Japan has always been an outsider. While some other nations worship a victor above all and elevate ends over means, in Japan glorious failure often seemed far more romantic. Conviction, loyalty and determination to keep going against the odds are far more commendable than mere success. Take Saigo Takamori, whose 1877 rebellion against the newly established Meiji government ended in failure, but who was at times admired as a hero and role model.
In a way, this goes to show why Todo Takatora – the subject of The Samurai Castle Master, a new book by Chris Glenn – has largely been forgotten. A quick look at his resume shows that Todo was a key figure in Japan’s transition from the semi-permanent civil war to the Pax Tokugawa at the end of the 15th century: he fought in many of the most important battles in Japanese history, including the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600; he served in two campaigns in the Korean peninsula; he was involved in the design and construction of over 30 castles across Japan, influencing tactics and architecture for generations; and he became one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s most trusted advisors and was put in charge of military affairs across the country after the death of the great shogun. When Todo died at the age of 74, it was noted that there wasn’t a single part of his body that didn’t show the ravages of battle.
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