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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It’s been ages since I posted here, but I thought I’d try out the new-look OSW and see how it goes. I wanted to share an abridged/edited version of a thread I posted over at OSF a few months ago; not sure how much crossover there is here, but hopefully some will find this interesting.

It’s a long thread and there’s much historical context as well as WIP pics and descriptions. For those who are impatient feel free to skim or skip ahead, but I promise you that the figure is much more interesting and compelling once you know the history of the person and the time period/conflict she lived through. Here’s a teaser pic or two. There’s also a music video at the end so stay with me! This will take quite a few posts as it's a lot of material.
Face Dress Sleeve Waist Collar
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
Yamamoto Yae (山本 八重) (pr. Yah-eh) (1845-1932; Niijima Yae after her second marriage ) may well be one of the most obscure military history figures I’ve ever come across, and I believe that might even have been true in her native Japan until relatively recently. She shouldn’t be. She might be the first woman of the gunpowder era to openly fight in a war as a female rifleman and soldier, without resorting to gender blending disguise (as some women did during the American Civil War, to give one example of women who fought in armies during that time).

Born to a lower level samurai in her native Aizu in the Tohoku (northeast) region of Japan (in what is today Fukushima prefecture), she was fascinated by and obsessed with the Yamamoto family’s hereditary vocation of artillery and firearms from a very young age. Needless to say, her father Gonpachi and her social circle were not exactly encouraging of this interest, and she resorted to stealing her father’s gunnery books to study them on the sly, teaching herself the basic knowledge of how cannons and rifles worked. At some point, either her father or her much older brother Kakuma (by 17 years) finally relented and began to teach her how to actually handle and fire these weapons, and by her late teens she had become a very skilled marksman. But her activity was limited to firing at targets in her home firing range and helping out in their gunsmith shop with maintenance and weapons development with her by-then husband Kawasaki Shonosuke, a peer of her brother and also a weapons expert (perhaps the only man who would consent to marry this “oddball” of a woman, as he himself put it).

Her limited firearms activity changed dramatically in 1868, when the final vestiges of the decaying Tokugawa shogunate collapsed during the Boshin War and Japan entered the Meiji era and rapid cultural, technological/industrial, and military change that transformed the small feudal country into a world power in just a few decades. The Boshin War was the final paroxysm in a process that really began when Admiral Perry sailed into Edo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853, beginning a period of social/political upheaval that culminated in the multiple rebellions and conflicts of the 1860s, in which several feudal clans (acting both independently and then in league) brought down the military government that had kept Japan at peace since the 1600s.

Unfortunately for Yae, her family, and her entire clan, the Aizu feudal lords were descendants of blood relations from the Tokugawa ruling family and fiercely loyal to the Shogun. So, when the last Tokugawa Shogun, Lord Yoshinobu, abdicated and submitted to the “Imperial” forces (in reality rebel/rival clans who had coopted the young emperor in a bid for power), the Aizu were branded the new “rebels.” Their once substantial army (one of the most powerful of the feudal clans) was forced to flee from Kyoto (where they were stationed as military peacekeepers) back to their homeland to await the inevitable punitive invasion force. In fact, the last remnants of Shogun-loyal clans (mostly from the north with close ties to Aizu) formed an alliance to defend themselves from whom they considered usurpers to the legitimate government, even though the new government now had formal imperial support.

When the last of the outer defensive perimeter cities and blocking forces were defeated by October of 1868, Aizu lay wide open to the imperial forces who quickly tried to press home their advantage with momentum. But Yae and her fellow compatriots had other ideas. Aizu had been slow to modernize with modern weaponry and tactics, but they were by no means totally unprepared. The French had been staunch supporters of the shogunate and had supplied them with at least 3000 of their breech-loading Chassepot rifles, as well as with military advisers some of whom ended up staying and fighting alongside their clients. However, most of Aizu’s soldiers were still equipped with older muzzle-loading muskets, and many samurai still relied on their katana and yari spears for combat. The rival clans Satsuma and Choshu were far more aggressive in acquiring modern weaponry, including Armstrong cannons and thousands of Minié rifles, as well as Enfields and Snider-Enfield breech loaders. More importantly they completely reorganized and rearmed using larger units of peasants trained to use them alongside their samurai, while the Aizu/shogunate side still clung to a more traditional samurai/ashigaru-reliant military model.

Yae’s younger brother volunteered early in the conflict and was sent to Kyoto where he was killed at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, a crushing turning point where a small but well-armed Satsuma/Choshu force defeated a much larger but poorly equipped and led shogunate army. According to the TV series Yae no Sakura (more on this later), Yae put on her brother’s bullet riddled uniform, cut off her hair (and by that I mean down to the length of a modern long ponytail, which was considered short for a woman) and took her trusty Spencer repeating carbine (a gift from her elder brother Kakuma that he acquired from German arms dealer Carl Lehmann) with her into the main castle, joining the women, children, and elderly of all the samurai families who were required to enter the castle during times of siege. Many of these families did not, believing they would be a burden to the fight and over two hundred women and children of these samurai families committed ritual suicide in their homes rather than submit to the conquerors.

During the month-long battle, Yae fought as one of the rifle corps, occasionally leading squads due to her extensive tactical knowledge on how to deploy musket armed troops, as well as helping to direct artillery fire. She also helped the other samurai wives and daughters with their tasks of tending to the wounded, putting out fires, cooking, cleaning, washing, etc., and in some incredible instances extinguishing delayed-fuse cannonballs with wet blankets at extreme mortal peril. She participated in night raids into enemy camps, where her Spencer carbine held a distinct advantage. But perhaps most importantly, she fought as one of the men, using a rifle and leading them in western style line-fire or maneuver tactics. She did not wield a katana or naginata, or wear traditional armor and participate in glorious heroic combat, which would have followed a notable but limited heritage of the onna-bugeisha (female warrior). And she survived. Her father, a senior artillery officer, was killed in a virtually suicidal resupply mission, and her elder brother was long ago captured by the enemy and tortured to within an ounce of his life (he would recover, maimed and blinded, and eventually become a pillar of Meiji era Kyoto and educational reform). After a month of brutal shelling and pitched battle, the castle and the lord of Aizu finally capitulated, and most of the surviving clan forcibly moved to another domain while the rest scattered throughout Japan.

Yae would live a long and almost unbelievably eventful life, as if fighting with a rifle in war as a woman in 1868 Japan wasn’t incredible enough. She would: reunite with her brother in Kyoto; learn English; marry an American-educated Japanese Christian minister (Joseph Niijima, who stowed away on a ship and landed in Massachusetts where he graduated from Amherst) and convert to Christianity herself; help him found one of the first private English-language-based schools in Japan which eventually became an university system (the Doshisha in Kyoto); become a military nurse with the newly formed Japanese Red Cross, where she became a senior member who helped train nurses because of her experiences with battlefield wounds during the Boshin War; participate as a nurse in both the Sino- and Russo-Japanese wars around the turn of the century; and become the first non-royal woman to be given an Imperial medal (actually, two of them) for her nursing service during those wars (a most ironic thing given her past association with those Aizu “rebels”). Oh, and she also became one of the first female tea masters ever, as well as becoming proficient at flower arrangement.

Yae in her forties, long after the war and during her "happy years" in Kyoto:
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) Niijima_Yae

An elderly Yae, holding a rifle once again (not a Spencer I don't think):
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) Yae_old_with_rifle
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
She seems to have largely faded into obscurity thereafter, despite an occasional mention in local lore and perhaps a minor supporting role in a few Japanese TV dramas over the years. That all changed in 2013, when her story and that of Aizu was featured in NHK’s annual taiga drama. In fact, Yae no Sakura (Yae’s Cherry Tree/Blossom) was announced in 2011, several months after the cataclysmic Tohoku coastal earthquake and tsunami wiped out communities and took 20,000 lives. The programming people clearly wanted to give the region and country a morale boost, and what better way than to feature a heroine from a once important city located in present day Fukushima? It is interesting that Yae never had a statue dedicated to her until halfway through 2013, while the show about her was running, and the Japanese do seem to love their historical commemorative monuments. Far more celebrated in Aizu were the 19 teenagers who committed seppuku (aka harakiri) on a hill overlooking the castle, as well as Nakano Takeko, a naginata-wielding onna-bugeisha who led a small squad of similarly armed brave women on an essentially suicidal charge and was shot dead on the spot. Both of these subjects had statues and commemorative monuments erected for them long ago in Aizu, including, amazingly enough, a gift from Mussolini for the young teenagers who committed seppuku.

Yae's statue in Aizu today:
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) Yae_statue


I think her conversion to Christianity may have had something to do with her lack of renown, as well as a persistent prejudice against northerners generally and Aizu in particular as being the “traitors” on the losing side during their civil war. In fact, the show did poorly in the national ratings after an initial surge of interest, although predictably the ratings in Tohoku remained consistently high. For those who don’t know about these year-long 50-episode TV series (and I didn’t; this was my first and only so far), they are an annual tradition dating back to the early ‘60s and have always been a big TV/cultural event, although the luster had worn off a bit by the time 2013 rolled around. NHK jealously guards its broadcast rights and the shows are virtually unobtainable in the US.

Yae was played by Ayase Haruka, who I thought was fantastic. She’s considered a perky and cute actress who’s known for her rom-coms and some silly comedies, but she also did Ichi, a sort of sequel to the legendary Zatoichi series, which some of you may know, as well as a beautiful more recent film called Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary in Japanese). Anyway, the show is heartbreakingly sad, but the climax of the Aizu battle comes about halfway through and fills five episodes with some thrilling action, as well as “Battle Yae” in her most unusual uniform and gear.

Show poster:
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) Yae_poster


Production photography:
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) Yae_runs
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) IMG_0254
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
My first thought was: it’d be so cool to do a figure based on her, and then I thought, no way would you be able to find the requisite parts to even be able to start one, unless I wanted to scratch build everything. And then, a random search turned up Battlegear Toys, which makes Civil War uniforms that are very similar, as well as a Spencer carbine and a special cavalry sling to go with it! And when I saw the Butterfly Helmet Warrior from PopToys, I thought, that headsculpt could work… obviously not Ms. Ayase, but something about that expression and especially the simple ponytail felt right.
Yamamoto Yae and the warriors of Aizu, 1868 (REVISED/IMPROVED video added! 4/18/21) 164101c248vj1pdgg882d8
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Her pants were more of a problem, since to me those striped bloomers (hakama) are part of the signature look. The only thing available comes from those old Alfrex samurai sets which now cost at least $300 each when you can find them on eBay, which is too much just for a pair of pants. I could find absolutely nothing else in 1/6 that even came close. But, I did find a 1/12 scale pair of full length pleated striped pants from a Wolverine samurai accessory set, and it was cheap enough I thought I could take a chance. When the pleats are let out they can just pass for a crude imitation of her hakama since they hit right at the knee. Below, you can see my first alterations to the tunic and pants:


The pants needed a new pelvic seat area, so I cut up an old pair of desert BDUs I had laying around and stitched the legs to that. The area would be covered up so it didn’t matter too much:


The tunic is almost the exact pattern she wears, except for the buttons. But I think they used plastic buttons on her costume tunic, which would have been anachronistic (perhaps they would have been painted wood?). My first version of this figure featured the gold buttons, but a recent revision made them more show-accurate.
During the show she tears the sleeves off her brother’s tunic and it exposes the inner crimson lining, so I had to replicate that:

Eventually I realized the fit was poor and I redid the entire shoulder area, took in the sides, and redid the buttons, dramatically improving the fit and look.

During the show she starts with a blue and red hadagi/juban undershirt that looks nice and clean

but eventually gets the sleeves torn off and shredded to reveal a thin strip of dingy grey/beige fabric. I cut up this garment from the PopToys Nobushi set to achieve the same effect. Also, she quickly tears up her pants to reveal red silken underwear that hangs out from underneath, which eventually also gets torn up and dirty:
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The hardest thing by far was scratchbuilding the leather items: that strange leather left arm sleeve, the Blakeslee ammo box for the Spencer carbine, and the modified bayonet frog used for her wakizashi (short sword).

As I learned from my Eowyn cuirass, the key with complex leather shapes is making lots of rough prototypes, first from paper, and then from leather. You can never get it right from the start. Even after arriving at a “final” pattern, you have to make minor adjustments and trim to form-fit the figure you’re using. And, as insurance, always cut two of your final pattern in case you screw up when you’re doing final fitting/assembly:


I’m really not sure what function the leather sleeve performs. Perhaps it’s to protect against hot gun barrels? In the show it’s cut much higher on the torso, to almost just below the breasts. But I wanted to use it to thicken her waist area so I cut it much longer, and it makes it much easier to secure with the cords.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Speaking of bodies, I decided to go with seamless TBleague simply because her right arm is fully exposed as well as a portion of her right knee. It’s almost not worth it, but I did want this to be a special figure, so I ended up trying a few different ones and ended up settling on 23b, which I had thought would be too broad shouldered and muscular, but, given the oversized tunic made for a male body, fit the best. The body’s skin color doesn’t even come close to matching the skin color of the face, so I had to think of a way to deal with that, but put that off for now.

The leg armor and footwear took some searching. Initially I thought I could use the molded feet/sandals from the Butterfly warrior figure, but the foot pegs are totally different so no go. I ended up finding these beautiful handwoven waraji sets from China made from real bamboo twine and real fabric tabi that look very authentic and are the right dark blue color she wears. They are made for male-sized feet, I used the newer TBL larger sized feet and it’s a good fit. The 23b is so tall that when it’s all put together, the feet and sandals look about right. For the leg armor the closest thing was the PopToys Ashigaru figures, and I also found knee pads from the Devoted Samurai figure (the Last Samurai knock off) that fit the same pattern as she has but different colors (red dots on black instead of black dots on white), and I kind of like this dark theme better anyway. These came with the greaves and an inner fabric sleeve which I could also use to bulk out her very thin calves. The leg armor needs more of those ribs, but I think it’s close enough and has a very beautiful fabric pattern which actually matches the pants on the Butterfly warrior figure. Weathered up, things are starting to look about right:


Along the way I decided to paint the trim for the leather sleeve just around the hand area, and also replicate the lace sling that loops around her middle finger to keep the sleeve in place:
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The Blakeslee box might have been even more daunting to do than the arm sleeve, because it’s a rather precise geometric shape and would tolerate less fudging. I had to think hard about how to construct it, and settled on good ol’ balsa wood: easy to cut and sand, and for final shaping you can actually just press on it and it squishes down if your angles aren’t quite right:

Unfortunately I ended up sanding a bit too much off the length so it’s short by about an eighth of an inch, but who’s counting?

I used the same leather as the arm sleeve to clad this wood former, and had to stain/paint it with acrylics to get it close to the color from the show (BTW I’m a Tamiya devotee, FYI). Real vintage ones are usually black, and the straps are slightly different. It’s pretty clear they custom made or altered a reproduction specifically for this show. Here’s the finished piece:


I used leftover buckles that would fit (I have tons from straps I’ve thrown out). They aren’t an exact match but close enough. The stud for the lid strap was also a spare broken part from my trove of leftover junk I’ll never throw out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The sword/bayonet belt was one of those Napoleonic spare parts I found online. I had to cut it narrower to fit the look better. I had originally intended to just be lazy and use the looped bayonet strap as-is

but after looking at footage again I realized how distinct her frog is, and that it would never do sitting next to my custom made Blakeslee box.

So, a few prototypes later (and this time using two different types of leather):

The wakizashi short sword comes from the Butterfly figure and is a beautiful piece, maybe too ornate for Yae, but I like it.

I searched high and low with no luck for a fabric that could replicate the intricate geometric pattern of her sash belt, but instead found something really interesting at my local Michaels—a Japanese themed pink Sakura ribbon!:

Obviously too pale and baby pink, but I stained it with acrylic washes of red and browns, and also glued on a maroon ribbon to the backside for stiffness and color, and I like the result. Once again, this fits into my idea that it’s a “reinterpretation” of her look in the show.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
While I was working on the major revision to the tunic a new set of more appropriate gloved hands arrived from a preorder I placed months ago, and I created a leather cuff and repainted the whole thing to look closer to what Ms. Ayase wore on the show. (the hand at top shows the original color)


I used the same ribbon (cut down to width) from the sash for the interesting red cord she uses as a bracelet for her shooting glove. I left it paler and just washed it with Tamiya Flat Earth to darken it a bit. With the new gloves and retailored tunic things were finally starting to look about right:

While I was reworking the tunic I devised a simple hook and eye closure, so that I wouldn't need to untie and retie that knot every time I needed to remove equipment or alter clothing. Fortunately the area right behind the rifle pouch is a perfect place to hide this closure. I used a leftover hook from my spares bag (it's tiny and somewhat fragile, one of those old Dragon ones).


BTW Battlegear Toys had the exact pattern of rifle pouch available, though I had to paint it black. In fact, it’s apparent the costumers took a WWII era type 30 or 38 rifle pouch and modified it by removing the straps for the oil bottle on the side, so I did the same with mine. Battlegear also had an accurate cavalry carbine sling for the Spencer, which I used. In the show the costumers used an unusual pattern of carbine sling that I’ve not seen in my research. The classic is like the one made by Battlegear, just a simple leather belt with a sliding D-ring for the clip so the carbine can move freely along the sling without moving the sling across the body. But hers attaches to the rear buttstock ring as well so the strap functions much like a normal two-point rifle strap—move the gun, move the strap.

The only thing I did other than some weathering was adding the missing jump ring to the railing on the carbine for the clip to attach to.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
In the show, the women all use simple white string to tie their hair, so I just used thin white kitchen string to replicate the look over the red hairband painted on the ponytail. It’s lightly washed with Flat Earth so not so blindingly white.


One of the last things I did (prior to the tunic revision) was to alter the color of the right arm to more closely match the face. I tried some artists’ crayons that are oil or wax based and had many earth tones of ochres and browns which helped me bring that skin color closer. In the show her arm gets pretty dirty, with soot and grime marks up and down as well as on her face, not to mention her hands. So I applied, blended and experimented, and came pretty close, not perfect, but close.

 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I was very moved by this show and this character, and made the extra effort to create a "music video" featuring a signature track from the soundtrack (I really like the music from the show). Those who remember me from the past will know I like to try to match poses as close as possible to source material. This time I tried it with photo compositing, and here are a few examples:


And finally, the video. It's less than three minutes so I hope you'll watch through to the end. I use "freeze frame" motion, not quite stop motion to simulate movement. (and as always with YT vids, "press the like button if you like it:sneaky:(y), subscribe if you really like it" blah blah!;) )

Please note! YT has been severely compressing HD vids lately so I rendered and uploaded it in 4k. Please select 4k resolution (2160p) before watching or you will get a terrible picture! Even if your device is not 4k capable you can select it and the video will play in true HD as I intended!

 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
For anyone interested in viewing the original thread over on OSF: Yae and warriors of Aizu

There are additional characters and figures, as well as a more organic chronicle of the changes I made over several months. There's even Japanese poetry involved! :geek:

But this thread here covers all the key WIP and results of Yae's figure in a more tidy summary.
 

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Excellent craftsmanship, interesting subject, historical significance, all wrapped up with thoughtful presentation. Very well done.
 

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Fascinating story, and your bash is terrific! You used what you could find, and spent a lot of time and effort modifying those parts. What you couldn't find, you made, and your craftsmanship is outstanding! That is only the second Blakeslee box I've seen in 1/6, and yours is beautifully done! Thank you for the detailed construction description and photos! Your photography is first rate!
Bravo!
 

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Excellent post and workmanship. History is amazing. Thank you for sharing so much. I've learned something of interest today. Thats a great looking figure.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Excellent craftsmanship, interesting subject, historical significance, all wrapped up with thoughtful presentation. Very well done.
Thanks Xwithers, glad you liked it and really appreciate your kind comments!

Fascinating story, and your bash is terrific! You used what you could find, and spent a lot of time and effort modifying those parts. What you couldn't find, you made, and your craftsmanship is outstanding! That is only the second Blakeslee box I've seen in 1/6, and yours is beautifully done! Thank you for the detailed construction description and photos! Your photography is first rate!
Bravo!
Thanks so much markh166! This was one of those projects that got hold of me and wouldn't let go! That's why I did a major update several months after "completing" the figure. I'm glad you enjoyed the WIP descriptions (I really enjoy sharing my processes), and that you could understand the complexities of the Blakeslee! Thanks for your support!

you did one really great job
Thanks intents2002!

Excellent post and workmanship. History is amazing. Thank you for sharing so much. I've learned something of interest today. Thats a great looking figure.
Thanks MrNoCredit! Really appreciate your support! So glad you felt like the history and WIP was educational and interesting!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hmmm... Although OSW is saying my view count on this thread is almost 800 in less than a week (thanks for all the views!), YouTube is telling me only one person watched the embedded video. The stats could be wrong, but they are probably not far off. Did you miss it? I'm going to post a separate thread about this where I grovel, but here it is again:
 
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