Saturday, November 20, 2010

Defenders, Victims, Avengers: Turnbull's "Samurai Women"

While the female warrior is a staple of chanbara films, manga, and anime, there's very little in the way of books that examine the role of women in Japanese warrior society (particularly in English). The ever prolific Stephen Turnbull has addressed this shortage with his newest effort "Samurai Women 1184-1877" (which despite the title actually covers the period from 170 to 1877). Whether in their capacity as castle defenders, victims of warfare, or avengers pursuing a vendetta, Turnbull examines the impact that women had upon the violent world of the samurai.

We'll go over the book's shortcomings first since we'd like to end on a positive note. Simply using the term ‘samurai’ with ‘women’ casts Turnbull in a bad light-it seems he’s unaware that the Japanese use ‘samurai’ as a gender specific term that can only be applied to males (those who want the details can read about it here). Onnamusha, buke women, and other terms would be more appropriate here. While I would have to reread the book to be 100% positive, I believe Turnbull never explains that 'Gozen' is not a proper name but rather just another word for 'woman' or 'lady'. This might puzzle some readers who will come away thinking that virtually all the female warriors of yore shared the same given name!

The careless errors that crop up on a regular basis in Turnbull’s other books waste no time in showing up in Samurai Women. For example, he devotes two lines in the main text to Hosokawa Gracia (possibly the best known ‘samurai woman’ in the west besides Tomoe Gozen). One is a picture caption, one is in the main text-and he gets them both wrong. The caption reads “Hosokawa Gracia is revered for the fidelity that she showed to her Christian faith in spite of the initial opposition from her husband, and later his disgrace and death”. As Hosokawa Tadaoki outlived Gracia by several decades, it appears Turnbull instead is thinking not of her husband but her father Akechi Mitsuhide (who of course was labeled as a traitor and disgraced for his attack on Oda Nobunaga and his subsequent death at the hands of peasants). The selection in the main text reads “This was Hosokawa Gracia, the staunchly Christian wife of Hosokawa Yusai”-but of course, her husband was Hosokawa Tadaoki with Yusai being his father. These are the types of errors that make one speculate if Turnbull actually proofreads his work or even has someone else glance over his manuscript for accuracy.

Turnbull’s tendency to be highly uncritical of his sources and accepting Edo period and earlier legends at face value is on full display as well. Nowhere is it mentioned that most Japanese historians consider celebrated female warrior Tomoe Gozen to have been nothing more than a legend. She appears in no contemporary documents, histories such as the Azuma Kagami, the records of the Wada family, or in the registers of the temples she was alleged to have joined late in life. He fails to mention that the Genpei Seisuki (the basis for the story of Tomoe becoming Wada Yoshimori’s concubine) is an ‘expanded version’ of the Heike Monogatari with many fictional elements added. Instead, it appears Tomoe was birthed in the Heike Monogatari through the efforts of pro-Minamoto/Hojo historians to discredit Kiso Yoshinaka. In many subtle ways the Heike chroniclers cast aspersions on his fitness to rule, ranging from referring to him as ‘Kiso’ rather than ‘Minamoto’ to always depicting him in the company of women (the story even has Kiso remarking that to die in the company of a woman would be dishonorable). Elizabeth Oyler has a fascinating examination of this in her book ‘Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions’ for those who wish to learn more. Similarly, the story of Akechi Mitushide’s mother being killed by Hatano samurai after Oda Nobunaga breached their agreement with Mitsuhide is presented as fact. Instead, this appears to have no basis in reality and was first seen in an Edo period play as an attempt to explain Mitsuhide’s motivation for turning traitor. There are records of her surviving past 1574 (the supposed year of the incident) along with letters written to and by her. There’s more along these lines, but these examples should suffice.

It’s also odd that Turnbull neglects several of the more dramatic episodes involving ‘samurai women’. Although it’s mentioned that the ‘Satsuma rebels under Saigo Takamori had a few women in their ranks’ (during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877), the many contemporary accounts of large groups of them fighting at the siege of Kumamoto castle are ignored (we would have been interested in reading more about this, since there seems to be a question about whose side they actually fought on). Tachibaba Ginchyo’s defiance of Kato Kiyomasa during the Sekigahara campaign while she was a nun is depicted, but Turnbull fails to mention that she was unique in Japanese history. Ginchyo was the only female daimyo lord in Japanese history, being installed in that position by her father who lacked a male heir (she lost this position to her husband Muneshige after their marriage-and Muneshige later divorced her. Talk about ingratitude!). Several short accounts of ‘female horsemen’ in the full version of the Taiheiki are not brought up. Another of Kiso Yoshinaka’s attendants who supposedly fought and died at the decisive battle of Kurikara, Aoi Gozen, isn’t examined. As noted earlier Hosokawa Gracia rates barely a mention. Even some recent archaeological discoveries that could have an important bearing on the role of women in combat are brought up only in passing (such as excavations at head mounds located near battlefields that contain approximately 33% female heads according to DNA testing). We would have liked to have seen much more done with the latter (even if only referencing a source), as this has the potential to redraw the parameters of the female warrior.

Finally, in an effort to get the maximum drama from his subject, Turnbull engages in some rather baseless speculation both in the body of the text and in his interpretation of certain images. For example, he states that "the samurai woman as a fighting warrior, by contrast, appears to be virtually non-existent" and follows that by stating "they...allow us to regard the exploits of female warriors as the greatest untold story in samurai history". However, given that Turnbull is unable to find enough material to fill the approximately 32 pages of text in the book with the exploits of warrior women, it seems the 'female warrior' (at least on the open battlefield) must still be considered largely a myth. This is a theme Turnbull comes back to again and again, but he fails to provide evidence to back it up. For example, the best he can do for contemporary images of 'female warriors' are a woodblock from 'Hojo Godaiki' and 'Boki Ekotoba' (a picture scroll from 1351). The woodblock shows 'trophy heads' lined up after the Hojo capture of Fukane castle, and Turnbull claims several of the heads appear to be female. He doesn't identify which heads he has in mind, but the ones he might be thinking are female clearly have the hairstyles of male pages. Turnbull also states that a figure seen in the Boki Ekotoba scroll is likely a woman because "the features are very feminine with rouged cheeks and painted eyebrows, and by comparison the faces of all the other characters are coarse and masculine". Well, not really-all of the characters display rouged cheeks and painted looking eyebrows. The figure appears to be a youth or page (Turnbull does list this as being possible), with the only real facial differences being that he still has all his hair (not having yet taken vows) while the other monks have shaven heads.

Now let's move on to the book's strong points. Turnbull does a good job of providing background on the important roles that women played both in the political (both in marriage politics and working behind the scenes) and economic (by managing the estates and affairs of a samurai household) realms. These were women like Hojo Masako, Minamoto no Yoritomo's wife who was as feared and ruthless as any male leader of the time. Many of the early female Emperors are mentioned, including the mythical Empress Jingu (who may or may not have existed) who was said to have led an army that conquered Korea around the start of the third century AD. Another early female leader, Himiko (mentioned in a Chinese account in 297) is also examined.

By far the most impressive section of the book is where Turnbull examines the role women played in castle sieges. This is where virtually every reliable account of women participating in warfare comes from. Women were routinely left in charge of the defense of castles while their lords were away, and even took an active part in the action when their husbands were present. Turnbull has well-documented instances from Hangaku Gozen's defense of Torisaka Castle in 1201 to the woman of the Joshigun at the siege of Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle in 1868. While women generally performed support duties such as extinguishing fires, loading guns, making bullets, cooking food, caring for the wounded, and even preparing trophy heads for viewing, there are many accounts of them taking up arms and even sallying forth from the castle to confront the enemy. A common theme is that of a woman who would don her husband's armor to inspire the troops, in effect 'standing in' for the lord. Some of the accounts are comical and heartbreakingly tragic at the same time, such as occurred at Tsuneyama Castle in 1577. Led by Ueno Tsuruhime of the Mimura, a group of 34 women charged out of the castle and attempted to engage the besieging Mori troops in conflict. However, the Mori samurai refused to kill women and tenaciously avoided combat, frustrating the women who returned to the castle and committed mass suicide. A much different result was to be found at Aizu Wakamatsu in 1868. Nakano Takeko and a large group of women left the castle and charged into the lines of the new Imperial army. While the Imperialists instructed their men to take the women alive (likely more for some nefarious purpose than out of compassion), the women had no such compunction, slaughtering many of the Imperial troops before most of them were gunned down. There are many other excellent accounts such as at Imayama in 1570, Tsurusaki in 1586, Hondo in 1589-90, Omori in 1599 (where women operated a catapult), several actions during the Sekigahara campaign of 1600, and more. Perhaps our favorite account was of Yamamoto Yaeko, who was the daughter of an Aizu gunnery instructor and who replaced him when he was killed during the fighting in 1868. Brandishing a brand new Sharps repeating rifle, she not only fought with the men but also survived the battle, living to found Doshisha University in Kyoto. Perhaps Turnbull's greatest strength is his ability to bring to life the legends of long ago, and this is some of his best work in that area.

There's also an intriguing 'battlefield' account of Sengoku period female warrior Tsuruhime of Omishima (no relation to the Tsuruhime mentioned above). Tsuruhime's exploits against the Ouchi around 1541 (both on land and on the sea) are perhaps the only reliable accounts in Japanese history of a woman participating in open field battle. Oddly enough, Tsuruhime wasn't even a member of the buke class-rather, she was a shrine maiden who proclaimed herself the avatar of Mishima Myojin. The high point of her career came when she boarded the flagship of Ouchi general Obara Nakatsukasa No Jo and cut him down. Turnbull includes an image of the altered armor that is attributed to Tsuruhime and that is still housed in the Oyamazumi Shrine.

Turnbull fills out his accounts by relating many of the atrocities suffered by women as victims of war, with some particularly grisly accounts of them being pierced through the hands, tied to ships, and used as human shields by the Mongols during their invasion of Japan in 1274. Threats of mass suicide were also commonly used by women against invaders-one wouldn't think that would be much of a deterrent, but the courage showed by the women sometimes impressed the invaders enough so that they would abandon their assault out of respect. He also brings up sanctioned Edo period vendettas-out of 100 recorded vendettas, 14 were carried out by women. One of these is examined in detail, showing how the two daughters of a farmer, Miyagino and Shinobu, killed the samurai who had murdered their father. While their story has been greatly embellished over the years ala the 47 Ronin, they used a naginata along with a chain and sickle to dispatch their foe. It's also interesting that the only instance during the Edo period where a 'retainer' took revenge for their 'lord' (besides the fabled Ronin) involved a lady-in-waiting who killed a woman that had forced her lady into suicide.

About half of the 64 page book is devoted to photos, reproductions of woodblock prints, portraits, and also some excellent plates by artist Giuseppe Rava. In our opinion, Rava's plates are among the best ones seen in Osprey's Japanese samurai history line-they're quite dynamic and don't 'glamorize' their subjects by making them look like schoolgirl teen idols. Turnbull's images are quite good, showing statues and museum pieces as well as woodblocks and scrolls. Unfortunately, there are errors and exaggerations here too. Turnbull identifies a photo of a woman playing a hand drum to accompany Oda Nobunaga's performance of 'Atsumori' before the battle of Okehazama as 'a servant girl' when in fact it's his wife Nohime. There are the spurious identifications mentioned in a prior paragraph. One of Rava's plates shows Hangaku Gozen charging out of Torisaka Castle on horseback slashing her way through a group of foot retainers, but the Azuma Kagami states that she remained inside the castle throughout the siege until felled by an enemy arrow. It sure looks great, though!

"Samurai Women", despite Turnbull's hyperbole, does little to change the model of Japanese female warriors that has developed over the years. In short, there's virtually no reliable evidence that women were professional soldiers or standing troops in a regular army. However, when it came time to defend the homelands in the form of castle sieges, they routinely became an active part of the defenses. While they usually joined servants and children in support services, there are many records of them taking a more direct role in the fighting-and by all accounts, acquitted themselves well in both roles. Women (both of the buke and commoner classes) also were involved in a large percentage of vendettas during the Edo period, proving that they didn't shy away from conflict when it was called for. Finally, during the closing days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the shifting boundaries between classes and gender roles gave women the opportunity to become more active in many fields, including warfare. However, the new Meiji government reversed many of these gains and restricted their new conscript army to males.

So, in the final analysis, is Turnbull's book worth a read? Yes, it is. Despite the grab bag of errors and speculation, the positives outweigh the negatives-and like many of Turnbull's books, it's regrettably the only work in English on the subject. Many of the accounts will be new to Western readers and his bibliography will give many new directions to explore. As always, Turnbull's selection of pictures is excellent and the color plates are among the best done for an Osprey 'samurai' book. And what the heck-it's less than $13. It's a small price to pay to learn about the women who defended their homes, were victimized by war, and who avenged the deaths of their families. While it isn't quite "the greatest untold story in samurai history", it certainly ranks with the more interesting ones-and merits further study.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Samurai and Death in Battle - A Translation

As another translation, I've picked out a section of a book called "日本の歴史・合戦のおもしろ話" (Japanese History - Interesting Tales of Battle). This translation deals with Samurai and death in battle. Everyone likes to think that Samurai were in love with the idea of death in battle and that they had no fear of death.  Japanese historian Owada Tetsuo gives a much more reasonable explanation, which I hope everyone finds enlightening.  This is the first of two sections I'll be translating.  Due to the vague nature of Japanese, I've added some slight exposition here and there to clarify, but otherwise it is a direct translation.

What were the warriors thinking on the battlefield? - Translated from:
Nihon no Rekishi - Kassen no Omoshirobanashi by Owada Tetsuo

In his house codes, the famous general Takeda Nobushige wrote, "In regards to battle, one must never fear death". These words illustrate that the Sengoku warriors stood shoulder to shoulder with death on the battlefield. However, if one reads between the lines, it also illustrates that these warriors, as well as their vassals, actually feared death, otherwise it wouldn't be necessary to put it directly into the house codes. In fact, if one looks at the various family records of the 100 years of the Sengoku period, it will become obvious that death on the battlefield was the rule rather than exception.

Socho, a renga poet who served Imagawa Ujichika in Suruga province wrote in the historical document Socho Shuki "Death in battle. That is to be Samurai."  Death in battle was a matter of course, and to thus fully prepare for it before setting out on campaign. The fear of death was probably the same for the Sengoku warrior as it is for the modern man, however there was one definite difference: The awareness or at least hope of utility or practical benefit in one’s death.

This benefit or utility in dying a heroic death on the battlefield is that it brings fame to one's name, and by practical extension, one's descendants, family, and clan. During the Sengoku period, there was an awareness that a shameful showing in battle could have had a catastrophic effect on one's family, and a glorious death would be preferable. Therefore, there was by no means some sort of death-wish spurred on by a “beauty of death” philosophy. It was purely a practical matter.

Of course, death was not the goal, it was to survive and bring fame and glory on oneself. However, war service is accompanied by danger - a chance for glory also brings the danger of death, and on the battlefield, the difference between life and death is paper-thin. But, on the battlefield is the only place where one can find the glory they are looking for, and the Sengoku warriors must have been aware of the inherent danger.

When it’s said that a warrior wants to bring glory to their name, or protect their name, the "name" in question doesn’t refer only to their own individual name, but to their family name and family honor, including their ancestors and descendants. Warriors in battle carried responsibility for not sullying their name with shameful actions.

One famous example took place in 1581 during the siege of Tottori castle. Kikkawa Tsuneie, under siege by Hashiba Hideyoshi, was forced to commit seppuku, and left a written will for his children. In reading his will, you can see that he believed that by slitting his belly he could not only save his soldiers, but bring honor to his family and clan.

Based on the above, it is obvious that "name" is the keyword in the Sengoku warrior's opinion on life and death. And also as stated above, there was a tendency to believe that the sons of a warrior who died a valorous death in battle would also share that same honor and valor displayed by their father.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
For example, in the 3rd month of the 10th year of Tensho there is an episode involving Tokugawa Ieyasu after the battle of Temmokuzan in the countryside where Takeda Katsuyori was finally destroyed. At that time, there were barely 20 or 30 mounted warriors left alive on the the opposing side, and among them, one warrior, Tsuchiya Masatsune, served as Katsuyori's kaishaku (seppuku assistant), and then promptly followed his lord in death. When Ieyasu heard this, he said "Does Tsuchiya Masatsune have any sons?", and when he found out that Tsuchiya did have a son, he sent men out to find him. The son was eventually found being hidden in a temple, and he was called to Sumpu castle to meet with Ieyasu. Ieyasu took in the child who was barely six years old, and made him his son Hidetada’s page.

In Ieyasu's view, the son of a man who fulfilled his duty so honorably, and gave his life for his lord, would be destined to become a great man himself, which is likely why he took the child on as a vassal. That the child was the son of a man who fought him in battle didn't matter. His conduct on the battlefield moved Ieyasu.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Mito Komon’s Coming To Town: Holiday Gifts For Japanese History Buffs

That jolly old soul with the white beard and hair recently paid a visit to the Samurai Archives, and along with him came several new Japanese wargames and RPG’s. No, it wasn’t Santa, or even our father-in-law, but rather Mito Komon-the Edo period hero who proved that the Tokugawa really were the good guys. The wizened Tokugawa scion brought along Sanada Yukimura, Shimizu No Jirochou, and Oda Nobunaga to join in the fun along with a bunch of frantically retreating Ming and Korean troops. With New Years and Christmas rapidly approaching, it’s time to start dropping hints to your friends and significant others about some of the items on your personal wish list-and we’re assuming since you’re here, some of them are probably Japanese history related. We’ll have book reviews of some interesting releases in the weeks to come but for now, let’s take a look at some historical simulations, card games, and board games dealing with pre-modern Japanese history-the perfect gift for those looking to replay the past. Everything reviewed here is Japanese language only except for ‘The Imjin War’.

The best of this round of offerings is likely Game Journal #36: Sanada Gunki: Kessen! Osaka No Jin (真田軍記:決戦!大坂の陣, Sanada War Chronicles: Decisive Battle! Siege Of Osaka). This is an update of Tenka Fubu’s 1992 release Sanada Gunki. It’s a strategic/operational level simulation of the Osaka campaigns of 1614-1615. The game has enough specialized rules to make it unique and interesting but not so many that it becomes overly complex and bogged down. Played on a well done map of Japan from Owari to west of Osaka, it employs a standard hexagonal movement grid. The counter sheet and orders of battle are excellent, sorting the different forces (Tokugawa vassals, Tokugawa allies, Toyotomi retainers, and Toyotomi allies/ronin) by color. The Tokugawa forces outnumber the Toyotomi by roughly two to one, but the Toyotomi are given a shot at surviving by the strength of most of their units. While this was done to balance the game, it works against it from a simulation standpoint. The Toyotomi units did tend to perform better in the battles, but is Sanada Yukimura’s small personal force really twice as strong as the main Tokugawa force under Ieyasu? For that matter, is Akashi Teruzumi’s detached force (which historically performed miserably, getting lost and missing the battle) one and a half times more effective than Ieyasu’s? The Toyotomi army also has the advantage of being able to hole up in Osaka castle when things go bad, an extremely hard nut to crack for the Tokugawa (and something they almost have to take to win). There are plenty of other castles and objectives to take for both armies. It’s well balanced and games played between two players of similar skill will go down to the final turns.

There are scenarios for the Winter campaign of 1614 and the summer campaign of 1615. There are also three ‘what-if’ scenarios. What if Sanada Masayuki had lived to take command of the Toyotomi forces? If Fukushima Masanori had deserted the Tokugawa and thrown his support back to the Toyotomi? And finally, what if it had been Ukita Hideie who had returned from exile to take command in 1614? Sanada Gunki is an excellent old school wargame that might be Game Journal’s strongest offering to date. The magazine has several articles on the Osaka campaigns, including an historical overview, designer’s notes, a phase by phase illustration of how the action unfolded in real life using the game components, and even a manga strip with gameplay tips. Comparisons of various Sengoku related wargames, reviews of other new releases, and articles on non-samurai related wargaming round out this excellent package.

Japanese History War Game Quarterly #7 features Nagashino: Shitaragahara Kassen (長篠:設楽原合戦, Nagashino: Battle Of Shitaragahara), the famous 1575 battle where the allied forces of the Oda and Tokugawa effectively ended the threat of the Takeda. Strangely enough, this tactical level game features area movement on a map that encompasses not just the main battlefield but also the area around the besieged Nagashino castle. A hex based map would have been far better for this level of game, but it’s not totally unexpected since JHWGQ hasn’t produced a hex game yet. The map itself is quite an ugly and abstract piece of work. As with most games that appear in this publication, there are cards to introduce random elements into the battle (like the weather changing, rendering the Oda guns useless). The counter mix is by far the best part of this offering-the oversized counters are broken down into generals for both sides and the Oda/Tokugawa forces have two for each commander-one used for equipping them with guns and one without. Yes, as if being outnumbered historically by almost three to one isn’t bad enough for the Takeda, they don’t know until battle is joined which of the Oda forces have guns-and for that matter what commander is where, since units are hidden until engaged (but all of the Takeda forces are clearly identified from the get-go). There’s great cover artwork featuring Takeda Katsuyori and a glowering Oda Nobunaga, and you’d swear it was Darth Vader being depicted on Oda’s in-game counter. As a bonus, there’s a code exposed when the game components are removed from the bubble that allows you to download a Vassal module for Nagashino from JHWGQ’s website. At any rate, it’s a fast play and has a high fun factor.

There have been several changes made in the format of JHWGQ with this issue. Some are minor-the magazine is now printed ‘Western style’, opening and being read from the ‘front’ (with the game components now in a bubble on the right side of the opened magazine rather than the left). Some are medium-the rules for the issue’s game are now printed separately instead of being part of the magazine, somewhat hurting the cohesiveness of the product as a whole. Some are major-there’s now only 16 pages to the magazine, just about half of what JHWGQ #1 had. A bit of this is due to not including the rules, but other content (such as reviews of DVD’s that tie in with the issue’s subject matter) have been eliminated. What’s there is fine-an overview of Oda Nobunaga’s army and various battles it took part in, an historical article on the Battle of Nagashino, set-up instructions and an introduction to wargaming, and an examination of the campaign using the game map and components to illustrate how the battle played out in real life. JHWGQ has been losing steam the past few issues with content being scaled back and using less polished components-probably cost cutting measures that bode ill for the future. Hopefully they’ll be back on track in issue 8, with a game depicting the action of the Bakumatsu.

Sengoku Daimyo Card Game: Kunitori! (戦国大名カードげーム:くにとり!, Steal The Nation!) combines the best of both possible worlds: a Sengoku period province grabbing game and hot anime chicks. Yes, all your favorite daimyo from the warring states are rendered as women in this game by some of Japan’s best known manga artists. Whether it’s the cutesy-pie flat chested Hideyoshi or brassy lingerie-wearing Oda Nobunaga strutting around with her big boobs spilling out, these famous historical figures take on a whole new dimension. This 270 card non-collectible set (meaning you get the whole thing at once-none of this ‘false collectible’ rare card and booster sets crap) from Arclight not only has novelty appeal but is a solid gaming experience as well. Like most card games, it’s easy to pick up and play but will take some time to master all its subtleties. Up to six players can compete and games can be finished in 30-60 minutes. Enlist the help of foreign traders, boost your economy, mash enemy daimyo, and check out Nobunaga’s rack. Go ahead-you know you want to.

‘The Imjin War’ is a condensed 16 page booklet produced for use with the Killer Katanas 2 (tsk, tsk-a plural Japanese word) miniatures game system. It contains information and rules for putting together miniature Ming Chinese and Korean armies and pitting them in battle against Japanese forces during the Bunroku/Keicho campaigns (Hideyoshi’s Invasions of Korea in the 1590’s). There’s a nice level of detail here, giving the mainland Asian forces plenty of armament and artillery options. Ming armies are rated differently for northern and southern troops and Korean forces are divided into regular army, Righteous Army, and armed monks. Sorry, no provisions for naval warfare, so Admiral Yi cultists will have to wait for another day. While the KK system is probably the most accurate and detailed English language rules system portraying tactical samurai warfare, this particular rules set tends to result in fairly balanced battles, coming up with rather ahistorical results. This is easily rectified by dropping the morale factors for Chinese troops (always) and (depending on the battle and type of forces) Korean troops by one. Then you’ll be seeing battles that play out accurately. For further fine tuning, try raising/lowering the morale of Japanese troops according to their supply status in a particular battle. Author Brian Bradford has been selling these booklets on eBay, but interested gamers might want to wait until early November when his full scaled ‘Hideyoshi’s Korean Invasion’ sourcebook comes out. The sourcebook will contain the rules found in ‘The Imjin War’ plus scenarios of notable battles and lots of background information such as illustrations of Ming banners and flags. Unfortunately, it appears that Kenneth Swope has had some input into the finished product, so it might be skewed in favor of a powered up Ming army-but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed by lowering a factor here or there.

For those not familiar with the KK2 system, it’s well worth checking out even if you’re not a gamer. Brian’s base set and supplements give some of the better information to be found about most of the major Sengoku daimyo and their campaigns in English (although a lot of it is taken from Rekishi Gunzou mooks and the notoriously unreliable Japanese General Staff written histories of the 1890’s, so be forewarned). You can contact Brian on the Yahoo ‘Asian War’ group for more information.

Our wife Ayame recently visited from Japan and gifted us with some older games we hadn’t known about. The following two games have been out for a couple of years, but are worth a look for their depictions of subject matter not usually covered in samurai era sims.

While Command Journal Japan #75 touts two WWII German vs Russian games as the main attractions, what we’re interested in is Toukai Yuukyou Den: Jirochou Sangoku Shi (東海遊侠伝:次郎長三国志, Eastern Gangster Legend: Jirochou’s Three Provinces Record). This is a game simulating the Edo area Yakuza turf wars of the late Edo/early Meiji periods. It’s based on the well known Japanese novel Jirouchou Sangoku Shi that details the adventures of historical Yakuza boss Shimizu No Jirochou (AKA Yamamoto Chougorou). Jirochou was a tremendously popular ‘chivalrous man’ along with being a master swordsman, gang mediator, philanthropist and a type of ‘Robin Hood’ figure in Japanese lore-he’s been the subject of dozens of films and novels. As indicated by Jirochou’s name, the object is to control Yakuza activity in the areas between Edo and Kyoto. There are several factions in the game (including Shogunal inspectors sent to control them) and the counters represent individual figures from history (and sometimes fictional ones). There are oyabuns, sub-bosses, enforcers, soldiers, and the occasional ronin bodyguard. The rules system covers a lot of options and has interesting ‘chrome’ rules, giving the gameplay that seedy Yakuza feel. The map features area movement with the different famous major roads of Japan (such as the Tokaido) playing a large part in strategy. Overall, the gameplay is quite like that seen in War Game In Japanese History’s #1 ‘Shinsengumi’ game (reviewed earlier in this thread). For fans of Zatoichi and Yakuza films, this game will have a lot of appeal and is an interesting break from the conventional battle games that usually appear in Command Journal. The reverse side of the map has a cool 'woodblock' look to it with illustrations and doubles as a fourth game-Meiji Zankyouden Sugoroku (明治残俠伝雙六, Meiji Yakuza Tales Sugoroku). Sugoroku is a simple Japanese dice game, in this case playing off the 'Showa Zankyouden' film series. It features the Yakuza as well (zankyouden means 'remaining chivalry' and is often used to describe the Yakuza). The main magazine also contains articles that give mini biographies for each of the figures in the counter mix and one that gives a history of the Yakuza in the Kanto area in the 1800’s. You also get the two other WWII games and loads of reviews, gameplay tips, and (non-samurai related) historical articles, making this issue a great value.

‘RPGamer’ is a Japanese magazine that touches every facet of Role Playing Games, from Call of Cthulhu to Star Wars to D & D-horror, SF, fantasy, and more. Issue #12 focuses on historical roleplaying, featuring Shibaiyuugi: Mito Komon (芝居遊戯:水戸黄門, Drama Game: Mito Komon). Mito Komon is the historical Tokugawa Mitsukuni, a member of the Tokugawa Mito branch family and an historian who began to put together the massive ‘Dai Nihonshi’ (‘Great History Of Japan’) that took around 200 years for the Mito branch to complete. Mitsukuni was said to have wandered the length and breadth of Edo period Japan incognito in his research efforts. Folk legend had it that using the guise of retired wealthy merchant Mito Komon he righted wrongs, broke up criminal gangs, and punished corrupt officials along the way. The Mito Komon legends have been the source for dozens of Edo period and modern novels along with a long running TV series and several movies. The game allows you to recreate these adventures of the elderly Mito and his two energetic young aids (and whatever other playable characters you might care to roll up), presumably pausing at the penultimate moment to dramatically flash an inro with the Tokugawa crest emblazoned on it just to show those punks who it is they’re REALLY dealing with. There’s a detailed 24 page rulebook/sourcebook with small scale maps for all sorts of Japanese environments-farming village, fishing village, small town, way station, daimyo mansion, etc. There are game markers to represent the forces of good and evil and a very nice three panel gamemasters screen. The latter has a map of Edo period Japan on one side with all of the provinces, major towns, and road networks displayed. The reverse side has all the tables needed to play this entertaining and colorful RPG. For anyone putting together Japanese themed RPG’s or even aspiring authors, it’s a great resource. The magazine has a huge variety of articles and reviews, including one that examines the different releases over the years in the ‘Japanese Historical RPG’ genre. Even better, it covers both English language (Sengoku, Gurps Japan, Land Of The Rising Sun, Ninja, and lots more) and Japanese releases-surprisingly, there seems to be more of these in English (although the Japanese releases appear to have lots more color, flavor, and chanbara feel to them).

Other highlights include reviews of ‘Edo period’ DVD’s to add flavor to any campaign, several manga strips (our favorite being a long one that pits ‘Mito Komon Vs Mobile Great Buddha’), ads for every RPG game ever released here or abroad, and overdeveloped gals in sailor suits with blazing automatics. Japanese publications almost always figure out a way to work hot chicks into the mix, and I for one appreciate their heartfelt efforts to gain my entertainment yen.