The period of civil war known as Sengoku Jidai saw many samurai exception arise. Marking history forever, thanks to extraordinary warlike prowess or remarkably effective strategies.

The warlord that interests us today is one of those men, both formidable and feared: Takeda Shingen.

The Takeda clan is a very ancient warrior clan, descendant of the prestigious clan Minamoto. The founder of the clan, Minamoto No Yoshikiyo, is the son of Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, brother of the prestigious Minamoto no Yoshiie.

The name Takeda simply comes from the Takeda Estate in Hitachi Province. Minamoto no Yoshikio inherited it but was expelled from it for his boorish behavior and was sent to the Kai.

His descendants later adopted the name Takeda. The Takeda helped Minamoto no Yoritomo to defeat the Taïra clan during the genpei war which consolidated them in their Kai lands and strengthened them.

The Takeda are the historic shugo of Kai Province. When Sengoku Jidai erupted, the Takeda clan did not release their hold on their lands.Samurai Rider Takeda
Takeda Shingen’s father, Takeda Nobutora, is known for his uncompromising attitude. Under his control, the region is governed by very strict rules.

The Kokujin, more modest landlords theoretically supervised by the Shugo, begin to express their discontent and, without however thinking of rebelling, would see his son succeed him sooner than expected.

Takeda Shingen has indeed earned an excellent reputation. He manages to reverse the course of the battle of Un no Kuchi in 1536 and to win it when he was only 15 years old.

The young man, first of all fervent support of his father, ends up being convinced of the need for a coup. The reversal is crowned with success.

In 1540, Takeda Nobutora was sent into exile in the Imagawa clan who helped the Takeda in this endeavor. His boss Imagawa yoshimoto in fact married the sister of Takeda Shingen, thereby cementing an alliance between the two clans.

In an effort to unite his vassals against an external enemy and to satisfy his thirst for conquest, Takeda Shingen is preparing to invade the province of Shinano.

Takeda Shingen in battle dress
Takeda Shingen in battle dress

The warlords of the same province are massing their troops near the Kai border and aiming to destroy the Takeda forces camp, so as to nip any invasion attempts in the bud.

But Takeda Shingen attacks first without warning. He manages to achieve victory in the battle of Sezawa March 9, 1542 against opponents four times greater in number.

Following this decisive victory, he won sieges and battles at a steady pace, crushing the rebels who did not want to submit to his authority.

Note that it was during this period that he defeated during the battle of odaihara in 1546 the forces of Uesugi Norimasa.

This defeat is one of the reasons, with the expansion of the Hojo in the Kanto, which pushes Norimasa to seek refuge in Echigo with one of his vassals Nagao Kagetora. This one will become later Uesugi Kenshin.

Takeda Shingen, however, suffered a major defeat in the Battle of Uedahara on February 14, 1548 against the warlord. Murakami Yoshikiyo.

Wanting to enjoy it, Ogasawara Nagatoki, another daimyo Shinano, advance his pawns to definitively counter the Takeda. But Shingen strikes first.

He sets up an expeditionary force at night, which he places not far from the opposing camp. At dawn, Takeda troops charge and slaughter their unprepared enemies.

He then continues their advance in Shinano and forces Ogasawara Nagatoki to seek refuge with Murakami Yoshikiyo.

The latter, despite fierce resistance especially during the siege of Toishi Castle, ended up withdrawing from Shinano in 1553 in the face of the unstoppable advance of Takeda Shingen.

He leaves to seek refuge with his ally Uesugi Kenshin, now also threatened by the thirst for conquest of the Takeda, and becomes one of the generals of the Uesugi clan.

This is where the legendary rivalry between Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin really begins.

Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen face each other 5 times in the battles of Kawanakajima
Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen face each other 5 times in the battles of Kawanakajima

Their forces clash five times in the same place, in the plain of Kawanakajima, north of Shinano province, south of what would later become the city of Nagano. These battles will be spread over eleven years.

The first took place in 1553, the second in 1555, the third in 1557, the fourth in 1561 and the last finally in 1564.

If these battles were little more than careful skirmishes, the 4th battle of Kawanakajima in October 1561 was particularly bloody for the two belligerents.

Takeda Shingen attempts a daring tactic of splitting his ost in half overnight to disorganize the opposing army and then grab it in a pincer movement.

But the brilliant Uesugi Kenshin foresees this attempt and organizes himself so that the main body of his army faces directly the troops led by Takeda Shingen.

The battle turns into massacre for the Takeda clan from the first moment. The Uesugi army even managed to lead the assault on the personal guard and Takeda headquarters.

According to Koyo Gunkan, chronicle of the military exploits of the Takeda and supposedly written by one of the vassals of the clan Kosaka Masanobu, Uesugi Kenshin would have directly charged Takeda Shingen on horseback.

This one would have managed to ward off the saber blow of his opponent thanks to his war fan. Following this assault, Kenshin was reportedly driven back by Shingen’s bodyguards.

The rest of the Takeda forces, who were supposed to take the Uesugi from the rear at first, ended up joining the fight by attacking their enemies from behind.

From there, the tide of the battle turned and the Uesugi forces suffered heavy losses before finally withdrawing. The number of victims for both camps is enormous.

Even if the figures do not agree according to the sources, two thirds of each army seem to have bitten the dust. Shingen also lost three of his best generals in this clash including his brother Takeda Nobushige.

Along with these battles, Takeda Shingen finally conquered the Shinano for good. He also helps his ally Hojo Ujiyasu to fight against the Uesugi in Kanto, in particular during the siege of Matsuyama castle in 1653 when the two combined armies managed to retake the building.

Legendary duel between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen
Legendary duel between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen

However, a thunderclap in the country will have repercussions on the future of the Takeda clan.

In the spring of 1560, Oda Nobunaga succeeded against all odds in killing Imagawa Yoshimoto during the battle of okehazama with ten times fewer troops.

See as well

Minamoto no Yoshiie

The clan, ally of the Hojo and Takeda, passes under the leadership of his son Imagawa ujizane. Takeda Shingen takes advantage of the Imagawa’s new weakness to plan the invasion of their land, Suruga province.

He did not launch this campaign until 1568 after having thwarted his own son’s attempted rebellion. Takeda Yoshinobu, who will die imprisoned in troubled circumstances.

Takeda Shingen then gets on with Tokugawa Ieyasu to jointly conquer the lands of Imagawa. While the Takeda will take Suruga, the Tokugawa will take over Mikawa Province.

The Hojo, furious at the violation of the Hojo-Takeda-Imagawa alliance, attempt to cut off the Takeda army from its supply bases. To avoid this disastrous situation, Takeda Shingen falls back on the Kai.

Seeing that the security of Suruga can only be done with the annihilation of the Hojo, he takes the road to their HQ in Kanto, Odawara, in 1569. The sieges of the Hojo fortresses, reputed to be impregnable, however, remain unsuccessful.

Blocked in front of Odawara, fearing to find himself once again cut off from his supplies in the Kai, Takeda Shingen withdrew, burning the city at the foot of the castle before leaving.

However, he inflicts a heavy defeat on the Hojo when they try to ambush him during his return to the Mimasu parade.

The chief of the Hojo clan, Ujiyasu, died in 1571. His son Ujimasa, on the advice of his father before he died, concluded a truce with the Takeda.

Freed from this front in the east Takeda Shingen can concentrate on the Oda Nobunaga-Tokugawa Ieyasu coalition which openly threatens him.

He invaded the provinces of the Tokugawa clan in 1572 and, after having captured several opposing fortresses, inflicted a severe defeat on Tokugawa Ieyasu who had nevertheless received reinforcements from Oda Nobunaga during the battle of Mikatagahara January 25, 1573.

Takeda forces crush those of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara
Takeda forces crush those of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara

This battle is one of Takeda Shingen’s most brilliant tactical achievements and helped to make famous the effectiveness of the Takeda cavalry charges which ravaged the opposing arquebusier ranks.

This victory which could have paved the road for Takeda Shingen until Kyoto is not however transformed.

The warlord left his sick province and his condition did not improve, he was repatriated during the campaign in Kai. However, he died on the road at the age of 53.

Other sources say his death may have been caused by a sniper during the siege of Noda Castle, as in the movie Kagemusha ofAkira Kurosawa.

Following his death, the reins of the clan go to his son Takeda Katsuyori but in the face of stubbornness and the military genius made up of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, he will ultimately be defeated, causing the loss of the Takeda clan.

Takeda Shingen is a daimyo who left his mark in the history of Japan. Renowned for being ruthless, ambitious and stubborn, he was also seen as one of the most brilliant tacticians of his time.

Its name is a must when it comes to Sengoku Jidai whether in books, films or video games in which he always plays a major role if he is not quite simply the hero.


Master Jean-Jacques

Maître Jean-Jacques is passionate about the history of Japan, as well as parts of its folklore.

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