Warrior games lead charge into history

by Kazuaki Nagata

Following a trend isn’t simply about getting ahead of the curve or owning the latest cutting-edge gadget. Revisiting the distant past has also been in vogue in recent years, especially with young women.

More are showing an interest in history, particularly Japan’s feudal warriors of the 16th and 17th centuries.

When the Jidaiya bookstore opened in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in February 2006 featuring history books and related merchandise, about 80 percent of the customers were middle-aged men, according to Miyuki Miyamoto, who handles public relations for the store.

Yet female customers have increased over the years, attracted by warrior-themed hit video games.

The “Sengoku Basara” series, which has sold 1.2 million units, is especially popular with women, according to a PR official with Capcom Co., the game’s creator.

In this game and others like it, players control the handsome warriors as they do battle with their enemies.

Miyamoto of Jidaiya said about half the customers are women now, and 90 percent are in their late teens to 30s.

“This is the biggest change we’ve experienced since opening the store, and I think it reflects a new trend: young women are becoming history buffs,” Miyamoto said.

Despite the recession, sales of history-related items rose 30 percent in 2008 compared with the previous year.

More than simply a way to pass the time, the games appear to be stimulating an intellectual appetite.

Because they want to know more about their favorite warriors, the women who play the video games often turn to the historical novels of Ryotaro Shiba, Miyamoto said.

“Also, they read other history books or documented studies, and then they travel to visit their favorite warriors’ birthplaces and graves,” she said.

The history trend appears to be contributing to tourism in rural areas.

A festival marking the Battle of Sekigahara, which paved the way to absolute power for Tokugawa Ieyasu, is held annually in the town of Sekigahara in Gifu Prefecture.

Last year, the festival attracted about 35,000 people, and although there is no official data, the number of young women was significantly higher than in years past, according to an official at the Sekigahara regional development division.

Miyamoto believes the video games have had a significant influence. “Because of the video game, history has become more approachable,” she said.

History buffs at school are typically viewed as nerds. But the video games may have helped change that image, Miyamoto said. Asked why the women become so passionate about history, she said many of them see the warriors as ideal males.

“For us history lovers, we yearn for historical characters — whether he is an ideal type of man or someone to look up to for his way of life.”

And thanks to the warrior boom, even the losers in historical struggles, those who tend to be overshadowed in history texts by the victors, are receiving their due.

The most popular warrior-related merchandise in 2008 belonged to Sanada Yukimura, the loser against Tokugawa.

“It is interesting that I heard from many that it doesn’t really matter whether they (warriors) won or lost in the battle. The important thing is how they lived their lives,” said Miyamoto.