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Friday, September 17, 2010

Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen and Honcho Nijushi Kou

It is said that Yamamoto Kansuke (山本勘助) served Takeda Shingen(武田信玄, 1521-1573) as a military strategist. Shingen was a warlord of Kai Province (now Nagano Prefecture) and is known for the battles of Kawanakajima (川中島の戦い) with Uesugi Kenshin(上杉謙信, 1530-1578) of Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture).  The five major battles took place in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564.
According to the Kouyou Gunkan (甲陽軍鑑, a record of the military exploits of the Takeda family), Yamamoto Kansuke was blind in one eye and didn't have full use of his one leg, started out on a training journey, was employed at a high salary by Shingen and was killed during the battle of Kawanakajima in 1561.

Only the Kouyou Gunkan incorporates the life story of Yamamoto Kansuke, so most people inferred from it that he was not a real person.  In recent decades, several correspondences that confirms the existence of him were found. He was thought to be an aide close to Shingen, but his real life remains a mystery.

"Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen(信州川中島合戦)"is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門) based on the battle. It was premiered in the 8th month in 1721.

The monologue of Kansuke's mother(fictional character) hit me in my mind.
She was born in Owari, grew up in Suruga, married into a family in Mikawa, lived with her son who was masterless samurai in Shinano and lived with her son who served Shingen in Kai. She was going to live out her last days there and never thought she would die in Echigo. She could not find a place where she can live in peace to the end.
For the first time after age 70, she finds out her permanent home called the Pure Land in the West(西方浄土) where people are relieved from suffering, by dying.

There is a common saying that woman has no home of her own in the three worlds(女三界に家なし). It means that woman can't get places in this world. It was once thought that woman had to obey her parents when she was a child, to become a trailing spouse after marriage and to obey her children when she was old. It shows woman's low status of that time in society.
In addition, she lived at a time of war and turmoil. She chose suicide to prevent her son from submitting to negotiations in return for freeing her held hostage. Death would have relieved many people from suffering.

Kenshin changed his name several times. His names include Nagao Kagetora (長尾景虎), Uesugi Masatora (上杉政虎) and Uesugi Terutora (上杉輝虎). Naoe Yamashiro-no-kami(直江山城守) in the above play indicates Naoe Kanetsugu (直江兼続,1560-1620) who was a chief retainer of Uesugi clan. His life was featured in a NHK TV drama in 2009.

Kenshin was both a fearsome warlord and a priest who believed particularly in Vaisravana (毘沙門天, guardian god of Buddhism). I have an image of Kenshin as the leader of a religious cult. He was a unique individual. Meanwhile, Shingen sat in the seat of power by purging his father from Kai Province. They tried to put Zenkoji temple(善光寺) in Nagano City under the care of them. Now their mortuary tablets lay alongside at the temple.

Both of Shingen and Kenshin died not in battle but of disease. After their death, their sons, Uesugi Kagekatsu(上杉景勝) and Takeda Katsuyori(武田勝頼) built an military alliance against massive military forces of Oda Nobunaga(織田信長), and Shingen's daughter Kikuhime(菊姫)was given in marriage to Kagekatsu.

Although Kagekatsu delivered reinforcements, Takeda family went to ruin before its arrival because of the late arrival due to dialogue discrepancy between Kagekatsu and commander of the reinforcement. Kagekatsu made his retainer search for Katsuyori and his son after its destruction.

It is said that Kikuhime was a beautiful and intelligent lady. Kagekatsu and she had no child, but she endeared herself to him and people around him. After Shingen's another son defected to the domain of Kagekatsu, Uesugi clan gave special treatment to him and his descendants as members of a domain lord's family.

It is said that Yaegakihime(八重垣姫) in a bunraku play named "Honcho Nijushi Kou(本朝廿四孝)" is modeled after Kikuhime. It was written by Chikamatsu Hanji(近松半二) and others and was based on Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen and others. It was premiered on the 14th day of the 1st month in 1766.

The story highlights Yaegakihime's dramatic movement that presents her passionate love. Yaegakihime crosses over the frozen lake with the help of a samurai warrior helmet and foxes to protect her fiance from an assassination attempt by her father. The helmet was given by the god of Suwa Myoujin and the foxes are messengers of the god.

While Yaegakihime takes a drastic action for the love of her fiance, she has a dignified elegance. It's a challenging role for puppeteers, so it's regarded as one of the three major princesses in bunraku plays.
I was absolutely enthralled by Yaegakihime manipulated by puppeteer Yoshida Minosuke.

Nijushi Kou(廿四孝) means the 24 filial exemplars in Confucianism. The title comes from the third act of the play based on one of the exemplars.

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