Japan, video games, and Oda Nobunaga

I’ve always been interested in the period of Japanese history relating to the era of the samurai. One thing that continually baffles me is why Japanese video games and Anime continually demonize Oda Nobunaga. The Onimusha series of video games and Samurai Deeper kyo are just a quick couple of examples that come to mind.

While Oda Nobunaga was definitely ambitious and ruthless, the same could be said for most of his counterparts. I understand that he killed many religious adherents, but he also overthrew the Ashikaga Shogunate, greatly reducing the amount of internal strife in the county. He restored stable government and established many of the the conditions that led to the unification of the country. By most accounts he was a superlative tactician, a proponent of modernization, and willing to give a peasant such as Hideyoshi Toyotomi the ability to rise through the ranks despite his lowly status.

Again, I understand his reputation as being ruthless, but I cannot understand why in most Japanese games, books and Anime, he is always treated as some form of demon. You would think someone that went a very long way to stabalizing and unifying the country would be shown a little more respect. After all, I don’t see any Tokugawans playing the role of demons in video games and their history isn’t exactly snow white either.

Can anyone more familiar with Japanese history/culture enlighten me on why this is so?

Well, the man was known to turn the skulls of his opponents into cups for drinking.

What? I’ve never read that in any book on Japanese history. Are you sure that isn’t some type of boogey-man folklore?

I believe it was Asai Nagamasa.

I love it!

I take all the videogames I beat and use them as coasters for my drinks.

I don’t know a thing about Oda Nobunaga, but it seems like you’re asking for a little too much perspective from what is, in effect, national mythology. How many political leaders are remembered for the impressions they left at the time, when their most far-reaching efforts were unrecognized by a nation without the vision to understand their importance?

Nobunaga turns up as an ancient spirit of destruction in Ghost Sweeper Miyuki and he’s a goddamn force of nature in Samurai Warriors, but I can’t think of anything else where he’s demonized.

In the SNES game Inindo, he is the main enemy. He massacres your village/clan and you get revenge. It’s based on historical events. He was quite a ruthless character, but it probably is fair to say others were as well. The problem is that the others were less successful at it, so he gets demonized while others do not.

I love it!

I take all the videogames I beat and use them as coasters for my drinks.[/quote]


Onimusha Tactics as well.

Anyone play Nobunaga’s Revenge? A fairly old console strategy game? I don’t recall him being demonize therein.

That’s true about Nobunaga’s Ambition, but Koei’s games have always done a good job of largely avoiding bias.

Look at how the Romance Of The Three Kingdoms novel portrays Cao Cao - at first he’s an uncommonly wise hero, but as soon as the first two “villains” in the novel are slain, suddenly Cao Cao becomes a power-hungry mass-murdering madman, almost as if he flipped a switch. Compare that to how he is portrayed in Koei’s Dynasty Warriors and RotTK games - you could perhaps call him ambitious and callously pragmatic, but certainly not “evil”. Everything I’ve read about the actual history of the Three Kingdoms era leads me to believe that Koei’s portrayal is more accurate than that of the RotTK author.

They basically do the same with Nobunaga, at least from what I remember in NA and Samurai Warriors (haven’t played other games involving him). You could perhaps say he’s a villain in SW, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as what you commonly see in games.

However, Nobunaga is the primary villain of the Onimusha series, not just Tactics, and those games are far more popular than NA. Probably more so than Samurai Warriors as well. And I do mean “primary villain” - they make no bones about portraying him as a demonic power that must be destroyed at all costs.

Very old Japanese arcade game called Ninja Master’s (sic) in which Nobunaga is the evil boss character. Bastard to beat, too.

Think the above point pretty much says it all. History is written by the victors, so, like in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms lore, the retainers of the Han dynasty, who were victorious in their quest to unify (conquer?) all of China, are portrayed as a legion of glorious heroes while its enemies are portrayed as dastardly villains.

This is a neat subject. There isn’t much in the way of this stuff in american-designed games, is there? The WW2 ones are pretty content-free along these lines.

I read a book about Japanese folk heroes, and it claimed that Japanese society values sticking to your ideals to an insane degree. Thus, Japanese national heroes are often doomed figures that fought “the good fight”, even if it was hopeless. Especially if it was hopeless.

If that book’s treatise was correct, it might explain why a ruthless warlord who united the country (and almost all uniters are ruthless) isn’t viewed favorably by modern Japanese. For anyone to remain ruler of any country, they must, of necessity, compromise their values in order to effectively rule in the real world, so they might be demonized by later generations for not being honorable. But I don’t know if it’s actually a correct theory… it was only one book that I read.

One other thing… that whole “use your enemy’s skull as cup” thing comes straight from the Mongols. A lot of people who came into contact with those assholes picked up unfortunate barbarous habits. It’s a testament to the Chinese that they remained a civilized people even after 100 years of Mongol rule.

I did more research on thios subject and discovered a few interesting things. Similar to what Anaxagoras believed, part of The Oda family demonization (especially Oda Nobunaga) comes from their “disregard” for traditionalism. His family was one of the first the interact with Westerners on a normal scale, the first to use rifles and other Western technology and practices in warfare on a major scale, and one of the few families that openly spoke out against and confronted the various Buddhist sects in the country.

In essence, he is seen to be one of the main culprits in the destroying of the “Japanese spirit” as it stood during his age. I guess that is the type of reputation that can follow you around and get you painted into some rather unpleasant situations.

Well, the interesting thing with the Three Kingdoms era is that the Han weren’t the victors! I may be forgetting some stuff here, but the basic story goes as follows (according to the novel, not all of this is historical fact):

[size=2]- Yellow Turban Rebellion begins due to dissatisfaction with the horrible policies of the Han government

  • great heroes organize under the Han banner to crush the rebellion
  • even though the rebellion is ended, the government is effectively in ruin, thus allowing the pathetic swine Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu to “safeguard” (read: imprison) the Emperor and pretend to rule in his name
  • Dong Zhuo goes the Saddam Hussein route, except that he actually had a WMD in the form of the unstoppably powerful Lu Bu, everyone despises him
  • Cao Cao issues a plea to form a coalition to destroy Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu, but concedes leadership of the coalition to Yuan Shao in a show of respect to the much more famous Yuan family
  • Yuan Shao is an indecisive idiot
  • the coalition wins at Hu Lao Gate thanks to Liu Bei’s heroes, Dong Zhuo flees the capital, the coalition is in a position to land the killing blow but they decide not to because of Yuan Shao’s inability to make a decision (he has about ten advisors and they all tell him different things because they’re all as idiotic as he is)
  • Cao Cao proves his wisdom and bravery again by deciding to destroy Dong Zhuo’s armies alone, but without any support he is forced to retreat, out of frustration he quits the coalition, at that point the entire effort completely falls apart
  • it takes a serving girl to set Lu Bu against Dong Zhuo before DZ is finally killed (apparently the whole Diao Chan story is 100% fiction, and Lu Bu is actually killed in battle by some random guy whose name I don’t even remember, and while I forget how Dong Zhuo is killed, it’s definitely not by Lu Bu’s hand)
  • Lu Bu always was basically a thoughtless barbarian, he’s easily brought down by the combined might of Cao Cao and Liu Bei (who was at the time basically serving underneath him)
  • this is where the novel beings portraying Cao Cao as a power-hungry madman instead of a very clever and brave hero… Cao Cao views Liu Bei as a threat because everyone likes him so much, tries to find ways to assassinate him, Liu Bei flees
  • Cao Cao gives up on Liu Bei for the moment, gets in a war with Yuan Shao, easily wins
  • Cao Cao now rules pretty much all of northern China, but the situation is still wildly unstable
  • Liu Bei aligns with the Sun family, huge battle at Chi Bi occurs, the Sun/Liu army scores a ridiculously decisive victory against overwhelming odds
  • Cao Cao decides to lick his wounds and focus on stabilizing the northern part of China that’s still in chaos… but in the process he essentially turns the new Emperor (a young kid who’s now under Cao Cao’s protection) into a puppet
  • another part where history disagrees with the RotTK novel… history says Cao Cao does a good thing here because the Han dynasty had proven itself incapable of ruling any longer, not to mention that there was no telling if this kid would have any idea what he was doing or not, whereas the Romance novel says Cao Cao is indescribably evil because fealty to the Emperor no matter what is a key virtue
  • Liu Bei is convinced by the wise Zhuge Liang to take over the western lands that are currently ruled by a relative, Liu Zhang, who unfortunately happens to be a useless tool… this is done accomplished all too easily
  • you now have The Three Kingdoms… Liu Bei’s Shu, the Sun family’s Wu, Coa Cao’s Wei
  • lots of fighting, Cao Cao is the first of the “main characters” to die, Cao Pi takes over and actually does an okay job at first
  • however, Cao Pi deposes the Han emperor in name, not just in effect, and assumes the title of Han Emperor for himself… even history points out that this was a very bad move if only because it angered so many people, because he probably would have been much more effective if he had just stayed the course of running things himself while letting the Emperor keep the throne
  • lots more fighting, Liu Bei and Sun Quan eventually die and I think Cao Pi does around the same time, all of them are succeeded by utter morons
  • Sima Yi, the most brilliant strategist Cao Cao’s kingdom of Wei has ever known, has a falling out with the Cao family, but proves his brilliance again by pulling off a coup with almost no effort, Cao family is pretty much obliterated
  • Sima Yi’s successors go so far as to declare an end to Han rule entirely, establishing a new dynasty named Jin
  • lots more fighting, Wu and Shu are no match for Wei since at least Sima Yi’s successors aren’t idiots
  • Three Kingdoms are once again united, but the Han Dynasty is no more[/size]

Anaxagoras’ point about Japanese culture appears to apply here as well. The Romance novel would have you believe that - never mind that this was an era of 100 straight years of civil war - the real tragedy is that the Han Dynasty is obliterated. Who cares that the final few Han emperors were pathetic fools (it’s not as if the Yellow Turbans revolted because the government was doing a great job)? Forget that Cao Cao proved himself to be a ruler of almost unparalled wisdom. Cao Cao usurped the authority of the Emperor, and that’s all the author of the Romance novel needed to know. The author was a diehard Han loyalist, to the extent that he deliberately twisted facts around as much as possible to portray Cao Cao and his successors in the worst possible light, while portraying Liu Bei and his allies as the most virtuous of heroes.

Also note how, even though the Sun family is usually allied with Liu Bei, and they never do anything to indicate that they want to overthrow the Han, they are largely treated as an afterthought precisely because of this. They aren’t openly supportive super-heroes of the Han, they aren’t villainous usurpers - they’re just kind of there. Even though, historically speaking, their role in the story is HUGE.

I don’t know if this sort of insistence on absolute fealty to the Emperor applies to today’s Chinese society or not, but it’s clear that it did in the past. Even though the Romance novel has a blatant pro-Shu/Han Dynasty bias, and even though everyone will tell you that it’s 70% fact/30% fiction, it’s still by far the most popular novel about this era of their history.

On the one hand, it only makes sense that a drama winds up being more popular than the historical accounts of the same tale (I’m sure “The Red Badge Of Courage” is much more widely-read than historical accounts of the USA Civil War), but I can’t help but wonder how much the idea of “always support the Emperor” plays a role in making the RotTK novel so popular.

Oda did quite a bit to actively destroy many Buddhist sects if memory serves. One of the sects was run by a man who allied with Asai and had his own head used as a cup.

Wow. that’s interesting, if true. If I played Shogun:TW as Oda, I always tried to intimidate my neighbors with huge armies of conscripts while I teched up to warrior monks, then went on a rampage with them. Talk about historical inaccuracy. :)

This is like Edward I in England. He’s always given to us as the Evil Longshanks, tall, imperious and ruthless. But he was one of England’s most successful early kings, in large part responsible for turning the country from a French vassal state to the Angevin superpower; beginning the long and illustrious English hobby of oppressing the Welsh, Scottish and French; reforming legal institutions; and all that crap.