Switch on your TV on a Sunday evening for an insight into the Kansai region’s history… and a gripping story of loyalty and survival.
Once again, NHK’s annual Taiga Drama is filling TV screens across the nation every Sunday night. This Japanese cultural phenomenon, in which the adventures of a historical figure are brought alive once a week for a full year, first began in 1963 and has been an annual tradition ever since.
This year’s Taiga Drama features the Kansai region and captures the drama of the Sengoku period. Entitled ‘Sanada Maru’, it tells the story of samurai Sanada Yukimura (真田幸村), famous for leading the defending forces in the Siege of Osaka (1614–1615).
Who was Sanada Yukimura?
A brave and loyal samurai during his lifetime (1567–1615), following his death Sanada Yukimura gained legendary status, with his red armour and his iconic ‘six-coin’ flag. He is often called ‘Japan’s bravest warrior’ or ‘a hero who appears once in a hundred years’. ‘Yukimura’ is a romanticized name that was not used during his lifetime; his real forename was Nobushige. Even today, Sanada Yukimura is well loved in Japan as a national hero.
Yukimura was the second son of Sanada Masayuki (真田昌幸), a vassal to daimyo (lord) Shingen Takeda (武田信玄). Masayuki inherited the leadership of his own clan in 1575 after the Nagashino War, in which his two elder brothers died. Masayuki greatly respected his father and served Shingen Takeda alongside him until 1582, when the Tenmokuzan War saw the end of the Takeda clan.
On the way home after this war, the now lordless Sanada clan encountered the 40,000-strong Houjo army. With only 300 men in his own clan, Sanada Masayuki was worried that if seen, they would be surrounded and quickly killed. Then 15-year-old Yukimura had the idea of painting the Houjo crest on a new flag. Imitating a battalion of the Houjo army was risky, since it would all be over for the Sanada clan if they were noticed. But they minimized the risk by attacking under cover of darkness. They split into six groups of fifty men, each bearing a flag marked with a single coin, and attacked from six different directions. The strategy worked and the Houjo thought they were being betrayed by their own warriors. The Sanada clan mounted successful attacks during the panic and beat the Houjo. Because of the six groups with their single-coin banners, from then on Sanada Yukimura’s crest bore the six-coin mark. Even at such a young age he was already honing his talents as a military strategist.
Sanada Yukimura’s most famous exploits came later in his lifetime when he was based at Osaka Castle as a commander for Toyotomi Hideyori (豊臣秀頼) whose father, Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), he had served under as a younger man. In 1614 Hideyori was preparing to defend Osaka Castle against shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) and his army. This episode became known as the Siege of Osaka, and lasted through to June 1615, when an exhausted Sanada Yukimura’s death at Yasui Shrine at the hands of enemy troops caused a great loss of morale among his men and contributed to the subsequent failure of their defence. Hideyori Toyotomi was defeated and committed suicide, and Sanada Yukimura’s name and bravery passed into legend.
It is said that when a soul crosses the Sanzunokawa (the river to the afterlife) the fee is six coins. The six-coin Sanada flag symbolizes the Sanada warriors’ willingness to die for a worthy cause.
Practise your Japanese with NHK’s Sanada Maru Taiga Drama on Sundays. Sanada Yukimura is portrayed by well-known Japanese actor Masoto Sakai.
Find out more on the NHK Sanada Maru website: www.nhk.or.jp/sanadamaru/en/about/index.html
Sundays on NHK G (8pm–8:45pm) and BS Premium (6 pm–6:45pm)
Saturdays NHK G 1:05pm–1:50pm (repeat)
(Broadcast schedule may be subject to sudden changes.)
To catch up on the story so far, read the episode summaries here: www.nhk.or.jp/sanadamaru/en/story/index.html
Images: NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)
‘Sengoku Tsuwamono Road’ event: Sanada Yukimura fever hits central Osaka.
Stop off at Osaka Castle Park this March for a festival in celebration of the NHK ‘Sanada Maru’ Taiga Drama, featuring a ‘gourmet battle’ between famous Kansai restaurants. Food, drink and Sanada Maru goodies on sale.
Date: Fri 4th–Sun 6th March and Fri 11th–Sun 13th March.
Time: 11am–9pm (Sat & Sun); 4–9pm (Fri).
Location: Seseragi no mori (せせらぎの森), Osaka Castle Park
Access: Subway to Morinomiya Station
Images: Sengaku Tsuwamono Road Jikko Iinkai
By Life in Kansai