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Takeda Shingen: Legendary Strategist and the Tiger of Kai

Updated on May 16, 2012
Takeda Shingen
Takeda Shingen

Takeda Shingen was a prominent figure and genius strategist during the 'Sengoku' or 'Warring States' period of Japan. He was most known for his legendary rivalry with Uesugi Kenshin. During the time he lived he was feared for tactics and the mighty Takeda calvary.

Shingen's father was Takeda Nobutora, a warlord , leader of the Takeda clan, and ruler of Kai province. When Shingen was growing up he showed great potential, but for whatever reason, his father didn't intend for him to be heir to rule the Takeda Clan. His father planned to give control of the clan to his second son. When Shingen came of age he performed a coup and took control of the Takeda clan from his father and forced him in to retirement. He didn't kill his father or force him to commit ritual suicide, but instead had him sent to be kept with the powerful Imagawa clan.

The Battle of Sezawa

Shingen wanted to gain control of the lands nearest to him and he set his sites on Shinano Province. Several other local rulers decided to take the opportunity to crush the young Takeda before he had a chance to become powerful. The combined forces of the five warlords added up to about 12,000 men when they gathered them together, but they weren't prepared when Takeda Shingen's force of 3,000 plowed in to the unexpected. The warlords lost 3,000 while the Takeda only lost 500 in a dominating victory. Takeda Shingen was able to continuing pushing through the Shinano Province through a score of other battles and defeating several other warlords until a request for aid was sent to The Dragon of Echigo Uesugi Kenshin.

Uesugi Kenshin
Uesugi Kenshin

The Tiger vs. The Dragon

Uesugi Kenshin was the ruler of Echigo Province and though he was a young ruler like Shingen, he would become known for his strategic prowess as well. He would come known as the 'God of War' and the 'Dragon of Echigo'. The rivalry between Shingen and Kenshin would become legendary.

Fearing that the Takeda presence near his borders would prove dangerous, Kenshin moved his forces out to face Shingen's. The two armies would clash at Kawanakajima in five separate battles over the course of several years.

The First Battle of Kawanakajima, 1553

The first time their forces met the two warlords didn't throw everything they had in to it trying to get a feel for their opponent. Neither side suffered heavy losses and the battle remained indecisive.

A Battle of Kawanakajima
A Battle of Kawanakajima

The Second Battle of Kawanakajima, 1555

Initially Kenshin had a tactical advantage, but an ally of Shingen's was able to hit Kenshin's forces from the flank. While he didn't suffer heavy losses this thorn in his side didn't allow him to position his army correctly to take on the full might of the Takeda. Eventually he would push his entire force down to even ground with the Takeda but instead of attacking each other they came to a stand off. It appeared they each were waiting for the other to make a move. They both continued waiting for several months but eventually both men had to return home to deal with various issues.

The Third Battle of Kawanakajima, 1557

Takeda Shingen attempted to take a castle, and Kenshin arrived with his forces to oppose him. Again the two great strategist would act leery of each other, and not throw everything in to a full battle against each other. That would change two years later in The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima.

The fourth battle of Kawanakajima
The fourth battle of Kawanakajima

The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, 1561

This battle would become known as one of the greatest battle of the Sengoku period. Finally the two leaders through everything at one another in a grueling battle. Before the battle the Takeda army split in two groups secretly. One group stayed in position as the main force, while the second group attempted creep around the flank to force Kenshin on the plains with Takeda's main force. However when Takeda woke up the next morning he found Kenshin's army facing his ready to charge. Somehow Kenshin had realized the scheme and was able to sneak his own men down the other side of the mountain during the night. Kenshin used a new strategy in this battle where he had units run in to replace units that were weary. This way his men stayed fresh.

Kenshin's army eventually pushed through to Takeda's command center and Kenshin rode his horse forward and attacked Takeda Shingen one on one. Kenshin remained mounted and used his sword. Takeda Shingen was not expecting this type of battle and did not have a weapon to fight back with other than his iron war fan, which was meant for signaling troops. Kenshin hacked away at Takeda, and Takeda parried each blow until help arrived to drive Kenshin back.

Despite this valiant charge the Takeda forces were still able to hold their lines until the split group was able to return and Kenshin ordered his men to retreat. Takeda Shingen did not pursue. When the day was over Kenshin lost 3,000 men while Takeda lost 4,000 men and 2 of his top generals. Again battle between the two remained indecisive.

The fourth battle of Kawanakajima.
The fourth battle of Kawanakajima.

The Fifth Battle of Kawanakajima, 1564

The two forces met one last time which lasted for 60 days of battle. Once again it would end in a stalemate.

Despite having a legendary rivalry with one another and being considered enemies, Keshin and Takeda both held a deep respect for one another. The two even traded gifts occasionally, including Takeda Shingen giving Kenshin a favorite sword of his. At one point another clan had the Takeda's supply lines cut off and Kenshin secretly sent Shingen a large quantity of salt which was highly valued at the time. Before Takeda Shingen died he told his son to trust Kenshin. When Takeda Shingen died it is said that Kenshin wept openly and refused to take the opportunity to strike against the Takeda clan. Shingen's son would eventually become an ally to Shingen.

Had they continued to battle each other, which do you think would have eventually come out on top?

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Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu

The Tiger Vs. The Demon

Because the battles between Kenshin and Takeda were a constant stalemate, Shingen was able to start looking in the other direction. The once powerful Imagawa clan had been defeated by the Demon Oda Nobunaga. Takeda Shingen and a close ally of Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu both claimed portions of the Imagawa land and defeated the Imagawa clan.

With the Imagawa out of the way, Shingen set his sites on Oda Nobunaga with an army that had grown to approximately 30,000 men. Takeda Shingen was the only person left at the time who could oppose the might of the Oda.

In order to reach Oda Nobunga, Shingen would have to pass through Tokugawa lands. Despite being warned against it, Tokugawa Ieyasu attempted to stop the Takeda from moving through his territory. The Battle of Mikatagahara ensued. Tokugawa may have had more guns and reinforcements from the Oda, but the legendary Takeda cavalry dominated the Tokugawa forces. The Tokugawa were forced in to a chaotic retreat with the legendary Tadakatsu Honda holding the rear end of the Tokugawa to allow as many escape as possible. Tokugawa Ieyasu returned to his castle with his army defeated. His last hope laid in the ninja master Hattori Hanzo. He requested that Hanzo take a group of ninjas and attempt to make a surprise attack on the Takeda camp in the cover of night. Hanzo did just that and performed so well that Takeda Shingen was under the impression that Oda Nobunaga or Uesugi Kenshin's main forces had arrived to aid Tokugawa. He pulled his troops and went home.

Do you think if Takeda Shingen hadn't died he could have beaten Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu?

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Death of the Tiger

Takeda Shingen was preparing to war with the Tokugawa and Oda clans again when he died a mysterious death. Some people believe that he was ill, while others believe that he was killed by a sniper.

Tokugawa Ieyasu would eventually go on to become the ruler of Japan, and took many of Takeda Shingen's political policies as tribute and because they were effective. Takeda Shingen is still remembered today for his strategic genius and politics. His life is still celebrated through festivals and his legend lives on through cinema and even video games.

Takeda Shingen
Takeda Shingen


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    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 

      5 years ago from Kansas City

      Definitely (:

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Yeah it was kind of a bummer I didn't get to go! Ah well other opportunities will present themselves!

    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 

      5 years ago from Kansas City

      I have too - that's hilarious - actually that could be some pretty awesome publicity!

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks jrueff! I appreciate it! There's actually a funny story about my samurai hubs. A game show from Japan stumbled onto my samurai hubs and considered me as a contestant for some game show. I didn't make the final cut, but it was still pretty exciting. I've always had a fascination in Samurai history.

    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 

      5 years ago from Kansas City

      I came back to your profile to read more of your hillbilly guides - which are awesome by the way, but I got sidetracked when I saw all of your Samurai and Ninja biographies and now I have to read them all.

      There aren't many things that fascinate me more than Bushidō. Will be back to check out the rest, Takeda Shingen was interesting, but I'm pretty psyched to read your take on the monkey general Hideyoshi - his rags to riches story has always fascinated me.


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