1521 - 1573
Leader of the Province of Kiaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Warlord, governor, mastermind, politician, religious—so many words that can apply specifically to so many people, but in the case of Takeda Shingen (1521 – 1573), they all pertain. A supernova of personalities compacted into one man. Originally named Takeda Harunobu, Shingen’s life was a roller coaster of war, religion, and treachery as one of the paramount war lords, or daimyo, of the Sengoku (warring states) period.1.
Born into a position that would set up his career, Shingen was the eldest son of Takeda Nobutora , the leader of the province of Kia, in the center of Japan’s main island. His father was on campaign with the Imigawa in 1521 when he learned of the birth of his son, whom he then named Katsuchiyo (Shingen’s childhood name). When he turned the age of thirteen, Shingen was to marry the daughter of Ogigayatsu-Uesuagi Tomooki, who possessed considerable amounts of land in Kanto. But sadly, the union was not to be as the young woman died the following year.
Around the year 1535, came Shingen’s coming of age ceremony. It was a major affair that drew much attention. As of that moment Katsuchiyo became known as Harunobou. As is much of his younger years, the knowledge of the falling out between father and son is murky. Nobutora took a disliking, or so it is thought, to his eldest son and planned to place his second son, Nobushige, on the throne instead of Shingen. There are many speculations, or guesses, at how Shingen dethroned his father; but historians seem to agree that it was on their way to visit Shingen’s cousin—who was believed to be a participant in Nobutora’s dethronement—that Shingen turned on his father with the support of many nobles to propel him. After his forced retirement, Nobutora was sent to Suruga castle; then began the reign of Takeda Shingen, the Tiger of Kia.2
Fallowing in his father’s footsteps, Shingen was a great warlord, and his primary goal was to subjugate the quarter of Shinano, a place where the fighting would be fierce. Desperately intent on keeping the Takeda from further aggression, four warlords, Murakami Yoshikiyo (1510-1573), Ogasawara Nagatoki (1519-1583), Suwa Yorishige (? -1542), and Kiso Yoshiyasu, came together to launch a surprise attack on Shingen. While the four daimyo were led to believe that Shingen was strengthening his defenses and preparing to make his stand at Fucho, it was he who had the element of surprise; marching on the four Shinano and defeating them at Sezawa.
Drawing strength from the victory under his belt, Shingen, along with, his men descended into Shinano territory, focusing his interests on the region belonging to the Sewa clan. First taking Uehara, and then marching on the capital, Kauwahara. Suwa Yorishige, caught by surprise in an explosive situation, had no choice but to surrender to Shingen at his offer of safe conduct. Both Yorishige and his brother were taken to Kia where they were either murdered or forced to commit suicide. With the help of Yamamoto Kansuke’s strategies, Shingen crept the fingers of his kingdom further into Shinano territory. He took the whole of central Shinano, which was comprised of the of kingdoms of Tozawa Yorichika and Takato Yoritsugu, and in doing so acquired the Takato Castle. Its positioning would allow for Shingen to have a protected staging area into Southern Shinano, as well as a fortress against its belligerence.2
In 1544, Shingen marched the army of Takeda to the aid of Imagawa against Hôjô Ujiyasu. There was no actual fighting, it was more of just a peace arrangement between the Imigawa, Shingen, and Hôjô. Shingen held the Shinano warlords under strict and constant pressure for the next decade, rarely checked, and even then only briefly. Then in 1548, Murakami Yoshikiyo, Shingen’s most fearsome enemy, advanced on Udea and defeated Shingen in a very bloody battle; this was when Japan saw its first use of arquebuses. Despite the bitter loss of two of his best generals, Shingen’s rebound was quick, and by 1552 the Murakami and Ogasawara clans had dropped arms and ran to Echigo.2
In the year 1551, Shingen brought out his religious side when he took his Buddhist vows. Upon doing so, Shingen changed his name from Harunobou, to Takeda Shingen (Shingen meaning “compassionate eye”). Far and beyond being known as a warlord, Shingen also had a mind for politics, the religions of others, and fair judgment. Some of the highlights of his reign are: his applying criminal and civil law with both a firm and fair hand; and in doing so gaining him popularity; and his methods of taxing constituents based upon their innovative rate assessment and collection methods. Shingen also brought about the greatest civil engineering project of the 16 century when he dammed the Fuji River.2
With a strong head in politics, Shingen recognized the danger when “religious sects” came into power, creating mayhem and attempting to take over other sects. On the other hand, he also understood religion’s value in keeping the morality of his subjects behavior within normal standards. Some of these concepts Shingen portrayed in his laws such as:
“The Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhist sects are forbidden to engage in religious controversy within Takeda territory. If anyone encourages in religious controversies, both the priests and their parishioners involved will be punished.” 3
“First, pay due reverence to the Shinto gods and the Buddha. When your thoughts are in accord with the Buddha's, you will gain more power. If your leadership over others issues from your self-serving thoughts, this will become evident and your efforts will be doomed. Next, devote yourselves to the study of Zen. Zen has no hidden teaching. It simply calls people to think seriously about birth-and-death.” 3
Around 1560, Shingen found himself in a grim position with to plots against his life within a five years span year. Plot number one was headed up by his cousin Katanuma Nobumoto, who he promptly put to deat. But number two, in 1965, caused him much strife, as it was led by his eldest, and only son, Yoshinobu, and another man by the name of Obu Toramasa. Obu was put to death soon after, but Yoshinobu was put in prison and died two years later. His death left Shingen heirless.
In the year 1573, an army of the Takeda legion laid siege to Noda Castle in Mikawa, which was protected by the army of Togugawa Ieyasu. When intelligence reports came in of a lone flute player, Shingen fallowed an old tradition of believing that he could judge his opponents level of morality by how well the flutist played. That same year, while making a personal visit to the battlefield under cover of darkness, he and his men raised the suspicions of the castle guards and Shingen was mortally wounded by a snipers bullet, dying just a few days later. Just before he died, Shingen made one last strategic move, telling his most able general to raise the battle flag at the bridge to Kyoto, as if he was advancing on the capital, and then he collapsed onto his bed. Word of his death was suppressed until 1575 so as not to give the advantage to his enemies.
1 "Takeda ShingenNew World Encyclopedia http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Takeda_Shingen. (accessed May 28, 2009).
2 "Takeda Shingen http://www.samurai-archives.com/shingen.html. (accessed May 28, 2009).
3 Zen Stories of the Samurai http://www.zenstoriesofthesamurai.com/Characters/Shingen%20Takeda.htm. (accessed May 28, 2009).