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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
(This is going to be a big thread with several figures and WIP, but that's how I roll...)

Nakano Takeko (中野 竹子) is by far the most famous Aizu woman warrior from the Boshin War. Born and raised in Edo (Tokyo), she was the daughter of a high-ranking Aizu samurai. Trained from the age of six in the martial arts, especially with the naginata and the katana (in one of the prominent itto-ryu (“one sword”) styles), she had developed a fearsome reputation for her prowess by the time she arrived in Aizu for the first time at the age of 20, in winter of 1868, mere months before the climactic battle. In the show Yae no Sakura she makes an immediate impression, entering Yae’s dojo and defeating every one of her cohorts (including Yae) in her first day of practice naginata matches. The real life Takeko was beautiful, sophisticated, cultured, and fierce, and they depicted her as such in the show. (She’s played by Kuroki Meisa, a model/singer/actress from Okinawa who’s part Brazilian)

She grew up reading tales about famous women warriors such as Tomoe Gozen, and it is clear she absorbed that ethos into her soul. When the time came to repel the invaders, she unhesitatingly took the lead to form a group of women (later given the moniker joshi-tai, or women’s corps) who would be a human shield to Princess Teru (the step sister of the lord of Aizu). Interestingly, Wikipedia lists Yae as a member of that group, although in the show Yae declines Takeko’s invitation to join them. Who knows which is accurate, but that scene effectively set the stage for Yae’s decision to fight with a rifle as one of the men.

The group tried to join up with one of the Aizu military units outside the castle but was refused, so Takeko calmly told the commanders that they would all commit suicide on the spot, since they were no longer of use to the princess or the clan. Needless to say, the commanders quickly relented and they were allowed to join the unit in an attack near Yanagi bridge, about a mile away from the castle.

When the attack commenced she and her cohort furiously rushed the enemy, shocking many of them when they realized they were women. The enemy’s initial confusion and hesitation worked to the women’s advantage as they succeeded in cutting down many, and Takeko was credited with killing five or six during the melee. But Takeko was soon shot (it’s not clear whether in the head or chest; sources conflict) and while dying she asked her sister to cut off her head and take it away so that the enemy would not be able to claim it as a trophy. According to most sources, the sister was unable to do so (either from exhaustion, grief, shock, or all of the above) and asked a male soldier to help her finish the grisly task. (In the show, they did not show anyone decapitating Takeko. Instead, they sanitized it by merely having her mother cut off a lock of her hair before fleeing.)

By this point the enemy’s numbers and firepower were starting to win the day and the women and the Aizu soldiers were forced to retreat. Takeko’s sister and mother eventually carried her head to their hometown Aizubange, about six miles away, and buried it at Hokai-ji Temple where it remains to this day (it’s unclear when they did this, but it’s unlikely they were able to do this until after the surrender several weeks later, which means they carried the head with them when they retreated to the castle and kept it with them for four weeks while the battle raged around them). A simple stone monument stands near the grave, and in 1938, members of her family commissioned a statue of her at the battle site where she died, and it sits at the end of a quiet alleyway in Aizu, tucked away in a little park among apartments and businesses.

The commemorative monument near her grave in Aizubange:
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Before the battle, Takeko wrote a “death poem,” or jisei, which was common for samurai who were facing imminent death either in battle or by their own hand. We know exactly what she wrote because she attached it to her naginata, which was retrieved by her sister when they fled the battlefield (in fact, that naginata is still displayed in the temple where she’s buried; it’s unclear what happened to the slip of paper itself). This poem is actually one of the more famous death poems in Japanese history, and seems to be quoted quite often from my own searches.

The text is:
もののふの 猛き心に くらぶれば 数にも入らぬ 我が身ながらも
(mononofu no takeki kokoro ni kurabureba kazu ni mo iranu wagami nagaramo)
A warrior’s fierce soul (heart) compared to number not possible enter/join I/my body although/despite/notwithstanding

This has been translated several ways, and one popular one is: “When compared to the ranks of warriors’ stalwart hearts; I cannot enter into their number, despite this body of mine.” I don’t like this because it doesn’t make sense to me. Why “despite my body” instead of “because of my body”? Although my Japanese language skills are still rather poor, I can manage to translate things literally, and I think the poetic phrasing and the intrinsically different word order of Japanese grammar confuses things.

Here’s my translation:

“Although I share the warrior’s fierce soul (heart), I cannot join their ranks.”

It’s basically the same sentiment, and I borrow words and ideas from several different translations, but I like “fierce soul” rather than “brave heart” (I’ve learned that in archaic Japanese, “takeki kokoro” can mean just that). It really conveys the strong desire of women like Yae and Takeko to fight with all their heart and die if necessary, coupled with the frustration that their bodies are viewed as not up to the task.

I really wasn't going to do a figure on Takeko, but the poem and her story moved me, and it just so happened I had a slew of parts left over from the Yae project...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
The only two pieces I had used from the deluxe Butterfly Warrior set for my Yae was the head and the wakizashi, so I basically had a whole figure to use. It is a really beautiful set: the armor, the clothing, the weapons, and the really cool stand and platform. The only thing missing was a naginata, a must for any female warrior, but fortunately, PopToys came through again with a newly released Tomoe Gozen with some beautiful pieces and I managed to grab an extra wakizashi (even more ornate than the Butterfly one) and a gorgeous naginata. I also picked up a head from the nobushi female warrior set (also PopToys, hmmm there’s a trend here…) and I realized I could do my own version of Nakano Takeko, not based on the show, just a quick bash using these superb pieces I had available.

Takeko was from a powerful and wealthy family (far wealthier than Yae), so I could totally see her wearing the fancy but subdued nagajuban(top)/hakama(pants) combo that came with the Butterfly set. And the nobushi head seemed more refined looking, perhaps because of the knotted hairstyle instead of the ponytail. Ironically the skin tone would have fit the TBL body perfectly so was more suitable for Yae, but I liked the hair and facial features of the darker Butterfly head better for Yae. I don’t like the cut of the top and “hakama” (more like palazzo pants to me), they are both far too narrow and tight fitting. I have yet to see a decent pair of hakama on any boxed figure—they are supposed to be super baggy like a split skirt, and most sets just look like slightly baggy pants. (For an accurate pair see the brown hakama on the samurai footsoldier below.)

BTW the Kanji on the screen is 魂 (tamashii), or spirit/soul.

In the show she wears an all-white ensemble and has her hair tied back in a very loose and low ponytail, and wearing a white headband (hachimaki) like all the other women. There are several accounts online that indicate she and her mother and sister cut their hair much like Yae did, but this wasn’t depicted in the show.

I think they did this simply so she would stand out during the filming of the melee scenes and audiences could keep track of where she was as countless soldiers and warriors whirl about the screen. I don’t really like the look, so my use of the Butterfly Warrior outfit fits what I wish her to look like. In the Osprey book Samurai Women: 1184-1877, she and the joshi-tai are depicted in a painting wearing various colors, none in white, and their clothes are superbly baggy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
The only custom items on this figure are the simple white ribbon used for the hachimaki, and the death poem tied to the naginata. I took a screen shot of the poem and cleaned it up and adjusted for the angle distortion, then shrunk it down and printed it out on iron-on printer fabric. I then ironed it onto a very sheer piece of white ribbon and cut and glued it to form the final shape and threaded kitchen string for the tie. I’m quite pleased with the sharpness of the text, it is really accurate and I can actually identify several kana/characters under magnification.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Yamakawa Kenjiro (山川 健次郎, 1854–1931) was born and raised in Aizu and served in the famed Byakkotai (白虎隊) youth unit during the Boshin war, although he was not a part of the infamous 2nd squadron of the 19 youths who committed seppuku on Iimori Hill, mentioned in my Yae thread. (The unit comprised boys 15-17 years old.) But Japanese history remembers him today not for his participation in that war, but for his remarkable accomplishments afterward, when he became the first Japanese graduate of Yale University (in physics), and after his return to Japan became his country’s first native-born university physics professor in 1879 at the newly formed Tokyo Imperial University (today’s University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious university). He went on to a long career in academia and reached the top levels of academic administration, serving as president to Tokyo Imperial University, Kyushu Imperial University, and Kyoto Imperial University, as well as helping to found Kyushu Institute of Technology. Born into a family of samurai councilors, and thus the top of the feudal caste beneath the lords, he was ennobled into a baron later in life and served on the emperor’s Privy Council and the House of Peers (ironic for the former Aizu "rebel"). And, of course, he wrote histories of the Boshin War from the Aizu perspective, joining his brother Hiroshi (who was a general and councilor during the war) in their efforts to redeem Aizu’s honor by publishing documents and their arguments that Aizu was not the traitorous clan of popular opinion.

Perhaps because he came from such a prominent family and was the younger brother of a senior military leader, the rules were bent so that he was allowed to join the Byakkotai at the tender age of 14, one year younger than the youngest allowable age. In the show Yae no Sakura, he and a rag tag group of teenagers were shown being led by Yae during the initial battles along the northern wall.

(Kenjiro is on the steps in the center of the frame)

Some of them look like mere children no more than 13 years old, their bodies barely fitting the oversized armor and hakama. A few wear the navy blue/black western tunic which Yae has adapted, including Kenjiro. The 2nd squadron all wear that same tunic, so there is some inconsistency as to how the unit was outfitted. Perhaps the access to the newest uniforms had something to do with social status, as the members of that squadron were all from high status samurai families as Kenjiro was, and by contrast the teenagers with Yae who wore traditional ill-fitting cuirasses might have been from the lower status samurai families.

A better look at the actor who played Kenjiro (Katsuji Ryō) in his dark tunic (notice the hakimachi plate on his headband).

Another shot of the kids in action:

My young Byakkotai rifleman portrays one of the more rag-tag teenagers who fought under Yae’s command in the show (he is not meant to be Kenjiro):

He does wear the hachimaki headband pattern which Kenjiro wears, and though his face is not really that of a teenager, his clean shaven face looks young enough to pass for one, just as they had a grown man playing Kenjiro as a teenager in the show. (The head is from the PopToys Ashigaru spearman set) I’m not sure what is the significance of the cutout square patterns of the hachimaki plate, but I replicated the sixteen that Kenjiro had, which was different from many of the other boys who had more or fewer. (I don’t think it was an age counter, but perhaps rank?) I cut those out of black styrene by hand, which really tested my patience, but the result is good enough.

The actual hachimaki is taken from a wider-than-scale fabric ribbon, but I liked the texture better than the Takeko ribbon and just folded it to scale width where it runs around the head, but the tail end is too wide. Ironically it may help to make the head look smaller and “younger.” The body is the smaller, shorter teen body from the Harry Potter series, which works well enough. The top, sash belt and cuirass are both from the Ashigaru set, and the hakama are from the newer Poptoys Taiko Ashigaru set; I like the much wider pattern and cut-down shorts look, although the crotch rise is still too high and not accurate. The calf armor is from the horrible 101toys Toyotomi set, which was cut down and heavily weathered, and the tabi/waraji set is the same as Yae has, although I varied the lacing pattern as there is no one way to do it. The rifle is Sideshow CW pattern 1853 Enfield musket, black ammo box is Battlegear toys CW pattern, but the rifle pouch and modified bayonet frog are both IQO Models Japanese WWII pattern (Battle of Hailar I think). I treated the bayonet frog in similar style to Yae’s custom one, but in a more simple pattern. I don’t remember where the katana set came from, I’ve bought too many different ones by now. Everything got a heavy weathering to look dusty and splattered with dried mud/dirt.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I put together this Aizu samurai footsoldier, mostly from the boxed set of the WGL Ashigaru:

The armor on this one is all metal and extremely heavy. The ankle joints on this COOmodels body are just not strong enough to withstand weight, so he cannot stand unsupported. The heavy metal cuirass is anachronistic but it’s muted enough so I kept it. I swapped out the stock “kimono” for an unbranded Chinese set from eBay, and I’m happy to say this is the first set that I’ve come across that’s actually accurate in pattern. Large wide sleeves, huge full-cut hakama pants with the rise down around the knees and even the pleats seem to be in the right place (the seven pleats actually symbolize the seven virtues, believe it or not). And the colors are exactly right for the ones seen in the show. Tabi/waraji are the usual excellent Chinese-sold ones I’ve been using, once again in a different lacing pattern.

The biggest deal with this figure was figuring out how to do the nirayama jingasa, the black battle hat which is so emblematic of footsoldiers during the bakumatsu period.

It’s a simple enough pattern, but I needed to find the right fabric (a nice cotton/linen one from eBay) and work out the shape. It’s essentially a near circle (really a fat football shape) folded in half and then a notched angle cut in and glued. That’s it.

But the tough part was figuring out how to keep the hat on the head and secured with the correct chinstrap pattern. Real ones just have the chin strap cords stitched directly to the hat, but this unreinforced fabric would not be able to withstand the force of pulling the chin cords tight without tearing, so I used an old Dragon WWII M1 helmet liner band as a sweat band and stitched that to the hat, and then tied my cording to that.

Japanese chin straps from the Edo period whether for helmets or straw hats are always shown the same way and the pattern is quite simple, but I’ve never seen any 1/6 company get it right. This is the correct way to do it, minus a cross-bracing strap on the rear which is less visible and I omitted.

You’ll notice I also gave this soldier a hachimaki plate, but I used fewer squares and a single row because it’s largely hidden and I didn’t want to cut another dozen tiny squares! I used the same white ribbon as for the Takeko figure, which is the correct scale width. The hat got a decent dusty weathering, as none of the hats I saw in the show looked clean.

Just before I took these pictures I realized I had neglected to add the little shoulder banner with the Aizu character symbol on it, so I used a screencap image and printed it out on fabric, stitched it to the armor and was done.

Rifle is also the Enfield pattern 1853 musket, which would have been a fairly advanced muzzle loader in Japan at the time. I’m not sure any actually made it into the hands of shogunate troops, but it’s possible as some were received in Japan by then. The shogunate’s preferred modern rifles were the French Chassepot, of which too few were received. Their opponents of the Sat-Cho alliance had modern weapons galore, including Enfield rifles and even breech loaders. I like the look of these muskets and was able to find them on eBay, so that’s what they have.
Sash belt is just a brown ribbon, rifle pouch is once again the IQO WWII Japanese, and katana is unknown.
Needless to say, this figure was also heavily weathered with the dusty/dried dirt look. It doesn’t show as well in the pics because of the glint from the armor, but in hand looks more dusty.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Naturally I needed a "samurai commander" to lead these foot soldiers...

The only reason why I put him together was because I bought the WGL musket ashigaru figure and put together a foot soldier but didn’t use the helmet. By the bakumatsu period, these types of helmets seemed less common compared to the various types of jingasa battle hats, but may have been used by some traditionalist samurai. It seemed a waste to not use such a nice piece, so I bought a cheap 101toys Toyotomi Hideyoshi set without gear, and added the helmet. I faked the chin cord pattern to simulate the accurate style described above, but didn’t try too hard.

I substituted the arm armor and plastic feet/waraji from the Poptoys ashigaru set, and the leftover leg armor from the Devoted Samurai set I bought for Yae (I modified the knee pads from the original Toyotomi set to fit). The quality of the 101toys armor is poor, just molded, really thick vinyl plastic, and the paintwork is crappy, but it was relatively cheap, so I heavily weathered everything to try to hide the shortcomings. I also cut it way down so it would fit the body better (the only advantage of it being plastic).

The matchlock arquebus is from the WGL ashigaru set and is really nice, but highly anachronistic for this era, although many old matchlocks were converted to percussion lock or flintlock muskets by this time, so I just pretended this was an old family heirloom this “commander” never actually uses but waves around to exhort his troops.

This figure may look colorful and impressive, but it was the easiest and simplest figure to do compared to the other two, much more of a quick bash.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I also remade my Aizu banner and pole. Besides making it much larger, I realized it needed some Japanese joinery carpentry to match the patterns from the show.

The banners set off these group "battle" pics so they look less generic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I'm also posting my latest video here because it heavily features Takeko as well as the soldiers, not just Yae, so should be relevant.

As always, comments are welcome and appreciated, here or any thread you see it! 😚🥰

Here are some stills from the video featuring Takeko and the soldiers:
 
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