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Furin Kazan

Today’s subject, children, is a book that I could not put down once I began reading it. Truth be told, I never really thought I’d like a translated-into-English book. Especially that Samurai stories based on historical facts usually are corny and full of… anime spirit (I’m not sure what that is, but it does make me want to run in the other direction). So this one is called The Samurai Banner of Furin Kazan, written by a famous Japanese writer called Yasushi Inoue, who if I recall correctly is tremendously fond of Takeda Shingen. Maybe it’s a good idea if I don’t throw up names and dates in your face right away, but Takeda Shingen happens to be one of the very few prominent military leaders in Feudal Japan, also known as the Sengoku period, who’s known for his cunning and steely nerves.

Yet, I was surprised to find out that the story in the book revolves around another person, who was instrumental in Shingen‘s campaign. A crippled named Yamamoto Kansuke goes down in history as the perfect example of how intelligence and patience is the one thing you’ll ever need to get from rags to riches.
I must admit that initially I despised Kansuke, for being the filthy beggar who seemed to do nothing but get himself in trouble. But as the events unfolded, I realized, just like all the real characters in the story, that I had underestimated him greatly.

So Kansuke was great, that won’t burn the book for you. It’s more like a given. But my surprise was doubled when I came across the 50-episode TV series of Furin Kazan! If you do a search in Wikipedia on Furinkazan, it’ll say the following:

For other uses, see Fūrinkazan (disambiguation).

Fūrinkazan

Fūrinkazan (風林火山?), literally “Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain”, was the battle standard used by the Sengoku period daimyo Takeda Shingen, quoting chapter 7 of Sun Tzu‘s The Art of War: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.”

So what the TV series did was that it brought what I’d read in the book to life. It was amazing since the series was, kind of, faithful to the book as well. Because I honestly imagined Kansuke to be a lot uglier and suffered a more severe handicap than what they showed on the series.

Yamamoto Kansuke with his eye-patch, only a hint of his overall physical handicap (check Fuurinkazan YouTube videos)

Quick note! There were some stories going around that Takeda Shingen was bisexual, and that he particularly was fond of boys, which ultimately KILLS my fascination with the man and his role in history… if it were all true. The problem, though, is that different websites and different experts say different things. Some claim that in 16th century Japan, it was the fashion amongst daimyos (aka Warlords) to have boys as… God I can’t even type that! So I’ll just drop the subject and focus on the book…

SO! The book is good, the series is awesome, and you can find all the characters in Samurai Warriors on PlayStation. But I think Kansuke is only in one part of the video game series. Or something like that, I’m not sure. But at least you can still pick Shingen and fight your way through the famous Battle of Kawanakajima, which was THE battle for Shingen against his nemesis, Uesugi Kenshin.
The best thing about the book is that it puts things in perspective, as far as the Sengoku period Japan is concerned. Life-styles portrayed in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai will definitely seem Hollywood-ish. They lived a tough life, mostly void of compassion and mercy. The book is a wonderful read, and it will keep you awake at night, even after you’ve put the book down, just to hear the sound of swords clashing along with the cries of men. But amongst all that, you’ll be thinking of what Kansuke is up to?

Categories: Silent Tours
  1. Kim
    August 25, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I LOVE Fuurin Kazan! I just recently found out about it myself and am in the process of watching the series. I got hold of the last 10 of the 50 episodes and think it’s pretty awesome. I haven’t read the book though.

    >Quick note! There were some stories going around that Takeda Shingen was bisexual, and that he particularly was fond of boys, which ultimately KILLS my fascination with the man and his role in history… if it were all true. The problem, though, is that different websites and different experts say different things. Some claim that in 16th century Japan, it was the fashion amongst daimyos (aka Warlords) to have boys as… God I can’t even type that! So I’ll just drop the subject and focus on the book…

    I hate to cause you distress nor do I intend to offend, but in terms of the facts, there is a document in the Tokyo University archives that clearly states that Takeda Shingen had essentially a marriage contract with a young male lover, who ended up being one of his main generals. The lover was 16 and Shingen was 22 when they made the bond. It’s NOT a rumor nor a “story going around.”

    It’s also pretty well-documented that this WAS a common practice among the Japanese for centuries. It’s not a matter of “some experts say this” and “others say that.” There is a wealth of written evidence in many documents from Japan that support this fact. I’ve read several books cover-to-cover on the samurai and on this topic in particular, and it’s not a matter of interpreting vague evidence — the facts are pretty clear.

    I’m not saying you have to go out and read the books I’ve read, especially if this topic causes you this level of discomfort. I’m merely referring to the books below so you know where I’m getting this information from. These are all scholarly books by well-known experts in Japanese and other history, not political screeds or the work of rumor-mongers.

    Gary Leupp, Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan
    Has a full-chapter on same-sex relationships in the Sengoku and other pre-Tokugawa eras.

    Watanabe, Tsuneo and Iwata, Jun’ichi. The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality.
    Written,as you can see, by actual Japanese scholars

    Pflugfelder, Gregory M. (1997). Cartographies of desire: male-male sexuality in Japanese discourse, 1600–1950.
    Again, deals more with the post-sengoku period, but references earlier practices

    Again, you don’t have to meditate on this in great detail, but I’ve read enough about Japanese history to be pretty sure that this practice took place quite commonly. I don’t judge, and whatever went on obviously worked for them for 1000 years.

    That having been said, it does not bother me in the least. Different cultures had different standards and who Takeda Shingen slept with doesn’t affect my opinion of him in that way. I have to say though, having seen the series I was much more rooting for Uesugi Kenshin. 🙂

  2. August 26, 2010 at 2:03 am

    Kim, thank you for your kind comment!

    Actually..and to tell you the truth..I was (still am) in denial. Because I did read from many translated works that homosexual relationships were not only common in feudal Japan, but it was a right entitled to them. Truth is, and I agree with you on this, it did work for them. If you read Shogun by James Clavell – which I’m still finishing – there’s a scene in a chapter where they offer Blackthorne, the English captain, a boy when he refused or rejected to have sex with a woman. And they explain to him, in the scene, how homosexuality is a “right”.. almost god-given.

    Though “Shogun” is not a historical document per se, but the reference to the fact is definitely credible. And many thanks to you for sharing the abundant information on the topic! Much appreciated! As far as the series go, I was able to get my hands on 12 or 13 episodes only. Can’t seem to find the rest! I found a source online that ships them directly from Japan, but the problem is they’re not subtitles (duh! I know..)

    Not sure about Kenshin 🙂 I’d stick to the one-eyed king of strategy!

    • Kim
      August 26, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      Hi, Shmoo:

      I haven’t read Shogun, but I did see the mini-series back when it was on (what was that, the 70’s?) I really loved it. I was in grade school but I thought the costumes and the story were awesome. My folks were big fans of the book — my grandmother and mother read it, and I think one of my cousins, too. I should borrow one of their copies. 🙂

      Of course I don’t think they included the scene you mentioned in the TV version, but yeah, pretty much what you said. In Takeda Shingen’s era, the practice was kind of like in Ancient Greece – young men (usually guys in their late teens) were trained in the samurai skills by older men with whom they had relationships.

      Have you seen the Osprey military history books about the samurai battle strategies? They have a whole book about the Battles of Kawanakajima. I have read their books about Alexander the Great and other topics and they do real quality work — excellent diagrams about the military strategies, maps, and other cool stuff. I do a lot of historical research into costumes and clothing and they have excellent illustrations of the armor and what the various warriors wore.

      These are the publishers’ pages, but the books are available on Amazon in the US.
      http://www.ospreypublishing.com/eastern_warfare/
      http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/Kawanakajima-1553%E2%80%9364_9781841765624

      With regard to the TV drama of Fuurin Kazan: I managed to get a hold of subtitled DVDs of Fuurin Kazan from the following source. They actually carry a bunch of the NHK network samurai dramas. They’re a home-based fansubber that does anime, musical variety shows, and other Japanese and Korean TV shows. They make DVDs from satellite TV broadcasts, and the samurai dramas come with English subtitles.

      You may have to wait a few weeks for the DVDs but they do come eventually and they’re much cheaper than the Japanese imports.

      http://www.quixium.com/fan/drama_dvdrlist.htm

      Kim

      • August 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm

        Kim,

        Thank you for the abundant information 🙂 Actually I’ve always wanted to know the details of how the Japanese dressed back in the day. I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore in Singapore, and found various books on the subject that show different costumes and how they’re worn, from commoners to samurai. Yes the books were in Japanese, but a picture worth a thousand words, I guess 🙂 Still, I get confused sometimes with how certain war costumes are worn.

        I have several oil paintings of Tokugawa Ieyasu that I’ve painted myself, but in all of them it may be obvious that I’m trying to hide certain details in his costume because I’m not sure what they are exactly! So I really do appreciate that you have this knowledge.

        And thank you for the links; no I haven’t read them. But I will, hopefully. And from time to time whenever I get the zeitgeist of feudal Japan around me, I go and play Samurai Warriors on PS3. It’s got all the characters, all the battles, all the fantasies 🙂

        Thanks again for posting!

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