Useful Notes: Uesugi Kenshin

If you're looking for that other Kenshin, you're in the wrong place.

Uesugi Kenshin is one of the most famous Japanese daimyo in the Warring States era, reigning in prominence before Oda Nobunaga rose to power. He was a devout Buddhist, praying to Bishamonten most of the time. Combined with his prowess in the battlefield, he's also often regarded as either Bishamonten's Avatar or the God of War himself. A tamer nickname for him would be the 'Dragon of Echigo.'

Born to the Nagao family note  in 1530, he was disliked by his father and put in a Buddhist monastery note . His father died when he was 13. Next year he changed his name to Nagao Kagetora, and his sickly older brother recalled him and gave him a castle and his own domain. The very next year there was a rebellion against his brother. The rebels attacked Kagetora's castle, thinking nothing of its young new owner, and he crushed them. He was 15 and this was the first battle he ever participated in.

He was named chief general for his brother at the age of 16. His brother was a weak and sickly ruler, and Echigo province fractured. Kagetora put down rebellions left and right. He kicked so much ass that Nagao subjects begged him to take over the clan. This he did reluctantly note . He was 19, and finished the reunification of Echigo province at 22.

Perhaps one of the things that made him famous was his rivalry with fellow warlord Takeda Shingen. The conflict began soon after the reunification of Echigo when refugees from North Shinano asked Kagetora to help them take back their land from Shingen. The two reputedly clashed in the very same battlefield of Kawanakajima five times... With no clear winner. A very famous, oft-re-depicted scene would be an event in the fourth battle where Kenshin managed to charge alone into Shingen's camp on his horse, ready to cut down Shingen... And Shingen grabbed a war fan and deflected most of Kenshin's attacks until he retreated. Despite this rivalry, when outside the battlefield, they were known to be friendly with each other and exchanged gifts often, and helped one another out against other warlords note . A famous anecdote is that when Shingen's other enemies cut off his salt supply note , Kenshin provided him with salt, saying, "I do not fight with salt, but with the sword." Shingen's nickname, the 'Tiger of Kai', made their rivalry Japan's Trope Codifier for Tiger Versus Dragon.

He was adopted into the Uesugi family and given the position of Kanto Kanrei for going to Kyoto to help out the Shogun and (temporarily) retaking land lost to Hojo Ujiyasu by the previous Uesugi Kanto Kanrei. He then became a monk, with Dharma name of Kenshin. Thus Uesugi Kenshin.

Once Shingen died (reportedly Kenshin wept openly at this and went into mourning for a time), along with another big rival warlord, Hojo Ujiyasu, Kenshin was free to expand his territory and make his march to the capital... And clash with good ol' Oda Nobunaga at Tedorigawa. Kenshin was utterly victorious, wiping out Nobunaga's army. It would seem that Kenshin would be the one to claim rule over the country...

Then he died midway there, and Nobunaga once again seized his opportunity to reach the capital. That Lucky Bastard.

Another wild, popular rumor is that Kenshin was actually a woman, all based on the rumor that he never married and had no children on his own, thus popularizing either androgynous depictions in other media, or flat out giving him a Gender Flip. All his children were adopted, his successor Kagekatsu (who claimed the position after emerging victorious from an infamous power struggle against his younger brother Kagetora) being the son of Kenshin's older sister. Due to clever political maneuvering, the Uesugi clan continued to exist well into the Meiji Restoration (having acquired a noble title) and even into the present day.

Tropes associated with him:

  • Asskicking Equals Authority: He kicked so much ass the family retainers pushed him into ruling position and forced his brother into retirement.
  • Badass: The dude beat Oda Nobunaga. Kenshin is possibly undefeated in pitched battlesnote . None of his rivals can claim the same.
    • The Fighting Narcissist: Sometimes called himself the incarnation of Bishamonten. No one could prove him otherwise in battle.
  • Bishounen: Some sources describe him as being very beautiful, and many of his fictional depictions follow this.
  • Celibate Hero: In an era when having a son is considered a duty, he has no wife, no concubine, and no biological child. All of his children are adopted.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Rumors has it that he died while defecating on a toilet of that age... which unknown to him, had a ninja/assassin hiding there, who proceeds to shoot a needle to him right on the ass, and killing him.
    • The Alcoholic: His likely cause of death was stroke. He was a big drinker, known for sitting by himself, drinking sake and eating salty snacks.
  • The Dreaded: To his enemies. Arguable more than any other warlord of the warring states. His enemies' default response to him leading an army was to hole up in their castles until he leaves.
    • The celebrated Battles of Kawanakajima is a good example. In all five Kenshin was outnumbered, sometimes heavily. During the first three Kenshin thrashed around, always offering and trying to entice Shingen into a battle, but Shingen just skirmished but stayed in a nearby castle until Kenshin withdrew. In the famous fourth one, Kenshin was outnumbered over 3:2. Even then Kenshin put himself in a completely disadvantageous positionnote , possibly to lure Shingen out so that a decisive battle can finally be fought. And after all that, the battle was a tie. During the battle, Shingen lost his brother, two other experienced and highly competent retainers, and almost his own life before Kenshin was outflanked and withdrew. Such was Kenshin's prowess that when they met up for the fifth and final time, Shingen refused all offers of battle and stayed in his castle.
  • Friendly Enemy: His and Shingen's respect for each other was legendary.
    • Fanon: It is likely much of this was made up during the Edo period and later. Kenshin is to recorded to have quite strongly hated Shingen. His depiction in Fuurin Kazan is probably the closest to reality. See Knight Templar.
  • Knight Templar: He fought to keep the old order as established by the Ashikaga Shogunate. He hated Shingen for exiling his own father and invading neighboring provinces without cause, and forming and breaking alliances whenever he saw fitnote . All of this went against what Kenshin fought for. The fact that Kenshin himself took over the clan from his elder brother seem to be lost to him.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: By modern standards. The measurements on his armor says he would be around 5'2 (around 156 cm). Among his peers Toyotomi Hideyoshi was reportedly only 147cm while Oda Nobunaga at 170cm and consider exceptionally tall.
  • Red Baron: Either 'Dragon of Echigo' or 'God of War'.
  • The Rival: With Shingen, also going up to be one of the most popular rivalries in Japanese history.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Almost all of his conflicts outside Echigo were due to this. When samurai from Shinano asked him for help against Shingen, he went. When the Shogun asked him for help from far away Kyoto, he went. When Uesugi Norimasa asked him for help against Hojo Ujiyasu, he went. He had a very tough time holding on to his gains outside Echigo because he was a Wide-Eyed Idealist and this. He rarely took the lands he won, instead giving them back to the ineffectual rulers that came to him for help. His enemies soon learned they just had to wait till he rushed off to help someone else and they could take all of it back. He had such Samaritan tendencies that both Takeda Shingen and Hojo Ujiyasu on their deathbeds told their successors that if something happens, go ask Kenshin for help. Because he won't refuse.
  • Succession Crisis: Due to not having a biological son. The in-fighting amongst his adopted sons undid most of his work and greatly weakened the Uesugi clan, making it unable to stand up to the unifiers any longer.
    • He himself took part in one when he was young. He had to fight his older brother (reluctantly) over control of the Nagao (as they were then known) clan.
  • Tiger Versus Dragon: He's the Dragon, Shingen is the Tiger.
  • War God: His nickname referenced Bishamonten, the Buddhist god of war.
  • Warrior Monk
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Much to his own detriment. In an era when the only goal was winning, he stuck to ideals of loyal warriors keeping to their positions, fighting on the battlefield to help the weak. He almost always gave back land he conquered to the incompetent rulers that lost them in the first place and came to him for help. If he had instead kept the land or gave them to competent retainers like everyone else, he could probably have unified Japan. This is also where his Friendly Enemy legends came from. He did not take part in the salt embargo against Shingen because it was unbecoming of a warrior. He was advised to attack the Takeda when Shingen died, but refused because the action amounted to Kick Them While They Are Down.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: There were rumours he may have been a woman in disguise.

Works referencing him:

  • The Uesugi is a playable clan in Shogun: Total War and Total War: Shogun 2.
  • Uesugi Kenshin is playable in Samurai Warriors and for once, isn't such a bishonen like most other depictions (heck, he's voiced by Joji Nakata). As usual, his rivalry with Shingen exists and plays part in his series. The 3rd game includes his sister Aya Gozen, and the fourth game, his adopted son and clan successor Uesugi Kagekatsu.
    • Kenshin also appears in Kessen III as one of Nobunaga's oppositions, and is a seriously dangerous enemy.
    • In Nobunaga's Ambition, Kenshin also is one of the generals available there. One of the titles also offers a What If? story which confirms the rumor that Kenshin is actually a woman, thus gives a female-Kenshin as a character (in addition to male-Kenshin).
      • Crossover-slash-spinoff Pokémon Conquest features Kenshin as warlord of Psychic-type nation Illusion, and pairs him up with Gallade and later Mewtwo. His friendly rivalry with Shingen is featured as well.
  • Uesugi Kenshin in Sengoku Basara is An Ice Iaijutsu Practitioner with Super Speed, complete with the androgynous appearance and the voice of Romi Paku. And a tendency to make dramatic (elegant) poses, to match with his battle prowess. He's accompanied with an original character, a kunoichi named Kasuga, who is madly in love with him and has a tendency to orgasm whenever he compliments her (and Kenshin does this a lot). And yes, Shingen's there as his rival too.
  • Sengoku Otome features a Gender Flip Kenshin. Still duking it out with Shingen, this Kenshin's swinging a Blade on a Stick, all Shock and Awe Spam Attack. The Tiger Versus Dragon motif isn't mentioned, though; in fact, Shingen's the one who gets to throw a big dragon.
  • Another Gender-flipped Kenshin can be found in Sengoku Rance, being a Lady of War per excellence and one of the romanceable characters in the game, and proved so popular that she's often considered one of the best H-Game heroines ever.
  • Kenshin also appears in the NHK drama named Fuurin Kazan portrayed by Gackt. Yes. That Gackt.
  • In Mirage of Blaze he became the actual Bishamonten after his death and established the Underworld Uesugi Army made up of reincarnating spirits of his once-retainers, to protect Japan from vengeful spirits of other Sengoku era generals. The commander of this army is Uesugi Kagetora, one of Kenshin's adopted sons who, in the Sengoku period, was defeated by his older brother Uesugi Kagekatsu in the civil war that erupted over succession of the clan after Kenshin's death, and consequently committed suicide.
  • In the upcoming Onimusha: Soul, Kenshin Uesugi will be one of the playable characters, as a Daimyo sided with the Oni. To contrast, his rival Shingen is sided with the Genma.
  • Though Rurouni Kenshin isn't about him, Himura Kenshin is named after him, and even sends rice to his enemies as an act of mercy at one point. An author's note hangs a lampshade on it: "Kenshin speaks of Kenshin."
  • In the Assassin's Creed setting, Kenshin is given a Historical Villain Upgrade as a member of the Templar Brotherhood.