History of Japan Podcast on Warrior Monks

Isaac Meyer’s History of Japan podcast has two episodes on ‘warrior monks,’ which do a good job of summarising Mikael Adolphson’s argument that the archetypal warrior monk, or sōhei, image so beloved of figure designers is an invention of the Edo period. In fact, the armies of Buddhist temples were really no different in appearance from any other army of the Sengoku.

Part 1

Part 2

This illustrates how historical revision of the Sengoku period can find its way into popular history and from there into wargames rules. In this case an academic work, “The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha,” is summarised in a podcast. With no-one covering military aspects of the Sengoku Jidai in the kind of detail that wargamers would want in English, this kind of drip-feed of information is likely to continue. The results are impossible to predict. But that doesn’t stop us from speculating…

It is quite possible that in 5 years’ time ‘warrior monk’ figures will be viewed in much the same way ninja figures are now, cool to have for casual skirmish games but most wargamers don’t really believe they were actually real. Or maybe they won’t and will still be seen in ikkō-ikki armies or allies of the Uesugi or whatever.

There are two other ‘Sengoku clichés’ that may see some similar gradual erosion over the years. The most obvious one is the Battle of Sekigahara. I outlined the revisionist view of this battle a while back, and given it’s iconic status as probably the ‘most famous samurai battle’ it’s possible that the more modern analysis of the battle will gradually filter through into English language media.

The other is the famous Takeda cavalry. Also something I’ve covered before here, but there is a great deal of scepticism about the Takeda having any elite cavalry at all in Japanese academia, and some of this has filtered through into English in the Samurai Archives podcasts on Nagashino for example.

What do all these three have in common? Well, for wargamers it’s possible that a change in attitude towards any of them could scupper an existing project, or leave you with a lot of figures that suddenly have more limited use. Starting a Sekigahara project, or an army of warrior monks and peasants with sticks, or (albeit less problematically) a Takeda army with 33% cavalry may be something of a risk. The wargaming consensus on them may be very different when you finish the project than when you started.

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