February 25, 2011
Not long ago I had the chance to visit Yamanashi prefecture (山梨県) for the first time. Most of the land of this prefecture is a big plain located north from Mount Fuji. Yamanashi is known for its delicious peaches, for its beautiful landscapes, for having the fastest train in the world (still under tests) and for being the territory once ruled by Takeda Shingen, one of the most respected daimyo (general, feudal lord) in the history of Japan. I will write today about things that I learned about Takeda Shingen during my visit to Yamanashi, specially thanks to the nice taxi drivers that explained me the history of the area.
Takeda Shingen – 武田 信玄
Takeda Shingen armor
Takeda Shingen never ruled over a big part of Japan, and neither had a great army, but he was feared even by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, being Ieyasu the one that took control over all Japan at the end of the 16th century. On of the keys to Takeda’s power was the location of his territory, a big plain protected by huge mountains.
Mountain range that protected the lands of Takeda Shingen. You can see Mount Fuji behind the mountain range.
In the foreground of the picture, the forests where scouts spotted the enemy incursions. In second plane the plains where the inhabitants of the former Kai province, controlled by Takeda Shingen, lived (Yamanashi nowadays). In the horizon more mountains and the imposing Mount Fuji overlooking the territory.
Apart from the great location of his territories, Takeda was a calm and extremely intelligent man. According to historians, Takeda was not able to control all Japan because he died young (when he was 49 years old) and because he persisted stubbornly on fighting only one rival: Uesugi Kenshin, the daimyo of Echigo province.
The legendary rivalry of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, has been used in our days in novels, tales, poems, TV dramas, movies (Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa), video games (Sengoku Basara), etc.
Manga based on the rivalry of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin
Sengoku Basara anime, on the right Takeda Shingen using a tessen (Japanese war fan)
Kagemusha, the most ambitious and expensive movie by Akira Kurosawa, is partly based on the life of Takeda Shingen (in the center of the shot)
There are many facts that are still not known, but it is known that the armies of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought against each other dozens of times, the last time in the battle of Kawanakajima. The details of the last battle are not well known but both sides lost around 4,000 soldiers and at the end of the battle Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought one on one. Takeda Shingen got a deep wound made by the katana of Uesugi Kenshin, but he could defend himself with his tessen (Japanese war fan) and could escape alive.
Takeda Shingen, on the left, fighting in the battle of Kawanakajima against Uesugi Kenshin.
The armies of Takeda and Kenshin fighting each other in a battle in the coast of Izu.
The army of Takeda, on the right, in one of the battles against Kenshin
The favorite weapon of Takeda Shingen was his tessen (Japanese war fan)
Even tough they were eternal rivals, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin had a lot of respect for each other. They gave presents and sent letters to each other frequently. For example, Takeda Shingen gave his best katana to Uesugi Kenshin as a present! Who would give his best weapon to his worst enemy? According to the samurai honor code and the personality of Japanese generals (also the culture and the Japanese society) in a situation of rivalry it is more important the mutual respect than winning, you can always disagree with somebody but you have to maintain the respect. In the case of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, they considered themselves lucky to have themselves as enemies.
One of the original letters written by Takeda Shingen to his enemy Uesugi Kenshin.
Another example of the respect they had for each other was when Kai province (Yamanashi nowadays) ran out of salt and the armies of Takeda Shingen started to weaken (it was not easy to get salt in that time in the interior of Japan). Uesugi Kenshin could have taken advantage of the situation and try to defeat his enemy; but he did the opposite, he gave Takeda several shipments of salt and waited for the armies of Takeda to recover before starting the next battle. Uesugi Kenshin wrote in one of his letters to Takeda Shingen:
“Peace is achieved with rice and salt, not with katanas and arrows” – Uesugi Kenshin
Takeda Shingen died prematurely at the age of 49, just when he was becoming very powerful by invading his neighboring provinces (except the province of Uesugi Kenshin, that he could never invade) and winning several battles to Tokugawa Ieyasu (the future shogun and unifier of Japan). The cause of his death is still not very clear, some say he died of pneumonia, but the most popular legend says that he was assassinated with an arrow thrown by a ninja during the night without nobody noticing until the morning.
When Uesugi Kenshin had news of his rival death instead of being happy it seems that he cried and ordered all the people in his territories to mourn the death of Takeda Shingen to respect his honor. He also decided to never attack again the territories of Takeda, now controlled by his son. In fact, three years after the death of Takeda Shingen, the provinces of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin formed an alliance to fight against Ieyasu Tokugawa. However, they couldn’t do much against the unstoppable power of Ieyasu Tokugawa.
Ieyasu Tokugawa, who unified Japan and started the Tokugawa shogunate that lasted from the 16th century until the end of the 19th century, was a big admirer of the battle style of Takeda Shingen, and he copied and assimilated many of his techniques and strategies. Also the initial government of Tokugawa was based on the government of Takeda: most of the laws, the structure of the government, tax administration, etc. were copied by Ieyasu Tokugawa and applied all over Japan. Many consider that the foundations of the Japan of today were initiated by the governing style of Takeda Shingen.
Takeda Shingen grave in a temple near Kofu station in Yamanashi.
Takeda Shingen statue at the exit of Kofu station.
Most of the sightseeing spots in Yamanashi are near Kofu station. You can get there in an hour and a half with the “Kaiji” train from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. If you visit Kofu or the province of Yamanashi you have to try “Shingen mochi”, the typical sweet from the area, that according to locals it is eaten there since the times of Takeda Shingen.
Shingen mochi box.
One of the four shingen mochi that were inside the box. It was delicious!
Takeda Shingen family symbol.
It seems that the family of the founder of Mitsubishi are direct descendants of the family of Takeda Shingen and the logo of Mitsubishi is an evolution of the symbol used by Takeda Shingen in his armors and flags almost 500 years ago. Would Takeda Shingen be surprised to see Mitsubishi cars with his clan symbol (somewhat modified) all around the world?
The philosophy of battle that Takeda Shingen instilled in his men: 風林火山 Furin Kazan.
風林火山 Furin Kazan, is literally translated as “wind, forest, fire and mountain”. It is not a philosophy of battle created originally by Takeda Shingen, but he was the first to introduce it in Japan. It is a strategy of the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu and can be interpreted as follows:
“Move fast like the wind 風, remain compact like a forest 林, attack as furiously as fire 火, defend yourself as if you were a mountain 山“.
A coffee can with a picture of Takeda Shingen.
Maybe Takeda Shingen walked around this forest.
Feeling like Takeda Shingen
If you still want to know more about Takeda Shingen you can read the Samurai Archives
Other Japanese samurai and heroes: