It was a cold, gray, muddy dawn, as a thick white fog obscured the field at Sekigahara, Japan on the morning of October 21, 1600. As the fog slowly parted, it revealed two massive armies of heavily-armored samurai warriors, roughly equal in size, with both forces arrayed in full battle gear along the plain. Everything was as gray, dark, and gloomy as a fucking horrible Hollywood “gritty reboot” of a film that used to actually be fun and cool, as if some trite CGI effects technician had completely plastered the entire battlefield with a custom gray-brown “Tortured Hero” pallet overlay in PhotoShop. Through the fog, rain, and mud, the two largest armies of the Samurai era stood around looking tough as shit, throwing shade at their enemies from behind cool-looking armored face guards hand-forged from a quarter-inch of lacquered iron. Both sides knew that the future of Japan would forever hinge on the epic blood-soaked carnage that was about to take place.
Then, through the mist, a huge battle-cry arose. Charging forward, an ultra-neon shock of bright red armor stampeding forward like a fire truck screaming down the street with its sirens blaring at maximum volume. A crew of some of the most terrifying warriors you can possibly imagine – heavily-armored samurai, their faces covered by masks, each dressed in blood red gear with their crimson flags flapping in the wind behind them. Personally leading the charge was the “Red Devil” himself – Ii Naomasa, the Akaoni, a badass samurai motherfucker who survived the complete destruction of his warrior clan to become one of the most trusted generals in the shogun’s service. Clearly distinguishable from the rest of his unit because he had a set of massive badass-as-hell white demon horns jutting up from his red helmet, Naomasa screamed for his warriors to lower their lances and strike the enemy’s fucking heads off with extreme violence.
The enemy infantry across the field glanced around nervously, set their spears to receive a charge, and steeled themselves for the hurricane of pointy death that was about to impale their faces into the ground like a tent peg. The reputation of the Red Devils had been earned in the blood of their enemies, and on the field at Sekigahara they would once again prove themselves to be the most elite shock troops of the Warring States samurai era.
Ii (this is pronounced like “Easy-E” without the “-asy”) Naomasa was born in 1561 in Totomi Province, on the southern coast of Japan. The youngest scion of the Ii Clan of badass feudal samurai warriors, Naomasa’s dad and grandfather were both hardcore warriors who had slung katanas in the service of their lords for generations. Unfortunately for them, the world of Feudal Japan was a goddamn wreck in 1560, and the entire island was carved up into a ton of tiny little provinces that were all pretty much at war with each other constantly. Death and destruction were commonplace, and it seemed like every fifteen minutes some asshole popped up talking shit about how he was going to conquer Japan and restore order with the point of his samurai sword.
One of these dudes came to Totomi Province right around the time Naomasa was born. This guy’s name was Oda Nobunaga, and he was a dude so intensely out-of-control hardcore that his nickname was “The Demon King”. Well, Mr. The Demon King rolled up in 1560, fought a battle against the lord of Totomi Pronvince (a dude named Imagawa), and even though Demon King was outnumbered ten-to-one he beat the piss out of Imagawa, killed him and all of his retainers, and burned the guy’s castle to the ground. Naomasa’s grandfather had been in Imagawa’s army, and died in the battle, giving his life in service of his Lord. Well, that’s noble and all, but Imagawa’s son was pretty pissed off about the whole thing, went Full Hitler, and started accusing all of his subordinates of treason and backstabbing and other shit. He sent assassins to Ii Naomasa’s house, killed his father, his mother, his brothers, his uncles, the family pets, and anyone else he could get his hands on, then he burned the entire fucking place to the ground.
Ii Naomasa was three years old when this happened. He escaped, thanks to a heroic aunt who grabbed him at first sight of samurai swords, got him out of there, and snuck him into a Buddhist monastery where he would be safe.
But, as you know, Samurai Warriors don’t forget a little thing like being the last survivor from the complete massacre of their Warrior Clan.
Now, being raised by fucking Buddhist warrior-monks is pretty goddamn awesome, and young Ii Naomasa learned everything he could about beating the monkey balls off of anyone who screwed with him. He trained in swordsmanship, karate, horseback riding, and mastered his chi to the point where he was basically lobbing around hadoukens any time he wanted. Unfortunately for him, he never got the chance to kill Imagawa – that son-of-a-bitch got his karmic retribution when he was attacked by the Demon King and had no warriors left to protect him. But Imagawa had allies to kill, and enemies who wanted to kill them, and it was here that Ii Naomasa found his opportunity to put his vengeance-skills to the test.
Shortly after Imagawa was defeated, the coast was clear for Naomasa to show himself, and this wandering swordsman immediately offered his services to one of the Imagawa’s chief enemies – a lesser-known samurai named Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa had been a lieutenant in the Demon King’s army, had himself been a former prisoner of the Imagawa (so he really hated them), and was more than happy to give young Naomasa and opportunity to swing a sword in righteous anger on the blood-stained field of battle.
Ii Naomasa was only sixteen when he joined Tokugawa in 1576, but he proved his worth immediately. First, he saved Tokugawa from an assassination attempt, although I don’t have any good info on how exactly he did that. Two years later, after proving himself as a junior officer, he was given command of a regiment of 3,000 men at the Battle of Tanaka against the Takeda Clan, a powerful and ancient warrior clan that had been close allies of the dudes who killed Naomasa’s entire family. Staring down a charging force of determined enemy warriors, Ii Naomasa’s forces first cut down the enemy with accurate gunfire (he was a huge proponent of firearms on the battlefield), then counter-attacked and drove the enemy from the field. In 1581 he captured one of Takeda’s castles by cutting off their water supply and then assaulting the walls once the samurai were good and dehydrated. Then, in 1582, he won yet another fight against Takeda, defeating the enemy at the Battle of Toriibata.
At Toriibata, Ii Naomasa had been super fucking impressed by a formation of enemy warriors who charged head-on into combat in suits of blood-red armor. Naomasa had first been a little thrown off by this blood-covered force of warriors barreling down on him, but had personally led the charge to defeat them. After the enemy unit surrendered to him, he offered the warriors of that unit to come join his force. He accepted them to his army with honor, then put in a request with Tokugawa for his guys to also wear the red. Tokugawa said sure, and Naomasa went full-on badass with it – not only did his samurai wear red armor, but he got red armor for his infantry, riflemen, and archers, put red barding on his horses, and had red banners crafted for all of his samurai and his units. (He also hired a bunch of ninjas to work for him, but I think red-clad ninjas are only something you see in animes and old G.I. Joe episodes). It looks really awesome when you look at those cool old Japanese painting that show battle scenes from the Glory Days of Samurai Asskickings, and makes it damn easy to pick out exactly where Naomasa’s guys are whomping nutsacks.
It’s not a color for those without confidence,
because there’d be no mistaking it if you fled like a coward.
As soon as the red armor went on, Ii Naomasa went from being “typical badass samurai” to “holy donkey balls its those red armor dudes run for your shit and piss your pants while you are doing so”. Known to demolish his enemies at long range with goddamn rifle fire and at close range with a samurai sword to the dome, Naomasa was also known to his own men by the amazingly-awesome nickname “The Killing Machine”, because he would lose his mind and decapitate your head off for the most minor transgressions and not even think twice about it. Basically being the Terry Tate Office Linebacker of Feudal Japan is as awesome as it gets, and after stomping balls at the Battle of Nagakute in 1584 and shooting the enemy Ikeda Clan commander in the fucking head with a matchlock rifle his reputation as one of the most badass warriors of the Tokugawa Army was firmly cemented. Tokugawa himself named him one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of the Tokugawa military machine, a title that was shared by fellow badass samurai Honda Tadakatsu.
(He did also apparently have a softer side, however, because when he was holding Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s mom as a prisoner of war she made a point of mentioning to her son how kind and polite he was to her and all of her handmaidens….. which is extra awesome in a “tell your mom I said hi” kind of way).
Naomasa’s armor is 400 years old but is still
perfectly preserved in a museum at his former castle.
The Takeda Clan were eventually defeated and absorbed into Tokugawa’s army, so in 1590 it was time for Naomasa to attack another enemy clan – the Hojo. He blockaded the walls of Odawara Castle, and then, while the rest of the Tokugawa army was content to sit back and wait for the Hojo to starve into submission, Ii Naomasa had better shit to do – like bring the pain train, destination Hojo. He got some engineers to dig a tunnel underneath the walls of the castle, and then, in the middle of the night, he moved all his troops through it, into their base, and started killing all their dudes. I can think of little more terrifying than a thousand samurai in blood-red armor kicking asses in my living room with torches and swords in the middle of the goddamn night.
Ii Naomasa’s finest hour came in the rain and the mud at the Battle of Sekigahara in October 1600. Naomasa’s Red Devils had originally been stationed near the back of the Tokugawa army, and Ii himself had been tasked with keeping Tokugawa’s teenage son alive and out of any serious trouble.
Forget that. Naomasa ignored the orders, took thirty of his best warriors, and personally charged ahead of the Tokugawa army, drawing first blood in what would become the decisive battle of Japanese samurai history.
As he rode forward, he blew right past the unit that had been giving the honor of fighting first. Those guys yelled “fuck you” at him and his men, but didn’t do shit about it.
Racing forward on horseback at full gallop, the Red Devils slammed hard into the front of the enemy warriors, cutting them to shreds with spears and swords or simply trampling those poor fuckers into the mud. Slicing and weaving through the enemy, Ii Naomasa carved through the enemy ranks, spiraling his enemies out into the mud in every direction, shattering their lines and then slicing their backs when they turned to run from him like cowards. After smashing the Ukita Clan’s infantry, he then reorganized his men, turned to face another attack, and plunged into the fray. The Battle of Sekigahara was the victory that would unite all of Japan under the power of Tokugawa, and Tokugawa Shogunate would end up ruling Japan for over 350 years.
With the battle clearly going in Tokugawa’s favor, Ii Naomasa caught sight of the Shimazu Clan’s banners fluttering off in the distance. These guys had been one of Tokugawa’s allies, but after getting beat the shit by Torii Mototada they switched teams and betrayed their master. Ii fully intended to make them pay for their treason with a few dozen pints of blood. He spurred his horse onwards, riding down the fleeing Shimazu, cutting them in half as he stampeded by. But then, before he could reach the leader, a Shimazu gunner took aim at the red armor (it was a pretty easy target to find), and fired a round that struck Ii in his arm and shattered his elbow. The force of the shot knocked him from his horse, into the mud, and it was feared the wound would be fatal.
Now, in Feudal Japan, when a commander was mortally wounded in battle, it was customary for one of his men to behead him so that he wouldn’t become a prisoner of the enemy. With Ii Naomasa, this didn’t happen. Because his men were terrified of him and didn’t want to swing a sword in his direction out of fear that he’d snap out of it and kick the shit out of them.
Ii Naomasa survived. Two months later, he surrounded the fleeing enemy commander in an old castle, set it on fire, and killed everyone inside.
Ii Naomasa died three years after the Battle of Sekigahara, possibly of complications from his gunshot wound, but his legacy lived on in Japanese history. His sons took over the Red Devils, and at the Battle of Osaka in 1615 they were front and center of the blood-soaked mayhem, charging in an epic attack that crushed the enemy forces in and left over half of the enemy force (including their Clan leadership) dead or dying on the field.
The Ii Clan would loyally serve the Tokugawa shogunate for the next 350 years, including one time when Ii’s great-great-etc. grandson personally saved the Shogun’s life at a time when everyone here in America was fighting the Civil War.
Bryant, Anthony J. Sekigahara 1600. Osprey, 2013.
Clements, Jonathan. A Brief History of the Samurai. Little, Brown, 2013.
Sadler, A. Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tuttle, 2014.
Turnbull, Stephen. Samurai: Way of the Warrior. Osprey, 2012.
Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai: A Military History. Routledge, 2013.