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Sanada Yukimura: The Crimson Demon of War

Updated on May 16, 2012
Sanada Yukimura
Sanada Yukimura

Sanda Yukimura was a samurai warrior during the 'Sengoku' or 'Warring States' period of Japan. He is best known for being an extremely skilled warrior and was given the nickname of 'Crimson Demon of War'. Along with his father,Yukimura fought countless battles and had an outstanding record for winning when the odds were stacked against him.

Sanada Yukimura's real name was Sanada Nobushige, but because he became widely known as Sanada Yukimura that is still what he is called today. He was born in 1567 and was son to another well known samurai named Sanada Masayuki. He had one older brother and several younger. Unlike many of the legendary figures at this time, Yukimura didn't have the golden opportunity laid out before him to become legendary. He was not part of one of the largest clans and having several brothers speaks volumes about the man's prowess in combat to become such a legendary figure.

Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga

During the time of the Oda

Yukimura and his father Masayuki both served the Takeda clan originally, but the Takeda clan was defeated by Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu in the battle of Nagashino. During this battle Masayuki's two older brothers were killed in combat so rule of the Sanada clan fell to him. Both Masayuki and Yukimura returned home to their castle of Ueda.

After the Oda clan destroyed the Takeda clan, the Sanada clan joined sides with Oda Nobunaga. It was long after though that Oda Nobunaga was slain and the Oda Clan and it's allies fell apart. The Sanada found themselves without a stronger ruling body and bounced around between various warlords. Eventually they came to serve Toyotomi Hideyoshi who ended up taking Oda Nobunaga's place.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi

In the service of Toyotomi Hideyoshi

In the 1580's Tokugawa Ieyasu laid siege to Ueda Castle. The Sanada knew they would be in trouble, so Masayuki made a deal with another warlord Uesugi Kagekatsu. The deal was that if he sent Yukimura to be a prisoner of Uesugi Kagekatsu, that Uesugi would send allies to aid the Sanada. It sounds harsh, but it was fairly common at the time, and such prisons were usually treated more like royal guests. With the assistance and some strategic planning by Masayuki, the Sanada were able to stand against the Tokugawa.

Eventually, Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to an agreement with Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyohsi became the unchallenged most powerful man in Japan. Yukimura was released and returned to being a loyal vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Yukimura even married the daughter of one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's most loyal retainers. Yukimura was even involved when Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea in a failed attempt to attack China.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu

The Battle of Sekigahara

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi died, Tokugawa began his bid to be the leader of Japan. However many supporters of Hideyoshi stood against him siding with Hideyoshi's son Toyotomi Hideyori. An impending battle was brewing that would become the Battle of Sekigahara. It is unclear why, but many believe in an attempt to preserve the Sanada clan regardless of outcome, Yukimura and Masayuki joined the opposition, while Yukimura's brothers joined Tokugawa.

During the battle the Tokugawa once again laid siege to Ueda Castle with 38,000 men. The Sanada only had 2,000 but Masayuki laid a plan to pretend they were surrendering. The enemy was too slow in realizing it and the Sanada were able to hit the enemy camp causing a devastating blow and keeping their castle safe yet again.

The Battle of Sekigahara
The Battle of Sekigahara

Winter siege of Osaka Castle

While the Battle of Sekigahara put Tokugawa more or less on top, it didn't break the Toyotomi resistors and battle would continue. During the winter siege Yukimura created a small fortress within an area of the castle called Sanada-maru and fortified it with 7,000 men. Despite Tokugawa Ieyasu being able to take the rest of the castle Yukimura would not give up. He continued to repel Tokugawa forces and even led charges against the enemy lines breaking through three times. Tokugawa Ieyasu eventually resorted to cannons and sappers digging under the walls. They still couldn't get through Sanda Yukimura's Sanada-maru and eventually Tokugawa had to agree to peace negotiations with Hideyori.

The Siege of Osaka
The Siege of Osaka
Toyotomi Hideyori
Toyotomi Hideyori

Summer siege of Osaka Castle

When summer rolled around they went right back at it. Yukimura found himself battling Date Masamune the one-eyed samurai and his forces. Yukimura suffered defeat, but launched a second attack directly in to Tokugawa Ieyasu's main camp. Yukimura made it in the camp, but they were unable to reach Tokugawa Ieyasu before being pushed back.

Again during this campaign Yukimura would come against the forces of Date Masamune which would result in somewhat of a stalemate with both sides retreating. One of Tokugawa Ieyasu's sons was ordered to pursue Yukimura, but refused allowing Yukimura to safely retreat. The son was exiled.

Sanada Yukimura on the cover video games

The Battle of Tennoji

The last battle during the siege of Osaka Castle when Tokugawa Ieyasu would secure his rule. During this battle Yukimura was vastly outnumbered and became injured. Seeing an opening he drove at the Tokugawa frontline where Tokugawa Ieyasu was positioned. He sent his son with a message to Hideyori to drive the attack straight to Tokugawa at this time. Hideyori either didn't heed this advice or was too late. It is said that he became surrounded he stopped fighting and said, “I am Sanda Nobushige, no doubt an adversary quite worthy of you, but I am exhausted and can fight no longer. Go on, take my head as your trophy.” Yukimura was in fact beheaded and fell in combat. The resistance against Tokugawa Ieyasu fell shortly afterward and he became the Shogun and ruler of Japan.

The Crimson Demon of War's legacy

Like many other legendary samurai, The Crimson Demon of war Sanada Yukimura's story lives on through cinema, stories, and even video games. He rose from being one of several sons of a simple samurai, to being one of the greatest legends of his time. He was even refereed to as the 'Number one warrior in Japan' and 'A hero who may appear once in a hundred years.'


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