Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: Tour of Duty

I see a red door and I want it painted it black
No colors anymore and I want them to turn black…

I admit that this verse from The Rolling Stones’ famous song “Paint it Black”, came to mind when I saw the title of Professor Constantine Nomikos Vaporis’ book, Tour of Duty. I couldn’t help but to make a connection between the book title and the song, as it was the opening theme for an old American television show called “Tour of Duty”, about a group of U.S. soldiers tearing through the jungle on search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War. In Professor Vaporis’ book, you won’t find ‘Charlie’ or stories about jungle firefights, but you will find a fascinating book that delves into a completely different kind of tour of duty— samurai military service to their feudal lords during trips of alternate attendance to the Shogun’s capital of Edo.

A system of alternate attendance called sankin kōtai was the Shogunate’s fundamental means of control over the more than 240 or so feudal lords (daimyo) that ruled the patchwork of individual fiefs that comprised Tokugawa period Japan. In a basic definition, sankin kōtai forced daimyo to alternate attendance between their fief and Edo for periods of about a year on a biennial basis. While in Edo, the daimyo were expected to serve a variety of functions within the shogun’s court. Upon returning to his fief (han), the daimyo’s wife and children remained in Edo as permanent hostages—an insurance policy designed to make a daimyo think twice about participating in an act of rebellion against Tokugawa authority when back in his home domain. Also, the monetary funds needed to support these costly trips as well as maintain luxurious mansions and barracks within Edo, gradually diminished the ability of the daimyo to spend han wealth on military buildups that could threaten neighboring domains or the Shogunate itself.

In his introduction, Vaporis explains that sankin kōtai is perhaps the greatest achievement of the Tokugawa period’s leadership as the system intentionally or unintentionally encouraged the development of political, economic and social institutions and practices that helped keep the unprecedented 250 years of internal peace. Sankin kōtai also played a part in the development of the Edo period’s rich cultural heritage. Vaporis states that it is because of the blatantly obvious significance and impact of sankin kōtai, historians have only discussed it in very general terms that haven’t changed much over time. There is really no single book or volume on the subject that sums it all up. To try to write “that” book would require a massive scale of research that could not be so easily carried out, especially as there aren’t any existing full complements of primary resources in han histories that neatly explain and tie everything together. The sheer weight of the project would sink even the best researcher/historian’s ambitions. It is therefore quite easy to understand why historians discuss sankin kōtai in broad strokes or look at specific aspects of the system and the lives of those it affected. With Tour of Duty, Professor Vaporis doesn’t try to deliver a banal and sweeping treatise on the topic, nor does he zero in on a one dimensional, miniscule aspect of it either. What he has delivered is a rich, 24k creation that I truly admire. This is a very insightful and well-construed book that clearly highlights Professor Vaporis’ skills as a researcher and his ability to convey his findings in a straight-forward, easy to understand fashion.

After skillfully panning and sifting through various primary source material scattered throughout diaries, journals, artistic depictions and archeological sites to find valuable content, Vaporis then forged and polished what I would describe as a golden ingot that brilliantly shines some much needed light on how alternate attendance, as a political institution, touched the lives of the samurai who participated in it. Roughly, the first half of the book deals primarily with the preparations for the round trip journeys to and from Edo and life on the road, as part of a daimyo’s procession. Readers are treated to a wealth of valuable information ranging from summaries of contemporary journal accounts to tables filled with facts and figures that clearly illuminate just how important of a role alternate attendance played in the deployment of a domain’s human and financial resources. Also, the insightful analysis provided on the pomp and circumstance of daimyo processions is fascinating and definitely stands out as one of the highlights of this book. Vaporis describes these processions as “theatres of power” as they combined the intricacies of domain power projection with a certain amount of drama that both awed and entertained those who witnessed them.

The second half of the book covers nearly all aspects of samurai life while on duty in Edo, ranging from financial considerations, issues of place and space within the various types of daimyo compounds, and everyday things like diet and hobbies—including intellectual and cultural pursuits. All of this was really quite interesting and the tables provided of purchases made by individual samurai during their trips to Edo helps to put a human face on those who served in Edo so long ago. These weren’t just stoic samurai, but actual people with real consumer-driven wants and needs.

Often overlooked, is the role samurai played in what Vaporis coins, “carriers of culture”. He points out that many historians will talk about the uni-directional flow of culture into Edo and its refinement there, but he argues that the flow of culture was a two-way street. Samurai, when traveling back to their native domains, acted as carriers of culture that they came into contact with whether it be in Edo or via traveling through other domains. In essence, Vaporis says that the system of alternate attendance gave samurai the chance to “discover” the diversity of Japan and its culture that existed beyond the borders of one’s own domain. It’s hard not to agree with that.

Also, Vaporis does mention that samurai, while stationed in Edo, did not have unrestricted freedom of movement and did not just idle away free time drinking and visiting pleasure quarters. While I do understand the point that Professor Vaporis is trying to make about this, it is undeniable that Edo was a “man’s town”. The popular pursuit of carnal pleasures by both samurai and townsmen alike helped to consummate the marriage of the culture of the “floating world” with that of the wider Edo period that we recognize today. If there is one weak link in this book’s armor, I’d say that the lack of discussion about samurai patronage of Edo’s pleasure quarters is it. However, this is just a minor quibble that does not distract from the overall wealth of knowledge one can gain from this book.

I also think it is worthwhile to note that Tour of Duty is packed with black and white photos and illustrations that help the reader visualize the rich landscape that Vaporis paints, whether it be of daimyo processions, domain compounds, or photos of archeological excavations and artifacts.

In an upcoming interview with Professor Vaporis that will soon be published simultaneously on the Shogun-Ki blog as well as the Samurai Archives Citadel Forum of Japanese History, we will be going into more detail about his research, his book and perhaps his thoughts on samurai patronage of the pleasure quarters as a way of alleviating some of the tedium that accompanied tours of duty in Edo. Please be sure to be on the lookout for the interview.

In conclusion, I believe that Tour of Duty is an essential “must read” for anyone with an interest in the lives of the Japanese warrior class during the Tokugawa period as well as those who are fascinated by what it must have been like to travel on one of the five major roadways of the Edo period, such as the Tōkaidō. I’m finding it hard to find serious fault with this work. The topic is interesting. The writing style is clear and straightforward and engaging. The research is impeccable—one look at the extensive bibliography shows how deeply Professor Vaporis dove into researching this topic and the nearly fifty pages of detailed and informative endnotes are testament to this. I’m giving this book five out of five Smiling Sammies.

Tour of Duty can be purchased through Amazon.com via the Samurai Archives Bookstore
. http://astore.amazon.com/samurai-20/detail/0824832051

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ninja Lurk In "Shinobi No Mono 4: Siege"

Animeigo continues its release of the 8 film Shinobi No Mono series with Shinobi No Mono 4: Siege (Japanese title Shinobi No Mono: Kirigakure Saizo). Released by Daiei in 1964, the movie stars fan favorite Ichikawa Raizo in one of his most popular series. This time around, instead of portraying ninja/thief Ishikawa Goemon (whose character is currently being featured in a big budget Japanese film, Goemon) he’s taking the field as an agent of the Sanada clan, Kirigakure (‘Mist’) Saizo. Different character or not, the ninja action lives on. Also along for the ride is Wakayama Tomisaburo of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ fame (here billed as Jo Kenzaburo) as clan leader Sanada Yukimura. This illustrates one of the more interesting features of the Shinobi No Mono series-the characters change, but the stars remain the same. Wakayama played sadistic warlord Oda Nobunaga (Goemon’s arch enemy) in the first two films, but here plays the man Raizo’s new character is protecting. You’ll see this pattern repeated throughout the cast-genre favorite Date Saburo, who played Hattori Hanzo in the Goemon part of the trilogy, appears here as a different character as do several other actors. Isomura Midori plays Saizo’s love interest in the film, Lady Akane-if you watched the first three films in the series, you’ll know This Will Not End Well.

The film begins with the Winter Siege of Osaka in 1614. The forces of the Shogunate under Tokugawa Ieyasu have been unable to penetrate the main compound of the Toyotomi’s Osaka castle thanks to the spirited defense being led by Sanada Yukimura. However, Ieyasu realizes that the direct approach is not always the most effective. He begins an artillery bombardment of the main keep meant to frighten Yodo (the mother of Toyotomi clan leader Hideyori) into pressing her son to sue for peace. In order to do this and to keep the pressure on the castle, Ieyasu sends forces to take the outlying defensive works. Yukimura’s son Daisuke finds his fort under assault in one of these raids, and is forced to abandon his position. Here’s where Saizo enters the fray, swinging into action on a rope and coming off a lot like Batman or Spider-Man. He’s ordered by Daisuke to rescue a group of women hiding in a nearby storehouse, but is unable to save them all from the Tokugawa forces (who seem more interested in taking the women as prizes than fighting). Meanwhile, Ieyasu’s plan has worked and an uneasy peace treaty is negotiated.

Saizo is ordered by Yukimura to travel to Edo and keep an eye on the movements and actions of Ieyasu and the Shogunate. He’s immediately spotted by Shogunate ninja and in the process of escaping them, comes across Lady Akane (one of the women he failed to save back in Osaka). She had been raped by several of Ieyasu’s men and in despair resigned herself to becoming a prostitute. She saves him from discovery by enemy ninja, after which she aids Saizo in his mission of gathering information. After many skirmishes with the Tokugawa ninja, the Sanada shinobi confirm that Ieyasu does indeed plan to launch another attack against the weakened Osaka castle (the moats have all been filled in as part of the peace treaty). Yukimura orders an assassination attempt on Ieyasu and departs for Osaka. The attempt fails and the Sanada ninja commits suicide before he can be captured. Saizo returns to Edo castle to give it another try, and is duped by Ieyasu and kills the wrong man. Saizo is captured and thrown into what amounts to a deep, dry well. Akane (who really gets put through the wringer in this movie) is also captured by the Shogunate and drugged. In her delirious state she gives up the location of Saizo’s confederates, who are also captured and killed. Saizo is kept alive, since Ieyasu hopes to extract Yukimura’s location from him. Saizo, however, ‘dies’ and is buried by the Shogunate. When Akane comes to pay her respects, he emerges from the grave (good thing he wasn't cremated)-it turns out he had fooled Ieyasu’s men by using a ninja technique that slowed his breathing and allowed him to appear deceased. Or were they fooled? It turns out he was allowed to escape, with Ieyasu’s ninja following him-straight to their target. Yukimura is killed by a Shogunate sharpshooter and the Tokugawa ninja return in triumph to Ieyasu.

But all is not as it seems. There’re plenty more twists and turns before the final battle of Toyotomi and Tokugawa in the Osaka Summer Campaign. Will Saizo manage to reverse the course of history and put himself on the winning side? Does he go down with the ship? Or will he listen to Akane, say ‘to hell with it all’, and save both her and himself?

The film is letterboxed and the transfer is great. The black and white photography lends itself well to the somber and depressing tone of the film. At times the viewer might think he’s stumbled into one of Toho’s Godzilla films-the music is by Ifukube Akira (noted for his scores on the Godzilla films), and there are sequences featuring realistic castle miniatures being blown apart by artillery fire. The effects range from excellent (the miniatures and explosions) to rather cheesy (such as several blatant dummies, and the flying ninja used in the title sequence). The genre pros of the cast deliver solid performances, with Raizo in particularly fine form as the alternately invincible and vulnerable Saizo. Unlike many films, the heavy (Ieyasu) is shown to outwit, outthink, and outperform the hero at every turn-even alone and unarmed, he’s able to escape assassination at Saizo’s hand. Saizo himself commits several huge blunders in the course of the film, making him fallible and keeping him from becoming the ‘all-powerful ninja’ stereotype. Not only does this give the film a realistic, unpredictable scenario and make Saizo a sympathetic character but also masterfully sets up the next few installments of the series. The film belies its modest budget, with a large cast, elaborate sets, and well choreographed battlefield scenes. Animeigo’s translation and subtitling is top notch, and further gives the viewer subtitle options ranging from none to notes to the full gamut-you even have a choice of subtitle colors.

Many chanbara films don’t require any historical knowledge to comprehend the goings-on, but Shinobi No Mono 4 will make a lot more sense and be more enjoyable for the viewer if they go in with some familiarity with the situation in Japan during 1615. As is usually the case, Animeigo’s extras for the disc have that aspect covered nicely. An interactive map of Japan shows the locations where all of the action takes place (and sometimes spots that are only mentioned) and gives background information for each. The historical notes for the program go into a huge amount of detail for a DVD, going so far as to reproduce the kanji written on the infamous bell that gave Ieyasu his excuse for attacking the Toyotomi. They’re very well done, and the occasional lapses are quite minor-falling into the ‘hair splitting’ category or simple typos (such as when the date for Aki province becoming part of Hiroshima prefecture is given as 1817 instead of 1871). The only glaring mistake is that the program states Kirigakure Saizo is an historical figure when it’s well established he was an invention of the Meiji era ‘Sanada Juyushi’ novels. Otherwise, the notes give you a good history lesson along with your ninja action. Other DVD extras include a still gallery (including some very interesting posed publicity shots) and the film’s original trailer. Also included is a trailer for the long awaited DVD release of another classic Ichikawa series-Nemuri Kyoshiro (released as ‘Sleepy Eyes of Death’ on US video). The first four Nemuri films will soon be released as a boxed set, and if they’re anything like the trailer, will look gorgeous. Time to replace those old VHS copies…

Whether you’re a Raizo fan, a ninja movie aficionado, a chanbara hound, or a history buff, Shinobi No Mono 4: Siege delivers the goods. The blend of ninja ‘skullduggery’ (as it’s called on the DVD box) with traditional samurai action gives the film an engaging blend of all-out action and stealth. While the DVD has an official street date of June 2nd, you can get it now directly from Animeigo or preorder it from Amazon through the Samurai Archives store here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Stephen Turnbull's "Strongholds of the Samurai: Japanese Castles 250-1877"

While as one would expect, books on Japanese castles are legion in Japan, there's been a dearth of works on the subject in English. Other than Schmorleitz's 'Castles In Japan' (which contains much outdated and erroneous information) and Mitchelhill's 'Castles of the Samurai: Power and Beauty' (which focuses on the value of the castles as an architectural and art form), only the odd tourist pamphlet or Japanese book translated into English (usually badly) has brought these uniquely Japanese structures to the attention of Westerners. Stephen Turnbull's latest release from Osprey Publishing, 'Strongholds of the Samurai: Japanese Castles 250-1877', goes a long way towards correcting this situation. 'Strongholds of the Samurai' collects Turnbull's four prior Osprey books dealing with Japanese castles-'Japanese Castles 1540-1640', 'Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries AD 710-1062', 'Japanese Castles in Korea 1592-1598', and 'Japanese Castles AD 250-1540'. Each of the four works was valuable in its own way, and as a collected volume becomes a valuable reference work and a great value.

Turnbull has taken the opportunity to correct some of the errors in the original publications, as well as presenting updated information (such as the recent demolition of the Fujimi Castle ferro-concrete reproduction south of Kyoto). A page by page comparison of the new volume with the original books reveals that the text has indeed been revised and modified-some sections of text have been excised (to avoid covering the same ground twice) and new text has been added in spots, such as an account of the Battle Of Ueno during 1868 that is new to the 'Fortified Temple' section and some new information on the operational history of castles in the Bakumatsu/Meiji era. There's also a new eight page introduction and timeline along with a four page conclusion. The biggest difference between the current collected volume and the original books lies in the photos. Many of the photos have been resized or replaced with completely new ones-many of the old black and white photos are now in color as well (with many of the color ones now being black and white). This is most noticeable in the chapter dealing with Japanese castles 1540-1877-the majority of the photos seem to be brand new. All of Peter Dennis's excellent color plates have been left in, albeit at a reduced size. Dennis is one of Osprey's better illustrators and is exceptionally well suited to the topic of castles. One minor criticism of the book has to do with the sequencing of the chapters-it would perhaps have been better to have led off with the two volumes on Japanese castles, followed by the Korean wajo and then the fortified temples and monasteries. As it stands now, the fortified temple volume is located between the two dealing with Japanese castles. Production value on the book is high, with an attractive dust cover featuring Shizugatake Castle taken from a painted screen in the Osaka Castle Museum. Paper stock is thick and most of the book's 270 pages have at least one visual aid, all of which are in sharp focus or reproduction.

Part 1, Japanese Castles 250-1540, is valuable for what it tells us about early Japanese fortifications. Turnbull uses photos of modern reconstructions and models along with illustrations from period war tales to show us how the early yamashiro (mountain castles) differed from the monster castles of the late Sengoku and Edo periods. Very little of this information has appeared in English (most of it in volumes examining the Taihei-ki or Shomon-ki). From the earliest fortified enclosures of the Yamato state, the fortresses in Dewa and Mutsu erected to defend against the Emishi, the Heian strongholds of the Fujiwara in Hiraizumi, the moated earthworks and walls intended to hold back the Mongol invasions, the mountain redoubts of Kusunoki Masashige, to the early Sengoku yamashiro that presaged the age of the monster castle, Turnbull examines each in detail. Construction methods are explained along with case studies involving how the structures performed when put to the test in battle. Day to day life inside the structure is also explored. There are copious, well thought out maps that show the majority of the locations being talked about and further classifies many by faction and date (the maps being a feature common to every chapter). While there's much to cover here (both in terms of timeline and territory), it's an excellent introduction to the neglected area of early Japanese fortifications.

The book's second part, Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries 710-1602, does much the same for the Sengoku era fortified 'temple towns' of the Ikko-ikki (best represented by Ishiyama Hongan-ji) as well as the temples of the so called warrior monks or 'akuso' (most famously, the temple complex at Mt. Hiei that was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga). Perhaps the most valuable achievement of this chapter lies in delineating the differences between the two factions and how they were reflected both in their social structure and fortification/architecture of each. Again, photos of modern reconstructions and models bring the text alive for the reader. There's much more emphasis in this chapter on the history and development of individual structures (since many of them were well documented or survive to this day) along with how the differing religious philosophies influenced their construction. For example, the Tendai monks of Mt. Hiei rarely built anything in the way of permanent fortifications, trusting that the fear of the gods and kami they could bring to bear upon the superstitious populace would safeguard their complexes from attack. When taken in conjunction with books such as Tsang's 'War and Faith' (a groundbreaking treatment of the Ikko-ikki) or Adolphson's 'Teeth and Claws of the Buddha' (the authoritative volume on monastic warriors), the reader will get a true picture of how the armed religious factions of Japan lived, fought, and worshipped.

The third part, Japanese Castles 1540-1877, has obviously had its scope expanded to include the Bakumatsu and Meiji eras. This is the era of Japanese castles most readers will be familiar with, as it deals with the majority of the surviving structures in Japan. There's much in the way of construction detail, especially in the engineering involved with erecting the massive stone walls and bases many of these structures featured. While it doesn't have the historical details of Schmorleitz's 'Castles In Japan' , there are operational studies showing some of the more famous sieges and also detailing how castle design was influenced by the advent of the arquebus and artillery. Turnbull also points out a common misconception-that a castle keep never doubled as a palace for its owner. While rare, the larger castles (such as Azuchi and Osaka, along with smaller ones like Inuyama) had keeps that served as a palace for their owners. Diagrams showing how castles were laid out to channel invaders along with cross sections of keeps help to demonstrate why these structures proved to be so difficult to attack. This chapter also features by far the largest amount of new photographs. In Turnbull's extensive 'Visiting the Fortifications Today' section at the rear of the book, there's also quite a bit more information found on many of the original existing structures as well as modern reproductions. As a whole, however, the section still leaves the reader feeling that it's only scratched the surface, and that there's much more to be said on the subject of the Sengoku and Edo period castle. Perhaps this will be territory for Turnbull to explore in the future.

Finally, Part 4, Japanese Castles In Korea 1592-98 is perhaps the crown jewel of the entire book. The limited timeframe and location allows Turnbull to go into an incredible amount of detail. This is Turnbull at his best-when he limits his scope and focuses his subject matter, which seems to be the direction his upcoming Osprey releases are taking. Every wajo (the name given to Japanese style fortifications built in Korea during Hideyoshi's Korean invasions of 1592 and 1598) receives a detailed history giving its construction details, dates, operational history, and layout. Many of them also have topographical maps. Each of the 30 sites receives extensive photo coverage, and although none have been reconstructed (due to the ongoing political acrimony between Korea and Japan), one can get a real feel for why not a single one of the wajo ever fell to a Chinese or Korean assault. The accounts of their efforts to do so are among the high points of the book, with the siege of Ulsan in 1598 being particularly noteworthy. There's also an interesting bit on the wajo as economic center with rudimentary 'castle towns' growing up around them, populated by Koreans eager to resume a somewhat normal life.

Overall, 'Strongholds of the Samurai' is an excellent compilation, giving a detailed overview of the development of Japanese fortifications throughout time, social classes, and different countries. At less than half the price of two of the original works, it's also a great value. An attractive volume, it's loaded with photos, prints, color plates, maps, and artwork. The majority of the information given in three of the four chapters has never been seen in English, and author Turnbull is still among the best when it comes to bringing the old legends and stories of Japan to life for the reader. It's a winner-an absolute no-brainer of a purchase if you're missing any of the original volumes, and even has much to recommend it to those who have all four.

Strongholds of the Samurai can be purchased from Amazon through the SA Store here.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Interview with John Bender, Sengoku Student and Analyst

John Bender is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii with a Master of Arts degree in premodern Japanese history. He recently completed his degree under Dr. William Farris, a prolific scholar who has produced nearly ten books. John's thesis was an examination of Warring States Daimyo that addressed the question, “why did some survive while others did not.” Although fairly straightforward, he felt that existing English-language material had not addressed this fundamental question satisfactorily. From his perspective, historians seemed content to accept the outcomes of Warring States battles with little or no analysis. Thus, he set out to integrate various geographical, economic, political, and military factors and analyze how they affected a daimyo’s chances for either victory or defeat. John is currently living in Hiroshima prefecture teaching English and studying Japanese.

Samurai Archives: What first sparked your interest in Japanese history? At what point did you say "I want to focus on Japanese history"?

John Bender: Well, this is a question that I’ve been asked a lot, and for a long time I didn’t really know how to answer it. Both of my Grandfathers fought in the Pacific War, so as a child I had a great interest in World War 2. My Grandfather on my mother’s side was actually on a ship that was struck by a Kamikaze fighter plane. These are the kinds of things that can really captivate the imagination of a young boy.

However, I didn’t really develop a serious interest in Japanese history until college. As a freshman, I switched my major from engineering to history after I discovered that reading was much more interesting than solving differential equations. At that time, I had recently begun training in a Japanese-derived style of martial arts and was becoming more and more interested in samurai. I don’t think it was until my junior year, however, that I decided to specialize in Japanese history.

So, I suppose I took a rather typical route to becoming a Japanist – martial arts, samurai, history. I used to be a bit embarrassed by that, but not anymore.

SA: How did you come to choose the specific topic of daimyo survival during the Sengoku period?

JB: When I started graduate school, I had it in my head that I was going to do strictly military history. I liked the Sengoku period because it was a time that witnessed the largest samurai armies in Japanese history. Furthermore, I had always felt that the English historiography on Sengoku battles was extremely sparse. What did (and still does) exist was very general, offering little or no details of how the battle actually progressed. I thought I could tackle this problem.

My original idea was to do an in-depth analysis of individual battles, breaking down exactly what happened, who won, and why. As I began my research I found that there is a reason detailed accounts of Sengoku battles are scarce – sources. There simply isn’t enough out there to make a good MA thesis on such a narrow topic.

After making this realization, it was a logical step to simply expand the scope beyond battles to the question of “survival.” Again, this was a topic that hadn’t been addressed, in terms of the hows and whys, and allowed me to take a more holistic approach to the period as opposed to being limited to military encounters. The result was, I think, a kind of fusion between economic and social history, and military and political history. Ultimately, this approach proved to be much more interesting than my original concept.

SA: How far down did you drill into the pool of Daimyo for your analysis? Obviously the biggies (Tokugawa, Oda, Takeda, Uesugi) are required, but how far did you get into the lower tiers like the Chosokabe, Amako, Asakura, Kyogoku, etc.? What requirements did you hold available clans to in order for them to warrant coverage in your thesis?

JB: Actually, all of the families you listed, except for the Kyogoku, were included in my study. I tried to compile as large a list as possible, and was really only limited by sources. For each daimyo I included, I needed fairly detailed information about their origins, location, and demise, and this information can be a bit hard to find for many of the lesser daimyo. Basically, I felt my list was adequate once it covered the entire physical map of Japan.

As for selection requirements, although it was my original intent, these were not concrete. I planned to use the Tokugawa definition of daimyo, and include all warlords controlling at least 10,000 koku of rice. However, obtaining such figures for many daimyo in the 16th century is impossible, as they simply do not exist. The closest I came to a comprehensive list of that sort was a survey document from 1638, I believe – obviously well outside my timeframe. As a result, I had to adopt less strict criteria that included several factors. One was that the warlord had have controlled land independently. Even if he was technically a vassal of another warlord, wielding effective power within his domain was one important component of being a daimyo. This means that there had to be some kind of bureaucratic or administrative apparatus that was controlled directly by the warlord, not his superior. This eliminates a lot of mid-level warriors who controlled territory, but were still subject to their lord’s administration (for example, the vassals of the Go-Hojo) from being daimyo. In addition to that, I stuck to families that have been traditionally considered daimyo. If a certain warlord was consistently included in the ranks of daimyo across several historical works, I took that as the best indication to classify him a daimyo.

SA: You examine a variety of variables when analyzing which factors had an impact on the survival and prosperity rates of Daimyo - give us a general overview of the general factors, as well as their overall importance to Daimyo survival based on the results of your research.

JB: Well, this is obviously a major part of my thesis and gets right to the core of my argument. I organized my analysis into five broad categories: geographic, economic, military, political, and random factors. It is impossible to completely isolate each category, as they are all interconnected, but in general, the division was as follows.

Geographic factors involved a daimyo’s location, the topography, productivity of the land, sea, or ports in the area, as well as the proximity of threats. Economic factors consisted of how well a daimyo could take advantage of available resources – very simply how wealthy he was. Military factors were rather straightforward as well, being primarily the size of a daimyo’s army, but also the quality of generals. I considered political factors to be anything a daimyo did both inside and outside of his domain in the realm of government. For my study, two areas were of utmost importance here: a daimyo’s ability to control his vassals, and his political posture towards other daimyo. Finally, the random category was kind of a catch-all that was to be used only in an emergency, when the situation could not be adequately explained in the previous chapters. I think I had to turn to random events only twice: once because of an unexpected death (Takeda Shingen), and once because of the weather (the battle of Okehazama).

As you can see, these divisions are somewhat nebulous. But, you have to make distinctions somewhere, and the real importance of the categories is as an analytical tool, not as a concrete classification of all aspects of Sengoku society.

The importance of each of these categories to daimyo survival is an interesting question. In fact, I had originally conceived of organizing the thesis around that question and progressing from the most important to least important category. Had I done so, the most important would have been geography, followed by politics, economics, and finally military. That came as a bit of a surprise, but there are dozens and dozens of examples of militarily weak daimyo who survived while strong ones were eliminated. And, while political alliances were a close second, the most important contributor to a daimyo’s success or failure was his location. It really depended upon who your neighbors were, how easy it was to get to you, and how badly rivals wanted your territory. That is why it was nearly impossible for anyone to survive in or around Kyoto. After the first draft, it was clear that organizing the thesis this way was not ideal. The experience of different daimyo was too varied to rank each category consistently. For the next draft I decided to organize the thesis starting with the factors daimyo had the least amount of control over to the most amount of control. The resulting order was geography, economics, military, political, and then the random category which cut through all of them. Organizing it this way led me to the argument that there was only so much a daimyo could do to really affect his chances of survival. With this in mind, it is easier to understand why events unfolded as they did, specifically why daimyo in eastern Japan became so powerful. Therefore, Sengoku Japan was not as chaotic as it has been characterized, but actually a pretty logical series of events, from an overall standpoint. This became one of the cornerstones of my argument.

SA: Did you make any distinction between “survival” and “success”? (in other words, many of the surviving daimyo found themselves in pretty unenviable positions by the end of the 16th century, for example, the Chosokabe clan)

JB: No, and I specifically avoided doing so. The reason is that I didn’t want to make my argument and statistics overly complicated by qualifying “survival.” Thus, for my study, the important thing was to simply exist at the end of the 16th century. I think everyone would agree that literal survival, in whatever form, is preferable to elimination.

SA: In the context of your thesis, what measurement did you use to categorize a daimyo as a "success"?

JB: Well, I really wanted to focus only on the Sengoku and unification periods (which is why I always refer to it as the “16th century” in my thesis), so I stopped at Sekigahara. Anyone who made it to 1600, before the battle, was considered a “success.”

SA: Access to foreign weapons technology was obviously a huge benefit for Sengoku Daimyo. Why didn’t it warrant its own category?

JB: Absolutely, access to foreign weapons was a huge part of my thesis. This was one of the main reasons that the ports of Osaka and Sakai were so enormously important – because they provided access to such technology. Nagasaki as well was very important in this regard, and I devote almost ten pages to it.

However, I do not feel that foreign trade should be considered a separate category. Foreign trade was one of the benefits afforded by areas like the capital and northern Kyushu, and thus it fit neatly within my categories. In effect, it is a large part of what made those regions so desirable, so important, and so hotly contested. I think that splitting trade according to where it was coming from would have resulted in unnecessary complexity, a false dichotomy, if you will.

SA: In your opinion, in the overall picture of 16th century Japan, how large a part did random events and luck play?

As I said above, I really tried to minimize this category. I found that I could explain almost all of the fate of almost all of the daimyo I studied. Perhaps this was because my categories were so broad, but I really don’t think luck had much to do with daimyo survival (unless luck includes where you were born). Even things that might seem random can usually be traced back to a larger cause. My geographic and political categories were able to account for most of the cases I originally could not adequately explain.

SA: Which Daimyo benefitted most from random events (i.e. "Luck")?

JB: It’s hard to say, but for the purposes of my study, I would have to say Oda Nobunaga. His spectacular victory at Okehazama catapulted him into the ranks of the most powerful warlords of the day. Most accounts agree that a sudden cloudburst proved quite timely for the Oda forces. The Imagawa response may have been more rapid and effective had the weather been clear.
Having said that, the Oda were of course one of the daimyo who did not survive the 16th century. It’s hard to find an example of someone who “skated through” on luck. Conversely, it’s a bit easier to find daimyo who had “bad luck.” The above-mentioned Imagawa would be the most prominent example, but that category also includes the Takeda, Ouchi, Ryuzoji, and Chosokabe.

SA: Were there any Daimyo who had all factors in their favor but still didn't survive the 16th century? Were there any Daimyo that you had trouble accounting for in your model?

JB: Yes, actually, there were numerous daimyo who had very favorable conditions yet failed to survive. The best example is the Go-Hojo, who were eliminated after a major political blunder in failing to make peace with Hideyoshi. Nobunaga himself is another great example. His demise illustrates how important it was to have loyal vassals – or at least, to keep them happy. In Kyushu, the Otomo and Ryuzoji both had relatively stable, profitable bases, but opted to fight each other to extinction instead of consolidate their gains. This ultimately allowed the Shimazu to become the premier daimyo on Kyushu. The Ouchi are another example. They had a good power base in western Japan, but lost it due to a combination of poor leadership and military blunders. Finally, in the east, both the Imagawa and the Takeda seemed to be well situated in the Warring States period, but of course were both eliminated.

SA: How about Daimyo who had the majority of variables working against them who survived the 16th century? What tipped the scales in their favor?

JB: There were far fewer examples of this, but it did happen. I have a very nice example of this in my politics chapter involving the Omura family. The Omura were very much small fish in a big pond consisting of heavyweights like the Shimazu, Ryuzoji, and Otomo. The Omura’s saving grace turned out to be shrewd political maneuvering, despite extreme material and military disadvantages. They essentially “played their cards right” and were able to survive.

Omura territory happened to include the port of Nagasaki, and the Omura daimyo cleverly used this bargaining chip to their favor. Omura Sumitada, head of the Omura family in the 1550’s made an alliance with the Portuguese shortly after their arrival. This alliance saved them in 1556 from a vassal rebellion, and again in 1579 from a Ryozoji invasion. Sumitada actually ceded Nagasaki to the Jesuits on the eve of the invasion, thus making any attack on the port an act of war against the Portuguese. He then wisely submitted to the Ryuzoji, and stood on the sidelines as they, the Shimazu, and the Otomo battled. When the Shimazu emerged victorious, the Omura stalled for time, then allied themselves with Hideyoshi shortly before his 1587 invasion.

In this way, the virtually powerless Omura survived the 16th century. It is a brilliant example of political savvy.

SA: You mention in your introduction that an examination of variables during the Sengoku period to account for the success or failure of Sengoku Daimyo hasn't been done before - have you come up with any new or surprising revelations about 16th century Japan based on your research?

JB: I think the only real “surprising” revelation would be my main argument itself. I proposed a re-conceptualization of the Warring States period in two important ways. First, I feel that this period was much less random and chaotic than has been argued in the past. Although not without an element of unpredictability, Warring States history followed a fundamentally comprehensible course. If anything, I hope my study showed that there was usually a good reason the “winners” won and the “losers” lost.

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge the centrality of geographic factors, especially location. I contend that this was the single most important factor in determining daimyo survival. Politics emerged as a close second in this regard. I think this runs counter to conventional wisdom about the Warring States period (and maybe unification processes in general) that military and economic factors are the key. At least for Japan, geography and politics were paramount for survival.

SA: Have you considered possibly expanding and publishing your thesis?

JB: I think everyone dreams of publishing, and that may happen in the future, but right now it is not one of my main goals. I am planning to explore other topics for my dissertation, but would like to return to this one someday. For now, though, I have no idea when, or in what form I will pursue publication of this thesis.

SA: What are your current interests in the field of Japanese history? Any future projects currently on your mind?

JB: I am still very interested in warriors and I think that I always will be. I would like to do a more in-depth study of the Takeda, from their beginnings in the 12th century to their demise in the 16th. I am also very interested in a study of war veterans (ronin) as a social group in the early Tokugawa period.

But, my years as an MA student have broadened my interests a bit, and currently I’m most excited about a potential project on Japanese mariners. I’m exploring the possibility of a survey of fishermen and the fishing industry in Japan.

SA: What are some currently “popular” Japanese history topics of research in Western academia? Where do you see the most expansion in the next 5-10 years in Western scholarship on Japanese history?

JB: Well, I don’t want to self-promote too much, but I think that military history is making a bit of a comeback. There are some excellent recent works by scholars such as Karl Friday and Thomas Conlan. I also believe that topics like demography and population, where Wayne Farris leads the way, will attract more and more attention. Finally, women’s history and family history are hot topics right now. Take a look at Janet Goodwin’s 2007 book if you’re interested.

SA: Being a recent graduate yourself, do you have any advice for current or potential students of history, and students of Japanese history in particular?

JB: History is a very difficult field, but it is also extremely rewarding. Historians study the whole range of human experience and thus nothing is off the table. If you’re interested in something, there’s a good bet you can turn that interest into real historical inquiry. I think history is an extremely valuable discipline that produces thoughtful, analytical, and informed individuals. He need more historians in the world!

My advice for anyone considering history is to keep your interests as broad as possible. Specialization is important, but it’s also important to keep your eyes on the big picture. If you get too focused on one thing, you’ll lose the ability to draw really meaningful, insightful conclusions.

As for Japanese history in particular, my advice is to get going on your language study now! Proficiency in Japanese is paramount, and Japanese is not a particularly easy language. It is currently my biggest weakness, and one I’m working very hard to improve. If you want to study Japanese history, hit the Japanese books hard, and hit them early!