Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tenchijin & the "real" Uesugi Samurai Naoe Kanetsugu (updated)

The current NHK Taiga drama Tenchijin follows the life of Uesugi samurai Naoe Kanetsugu. The drama depicts Kanetsugu as a warm and emotional samurai. Not necesarily as a brutal, take no prisoners samurai vassal of the Uesugi Lord Uesugi Kagekatsu.

However, in the book "The Maker of Modern Japan" it describes an incident about Kanetsugu as just that, a brutal Uesugi samurai willing to do anything for his lord and the Uesugi clan. After the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi but prior to the defining battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu learned that his rival Uesugi Kagekatsu was busy building a new castle at Kazashigahara. Ieyasu questioned Kagekatsu but received only a response from Kagekatsu's chief retainer Naoe Kanetsugu. Kanetsugu simply replied that these were normal repairs and nothing more. In response, Ieyasu sent an envoy to persuade Uesugi to visit him, but Naoe regarded the envoy as a spy, and recommended Uesugi to have him put to death. But the envoy somehow got wind of this and made his escape. This incident was one of the events that led to the final defining battle for power in Japan, Sekigahara, which led to Ieyasu becoming the supreme ruler, the Shogun.

The book reveals more about Ieyasu's style and about Naoe Kanestugu following Sekigahara. Ieyasu considered it politic not to be too drastic in his penalties to those who fought against him at Sekigahara. This is revealed in his reply to his chief retainer Honda Masanobu's suggestion that Naoe Kanetsugu deserved to be punished (death), since he had been one of the chief instigators of the rebellion. "No doubt," replied Ieyasu, "and not only he, but the chief councillors of Mori and Shimazu and the others, because they all pushed their lords at Ishida's instigation (Ishida Mitsunari). And if I punish Naoe the others will get upset and run away to their provinces, and we may have all the trouble over again."

The real Naoe Kanetsugu, at least the one portrayed in the book, does not really match the one in the NHK drama Tenchijin. My feeling is the book portrays him a little more accurately. None the less, the drama Tenchijin is one of my favorite Taiga dramas I have seen. I think the characters for Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Uesugi Kagekatsu are really good. I am interested to see how Tenchijin shows how Naoe 'instigates' the rebellion of Sekigahara.


  1. I am so annoyed with Hollywood UTB with their 18.2! TW Cable does not support it. UTB's only solution was to go back to the future and get an antena with a converter box. It is a shame I really loved the first episodes of Tenchijin. Good thing this didn't happen during Atsuhime. My girlfriend Tinahime would have gone Lady Snowblood on their 18.2
    - lol

  2. I have been watching it on Japan TV. I am happy that they have it with English subtitles.

  3. Anonymous7:36 PM

    I have been watching taiga dramas since Toshiie & Matsu. I am really glad for the subtitles, too.

    Thank you for the beautiful sets and depiction of a culture I would never have seen otherwise.

    an American Fan

  4. The first Taiga drama I watched was Shinsengumi. I missed so many good ones.

  5. I have Japan TV but TWCable's feed in Hollywood does not come with subtitles so I am missing 2 out of every three words. Damn you UTB Hollywood and thier 18.2! Anyway...here's a link for a reliable Taiga Drama dealer who I get 90% of my DVD's from:
    Samurai DVD I last bought Year One in the North and the recent Yukie film Ooku from him. Good quality / subtitles - no Chuugoku substitutions!

  6. Tenchijin plays multiple times. The other times they don't have subtitles. But on Saturday afternoon they do. Be sure to check all the different times to see if one of them has subtitles.

    By the way Louis, do you know any DVD rental places that have Japanese movies, SPECIFICALLY samurai movies, that come with English subtitles. I checked the place on 1st street in LT but they didn't. There is a rental place in the mall behind the Miyako Hotel on 1st that has a few samurai flicks with English subtitles for rent but not a huge number.

  7. "Ieyasu considered it politic not to be too drastic in his penalties to those who fought against him at Sekigahara"

    This has to be a joke given the actual actions Ieyasu took after Sekigahara.
    I think you have to realize that the book you're reading is also slanted (in favor of Ieyasu.)
    It's held as a matter of fact that Ieyasu's actions after Sekigahara were largely unjust and with an iron fist. It's no coincidence that it's the exact same clans who were subjected to this treatment are the ones who overthrow the Tokugawa 200 years later. Yes, they held grudges for that long...

    I can appreciate that (like most Taigas), Tenchijin takes a lot of liberties when it comes to the main character. But in the description provided, I think Naoe's instincts that the envoy was a spy is probably dead on given how Ieyasu operated in the past.
    It's also worth noting that the drama did get the tension and buildup correct in that it was Ieyasu instigating, not the Uesugi or Ishida. So having the instigator, who has already built up an army of 100,000 (as we see at Sekigahara) accusing the Uesugi of building up their own defenses... is rather ridiculous in the first place.

    Finally, there's a reason this missive is directed at Honda Masanobu. As the drama reveals, it's Naoe Kanetsugu who arranges Honda's son to become the heir to the Naoe family (and therefore, one of the core retainers for the Uesugi).
    This effectively gives Tokugawa a large degree of control and an inside source within the Uesugi inner dealings (see: spy).

    If you're looking for a string of actions and incidents involving Kanetsugu which shows another side not offered in the drama, I suggest looking more indepth at Otate no Ran. The drama covered that very superficially, kind of glossed over some points, and fabricated a few others... lest the audience be disgusted with the actions of the participants only a third of the way through the tv show.

  8. I agree that the book, "The Maker of Modern Japan" is a somewhat outdated book. But you can look at it both ways in terms of how Ieyasu handled those he defeated at Sekigahara. It is a statement of opinion to say Ieyasu was unjust and treated his opponents unjustly. You can say he was harsh but so was Hideyoshi (Hojo) and of course in comparison to Nobunaga, Ieyasu was quite fair. The Shimazu made out pretty well in that they really did not lose much of if any of their territory and maintained their koku. The Mori were dealt with fairly harshly but they could have been eliminated but were not. The term "unjustly" is a term that has a lot of opinion to it and I would not use it personally in describing any of the sengoku leaders, including Nobunaga.

    You are giving a lot of opinions for example that it was Ieyasu who was the instigator and not the Uesugi and Ishida. That is also something that can be debated and I have little doubt that Ishida Mitsunari was as much of an instigator and schemer as Ieyasu. I have little doubt that had Mitsunari been vistorious at Sekigahara that he would have attempted to maintain control himself to a certain degree.

    I will look up the drama you suggested. I am not a fan of Ieyasu. It is silly for anyone to be a "fan" of historical figures. I do think Ieyasu was a strong and smart leader and no doubt he was a schemer and manipulator as well. But all the Sengoku leaders had to be, and that includes Hideyoshi and Mitsunari.

  9. "The Shimazu made out pretty well in that they really did not lose much of if any of their territory and maintained their koku"

    The Shimazu got off easy (in comparison to others) because of their geographic position. Kyushu has always been somewhat of a world apart from Kyoto in premodern Japanese history, and this is even more true in the far reaches of Kagoshima where it's not until the last 10 years that bullet trains have finally started connecting. Previous to that train line it took ~4 hours by car to travel from Fukuoka to the remote regions of Satsuma-han. There's better travel connections in Hokkaido than there are in Southern Kyushu.
    When Japan started worrying about her borders in the 7th and 8th centuries, they essentially built a 2nd administrative capitol in Dazaifu which recruited conscripts from around the entire country and had widereaching powers delegated to them. This was out of necessity as it took several weeks to travel between Kansai and Northern Kyushu. Usually by the time a pirate raid would occur, 2-3 months would pass before the Court in Kyoto had responded with approval to suppress it (which naturally the Dazaifu Commandery had already done of their own accord, the "approval" was merely retroactive.)
    This was also reflected by the increasing liberties that the Shimazu were able to push through, despite being an outsider clan. Such that they only had to go to Edo once every 3 years instead of every other year like every single daimyo in Japan.

    "You are giving a lot of opinions for example that it was Ieyasu who was the instigator and not the Uesugi and Ishida."

    That's not an opinion. It's fact. Tokugawa was a usurper, Uesugi and Ishida were loyalists. That's the fact of the matter. Attempting to spin that the loyalists are the instigators because you don't like Yodo or Toyotomi bureaucrats like Mitsunari would be putting an opinion to it.
    But the fact remains, irrevocably, that Ieyasu was the rebel and the instigator regardless of opinions.

    As for what was just and unjust, you brought this opinion-making in yourself. You can't throw out unsupported opinion of your own, and then cry foul when somebody points out how wrong your opinion is.

    The statement I replied to is rather laughable in the sense of claiming Ieyasu didn't believe in being too harsh on the defeated. The reality is that his actions after Sekigahara are infamous for being heavy handed.

  10. It is opinion whether Uesugi and Ishida were loyalists or not. Not fact. That also applies to Ieyasu.