Japan History: Uesugi Kenshin

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Uesugi Kenshin

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Uesugi Kenshin( 上杉 謙信), Il drago di Echigo, condottiero e abile stratega, saggio amministratore e uomo d’onore. Sono molti i nomi da lui usati nel corso della sua intensa vita, molte le battaglie e i nemici affrontati. Fra tutti Takeda Shingen e il famoso Oda Nobunaga che si dice esultò alla sua morte, tale era la sua fama e la sua abilità, ed è di lui vogliamo parlarvi.

Uesugi Kenshin nacque come Nagao Kagetora (長尾景虎) il 18 Febbraio 1530 e morì il 19 Aprile 1578. Cambiò il suo nome in Uesugi Masatora ereditando il nome della famiglia Uesugi nel momento in cui diventò Kantō kanrei (vice-shōgun della regione del Kantō). In onore dello shōgum Ashigaka Yoshiteru cambio ancora una volta il suo nome in Uesugi Terutora,per poi arrivare al nome che tutti conosciamo, cambiandolo quindi per l’ultima volta, in Kenshin. Ciò avvenne nel momento in cui diventò un monaco buddhista, fedele a Bishamonten, dio della guerra .
Kenshin era chiamato anche “Il drago di Echigo”, perché era incredibilmente abile nelle arti marziali mentre il suo nemico Takeda Shingen era invece chiamato “La tigre di Kai”. E infatti nella mitologia cinese il dragone e la tigre sono sempre stati visti come nemici, ma nessuno dei due riusciva mai ad avere la meglio sull’altro.

Primi Anni

Kenshin era il quarto figlio del grande guerriero Nagao Tamekage del clan Nagao. Suo padre era considerato grande signore della guerra grazie ad alcune vittorie contro Uesugi Sadanori e Uesugi Funayoshi. Tamekage entrò però in conflitto con il suo vicino Ikkō-ikki di Hokuriku, perché il potere nella regione aveva iniziato a spostarsi verso Ikkō. La situazione di Echigo peggiorò velocemente fino a quando il padre di Kenshin cominciò a marciare verso ovest nel 1536. Ma giunto in Etchu, le sue truppe furono attaccate da quelle di Enami Kazuyori e Tamekage stesso fu ucciso.
A quel punto, il primogenito di Tamekage, Nagao Harukage, prese il controllo dei Nagao dopo uno scontro con il fratello Kageyasu che, a causa del conflitto, morì. Kagetora (Kenshin) fu trasferito al tempio di Rizen, dove si dedicò allo studio. Fino all’età di 14 anni, quando fu contattato da Usami Sadamitsu e da alcuni conoscenti di suo padre. Volevano farlo tornare ad Echigo per combattere contro il fratello maggiore. Harukage infatti non era stato in grado di controllare le potenti famiglie kokujin e questo aveva provocato l’allontanamento delle province con Echigo.
Nonostante Kagetora non volesse scontrarsi col fratello, alla fine si convinse credendo che fosse una cosa necessarie per Echigo. In uno degli scontri, nel 1547, riuscì infine ad avere il controllo del clan da Harukage. Non si sa a quel punto il fratello maggiore che fine abbia fatto, non si sa se gli fu ordinato il suicidio o meno.

Kenshin a aveva ora il controllo del clan Nagao, ma molti territori erano ancora indipendenti, per questo decise di aumentare il suo potere in tutta la regione. Ogasawara Nagatoki e Murakami Yoshikiyo, due signori di Shinano, chiesero l’intervento di Kenshin contro l’avanzata del potente signore della guerra Takeda Shingen. Kenshin era diventato il nuovo signore di Echigo e Shingen con le sue vittorie nella provincia di Shinano aveva allargato i confini del suo dominio fino al confine con Echigo. A questo punto Kenshin decise di scendere sul campo di battaglia.

Uesugi e Takeda

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Questo fu l’inizio di un conflitto leggendario, iniziato con piccole lotte, fino ad un un totale di 5 battaglie alla famosa piana di Kawanakajima.
Nel 1561, nella quarta battaglia, la più devastate, Kenshin uso una tattica ingegnosa. Era una tattica speciale in cui chi era in prima linea poteva scambiarsi con le retrovie in momenti di stanchezza per riprendersi. Così facendo nelle prime file potevano esserci sempre e solo soldati riposati e sani. Grazie a questa tattica, Kenshin fu sul punto di vincere più volte e si dice che addirittura cavalco col suo cavallo bianco verso il nemico colpendolo con la spada. Shingen parò il colpo grazie al suo ventaglio da guerra di ferro.
Quindi Kenshin non riuscì a sconfiggere una volta per tutte Shingen che riuscì ad organizzare un contrattacco.
L’esercito di Kenshin si ritirò. Non si sa come sia finita la battaglia, non è chiaro se fu Kenshin o Shingen a vincere. Una cosa è certa, entrambi persero moltissimi soldati. Kenshin perse 3000 Samurai e Shingen 4000, tra cui anche il suo fratello più giovane, Takeda Nobushige.

Sebbene Kenshin e Shingen furono rivali per più di 14 anni si scambiarono molte volte dei doni: il regalo più famoso fu una preziosissima spada donata da Shingen a Kenshin. Shingen morì nel 1573. Si dice che Kenshin pianse per la perdita del suo avversario e fece voto di non attaccare mai più le terre dei Takeda. Le due parti divennero alleate in 3 anni. C’era stato anche un incidente in cui un certo numero di daimyo aveva boicottato gli approvvigionamenti di sale per la provincia di Kai. Kenshin era venuto anche a conoscenza del problema di Shingen con un daimyo del clan Hojo, il quale si era rifiutato di inviargli del riso. Kenshin segretamente inviò del sale ai Takeda e scrisse al suo nemico, Shingen, che secondo lui il daimyo degli Hojo aveva commesso un’azione ostile. Anche se avrebbe potuto tagliarne i rifornimenti e quindi sconfiggere Shingen, Kenshin decise di non farlo perché sarebbe stato un atto disonorevole. A tal proposito, Kenshin dichiarò: “Le guerre sono vinte dalle spade e dalle lance, non dal riso e dal sale”. Trattando così il suo rivale, impostò un nobile esempio valido per tutti i tempi. I fautori della pace utilizzano la dichiarazione di Kenshin, riferendosi a tale dichiarazione in questo modo: “La pace si fa con il riso e con il sale, non con le spade e con le lance”.

Kenshin e Oda Nobunaga

「四十九年 一睡の夢 一期の栄華 一盃の酒」
« Questi 49 anni della mia vita sono passati come un sogno nella notte. Una esistenza piena di gloria e prosperità non è altro che una singola coppa piena di sake. »

Parte della poesia di morte di Kenshin.

A partire dall’anno 1576, Kenshin cominciò a esaminare la questione di Oda Nobunaga. Egli infatti nel frattempo era cresciuto fino a diventare il signore della guerra più potente del Giappone del momento. Con entrambe le morti di Shingen Takeda e Hōjō Ujiyasu, Kenshin non aveva più ostruita la strada per l’espansione del suo dominio. Quando la morte di un daimyō del clan Hatakeyama della provincia di Noto provocò confusione e conflitto nella zona per la successione, Kenshin colse subito l’opportunità. La conquista delle terre del clan indebolito lo mise in grado di minacciare Nobunaga e suoi alleati. In risposta, Nobunaga mise insieme le proprie forze e quelle dei suoi due migliori generali: Shibata Katsuie e Maeda Toshiie per scontrarsi con Kenshin nella battaglia di Tedorigawa. L’esperto Shibata Katsuie, che aveva servito Nobunaga fin dall’inizio, fu mandato per verificare la famosa reputazione in battaglia di Kenshin. Secondo alcune fonti, Shibata portò 18.000 uomini in battaglia da un lato, seguito da Nobunaga stesso con 20.000 uomini di rinforzi. Se queste informazioni fossero esatte, la battaglia combattuta da questi sarebbe la più grande combattuta nel periodo Sengoku.
Nonostante i numeri travolgenti di Nobunaga, Kenshin riuscì a compiere una solida vittoria sul campo. In un primo momento, Kenshin rifiutò di ingaggiare l’esercito di Nobunaga, fino a quando una pioggia torrenziale neutralizzò le unità di fanteria di Nobunaga stesso. Costretto ad una ritirata precipitosa, Shibata si riunì alla forza principale di Nobunaga.
Successivamente Kenshin riprese una tattica del suo vecchio rivale Takeda Shingen. Finse di mandare avanti una piccola unità per attaccare l’esercito di Nobunaga da dietro, dando al suo nemico una grande occasione per schiacciare la piccola forza rimasta. Nobunaga abboccò all’amo. L’esercito di Nobunaga attaccò di notte aspettandosi un avversario indebolito; invece il grosso dell’esercito di Kenshin era in attesa. Dopo aver perso quasi un quarto della sua forza, Nobunaga si ritirò verso la provincia di Omi. Kenshin si accontentò di costruire una qualche fortezza nella provincia di Kaga prima di ritornare indietro a Echigo. Nell’inverno tra il 1577-1578, Uesugi Kenshin mise in campo un grande esercito per continuare i suoi attacchi in terra di Nobunaga. Tuttavia, è risaputo che la sua salute fosse pessima in questo periodo, e il 9 aprile (secondo il calendario dell’epoca Tenshō ) peggiorò. Morì quattro giorni dopo.

La morte di Uesugi Kenshin

La causa della morte di Kenshin è stato oggetto di interrogativi nel corso degli anni. La teoria accettata dalla maggior parte degli studiosi giapponesi è che una vita da alcolizzato e forse il cancro allo stomaco hanno segnato la fine per il grande signore della guerra.
Altre fonti sostengono che fu assassinato da un ninja, che aveva atteso nella piscina sotto la latrina al campo di Kenshin con una lancia corta. Si noti che le teorie non si escludono a vicenda – l’assassino, se è esistito, potrebbe semplicemente avere ferito a morte un uomo già morente. Si dice che dopo aver sentito della morte di Kenshin, Oda Nobunaga abbia detto: “Ora l’impero è mio.”

La morte di Kenshin fu disastroso per il clan. Kenshin non aveva mai avuto figli, ma aveva adottato due ragazzi affinché divenissero suoi eredi. Dopo aver saputo della morte del padre, i due entrarono subito in conflitto per il potere. Lo scontro si concluse con la vittoria di Uesugi Kagekatsu sul fratello Kagetora divenendo così il nuovo capo clan. Tuttavia, il conflitto interno aveva avuto enormi costi sia in materiali che in energie. Oda Nobunaga non ebbe problemi a conquistare velocemente molti dei territori degli Uesugi.
La distruzione del clan non era mai stata così vicina e solo la morte di Nobunaga stesso rimescolo nuovamente gli equilibri di potere in Giappone.

Curiosità

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

La figura storica di Uesugi Kenshin e la sua fama non sono mai state dimenticate.
Il cantante visual kei GACKT ne ha interpretato il personaggio nella serie televisiva Fuurin Kazan, andata in onda dal 7 Gennaio al 16 Dicembre 2007.

A fine agosto (Il quarto sabato e domenica del mese) si tiene a Jōetsu, nella prefettura di Niigata, un festival in onore del grande guerriero, con la rievocazione della famosa battaglia di Kawanakajima. Nel periodo Sengoku infatti Jōetsu con il suo castello di Kasugayama erano il cuore del clan Uesugi.
E lo stesso GACKT ha più volte ripreso i panni di Uesughi Kenshin durante il festival, riscuotendo un grande successo.

La scrittrice Shino Ayako, che ha scritto il libro intitolato proprio “Kenshin donna” , aveva coltivato dubbi sulla sessualità di Kenshin. Ci sono varie voci ad alimentare la credenza che Uesugi Kenshin fosse una donna.

(1) Nella sua vita, non ha avuto nessuna moglie conosciuta (e neanche concubine) ne ebbe figli naturali. Si dice inoltre che alla compagnia di belle donne preferisse quella maschile. L’omosessualità potrebbe essere una spiegazione plausibile, in quanto all’epoca era una pratica normale nella classe samurai.
(2)Alcuni sostengono che la causa della morte possa essere stata “Omushi”, una malattia documentata come legata alla menopausa.
(3) Si dice che una volta al mese si confinasse nel castello.
(4) In riferimento alla sua armatura, era piccolo di statura alto circa 156 cm.
(5) Preferiva indossare vestiti che avevano colori femminili

Non ci sono prove a sostegno di queste voci, ma di sicuro queste si susseguirono ancora oggi, a testimonianza del fatto che la figura di Uesugi Kenshin ha lasciato un segno indelebile nella storia del Giappone.

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

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Uesugi Kenshin

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Uesugi Kenshin,( 上杉 謙信) “The Dragon of Echigo”, was a powerful warlord and brilliant strategist, a wise administrator and man of honour. Many are the names he was given throughout his intense life, and many are the battles and the enemies he had fought. Among them were Takeda Shingen and the famous Oda Nobunaga, who is said to have rejoiced when he heard of Uesugi Kenshin’s death. Such was Uesugi’s fame and power, and it is about him that we will talk about this time.

Uesugi Kenshin was born with the name Nagao Kagetora (長尾景虎) on February 18, 1530, and died on April 19, 1578. He changed his name to Uesugi Masatora inheriting the Uesugi clan name when he became the official Kantō Kanrei (vice-shōgun of the Kantō region). To honour the 13th shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, he then changed his name again to Uesugi Terutora, before finally changing it for the last time to Kenshin, the name he is famously known by. This happened after he vowed to become a Zen-Buddhist and specifically, a devotee of Bishamonten, god of war.
Kenshin was referred to as “The Dragon of Echigo” because of his fearsome skills in martial arts, while his rival Takeda Shingen was called “The Tiger of Kai”. In fact, in some versions of Chinese mythology, the Dragon and Tiger have always been bitter rivals who try to defeat one another, but neither is ever able to gain the upper hand.

Early life

Kenshin was the fourth son of the noted warrior Nagao Tamekage from the Nagao clan. His father was considered a great war lord thanks to his victories over Uesugi Sadanori and Uesugi Funayoshi. But Tamekage soon started a conflict with his neighbouring Ikkō-ikki of Hokuriku as the political power in the region had started to shift in favour of the Ikkō. The situation for Echigo quickly deteriorated until Kenshin’s father gathered up an army in 1536 and marched westward. However, upon arriving in Etchū, his forces were suddenly attacked by Enami Kazuyori, and Tamekage himself was slain.

Then, Nagao Harukage, Tamekage’s eldest son, immediately took control of the Nagao after defeating his brother Kageyasu who died in the conflict. Kagetora (Kenshin) was relocated to Rizen temple where he spent his time studying until he reached 14 when he was contacted by Usami Sadamitsu and a number of other acquaintances of his late father. They urged him to go to Echigo and contest his older brother’s rule as Harukage had not been able to control powerful kokujin families from tearing the province apart.
Even though Kenshin was reluctant to take the field against his own brother, he was eventually convinced that it was necessary for the survival of Echigo. During one of their many clashes in 1547, he was able to take control over the clan from Harukage. We don’t know what happened to his older brother then, if he was ordered to commit suicide or not.

Though his rule over the Nagao and Uesugi clan was now unquestioned, much of Echigo was still independent and he immediately set out to cement his power in the region. Ogasawara Nagatoki and Murakami Yoshikiyo, two Shinano lords, both appeared before Kenshin requesting his help in halting the advance of the powerful warlord Takeda Shingen. It was around that time when Kenshin became the new lord of Echigo, and Shingen had won major victories in Shinano Province. With the Takeda’s conquests taking them remarkably close to the borders of Echigo, Kenshin agreed to join the battle.

Uesugi and Takeda

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

What followed was the beginning of a rivalry which turned legend. It started of with indecisive skirmishes, a total number of five such engagements at the famous site of Kawanakajima.
In 1561, during the fourth and biggest battle they would ever fight against each other, Kenshin used an ingenious tactic. It was a special formation where the soldiers in the front would switch with their comrades in the rear as those in the front line became tired or wounded. This allowed the front line to always have strong and fresh soldiers. The tactic was extremely effective and Kenshin nearly won the battle a number of times. It is also said that Kenshin managed to ride up to Shingen and slashed at him with his sword. Shingen fended off the blows with his iron war fan, so Kenshin failed to finish Shingen off before he could organize a counter-attack.
The Uesugi army was then forced to retreat. The result of the fourth battle of Kawanakajima is still uncertain, and it is still not known if it was Kenshin or Shingen who prevailed. But a few things were certain. Both armies lost a large number of soldiers, with Kenshin losing up to 3000 Samurai while Shingen lost 4000 men and his younger brother, Takeda Nobushige.

Though Kenshin and Shingen were sworn rivals for more than 14 years, they often exchanged of gifts between them. The most famous one was a precious sword that Shingen gave Kenshin.
Shingen died in 1573 and it is said that Kanshin cried for the loss of his great rival, vowing to never attack Takeda’s lands again. The two parties became allies in three years. In addition, there was an incident when some daimyos boycotted salt supplies to Kai province. Kenshin also heard of Shingen’s problem with the Hojo clan that had refused to send him rice. So Kenshin secretly sent to the Takeda clan some salt supplies. He also wrote to his enemy, Shingen, that according to his information some of the Hojo clan had committed a hostile action. Even if he could have cut out his supplies and so defeat Shingen, Kenshin decided not to do so because it would have been a dishonorable act. As a personal reflection, Kenshin said: “I do not fight with salt, but with the sword” . His actions towards his rival set a noble example that can apply to all times. Those seeking peace often take reference from Kenshin’s statement in the like of “Peace is achieved with rice and salt, not with katanas and spears”.

Kenshin and Oda Nobunaga

「四十九年 一睡の夢 一期の栄華 一盃の酒」
This life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;
Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake;

Part of Kenshin’s death poem.

In 1576, Kenshin began to consider the issue of Oda Nobunaga. In fact, he had since grown to be Japan’s most powerful warlord of the time. With both Takeda Shingen and Hōjō Ujiyasu dead, Kenshin was no longer blocked off from this realm of expansion. So, when the death of a lord in Noto Province sparked up confusion and conflict in the area of the succession, Kenshin was quick to use the opportunity. Taking the land from the weakened clan put him in the position to threaten Nobunaga and his allies. In response, Nobunaga pulled together his own forces and those of his two best generals, Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Toshiie, to fight Kenshin in the famous Tedorigawa battle. The master warrior Shibata Katsuie , who had served Nobunaga from the beginning, was sent to test Kenshin’s ability on the battlefield. According to some sources, Shibata brought 18.000 to battle, and was followed by Nobunaga himself with 20.000 as the backup. If these numbers were to be proven as correct, this would have been the greatest battle of the Sengoku period.
Despite Nobunaga’s overwhelming numbers, Kenshin managed to score a solid victory on the field. At first, Kenshin refused to engage the Nobunaga’s army until heavy rain neutralized Nobunaga’s foot soldiers. Forced to retreat, Shibata joined the main force. Then Kenshin used one of the tactics of his old rival Takeda Shingen. He pretended to send forth a small unit to attack Nobunaga’s main force from behind and gave his enemy a great opportunity to crush his remaining force. Nobunaga took the bait. His force attacked at night expecting a weakened opponent at the front; instead, Kenshin’s full military might was waiting. After the loss of almost a quarter of his military force, Nobunaga retired toward Omi Province. Kenshin just took the chance to build fortresses in Kaga province before going back to Echigo. In October 1577, Uesugi Kenshin arranged to put forth a grand army to continue his assaults into Nobunaga’s land. But we know that his health was already compromised at the time and on April 9 (according to the calendar of the Tenshō era) it deteriorated. He died four days later.

Uesugi Kenshin’s death

The cause of Kenshin’s death has been questioned throughout the years. The theory accepted by most Japanese scholars is that a life as a heavy drinker and probably a stomach cancer caused the end of this great war lord’s life.
However, it is also speculated that he was a victim of one of the most famous ninja assassinations; a ninja had been waiting in the cesspool beneath the latrine at Kenshin’s camp with a short spear or sword. (Note that the theories are not mutually exclusive — the assassin, if he existed, might simply have fatally wounded an already-dying man. )
It is said that when Nobunaga heard of Kenshin’s death he said : “Now the Empire is mine.”

Kenshin’s death had dramatic consequences for his clan. While he never had children of his own, he had adopted 2 boys so that they would become his heirs. However, heard of their father’s death they started to fight each other. The conflict ended with Uesugi Kagekatsu’s victory over his brother Kagetora, becoming the new head of the clan. This internal conflict had its consequences in terms of cost and energies too. Oda Nobunaga had no problems in taking over many territories that had once been the property of the Uesugi clan. The destruction of the the clan had never been so close and only Oda Nobunaga’s own death once again shattered the balance of power in Japan.

Trivia

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

Uesugi Kenshin’s historical figure and his fame have never been forgotten.
The visual-kei singer GACKT played the role of Kenshin in the tv series Furin Kazan that aired from January 7 to December 16, 2007.

Every August, on the fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month, a festival to honor the great warrior, with the reenactment of the famous Kawanakajima battle takes place in Jōetsu, Niigata prefecture. In the Sengoku period, Jōetsu, with its Kasugayama castle, was the center of the Uesugi domain.

GACKT himself took part in the festival many times in the role of Kenshin with a tremendous public success.

The author Shino Ayako, who wrote the book “Kenshin Woman”, expressed her doubts about Kenshin’s identity. There were many rumors that said Uesugi Kenshin was a woman for the following reasons:
(1) He never had a wife (nor any concubine) and he never had blood children. It is said that he preferred male company over a beautiful female’s company. However, homosexuality might be an explanation since at the time it was a normal practice among the samurai class.
(2) Some believe that the cause of his death might have been “omushi”, which was documented to be a kind of disease related to menopause
(3) Rumors say that he would confine in the castle once a month.
(4) With reference to his armor, he had a petite stature at about 156 cm in height.
(5) He preferred wearing clothes which were in woman’s colors.

There is no proof to support this hypothesis, but it is certain that they are still alive even today to testify that Uesugi Kenshin has left an indelible mark on Japanese History.

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

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Uesugi Kenshin

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Uesugi Kenshin,( 上杉 謙信) “The Dragon of Echigo” , powerful war lord and brilliant strategist, wise administrator and man of honor. Many are the names he used in his intense life, many the battles and the enemies he fought. Among them Takeda Shingen and the famous Oda Nobunaga who is said to have rejoiced when he heard of his death. Such were Uesugi’s fame and power, and it is about him that we want to talk about this time.

Uesugi Kenshin was born as Nagao Kagetora (長尾景虎)on February 18, 1530 and died on April 19, 1578. He changed his name to Uesugi Masatora inheriting the Uesugi clan name when he became the official Kantō Kanrei (vice-shōgun of the Kantō region). To honor the 13th shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru he changed his name again to Uesugi Terutora, finally changing it for the last time to Kenshin, the name we all know. This happened after he vowed to become a Zen-Buddhist and especially a devotee of Bishamonten, god of war.
Kenshin was referred to as “The Dragon of Echigo” because of his fearsome skills in the martial arts while his rival Takeda Shingen was called “The Tiger of Kai”. In fact, in some versions of Chinese mythology, the Dragon and Tiger have always been bitter rivals who try to defeat one another, but neither is ever able to gain the upper hand.

Early life

Kenshin was the fourth son of the noted warrior Nagao Tamekage from the Nagao clan. His father was considered a great war lord thanks to his victories over Uesugi Sadanori and Uesugi Funayoshi. But Tamekage soon started a conflict with his neighboring Ikkō-ikki of Hokuriku, as the political power in the region had started to shift in favor of the Ikkō. The situation for Echigo quickly deteriorated until Kenshin’s father in 1536 gathered up an army and marched westward. However, upon arriving in Etchū, his forces were suddenly attacked by Enami Kazuyori, and Tamekage himself was slain.
Then Nagao Harukage, Tamekage’s eldest son, immediately took control of the Nagao after defeating his brother Kageyasu who died in the conflict. Kagetora (Kenshin) was relocated to Rizen temple where he spent his time studying.
Until he reached 14, when he was contacted by Usami Sadamitsu and a number of other acquaintances of his late father. They urged him to go to Echigo and contest his older brother’s rule. Harukage had not been able to control powerful kokujin families tearing the province apart.
Even though Kenshin was reluctant to take the field against his own brother, he was eventually convinced that it was necessary to the survival of Echigo. During one of the many clashes, in 1547, he was able to take control over the clan from Harukage. We don’t know what happened to his older brother then, we don’t know if he was ordered to commit suicide or not.

Though his rule over the Nagao and Uesugi clan were now unquestioned, much of Echigo was still independent. He immediately set out to cement his power in the region. Ogasawara Nagatoki and Murakami Yoshikiyo, two Shinano lords, both appeared before Kenshin requesting his help in halting the advance of the powerful warlord Takeda Shingen. Around the time Kenshin had become the new lord of Echigo and Shingen had won major victories in Shinano Province. With the Takeda’s conquests taking them remarkably close to the borders of Echigo, Kenshin agreed to join battle.

Uesugi and Takeda

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

What followed was the beginning of a rivalry which became legendary. It started of with indecisive skirmish for a total number of five such engagements at the famous site of Kawanakajima.
In 1561, in the fourth and biggest battle they would ever fight, Kenshin used an ingenious tactic. It was a special formation where the soldiers in the front would switch with their comrades in the rear, as those in the front line became tired or wounded. This allowed the front line to always have strong and fresh soldiers. The tactic was extremely effective and Kenshin nearly won the battle a number of times. It is also said that Kenshin managed to ride up to Shingen and slashed at him with his sword. Shingen fended off the blows with his iron war fan. So Kenshin failed to finish Shingen off before he could organize a counter-attack.
The Uesugi army was forced to retreat. The result of the fourth battle of Kawanakajima is still uncertain, we still don’t know if it was Kenshin to prevail, or Shingen. But one thing is certain, both of them lost a large number of soldiers. Kenshin lost up to 3000 Samurai while Shingen lost 4000 men, also losing his younger brother, Takeda Nobushige.

Though Kenshin and Shingen were sworn rivals for more than 14 years there was often an exchange of gifts between them.The most famous one was a precious sword that Shingen gave Kenshin.
Shinge died in 1573. It is said that Kanshin cried for the loss of his great rival and vowed to never attack Takeda’s lands again. The two parties became allies in three years. In addition, there was an incident when some daimyos boycotted salt supplies to Kai province. Kenshin also heard of Shingen’s problem with the Hojo clan that had refused to send him rise. So Kenshin secretly sent to the Takeda clan some salt supplies. He also wrote to his enemy, Shingen, that according to his information some of the Hojo clan had committed a hostile action. Even if he could have cut out his supplies and so defeat Shingen, Kenshin decided not to do so because it would have been a dishonorable act. As personal reflection, Kenshin said: “I do not fight with salt, but with the sword” . His actions towards his rival set a noble example that can apply to all times. Those seeking peace often use Kenshin’s statement referring to it like :”Peace is achieved with rice and salt, not with katanas and spears”.

Kenshin and Oda Nobunaga

「四十九年 一睡の夢 一期の栄華 一盃の酒」
This life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;
Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake;

Part of Kenshin’s death poem.

Starting in 1576, Kenshin began to consider the issue of Oda Nobunaga. In fact, he had since grown to be Japan’s most powerful warlord of the time. With both Takeda Shingen and Hōjō Ujiyasu dead, Kenshin was no longer blocked off from this realm of expansion. So, when the death of a lord in Noto Province sparked up confusion and conflict in the area of the succession, Kenshin was quick to use the opportunity. Taking the land from the weakened clan put him in the position to threaten Nobunaga and his allies. In response, Nobunaga pulled together his own forces and those of his two best generals, Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Toshiie, to fight Kenshin, in the famous Tedorigawa battle. The expert warrior Shibata Katsuie , who had served Nobunaga from the beginning, was sent to test Kenshin’s ability on the battlefield. According to some sources, Shibata brought 18.000 to battle, and was followed by Nobunaga himself with 20.000 as backup. If this numbers were to be proven as correct, this would be the greatest battle of the Sengoku period.
Despite Nobunaga’s overwhelming numbers, Kenshin managed to score a solid victory on the field. At first, Kenshin refused to engage the Nobunaga’s army until heavy rain neutralized Nobunaga’s foot soldiers. Forced to retreat, Shibata joined the main force. Then Kenshin used one of the tactics of his old rival Takeda Shingen. He pretended to send forth a small unit to attack Nobunaga’s main force from behind and gave his enemy a great opportunity to crush his remaining force. Nobunaga took the bait. His force attacked at night expecting a weakened opponent at the front; instead, Kenshin’s full military might was waiting. After the loss of almost a quarter of his military force Nobunaga retired toward Omi Province. Kenshin just took the chance to build some fortress in Kaga province before going back to Echigo. In October 1577, Uesugi Kenshin arranged to put forth a grand army to continue his assaults into Nobunaga’s land. But we know that his health was already compromised at the time and on April 9 (according to the calendar of the Tenshō era) it deteriorated. He died four days later.

Uesugi Kenshin’s death

The cause of Kenshin’s death has been questioned throughout the years. The theory accepted by most Japanese scholars is that a life as a heavy drinker and probably a stomach cancer caused the end of this great war lord’s life.
However, it is also speculated that he was victim of one of the most famous ninja assassinations; a ninja had been waiting in the cesspool beneath the latrine at Kenshin’s camp with a short spear or sword. (Note that the theories are not mutually exclusive — the assassin, if he existed, might simply have fatally wounded an already-dying man. )
It is said that when Nobunaga heard of Kenshin’s death he said : “Now the Empire is mine.”

Kenshin’s death had dramatic consequences for his clan. While he never had children of his own, he had adopted 2 boys so that they would become his heirs. However, heard of their father’s death they started to fight each other. The conflict ended with Uesugi Kagekatsu’s victory over his brother Kagetora, becoming the new head of the clan. This internal conflict had its consequences in terms of cost and energies too. Oda Nobunaga had no problems in taking over many territories that had once been property of the Uesugi clan. The destruction of the the clan had never been so close and only Oda Nobunaga’s own death once again shattered the balance of power in Japan.

Trivia

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

Uesugi Kenshin’s historical figure and his fame have never been forgotten.
The visual kei singer GACKT played the role of Kenshin in the tv series Furin Kazan, aired from January 7, to December 16, 2007.

In August (The fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month) takes place in Jōetsu,Niigata prefecture, a festival to honor the great warrior, with the reenactment of the famous Kawanakajima battle. In the Sengoku period Jōetsu with its Kasugayama castle was the center of the Uesugi domain.
GACKT himself took part in the festival many times in the role of Kenshin, with a tremendous public success.

The writer Shino Ayako, that wrote the book “Kenshin Woman”, expresses her doubts about Kenshin’s identity. There are many rumors that want Uesugi Kenshin to be a woman.
(1) He never had a wife (nor any concubine) and he never had natural children. It is said that he preferred male company to beautiful female’s company. Homosexuality might be an explanation since at the time it was a normal practice among the samurai class.
(2)Some believe that the cause of his death might have been “omushi”, which was documented to be a kind of disease related to menopause
(3)Rumors say that he would confine in the castle once a month.
(4) With reference to his armor, he had a petite stature at about 156 cm in height.
(5) He preferred wearing clothes which were in woman’s colors.

There are no proofs to support this hypothesis, but it is certain that they are still alive even today to testify that Uesugi Kenshin has left an indelible mark on Japanese History.

Photo credit: gacktitalia.com

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