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Ah, the history ladies...

Masamune Date is not an obvious heart-throb for today’s young Japanese women. He has an aristocratic lineage and love of the arts — but he is also a one-eyed ruthless killer. He lost an eye to smallpox and in his relentless pursuit of power is said to have slaughtered his own brother, as well as Christian missionaries, Korean peasants and countless of his compatriots.

The biggest turn-off might have been that Lord Date has been dead for 373 years, having flourished during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period.

In fact, he enjoys a celebrity in today’s Japan that would be the envy of many actors or rock stars. Books, television dramas, films, animations, comics and video games examine his life — and he is only one of several celebrity medieval samurai in the limelight. Japan is in the throes of a feudal warlord boom whose heroes are not smooth-cheeked young men but scarred, disease-riddled, brutal warriors whose kind died out centuries ago.

Samurai dramas have long been a part of Japanese culture, enjoyed mainly by middle-aged men. What is new are the female warlord enthusiasts — Rekijo — or “History Ladies”.

Miyuki Isobe, 37, who has made a pilgrimage to Lord Date’s grave in the northern city of Sendai, said: “He lived during a time of wars, before firm government. His dreams of power were never realised but he did not give up. I like Masamune Date very much.” At Jidaiya, the history bookshop in Tokyo where Ms Isobe works, they noticed the change. “In 2006, seven out of ten of our customers were elderly men. Now 50 per cent are women and most of our sales are to people aged 20 to 40, ” she said.

The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute says that “history-related” goods and services are now worth £483 million a year in Japan. Travel agents offer tours to sites associated with feudal heroes, and Jidaiya is a centre for History Ladies from all over the country.

The shop hosts evenings where Rekijo can discuss their favourite warlords. Last night [they held their first “history dating party”, where unattached Rekijo met bachelor Rekishi — History Gentlemen. Ms Isobe said sales of history books increase during economic hard times as Japanese seek lessons in endurance from the past.

Television, particularly the recent year-long historical dramas by NHK, the national broadcaster, have also played their part. The trend may also be a reaction to the recent emergence of a tribe known as soshokukei danshi or “herbivorous men” who are gentle, foppish, unaggressive and not interested in traditional masculine pursuits such as fast cars, drinking — and women.

Eri Kohinata, 22, believes that young women like the discipline, sense of duty — and rippling, armour-clad torsos — of men of the feudal age. “Men these days are wimps, but men in history are courageous and manly,” she said.




( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
Interesting... *wishes we still had satellite so I could watch Samurai Saturdays* (*laughs* that's if they're still showing those old movies on the IFC ;p)
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
I first got exposed to Samurai movies back in the 70s when PBS ran a whole series of some of the great Japanese films...and I was totally hooked.

But I was already fully infected with the history bug.

Dec. 12th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Sweet!!! I'm still looking for Shichi no samurai on DVD at a price I can afford. I saw that one on TV & I want it so badly I can taste it. It's my ultimate fave out the ones I've seen. *sighs* I would own all my faves if I was richer. I wasn't into the history aspect of them; I just loved the characters and stories. :D

Dec. 12th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
When I was seven, my grandma gave me some kid books about archaeology, and I got hooked.

When I was ten, I was reading lots of histories out of the school library, biography, stuff about WWII, the ancient world, Queen Elizabeth I, and that type of stuff.

I do have a bachelor's in history, too.

I don't have a big collection of DVDs, but books, now, that's where I'm indulgent.

My latest orders:
The catalpa bow: A study of shamanistic practices in Japan
Traditional Japanese Furniture
Mirror, Sword and Jewel: The Geometry of Japanese Life
Nakahara: Family Farming and Population in a Japanese Village, 1717-1830

This is the type of thing I read for fun....I'm not quite normal...but I am a history lady. LOL.
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Cool!!! I love books too, but I can never seem to find the time to read as much as I'd like. *sighs* I've been enjoying Collen McCullough's series of historical novels about the Roman emperors. :D *has reached Antony & Cleopatra*

Your latest orders sound like a good read. :D

I'd probably have fun looking through your library. :D
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
I love that series of books! She really brings classical Rome to life.

My library is definitely an interesting collection, concentrating especially on the 18th century, the American Civil War, medieval Japan, and all sorts of science and craft books...and a small amount of classical literature and some other types of DIY stuff. And lots and lots of folklore/mythology/anthropology stuff.
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
Me too! She really does! You definitely get a feel of what life was like back then.

I think I could happily spend hours there, pouring over your collection! :D You sound like you have some great reading material there. :D
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I left Date out of Descent into Darkness except to note his aid to Tokugawa for which he was handsomely rewarded. He does seem to march to his own drummer. His actions in expanding his territories got his father killed. His mother tried to poison him when he would not give up his position to his brother. She favored his brother because Date had his eye gouged out because of a bout with small pox. He almost lost his life when he refused to help Hideyoshi take down the Houjou. Hideyoshi spared his life because he "might be of some use." Hideyoshi did take his lands and move him to Sendai. He served with Hideyoshi in Korea while Tokugawa was sent to Kyushu.He supported Tokugawa from the start and was handsomely rewarded. He prevented the other northern lords from coming to Sekigahara. After the battle he was in the inner circle and was handsomely rewarded. Still he acted as his own man allowing Christians to live in his territory and sending embassies to the Pope despite the official ban. In the end he was at Tokugawa's death bed. Interesting man.
Dec. 12th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
He sounds like one...I really haven't pushed into the biographies of those active much beyond 1560 yet, (and only a little of those on the playing field even in the time I'm working on most) being more of a economic/social historian, and there's so much background to learn about everyday life...and chasing it down has taken time, cause everybody wants to write about the life of the ruling class, but to be honest, I've been focusing on the life of villages. That takes more searching.

Dec. 12th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
The phenomenal success of the game Sengoku Basara ('Devil Kings') is credited with this upsurge in interest in the manly men of the Warring States era. There was a recent article on it in The Economist that commented on the fact that the historical warlords brought to life in the game, like Oda Nobunaga, certainly don't resemble their CGI counterparts in any way, shape or form!

J-List has been doing a roaring business in articulated action figures and miniature replica samurai armour based on the game. It's apparently the ladies who are purchasing them, and making their dango-eating menfolk nervous!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )