Ninjas In Your Toilet?
was one of the most powerful daimyō
or feudal lords of Japan.
For centuries a Shōgun or
warlord really controlled the country while the Emperor,
believed to be directly descended from the gods,
was cloistered in the Imperial capital of Kyōto,
carrying out Shintō rituals to ensure that
the gods continued to favor Japan.
The regional daimyō
commanded samurai warriors,
and reported to the Shōgun.
Uesugi lived 1530–1578,
during the Sengoku Jidai or, literally,
"Warring States period".
Civil wars waged through most of the 15th and 16th centuries.
And how did Uesugi Kenshin die?
On the toilet, possibly stabbed by a ninja assassin hiding in
the cesspit beneath it.
That violent period overlapped with the Muromachi period,
when the Muromachi Shōgunate,
also called the Ashikaga Shōgunate,
was the feudal military government of Japan.
Uesugi Kenshin as depicted in 1843–1844 by Kuniyoshi in
Stories of 100 Heroes of High Renown.
He was born into the Nagao clan as Nagao Kagetora.
He was adopted into the Uesugi clan and changed his name
to Uesugi Masatora.
Then he changed his name again, to Uesugi Terutora,
in order to honor the 13th shōgun
And then, after he had vowed to become a Zen Buddhist as many samurai
and daimyō were, he changed his given name once more,
finally making him Uesugi Kenshin.
Kenshin was known for his devotion to
in the original Sanskrit,
known as Bishamonten in Japanese.
He's a god of war and warriors,
clad in armor and punishing evil-doers.
When Kenshin prepared to leave for war,
he would first pray at the shrine of Bishamonten.
Next he would have a traditional farewell meal with his generals,
with three dishes and three cups symbolizing good luck
and the Japanese concepts of heaven, earth, and man.
Then it was ritual shouts with the men,
waving of banners,
and then they rode off to battle.
Plumbing of Shōgunate Japan
Kenshin came to rule Echigo Province,
roughly equivalent to today's Niigata Prefecture.
It's in the Tōhoku region of the largest island, Honshū,
well north of today's Tōkyō.
At the age of just 15 he was placed in joint command of Tochio Castle.
Four years later he became the head of the Nagao clan
and established his primary base in Kasugayama Castle.
Below is Tsuruga-jō, the Tsuruga castle in nearby Aizu-Wakamatsu.
The water fountain is for today's visitors.
It has been reconstructed after its destruction in the civil war
at the end of the Shōgunate period.
Kenshin held Aizu-Wakamatsu for some time.
The cistern in the foreground was used
to provide water for the stables.
Uesugi Kenshin was revered as a military genius on the battlefield.
Some regarded him as an avatar of Bishamonten,
calling him "God of War".
But he was also a highly skilled administrator,
leading the growth of local industries and
raising the standard of living in Echigo Province.
Uesugi clan Polybius cipher
He and his clan had a form of the Polybius square cipher available,
although it's unknown if they actually used it, or how.
It's a simple substitution cipher,
pretty typical for the mid-16th century CE,
and easily broken.
The fact that the cleartext was in kana
phonetically spelling Japanese would have made it pretty secure
against foreign nations,
but it would have been insecure in the civil wars within Japan.
His military career was quite complex,
given his involvement in a time of constant civil wars.
Let's move on to the plumbing connection.
By 1577, when he was 47 years old,
he had been suffering for some time
from what is believed to have been esophageal cancer.
Early sources record that his health deteriorated.
He complained of pain in the chest "like an iron ball".
In 1578, it was time for Kenshin to write his death poem.
Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake.
A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream.
I know not what life is, nor death.
Year in, year out — all but a dream.
Both Heaven and Hell are left behind.
I stand in the moonlit dawn,
Free from clouds of attachment.
Kenshin watching geese in the moonlight and composing his death poem.
1890, by Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), the last great master
of the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock printing.
The legend says that a ninja had hidden in the cesspit
beneath the latrine in Kenshin's camp.
When Kenshin used the toilet on 19 April 1578,
the ninja killed him with a short spear
or a short sword, a wakizashi.
If that really happened — and the debate continues —
then the ninja may have only delivered the fatal wound
to a man who was already about to die.
Other toilet assassinations:
King Eglon of Moab, c. 1380 BCE
Edmund Ironsides, 1016 CE
King Henri III of France, 1589 CE