The Art of War: Embracing Social Change

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Although Taiko, a novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, is set in feudal Japan, many technological advancements and societal changes occur in this world of war and chaos. Oda Nobunaga’s success as a military leader is largely due to his espousal of significant changes in weaponry and military strategy.

In Book 5 of Taiko, the mountainous Kai warriors are defeated by Nobunaga’s army based on inferior weaponry and a failure to understand how war tactics have changed. The Portuguese revolutionized warfare with the introduction of firearms in Japan, and thus, the traditional style of fighting was no longer viable on the battlefield. Nobunaga understands this, but Kai, “protected by its mountains, ravines, and rivers, was cut off from the center of things and isolated from foreign influences” (Yoshikawa, 436). The Kai are proud of their province and put all of their confidence in the fierce bravery of their troops. They assume that since they have not been defeated in the past, defeat will not be theirs in the future. For the opposing Oda forces, however, “Nobunaga had planned a fully scientific strategy using modern tactics and weapons” (Yoshikawa, 436).

Nobunaga’s modern military strategy and weaponry prove to be the effective course of action in battle with the Kai warriors. When the Oda and Kai forces clash on the battlefield, the Kai initially emerge as the victors. They are clearly superior in hand-to-hand samurai combat (traditional fighting style), which invigorates the fighting spirits of the Kai warriors. Boosted by this sense of superiority, the leader of the Kai province, Takeda Katsuyori, and his generals subsequently order the Kai army to advance and destroy the Oda. As the Kai forces march onward, Nobunaga then deploys his hidden military strategy and signals to his soldiers hidden on Mount Chausu, and suddenly, “the earth shook at the volleys of gunfire. The mountain split open and the clouds were shredded… The horses and men of the Kai army fell like mosquitoes into piles of corpses” (Yoshikawa, 437). Nobunaga perfectly planned this and gave the Kai warriors the confidence to march directly into a firing squad. This scene highlights that, although the Kai are superior warriors in the traditional sense, their skills and brute strength cannot compete with a strategic shower of bullets.

Throughout the novel, not only are traditional styles of fighting replaced, but also, the procedures for enemy engagement in battle must be left behind in this vastly changing world. In Book 5, Nobunaga receives a letter indicating an old-fashioned formal challenge to battle from Uesugi Kenshin, lord of Echigo. Nobunaga laughs when he reads this note because Kenshin’s gesture makes him look archaic. Nobunaga thinks, “How sad for Kenshin that he wasn’t born during the colorful olden days when they wore scarlet-braided armor with gold plates. I wonder what he thinks of Azuchi, with its mixture of Japanese, Southern Barbarian, and Chinese styles?” (Yoshikawa, 452). While reflecting on these recent social changes, Nobunaga sees old traditions and modes of thinking as pointless, saying, “All of the changes in weaponry and strategy in the last decade have brought us into a new world. How could anyone say the art of war hasn’t changed too? I can’t help laughing at the fact that his [Kenshin’s] outdated thinking is inferior to that of my artisans and craftsmen” (Yoshikawa, 452). Nobunaga’s perspective argues that if traditional warfare has no actual benefits in the current times, then holding on to those customs is futile.

Yoshikawa reminds readers that, “Civilization moves on like a horse at full gallop” (Yoshikawa, 436).  Successful survival in a changing and disorderly world can only occur when people embrace these social changes. Refusal to adapt, much like the Kai or Uesugi Kenshin, results in an abrupt end to one’s history.

Works Cited:

“Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2014.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Trans. William Scott Wilson. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.

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