Summary: A Legendary Battle
Comment: What is frustrating for many interested in samurai military history that with the exception of Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu precious little is provided in English regarding Takeda Shingen and even less about Uesugi Kenshin. Amongst an age where many battles took place the Battle of Kawanakajima has stood out. Stephen Turnbull delivers with this book insight into these two famed Samurai daimyo. They were both extraordinaty military leaders who proved what mettle they had in their conflicts with one another. I was truly grateful for this work since I have desired to know more of the actual conflict which took place between these two since the movie Heaven and Earth (Ten to Chi) was released in 1990. Kenshin's life is also intriguing, but even less has been published about him in English. A must read for all interested in the Sengoku era. I hope that Mr. Turnbull will give us more of such work about these legends and the battles they fought.
Summary: The specialized book by Turnbull to get
Comment: A quick and dirty review. I have several Turnbull authored Osprey books and I think this is the one to own. One reviewer on the site says the book does not pass the "So What?" test. He's right. This is a book ultimately less about an important (series) of battles than it is about the Legend. Still, legends are fun.
Turnbull is in *love* with Takeda Shingen. If you read his other Osprey books, you'll get a lot of references to Shingen -- so it makes sense to start here; Kawanakajima is the battle that displayed his strengths and weaknesses as a general. The book here has lavish layouts of Japanese art and original Osprey produced artistic renderings. Overall, the book is an interesting read, appealing to the eye as well as the mind. The author is in top form -- there is a limit of both objectivism as well as historical detail (e.g., the fourth battle, the most important, probably should have been the meat of the book). But you accept that with Osprey: you're getting a quick, colorful look at a moment in military history.
Yes, there are redundancies: Osprey/Turnbull recycles art and info from their other books; some of the photos are disappointing (real-life photos really don't help that much; nor do photos of pictures from other books). Photos/art goes uncredited. Sources are not always specified.
Nevetheless, I give it 3/5 stars: not for a general reader, but someone interested in Japanese or Military History might enjoy this quick read.
Summary: Solid Effort On A Major Sengoku Battle
Comment: Considered by the Japanese to be one of their 4 most signifigant Sengoku era battles (along with Nagashino, Sekigahara, and Osaka Castle), Kawanakajima and its related campaigns have been the subject of at least two major big budget films, television miniseries, woodcuts and other artwork, popular board games, video games, and dozens if not hundreds of Japanese language books. As with most Asian battles, it has been largely ignored by Western historians until now. Stephen Turnbull's new book rectifies that situation most nicely.
Turnbull sets the table with the background of perhaps Japan's two greatest tactitians, Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. Their respective rises to power are outlined and juxtaposed, showing their impending collision at what was to become the most fought over ground in Japan, Kawanakajima. The individual battles are given their proper context within the campaign at large, helping to explain the sometimes confusing advances and withdrawals of the two combatants. As with most Osprey books, there are copious illustrations. The maps are particularly outstanding, with the most helpful being the map of the Takeda campaign to conquer the province of Shinano (where Kawanakajima is located). The 3-D maps are quite well done as well, giving the reader a good idea of the terrain fought over and its effects on the movements of the two armies. There are many nice modern day shots of the battlefield which are far more helpful in picturing the battlefield than the most elaborate written descriptions. Photos of reenactments give you a feel for period forces and there are also many shots of scrolls and woodcuts made around the time of the battles. Overall, one of Turnbull's best recent works, especially in a year that saw the release of at least 6 of his samurai themed books.
Another reviewer has stated that this battle does not pass the historical relevancy test since the two clans involved had little to do with the impending unification of Japan. Not so. Turnbull's book points out why. The Takeda were far and away the most powerful and ambitious clan in Japan, known for their political, economic, and administrative skills as well as martial adeptness. It was a forgone conclusion to many that it would be Takeda Shingen who would unify the country. What kept the Takeda from doing so were the constant campaigns in Kawanakajima, draining their manpower and resources. This gave the Tokugawa and Oda clans time to put their plans into effect and see them thrive, rather than be crushed by the Takeda war machine. When the Takeda steamrolled and scattered the Tokugawa army at Mikata-ga-hara, there was nothing standing between the Takeda and the back of Oda Nobunaga who was already surrounded by enemies in the west. So why did Shingen withdraw his army back to Shinano? Fear of Kenshin striking his unprotected flank and rear areas-fear that had been installed by Kawanakajima. The 4th battle of Kawanakajima in particular was the epitome of the Phyrric victory-although the Takeda won, they teetered close to complete disaster, and the huge losses of men and high ranking generals (particularly Shingen's brother, and his chief strategist) were to be felt for many years. In fact, many historians feel the groundwork for the Takeda debacle at Nagashino stemmed directly from Kawanakajima. The historical relevancy of these battles was that the Uesugi clan was able to halt the advance of the most powerful clan in Japan, forcing them into a war of manuver and attrition that destroyed their momentum and mystique, giving the Oda and Tokugawa clans time to develop into major clans instead of becoming historical footnotes.
Excellent work by Dr. Turnbull, who one would hope to see develop a similar book dealing with the Winter and Summer campaigns of Osaka.
Summary: A very informative book on an interesting battle
Comment: Kawanakajima...the island between the rivers. High on the Japan Alps lay a valley fought over between two of Sengoku Japan's most prestigious warlords, Uesugi Kenshin (the celibent) and Takeda Shingen (the multiplier). So what makes this battle so interesting? After (unsucsessfully) browsing the internet for scant, but interesting, information, I first leared that over 5 battles where fought here. Interesting. Second, that the main battle of Kawanakajima (4th) had one of the most horrendous casualty rates in all the battles in the exceedingly bloody Sengoku era of Japan. Even more interesting. So I said what the heck, Ill get this book...and what a book it was.
Turnbull cuts to the good stuff immediatley, and I don't mean the campaign. He gives a brief, but meaningful, summary of the two different daimyo and their rises to power (both gained by usurping immediate family members, hmmmm...), and the organizations of the two armies, all of which is very enjoyable to read. Note however, that basic knowledge of medival Japan isn't suggested (by me, at least), its MANDATORY. Turnbull dosent gloss over who samurai or ashigaru or daimyo or the whole Sengoku period as a whole is, so if you are new coming to Japan, go elsewhere.
Before the actual campaigns of Kawanakajima came the slow, but steady, Takeda drive into the mountains of Shinano. Six whole pages and a wicked map are given in this section (ok, I admit, I have a fancy towards maps) about the invasion. Its easy to get lost in the number of engagements, via seige or open battle, that this section covers but personally I found it quite enjoyable mapping Takeda Shingens slow drive north. The tension builds, and in a very cliff-hanging phrase at the end of that section "The Shinano campaign was over, the Kawanakajima campaign was about to begin."
The battles...ahh. The first three and the fifth, to put it in context, where large-scale skirmishes and maneuvers and are not given much information because, as the author states, there simply wasn't enough contemporary records about them. In essence, the whole myth of Kawanakajima being foolsplay and not true combat stems from these four encounters, and Turnbull gives plenty of evidence (and inferrence as a good tactician) why the two commanders never fully engaged in those confrontations, which I truly must commend him on. The Fourth Battle is where it all is, and when I first saw that 2 of the good, but not mind-blowing, 3-D maps are on maneuvers and not combat, I was pretty turned off. Alas, I saw later that the fourth battle of Kawanakajima is DEFINED by the movements, positions, and maneuvers instead of the combat that resulted from them, attesting greatly to the millitary skills (if I daresay genius, but I know Nappy and Old Fritz would be ticked off at me if I said that) of the two warlords. I suggest buying the book solely for the purpose of seeing two grand strategists doing what they do best and seeing how different scenarios played out on the same field five times.
So why do I rate it a four if you see me raving about it the whole time? I do it for numerous reasons, all concerning troop positions and movements pre-ceding and during the climatic (or anti, since it was a Phyrric victory for the Takeda and niether warlords could get the other's heads) fourth battle. If you buy this book please note the main problem...HOW can a FORD MOVE during a battle!? Preceding the battle, the ford was crossed, re-crossed, and mentioned numerous times, but on the 3D battle maps, it moves or maybe there was another 'invisible' ford that the author didn't mention. I highly doubt that as one of the most important parts of the battle happened at that ford (or fords). Regardless, it is still very possible to peice out the battle despite the difficulty with that. My last complaint(s) is that he didn't even give a hint of the Takeda casualties (but they gave Uesugi down to the number: 3,117 heads exact) and they didn't even MENTION the Uesugi withdrwal that he expects us to guess happened. So much for that.
Regardless, if any of you are into such scenarios where the same men fight each other again and again under great strategists, I HIGHLY recommend this book. The maps (both 2D and 3D) are wicked, the whole flow of the book very smooth, and the battles exciting to read even if a few fords decide to move to a different neighborhood one mile down the river. Turnbull, I commend you for this effort to enlighten our minds on one very interesting battle.
By the way, I'm 15 and the only way I can avoid this spam amazon and co. sends us is by cutting of 3 years from my ID :).
Summary: Doesn't Pass the "So What?" Test
Comment: The battles of Kawanakajima fought in mid-16th Century Japan are so obscure that they are not even mentioned in the authoritative Encyclopedia of Military History, but Samurai enthusiast Stephen Turnbull feels that they are among "history's greatest conflicts" - a prerequisite for admission into the Osprey Campaign series. Turnbull's hypothesis in Campaign #130, Kawanakajima 1553-1564, is that the five battles fought on the plains of Shinano province were the "archetypal clash of samurai arms". Two rival daimyo (feudal lords) - the Takeda and Uesugi - fought a series of battles for the control of Shinano province, which separated their two domains. However the campaign is deservedly obscure, since not only were both the rival clans virtually extinct within a generation after the battles, but this regional power struggle was soon overshadowed by even more powerful warlords who were in the process of unifying Japan under military rule. Thus, the Kawanakajima campaigns might be interesting for a Samurai enthusiast such as Turnbull, but he essentially fails to pass the "so what" test of historical relevancy. The 32-year fight over Shinano province, while enrichening for Samurai mythology, had very little long-lasting results.
Kawanakajima 1553-1564 begins with a 5-page introduction that explains the mythology behind the multiple battles. The section on opposing commanders focuses entirely on Takeda Shingen (Turnbull notes that he was a bisexual who had a relationship with one of his generals) and Uesugi Kenshin, both of whom were nominally Buddhist monks. Actually, there is little to differentiate between the two clans and the reader may feel an intense disinterest as to which side prevails. Turnbull's sections on opposing armies is not particularly detailed, but he makes the point that this campaign marked a turning point in Japanese warfare toward more full-time samurai armed with a greater number of gunpowder weapons. The main focus of the volume is the 4th battle of Kawanakajima in 1561, which was the only really large-scale pitched battle (the other battles were stand-offs or indecisive). The five 2-D maps are: Central Japan 1542; Takeda Shingen's Conquest of Shinano, 1536-1568 (the most important map in the volume); the First (1553), Second (1555) and Third (1557) battles of Kawanakajima. The three 3-D maps are all about the 4th Battle of Kawanakajima (1561) and depict the approach marches, the night maneuvers and the climax of the battle. The three color battle scenes depict the Siege of Katsurayama in 1557; the Uesugi charge at 4th Kawanakajima and the battle at the ford. Readers should note that the paucity of source material forces Turnbull to rely very heavily upon a single 16th Century account that was written by the Takeda clan (therefore biased). Turnbull also relied very heavily upon photographs of the modern terrain (22) and modern re-enactments (8).
Turnbull's account is certainly interesting at times and it reminds me of the decades-long fight for Silesia in the 18th Century between Frederick the Great and the Hapsburgs. However, despite the "romance" of samurai lore, the fight over Shinano province did not yield long-term results for either side, unlike the struggle for Silesia (which marked the rise of Prussia). Both Takeda and Uesugi were soon overshadowed by the much more powerful armies of Oda Nobunaga and Ieyasu Tokugawa, who were on the path to military unification of Japan. In the end, Kawanakajima might provide interesting insight into a heretofore obscure but "classic" samurai campaign, but it provides precious little else. Furthermore, Kawanakajima is not only obscure in the US; as an Asian history major who studied at a Tokyo university for a year, I do not recollect hearing about these battles despite having a number of courses on Medieval Japanese history. Finally, Turnbull's use of Japanese phraseology is sometimes suspect and his use of terms like "hara-kiri" (literally to cut your guts) is considered vulgar in Japan; the term used for ritual suicide was usually seppukku.