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Sengoku Busho Now the Rage

Armored Generals as Modern-day Heroes


A scene from the game Sengoku Basara 3: Utage. General Date Masamune wields six swards to blow off enemy warriors. ©CAPCOM CO., LTD. 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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photo photo The popular Sengoku Basara characters Date Masamune (left) and Sanada Yukimura (right). ©CAPCOM CO., LTD. 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The armored generals (called "busho" in Japanese) of the Sengoku period (Warring States period) of Japanese history fought valiantly. The lives they led, marked by bravery and ingenuity, is a source of intense interest for Japanese men these days. But in recent years, young women have also taken a keen interest in the history and generals of the Sengoku period, and this has sparked something of a revival of this ancient age (mid-15th to late 16th century) across a broad range of people.

The major civil wars fought around the middle of the 15th century in and around Kyoto triggered a long period of almost constant warring in Japan. This period, during which the generals defended their domains with ingenuity and military might, lasted around 130 years, until the end of the 16th century, when Japan was finally united under one leader. This period of warring is known as the Sengoku period, a time when constant battling produced many generals, known as "Sengoku busho." The outstanding generals of this age were not only brave, but also very skilled at strategy. They had superior decisiveness, were skilled leaders, and were experts at assigning their underlings to necessary positions as well as governing their domains. These generals have become models for a wide range of modern-day Japanese males, including politicians, business leaders, and company employees. They have always been popular subjects for novels and television dramas, but the recent renewed popularity of the generals and their era is a bit different. Now, it is young women who are at the forefront of the "Sengoku boom."


In 2010, the character Date Masamune was used on a poster for the prefectural governor's election in Miyagi Prefecture to encourage young people to vote.

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Spurred by an Action GameIt was popular action video games set in the Sengoku Period that originally caught the imaginations of young women and spurred their interest in the Sengoku generals. The most popular of these games is called "Sengoku Basara." The generals in this video game are very different from the traditional image of grand Sengoku generals: valiant warriors wielding six swords at a time and speaking both Japanese and foreign languages; young fighters, dashing in their red bandanas and leather jackets, filled with loyalty to their lords and bitter hatred of their enemies; and generals almost womanly in their grace (the antithesis of the traditional warrior image). Taking wide liberties with historical fact, the game's story features the generals and their unique characters, and this has captured the imaginations not only of men but of women as well.

The Sengoku Basara series has recorded sales of over 3.1 million units (as of the end of December 2011), making it a major hit. The game has led to the creation of an animated TV show, an animated feature film, a comic book, and a stage show. There are even tours to actual historical sites associated with various Sengoku generals that appear in the game. Their likenesses adorn boxed lunches sold at railway stations and local brands of ramen noodles, and such images have even been used to publicize a prefectural governor's election.

Busho Heroes Enjoy the Support of Female Fans

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The Nagoya Busho Hospitality Group, based at Nagoya Castle

Local municipalities and other organizations have used the busho boom as a way to revitalize their local areas by, for example, creating tourist information groups whose members wear busho costumes. In Aichi Prefecture—said to be the birthplace of a succession of Sengoku generals such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu—there is the Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-tai (Nagoya Busho Hospitality Group) at Nagoya Castle comprised of ten young people who wear lavishly decorated armor as they perform in impressive skits and dance numbers. They also conduct tours of the castle in their traditional dress. Taking photos with the modern-day busho is a favorite part of the tour for visitors. The group was originally formed as an advertisement for the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the castle, but they have become very popular with female visitors to Nagoya Castle. In 2011 there were 270,000 more visitors to the castle than during the previous year. According to estimates made by the city of Nagoya, the increase in tourism has generated approximately ¥2.7 billion in additional income.


Member of the busho group demonstrating military exercises for a cheering crowd

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The tour features talks, sometimes mixed with humor, about the Sengoku period and various episodes in the lives of the busho. The busho group members even reveal little known personal facts about various historical figures.

"I love the good-looking young busho," said one female fan. "I've been following them since the time the group was formed, and they were the reason I became interested in history. I have begun traveling to castles around the country and reading history books."

Aichi Prefecture is not the only place with this type of group. Miyagi and Niigata prefectures also have their own versions of busho-tai groups inspired by local busho generals. More groups of this type continue to be formed all over the country.

The Sengoku generals have become the new heroes for young people through the many games, comics, anime, and events depicting them. (March 2012)

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