Japan’s greatest warlord… a woman?

Strap in, this is gonna get weird.

One of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history is Uesugi Kenshin, known as the Dragon of Echigo. He was a daimyo (feudal lord) loved for his idealism and feared for his skill in battle. He was so skilled with war that some of his contemporaries considered him an avatar of Bishamonten, god of war.

He was also, according to a contemporary Japanese historian, a woman.

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: said historian, Yagiri Tomeo, is kind of a nut. He’s posited any number of bizarre conspiracy theories that have been discredited, but when it comes to Uesugi, he brings forth some evidence which… is not as easily dismissed.

Firstly, a possible rationale for a female Kenshin living as a man: because the leader of the clan had to be a man, or the shogun could divide up their lands and give them away. So now that we have motivation out of the way, the evidence:

  • Kenshin had severe stomach cramps on a monthly basis, around the 10th of the month. He actually scheduled his military campaigns around this.
  • Kenshin’s cause of death is recorded as a form of uterine cancer. By a doctor who made virtually no mistakes in the rest of the book that it’s written in.
  • Kenshin died around the 10th of March.
  • When the Uesugi were forced to relocate, they repeatedly took Kenshin’s remains with them, and refused to tell even the shogun where he was interred. This rules out DNA testing.
  • Kenshin’s personal tastes and appearance were consistently described in feminine terms, which, given the extreme subtleties of Japanese, is actually a bigger deal than it might seem.
  • Kenshin was the only man allowed by the shogun to wander among his harem.
  • Kenshin never married and never had children (although he did adopt).

So we have a lot of intriguing coincidences. But the evidence is hardly conclusive — if for no other reason than that Kenshin had three older brothers, thus obviating any need for his parents to present a daughter as a son. Given the records of the time, it would be very hard to hide Kenshin’s birth sex, or rewrite it later. I consider the possibility so extremely remote that I feel safe keeping this writeup to male pronouns.

If you’d like to look deeper into the “Kenshin was a woman” theory, this forum thread is a good place to start. (thanks to Sarah Rice for sending this in!)


Bonus aside!

Kenshin’s main rival, Takeda Shingen, had his own intriguing female connection: he had in his employ noblewoman (and potential future Rejected Princess) Mochizuki Chiyome, who recruited orphans and prostitutes into an all-woman ninja army. At its height, this 2-300 woman force was one of the best intelligence-gathering operations in Asia. It is my personal theory (I have no evidence to support it other than my personal observation) that Chiyome was an inspiration for Princess Mononoke‘s Lady Eboshi.


It’d make sense if you’d seen the movie.

Intriguing stuff all around!