Uesugi Kenshin (February 18, 1530 April 19, 1578) 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 note , 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.
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, in addition of being voiced by Jouji Nakata (along with Tokugawa Ieyasu) which makes his his face is kind of scary. 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's never seen with his hair on display (it's always covered with turban or some form of headwear).
- 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 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. This time, Kenshin really is a woman in disguise, fights with a longsword and has a Oni Gauntlet.
- 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.
- In Ikemen Sengoku, Kenshin is a Blood Knight who has lived longer than his real-life counterpart due to the intervention of Sasuke Sarutobi (a modern-day man who inadvertently traveled through time and became Kenshin's loyal ninja here) and become grudging allies with Shingen Takeda to take down their mutual enemy Nobunaga Oda.