- Many Unicorn samurai still wear the sleeveless garments they used during their time within the Burning Sands.
- Unicorn bushi, especially those of the Moto family, are also known for letting their hair go loose and untethered.
Because of their traveling in the Burning Sands for almost 800 years, their cuisine has taken the art of light, easy, and simple to its own cuisine. Small bits of meat threaded on skewers, flatbreads, and vegetables roasted in ashes are all specialties of the Unicorn.
Like the Dragon, they raise livestock for food, but unlike them the Unicorn aren’t afraid to call a cow a cow. The rest of the Empire regards Unicorn cooking as disgusting, but the descendants of Shinjo do not care about such sneering—they are upholding the traditions of their own ancestors, after all.
An example of Unicorn fusion cooking is gyuniku no misozuke, a dish where thin strips of beef are marinated several days in sweet white miso and then broiled. Another popular Unicorn custom is to grill meat and vegetables on a round sheet of iron set above a fire, with individual samurai scooping their food off the grill and into bowls for eating. Hot and tangy spices are common in Unicorn food, usually in fiery sauces that are drizzled over every sort of dish.
Unicorn have no set preferences on chopsticks, though exotic woods from the Burning Sands are popular. Some Unicorn like chopsticks made of purple-tinged woods, though others consider this to be disrespectful of the clan’s colors.
The Unicorn are not like any other Great Clan, for their culture is a strange blend of Rokugani traditions and the gaijin customs they picked up during their centuries of travel. It is, however, a common misconception that the Unicorn maintain their barbaric ways out of some inability to adapt or understand Rokugani culture. The Unicorn understand the culture of their homeland quite well; they simply choose to maintain their unique customs. Their barbarian ways are a part of their history, the same customs that allowed them to survive in a hostile world. The Unicorn practice their ways not because they disdain tradition, but because their different experiences have given them different traditions.
One of the notable differences between the Unicorn and other clans is that the Unicorn do not share the Rokugani aversion for touching flesh. Close friends will greet one another with a friendly handshake, married couples embrace publicly, and the Unicorn enjoy eating red meat, especially beef, mutton, and venison. The Unicorn also feel little difficulty in using leather garments and items. However, this does not extend to direct contact with dead humans. Unicorn samurai and peasants avoid toughing corpses with the same vehemence as any other Rokugani. A Unicorn who touches a corpse or is stained by an enemy’s blood will visit a priest for proper purification as soon as practical.
The Unicorn value family bonds, so any addition to the family is greeted with joy and a celebration. As soon as the birth is complete and the health of both mother and child are certain, it is the father’s duty to spread word of his child’s birth. Most samurai do so by leaping on to their fastest horse and riding around the city or camp where they dwell, shouting the newborn child’s name with great excitement. Any children old enough to ride will accompany the father in his task. Thus, any addition to a large family seldom goes unnoticed. Though in other Clans such outward display of emotion is frowned upon, among the Unicorn this is an honored tradition. Unicorn ambassadors in the lands of other clans usually restrain themselves more, however, in order to avoid offending their hosts.
Unlike many Unicorn customs, their gempukku is highly traditional, unchanged since the days when they were still the Ki-Rin Clan. Each summer, on the plains surrounding Shiro Shinjo, all youths who have come of age that year gather for a mass gempukku ceremony. Before the assembled clan, they receive their swords and swear oaths of loyalty to the Unicorn Clan. The vows still refer to the Unicorn as “the children of the Ki-Rin, servants of Shinjo.” All Unicorn are welcome to attend, but outsiders are only rarely invited.
The Unicorn are unique among the Great Clans in that they will allow gaijin to swear fealty. Via a special oath overseen by the Unicorn Champion, the gaijin swears his loyalty, cuts his palm with Unicorn steel, and presses the wound against the slashed palm of a true Unicorn. Once this is done the gaijin is a Rokugani forevermore in the clan’s eyes. The Unicorn are always careful to bar any magic during the course of this ceremony, fearing the use of blood during magical rituals might draw the attention of evil spirits.
During their time as wanderers, Shinjo forbade the Unicorn to marry within their own bloodline. This custom ensured that the Unicorn would continue to grow and adapt, learning the ways of foreign cultures by taking wives from the lands through which they traveled. The Unicorn continue to cling to this tradition since their return, so arranging Unicorn marriages is often a complicated issue. Unicorn samurai keep careful note of their linage, and will frown upon any arranged marriage that defies this tradition no matter how politically convenient it may be. For instance, a Shinjo samurai will turn down an arranged marriage with a Moto maiden if his ancestors five generations past married a member of her line.
Most samurai do not enforce this custom past seven generations, but an especially strict Unicorn may not be so forgiving. An uncompromising Shinjo, for example, may refuse to marry an Asahina because his grandfather married an Isawa (the family from which the Asahina came from long ago). To this day, some Unicorn prefer to venture out into the desert or the wild Yobanjin lands to seek a spouse rather than risk polluting their bloodline. Frustrated Unicorn diplomats have frequently attempted to put an end to what they see as an archaic and outmoded tradition, since more than a few politically benefi cial betrothals have been ruined by it.
Retirement is a fate most Unicorn look upon with mixed emotions. On one hand, to settle down in one’s old age is a sure sign of victory—the reward for a life well lived. On the other hand, for a clan that draws such exhilaration from exploration and wandering, old age can be a difficult thing to accept. If there is one thing a Unicorn hates, it is to be bound in one place too long. The idea of entering a monastery and dwelling there indefinitely is distasteful to many of them. How could anyone be expected to find enlightenment in a single place when there is such a wide, beautiful world waiting to be discovered? Consequently, there are few true monasteries in the Unicorn lands. There are many orders of monks, but like the Unicorn themselves, these holy men are usually nomads. Unicorn monks can be found anywhere in Rokugan, for many of them seize on a monk’s lack of need for travel papers to venture into forbidden lands and see the wonders they have always been denied by politics.
Like other Rokugani, the Unicorn cremate their dead and hold traditional funeral ceremonies. The major departure from normal custom is that the ashes of high-ranking Moto, Shinjo, Utaku, and Ide Family members are not interred in their graves. Close friends or family members instead scatter the ashes in a secret location, while a “public” grave is erected so others can come and show their respects. This way, even if enemies defile the public grave, the departed soul is safe from dishonor.
The graves of past Clan Champions (sometimes known as Khans) are a jealously guarded secret. No two Khans are ever interred in the same place, and only the Khan’s son or chosen heir knows where the previous Khan’s ashes truly lie.