Kenshin Uesugi was unique among local rulers in sixteenth-century Japan. He dedicated his life to protecting "Gi" which means ultimate righteousness or justice.
In 1530, when he was born, his mother dreamed that the General of Spiritual Protection, Bi-Sha-Mon-Ten, jumped into her mouth, and he believed himself to be the incarnation of that spirit. His army was well-trained and motivated: they were willing to give their lives for this "Living General of Buddhism". Out of more than 100 wars, he never lost a single one, and his army never betrayed him.
He was spiritual, inspirational, and religious. It was almost as if he believed he must have been spiritual, otherwise he would lose all his strength. All of the local lords needed motivation to fight each other. Some believed in building a peaceful country by unifying all of Japan, which was a mess at that time. Others wanted to prove they were stronger than their rivals. They were all ambitious, including Kenshin Uesugi. What made him unique was that the mission that drove him to fight was to protect Gi. He fought to ensure that Gi prevailed. In the Dark Age, power and greed were almost the only things that drove any of the other local kings.
According to historical records, Kenshin explained, "Gi, for me, was the every reason for human beings to exist. I need to protect it by all means." There were many times that he practiced Gi when he could have been more ruthless, such as in his dealings with another local lord, Shingen Takeda, who constantly fought against Kenshin over the area between their territories. When Shingen's castle was under siege from another local king, his supplies of salt-a necessary provision-were cut off. Kenshin, hearing of Shingen's problem, sent his own troops to supply Shingen with enough salt to support his army for a year. This was only one of many of Kenshin's kind actions.
Kenshin's strength was in his power to remain determined to continue his efforts. Gi was his motive to govern and to fight. It was his vision. He believed so strongly in it that that he felt he would never lose. Two years before Kenshin died, he fought against Nobunaga Oda, who was very close to unifying all of Japan under his rule. Oda's army consisted of 30,000 soldiers with 3,000 guns. Kenshin brought his army with less than 10,000 soldiers and only 500 guns. Kenshin defeated Oda's army easily.
Kenshin could simply have attacked Oda's castle and ousted him from power, but he did not. Later, he said of his victory, "I showed Oda it is not just power, greed, and ambition which decides victory. It is enough for now." He might have had his own strategy to get rid of Oda and unify Japan, but unfortunately, he died shortly after this battle, in 1578. Despite being unable to live to see his dream of a unified Japan fulfilled, Kenshin gave an important lesson to the Japanese people: he showed that idealism and motivation are the most important things.
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