Theses Doctoral

Flowers on the Battlefield: Intimacy and Hierarchy in the Construction of Japanese Warrior Masculinities, 1507–1636

Kaplan-Reyes, Alexander

My project explores the role of affective bonds of a sexual, romantic, and/or mentoring nature between male warriors in the production and maintenance of warrior identity during Japan's Warring States (1467–1603) period. Employing the notion of queer reading as a guiding principle, I examine the traces of intimate bonds between male warriors left behind in poetry, love oaths, personal correspondence, and other documents. I argue that male-male warrior intimacy played a central role, often undervalued by historians due to the conventional disciplinary emphasis on male-female marriage, in the construction of warrior retainer bands and the establishment of warrior alliances. Ranging from the purely hierarchical to the overtly sexual, relationships between warrior youths and their relatively older lords reproduced and reinforced warrior identity, through their violent oathing rituals, recreational activities, and function as a site for cultivating future trusted retainers. A young subordinate could also take advantage of the attention and trust given to him by making demands of his ostensible superior, disrupting the power asymmetries of the lord/retainer bond, or even by openly plotting a rebellion

In considering warrior intimacy, the project occasions a reevaluation of the unification process that marks the Warring States period’s central narrative. I contend that the conventional interpretation, which relies on the trope of the Three Unifiers, minimizes the influence of male-male ties on events that effected significant historical change at the macro level, including the circumstances that enabled the Tokugawa clan’s ultimate victory, their vision of the social order, and the form of their sacred authority. I also explore the legacy of these bonds in the Edo period (1603–1868), repurposed as ideals of warrior masculinity and loyal retainership by both samurai attempting to find new purpose in a time of peace and commoners enjoying their newfound wealth and leisure time. Each chapter focuses on an influential warlord and his younger retainer: Ōuchi Yoshitaka (1507–1551) and Sue Harukata (1521–1555); Takeda Shingen (1521–1573) and Gensuke (dates unknown); and Date Masamune (1567–1636) and Tadano Sakujūrō Katsuyoshi (dates unknown), respectively.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Pflugfelder, Gregory M.
Lurie, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 17, 2022