TANAKA, 1587


In 1587 the 1,000-strong garrison of tiny Tanaka Castle held out for 100 days against an army ten times their size.  When the castle fell it was burned to the ground, and the memory of the epic struggle lived on only in the words of a little known war chronicle and in the folk memories of the local people who tended the warriors’ graves on the now anonymous hillside and told tales of ghosts and tormented spirits. 


In 1987 everything changed.  Prompted by the fourth centenary of the battle the local council began a systematic archaeological investigation of the castle site.  The finds were numerous, but the greatest discovery of all came in a distant library where a researcher unearthed what turned out to be Japan’s oldest surviving battle map. 


It included a detailed drawing of Tanaka Castle during the siege that matched up exactly to the picture that was emerging from the dig, but the map also contained so much extra information that, when combined with the archaeological finds, the war chronicle and local folklore, the long forgotten siege of Tanaka in 1587 was transformed into one of the best documented battles in the whole of samurai history.   My book is the first full account in any language of this great, heroic yet unknown struggle.


Samurai versus Ashigaru is the provocative title of what is my fiftieth Osprey book.  It is in the Combat Series, which pits different types of warriors against each other. 


My theme is how large well organised squads of ashigaru (foot soldiers) armed primarily with matchlock muskets, overcame armies of mounted samurai.  The three battles I use as case studies are Uedahara, Mikata ga Hara and Nagashino. 

Here are two samples of the superb artwork.



My latest work is a training manual for ninja, written as if I was a seventeenth century ninja Grand Master, which neatly gets round the question of whether ninja really existed.  


It is 1789, Japan is in peril, and he has been commissioned by the Shogun to train the ninja of the future. 


In this book you will find all the ninja weapons and tools, their survival skills and the great ninja raids of history, just as they appeared in the great ninjutsu manuals of the Edo Period.


It is illustrated by a wealth of contemporary woodblock line drawings  and prints that would have been available at the time, giving it a very authentic period feel.

Hear a podcast of me on the samurai.


This is another training manual in Thames and Hudson’s brilliant series, which already includes my training guide for samurai! 


If you want to know how to capture a ship, how to keelhaul someone and the proper way to look after a pet parrot (tip: don’t feed them avocados, they are poisonous to parrots) then this book is for you, me hearties! (Sorry, you get in the habit). 



Ninja:Unmasking the Myth is the long awaited replacement for my 1991 book on ninja.


Most of the new material comes from my association with Mie University’s Ninja Research Project.  A treasure trove of information, which I have translated into English for the first time, has emerged about the cultural phenomenon on their own doorstep. 


One of the most interesting discoveries has been that the word shinobi (i.e ninja) appears in a Japanese to Portuguese dictionary published in Nagasaki in 1603. 


So if someone tells you that ninja are an invention you can agree with them - but point out that the invention began over four hundred years ago. 

Listen to my interview on BBC Radio Leeds about ninja by clicking here:



 Each of the objects is illustrated in glorious colour, and some have never been photographed before. 


The story begins with a Nara Period castle gate under snow and ends with a samurai as a souvenir toy duck. Look out for the Goganji - Japan’s red temple, where the normally white walls were painted red to hide the blood stains, and the torture rope used by the Shogun’s dreaded Shinsengumi squad. 

PLEASE NOTE!  If you search for the book on Amazon you will notice a dreadful mistake on their part, because the 'Look Inside' facility takes you to the wrong book!

The following books are highly recommended and easily available

But this one is not for everyone...

There is only one of my books for which I feel that I must issue a trigger warning, because some people may find Japan’s Sexual Gods quite offensive, and it is a view I respect. The book is a serious academic work about Japan’s fertility shrines and their place in folk religion.  Their votive objects are very frank, and many are depicted in the numerous illustrations in this ground-breaking work.  The book is very expensive but it is a must if you are interested in the subject, although it's not for everyone. 

Click the image for more details.

© 2018 Dr Stephen Turnbull