Japan is a land with a long ancient history. Throughout her generations, Japan has produced some incredible people. Hundreds of thousands of great people, and among them there are some truly awesome people. Some you will have heard of, but many you may not have. Here are 10 most epically awesome Japanese people you should get to know!
Mochizuki Chiyome was the original female ninja: Kunoichi. Not only was she a ninja, she started her own ninja school and trained countless Japanese girls in the arts of espionage, spy craft, assassination, and generally being awesome.
She would travel the war wrecked countryside to look for young girls who had everything taken from them, but had the fire of revenge in their eyes. She would take them in, feed them, train them, and produce Japan’s most effective spy ring and information guild. She trained her girls mostly mentally, training them in memorization, improvisation, and how to blend in any situation.
Now you might have heard of Toshiro Mifune before as he is a world famous actor. You might know him as ‘that guy from Yojimbo’. While he might be famous for portraying fictional characters, Japan’s place in pop-culture can be mainly attributed to this actor.
His gruff characters exuded a sense of charisma, you can not tear your eyes away from him whenever he is on screen. And any action scene with him feels real.
Makoto Nagano is another modern epic dude. If you have ever seen Japanese show Ninja Warrior (‘Sasuke’ in Japan), you might recognize him. If you don’t know Ninja Warrior, it is a Japanese game show that puts competitors through 3 incredibly difficult obstacle courses. Makoto was the first man to ever complete all 3 courses. If you get the chance watch the episode he was in, you would think he would be the perfect man to play the main character in a Prince of Persia movie.
He was simply a lonely fisherman who would train on his ship. Often on the show, they document the participants’ training regimen. Nagano jumps and flies up the mast of the ship and swings around on the rigging like a madly ripped monkey!
Torii Mototada was the commander of what is often referred to as Japan’s own Alamo. In 1600, an army of 40,000 men approached Fushimi castle, and they fully expected the commander of the tiny garrison would surrender and commit seppuku or ritual suicide. But Mototada probably said the Japanese equivalent of, “take my sword from my cold dead fingers”, and ordered his tiny garrison to attack an army twenty times its size.
The garrison held out against the giant army for over a week. Basically, imagine Helm’s Deep from the second Lord of the Rings movie, and you would be close. When his force was reduced to a meager 200 men, Mototada would rally them to leave the castle and attack the army of now over 30,000 men! For almost 3 more days!!! Eventually, Mototada would finally be alone and surrounded by numberless enemies. He would fight on, pierced by swords, staves, spears, and a number of arrows sticking out of him. But with the last of his strength, the warrior would pull out his knife and commit seppuku.
When you imagine a Buddhist priest, you probably don’t imagine a highly trained warrior who fights relentlessly for the down-trodden. That is Kennyo Kosa, the 11th Abbot of Ishiyama Hongan-ji. This group of warrior priests belonged to the ‘Pure-Land Movement’, which was a revolt of priests and peasants against the samurai power structure.
Kosa managed to raise the ire of Nobunaga Oda, who launched a giant army against the Militant Priest stronghold. Kosa’s forces of priests and peasants rushed out and attacked the highly trained army, and pushed them back! Through stratagem and brilliant political maneuvering, Kosa managed to hold off Nobunaga for over 10 years! Eventually, under a total siege and isolated from any form of assistance Hongan-ji would fall, and Osaka castle would be built on its ruins.
Kosa would escape and continue to fight against Nobunaga, and he would join forces with Nobunaga’s eventual successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He would die of natural causes in 1592.
Jomyo Meishu belonged to the warrior monks. These were a group of Buddhist priests who were also highly remained warriors and were a huge thorn in the side of samurai leaders because they stood for the rights of the peasants.
Jomyo Meishu is recognizable because of the fact that he led back an enemy army by himself! On the banks of the Oji river, Jomyo faced off against an army that was hell-bent on killing him and burning down the shrine he called home. Jomyo and some of the other monks took apart the bridge that spanned the river so that only a single 2-foot wide board was left. Making it impossible for the enemy cavalry to cross and run them down.
Jomyo mocked the samurai until they started shooting arrows at him. He managed to evade them all and began to fire back. Legend says, that with a full quiver of 24 arrows he killed 12 soldiers and injured 11 others. Then he ran across the single board and began to fight the gathered troops by himself! His naginata (traditional blade) was knocked out of his hands, so he pulled out his knife then kept fighting. When his knife got lodged in an enemy’s armor, he started punching the heavily armored soldiers. His attack bought enough time for the other warrior monks to cross and continue the fight. Jomyo miraculously survived the battle.
Hiromichi Shinohara is the great WWII pilot ace often referred to as the ‘Red Barron of the Orient’. He took down 58 enemy planes! Shinohara would fight against the Soviet Air Force over a disputed area after Japan’s invasion of Manchuria. These were large air battles, with hundreds of planes on both sides dueling in the air.
In only two days of combat Shinohara was able to knock out almost a dozen Soviet planes. On June 27th, 1939, he managed to blow almost a dozen enemy planes out of the air, in a single day. At one point he was shot down, avoided capture, and returned to his base to wreak more havoc on the Russians. But sadly, on August 27th Shinohara was out scouting alone when he was ambushed by a large force of enemy planes. Instead of fleeing, he charged straight into the mass of planes and shot down 5 more planes before going down himself.
Queen Himiko is incredibly awesome because not only was she the first notable woman in Japanese history, she is the first notable figure in Japanese history! From the year 189, Himiko was the Queen and High Priestess of the Yamatai, the group that would later go on to reform and create Japan as we know it. At the time, Japan was a system of hundreds of different clans that were seen as different ‘countries’. Queen Himiko was one of the first to begin unifying them and creating a higher political structure.
She was also very skilled at international relations. She initiated contact with Korea and China. It is thanks largely to these two nations that we know anything of Queen Himiko. At the time, Japan had yet to begin recording its own history. Himiko would send several delegations to China and began the relationship that would help Japan to grow and become the nation that we know today. She ruled for over 50 years in peace.
Hideaki Aikawa makes it this high on the list because, unlike most of the other people on this list, he is not a high-born person or someone with incredible skill. He is just a normal man who went on to do something extraordinary
On March 11th, 2011, he was at work just outside the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture when the earthquake hit. The great earthquake triggered a giant tsunami that caused massive devastation throughout northern Japan. Hideaki’s beloved town of Ishinomaki was also hit. Most of its over 100,000 people were still in the city, including Hideaki’s wife of over 20 years. The city had become a 10-foot deep lake.
Knowing that it would take search and rescue crews weeks to get to his wife, Hideaki managed to find SCUBA gear, strapped it on, and swam through the still dangerous and roiling waters. He made his way through a labyrinth of debris to his house, where he found his wife still alive but trapped and rescued her.
After getting his wife to safety, he went back again to find his elderly mother. He found her stranded on the roof of her home. Not satisfied with saving only his own family members he would return again and again to try and rescue more people.
Another criminally unknown Japanese hero on our list was the Japanese man who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis during WWII. Chine Sugihara worked for the Japanese embassy in Eastern Europe. As the Nazi juggernaut began rolling through Europe in 1939 and 1940, tens of thousands of Jews fled from an enemy eating them up at a horrifying rate. Hundreds of fleeing Jews came to Sugihara’s office pleading for the transit documents they needed to flee the country. Sugihara asked for directions from his higher ups in Tokyo three times and was told each time that he shouldn’t do anything to help.
Sugihara responded by promptly beginning to write thousands of transit documents and handing them out freely to families. Even when he was forced to leave the city, he was writing and handing out travel documents out the windows of the train he was on, as it started to pull away. He saved countless people from the evil furnaces of Nazis’ hate, and that is why he is our number 1 most awesome Japanese person ever.