The Day I was a Samurai
Fuefuki city “The Battle of Kawanakajima”
October 28, 2018
I’ve been in Japan for quite a while now, and have had a lot of amazing experiences with the people and culture of this country. This October I had a very memorable one in Fuefuki, in the Yamanashi region, and it was unlike any that I’d had before. Back in America I had friends who enjoyed participating in civil war battle reenactments, and while I always thought that was interesting I wondered what it would be like. I also much prefer swords to guns, and when I found out that Fuefuki city hosted an annual reenactment of a famous samurai battle from the warring-states era, my interest was piqued.
He's recently graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor’s in Theatre and a Japanese minor. Right before graduating he studied abroad in Tokyo at Waseda University. Now he teaches English in Tokyo, and tries to travel as much as he can. He loves living in Japan!
It was the Battle of Kawanakajima, which I was very unfamiliar with (I unfortunately don’t know Japanese history and didn’t look it up before the event), but I enjoy going into events like this blind, so that didn’t bother me. After following crowds of people from the station I arrived at the school where our team was gathering. I was a bit uncertain of how things would go, particularly because there seemed to be a lot of smaller clans. When I arrived there were a total of 6 of our clan members out of 10, and 4 of us were foreigners, and one of the Japanese person came from Kyoto for the event! I didn’t realize how much people knew about it.
Well, after gathering with the clan for some reason I was nominated to be the captain, so I got to wear a special, flashier suit of armor than everyone else, and the flag on my back had our clan name: Watanuki (綿内内). Definitely not how I expected the day to start, but it’s not every day you get to dress like a samurai general! The costume really helped me to feel like I was transported back in time!
We spent the morning rehearsing for the actual event, which thankfully was fairly simple since the Japanese I’ve studied doesn’t really include war, military, or other terms like that. Essentially everyone would run through the middle of the opposing side and return to their starting point, and repeat that a few times. In addition, all of the captains would gather in a circle around our fearless leader Uesugi Kenshin and have a liquid poured into our wooden water bottles to give us strength in battle.
After lunch we all were sent off to the battlefield and swore our allegiance to Kenshin-sama before we left. That was probably the hardest part of being captain for me, but I got help from some Japanese people in my clan to say something cool (along the lines of “we’ll risk our lives to protect you”).
As we marched through the streets of Fuefuki we were cheered on and encouraged by people who watched us go by like a parade, and then the field where we battled was across a river from stands for the audience. I was stunned by how many people came to the event! In addition to our charges against the forces of Takeda Shingen, there was also more intricate fighting done by some locals, gunfire, and horseback riding, with the history of the battle being explained throughout the reenactment.
I really enjoyed my experience and how much I was able to be involved as a part of the event! It’s definitely something that most people don’t do when the visit, and the uniqueness of the opportunity is a big part of its’ charm. In addition, everyone is so friendly and helpful, and many volunteers speak English, so people from outside Japan are encouraged to participate! Don’t let Tom Cruise have all the fun being a samurai!
The below link is the state of the Battle of Kawanakajima