to the ground.
They rebuilt the shrine. It still stands to this day.