The Battle of Sekigahara: A Talk with Chris Glenn

Radio personality and all around workaholic Chris Glenn is Nagoya’s preeminent Samurai expert. This month we are proud to present an excerpt from his recent book The Battle of Sekigahara  which includes an exhaustive account of the key personalities and events which culminated in the greatest samurai battle in history. We spoke to Chris recently and he asked him what motivated him to write it.

How long ago did you start writing the book?
I started in early 1996. and had done a basic manuscript about August that year. Then while fact checking, I came across more information, so I added that in… and then discovered more fascinating details, and so on. It became a never-ending endeavor to find new, relatively unknown facts and anecdotes regarding this battle, that at that stage still hadn’t been covered in English. The battle itself and the cast of characters involved is very complex, and the political spiders web of behind the scenes action and excitement is truly fascinating.

What motivated you?
I’m a samurai history and culture fanatic., and really couldn’t find much quality info on the battle and participants. Even though there is so much interest in the samurai worldwide, the Battle of Sekigahara is still relatively unknown outside of Japan. Compared with other great battles throughout world history, it remains markedly overlooked. Considering some of the greatest battles in history and the number of participants killed, we find:

The Battle of Culloden
(April 16, 1746) 2,000 killed

The Battle of Hastings
(October 14, 1066) 6,000 killed

 The Battle of Gettysburg
(July 1~3, 1863) 7,863 killed

The Battle of Agincourt
(October 25, 1415) 10,000 killed

The Battle of Sekigahara
(October 21, 1600) 30,000 killed

The Battle of Waterloo
(June 18, 1815) 47,000 killed

Comparing Gettysburg to Sekigahara, both civil war conflicts, the number of deaths at Sekigahara was more than four times that of Gettysburg, which was fought over three days, not seven hours. Sekigahara saw the deaths of over 30,000 samurai and many noble clans were destroyed in those seven hours of battle alone, as well as many more deaths from the surrounding conflicts leading up to the great battle. Basically, I think that this was a turning point in Japanese history, one that truly forged the modern-day Japan that we know and love. Wanting to know more led me to writing the book.

Who did you work with over the years?
There wasn’t any one in particular I worked with until close to the end, except for my Partner Yuka, who often helped with Japanese text that I couldn’t read, or understand very well. Many Japanese text and history books are so …”katai”, stiff and academic to the point of not actually being readable.

Then I got involved with a guy called Carter Witt and his sidekicks, Rangi and Mark Guthrie who helped me sort out a few of the chapters. Then, through them I met David White, a professional editor who’s advice and skills really kicked the thing into shape. This was a huge help, as I’d become too close to the project and couldn’t see the weeds from the forest. Through researching, I was even able to meet and talk with the 15th descendent of the Western forces leader, Ishida Mitsunari, Mr. Ishida Takayuki. Funny thing was, he was more informative about Shima Sakon, one of the Western forces daimyo, than he was regarding his more famous ancestor!

What is the most interesting thing you learned when researching the book?

Wow, where do I start?  Discovering that history is written by the victors. The fact that most people see Tokugawa Ieyasu as the hero of the story and Ishida Mitsunari as the villain, when it really is the other way around. The Ishida forces fought in the name of the Toyotomi who had brought peace to the nation, and it was the Tokugawa who had usurped power, and recommenced the wars that led to Sekigahara.  Ieyasu was a sneaky so and so who moulded thoughts to suit his own ends. That and understanding the many reasons why former Western / Toyotomi allies suddenly switched to the Eastern / Tokugawa led side, and why the so called traitors ditched in against their Western Allies and turned at the peak of the battle. Quite interesting reasons!

What other books do you plan to write?
I was approached by a major Japanese publisher  who asked that I choose 20 castles across Japan and write about them.  That’s like asking an alcoholic to choose 20 wines and drink them all in a day! A hell of a job, and a heaven of a job!

Sekigahara Cover LG


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