The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW

The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Japan is a country rich with a storied history. One of the most famous periods of Japanese history is the Sengoku period (戦国時代) or the Warring States Period. The Sengoku Period lasted from 1467 until 1603, when Japan’s political powers were unified under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

This is a period of Japan’s history that paints romantic pictures of noble samurai lords, fighting under the code of bushido, trying to unify and bring about a better Japan. The demon king Oda Nobunaga, the one-eyed dragon Date Masamune, god of war Uesugi Kenshin… this era has only been further romanticised thanks to the wildly popular game and anime series ‘Sengoku Basara’. Looking beyond the lore and the colourful modern adaptations, the Sengoku period produced one of the most famous rivalries in Japanese history—that of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin.

Takeda Shingen hailed from the Kai province (modern day Yamanashi prefecture) and called ‘The Tiger of Kai’ due to his military prowess. Shingen’s demon-faced and furred helmet is an enduring piece of Sengoku imagery. Uesugi Kenshin came from the Echigo province (modern day Niigata prefecture) and was as famous for his administrative skills as he was for his honour and military expertise.

Shingen and Kenshin’s most famous battle was the Battle of Kawanakajima, fought along the Kawanakijima plains, located in what is now Nagano prefecture. However, the battle of Kawanakajima is actually five different battles fought in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564. The most famous of the battles (which is often used as the climax for many Japanese samurai films and games) was fought in September 1961. It is this battle that is reenacted every spring in Yonezawa City in Yamagata prefecture as part of their Uesugi Kenshin Festival. It was this reenactment that I was lucky enough to participate in.

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